Thursday, September 22, 2022

PowerTown Comes To Life

I don’t normally do preview posts, especially when I have no in-hand examples. That being said, the idea that the new PowerTown Wrestling figure line is pre-ordered and fast on its way to becoming a reality is enough to get any longtime wrestling collector excited. There was skepticism on all fronts as soon as the line was announced. Wrestling fans are unfortunately all too familiar with hearing big promises with little-to-no results. While we’re still in the pre-ordering process for the PowerTown product and it will be a few months before it’s in our hands and on our shelves, the excitement is fresh for both what’s been announced and the potential future. 

Verne Gagne, Lou Thesz, Stan Hansen, Kerry Von Erich, Bruiser Brody and Magnum T.A. Those six are our initial lineup. Two of those names have never had a figure. Others have had little to no representation in the “modern” figure era. In the thirteen years of this blog I have occasionally created short lists of names who have deserved immortalization in plastic. Three of these names made those lists. Gagne (a glaring omission in the Remco AWA line) and Thesz (not a contemporary of any figure line but certainly deserving) are finally getting their due while Magnum, who was figureless when my lists were compiled, is getting only his second. Hansen has never had a modern and fully poseable figure. Brody has had several figures however the closest to modern was in the Jakks WWE Classic Superstars line. That likeness and overall presentation left many feeling underwhelmed. Kerry Von Erich has two Mattel WWE figures which have become highly sought after and expensive on the secondary market as well as his 1992 Hasbro WWF release. 

Looking back at wrestling legends figure lines there really hasn’t been one that feels all-encompassing. The first was the Figures Toy Company “Legends of Professional Wrestling” line. I’ve often touted that series as a spiritual successor of sorts to the Remco AWA collection. The designs are relatively basic but a lot of fun at the same time. The line still has yielded the only figures of Wahoo McDaniel, Ox Baker and Eddie Gilbert. FTC is still in the figure business with several different lines being produced to this day including a second line with the "Legends of Professional Wrestling" name, but results and reaction have been inconsistent at best. 

The biggest legends line and the wrestling figure line that I often felt was the greatest of all-time was Jakks WWE Classic Superstars. For its time it was unmatched. Though there were various reasons why some big names absolutely could not be included (Randy Savage, Ricky Steamboat, The Von Erich’s and JJ Dillon to name a few), after the first few waves we began to receive figures that wouldn’t have been imagined just years earlier. Were we really getting WWE figures of Bruno Sammartino, Ron Bass, Ernie Ladd, Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura in the 2000’s? We were. Though Curt Hennig was indeed part of the line, it was not in fact perfect. Planned figures were canceled far into design. Designs sometimes contained oddball mistakes. I won’t even get into “Chinese New Year.” As they say, if you know you know. The biggest issue for me was the drastic decline in quality of the figures themselves as the years went on. The latter figures are positively brittle. It feels like almost a sin to attempt to pose them. Seeing as this is the time when many “one time” names such as Jack Brisco, Nikita Koloff and The Rock N Roll Express were released, the legacy has not endured. 

When Mattel took over the WWE line they immediately promised legends in some form. What I appreciated about the early efforts were that they released legends in designs that Jakks had not just recently done. Short-haired Rick Rude is definitely my favorite from these early offerings. Mattel also managed to produce some of the names not permitted to Jakks such as Savage, Steamboat and both Kerry and Kevin Von Erich. Things were looking good until the company decided that legends simply didn’t sell. To this day collectors really don’t understand this, but it was made clear by Mattel canceling the individual legends line altogether. Thankfully the attitude has changed and Mattel has since delivered names that collectors never would’ve expected from them (Dillon, Magnum, Paul Ellering) and has produced what we would without a doubt call “deep dives.” Figures of Mean Mark Callous, The Dingo Warrior and The Goon? It’s been fun and, to their credit, they are expected to continue with Paul E. Dangerously, The Samoan Swat Team and others yet to be announced. 

Even with all of that to buy, collectors always want more. They also realize that there are some names that just aren’t ever going to be done under the WWE banner. That’s where Relativity Worldwide and PowerTown Wrestling come in. Using a unique business model that we’ve been given a glimpse of in interviews, the company was boasting nearly two-hundred signed names this past spring. Their mission seems to be to celebrate those in the vast history of wrestling who haven’t really seen the spoils of heavy merchandising. It’s a wonderful concept and truly a win-win for both fans and the wrestlers if all works out. A close friend/fellow collector and I have already spent hours this year thinking up names, waves and concepts. For us, this once pipe dream in both wrestling and toy collecting is fast coming true. 

Again, while we don’t have anything in-hand as of yet, there’s still a lot to be praising. The company has been very open about timing, changes (Ted DiBiase was initially planned for the first wave; Brody replaced him) and the when’s and how’s of obtaining the product. A distribution partnership with Highspots had me feeling very confident and the pre-order process was even better. Seeing as that the mission is to get these wrestlers what they’re deserving of, I don’t see a whole lot of “limited” nonsense happening here. I get the feeling that if someone is willing to pay for these figures at the time they’re offered that they will get them. No ridiculous five minute sellouts. “Chase” variants? Why bother when a simple re-release can get more money for the wrestler and/or family. So far PowerTown seems to “get it.” Do you know what companies that “get it” get from this consumer? My money. 

I’d be amiss to not mention three of the names behind this effort. The first is Steve Rosenthal who has become probably the biggest voice in promoting the line. He was also a force behind the Remco AWA figure line in the ’80s. One of the names who had a figure in that line, Greg Gagne, is also part of this and is likely instrumental in securing the rights to many of the names that we’ll be seeing in the lineups. Last but not least is Terry Allen, Magnum T.A. himself. I had the fortune of sharing a banquet table with Mr. Allen in Charlotte several years ago while his Mattel figure was in limbo of ever being made. Speaking with him back then on the subject, I can tell you that he’s very aware of what these items mean to fans and collectors. Sounds like a dream team to me! 

The initial set of six listed above is available at PowerTownWrestling.com with several different options for pre-ordering. You can bet we’ll have plenty of coverage right here once they’re released. So far not too much is known about future waves other than that the company is busy at work on them. Many names such as Harley Race, Nick Bockwinkel, The Poffo Family and The Rougeau Family have been confirmed as being signed. Last month in Charlotte I, personally, got to hear the excitement of Judy Martin and Leilani Kai over finally getting figures. Before PowerTown was even announced the spouse of a deceased legend (who may or may not have already been mentioned in this blog entry…) heavily hinted to me about inclusion in a line like this. And, of course, if the fine folks at PowerTown would be kind enough to give me a hint or scoop or two to share with you all I’d be more than honored. 

Where are us collectors headed? I don’t know about you, but I’m on my way to PowerTown.

Friday, September 16, 2022

A Hasbro-Styled Manager? It's All Beautiful, Baby!

Pre-order to delivery in less than a week? That’s what I call a whirlwind! Indeed that’s how it went down with Mattel Creations WWE Retro 4-Pack 2. Unlike the first set which only lasted on pre-order for around five hours and then sold out, as of press time this set is still available. Is that good or bad? Overall in my opinion it’s a plus. I’ve long championed anyone and everyone being able to get a fair shot at these items. The “barely there” pre-orders for other Mattel WWE items that have literally lasted several minutes (if that) are atrocious and a stain both to the company and the hobby. Some will maintain that sellouts hurt the chances for future items of a similar nature to be offered, but if the market isn’t there it simply isn’t there. Personally I’d rather the item not exist at all if it’s going to be difficult to obtain and then become costly shortly after. I’m all for secondary market values but they have to be for the right reasons. “Manufactured” values, I’m looking directly at Jazwares and their “Chinese New Year” spokesperson long since said to be behind such decisions, should be enough to turn anyone off of a toy line. 

But applause to Mattel for making this set easy to get. Most of us have wanted managers in the Hasbro style for the better part of thirty-two years. Hasbro infamously omitted anything but wrestlers from their WWF figure line, a dramatic change from their predecessor LJN who included wrestlers, managers, announcers and even referees in the Wrestling Superstars collection. The first officially made and licensed manager in this style is “The Mouth Of The South” Jimmy Hart. Joining “The Mouth” in this set are his tag team The Hart Foundation consisting of Bret “Hitman” Hart and Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart as well as classic ‘80s baddie Nikolai Volkoff. 

The packaging style is exactly the same as the previous set. Shipped in the shipping box (just as these would arrive to a retailer were they sold that way) inside is a box holding the four individually carded figures. That box is styled in the Hasbro theme just as the individual cards and figures are and will remind longtime collectors of the old Jake The Snake’s “Snake” toy (it featured no proper name) box. The cards feature new renders of old photographs rather than just the photographs themselves. It’s an interesting choice and not one that everyone is behind. To be fair, a lot of the licensed Hasbro style “boutique” figure lines have also gone this route. The difference there is that those companies have used a better, firmer cardstock for the backs. The card backs on these have been very thin and thus easily damaged since the beginning of the Mattel Retro line back when it was sold at retail. It’s certainly “close enough” with many of the original nuances like the smaller lines have. We’ll never have exact Hasbro replicas and I think most have accepted that. 

Starting with Jimmy Hart, my most wanted figure in the set. It’s obvious from the start that the body is a repaint of the Mean Gene Okerlund figure from last time. I’m fine with that and really any Hasbro collector should be as it’s a classic vintage toy manufacturer move. The head is pretty much exactly what anyone should expect from a Hasbro Jimmy Hart. I could possibly have pictured a “mouth open” sculpt here, but it’s difficult to say what Hasbro would’ve done since they never ventured down this path. The megaphone is removable and reused from the Elite Jimmy Hart figures. He has a “Real Superstar Action” (the same as Mean Gene, of course) and I do feel that if Hasbro had explored non-wrestlers they would have included such mechanisms like with any other figure. The paint d├ęcor on the jacket is easily the best of the set and possibly the best Jimmy Hart design to date as far as attire goes. It’s not like I’ve been hiding it, but this is my favorite of the lot this time by far. 

Next we’ll switch to Nikolai Volkoff. This one stings a bit as I always loved seeing big Nikolai at shows and it pains me that this figure can’t ever be signed. I’ve said it before, but years before any sort of wrestling legends figure lines were produced I had always pictured Nikolai being among some sort of set of them. So far he’s been in all of them. He really needs to make it into the WWE Superstars line (the figures which pay tribute in design to the Remco AWA line) as he fits the ‘80s era that I feel should be stuck to with those figures. This Nikolai is a mixed bag. Seeing as that most Hasbro hat accessories were not removable, it’s ok that this figure reflects that. However seeing as that the figure has the hat attached I feel that it should be one hundred percent in entrance gear. It seems that the “USSR” shirt is now some sort of issue (look at the card back), but a plain red shirt or the jacket would’ve done well. I’m guessing that they didn’t use too much budget here. While the “Nikolai Kickoli” isn’t completely inappropriate for the legend (he did often use a “spin kick”), a “slam” mechanism would’ve been a much better choice. Frankly, I’m also tired of the non-Hasbro native kick mechanism. I think the absolutely horrible Retro Shawn Michaels figure that featured it is what originally soured me on it. Many are pleased that there is finally a Volkoff to go with the Retro Iron Sheik from years ago and I would have to agree with that sentiment. As I alluded to earlier I feel that he’s an iconic character from a beloved era and should always find representation because of that. 

The Anvil himself is back in Hasbro style. It wasn’t that long ago when the original Hasbro Jim Neidhart figure was reviewed here on the blog. This time we have “The Tank” in the look that he was originally designed to appear with in the Hasbro line. Before that figure could be released his style on WWF television changed thus we received “The New Foundation” version back in late 1992. This version was a polarizing figure ever since it was first announced and shown. Some loved it while others weren’t quite convinced of the body type. While it is perhaps a tad slimmer than most of our mental pictures of Neidhart, ultimately it works. As with Bret the singlet is painted on rather than molded, but don’t kid yourself into thinking that Hasbro never used this tactic. They did. The key with Retros is that modern design practices should usually be avoided. It’s about replicating the well-remembered standards of the past whenever possible. The face is great and the sunglasses are attached as is the case with all three of the Hart figures here. I like this one and while many probably feel that we should’ve seen him with the “clothesline” mechanism, we already had that with him thirty years ago. Not to mention… 

Our last figure in the group of four, Bret “The Hitman” Hart, has the much beloved “clothesline” maneuver. Seeing as that I always enjoyed tag team Bret more than single Hitman, this is my favorite figure of the Canadian legend in this style. I will say that it feels the figure has a bit of an identity crisis. The attire here (as well as with Neidhart) reflects the later, babyface version of The Hart Foundation while the head and the card back are of the earlier Hitman in the WWF. From my earlier statement it’s obvious that this doesn’t really bother me, it would just be interesting to know why they went this route. Some were looking for the earlier versions of The Hart Foundation with either black, blue or a combo, but seeing as that Jimmy is part of the set I actually think that the solid pink would’ve been a fun choice. Nonetheless I think Mattel did a great job here in bringing Bret back to this style for the first time in twenty-eight years. 

A lineup that had some on the fence proves to be another winner. Not perfect but I can’t recall any retro figures that truly have been. From rights issues to pandering to cost cutting or whatever else you want to cite, “perfect” replicas of past wrestling figures just aren’t going to happen. This isn’t a situation as with Star Wars where nearly identical replicas and “retro” versions of old characters are being pumped out. Even in that genre many of the same aforementioned issues exist. Nonetheless I do feel that these will appreciate in value as the years go on. Again, that’s a good thing and not to be confused with an item being made solely for that purpose. After a decade of the Hasbro WWF line being red hot with collectors, the figures show no indication of cooling off any time soon. Even some of the earlier Mattel Retro releases from just a few years ago such as Diesel and The Junkyard Dog have become hot items. Personally I had no problem obtaining them at the time and have heard that they even showed up in outlets such as Five Below. I don’t see the latter happening with these Mattel Creations releases, so as I’m so fond of saying…”get them while you can!” 

We already have a look into the future with this line. The next set is a tribute to four planned figures from the original Hasbro line that never saw the light of day, at least not in these forms. We’ve got Tugboat, Rhythm & Blues Greg “The Hammer” Valentine (Boxcar!), “All-American” Lex Luger and babyface Doink the Clown.  Prototypes have been shown but as the set we looked at today proves, you have to have them in hand before you can give any final judgement. Following that set we have another lineup of four featuring a figure that will CLEARLY be a winner just by viewing the prototype, none other than Jerry “The King” Lawler. Easily one of the most wanted omissions from the Hasbro line, despite being active as both a wrestler and announcer in that era’s World Wrestling Federation, there’s no evidence that he was ever even planned at the time. Another name who also needs inclusion in the WWE Superstars line, The King is once again claiming his throne. The other three to join him have yet to be announced. In addition, a pair of 2-packs starring the nWo will be hitting the biggest online wrestling figure retailer. Kevin Nash and Scott Hall will team in one with Hollywood Hulk Hogan and Syxx in the other. While I will pick them up, I’ll admit that I’m least excited for these. They could very well surprise me as the nWo’s inclusion in the WWE Superstars line was very well executed as I discovered once they were in my hand. 

Whether it be Hasbro, Remco or even LJN style, there’s something about retro…

Monday, September 12, 2022

The Immortal King

It’s hard to believe that it’s been ten years since we were reflecting on the life and career of Jerry “The King” Lawler here on the blog. Lawler had just suffered his heart attack following a match on WWE Raw and while the news was encouraging it was still a scary situation that hasn’t been forgotten to this day. The King is in my top ten of all-time for a multitude of reasons. Now in 2022 he’s not only celebrating a decade of survival following that terrible incident but also his 52nd year in the wrestling business! 

Jerry Lawler was the fifth star that I met in the wrestling business. He was also the name that finally drew me to attend an indy show. I didn’t regret it then and the countless times that I’ve encountered him since have been just as pleasurable. Upon meeting him you can tell that The King simply loves life. He truly seems to enjoy attending the never-ending amount of shows that he is booked for and always leaves fans with a good memory. Have I mentioned that he has one of the nicest signatures in wrestling? Actually, I’ve done an entire blog entry or two on it. The artist in Lawler absolutely shines in his penmanship. From picking up items signed decades ago, it’s obvious that the signature has been that nice throughout his career. 

The first action figure release of The King was a huge deal to me. When he was first released as part of Jakks WWF Bad Boys series in 1997, many were most excited for the first figure of Stone Cold Steve Austin or even Hunter Hearst Helmsley. While I enjoyed the entire series, the crown jewel of the lineup for me was The King. Though it was the beginning of “The Attitude Era,” my mind was on the fact that the scale of the figure worked very well with the Remco AWA figures of a decade earlier. Finally classic matches pitting The King against Nick Bockwinkel and Curt Hennig among others could be recreated! Jakks would periodically release Lawler as their WWF/WWE license continued over the years, but they did a true glowing tribute to Memphis Wrestling in the legendary Classic Superstars line when Andy Kaufman was produced to battle The King. Released as both a single figure and in a two-pack with Lawler, Kaufman was a deep dive that continues to help cement the line’s legacy as one of the greatest. 

Mattel has been very generous with Lawler releases. While the company was somewhat wishy-washy on the inclusion of legends up until around four or five years ago, we’ve seen a total of four releases from the company with at least one more on the way. The first, a representation of modern Lawler, may still remain my favorite. The second was a WWE Hall of Fame figure release which featured the same entrance gear as the first figure but looked similar to the Jakks Classic Superstars releases. The most recent Elite release features Lawler in the look that he wore for his first few years in the WWF. It’s a style that will be duplicated in the upcoming Mattel Retro figure of The King that will allow collectors to add him to their Hasbro-sized worlds at long last. A modern commentator version has also been done and there are plenty more looks to choose from should we be lucky enough to get more. The WWE Superstars line is designed to reflect the aforementioned Remco AWA figures of the ‘80s. While I still love the similarly-scaled Jakks release of a quarter century ago, Jerry Lawler needs to become part of this line, too. 

The King isn’t just a toy. He’s a singer, too! He’s told me on multiple occasions that his records weren’t released, they escaped, but don’t listen to the legend! The King’s records are among my favorite collectibles of him and from the Memphis territory itself. Not only does he have his own LPs and 45 singles, but he also did the artwork for the original release of Jimmy Hart’s Outrageous Conduct album. Looking at the albums, didn’t Lawler even look like a musical star from the ‘70s? That great goatee certainly sells it! I recall talk of The King’s musical work being re-released some time ago but haven’t heard anything since. The albums do come up for auction now and then. 

For as big a star as he was for decades, The King doesn’t have as many magazine cover appearances as he probably deserved. Inside those magazines, however, he certainly got a ton of press. I can still remember a time when I had simply read a ton about Jerry “The King” Lawler and hadn’t ever actually seen him wrestle. Thanks to odd-hour wrestling shows and the magic of videotape that did eventually change and my fandom for The King only grew. He does have one legendary magazine cover that is popular to this day, the August 1984 issue of Pro Wrestling Illustrated. It’s an amazing portrait of The King shown in his famous one-strap singlet donning, of course, that goatee. It even recently made a cameo in the Wonder Woman ’84 motion picture! That isn’t his only magazine cover, of course, with another fan favorite being from the WWF in July 1995 where The King of Memphis is joined by other royalty such as “Don King,” King Kong Bundy and even “The King of Rock & Roll!” 

While he may not have had as many magazine covers as a Ric Flair or a Dusty Rhodes, The King may beat them all out as far as program covers. It’s hard not to find a Memphis wrestling program that doesn’t feature The King (one was showcased on this blog just weeks ago!) and considering his multiple decades on top there it really isn’t a surprise. Copies of the Memphis promotion’s Action Ringside program featuring Lawler covers can regularly be found on eBay. Considering their age, most showcase great shots of The King in funky period fashions! Another popular appearance is on the cover of the AWA SuperClash III program where Lawler is facing off with Kerry Von Erich. This one unfortunately doesn’t show up all that often as I’ve found out with all of the offers that I receive any time that I feature it. It’s a treasure for sure. 

The crown (originally borrowed from Bobby Shane!). The goatee. The signature. The strap. The piledriver. All reasons to love The King. He’s entertained us for over half a century with no end in sight. AWA, WWF, USWA or Memphis, he was royalty in all. Teaming or feuding with the likes of Jackie Fargo, Bill Dundee, Randy Savage and even Bret Hart, he always brought his best to the table and drew money wherever he was working. Isn’t that what it’s all about? Most smart wrestlers would tell you that. Me? I think it’s more those records, figures, and programs…