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!