Thursday, November 29, 2018

Retro Continues To Be Nowtro: Part II

Picking up where we left off last week, we look at four more new Mattel WWE Retro action figures. As promised, we're also going to dive into some issues that I have with this line as well as some of the others under the Mattel WWE umbrella. That isn't to say that the company has stopped cranking out some amazing product. Quite the contrary with a seeming continuation of these Retro figures as well as the regular sized products. How we're expected to be getting these figures into our collections is the problem.

Again in this series we have three new characters and a repaint. Included are Bray Wyatt, Daniel Bryan, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Sting. As with last week, the latter is a re-release although this one is striking. We have Sting in his red and black nWo Wolfpac attire. Aside from the obvious economics, I question why classic WCW "surfer" Sting wasn't done in this style. Needless to say, a long-haired "Crow" era Sting Retro figure was already produced, so this is the far easier repaint for Mattel to release. The red and black look admittedly grew on me with the "Elite" figure released in this attire by Mattel several years ago. The style is still striking here with the deep red.

Also repeated are the same issues here with the packaging as last week. The stands aren't too bad with Nakamura's actually looking fairly cool, but I still don't see the use for them. The figures don't benefit much from them and they eliminate an important part of the retro packaging. I'd rather see an accessory included with one or two figure per wave. The photo choices for the packaging are very Hasbro-esque, as well. Mattel does do their homework when it comes to detail like this, but sadly other issues creep up and subsequently the figure line suffers.

Wyatt, Bryan, and Nakamura are all hindered greatly in the facial likenesses. These do not look like Hasbro product at all. Those facial likenesses were cartoony, somewhat exaggerated, yet ultimately left you recognizing who the figure represented. These three look like bad customs with regular Mattel figure heads plopped onto Hasbro style bodies. If you want to see the correct style, take a look at Brock Lesnar from back in the first wave. You could tell it was "The Beast," yet it retained enough of the Hasbro look to fit right in.

The "Real Wrestling Action" continues with another "jolt" move for Wyatt, another "Jannetty" move for Bryan, another new kick for Nakamura, and the "jumping" mechanism for the repainted Sting. I would have liked Bryan to have been given a different mechanism, though I honestly don't know which I would have chosen. Nakamura's arms seem too big for him and would probably match up with those of The Warlord from the Hasbro run. This obviously should not be the case considering the varying physiques of those two men.

The true problem here is distribution. These figures have been out for months, yet these two series reviewed here in the past two weeks as well as a third haven't seen store shelves much at all. If a company doesn't make its product available, how do they expect the lines to continue? Further souring me in the Mattel WWE universe are upcoming Elite releases that will be "chase" figures. This would be fine if it were a special umpteenth release of John Cena or Roman Reigns, but instead these are brand new characters. I'm sure that I will touch upon this again in the future, but it doesn't please me in the slightest. Collecting should be a joy, not more work. Everyone should have equal access to any figure produced without turning a hobby into a chore. Keep in mind, this is a collector of over three decades saying this.

The Retro line is coming along nicely, though the concerns are clear and not limited to my voice on this blog. I wouldn't want to see bad distribution of future Retro figures like Kurt Angle and The Iron Sheik, neither of whom seem to suffer from the "custom head syndrome" mentioned above. It's a proven fact, poor distribution and choices have killed action figure lines dead in their tracks. Let's not see the last shining beacon in modern day wrestling memorabilia go down. Examples like Ric Flair from last week have what it takes to be the best figure release of the year. It would be a shame to see a blast from the past that appeals to all ages end with an unheard whimper.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Retro Continues To Be Nowtro: Part I

 It's an amazing time to be a kid from the '70s, '80s, or '90s. Pretty much any toy that you had, even gaming systems, are available again in stores worldwide. Even the action figures that you played with anywhere that you were able to take them can be found on store shelves. From the vintage plastic of Mego action figures in the likenesses of so many pop culture legends to "Kenner" branded Star Wars toys, everything old is new again. Thanks to the Mattel Retro WWE figure line that we've been covering for nearly two years, wrestling isn't left out.

For me, a bit of the shine has worn off since the initial offerings. This actually is starting to ring true for the entire Mattel WWE empire, but we'll get to that in the second half of this two-part review. This week and next will each showcase one of the most recent Retro figure series to be released. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of nice new figures here that we will look at, but that generally isn't where the problems lie. Before we get to broader issues, let's take a look at the new figures individually.

The cardbacks still strongly resemble the Hasbro WWF packaging of yore. The colors have stopped changing (the first two initial series were blue bordered) but they still fit in nicely with their classic counterparts. Unfortunately the changes that began with series three still linger. A plastic stand featuring the logo of the superstar in question is packaged where the "Real Wrestling Action" graphic should be. Above that is a completely out-of-place advertisement for an app. One of the highlights of the Hasbro line was the large photo of the wrestler. This annoying ad detracts from the photo.

In this set we have Ric Flair, Finn Balor, Sami Zayn, and Kevin Owens. The latter is a repaint of his release from the first series. Like the earlier figures each superstar has an aforementioned "Real Wrestling Action" that either copies or mirrors one from the Hasbro years. Balor's is close to that of the first Marty Jannetty, Owens has the Andre/Akeem/Dusty "jolt," Flair's is an adapted version of the spring-action waist which originated with "Macho King" Randy Savage, and Zayn has a brand-new kick action that easily could have been created nearly thirty years ago. His pose reminds me of the first "Million Dollar Man" figure by Hasbro.

The likenesses and detail are good on all, and just "cartoony" enough to fit into the original Hasbro line. We will dive more into this topic next week. The star here, however, is Ric Flair. This is the Flair that we should've received back during his WWF run. The "chop" move works excellently and the figure simply runs circles around the rather poorly executed Flair Hasbro that saw release in 1993. The re-used body of Ravishing Rick Rude just did not work and I'm sure that I'm not the only one who, at first glance of the famous WWF Magazine ad, thought that the facial likeness was Dino Bravo. One of Hasbro's biggest World Wrestling Federation blunders is finally corrected.

Even though one of the four here is a repaint, this is a nice set. We'll get more detailed next week as we look at a subsequent series and what seems to be going wrong with the line. In the meantime, have you even seen these on store shelves? How about the other newer sets? If the public cannot buy, they will not support. It's as simple as that, and it seems to be creeping into all aspects of Mattel WWE figure collecting.

To be continued...

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Your Guide To An Evolution

Programs. A collectible that is produced less and less as the years go by, especially by WWE. Sure there are those produced for WrestleMania each year. There have been a few for SummerSlam in the past decade and even the 2011 Survivor Series had one. But in a world where pay-per-view lineups change continuously until the day of the event, the era of the program is largely done. However, out of nowhere, we have a new one. To coincide with the first WWE-branded all-women's pay-per-view event, we have a program for WWE Evolution.

The program itself is very much like the other ones that have come along in this era. It's oversized and glossy with thicker-stock pages than a magazine-style program would have. This design first appeared in the very early 2000's. It is also more of a roster guide for the women rather than displaying actual match-ups. Again the pay-per-view lineups change too much for them to be accurately printed too far in advance.

The first page is a shot of the folks who brought you this show, Triple H, Stephanie, and Vince McMahon. Let's all thank them. Then, of course, we get to Ronda Rousey. Obviously she will begin the program being the center of the women's division. So far, she seems to have dedicated herself to the business in a way that many of us wouldn't have imagined. She has largely been a plus for the product, or so it has seemed in the little that I follow the weekly product. All of the larger stars such as The Bella Twins, Charlotte, and Becky Lynch get their own pages, as well.

The interesting portions come later in the book. We get pages with a smattering of smaller pictures of NXT stars and even trainers Sara Del Rey and Serena Deeb! The Mae Young Classic tournament is also chronicled with results of both the 2017 edition as well as the 2018 version which saw its finals held at the Evolution show itself. And yes, "spoiler alert," winner Toni Storm is shown here in all of her British glory.

My favorite portion, of course, is the section featuring the legends. Not only do we get Wendi Richter, Mae Young, and my friend Leilani Kai, but also shown are Cyndi Lauper, Sapphire, Bull Nakano, Rockin' Robin, Mildred Burke, Bertha Faye and Velvet McIntyre just to name a few. The biggest shocker? An inclusion that shouldn't be shocking at all. In fact, she should be front and center. Yes, folks, The Fabulous Moolah is here. Did somebody call Snickers? I think we have a program to burn. Get Twitter on it...

A cool collectible for a first of it's (WWE) kind event that not only looks at the current stars but pays respect to the past as well. It's hard to say what value this will attain. Some of the larger programs such as this have held or risen in value while others just languish. To me, any event-specific program is welcome in a collection. While the live event programs are rather cookie cutter, these are at least specific to a show even if they don't necessarily reflect the matches. If you want one of your own, grab it while you can. There could be an Evolution in demand before you know it.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Return To The Love Shack

I may have grown up on Cactus Jack and Mankind certainly took the wrestling world by storm in the late '90s, but I will always have a special place in my heart for Dude Love. The least utilized of the "Three Faces of Foley," The Dude grew out of a character that Mick Foley created as a teen. The WWF version, who debuted in 1997, took on a more colorful vibe than Foley's original adolescent creation. This look is well represented in Mattel's recently released action figure, the first of Dude Love in over ten years.

Dude Love joins several releases of Mankind and Cactus Jack, not to mention a modern day Commissioner Foley figure. He's part of the Elite collection and definitely the highlight of his particular series. I still love the current packaging for the Elite figures. It's basically a showcase for the figure. No more, no less. Let the figures themselves do the selling. A standout figure will have no issues in that department. Dude Love does just that.

I'm still not a fan of the cheap cardboard backdrops and flimsy plastic stands that are being included with these Elites. As Mattel goes deeper into including more accessories such as alternate hand sculpts, perhaps these will be dropped altogether. They serve no purpose for children (who are going to be playing and not necessarily displaying) nor collectors who will find better ways to display. The marking advertising the backdrops is also the main detractor from the packaging and, thus, the figure.

Dude Love had several looks and shirts, but the latter portrayed here
definitely has a tinge of blue. Any fan will remember when this shirt was readily available from the company at the height of Dude Love's initial run. Dude's pants are also blue and I don't necessarily recall him wearing any other ones. Who remembers the shot of his boots "strutting" in the back just before his debut? The Summer of Love for the WWF, indeed.

Accessories included are Dude's headband and sunglasses. Like his shirt, the headband changed several times but the color scheme works. This isn't the look that is in the better remembered publicity shots, but I'm sure they took it directly from somewhere. The sunglasses stay on well enough, which is always a plus. Dude's "tattoo" is also here, which disappeared somewhere along the way. I definitely remember it in the days of Dude's short-lived segment called "The Love Shack." I must also mention how much I appreciate the inclusion of "The Love Handle," the short lived and often forgotten Dude Love version of "The Mandible Claw."

Last but not least, the facial likeness is on point. I believe that it is a completely new one for Foley, and captures Dude Love perfectly. In a year of great figures, we have another challenger for the title of best. I don't know that Mattel will give into temptation and do a Three Faces of Foley set, but I could see more of Dude down the line since he did alter his look a bit as the character went on. Needless to say, the fact that this long-awaited figure finally saw the light of day can be summed up in one word...


Thursday, November 1, 2018

John Cena: Author

Remember when "Big Match John" told The Rock that he would never venture out beyond WWE? Well, times have changed. We can't fault him. John Cena has been very successful in branching out into mainstream media. In fact, I would say that it is the one thing that was missing from his career. Sure, WWE fans knew who Cena was. Mention his name to anyone outside of the wrestling bubble and you may have heard otherwise. Thanks to acting, media appearances, and philanthropy, Cena's name gets bigger every day. Now, he's decided to put a little "Elbow Grease" into it.

Meet John Cena, children's book author. Random House recently released the first book penned by the champ, entitled "Elbow Grease." Per the back flap, Cena was a big fan of Richard Scarry (as was I) and his beloved line of books for children. The illustrations do remind me a bit of the late author's works, but I don't remember as much dialogue in those. This is a story very reminiscent of Disney's Cars, in looks anyway.

Elbow Grease is the youngest in a family of monster truck brothers. Instead of having any special skills, "Bo" seems to be a smart car, as he needs plugged in at night whereas the other do not. In this short story, Bo decides to step out of his comfort zone and enter the Grand Prix. Despite many obstacles in his way, Bo just won't give you can imagine would be the determination of a main character in a John Cena-penned story.

I won't ruin the ending for you, but it is a cute tale with a positive message. You can hear John's voice reading the text in your head. "Elbow Grease" is coffee-table book sized, but otherwise a nice short, children's story in length. The size of the book itself lends to large illustrations, some of which you can lose yourself in while picking out all of the details. Be sure to hunt around in the back of the book for a funny little Easter egg, too.

Upon release, Cena went on a short but well-publicized East coast book tour. He used his Today Show appearances to propel the book and likely endeared himself to many parents and grandparents who will now snap up the book for their own kids. Cena is really proving himself to be yet another good spokesman for pro wrestling, even if he is slowly leaving that world. His weight loss during these appearances is said to be attributed to training with Jackie Chan for an upcoming film.

"Elbow Grease" is a fun little tale. I'm not sure if John has anymore children's stories in him, but the characters introduced here could easily be seen on a cartoon series or even feature. It's easy to imagine John doing the voice of Bo, though I'm not sure that he would have the time. I never got the "hate" for Cena, though I'm not sure that was every really the case, either. Aside from a few instances, I think the crowd booed him because it was the thing to do rather than any real dislike. Again, in my opinion, the only missing ingredient from the career of John Cena was a breakout beyond the squared circle. Now that he's put a little elbow grease into it, the sky may be the limit...