Sunday, January 29, 2023

After Nearly Three Decades The “Orange Cards” Have Arrived!

Few unproduced figures in any genre have been more speculated upon and discussed than the fabled Hasbro WWF “orange card” series that would have been released in early 1995. The Hasbro line was beloved in its day and, around ten years ago, saw an amazing boost in popularity even among fans who weren’t among the original collectors. Even with all of the classic characters that were produced, that last series remained a huge topic among fans. Now Mattel, continuing their WWE Retro line, is finally bringing an orange carded set to life complete with two names who were originally slated for the wave way back when.

The newest Mattel WWE retro four pack contains “All- American” Lex Luger and “babyface” Doink the Clown. They were both scheduled for the orange carded Hasbro series and likely would have been repaints of their earlier releases. Joining them in this Mattel set are Tugboat and “Rhythm & Blues” Greg Valentine. These two were both planned for earlier in the Hasbro line however ended up produced as Typhoon and regular blonde Greg “The Hammer” Valentine due to changes in the actual wrestling product. For the third time this set is exclusive to Mattel Creations and isn’t scheduled to hit brick and mortar retailers.

The four are individually carded but, as with the previous two series, come packaged in a box that reflects the individual card art. The pictures of the stars are once again renders based on photos rather than actual photos as Hasbro used. The Tugboat and Valentine images are near exact to what we would have imagined from Hasbro. Luger and Doink are off and the choices are questionable. With all of the great promotional photos of Luger in his Lex Express days (many of which you’ve seen right here on this blog), it’s a great question as to why they used Luger’s head from a later WCW image. The Doink image is clearly based off of Matt Borne who never wore this particular outfit. Don’t misunderstand. The figure is pure Ray Apollo aka “good/happy/babyface” Doink. If you’re looking to get it autographed he would be the man to do it. But for whatever reason the image presented is of an earlier costume and is without a doubt Borne.

Looking at the figures one by one we’ll start with Tugboat. The Tugster is a character who definitely would have fit in the original Hasbro line. As mentioned above he was indeed planned, but The Natural Disasters became a team and Typhoon was born. From what we’ve seen of what was planned, the design of that figure is a bit different from what we’ve gotten, but I think I like this better. We all remember the Hasbro Akeem figure and Tug will bring him right to mind. The hat is not removable nor should it be. There’s a Mattel Elite from several years ago that fills that need. This is your Hasbro Tugboat and does great justice to one of the favorite “Uncle Fred” characters.

Up next is Greg “The Hammer” Valentine. I think most fans wanted this figure since he was mentioned on card backs and even shown in a famous Toys “R” Us magazine ad. Personally, I was always much happier that we received regular Valentine. While I loved Rhythm & Blues as much as anyone, the regular Greg was much better for playing with. Because I always had a love for the “rough and tumble” wrestlers like “The Hammer,” that figure ended up with significant play in my world. Now we finally have the R&B version or “Boxcar” as Gorilla Monsoon nicknamed him. Again, it’s not a direct casting of the original or anything but the basic sculpt and “Real Wrestling Action” matches the prototype. I love that some of the detailing on the jacket is molded and unpainted just like the prototype seemed to have and that the released Honky Tonk Man Hasbro did have. Like many of you I'm tired of the Mattel "breakaway" guitar, though this one seems to be staying together a bit better so far. I do appreciate that in recent uses they've been creative with coloring it. This version matches the Hasbro Honky Tonk Man guitar. The one released with the WWE Superstars Honky Tonk Man figure is done up to look like the LJN version as the WWE Superstars line is an interesting mishmash of both that line and the Remco AWA line.

Our All-American hero, Lex Luger, and Doink the Clown are next in the spotlight. Alleged prototypes of the originals have surfaced in recent years. I say alleged as they’re questionable at best. Needless to say, there isn’t much different that could have been done with either. This is what we would’ve gotten and that’s that. I’m not crazy about the “slam” Retros that move in the middle, but they’re not the worst figures done, either. The hair on Doink would’ve been rooted like the original release was and the move would’ve been a “punch” rather than the “twist/clothesline” deal that we have here. While they fit better with the “orange card” theme, they’re definitely the weaker part of the set compared to Tugboat and The Hammer.

Both this set as well as the previous one (The Hart Foundation & Nikolai Volkoff) are available through Mattel Creations. This set has seen a $5 price increase in a sign of the times. The first set done through Mattel creations (Okerlund, Piper, Orton & Mr. T) which sold out in five hours has since popped up on other retailer sites. How and why that happened is unknown. Do I advise going for these? Absolutely. There are a lot of folks out there making licensed retro wrestling figures. I was gung ho on some of them, lukewarm on others. At this point, despite a little good released product (though nothing near what has been promised), most have been disappointing in how they handle their business and the privilege of working with the stars and collectors alike. Faults aside, Mattel cranks them out and has improved their methods and ease of getting them to fans. These figures also have the “wrestling action” that the Hasbros did. For many reasons the “boutique” releases do not. While it doesn’t bother me when purchasing a character that I really want from “the other guys,” it becomes a more glaring omission when other issues pop up.

We’ve got a non-Mattel creations Retro set coming up (two nWo 2-packs that I won’t be breaking the door down for) and at least one more four pack through the Creations site. That set is confirmed to include the long-awaited Jerry “The King” Lawler, complete with the spring-loaded punch action that many of us loved from the original Hasbro line. There’s a certain character recently announced for an Elite Legends figure who I would love to see in Hasbro form. I’m not sure if it’s too late for him to appear in that set, but I’d feel sort of cheated if he never received a retro. You’d love to see it, too. And I do mean love.

In the meantime, Toot Toot!

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Signature Moves: Bruno Sammartino

It’s hard to believe that we’re coming up on five years since we lost “The Living Legend” Bruno Sammartino. I still remember where I was when I heard the news. Training at my place of work for a position that I’m largely still in today, albeit much more seasoned. I was shocked and I wasn’t alone. Despite being 82, Bruno’s death shook Pittsburgh and all of the wrestling world. He was more than just a wrestler. He was an icon to a generation of wrestling fans, a good man and the rare type of individual who could be looked upon as a role model.

I’ve discussed Bruno’s level of fame and legend here in my hometown of The Steel City many times. He is synonymous with the other sports legends here in the Greater Pittsburgh area. If you didn’t grow up watching him you still have memories of your elders conveying their own stories. Even individuals who wouldn’t identify themselves as wrestling fans probably at least have fleeting memories of watching “Studio Wrestling” with a parent or grandparent. It was a Pittsburgh cultural institution. It didn’t hurt that the big man himself, “The Italian Superman,” lived right here in the suburbs of Pittsburgh.

Being the eternal “good guy” and hero to legions of fans across ethnicities, Bruno believed in living up to that image. I had the privilege of meeting The Living Legend many times. He was extremely accessible and didn’t like to disappoint anyone. Though I entered the scene long after his retirement, every indication is that nothing changed from his active days in the ring. From first hand accounts to candid photos throughout the years, he never seemed to refuse an autograph request. I think that there may be more photographs of Bruno Sammartino signing autographs than any other wrestler. Again, he wanted to live up to his image and he did not want to disappoint. He knew that he would not have his success, fame and fortune without the fans. He experienced disappointment when other celebrities would act, in his words, “like a big shot.” One blue eyed-singer infamously got under Bruno’s skin this way. He didn’t want his fans to feel the same.

Since Bruno did sign so many autographs over the years, there are examples throughout his career. Being a big Bruno collector and having the fortune of living where he made one of his biggest impacts, I am lucky enough to own Bruno Sammartino autographs spanning the decades. Unlike some stars who change their signature over the years or even depending on what they’re signing, Bruno was constant. It rarely if ever changed. It’s clear and full, something that many of today’s wrestling names could learn from. Initials weren’t even thought of. Bruno gave you his full name each and every time.

I will say that there are some size and direction “variations” of which to note. Like most signers, occasionally a trading card or other smaller item will yield a smaller signature. There’s no way around it. Bruno’s biggest signing quirk, however, is that he sometimes signed sideways or even almost upside down. I used to observe him signing and it really boiled down to him trying to get his signature on the item in the best way possible. Again, always thinking of the fans. If you’re looking to add a Bruno signature to your collection don’t be off-put if it’s sideways. In fact, I’d look upon that as a good thing.

And we all know that Bruno had a ton of things to sign. He rarely noted much about any particular item as things like that seemed to humble him, but he did note one thing to me. In 2007 he told me that the photo featured with this paragraph, a classic black and white shot, was his all-time favorite. There are countless other photos, magazines, figures, programs and trading cards out there, too. A quick search shows that you can still obtain an authentic (match it any of the autographs shown here) photo signed by The Champ for roughly $25.00. A bargain that won’t last forever.

Bruno hit all the major marks for fans and collectors alike. A good guy who liked to take care of fans and who had plenty of merchandise to celebrate his long, successful career. He had a pretty unique signature, to boot. He may be physically gone, but talk to any Pittsburgher and you’ll know that he’s still “The Living Legend” all these years later.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Three Decades Of Raw

I still remember sitting down to watch the first episode of WWF Monday Night Raw. How in the world was that thirty years ago? It does feel like a long time ago, but three full decades? I would imagine that some reading this blog weren’t even alive then. Those of us who were around and collecting never could have imagined the figures that we would have today. I miss those days. As we all know by simply looking at the news, the real world is three times worse now. At least we have fun toys to get us through the doldrums. One of those items is our topic in this entry and what a way to mark the 30thanniversary of Raw!

A Target exclusive, Mattel’s Elite RAW 3-pack contains three characters fairly ubiquitous with the early days of Raw as well as a set piece that many of us have wanted for years. Handsomely packaged in a large window box, you get to see everything included. For whatever reason the extra floating hands and other accessories don’t bother me as much here as they do in single release figures. I’m actually not sure why that is. Maybe because there’s more in the window that your eyes are drawn to? Nonetheless it’s a great box and I’d love to see similar ones done with older stars, perhaps in the classic baby blue motif?

Included in the set are The Undertaker, Razor Ramon and, per the box, The 1-2-3 Kid. We’ll get to my phrasing in a moment. For some the really big sell for the set is the inclusion of the large “R,” “A,” and “W” letters that made up the Raw entrance for several years. Honestly, I’m not sure that I would’ve jumped on this initially if it weren’t for their inclusion. I’m a huge fan of set and diorama pieces. That, coupled with some great discounts through the Target app and I couldn’t go wrong. Full entrance gear for Taker and Ramon are included as is the $10,000 money bag as well as handfuls of money. Why the money bag? Because Razor had to lure the Kid with money in order to get a rematch back in ’93, that’s why!

The Undertaker will be the draw for many. Personally I greatly limit my purchases of him. In fact, I usually only get new figures of him in manners such as this, where he’s part of something else. I have nothing against him, I just wasn’t ever a huge fan and there are countless figures of him. This is a good one and one that I’m glad was included with something that I was purchasing anyway. The duster, tie and hat are all removable and done very nicely. The former two are soft goods which is always a plus. He has two sets of hands, one set being for his “raising the lights” entrance pose. The hair in front of the face is great and the legendary gaze from behind is spot on. Fans of The Undertaker will honestly want this set for this figure alone.

Next up we have “The Bad Guy” clad in green! It’s a nice figure and comes with the oft-requested “thumbs up” hands. Mattel, if you still have the rights to Hacksaw Jim Duggan we need an update, pronto. How about inclusion in the Legends line with a chase? One version can be black trunks with white kneepads, the other with the classic WWF blue and blue? I’m giving you ideas and you’re throwing money away. We need “thumbs up” Hacksaw! Anyway, back to Razor. The head/facial likeness is fine but I do think it could be better. Scott Hall figures never look 100% spot on. I’m a huge fan of the green here, though, and it definitely fills my need for brightly colored figures.

Onto the 1-2-3 Kid. Let’s get something straight. This is an entirely new character. I know they can’t/won’t market it as such, but this is a never before done wrestling figure. This is not the 1-2-3 Kid. This is The Lightning Kid. We’re talking GWF vintage, here. I love this. While I initially thought that the Raw entrance set was my selling point here, for whatever reason I didn’t realize until I opened the set that Mattel actually gave us L. Kid. As I’ve documented in the past, I’m a huge fan of what Mattel would call a “deep dive” into a wrestlers past. While The Lightning Kid was pretty high profile for a few weeks until he became “The 1-2-3 Kid,” I’m still considering it a good inclusion into this small subset.

Last but not least is the Monday Night Raw entrance. We all knew going in that the letters would be a tad smaller than real life, but that doesn’t bother me a bit. They could’ve cheapened out and given us some kind of heavy stock cardboard, but they didn’t. These are full molded plastic. Six rubber-ish “stands” (two for each letter) are included and pop on to prop up the entrance. I think that the stands should be just a little bit longer as I’ve had some tipping, but I still love this. The letters are separate so you can spell out “RAW” or “WAR” or “ARW” or whatever you please within the confines of the three letters.

I like this one. It has a little bit of everything and was released at a perfect time, just as the early days of Monday Night Raw are on the nostalgic minds of many. For as big as he was, Razor is still a tad underdone in the figure world. He has a lot, but not as many as you’d think. I do feel that he’s one that falls under, “if you weren’t around then you wouldn’t understand how popular he was.” Beloved for sure, but you had to be there. The Lightning Kid is my sleeper here and nearest and dearest to my heart. I love first time legends, even if Mattel isn’t marketing as such. Will it be hard to find? With the current climate of many items being produced in large quantities it could be plentiful a bit, but there’s just no way of knowing. If you like any of the characters or want the fun entrance pieces it’s worth it for sure.

Time to get RAW!

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Wrestling MarketWatch: More Of What The World Was Watching!

While not the very first edition of Wrestling MarketWatch, it was well over a decade ago that we looked at items that “The World Was Watching.” These were figures, magazines and other collectibles that emanated from the time period that many consider to be “the golden era” of the World Wrestling Federation. Seeing as that this year is the 35th anniversary of one of the prime shows of the era, WrestleMania IV, I’m sure that we’ll be discussing this period more in the near future. As for now, let’s look at what classic items of the day recently sold for at auction. As always in Wrestling MarketWatch, prices are for unsigned items even if the photo shows otherwise.

*Seeing as that it is in fact the “coral jade” anniversary of WrestleMania IV, we may as well kick it off with an item from that show. I’ve been pleased to see that more and more people have admitted loving the show in recent years. For a long time, it felt as if I were the only one. I’m sure that I’ll rant more about that in the coming months. None the less, I would say that this show really has the most branded items of the first few WrestleMania events. With both the WWF and the Trump marketing machines behind it, it isn’t hard to understand why. One of the focal points of the show was “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase and his somewhat underhanded quest to become WWF Champion. After all, he was the catalyst for the tournament happening to begin with. The WrestleMania IV branded promo photo of DiBiase, along with bodyguard Virgil, recently sold for $30.

*WrestleMania IV had the perfect follow-up with WrestleMania V. While you could throw a few other duos into the argument, I would say that no two WrestleMania events are better connected than these two. Not only does the title story begin and end between the two shows, but the overall look and feel of the shows are forever intertwined with both being held at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall. The WrestleMania V program has a wide range of recent selling prices going anywhere from $20 to $75. Even the difference of the newsstand edition against the one sold at the event (the photo included illustrates) has zero effect on price. Condition is usually key, but even that seems to have gone by the wayside. I can recall a time when the early WrestleMania programs sold for little more than common magazine issues of the day. Not so much now.

*One item shown in the first MarketWatch under the “The World Was Watching” theme is the LJN WWF Wrestling Superstars Vince McMahon figure. Here he is again and boy has that price changed. At the time it was rather surprising that the figure was selling for nearly $100 carded. The price has now gone up to between $300-$600. I’m still grateful that, nearly thirty years ago, I picked one up for $25 as part of a “warehouse find.” Even loose examples are skyrocketing. The man who took wrestling to places it had never been, especially in this era, still holds clout. The huge shoulders and cleft chin remain a staple in anyone’s LJN collection.

*In the tag team ranks I’m not sure that any twosome is better remembered from this period than Demolition. Ax and Smash are my own favorite tag team and around these parts we don’t even entertain the notion that they’re some sort of ripoffs of the other guys. May they have started that way? Possibly. But the advantages of Demolition over the Road Warriors can be seen by any knowledgeable fan. Everyone should respect what the L.O.D. did, but Demolition did their own thing and didn’t overstay their welcome. One of their drinking glasses recently sold for an average of $25. The prices of wrestling cups and glasses are definitely on the rise. In this particular one you can fill it with your favorite fruit juice and get your daily act of…nutrition.

*You can’t talk “What The World Was Watching” without mentioning The Hulkster. In fact, one of the many ways that fans could watch him and the rest of the WWF Superstars was by laserdisc. For a short time, anyway. Coliseum Video released four of their titles on the long defunct platform and one of which was the first released titled “Hulkamania.” Many of you will be familiar with it from its VHS release, but the laserdiscs are so much cooler to collect. It’s both a blessing and a curse that only four saw print. The Hulkster recently sold for $50 in this format. This is a nice set of early home media relics that can be quickly completely.

Monday Night Raw may be coming up on its thirtieth anniversary, but that just doesn’t hold the nostalgia for me that the ‘80s stuff does. I know many of you are the same way. It isn’t even our ages. There was just simply a magic in that Hulk Hogan – Randy Savage – Andre the Giant era that could never be duplicated. Even watching the shows back now, it’s evident that perhaps the world had become two cynical for magic like that. The grandeur was replaced by grit, or at least a manufactured version of grit. The company evolved as the tastes of the world changed. I’ll stay back when life was fun, thank you…

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Another Shot At Royalty

Welcome to the New Year! I’ve never liked repeating myself too often (aside from topics that I can’t write enough about such as Memphis Wrestling, WWWF Wrestling Action Magazine & The American Dream), but this is one topic that I can almost guarantee we’ll be revisiting later in the year. It’s a simultaneous look back and look forward at Mattel’s King Harley Race figure. This figure became my all-time favorite Mattel WWE release far before he became a “grail” as it were. As soon as we saw photos of the prototype I knew that one of my top five all-time favorite wrestlers was going to be well represented in the Mattel WWE line. As we now know, that didn’t quite work out like that. Not yet, anyway.

The King was released as part of the Mattel WWE Elite Flashback line exclusive to Wal Mart. Also in the 2018 set were Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Jake “The Snake” Roberts from his 1996 return. Pieces for “Build A Figure” Commissioner Shawn Michaels were also included. Based on previous sets there was no reason to think that it would take more than a couple of trips to Wal Mart to complete the set. Boy were we wrong. While cases did show up, by and large the distribution was awful. I still feel that cases of this set must be sitting somewhere. I would venture to say that many Wal Mart stores never saw a single case. Compact that issue with the fact that Harley, the most desirable in the set, was packed one per case and you have an instant collectible for all the wrong reasons.

Shortly after the debacle it became clear that Mattel no longer had the rights to produce Harley Race. No re-release for The King? No future NWA versions? WCW manager? Nothing? No, nothing at all. For an amazing figure and all-time legend it was a sad state of affairs for collectors. The few that I did have from the set remained unopened. In fact, I left them in their original Wal Mart bag and tucked them away. I didn’t want to deal with it. Action figures are unimportant in the grand scheme of life, but it still stung. By mid-2019 it was clear that the issue was done.

Fast forward to early Spring of 2020. It came to my attention that a liquidator on eBay had acquired the Canadian cases of this set. A seemingly endless supply. Again, these were the Canadian versions with slight variations to the packaging, so my theory of unopened American cases may ring true. Prices and listing style (auctions, Buy It Nows, single figures, sets) varied, but ultimately I ended up pulling the trigger on a case. I figured that I could keep one of each figure for myself to open and help friends out with the remainder of the case. It wasn’t cheap, but it worked. I documented the experience over the course of two blog entries here.

It wasn’t ideal, but it solved the issue for me personally. I now had my favorite Mattel WWE figure in my collection, much-requested variants of two popular legends and a fun Build A Figure. Oh yeah, I had a new Steve Austin, too. Almost forgot that thrilling bit. Nevertheless, I was pleased. I had no qualms about opening the figure and displaying it, posing it, even, gasp, playing with it. Unless they’re being signed, in my view toys should usually be opened. Unfortunately, Mr. Race had since passed away thus nullifying any chance of getting it signed, so opening was indeed the way.

My own Mattel Harley Race adventure didn’t end there. Signed examples do exist, though I was sure that I wouldn’t ever own one. The final time that I got to meet with Mr. Race was at New Jersey’s Legends of the Ring in October 2018. The figure had just been released and there were at least two figures being shown off in line by fans who had found them at a Wal Mart the night before. Again, that early on there really was no inkling that the figure would be difficult to find, though it was known that Mr. Race was battling health issues. I had very much accepted that I would never own an autographed one until mid-2021 when I was lucky enough to obtain one signed by Mr. Race in November 2018 at North Carolina’s WrestleCade convention.

Between purchases of both figures I spent a lot more than I normally would. I’ve taken pride over the years by amassing my collection by spending the least amount possible. Sometimes you just have to spend a little more and these were two of those times. The good news is that if you’re still looking for the figure itself, in 2023 you may not have to spend more than retail price. It was just announced that King Harley Race will indeed return to the Mattel WWE line as part of the Greatest Hits set later this year. This is the series that, in 2002, included a re-release of the aforementioned 1996 Jake Roberts. While the Build A Figure parts won’t be there, Harley will be complete with removable hands and, likely, a slightly updated facial likeness.

Do I regret my purchases now that there’s a re-release coming? Absolutely not. I’ve been hoping for a re-release. Not only do I have several collector friends who still wanted the figure, but I’ve long championed the idea that everyone should have a reasonable amount of time to obtain whatever item that they want. No “manufactured collectibles” (I’m looking at you, Jazwares. Happy Chinese New Year, by the way) or distribution idiocy. I will say that I was hoping that Harley would show up in an upcoming PowerTown series, but Mattel can still follow up. An NWA Harley should most certainly be included in an upcoming Legends series (how about alternate heads, one including mutton chops? Chase tights?) and a Build A Figure of manager Harley would be ideal.

Me? Despite cutting down greatly on pre-orders this year for a multitude of reasons, sign me up for two of these on the spot. The first Greatest Hits series doesn’t look like it will ever have the chance to hit clearance, so reserve a Harley while the gettin’s good. And come on back here, hopefully before the end of the year, so that we can revisit The King once again…