Saturday, November 28, 2020

The Hulkster Returns To Mattel...By Way Of Eternia

I had several favorite action figure lines as a child. G.I. Joe, Star Wars, and Masters of the Universe. The latter, like many children, I referred to simply as "He-Man." I had quite a collection, but a little over a decade ago, in the interests of space and my wrestling collection, I sold the classic characters off to collectors who could give them the attention that they deserved. Because of this, I wasn't sure that I wanted to dive in when Mattel announced a figure line combining MOTU and WWE. While it's something a lot of us dreamed of decades ago, I didn't want it to make me regret my decision of years earlier. Combined with the fact that the line is a Wal Mart exclusive, a store that I rarely get to these days, my decision not to collect was cemented.

On a rare trip to the retailer this past summer, I found the "Masters of the WWE Universe" version of "Macho Man" Randy Savage. I was sold. And while I haven't really been able to collect much of the line since, when pre-orders for the "Rattlesnake Mountain Ring" became available I had to pull the trigger. No, I don't have much interest in "The Rattlesnake" himself. Between the overload of Stone Cold Steve Austin figures already and my general lack of nostalgia for the Attitude Era, I really didn't feel the need for another in this form. But for what ended up being Hulk Hogan's return to the Mattel line in this most unique situation? Sold.

There was already a ring in the line based on Castle Grayskull. This one greatly resembles Snake Mountain, the menacing purple lair of Skeletor. I received the original Snake Mountain playset for my birthday in 1987. I can't say that I had the same excitement here, but a few of the elements are a great throwback to that legendary toy. The snakes on the ring posts represent the large snake that swung from the top of Snake Mountain. The "ring steps" here are reminiscent of the treacherous bridge that connected the two sides. The purple rock base of the ring looks like the general foundation. For whatever reason the ringposts on mine don't "snap" into the base. I don't want to push them further and risk snapping them in permanently. I am wondering if this was done on purpose seeing as how hard this thing would be to store with the snakes always jutting out.

The ring comes needing assembly and this is where two issues arose. The first is that the turnpost snakes are not removable. They should be. The inability to remove them limits play value. As the ropes come tied tightly around one of the posts, you initially have to stretch one all the way around one of the snakes. As these are the plastic/vinyl ropes used in the War Games playset, there's a great feel that this rope will break as it's stretched over the snake. Can you imagine the rope breaking right out of the box? I don't normally apply mat stickers, but seeing as that this is a complete fantasy ring, I did it. It should also be noted that there is no "spring bounce" to the mat like most Mattel "basic" rings.

My true reason for buying this was, of course, Hulk Hogan. Seeing as that the first hints of the "Ultimate Edition" Hollywood Hogan figure shipping were just beginning to hit as of press time, this is indeed the first Mattel-produced Hulk Hogan figure to be released in five years. With many of these Masters of the WWE Universe figures, the fantasy gear and weapons can be removed to reveal an almost Remco AWA-like wrestling figure underneath. This is 100% true for Hogan. It's a nice looking version of The Hulkster. Stone Cold is a good basic version of The Rattlesnake also, though there is a "scaly" design on his tights that obviously wasn't ever there.

The figures are fun with their accessories on, as well. Austin's "snakes" that attach to his arms have moving jaws and remind of the classic MOTU character Rattlor. Hogan has attire that isn't far off from his wresting gear. His ax reminds me of He-Man's from all those years ago. His helmet may be the closest that we ever get to a figure of The Hulkster wearing his infamous "War Bonnet" briefly used in 1988. Why couldn't a fist have been added to the front to complete the look? The equipment is all easily removable for anyone who just wants the figures as wrestlers.

While the first Masters of the WWE Universe ring came with characters who were also released on their own, there's no evidence so far that this will happen here. Perhaps a "Hollywood" version of Hogan seeing as that a black and white Randy Savage is being done. I could honestly see many of the rings showing up for sale when collectors buy the set solely for the figures. I, myself, wish it were a more customizable design. The ring can be used with the regular Mattel WWE line. In the age of "cinematic" matches, is it a stretch that some of the more hellacious wrestlers could brawl here? Perhaps a "Snake Pit" match overseen by a rather demonic figure himself, Jake "The Snake" Roberts? Lots of ideas.

All in all, my goal here was to get a figure representing a blend of He-Man and Hulk Hogan that we all knew would be fantastic. The inconvenience of collecting the line doesn't guarantee that I'll purchase any more,but how amazing is it that "The Mega Powers" can explode in Eternia now, too?

Thursday, November 26, 2020

The Wrestling Classic Figure Review--Mattel WWE American Made Hulk Hogan

Hulkamaniacs worldwide got some great news in 2020: Hulk Hogan is back in the WWE figure universe. As of press time two Mattel figures are known to be on the way with more sure to be in the pipeline. Even Funko has already brought The Hulkster back to their widely popular Pop vinyl figure line. In thinking about the varieties of Hogan sure to be in the planning stages, there's one design that I'm fairly sure won't be returning. This version of Hulk already saw the light of day as an exclusive five years ago. Seeing as that I passed it up then, I decided to go for it now and see if it really did live up to the hype.

Hogan's availability window for Mattel was relatively brief when you consider the length of time that the line has gone on. Many classic and modern styles were left unreleased. It was roughly a year ago when my review of the Create-A-WWE-Superstar Hulk Hogan figure finally hit the blog. That figure is probably the closest we'll ever see Hogan in his guise of "Mr. America" in plastic form. Today's featured figure also deviates from Hogan's iconic red and yellow. It's the Ringside Collectibles "American Made" Hulk Hogan donning the patriotic blue and white.

The packaging is a colorful variation on that era's Elite box. A later era Hogan photo was artistically recreated to feature this figure's gear. The window is nice and wide with the figure posed to fill it. You'll note the lack of extra hands and heads floating about. For better or for worse this just wasn't part of Mattel's strategy then. It certainly appeals more to the carded/boxed collector that way. This could be an indicator that the older figure remain more desirable for those who don't open and/or prefer to collect signed. The Ringside Exclusive logo is obtrusive, but it no longer bothers me as much now that the company has proven to be the easiest way to obtain the Mattel WWE product.

The figure itself is a repaint of the Defining Moments Hogan released around the same time. It doesn't include the championship belt that was included there and the removable headband is a different style. For some reason this figure appears a bit more bowlegged than that one, and I'm not entirely sure why. It doesn't detract from the figure, however, and I think it may have been done to convey a sense of action which completely reflects The Hulkster.

Some may take issue with the "tear away" shirt as the cut in the front is unavoidable. It really boils down to whether Hogan, legendary for tearing his t-shirt, is able to do so in plastic form or not. I'm fine with it. I like the smaller headband included with this release. It being removable is a step-up from various other Hogan figures released before and after this one and should always be an included feature. He never wrestled a full match with the thing on. It is also the same headband which he wore on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1985. This is about the third release for the cross necklace which was also a big part of the Hogan character back then. It's rather easily taken off and put back on and looks to be just the right size.

With all of the Hogan looks yet to be made, I just can't see Mattel revisiting this look. The blue trunks have been done before in figure form, but I'm not sure they've been done better than right here. Unless you find someone who doesn't know what they have, you are going to pay more for this figure than it originally sold for five years ago. I will say that prices for it have gone done significantly since the announcement of Hogan's return to the line. I only regret not picking it up sooner.

We already know that we're finally getting Hollywood Hogan in the Mattel line, but how about "workout gear" Hulk that was shown as a prototype years ago? That's probably my personal choice for an alternate Hogan look. Seeing as that he wore a similar look to one of the WrestleMania III press conferences, I can think of no more unique a two-pack than that figure along with a street clothes Andre the Giant. I also think it's inevitable that we'll see an official release of "The Mega Powers" down the line, but how about a look that's never before been done. Possibly finally as some sort of exclusive? Two words:

War Bonnet. 

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Back To The '90s With The King

The new releases keep coming. I used to hate to do back-to-back entries of simply new figure reviews, but why not? Mattel has truly been pumping out the product and nothing going on in the world this year has seemingly caused much of an impact on it. I foresee the month of December being loaded with new product reviews, which as always will focus on the legends. Does it get more legendary than our star for this entry? The King is certainly near the top of the list, no matter what.

Jerry Lawler makes his fourth total appearance in the Mattel WWE line in the Elite 82 series. While there are other very worthy figures in the set, most notably the Elite debut of Keith Lee, for this series I decided just to review "The King." After all, no one wants a Rob Gronkowski review. Regardless, this is the second Elite series to bear the new packaging gimmick of the "Certified Authentic" seal. I'm still unsure as to what we're certifying, but I noticed this time around that the colors are a vast improvement over the packaging revisions of a year ago. The red is much more understated which is somewhat pleasing to my eye. I have nothing against the color red, I just have never gravitated toward it as far as wrestling figure packaging. 

Also pleasing is that for once a "legend" or "flashback" figure is actually part of the series rather than a "Collector's Edition" meant to spur a "fun" chase for the toy. Well, no five dollar profit for the Cheeto-fingered neckbeard scalper this time, The King is part of the regular lineup along with Alexa Bliss, John Morrison, Finn Balor, and the aforementioned Lee and Gronkowski. Maybe this could be a trend? Maybe we could get a 50/50 ratio of legends to current stars? We can bargain, Mattel. As if you care. Again, it's not that I don't like a lot of the current stars, but with lines like "Top Picks" around to re-release figures that no one wants like Seth Rollins, that should leave plenty of room for the all-time greats.

For a legend who's had as many assorted colorful looks as The King has, most of those styles have remained unrepresented in the figure world. This latest figure features a look that's absolutely never been done before. It's a design that easily takes you back to the days when Jerry Lawler showing up on WWF television was absolutely shocking. For years The King of Memphis denounced the company and all it stood for, yet here he was. It appeared that Hell had frozen over until around six months later when Jim Cornette appeared on Monday Night Raw and things really got crazy as far as what we thought we knew about pro wrestling, but we're getting off-topic. The matter at hand is that we finally have Jerry Lawler as he appeared when he was simultaneously a heel commentator nationwide and a local hero in Memphis. The magazines had a ball with that one.

While the body is the same as previous Elite Lawler figures, everything else is new. We've got a newly sculpted crown and a beautiful soft-goods cape. Honestly, this cape shows the fine effort that does go into the design and production of a lot of these figures. As much grief as myself and other collectors give Mattel for their often asinine practices, figures like this one, Superstar Billy Graham, WALTER, and other releases this year more than make up for it. A lot of companies would not have paid the elbow pad the attention that it deserved by including the regal detail on it, but there it is.

The facial likeness is new as well and is the first of Lawler to be done in the "True FX" style. While it does look good from multiple angles, there is something just a tad off when looking at the figure dead in the eyes. The look they were going for was Lawler's "unimpressed" expression that he shot so many times both in the ring and in promos, but it came off as looking somewhat tired. Still, it should be noted that all four Mattel Jerry Lawler figures have had different head sculpts. There's really something to be said about that and just as with the design on the costume it's much appreciated.

In another year this would be a top Figure of the Year candidate. With so many other options I'm not sure that it quite makes the cut, but it is still a great figure that any fan of Lawler or the classics absolutely needs. The King seems to pop up in the Mattel line every few years just like Dusty Rhodes. Both men also have a plethora of looks to choose from. But can you easily find any of their past figures now? Exactly. Grab it when you see it or order it when you have the chance, which is always a great rule of thumb when it comes to the Mattel WWE line. There isn't time to dawdle.

The next entry hits on Turkey Day! It's an American made topic for a real American holiday. Ironically, it's an item that I dawdled on for years but finally decided to go for. After you check in with us on your favorite gut-busting holiday, you may decide to take the plunge as well, brother.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

WALTER Begins His TakeOver Of The Figure World

If I haven't already gone into it on these pages, I will now. I have a unique way of taking in the current product. While I appreciate so much of the talent that is out there, I really can't take the presentation in any way, shape or form. The one show that I did enjoy, NWA Powerrr, sadly seems to be all but done. Instead of wasting my time with the other weekly shows that are made up of either filler or the same formulaic patterns of the past two decades, I simply wait to hear about a particular star or match that I feel is worth going out of my way for. Then, via either WWE Network or other means of viewing, I pull up whatever I want, whenever I want. One of the stars who I became a fan of this way is WALTER. He's a true throwback yet has a dash of modern flavor. The best of both worlds.

I know that I wasn't the only one who found it peculiar that a WALTER figure wasn't announced at the various product unveilings this year. There seemed to be a bevy of NXT female talents getting figures who I had barely, if ever, heard about, yet no WALTER. A man who has made waves, captured a championship, and even has his own faction. Low and behold, WALTER was suddenly announced as the latest Ringside Collectibles exclusive. Any collector with half a brain will tell you that in 2020 a Ringside exclusive is a sigh of relief over any brick-and-mortar retail exclusive.

Shipping just in time for the holidays, WALTER's first figure is not only an exclusive but a very detailed Elite. The first thing to note is the seemingly new trend in exclusive packaging. The boxes truly are boxes. No J-hooks here and I don't think that's a bad thing at all. If the figures aren't going to be at retail, why bother? There are plenty of shelving options out there if display is your worry. The box reflects WALTER's WWE UK Champioship win at NXT TakeOver: New York and, just like the man himself, is a darkly toned package as far as hues and colors. As dark as it is, it still stands out and is one of the better efforts of the year.

WALTER is packed with plenty of accessories including the WWE UK Championship, an alternate set of "open" hands, and most importantly his si-gnature "Ring General" robe. The aforementioned logo appears on both the back of the robe and the trunks of the figure. I've seen some criticism that the belt is the "WWE" UK Championship and not the "NXT" UK Championship as it is now, but this figure is clearly reflecting when he won the title. 

The figure is big and somewhat bulky just like the man himself. WALTER is no muscle guy, he's just big. The way an imposing wrestler should be. I think a big part of his appeal to me is that I could truly see this guy tearing AWA rings up were he a star in the '70s. WALTER vs Billy Robinson would've been a Helluva battle, if you ask me. 

The likeness is spot on. The parts used to make the body are reused I'm fairly sure, but they work. That's all we can ask for. The robe is soft goods and looks great on the figure, though it is packaged to the side. Seeing as that it's soft goods it enables a variety of poses that the stiff rubber accessories do not. There is a time and a place for both, but the wise choice was made here.

I'm certain that we'll see more figures of WALTER down the line, but often there is a time clause when exclusives are involved. I could see him popping up in a Basic line before anything else. Why wait? In a year of a lot of nice figures this is certain a worthy modern-day entry into the running for Figure of the Year just as I thought it would be as soon as I saw it. Plus, no worries about finding it. Unlike Target and Wal Mart, Ringside has you covered. As diverse as wrestling is once again getting, it's still refreshing to see someone who isn't a jacked-up monster becoming a star. WALTER is that and more. So is his rookie figure entry.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Ohhhhh Babyyyy...Mae Young's Back In Action (Figure Form)

It's hard enough to get figures of legends produced, much less female legends, but "ohhhh baby" here's another one for the Mattel roster. Joining Sherri, Alundra, and Wendi is The Great Mae Young. I'll refrain from bashing the Social Justice Warriors who caused The Fabulous Moolah not to be part of this lineup, but catch me on Twitter where the mood is always ugly and I'd be glad to rant with you. We're here to celebrate Mae's second entry into the figure world, and what a representation it is!

Mae is the "Collector's Edition" release to be shipped with Mattel's WWE Elite 81 series. It's the first series in awhile where I refrained from pre-ordering the entire set. Aside from Stunning Steve Austin (a pre-order for me solely for the WCW Tag Team Championship Belt), the rest of the series felt very passable. Starting with this wave there's a new feature on the packaging. The WWE hologram is circled by a logo signifying that the figure is "Certified Authentic." Ummm...what else would it be? It's not an AEW figure as they fly off of the shelves. Heck, maybe it's to quell the shock of actually finding a decent WWE figure in a store? Who knows. Once again, we're here to celebrate Mae and not for bitterness.

I love Mae. She was a great character in the world of wrestling and was always fun at appearances, too. Seeing as that I was the proud recipient of a Mae Young smooch, I would be biased even if this figure was awful. But it isn't. It's great. It's also lovingly packaged with the Mae Young Classic tournament trophy. Seeing as that Mae was small, the inclusion of the trophy makes sure that the figure doesn't "float" in the package. After Mae's prototype was unveiled, I was wondering if the upcoming Dusty Rhodes figure was going to include his tournament trophy. It doesn't seem to be the case but is certainly an avenue to be explored in the future.

Included with Mae along with the trophy are an "open" set of hands, ring jacket, and crown. Yes, Queen Mae Young reigned in the 1960's and I recall her wearing the crown occasionally in her later years as well. Mattel teased us with a "Queen Mae" doll prototype some years ago, but rumor suggests that it wasn't ever planned for release. The Jakks version of Mae was great and I'm certainly thrilled to have gotten one signed by the lady herself, but it seems sort of barebones now that we have this release. The jacket is soft goods and allows for various poses. The crown is unique to this figure and fits perfectly on her head.

Mattel really nailed Mae's unique posture as well. The molds for the legs certainly look like their new for this figure alone, but I haven't had the opportunity to check. The expression on her face is perfect and conveys the joy that she always seemed to be having in the wrestling business. An extra cool detail is that Mattel even included the tattoos on her left forearm. This is the quintessential Mae. Years ago no one would've predicted that the Mattel-WWE relationship would yield us several legendary women, but here we are with definitive versions. While it's obvious that Mae and Wendi were made due to the popularity of eras in which they were involved, it's still nice to know that the door is open for such releases.

While this is a "Collector's Edition," I don't see the demand for it being as high as some of the others. Superstar Billy Graham ended up hanging around in stores. If the shipments are the same for this figure, you may just end up running into her. Since I can't really see them ever producing Mae again, you may not want to risk it. The trophy could cause some additional interest from modern-only collectors. Ultimately this is a figure that makes you sit back and forget about the bitterness caused by SJW's "cancelling" Moolah and Mattel cancelling the fun of collecting due to some of their practices.

Ohhhhh baby!

Thursday, November 5, 2020

The Last of the Territorial Wrestlers...Tracy Smothers

Until I added the label of his name to this entry, I truly thought that this may have been the first time that Tracy Smothers was mentioned in the decade plus of this blog's existance. It isn't, but if it were it certainly wouldn't have been due to my lack of fandom for the man. As just about anyone would tell you, Tracy Smothers was the man. It seems generic, but there's no other way to put it. His passing last month was sadly not a surprise due to his health issues, but still very much a shock due to the unbreakable spirit that the man had.

I've always felt that Tracy Smothers was the last true territorial wrestler, especially seeing as that he was reportedly still wrestling as of a year ago. He began in 1982, the year that I was born, and wrestled virtually everywhere. He may not have had huge runs everywhere he went, but I honestly don't think that mattered to him. If you recall Randy The Ram's line of "I just wanna wrestle," in the film The Wrestler, I think that summed up Smothers fairly well.

And despite runs in WWF, WCW, ECW, and various other territories, I would bet money that Smothers had some of his best times working the indy circuit in the 2000's. We in the Pittsburgh area were lucky enough to have Tracy prioritize our local independent group, IWC, as one of his top spots. Often with "Southern Comfort" partner Chris Hamrick, when Tracy was on the card you were guaranteed a great, hard-hitting match mixed with a bit of Southern-style entertainment as only Tracy could provide. During this run Tracy was also usually the veteran of the locker room. I know for a fact that many then up-and-coming wrestlers were more than honored to sit under his learning tree and even more thrilled if they were listed on the booking sheet opposite "the wild-eyed Southern boy."

One thing that Tracy did not have a lot of was merchandising. His other appearance here on the blog was actually one of a few posts documenting the top wrestling stars who never had an action figure. He made it into several trading card sets and sold a lot of self-produced merch at his ubiquitous gimmick table. If his rights can be obtained he would be an amazing fit into the Figures Toy Company Legends of Professional Wrestling Line. For a company that loves producing variants, he's a gold mine.

It's actually his table that reminds me of my favorite Smothers story. There was a time when WWE was heavily cracking down on individuals selling the footage that they owned. Conventions were frequently raided, albeit silently, due to unauthorized DVD's being sold. Once at an event I purchased two NWA shows on DVD from Tracy. They were very bootlegged, but in the days before WWE Network it was how a fan obtained this old footage. Tracy, for whatever reason, signed both of the actual discs for me. Think about that. I don't think that I even realized it at the time. All I can say is that it was a very Tracy Smothers thing to do, and that's a great thing. He seemed very care-free.

It was probably that way of thinking that guided him through his health issues. It probably also allowed him to enjoy a lot more of life than most in his fifty-eight years. He was a wrestler's wrestler, loved the business, loved entertaining the fans, and loved the fans. We loved him, too. 

Tracy Smothers