Saturday, July 20, 2019

MUSCLE-ing Into The Ring

Going "retro" is of course the modern day trend. Every company wants to capitalize on generations who now have disposable income (ha!) to spend by recreating the toys and memories of their childhood. Mattel got in on this with wrestling fans by releasing the Retro line, mirroring the Hasbro WWF line. The last published entry on this blog showcased Series 8, 9, and 10 of that line, which as of press time of this article seem to be the last that will be produced. But that wasn't the only route that Mattel took to get into your wallet as well as your childhood wrestling memories...

Enter Super7. In the past several years this company has taken the action figure community by storm. They have adopted a variety of licenses and created action figure lines that never were, should have been, and in some cases extended others. Together, Super7 and Mattel released a collection of 12 WWE Legends M.U.S.C.L.E. figures. Each packed three to a card, there are four sets altogether. Fans of the original M.U.S.C.L.E. figures probably felt that their minds were read. '80s WWF stars as the most portable "wrestling" figures of the era? It's a natural!

If you weren't familiar with the original M.U.S.C.L.E. figure line, you probably at least remember seeing a handful of them floating around. The acronym stands for "Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere." If that sounds like something straight out of Japanese culture, that's because it is. The M.U.S.C.L.E. line was the U.S. version of a Japanese line called Kinnikuman. While the latter was much more of a cultural phenomenon with stories, cartoons, etc., both versions were centered around the tiny figures, some of which were even based on real wrestlers such as Terry Funk and Dusty Rhodes.

Neither of those legends are featured here, but it's still quite a Hall of Fame lineup. Among the three packs of four figures we have Mean Gene Okerlund, The Iron Sheik, Macho Man Randy Savage, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Ric Flair, Sgt. Slaughter, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Andre the Giant, "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase, Junkyard Dog, and The Ultimate Warrior. Each figure is assuredly recognizable even being that small and molded in the famous M.U.S.C.L.E. pinkish beige. Many have accessories molded on which adds to the fun. With the cast of characters from that era, however, it's hard to make anything but recognizable characters. Not one person could argue that if you did twelve current stars in the same style, those figures would take a bit longer for anyone to differentiate.

The card backs are a heckuva lot of fun, too. They are designed to be in the same style as the Hasbro WWF figure card backs, and they actually do the job ten times better than the same effort in the Mattel Retro line. The colors, the stars, the logo (albeit WWE-ized) are all here. Not putting the Retro line down now that it's ostensibly finished, but if we came so close here, why could we not have gotten the same effort there? The backs of the cards feature cartoon versions of two of the three characters included in a "showdown," complete with fightin' words. A nice little addition that wasn't necessary and is much more welcome than an ad for some app game or other nonsense.

I like these little guys. I'm sure this is it for the WWE sets. The packs can be found at fairly deep discounted prices if you look, but that doesn't mean that the M.U.S.C.L.E. fun has to end there. In addition to the non-wrestling licenses that Super7 has added to the M.U.S.C.L.E. line, they've put out a few packs featuring the Legends of Lucha Libre. Also worth mentioning is the fact that Super7 just announced that they have acquired the license to produce figures for New Japan Pro Wrestling. Will that line spill over into some M.U.S.C.L.E. figures? Seeing the origins of the figures as chronicled above, it would almost be coming full circle.

The Rainmaker, Kinnikuman style?

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Catching Up On Retro

It's been over two years since the review of the first Mattel WWE Retro figure series appeared on this blog. At the time, collectors all over were hopeful that we would get at least a few additional series out of the line that continues the legacy of Hasbro's famous WWF collection. Amid poor distribution, rumors of cancellation, and some overall frustration, here we are with Series 8, 9, and 10. The aforementioned distribution issues are one of the reasons why all three of these series are lumped into one review, but it also saves on spreading them out.

Some of both the most wanted and most creative figures of the entire line show up here, with a few that we'll pay particular attention to. Series 8 has The Iron Sheik, Jeff Hardy, Braun Strowman, and Zack Ryder. Series 9 brings us "Macho Man" Randy Savage, Goldust, Samoa Joe, and Randy Orton. Finally in Series 10 we've got Junkyard Dog, Matt Hardy, Elias, and Diesel. All series are on blue border Hasbro-esque cards that complete the retro feel. Thankfully the distractions that plagued the design in some of the middle series are gone, those being display stands and ads for a digital game that really has no business here. The game ad has been relegated to the back of the cards which bear no resemblance to the Hasbro cards whatsoever. Similarly, the cardboard stock used here is a lot thinner than what Hasbro used. This has been causing it to be quite the chore to find nice examples for carded collectors. This will certainly factor in as the years go by when mint examples are few and far between. Per retailers, the damaged cards have been coming straight from factory cases, furthering frustration.

Series 8 highlights include The Iron Sheik and Braun Strowman. While the character of the Sheik is just out-of-range of the original Hasbro era, Khosrow Vaziri was in the company in 1991 and 1992 as Sgt. Slaughter's aid Colonel Mustafa. Strowman is a sleeper hit as far as I'm concerned, with the figure fitting in with that Hasbro look perfectly. The arm mechanism was a perfect choice and I really appreciate the painted on tanktop. Jeff Hardy is a welcome addition but the figure suffers from the "too real" head syndrome where it looks like a regular Mattel head was plopped onto a Retro figure body.

Series 9 showcases two legends, those being Goldust and Randy Savage. This is the second inclusion of "The Macho Man" in the Retro line, the first being in his nWo attire. This one is a homage to an unreleased prototype of the first Hasbro Savage figure that was shown in advertisements wearing green trunks. It's nice to see a more classic looking Savage in the line. Joe and Orton are solid modern figures for the line. Some have issue with Joe being produced in his shirt, but we must remember that many original Hasbro figures were in shirts and entrance attire as well. The star here is "The Bizarre One," Goldust, in what could prove to be his final figure for some time. Appropriately, he is produced in his early look complete with black-painted ears and removable wig. Should the Hasbro line have carried on another year, Goldust would have at least been in the planning stages.

Finally we have Series 10, starring a man who was planned for the Hasbro line twenty-five years ago. That man is "Big Daddy Cool" Diesel. The former WWF Champion appears as he did in 1994, which is the look that the original figure would've reflected had it been produced. Like Strowman in Series 8, Diesel is a tad taller just as Andre the Giant and Giant Gonzalez were in the Hasbro line. For the second series in a row we get a second legend, that being the Junkyard Dog. JYD is clad in his classic white tights, complete with "THUMP" emblazoned on the back. Matt Hardy's head is more stylized than brother Jeff in Series 8, though I could've pictured both of The Hardy Boyz with the old "jumping" mechanism. Elias hasn't caught on with me, personally, but the figure includes a guitar as the first Retro accessory. This is the same breakaway guitar included with Mattel's figures of The Honky Tonk Man.

Ten series of Retro. This is the first review of the line that, as of press time, has no future announced releases to discuss at the end. While many collectors finally got what they wanted out of the line in Diesel, there's room for more. Of that fabled unreleased final Hasbro series, Mattel could produce Mabel, Jeff Jarrett, and "All-American" Lex Luger. I wouldn't mind seeing Dusty Rhodes (like that's a surprise...), "surfer" Sting, and Nikolai Volkoff added if at possible. Since females and managers weren't part of the Hasbro line I won't say that I'm expecting any, though it's hard to fathom that the new line would end without at least one woman in the era of the women's revolution. How about Elizabeth, Sherri, Ronda, and Becky? At least two Retro-styled women's bodies should be produced to give us an idea of what could have been...and what now still could be.

Kill the distribution issues, Mattel, and bring us ten more series...