Thursday, July 27, 2017

Two Legendary Powers Make A Retro Return...

Saving the best for last in our 2017 "Mattel Month" here on the blog? Maybe. It depends on whether or not you're one of the mass number of collectors who has been blown away by Mattel's WWE Retro figure line. In case you've been under a rock, earlier this year Mattel released a line of "retro" figures designed to match the beloved Hasbro WWF figure line of the early 1990s. While we've already looked at the first four figures in Series 1, today we're wrapping it up with The Undertaker and The Ultimate Warrior.

These two legends, while part of Series 1, did not ship in the initial cases sent to Wal Mart, the exclusive retailer of the line. After confusion and headaches alike, they're finally here. Hopefully Series 2, consisting of Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Mankind, Kane, Triple H, and Sting will not suffer the same issue. Regardless, all of the figures from both series come packaged on cards strongly resembling the Hasbro packaging that they are a homage to. As with the earlier batch, the cards are just a tad thinner than their vintage counterparts. This makes it somewhat difficult to find nice examples.

Both figures again have "Authentic Superstar Moves" replacing Hasbro's "Real Wrestling Action." The Undertaker has spring loaded arms to perform a slam (think Hasbro's Sid Justice, Ludvig Borga, etc.) while The Ultimate Warrior utilizes a new action that originated with the Retro John Cena figure. The figure's torso springs to the side when pulled back for a similar slam. Although this feature wasn't native to Hasbro, it certainly fits right in.

Speaking of fitting right in, it's interesting to compare these two new figures to the vintage versions. These are the first, and thus far only planned, retro figures by Mattel to have also been included in the original Hasbro line. They are very nice figures and blend perfectly with the originals. Were I making the decisions these two would not have hit the line for quite awhile. There are too many available names who didn't make it into the original line for new versions of these two legends to have crept in so soon. As listed above, Series 2 features six all-new names to the style.

Whoever is designing these has obviously done their homework and likely grew up with the line. Many of the nuances in the sculpting and sheer presence of these figures seem as if the designers were staring at a vintage Hasbro collection during the process. The Undertaker's hat is not removable, nor should it be. The Ultimate Warrior doesn't have quite all of the designs that his real-life gear did. It shouldn't. These are direct reflections of Hasbro. Even with the popularity of the Hasbro line, no one could have imagined a line like this in the year 2017. Yet, here we are.

The distribution of these latter two figures in Series 1 was disappointing. It caused collectors to wonder if they would easily be able to "Collect Them All." That is never a good thing with action figures, especially with a niche line like this. I don't know the specifics of contracts, but I would also think that Mattel would want this line at wide release as soon as possible. The reaction has been incredible and there would be no doubt that it will continue. Ring playsets and other non-figure releases (WrestleMania ring cart, anyone?) would be ideal as well.

"Retro" is indeed alive and well.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

She's Not Like Most Figs

At times, I'm more a fan of the merchandise than the wrestler. I have nothing personal against Nia Jax. I'm sure she's a nice person. I think it's the way that she's presented that hasn't won me over. Nia should be a monster. She shouldn't speak much, if at all. I'm not even going to go into the theme song, despite playing off of it for the title of this post. I will also say that the outfit needs changed, but I'll be praising it, in a way, in just a few paragraphs. Indeed, Nia Jax is an interesting figure in the ring, but now she's also a fascinating action figure.

When the prototype pictures of the debut Nia Jax figure first hit, I was blown away. It looked to be one of the best efforts Mattel has put forth in the WWE line, if not the very best. It captured Nia, but it also did something that I've wanted from her since in-ring debut. The same thing that I mentioned just above. It made Nia into a monster, at least as far as display in a WWE figure collection is concerned. I knew the figure would be popular, and indeed nearly every collector that I know is impressed. But if she doesn't impress me on television, why does she in plastic?

Nia debuts in the Basic Mattel WWE line. As we've discussed here before, the female figures from Mattel are all in the Elite body style no matter which line they're included in. The difference is usually accessories, although even the line on that has been blurred on occasion (see the first Alicia Fox figure). Nia looks great carded and fills the plastic bubble like a champ. The card art features Nia's more recent straight haired look, though the figure has her debut curly hair. I prefer the latter, as it makes her more monstrous and hearkens back to another devastating women's wrestler, Rhonda Singh in her guise as Monster Ripper.

Really, everything about this figure is perfect. Look right into the face and you think of the now-expected shot of Nia's eyes as her entrance begins. Nearly all new parts had to be made for Nia, and I can't think of any other character that Mattel will be able to utilize them for. The costume is laser-line perfect. Actually, I'd say it's even better than the real thing, which we'll get to as promised. My only gripe would be that the detail on the shoulders does limit mobility of the arms, but who's complaining? The figure, and character, should look menacing. In this case she certainly does.

Why do I like the outfit here and not in real life? In plastic, it makes her look like a female Big Van Vader. In real life, to be quite honest, the outfit makes her look dumpy. I'm not sure exactly what material the real costume is made out of, but such a small tweak could make a huge difference in her presentation. In a rare moment, a toy looks better than the real-life counterpart. As her career moves forward, hopefully WWE realizes the same.

What a figure! Due to all the unique tooling and her ubiquitous presence on television, I'm sure that Nia will be no stranger to the action figure world. Although I wouldn't count on it immediately, I do see a future figure with the updated, straight hairstyle somewhere down the line. She's a female monster getting a figure when ladies like Rhonda Singh and Awesome Kong never did due to varying circumstances. Though she would have been my third choice among those names, I'm happy that Nia finally made the "revolutionary" breakthrough.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Hall of Fame Figure Royalty

For the first time in history, one figure line has captured Jerry "The King" Lawler in all areas of his career. 2012 saw The King make his Mattel debut with a "modern" Elite figure capturing his look at WrestleMania XXVII. Following that we received a Basic figure release based upon his appearance as a commentator. Finally, a classic Memphis version of The King has arrived as part of the Target-exclusive WWE Hall of Fame line. Longtime readers will recall that the first Mattel Jerry Lawler took home "The Joshie" Award for 2012 Best Figure. How does the latest figure measure up?

I'm still loving the Hall of Fame packaging. Lawler is the perfect figure for it, as the royal blue and gold motif is fit for a King. You may also recall that in addition to being in the Hall of Fame, Lawler has been the most recent host of the event. The figure is a superb fit for the window packaging, and thanks to the pose and accessories there is no "floating" here. I also appreciate that no annoying "announcements" are present on the window itself to take up precious autograph space, should you choose to explore that option.

There's a lot of reuse here from the 2012 release, but with Lawler that's ok. The man has honestly changed very little physically in four decades. He's forever young. The same can be said for his attire. He's clad in the same entrance gear that was included with the first figure, as he wore a classic Memphis outfit for his WrestleMania appearance. You could argue that the color of the crown could have changed. It should also be noted that the crown does not fit the new head sculpt very well. He's going to be holding it most of the time, but it still must be pointed out.

Speaking of the new head sculpt, it's all Lawler right down to the classic goatee. The hair and smug expression were captured perfectly. I honestly can't think of a bad Jerry Lawler figure likeness from over the years. Even the very first figure of The King from Jakks two decades ago captured his then-cowardly heel spirit. Whereas some wrestlers never seem to be set just right in plastic, Lawler's just seem to get better and better.

If I had a complaint it would be with the stance of the figure. For whatever reason, the legs always seem to be spread apart in an "action" pose. While The King is no stranger to getting in on a fight, I appreciated that you could set the first Mattel Lawler release in a stoic pose, should you so choose. It's not that big of a deal, but it did make me realize that I like the earlier figure just a bit more. There was a reason why it was my "Figure of the Year!"

These Hall of Fame figures seem to have great production numbers, but they won't be around forever. It seems that Mattel isn't afraid to keep Jerry around in the line, but it's hard to say if a classic Memphis version will see the light of day beyond this. I'm sure that the secondary price will rise on this one, but if you had to pick one I'd still advise you to seek out the 2012 release. I will say that I liked this figure enough to pick up a second one to be autographed. If you follow suit, be sure to see if The King will whip out his trusty paint pen for a signature that truly pops.

Then again, when it's Jerry Lawler's autograph we're talking about, there's never a bad one!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Future of Figures Is Now

With the non-stop barrage of new WWE product from Mattel, last October was unofficially "Mattel Month" here on the blog. July looks to be a repeat of that, with several weeks of reviews covering stars of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. We kick it off with a view of both today and tomorrow thanks to the new NXT line that is exclusive to Target. With four new Elite figures, six new Basic figures, and a ring, this line is even getting its own endcap display in most stores. We're focusing on the two Elite "debut" figures, who would be Austin Aries and No Way Jose.

This isn't the first dance for Aries as far as figures or the Mattel line. Aries had several Jakks figures in their TNA line and has already had a Mattel WWE Basic figure. No Way Jose is seeing his rookie action figure here.

The packaging for the NXT line is very unique. The Elite figures are packaged in window boxes designed to look like the "X" in NXT, complete with character-specific artwork behind the figure. There's a bit of "floating" here, but it can be easily forgiven seeing as that you want to see the aforementioned artwork. Although we're focusing on the Elite style here, I'm a big fan of the Basic NXT figure carding, too. It reminds me of a figure line out of the '80s with a lot of white used giving it a bright and fresh look. I'm sick of the dark and brooding style/colors that have dominated most everything in merchandising and pop culture since the mid-1990's. Can't we just be happy?

The line consists of more NXT alumni than current NXT roster talent. That said, just by looking at him you can understand why No Way Jose was chosen. He makes a great action figure and is very unique in presence. Need a retro comparison? The LJN WWF Wrestling Superstars line has Special Delivery Jones. The Mattel NXT line has No Way Jose. Jose's rubber shirt does limit his "entrance" poseability, but it still looks very good. So good in fact, that I won't complain about it being rubber. The facial expression is great and captures the "Fiesta!" attitude of the character.

Just as the happiness of Jose is evident in his figure, the smugness of Austin Aries comes through in his. "A Double" has a good facial likeness (the Jakks version may have been just a touch closer) and utilizes the smaller Elite body type that we've seen many time. The removable cape is a great addition and is a top reason to go for this Elite figure of Aries over the Basic. The figure actually has an old school feel when it's on, much in the vein of a '60s or '70s caped wrestling heel. Considering that I once saw Aries do a perfect Baron Von Raschke imitation at an Impact Wrestling house show, it's fitting.

For the first time in seven years, I encountered an issue with a Mattel figure right out of the packaging. The left arm of Aries was loose. At certain angles it will stay, but at about mid-range it simply falls. This is something that reminds me of the waning days of the Jakks WWE line, and not a trend that I look to see continue going forward. I've read some reports over the years of an arm breaking right of the packaging, but it always seemed to be fairly isolated incidents. With the amount of Mattel figures that I've purchased, some even second hand, this has yet to happen to me until now.

It's great to see NXT getting its own line, but I think that Mattel misjudged the popularity by making it a retailer exclusive. Judging by sales of NXT stars who have been inserted into the regular WWE lines, Mattel should have realized that collectors want these characters. Even the ring, which I did purchase as well, is a perfect centerpiece for the line.

In any case, don't hesitate to pick these figures up when you see them. While Aries will probably be a part of the Mattel line for some time to come, No Way Jose is still technically in "developmental." He could go on to be a star with dozens of figures or fizzle and see his only appearance here. At "retail exclusive prices," buying the complete set is certainly an investment, but the special packaging and unique character options is enough to ensure that most of the figures will not remain on shelves long. This is almost a "Best of the Independents" action figure line at retail.

The future does indeed appear to be now!