Thursday, September 28, 2023

Mattel Frustrations: Then. Now. Forever.

Well, it turned out to be a full month of figure reviews here on the blog. At least the variety was there which seems to be a trend in wrestling figure collecting as of late. There’s certainly a lot to choose from. If you can find what you want on the shelves, that is. What if the figure that you want is suddenly pulled from the shelves? You may even have it in your hands but when you take it up to pay, it rings up as “Recalled” and the friendly red shirted “team member” whisks it from your hands like the contraband that it apparently is. In early August this is what happened to many WWE collectors across the country in quite the “60th Anniversary” celebration. Let’s take a look at the culprit(s)…

Unexpectedly popping up on Target shelves in late July/early August was the Mattel WWE 60thAnniversary four-pack. Containing three WWE icons and one current Superstar (remember, to protect the brand WWE no longer allows the creation of icons), new releases of Hulk Hogan, Rocky Maivia, Stone Cole Steve Austin and Becky Lynch came packaged in a shiny and snazzy “60th Anniversary” box. Suddenly, before the first week of August was even completed, reports began to surface that collectors were being denied purchase of the set at Target registers and that it was being recalled. Whatever stock managed to sneak by Target’s point of sales without the alert instantly became the hottest thing in wrestling figures.

For what it’s worth, the panic didn’t last long. Word got out that WWE demanded a packaging change from 60th Anniversary to the company mantra of “Then. Now. Forever.” and that the set would soon be available once again, albeit corrected. While I haven’t heard of the repackaged set being available as of yet, it was up for pre-order through Target for a period of time. Some reports have even come about of the already released version even showing up in discount stores. Due to my want of two accessories in the set (sad, really) I was able to get one at Target just days before the recall started. Thanks to my incessant need for those two aforementioned accessories we have a set to crack open and look at today!

If you hadn’t guessed by now, the two accessories that I just had to have were the shirt and belt included with The Hulkster. Though the first WWE Championship design that Hogan held was released in both LJN form and more recently via The Coliseum Collection, until now it’s never before been done with the correct green strap in toy form. Aside from the belt, an early “American Made/Hulk-A-Mania” shirt is included as well. These are the kinds of accessories that, while you’d hope will be released again, very well could stay available solely in this set. Though the Coliseum Collection version designed to look like the LJN release of yesteryear is more than adequate, it’s nice finally having a color accurate version of the belt that Hogan, as well as The Iron Sheik and Bob Backlund, held in the early ‘80s. It’s also nice to have a shirt that predates the “Hulkamania” logo that we’re all so familiar with. It even resembles shirts that The Hulkster wore in the AWA days when he seemed on the cusp of dethroning Nick Bockwinkel for the title.

We’ve received a bevy of great Hulk figures from Mattel over the past few years but I think that this one tops my list as far as the “early years of Hulkamania” look goes. Used here is the Elite body type that was originally created for the early Mattel Hogan releases of a decade ago. It really captures his look well in a way that I feel the Ultimate Edition style just can’t. You also get two different heads to plunk on, but they’re really very similar aside from the mouth. I can hear this figure on appearances ranging from Tuesday Night Titans to The Tonight Show telling the world about how Hulkamania is running wild. Can’t you?

Next up we have Rocky Maivia in the outfit that he wore in his 1996 Survivor Series debut and shortly after. Ah, that poofy hair that’s been meme’d to death in modern times, though it still looks better than the “broccoli head” look that seems to be popular with youngsters today. The well-remembered green/blue strap entrance gear is also included. Many will remember first getting this outfit in toy form in one of the ubiquitous Jakks “Bone Crunching Action” four-packs over a quarter of a century ago. How time flies! I do believe that the sole previous Mattel release of this look was a Target exclusive as well. With the interchangeable hands we’re obviously seeing an upgrade here.

While I honestly wouldn’t have noticed had it not been pointed out, the Stone Cold Steve Austin figure included here is apparently from his WrestleMania “match” a few years ago with Kevin Owens. That makes having to buy it a bit easier for me as I am a fan of getting wrestlers in post-retirement looks. Otherwise, Austin is one that I’ll rarely buy anymore unless it’s part of a Build-A-Figure set or a very unique look such as “Stunning” Steve. The constant releases of Austin, The Rock, The Undertaker and others in the Jakks years simply burned me out on ever buying figures of them again, combined with the fact that I just don’t find their era to be rewatchable nor have I romanticized it as many others have. Regardless, it’s a perfectly acceptable figure here that certainly captures Austin’s look. If it is based on a more recent appearance it’s also a testament to Austin’s apparent lack of aging.

Last, but not least, we have The Man. And she’s seemingly dressing like a jilted bride, or something. It’s actually a very cool figure with the full cloth skirt, removable headpiece and a great facial scan, I just don’t watch enough (maybe a few big events on Peacock per year) to know the significance of the outfit. It makes sense to have Becky included here as surely she is very representative of the current era as well as the importance that’s been placed on women’s wrestling in the past several years. Rebecca Knox sure has come a long way, though, personally, I thought she was a heckuva lot cuter then. I’ll give her props for the Morticia Addams style we’re getting here, though…

If you break it down by cost, $20 per Elite figure is a great value with today’s prices as they are. If you’re buying it solely for one figure as I did, not so much. Still, that’s a personal decision. Accessories are important to a lot of us, myself included, and one of the most important to belt fans is, thus far, only available here. Also, past Target boxed sets have sold out rather quickly with little chance at clearance. I could no longer find the repackaged version of this one available on the Target app so if you’ve already locked one in you may be in luck. In any case it seems that Mattel will be making collecting their product a true chore…Then. Now. Forever.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

The Wrestling Classic Figure Review—Mattel WWE Ultimate Edition Sgt. Slaughter

Ah, the figure that unofficially kicked off “The Coliseum Collection.” Actually, it’s shown on the back of the Hogan/Funk set, so maybe it is considered the first? I think we can best categorize it as “partially” part of that set, just like the figure that inspired it is partially part of the LJN Wrestling Superstars line of yesteryear. Why is it being reviewed now, over two years after the fact? A few reasons, but seeing as that it isn’t brand spankin’ new it definitely works as the latest Wrestling Classic Figure Review.

When it was first released I’d initially planned on having it autographed. It’s a great looking figure with unique packaging and I decided that I didn’t really need to open it as it wasn’t all that much different from various other Slaughter figures. Then a few things changed. It’s actually thirty-five years to the month that I first met The Sarge. Always one of the kindest and most gracious wrestlers to meet, it was a little shocking when I began to hear reports that he was charging upwards of $100 to sign this particular figure. In fact, his prices have skyrocketed for just about anything you could want from him at an appearance.

As I said, the man himself has always been one of the best to meet. I’ve never had a bad experience with Sgt. Slaughter nor have I ever heard anyone else report one. Until now. Price gouging is an issue all around the appearance scene, but whether it’s Slaughter himself or the used car salesman who handles his appearances (and, I suspect, his social media accounts), the real-life G.I. Joe is effectively pricing himself out of the market. After three and a half decades of various meetings I certainly don’t have a shortage of Slaughter autographs, but it’s always nice to add more if there’s a particular item out there. Until things change or he’s in a situation where the pricing is different (part of a prepaid lineup, for example), I’ll be looking at his items just as I would those of a wrestler who is no longer with us: unsignable.

If you’re familiar with the aforementioned Coliseum Collection then you’re already familiar with the packaging here, it’s simply one figure instead of two. This was a San Diego Comic Con exclusive which sold out on Mattel Creations in seconds. Their SDCC release this year, Muhammad Ali, is still sitting available as of press time. The design, just like The Coliseum Collection, is based upon the look of the classic LJN Wrestling Superstars line. The figure itself is based upon the look of the Hasbro G.I. Joe mail away figure release that was designed to interact with the LJN figures. I remember marveling, even as a kid, that LJN figures were actually seen at the feet of the Slaughter figure in the Hasbro mail order brochure. That was the kind of thing that most kids wouldn’t have given a second thought to. Me? I guess I was just different!

The interesting part which coincides with my mini-rant above is something that I actually didn’t discover until I went to open the figure. Unlike The Coliseum Collection and just about every other release from any figure company that I’m familiar with, there’s really nothing stopping you from completely returning this figure to “mint” condition. There are no annoying clear bands or plastic fasteners that require cutting. You can take Slaughter, and the accessories, in and out as much as you want. I’m not saying that I’d get it autographed should I ever have the chance to not pay the All-American $100 Sgt. Slaughter Cobra Corps God Bless America fee, but it’s certainly doable.

Just as with The Coliseum Collection the accessories are stored in a box underneath the figure, resembling where the poster would’ve been in the LJN releases. An extra head, various gloved hands, riding crop, whistle and jacket are all included. A removable belt, sunglasses and hat are already positioned on the figure. I’m a really big fan of the various gloved hands included here. You can recreate a lot of Sarge’s famous poses (“Stop and give me $100, kid!”) and I’m sure that these could even work well on another wrestler if you thought about it enough. The jacket reminds me of the one that he wore on that day back in September of 1988 when I first met him. Ah, the glorious and ungreedy days of yore.

The figure itself is of the “Ultimate Edition” style which means more articulation than ever. My personal jury is sort of out on whether or not the extra shoulder joints really work for Slaughter himself, but they DO help it resemble the Hasbro LJN-esque figure on which it’s based. That figure is, pardon the overused expression, jacked. He looks as he did in the G.I. Joe cartoon, especially, and since that’s what we’re going for here…well…why not? The “pained” expression on the extra head (not the one on the fans walking away from his table with sticker shock) is amusing and I don’t think that it’s been released elsewhere. If you can pop this head on the Iraqi Slaughter figure released by Mattel around the same time, and I’m pretty sure that’s doable, it would look great in a WrestleMania VII recreation.

Overall, it’s a nice figure and while it isn’t officially part of The Coliseum Collection, I think that you really may need it to feel “complete” if that’s your thing. I recall that prices for both versions (a “chase” exists on a black inner card) skyrocketed after the ten seconds in which it was available and I’d venture to doubt that they’ve fallen very much. Still, Mattel never seems to release the SDCC exclusives in quite the same look again (aside from Ali even after the original release didn’t light the world on fire), so it may not ever fall. Just remember to sock away a hundo if you want that baby signed.

Yo Joe, money grubbing maggots!

Thursday, September 14, 2023

“Psst, Finkel, that’s King HAKU, pal…”

Sure, over the past decade or so the wrestling world has become enamored with Haku and the stories surrounding him both in and out of the ring. But how many of you, like myself, have been a Haku guy for a lot longer than that? I’m betting a good many of you. No matter where he was or what they were calling him, the man variously known under such names as King Tonga, Haku and even Meng was someone you always wanted to see on the card. That being said, he’s been grossly under represented as far as action figures! You’ve seen his LJN here on the blog and I’m sure that his two Classic Superstars figures have popped up as well. Now, thanks to one of the boutique companies, we get to see him in “Hasbro” style as he always should have been. How does it measure up to the Tongan nightmare himself? Let’s take a look.

This one was a long time coming. A lot if it, I imagine, was due to the original company, Chella Toys, apparently getting out of the business. Though the name is kept on the card back here, that was said to be symbolic. The company will be known as Epic Toys going forward. I steer clear of all of that type of drama, so don’t ask. I imagine that there are plenty of sources where you can find out what happened there. My concern was if the pre-orders, which had been paid for a year prior, would be fulfilled. They obviously were so no complaints there. My other further comment on the company itself is that it does cause concern about the financial liabilities of these boutique companies. They are fast to take the money but what if something happens in the meantime, as did here? With the long waits between pre-ordering and the figures arriving on your doorstep a lot of the financial institutions won’t be helping out if something goes wrong. It’s a major “red flag” as the kids like to say.

I will say that of the boutique retro/Hasbro styled figures that I’ve encountered, this company gets the card backs the closest. I think that we could even toss Mattel in there and Chella/Epic would still win. The thickness and feel of the cardboard is spot on. They do as well as they can with the logos (obviously there’s no WWF here) but all of the fonts, borders and even the drawings on the back fit right in. The bubbles on these throw me a bit, though I’m guessing that’s done to ensure that they won’t fall off. Even without a “Real Wrestling Action” I’d prefer a “mock” description on the back as opposed to a photo of the figure, but that’s still better than another outfit that needlessly puts the design schematics of the figure on the back, touting that they’re designed by someone who had a hand in creating the Hasbro line. If it looks like a Hasbro I really don’t care who designed the thing.

Like Mattel and every other current “retro” figure the photo of the wrestler on the card back is a rendering based on a real photo. I’d imagine that this is done due to the original photo rights. I can’t be objective on whether or not the crown on Haku’s head looks “off” or not. I’m too familiar with the original photo and it dates past his time as “King,” at least in the WWF. To this day he is still billed as “King Haku” in some areas including Japan. For me it looks like it shouldn’t be there, but again, after thirty years of seeing the real photo I can’t really say if it’s out of place or if it’s just me. I will say that there are plenty of photos of Haku actually wearing the crown that could have been used, but I’m sure that there are reasons that this was done instead.

As with all of the current licensed retro figures aside from Mattel’s lineup, there are no “Real Wrestling Actions.” I’ve been ok with that and I continue to be. Even Mattel’s soon-to-be-ended Masters of the Universe line featuring fairly direct re-releases of the vintage figures are produced sans most of their original actions. Again, as long as the figures appear as they are supposed to that’s what matters. Here you are getting King Haku and his crown. I appreciate that the crown is removable. I wouldn’t say that it fits snugly, but it fits…”nicely.” Most of all it looks great when on. When a retro figure has a non-removable head accessory I do understand it as that’s how most of the original Hasbro figures were handled, but I will always prefer removable when given the choice.

Overall this is a nice figure. The likeness is good and not TOO modern to ultimately look unretro, a problem that a lot of the retro boutiques are facing. The arms are posed well for some good Haku-esque stances and the figure stands well. While it fits in, size wise, with Hasbro figures and retros alike, I feel that he’s just a tad not thick enough. I’m thinking that he should be as bulky as the Hacksaw Jim Duggan Hasbro figures. Remember, nine times out of ten the Hasbro sculpts were a bit exaggerated. We needed some of that here. It could also use a bit more shine. The Blue Meanie figure from Chella had a great Hasbro shine. Haku is a tad on the dull side, though there is a bit of shine. I will say that the figure shows a decent shine in my accompanying photography, so the bit of dullness must only be in-hand.

I pre-ordered two of these since Haku is a favorite of mine and I’m hoping to get one signed. Do I regret it? Not one bit. It’s a perfectly acceptable entry to anyone’s Hasbro/retro collection, especially of a star who has been so under produced as an action figure.  Is it perfect? No, but I think we’ve said that for all Hasbro-esque figures including those from Mattel. I like it enough that if it was redone with flowery tights for a later Haku I’d probably pick one of those up, too. I don’t know if King Haku will be available post-pre-order, but if it is I don’t imagine that it will last long. Most of these boutique figures have proven to be hit or miss as far as availability once completed.

Man, do we ever need a Bobby Heenan retro figure…

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Mattel Alters The Retro Game Again…

Just when you think you have the answers, Mattel changes the questions! In a collecting world, and world in general, where any little thing is offensive and causes an uproar, Mattel did it. In a toy manufacturing era where the companies claim to be cutting down on plastic for the environment (aka for their own financial bottom line), Mattel still did it. Am I upset about it? No, not exactly. It ultimately saves me money, though I’m still very surprised. What exactly is it? Let’s take a look at the latest Mattel WWE Retro figure set and find out.

In the latest roll out from Mattel Creations we have the newest four-pack of legends done in Hasbro, or “Retro,” style. The lineup contains the long-awaited (in this form) Jerry “The King” Lawler, Paul Bearer, Big Van Vader and The Undertaker. For the record, the “long-awaited” phrasing only applies to the first two listed and possibly Vader. This wasn’t really a pre-order as they became available on a Tuesday and were at many doorsteps by Thursday afternoon. These things were ready to go and, as of press time, are still available. The previous series is also still available although it appears that the set before that has finally sold out.

Jerry “The King” Lawler was always on the most wanted list for the Hasbro WWF line after he debuted in the company in late 1992. The problem was that seeing as he was mostly a commentator at the time he just didn’t get produced. For whatever undisclosed reason Hasbro never deviated from simply making active wrestlers in their original line. Although Lawler wrestled as well as commentated, the latter fact seemingly sealed his fate. Here we have the figure in this set that’s most like an original Hasbro item and you can see why just by looking at it. He has the “pullback punch” that you’ll remember from such vintage figures as Jake “The Snake” Roberts and Tito Santana. The crown not being removable is also a throwback to Hasbro figures such as Sgt. Slaughter and The Mountie. Do I wish that it came off? A bit. But it’s still the gem of the set.

Next up we have another long-desired figure in the Hasbro style, Paul Bearer. Another victim of Hasbro’s unspoken “wrestlers only” production policy, Bearer would’ve sold well back then. I even remember kids asking me where the Paul Bearer figure was when they saw me with the Hasbro release of The Undertaker. When the first Paul Bearer figure was eventually released with the JusToys Bend-ems ring it caused a commotion. Mattel has finally righted Hasbro’s wrong complete with a removable urn. The likeness is very Hasbro-like and Bearer comes complete with an action where he can either raise the urn or have it come crashing down onto the back of The Undertaker’s head, cementing the death of their long relationship. How did ol’ Paul get to be so popular? He urn’d it. Thanks, Brain. Anyway…

Vader is up next and would’ve been in the Hasbro line for certain had it extended about three more years. His likeness always lends itself well to figures even if the final execution isn’t that great. While you certainly get the feeling that it’s “Vader Time” while looking at this one, I would’ve preferred a different design. The old Akeem “belly bump” style action just isn’t what I wanted with Vader. “The Mastadon” should’ve had one of the various power slamming moves or Mattel should have finally brought back something similar to the mechanism that Earthquake, Typhoon and Bam Bam Bigelow had back in the ‘90s. This is how most customizers always envisioned a Vader in this style and thus the final product here is a tad disappointing.

We wrap up this fearsome foursome with yet another version of The Undertaker. I don’t think that ol’ Taker has ever been mentioned, much less reviewed, twice just a few weeks apart in the nearly fifteen year history of this blog. He’s just not a personal favorite of mine and I’m honestly pretty sick of his figures. It makes sense to have him in a set with Bearer and I know that countless fans are enamored with “The Deadman,” he just does zilch for me at this point. At least this is a different look. This time around “The Phenom” is depicted wearing the face mask that came about after King Mabel and Yokozuna “crushed” his face. Did I need this? No. Did I want this? No. But to get the other ones you have to buy it. Here it is and there’s truly nothing wrong with the figure whatsoever. 

What about that change that was mentioned above? The wait is over. Similar to how the Micro Brawlers mini figure line is now packaged, Mattel has changed the retro line to have the bubble as part of a full plastic “shell” that covers the complete front of the card back. There’s no sealing here as tabs hold the plastic in place and you can basically remove and replace the figure as much as you desire. It’s interesting that a change like this would happen so late in the line and especially in the era (see first paragraph) in that we’re in now with toy packaging. Some collectors will argue that you don’t truly have a mint figure anymore unless it’s still sealed in the cardboard box that all four figures are bundled in. Others will complain that this and sets going forward no longer “fit” with the previous releases. Interestingly, despite Lawler being one I’ve always wanted and, thus, autographed, this was the first retro set that I did not buy two of. Due to health issues Lawler is currently not making signing appearances. As this change was not disclosed I’m not sure how I’d have felt had I indeed purchased two. Seeing as that there won’t truly ever be any “mint on card” examples of these, I can simply throw Lawler back into the bubble and get the card back signed should “The King” make a return to appearances. I’m sure that Mattel had their reasons, yet to me it feels like they ultimately left money on the table. We know toy manufacturers absolutely dread that.

Overall I’d have to say that this is my least favorite of the retro four-pack bundles thus far to be released. As long-awaited as Lawler was for me, the others didn’t suit my personal wants quite as much. Bearer is welcomed but not when we’re still waiting on Bobby Heenan, Brother Love, Miss Elizabeth, Sensational Sherri or so many other classic managers in this style. My personal jury is still out on the packaging change, although money saved in my wallet always makes me happy. A big middle of the road rating for this retro installment. The next set is scheduled to contain Hulk Hogan, Big John Studd, Muhammad Ali and Wendi Richter in the first WWF/WWE Hasbro/Mattel “retro” female figure. Girls are sure to have some fun with this one, when the working day is done, of course.

We’re keeping it retro next time as a LONG awaited figure is finally done in this style and Jerry may just have a challenger to his throne! Stay tuned!

Thursday, August 31, 2023

The Legendary Terry Funk

Any good journalist writes these things far in advance. It’s an old tradition/SOP for news obituaries. Whatever it says about my journalistic skills and/or integrity, I just don’t do it. I don’t even feel the need to rush tributes out, though I’m hardly a news site. Pretty much everything on this blog is a reflection and that’s certainly what we do when someone passes. We all knew that we’d be doing quite a bit of reflecting upon the passing of Terry Funk and, while we all knew that it was inevitable, we still were not fully prepared.

Terry Funk was real. While there may have been a few additions for the crazy world of wrestling like the classic “you egg suckin’ dog!” or unleashing that legendary branding iron, everything else about the man was just genuine. He was that Texas cowboy from the Double Cross Ranch. He did come from a family that lived and breathed the pro wrestling business. He didn’t have to put on a front to get you to believe. All he had to do was raise the voice of the real Terry Funk and you already got your money’s worth.

Being the genuine article probably greatly helped make the legend. No matter where he went he was a star. He knew how to adapt or reinvent himself but it never felt strange or out of place. You knew it was Terry Funk no matter which “version” you got and, again, you knew you were getting your money’s worth. NWA Champion? Texas bronco? Middle-aged and crazy? It was all the same guy with very few tweaks yet he starred in multiple eras.

If you listen to the stories of his contemporaries, Terry rarely wanted to be in the center of the spotlight. As long as he was entertaining the fans, and possibly helping someone else out in the process, he was a contented man. He didn’t need to be the winner of the match in a business where ultimately that doesn’t matter. He saw the bigger picture. He didn’t take any of it too seriously and still became one of the greatest of all-time, many say the greatest. Does it get any more amazing than that?

I’ve never heard a single soul say a bad thing about Terry Funk. Closer to my realm, I’ve never heard a single fan talk about a bad interaction with the man. In fact, I don’t think I know a fan who had met him who doesn’t have a great story to go along with it. He never seemed to meet a stranger. He was always willing to sign each and every autograph. He knew that, as amazing as he was in the ring and on the mic, keeping the fans happy is what ultimately keeps the gears of the business moving. No one did it better.

I’m fairly sure that my first glimpse of Terry came on the back of the LJN Wrestling Superstars figure card. While at a VERY young age I may have seen him on a Saturday Night’s Main Event, I remember that wild-looking cowboy figure shown on the packaging and knew that he was one I wanted. Little did I know that some of my best wrestling memories, both on television and in person, would come from that man. In what turned out to be the final time that I got to see him I had brought a ticket from his first retirement in Japan. After he signed it, in that unmistakable Terry Funk voice he said to me, “I really did plan on retiring. You know why I didn’t? I ran out of money!”

I miss him already.

Terry Funk


Saturday, August 26, 2023

Thanksgiving Came A Little Early This Year…

They gave us The Bunny. They almost gave us Santa. We have Hacksaw to cover any holiday that involves the good ol’ red, white and blue. What else is there? Oh yeah. Just my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving! You mean to tell me that The Gobbledy Gooker still didn’t have a figure after nearly 33 years of life? He didn’t, but he does now! Of course, it takes buying the ten millionth release of someone that I haven’t given much of a care about in three decades, but due to the ideas that were hatched in the creation of this set you’ll see that it’s actually worth it.

In the latest Amazon exclusive entry in the Mattel WWE Ultimate Edition collection we get a two-pack that celebrates the 1990 Survivor Series. It’s a show that’s fairly historical for several reasons and has always been a favorite of mine. I can’t say that those aforementioned historical reasons are why it’s always been special to me, though. I’ve always just loved the absolute multitude of stars on one card, as was the case with the first four editions of the Survivor Series. It’s also a rather transitional show. Some debuts. Some departures. Three impactful names over the previous years in Rick Rude, Bad News Brown and Akeem were even slated for the show but, due to various reasons, ultimately didn’t appear.

Even the packaging for this set reflects the show. Once you open the WWE Ultimate Edition logoed brown box you pull out a graphically intense inner box housing the figures. This box is designed to resemble the Coliseum Video box for the 1990 Survivor Series since both of these figures, the Gooker and The Undertaker, debuted on that show. But why is it so big? There are only two Ultimate Edition figures in there, right? Think again. Also included in its own box is the Gobbledy Gooker’s egg, complete with removable “hatching” lid. If that’s not enough, the box housing the egg is actually the black Survivor Series question mark stage that the egg sat upon. But wait, Ron Popeil, there’s more! You get not one but two double sided sheets of cardboard. One side is a small Survivor Series 1990 crowd background while the other is the brick wall backdrop used for the promo photos taken before the event (likely at SummerSlam). As much as I give it to Mattel for the frustrations that they often pass along to collectors, this is the kind of detail that is greatly appreciated.

Both of the figures themselves are in the standard Ultimate Edition boxes and, unlike some of the figures included with The New Generation arena set, are sealed just like figures you’d buy at retail. As usual the plentiful accessories are displayed accordingly which, in my opinion, doesn’t make for a great “keep in the box” visual. Still, aside from autographing purposes, who would keep these in the box anyway? Toys are meant to be played with and if ever there was a toy made to be played with it’s The Gobbledy Gooker. I like that Mattel included Mean Gene and Brother Love in shots on the boxes to further commemorate the event being recognized.

We’ll get The Undertaker out of the way first. I know that I’m in the minority but I’ve never made it a secret that I’m no big fan. As my friend Chris so correctly stated, “Guy was cool for three years and sucked for thirty.” I couldn’t have said it better. For me, he’s always had an air of self-importance that’s very off-putting. He lucked into a character that resonated with a lot of fans in an era where such characters were championed. The whole “locker room leader” stuff that we began to hear a lot about in the late 1990s really went to his head. That being said, I’ve always been able to separate the person from the character, so if I liked the character beyond 1992ish I guess I’d be good, but I didn’t. Regardless, we’re here to talk the figure and I’m sure that this is one that many of his fans have been clamoring for. I, myself, would rather have had the person who he ended up replacing on The Million Dollar Team, Bad News Brown.

What’s cool about the figure is that you do get the black gloves (and multiple hand positions at that) which he debuted in at the event in addition to the more common gray. He also comes with his trademark hat, ubiquitous duster coat, tie and an additional head with alternate expression. The faces are perfect and really run the gamut since, at that time anyway, he was fairly limited in his facials. The duster is soft goods which, as in most cases, I appreciate. It’s a bit stiff coming out of the box and I just didn’t feel inclined to straighten it out much before the photography was done so if he looks a bit rumpled that would be why. The tie fits on when you remove the head. There feels like something’s a bit off when it’s on but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe I’m just not covering it well enough. The body of the figure seems very poseable and should please any Taker fan looking to play, display or do some photography.

Now onto the main event, the Thanksgiving icon himself. I don’t know if this is exactly the figure that Mattel showed a prototype of many years ago and stated would never be released, but from my recollection it’s just as good if not better. Not counting the egg you get two heads and an extra set of hands. Two heads for a costumed character? Yes. In the eleven years between his birth at Survivor Series and his WrestleMania debut in 2001 his appearance differed greatly! We’ll have more on that in a bit. The design on the costume captures those feathers perfectly. The arms are removable like the head and you can remove the “torso feather” piece, too, though I’m not sure that it’s really supposed to be taken off. When you put the big bird inside of his egg for a “popping out” effect I actually feel like this is some sort of Disney set around piece rather than a wrestling figure. It has that “cartoon-character-becomes-three-dimensional” look to it. It’s just fun all around and should have been done years ago.

How about that egg? The “cracked lid” lifts right off to put The Gooker or any figure inside. You could even have certain figures “hide” inside. Maybe “The Eggman,” Andre the Giant or King Kong Bundy (as were all rumored at the time) could finally emerge from it? No, Mean Gene, we’re not having Miss November pop out. This is a family blog.

So after three decades we finally have the big guy. You could argue that it’s a one off and, especially in this style, I’d be inclined to agree. However, knowing Mattel’s penchant for scheming as to how they can reuse tooling, I do have a thought about yet another Gooker that could be done. Remember when we talked of how our favorite wrestling bird was a bit different in 2001’s Gimmick Battle Royal? I could definitely see the alternate head being reused, possibly in a Basic (or whatever they’re calling them now) two pack with another GBR entrant? The costume in that match was MUCH smaller and had far less detail. The legs here would likely be reusable, too. For the Taker fans, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a much more basic version of this look down the line, either. 

Until next time…or Thanksgiving…gobble gobble!

Thursday, August 24, 2023

SummerSlam Stories

The Biggest Party of the Summer! Well, it was. In fact, before the Royal Rumble really took off, I’d say that SummerSlam was the second biggest WWF event of the year behind WrestleMania. I’ve never been a fan of summer nor the weather that comes with it, but it was the one time of the year that I was happy to “Feel The Heat,” and I know that I’m not alone. Even now it seems that the company still views it as a big show, complete with fan events that resemble those during WrestleMania weekend. Whether or not it appears a huge deal to fans is a different story altogether.

I do believe that the inaugural SummerSlam, held in 1988, was the first one that I ended up seeing, though not right away. Just like the first WrestleMania it was held in Madison Square Garden and was headlined by a tag team spectacle. The lineup is interesting and, at times, feels like it’s trying to showcase many stars who didn’t get much of a spotlight months earlier at WrestleMania IV. It’s also interesting that several names on the show including Junkyard Dog, Ken Patera, The British Bulldogs, Don Muraco and even commentator Superstar Billy Graham would be gone from the company in just a matter of months. The opening montage featuring “The Mega Powers versus The Mega Bucks” has always been a favorite of mine. Bobby Heenan is shown laughing at one point which, for whatever reason, amused me to no end. Some kids would say “Bloody Mary” three times into the bathroom mirror. I would emulate “The Brain” laughing. I don’t know what that says about me.

“The Slam” has always had a lot of hype. My hometown (a town that’s made some large and tragic headlines in the past few weeks) cable company was, fortunately, the recipient of a lot of the goodies that came with that. They would hold little “Enter your name and win!” contests to give away the goods. I’m guessing that not many people entered, as it seemed as if I always won when I’d enter. I’d assume that cow tipping took precedence over writing your name down for free WWF merch. One of those contests was to promote SummerSlam 1993. I won the program as well as the famous SummerSlam shades! Apparently these sunglasses existed for a few years as Jimmy Hart can be seen sporting them back in 1990.

What I wasn’t privy to, despite being a hardcore WWF devotee from the greater Pittsburgh area, was the pre-sale for the SummerSlam 1995 tickets. In fact, I only learned about the pre-sale while waiting in line for tickets on July 8th 1995 – the REGULAR on-sale date! What matters now, nearly thirty years later, is that I do have the pre-sale letter explaining how these fans were specifically chosen by Jack Tunney to receive this info. Gee, thanks a LOT, Jack! Best president since Noriega! Jack “On The Take” Tunney! Boy, I’m feeling a lot of Heenan in this entry, aren’t you? Anyway, I do know that this particular flyer came inside of materials sent to a holder of the WWF MasterCard. That…I did not have. Perhaps that’s why I was shunned.

Of course we all know that I ended up at SummerSlam that year. It was the first WWF pay-per-view ever to be held in Pittsburgh and really the first large-scale televised wrestling to be done in “the Burgh” since Pittsburgh’s “Studio Wrestling.” You could argue that point since a bit of the 1987 Bunkhouse Stampede finals, which were also held at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena, did air on TV but just as an opening to regular Jim Crockett Promotions programming. I’ve told many stories centering around that show over the years, but one thus far left untold actually happened years later. As I was collecting autographs on the program cover, I failed to tell a certain wrestler (who’s gone through many names, possibly Syxx different ones?) which name to sign. This was ultimately a mistake of mine as most collectors have countless stories of wrestlers accidentally signing the wrong gimmick name. Well, needless to say, the wrong name was signed. I was stunned but politely asked for the name that I wanted to be signed, as well. That wrestler has always been as nice as can be, so it wasn’t an issue, but it did make me not want to look at the program for quite awhile. I stuffed it away somewhere and forgot about it. A few years later I read that, on certain materials/textures, an autograph could be removed with acetone. I obtained some and, voila, the program is fixed and you’d never know the difference.

Yes, I even go modern, and somehow I ended up with a SummerSlam 2009 chair. Ok, so 2009 isn’t quite modern anymore (scary, huh?), but it was when I picked up the thing. I don’t remember how much it cost, but it couldn’t have been very expensive or I wouldn’t have it. It will probably make some folks cringe to hear this, so skip to the next paragraph if you don’t like things being utilized practically, but I have, at times, used this like any other folding chair. Obviously I’m not painting the room with it or taking it outdoors, but it’s definitely had a butt or two in it for Thanksgiving. I’ve cleaned my dog while sitting in it. It’s held packages by the door. Hey, what good is something if you can’t get the maximum use from it?

Between this entry and previous ones I think that I’m tapped as far as SummerSlam 1995 stories. That being said, God willing, we’ll all be back here in two years to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the show. Like it or not it’s a true reflection of The New WWF Generation and, as I’ve said in the past, it was just a really FUN time to be a wrestling fan living in Pittsburgh. Interest in pro wrestling may have been pretty low nationally but they certainly knew how to drum up the buzz around here. Love Diesel, King Mabel, ladders and demented dentists? Come on back in two years!