Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Story of a Warlord and a Barber...

With each passing year, Mattel gets closer and closer to surpassing previous WWE action figure lines. Not only has quality been excelling, but the depth of the line is coming close to that of Mattel's WWE predecessor Jakks. Helping that depth, especially important to collectors such as myself, is the inclusion of the legends. Early on, Mattel seemed to give up on including the stars of the past. With each review that I do, I become more a champion for the company and who they're choosing to include. With their Elite Series 49 and 50, Mattel finally adds Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake and The Warlord.

While neither man is a stranger to action figure collections, it has been almost a decade since they have been immortalized in plastic. "The Barber" is based on his look from 1989 (per the back of the packaging), while The Warlord is featured in the gear that he wore from 1990 to 1992, though the back of the box pinpoints WrestleMania VII where he battled The British Bulldog. Both figures look great in the packaging and fill the "window" well. The annoying sign advertising the cardboard diorama gimmick is present with both. I did not even bother photographing either stand/backdrop, as there is nothing new that I can cover with the "bonus." I still don't care for it, and can't wait until Mattel feels that it has run its course.

Both of these men are wrestlers that I feel have been somewhat underrated in recent years. I often point out that Brutus Beefcake is one of the best-remembered stars by fans of my generation. Even casual fans fondly remember "The Barber," clipping shears and all. He was over with the fans and, while he may not have had the most classic in-ring style, he got the job done as far as WWF devotees were concerned.

When I first saw prototype pictures of Mattel's rendition of Beefcake, I wasn't convinced. In person, I've done a complete 180. This may be the best likeness of Brutus that we've seen to date. The wild look is there, as are the signature flowing locks. Beefcake is surprisingly tall in person and this figure does reflect that. The parts used match up well for "The Barber." I do wish that Mattel had used a different color jacket than Jakks had produced, but it still works. The bow tie is removable and the "titanium blades" look great for "struttin' and cuttin'."

The Warlord has never had a bad figure. From the LJN to the Hasbro (which is the last time that we saw this particular look) all the way to the two Jakks entries (the latter of which, in what had to have been a "happy accident," reflected The Warlord in his indy attire), the former Powers of Pain member just simply makes a great action figure. And though more credit for that tag team often goes to his partner The Barbarian, The Warlord has always been a solid hand. He was a big man with an intense look. Sometimes that's all you need. But if you check out his matches with Davey Boy Smith, such as the aforementioned WrestleMania VII encounter, you see that The Warlord could bring it in the ring.

Never have we seen a figure of the monster with so many accessories. The shoulder pads, belt, and mask are all removable. We also finally see the figure-sized debut of his "W" staff. While I don't recall that accessory ever coming into play during a match, it certainly stuck out while Howard Finkel would make his signature "Introducing...The Warrrrrlorrrrd" announcement. As with "The Barber," the facial likeness is spot-on and the choices for body type could not have been better. He's big. He's powerful. He's The Warlord.

With so many style choices for Beefcake, I can definitely see Mattel producing him again. A basic styled figure in the future seems like a no-brainer. The Warlord is a bit more puzzling. With his inclusion in a recent lawsuit against WWE, I'm surprised that we saw this figure at all. I don't see Mattel going the "Powers of Pain" route, either, though they have surprised me in the past. With a figure of another lawsuit member upcoming in the form of The Berzerker, it's hard to predict what all the future will hold. I'm just going to sit back and watch these great new figures roll in and take their rightful places in collections worldwide.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

TNA Magazine...Italian Style!

I always felt that Total Nonstop Action Wrestling should have had an official magazine. They had exciting stars, beautiful "Knockouts," and plenty of stories to put into print. Heck, I even thought that I could be a dang good contributor to the effort. Nonetheless the magazine industry just isn't what it once was, even a few years ago. Although I never saw it myself, then-owner Dixie Carter pooh-poohed the idea somewhere in print. As nice as a lady as she always was to me, there honestly didn't seem to be many ideas that she turned down, for better or worse. However, the fact is that there was indeed an official TNA Magazine. In Italy. For three issues.

In 2007 an Italian publisher produced three issues of the Total Nonstop Action Wrestling Official Magazine. If there are more than three, I have yet to see them surface anywhere. Though my mastering of the Italian language is a bit rusty (aka non-existent), it isn't hard to figure out what's going on in the many sections of the magazine. There are features on the monthly pay-per-views, profiles on individual stars, and even "Top Ten" looks at the then-current goings on in the company.

There's a particular emphasis on the aforementioned TNA Knockouts, and why not? That's how you sell magazines. The ladies are featured with the superb Lee South photography that found its way onto the many trading cards and promotional photos that saw wide release, in addition to the Knockouts-branded items that were sold at live events and Shop TNA. Leticia Cline, Gail Kim, and Christy Hemme all make the cover, but SoCal Val and Traci Brooks see features as well. Speaking of Brooks, the legendary action figure that never ended up seeing the light of day is briefly mentioned in a list of upcoming figures.

Samoa Joe, Sting, and "The Fallen Angel" Christopher Daniels are the cover stars of the three respective issues. Each issue is all-color and all-slick with high-gloss covers. All three editions also feature a double-sided poster showcasing the cover superstar and Knockout, although the poster with Gail Kim also features SoCal Val. I'm not complaining. And as nice as the photography of the females appears, the action shots from matches are great as well. It's truly amazing the level of talent that was in the company at that point, a fact that often goes overlooked.

It's also cool to see so much of that talent getting press in an actual physical magazine. I often point out that it's a shame that so little of today's wrestling stars will get an actual magazine cover. Aside from Pro Wrestling Illustrated, the occasional WWE "special" release, or the scattered overseas publications, it's an opportunity that largely no longer exists. It's great to see the Christopher Daniels cover as well as talent such as Team Canada (including Bobby Roode and Eric Young), Chris Sabin, LAX, and Abyss see photo features in an age where that is basically extinct. You can argue that wrestlers get much more coverage online these days, but where are those features going to be found in ten to twenty years? For many stars, there will be little tangible to show the grandkids.

Oh what could have been. A publication like this would have done great for sale at TNA live events where anything that could be signed was be scooped up by autograph-hungry fans. Don West would have been plugging these nonstop. Personally, I regret that I was unaware of these in the days of the TNA "Interaction" events where every cover (and most of the insides) could have been fully signed. Regardless, it's fun to know that a TNA Magazine even existed at all. As much flack as the company has received at times, often rightfully so, these publications highlight many of the things that TNA did right.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Topps WWE 2017..."Something Different"

Everyone loves a surprise. When I initially saw the checklist for the Topps WWE 2017 trading cards, I was extremely surprised. Once I figured out that I wasn't reading some sort of joke, I was also very pleased. While I usually personally review two of the Topps WWE products per year, there's usually a lot of repetition. It's to be expected in trading card sets, especially annual ones. This year, we have something different. We have inclusions that I never would have imagined, for numerous reasons, but here they are. Let's take a closer look.

The 2017 WWE set from Topps, as usual, has a base set of 100 cards. There are several subsets, and many different variant and numbered cards. One of the biggest selling points were the inclusion of authentic autograph cards of both The Undertaker and Bill Goldberg. The prices seem to have gone up a bit, which some point to the addition of the aforementioned autograph cards, but they're still not "premium" priced like the WWE Undisputed sets. A hobby box can be had for an average of around $75 and contains 24 packs. The box style once again reminds me of a box of chocolates, being long and slim. It actually almost looks too nice to break open. For the record, AJ Styles, John Cena, and Sasha Banks are the faces on both the box and the packs.

Plastered right on the front of the hobby box is a guarantee of two "hits" per box, including at least one autograph. Since hits can be relics, belt/medallion cards, and autographs, I like the guarantee of at least one autograph. While many of the other hits can be very cool, it's still the autographs that I prefer. Relics are, in my opinion, a somewhat tired gimmick in the world of wrestling cards. Thankfully, occasionally we get something new to spice them up.

My hobby box did indeed yield two "hits." One was a Becky Lynch Women's Championship "medallion" card. I call these belt cards, since embedded in the card is a heavy, metallic representation of a championship. The other hit was a relic, with a twist. This relic, a SummerSlam 2016 mat card, is also signed by Seth Rollins and is numbered as one out of ten. If I have to pull a relic, it may as well include an autograph. An autograph of a top current talent is an added bonus.

The subsets this time around feature shots from three WWE programs: The Stone Cold Podcast, Breaking Ground, and Total Divas. This is another change-up that I appreciate. While I've never personally watched Total Divas, I like some of the shots used (Mandy Rose, I'm looking at you), and even Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart makes a cameo. While I don't think it was intentional, the design of these cards very much reminds me of the Topps Empire Strikes Back cards from way back in 1980. Not a direct replica, but there are similarities.

The base set is where we get really unusual and different. Highlighted are many first timers, including NXT stars (a few of which I couldn't even identify) and a passel full of referees. I'm guessing that this means that referees are once again allowed to have names and identities. The true gold here for me is the inclusion of three legendary ladies: Leilani Kai, Judy Martin, and Princess Victoria. While Kai made a return to WWE products after 30 years in the 2016 WWE Divas Revolution set, this is the first real WWE merchandise for Martin and Victoria. Considering both ladies are named in the WWE concussion lawsuit, this is extra surprising. As I've gotten to know all three of these women over the years, these three cards are the personal "hits" in the hobby box for me. It should be noted that other women from WWE's past such as Terri Runnels, Torrie Wilson, and Ivory are here as well.

The base card design is good, although it'd still be nice to see one set that featured all studio shots. As usual there are color variants (bronze, blue, silver, etc.) where really the only different is a swatch of color in the lower right corner. Some collectors thrive on these differences, but I haven't ever put too much stock into it. I will note that for the first time in year when breaking a Topps WWE hobby box, I did not receive the full 100-card base set. My box wasn't missing any particular biggie, and I probably won't put into effort into ever obtaining the card, but it was a bit of a surprise. For the record, the missing card was David Otunga.

There's a lot to like about this set. Topps took the "main" WWE card set of the year and really turned it upside down. There are no main cards for many weekly stars, yet we get announcers, referees, women's wrestling legends, and many rookies. Since Topps releases so much WWE product these days, this is something that can and should be done. I'm very excited to see what the Topps WWE Heritage 2017 set due in August will hold. There's also a WWE Legends set coming in September. Normally that would be right up my alley, but the cards do appear to be a "premium" release which my wallet just won't warm up to. That being said, Topps is still doing a great job. There's something for every type of collector. Now, even those of us who love the legendary ladies are getting some long overdue new product.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Mattel says..."Bang, Bang!"

Let's face it, in the late 1990's everyone was a fan of Mick Foley. No matter which character was your favorite, the wild Cactus Jack, the maniacal Mankind, or the hip Dude Love, Foley knew how to hit a chord with each and every wrestling fan. No one was a bigger fan of all three characters than me. The fact that I saw his infamous King of the Ring "Hell in a Cell" match with my own eyes was something that I wore as a badge of wrestling fandom pride. Eventually, I would go on to meet the self-professed "world's friendliest wrestler" on a few occasions. I won't say that my fandom for the man ended there, but to briefly sum up a story best kept for another time, my interactions with him have not been exactly memorable. Nevertheless, Foley remains in the wrestling spotlight in one way or another, and here he is with yet another action figure.

This second appearance of the Cactus Jack character in the Mattel WWE line has been a hot product thus far. The first figure was an online retailer exclusive and has gained monetary value on the secondary market. The main differences between the two are the accessories included, although there are a few cosmetic changes as well which we will get to. This Cactus is part of Mattel's WWE Elite 48 series and is in the standard window box packaging used for that line. Originally this second Cactus was to be included in the Target exclusive WWE Hall of Fame line, but that fell through for what was said to be rights issues.

As with the past several Elite series, the figure includes a stand and piece of cardboard backdrop. When all of the figures in the series are collected, the backdrops can be assembled to form a fuller picture. I still don't care for the backdrops, although the plastic stands are always welcome. The cardboard backers are flimsy and just simply look cheap. The advertisement of the "bonus" on the front of the packaging also takes away from signing space for those who intend to have these figures autographed. They can be removed with a lot of work, but the figure isn't truly mint at that point. This is a feature that I will gladly see fade away, should it ever.

Cactus Jack is clad in his world-famous "Wanted" shirt that has seen inclusion on all Cactus Jack figures produced up to this point. It is indeed iconic and is instantly recognized with the character. Even following the days where you would spot Austin 3:16 and nWo t-shirts anywhere you went, the occasional Cactus Jack shirt still popped up. The man was, and is, popular. The big difference in the details of the figure are the pants. Here we have the cactus design down the legs while the first had the word "CACTUS." There are slight differences with the boots, as well.

The facial likeness is very good and this is definitely Mick Foley. Oddly enough (or maybe not so much), I see Mick's daughter Noelle when I look right at the eyes of the figure. The apple doesn't fall far from the...cactus? I particularly like the hair molded to look like part of it is pulled back into a ponytail which should remind many of the hardcore legend's WCW days. Included as accessories are a "DO NOT ENTER" street sign and a removable flannel shirt which replace a "STOP" sign, ring steps, and handcuffs that were packed with the first release.

If you have the Jakks Classic Superstars Cactus Jack figure and are looking for something different, you really won't find it here. It's a nice, very solid figure, but Mattel really doesn't offer anything new for the character. A "pure" WCW version of Cactus would have been something fresh. With the popularity of this figure, maybe we will get that down the line. I could also see inclusion of Cactus into the Basic line, and a WCW-based look might work well there. While I'm sure that we're also going to see some modern Mick Foley figure releases reflecting his stint on Monday Night Raw, it's Mattel's take on Dude Love that I'm more anxious for.

Have a nice day...or have mercy...or...bang bang!