In January 2015 this blog kicked off the year with a full month of coverage commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Hasbro WWF toy line. At the end of the last entry, I brought up a frequent topic among collectors: why couldn't the Hasbro "style" return someday? Two years later and the question has been answered. It can and it has. The Hasbro company itself may not be at the helm, but the style and feeling is back. Those mighty mites of plastic wrestling goodness can once again be found on store pegs. Who, what, where, when, and why? Follow me.
Mattel has created a figure series that is patterned as closely as possible after the legendary Hasbro line. Exclusive to Wal Mart, the line doesn't seem to have an official name, although the shipping cases call them "WWE Retro Figures." As should be expected, the response thus far has been overwhelming. The initial released lineup contains John Cena, Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar, and Kevin Owens. The Undertaker and The Ultimate Warrior are supposed to join the lineup, as well. They are featured on the back of the packaging and photos of carded examples have surfaced, but as of press time they have yet to arrive in stores. It is rumored that they will arrive soon, but it is not yet known if they will be distributed on their own or if they will join cases of the first four.
The figures themselves blend right in with the actual Hasbro WWF figures. The action maneuvers of the new figures are closely based on those from the past. The somewhat cartoonish looks are spot on and blend the look of the modern WWE Superstar with that of those from yesteryear. The figures are packaged on cardbacks, complete with bubbles, that are of the exact Hasbro size. The cardboard used is just a tad thinner. Everything matching the originals is present, with a modern touch, aside from the Hasbro logo and the facsimile signatures. The photos used were obviously chosen purposely, as they reflect the style of shot used a quarter of a century ago. The backs of the cards resemble the originals far less, and the lack of a "Clip n Save" file card does stick out, but none of this detracts with all of the other retro goodness.
Looking at the figures themselves, we begin with John Cena. The megastar was an absolute no-brainer to be included in the first lineup. Cena, man and character alike, was made to be a Hasbro figure. With the exception of the name of the manufacturer, here we are. Cena's hat is not removable (as should be the case) and his action feature is the only one of these four figures that is not directly copied from the original line. His torso pulls to the side to perform an "Attitude Adjustment" style move.
Next up is Brock Lesnar. No, this isn't the Hasbro Ludvig Borga figure, although that's immediately what pops to mind when seeing it. He has the classic spring-action slam move that many figures including Borga, Sid Justice, Demolition Ax, The Warlord, and others had with Hasbro. The tattoos are very detailed although I don't completely see Lesnar in the face. This is okay, as many of the Hasbro figures had broader likenesses. I don't know if I'd go as far as to label them "caricatures," but it wouldn't be an unfair description.
Roman Reigns joins the fray with the classic "pullback" arm punch that was originally included with the likes of Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Tito Santana, Virgil, and Billy Gunn. It's a feature that works to highlight the "Superman Punch" of Reigns. I'm definitely not booing this figure out of the building, as it's another likeness that totally works with the Hasbro style. The facial likeness here is a perfect blend of reality and "Hasbro" style.
Finally we have my personal pick of the line, Kevin Owens. KO has a "pullback" torso feature that was originally given to Andre the Giant, Akeem, and Dusty Rhodes. It's interesting that, in my opinion, the best and most realistic Kevin Owens figure to date is in this style. In full disclosure, I picked up three of this particular figure. For all four I bought a set to open and another to keep carded, but I had to have a KO for my office as well. He's just that cool looking. I will note that one of the Owens figures that I opened had a rather loose torso. It doesn't seem to be broken and still performs the feature, but the difference between the two is very noticeable.
With all of the praise out of the way, I will admit that the line points out something that is really wrong with the current WWE: the colors are glaringly dull. Without a shirt, even Cena is rather colorless. Looking through the roster, setting aside The New Day, most of the stars wear black and other dark shades. This is perhaps the only thing missing from the original Hasbro line, produced at a time when the company was full of color.
Where do we go from here? Honestly, we don't have those answers. With the response so far, Mattel would be crazy to let the line die after six figures. In my opinion they would also be crazy to let it continue as a store exclusive series. These figures should be available everywhere like so many of the "spin-off" lines that have come from the manufacturer. Are they afraid that these will become more popular? That wouldn't be the case. Collectors will always want a completely detailed and realistic figure. There's no reason why this line could not continue right alongside. Perhaps this is a test to see how well the line would do with a larger release down the line. I certainly hope so.
As long as Mattel keeps the spirit of the originals and collectors happy (i.e. making sure that all figures are accessible without too many hard-to-get pieces of the puzzle), a line rivaling the size of the original could go for years including dozens of Superstars and Legends. As shocking as it may be to longtime readers who know that I basically have no use for further figures of The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin, I would love for them to show up here. Diesel would be a top request for many collectors due to his missing the original line. The possibilities are endless!
Rarely does a toy line rise from the ashes. We have a rare opportunity here as collectors. Embrace it and support it so that it continues as long as possible.