Monday, May 25, 2020

The Royal King

It's been a full month of Mattel here in May on the blog. We've already seen some royalty, but it's time to end it all with The Kingdom of the Madness. In fact, this is no ordinary Macho King, this is how he appeared at a truly royal event nearly thirty years ago. It's an attire that has never before been produced in action figure form and will hopefully open the doors for similarly designed Randy Savage figures in the future.

Earlier this year Mattel released yet another retailer exclusive series with distribution issues. This time it was a Royal Rumble series distributed (yeah...) to Target stores. While Bobby Lashley, Lita, and The Rock were solid entries for many, the only one that interested me was Macho King Randy Savage. Long a fan of this brief era in the career of the Macho Man, this "King" is different. Most of the figures reflecting his "regal" splendor have included the crown. The only one that hadn't was the  first Mattel figure of Randy Savage, reviewed here nearly a decade ago. That one came from the final bout of the Macho King and was in one of his colorful "cowboy" outfits that continued as part of his attire when he returned to being the more common Macho Man.

This design is from the 1991 Royal Rumble. Savage ended up not even competing at the event, though he did play a big part in it. After shenanigans involving Sensational Queen Sherri earlier in the evening, Savage would go on to smash both a production light and his scepter over the head of the Ultimate Warrior during his title match with Sgt. Slaughter thus causing the former to lose the WWF Championship. Both of those foreign objects are included here, as are a "Macho King" bandana, sunglasses, and an extra pair of hands which we'll revisit here shortly. While Savage was slated to be a participant in the Royal Rumble match itself, he was "ultimately" kept from the bout.

Honestly, the packaging for this Royal Rumble series is fairly drab. While it may work for the other three in the set, Macho King would've looked far better in a box similar to that of the Elite Flashback figures. Can you imagine how great it would've looked in the box next to the Rumble '91 Warrior figure from one of the Flashback sets? The figures are from the same match, but sadly that isn't how these releases work.

The figure itself is superb and probably should've been part of the main line. There hasn't been an Elite Macho King figure in years, and Savage appeals to all, as he always has. Why shove him into an exclusive set? The face sculpt seems to be new and features a toothy grimace very reminiscent of Savage. The paint apps are striking, though a bit sloppy on mine as has been an issue as of late with other figures. I'm hoping that this Savage design with the shirt is reused again down the line in different colors. While we have had a ton of figures of the Macho Man, what could a few more colorful variations hurt? I guarantee they would sell better than the endless Seth Rollins clogging up pegs.

The aforementioned accessories are a big part of the appeal. The scepter was also released with the Rumble '91 Warrior though it has more detailed paint apps this time around. It "breaks" just as it did in the original release and to my recollection was only used at the '91 Rumble for that sole purpose. The real one seemed to be made of plastic in order to break and is not the more common scepter presented by Ted DiBiase to Savage at his coronation. The lamp is bigger than the actual one at the event and has been included in sets before, but it's a fun touch. The gem here is that we finally have pointing hands to alternate on a Randy Savage figure. Who pointed more? I can't think of anyone.

This is a winner. Again, it's a shame that it was in a poorly distributed retailer exclusive series, but I'm not taking anything away from the figure for that. If there's a 2020 Figure of the Year candidate, this would be it so far. With the upcoming new Legends series being available for online pre-order, perhaps the days of these hard-to-get exclusives are slowly coming to an end. We can hope. While I just championed the Mattel product with a month's worth of blog entries, my frustrations were made clear. Perhaps for the 2021 installment of "Mattel May" we'll be celebrating the ease of obtaining these great figures upon release.

We can hope.

Monday, May 18, 2020

The King, The Dragon, Two Snakes & A Kid Commish

Now that we've gotten over the bitterness of the release of these figures in the last entry (though there will be more to come), let's look at the figures themselves. Being completely honest, there wouldn't BE any bitterness over the release if they weren't great figures. That being said, if Harley himself wasn't involved it would be the first "Build-A-Figure" release that I would've skipped had the release still gone the way it did with a different figure in place of "The King."

Aside from Steamboat, the series almost seemed to have a "King of the Ring" theme. With Race being obvious, you have Austin and Roberts appearing as they did at King of the Ring 1996. Steamboat did compete in the 1985 King of the Ring tournament which was won by Don Muraco, but there's no real connection. The look is obvious here. This is WrestleMania III Steamboat complete with the Intercontinental title. I guess you can split the set and say half is 1987 and the other half is 1996, but that's looking way too far into themes that the manufacturer never intended.

The packaging is a look back to the rectangular boxes of the past several years that I so enjoyed. These Flashbacks are particularly nice seeing as that the bright colors and baby blue "interview set" background are direct World Wrestling Federation-era throwbacks. I would not argue anyone who said that you get a true blue backdrop piece with each of these. That right there goes to show that bitterness over the release aside, I am always fair and give credit where it's due. The difference in the packaging releases between the United States and international were covered in the last entry.

Were this not a "Build-A-Figure" series, I would not own the Austin. I own so many figures of Stone Cold, The Rock, and The Undertaker from the Jakks era that I have no desire to add any more to my collection. A new "Stunning" Steve Austin would definitely pique my interest, but that's nowhere near here where we're discussing "The Rattlesnake." Steamboat has already been done in white as a Basic release although the detail on the gi is sensational. Jake Roberts is a fun entry as he has never been produced in his 1996 outfit correctly before. Jakks made an attempt in a two-pack with Austin as part of the Classic Superstars line, but the tunic ended up being made as a vest and was not accurate at all.

Fan of "The King" or not, Harley Race is the standout figure here and why so many want the set. The thing looks like a statue and for once I appreciate a soft plastic accessory as opposed to soft goods. The crown, which was re-released with the RetroFest Jim Duggan, fits perfectly on Harley's head even though it does not look like it would. With the accessories removed Harley looks just as accurate. I'm not sure that Mattel did quite as good of a job with the tattoos as Jakks did but the facial sculpt is better here. Harley's hair color changed during his run as "The King," and I'd say that this shade sits somewhere in the middle. The crown is present on the back of the trunks and the boots. The trunks crown always seemed to be a bit off-center in real life. It may be tad too far to the right here, but I'm not complaining.

While Race's accessories are his cape and crown, the others have a wider variety. Steamboat has his gi, sash, and Intercontinental Championship, Jake has "Revelations, his albino Burmese python, and Austin has his vest and microphone. The old school microphone would've been a better fit, but I'm not deducting points for it.

The Commissioner Shawn Michaels "Build-A-Figure" is an interesting choice. It's certainly a way to get another figure out of an all-time popular character. The stint was so brief, however, that I'm not sure it's essential. The likeness is perfect and the beard and ponytail are a great look, but it remains one of my least favorite of the "Build-A-Figure" lineup. It doesn't have the importance to the line that Jim Ross, Michael Cole, and The Fink do, yet I doubt it will be released on its own like Paul Heyman and Ricardo Rodriguez were. It's just sort of there and if you're not interested in Harley it really isn't worth the trouble of the set. If you're an HBK collector, you will want it for the face scan/sculpt alone.

This is a great set. It will irk a lot of collectors who, like myself, paid a premium to own the set should these exact figures get re-released. It's the nature of the beast and a risk you have to be willing to take. Austin and Steamboat aren't involved here as similar figures have been released. More figures of Jake are already on the horizon and seeing as how limited his run was in this outfit, I don't see a rehash. The, pardon my French, "shit-eating-grin" head sculpt debuted here should definitely see reuse. Harley is Harley. I think he's essential to any collection and I would be just as anxious for a figure of him with blue trunks and mutton chops. There have been rumors that we'll see him released in another form, but he isn't the kind of wrestler that Mattel likes to produce much of. Time will tell.

I took the plunge to get a case of these. I've rarely overspent in over three decades of collecting and I don't really feel that I did here, either. Way more than retail? Yes. But I feel satisfied. I have a set that I wanted. I'm still not happy about the blunder of a release that it was nor the "Collector's Edition" crapola that we collectors continue to face with each series. They can keep their "Elite Squad" hashtag and all of that other marketing nonsense disguised as something "fun." I'll collect my figures and spend the least amount of time out of my busy day doing so, thank you very much.

Monday, May 11, 2020

The Case Fit For A King...aka...How Mattel Blundered One Of Their Best Figure Efforts

A little over two years ago the first pictures surfaced of the third Wal Mart exclusive Elite Flashback series. Included were Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and King Harley Race. Together the five would include parts to build Shawn Michaels in his brown suit and cowboy hat from his short sting as commissioner. I greatly anticipated the set seeing as that Race is one of my top five favorite wrestlers, not to mention that this was his first inclusion into the Mattel line.

Before the set was released (and I use that term loosely), it became apparent that Harley would be "short packed." There's no excuse for this, no matter how the company wants to spin it, but nonetheless there would one figure of "The King" per case, with two of Steamboat and Roberts. The least exciting figure of the lot, Steve Austin, would have three figures per case. Credit where credit is due, Austin is a fundamental name when looking at the history of the company and I'm sure his eight thousandth (loose sarcasm) figure would sell well, but there's no reason for "short packing" in a set where most are going to "collect them all" regardless in order to create the "Build-A-Figure."

That Fall the set began hitting Wal Mart stores. It also became apparent that all of the figures were hot. Why not? It was a solid lineup, there was a "Build-A-Figure" involved, and the packaging was great as it had been with the previous Elite Flashback releases. But once stores received their initial shipment, the figures stopped. Where were they? Prices were skyrocketing on the secondary market, especially for the "crown jewel" of the set, Harley Race.

Smoke screen and double talk are concepts that have never been foreign to action figure collectors. Name any brand and manufacturer from the past and you're sure to hear excuses and stories as to why certain things happened to make this figure limited, that one delayed, or this item never to be released at all. Jakks "Chinese New Year," anyone? This set, with all of its controversy, has been no different. Did the company lose the rights to one of the characters? It hardly seems like that would cause them to pull completed product. Or was it a "trial run" for their absolutely lovely and collector-friendly "Collector's Edition" nonsense that has been plaguing the line since shortly after this set was released and magically disappeared?

Whatever the situation may be, a Canadian release of the figures has surfaced as well. Whoever got their hands on these is certainly feeling their own stimulus right now thanks to collectors such as myself who want this set, but such is free enterprise.

Upon opening a case you can see why so many Steamboat's and Race's ended up with the "switchblade slice" often found on figures in stores. There are also a few small differences. The Canadian releases omit any mention of the name "Shawn Michaels." Yes, the pieces of the "Build-A-Figure" are still there as are pictures of the pieces on the packaging, but the name and any worded acknowledgement are gone. This would lend credence to the theory that Mattel lost the rights to one of the characters in the set, but HBK figures have been produced since. A small blurb on the back of each package that mentioned a moment in the career of the respective wrestler is also gone. That seems to have been replaced by legal wording in multiple languages. On the Race, Steamboat, and Austin figures there is also a choking hazard/legal sticker added to the front which can be removed.

The figures themselves remain the same. Next week, we'll take a look at the five figures themselves and if they're worth the price you'll likely have to pay to add them to your collection.

Monday, May 4, 2020

The Anvil's Back! Yeah, Baby!

You've heard me say it before and I'm about to say it again. There are certain wrestlers who were seemingly designed to be action figures. They look like living cartoon characters to begin with and have the rough and tumble look that would translate well into what was traditionally deemed a "boys toy." While we now know that both boys and girls alike have hours of fun with wrestling figures, there still exists that particular style that makes you think, "What a perfect action figure that wrestler would make!" Jim Neidhart has it in spades.

My first figure of "The Anvil" was the one released by Hasbro in 1992. While many of us were hoping for a "Hart Foundation" version, this Neidhart is still the only one to reflect his days as part of "The New Foundation" with Owen Hart. The blue baggy pants with yellow trim were fun and colorful, though, and fit right in with the classic Hasbro flavor. Even at the time of release I appreciated the fact that they took the time to sculpt an entirely new torso for the figure. Hasbro became notorious for reusing parts, but The Anvil's unique physique was perfectly captured in that instance. Just describing it I'm feeling a retro review coming in the future, but let's get down to the figure at hand.

With the current WWE licensee of Mattel we're now on our third release for The Anvil, this being the first one posthumously. The figure is the latest joke, I mean, "Collector's Edition" release. These figures are not packed in every shipping case and are exclusive to an individual retailer. Basically this means that you likely won't find it and will have to bargain for it on eBay or another secondary market means. Luckily, I did run into Neidhart during a Target run for Clorox wipes and other items that have become essential in the current world climate, so here we are.

I'm not sure if I've touched upon the new packaging yet. I don't hate it, but I prefer the simple rectangular packaging that had been the norm for a few years. Manufacturers love switching up their product, so I knew the design that I preferred wouldn't last forever. The white and red color scheme is okay, but again, doesn't come close to the salad days of Mattel WWE boxing. The fact that we have hands floating in nearly every box isn't that appealing, either, but ultimately you should see what you're paying for.

The Anvil is nicely done. The design is based upon his later 1997-ish Hart Foundation days, complete with the jacket from that era. The laughing "yeah, baby!" head sculpt is new and I do see Neidhart there. With his trademark flattop and goatee it's hard to get him wrong, but this one is above average. On the flip side, all of the Mattel Anvil figures have been a tad too slim. The paunch should be a bit bigger. The hot pink and chest hair stand out as far as paint detail and some added design on the anvil on his top is a nice additional touch.

As mentioned above you get the jacket as well as sunglasses and extra hands. Seeing as that the elbow pads are removable, a cool little bonus would've been to include Davey Boy Smith's "Union Jack" elbow pad. The Anvil began wearing the gear following The British Bulldog's untimely death. It isn't something that really happened in WWE, but if the Virgil figure can include his convention table banner accessory then it means that nothing is off-limits.

As far as these limited "Collector's Edition" releases go, we've seen great (Kassius Ohno, Pat Patterson) and not so great (Paige, Sonya Deville). I'd say that The Anvil is somewhere in the middle with Gerald Brisco. It's a very nice figure and one that I'm happy to own, but I didn't feel the need to go out of my way for it once it was announced as being part of the dreadful "chase" system. This should have been a mainline release, but then again, they all should be. Let the limiting and demand come later from how well the figure is received.