Thursday, February 23, 2023

Looking At The Elite Of Elite 100

For better or worse, Mattel loves to celebrate their own milestones. Many of you will recall when they celebrated their 100th “Basic” WWE figure series several years ago. Now the company is making a celebration out of the 100th Elite series. Like with virtually any action figure producer since such toys became an entity, it’s been an up and down relationship between the company and collectors. They’ve produced their share of figures that have made collectors very happy. They’ve also made decisions that have left most of us scratching our heads. What it boils down to is that they’re producing a product so that we will buy it. No matter the rhetoric and ever-growing P.R., no company is doing this out of the goodness of their heart or for the love of the collector. Nonetheless, we try to stay on the happy side of collecting around here, so let's celebrate two, or three, of the good results of the long Mattel-WWE partnership.

Speaking of those two figures, let’s take a look at them! The 100th Elite set includes John Cena, Rey Mysterio, Becky Lynch, The Rock, Stunning Steve Austin and Andre the Giant. It’s the latter two that we’ll be discussing today. All of the figures include championship belts designed to be a bit different than what we’ve seen before. As you can already tell from the photos, the “chase” of the series is Andre, thus why there will be three figures in this review. Although I could see myself picking up the others in the set should they ever see a deep discount, the only ones that warranted an initial purchase from me were Austin and both the regular and chase Andre.

The packaging, while the same as it’s been in shape, is jazzed up a bit. Silver foil has been added in places, the overall style is black, silver and gray and artwork has been added to the back. Even the backer cards inside the packaging have character-specific artwork. Again, Mattel enjoys celebrating their milestones. With how cheap and flimsy the cardboard has been across the board lately in the Mattel packaging, is it really worth the extra design effort? Speaking of the lesser quality packaging in recent years, it seems harder and harder to get truly good conditioned boxes.

Starting with the Giant, this is a version that it absolutely shocks me it’s taken this long to get. I could honestly have even seen LJN doing this Andre decades ago had they gotten around to it. It’s Andre in his suit, casual clothes, whatever you want to call it. He wore this and similar outfits in so many iconic moments such as the Piper’s Pit heel turn on Hulk Hogan, choking The Hulkster out center ring, press conferences, contract signings and even non-wrestling media appearances. In my mind it’s just as iconic as the black strap. In addition to some extra hands, Andre includes The Hulkster’s chain and cross as well as, for the first time, the “giant-sized” belt that, in storyline, was made for when Andre defeated Hogan at WrestleMania III. In early renders it seemed that we would be getting a broken chain to represent when Andre tore it from Hulk’s neck, but we ended up getting the same recycled full version. The belt is stunning and Mattel did go all out with what appears to my eyes to be two-toned plating. 

The Andre head is reused and is perfectly fine, but I’m still not sure why they’ve never again used the maskless Andre head that was released with The Giant Machine figure. To me this is still the best Andre likeness ever done in a figure yet Mattel doesn’t want to seem to use it. They also don’t seem to want to use the giant “paw” hands released with a few Andre figures and even one of the last figures of The Big Show. These are absolutely perfect “giant” hands yet have remained unused for years now.

While the regular version of Andre is in the suit most closely resembling that which he wore on the infamous aforementioned Piper’s Pit segment (“I am here for one reason…”), the chase features an almost neon color reminiscent of his appearance on the Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n Wrestling cartoon. Both versions, despite the better part choices that they could’ve recycled here, are home runs.

Stunning Steve Austin was a choice for me almost solely for the accessory. While I’m obviously going to buy most any early WCW figure release, I don’t know that I would have necessarily rushed on this one were it not for the inclusion of the NWA/WCW World Television Championship belt. This is the red strap version that is most associated with Tully Blanchard, Dusty Rhodes and Mike Rotunda among many others. The classic red strap had actually gone to black once Austin had it, but this is one Mattel mistake that I’m grateful for. It’s lacking detail, of course, as one would expect. There are no NWA letters (nor even WCW as a placeholder) and the network logos are obviously gone. Still, this is the closest that we’ll ever get in an official release. The soft goods robe is nice, too, and could probably be used for someone else if needed as it isn’t far off from a generic robe in its initial design.

The figure itself is good enough, but I’m not blown away by it. The “True FX” facial detailing seems a bit off, but that could just be on mine. It looks better in person than it does in the photography. This is pretty much the last key figure for The Dangerous Alliance and will look great paired with the upcoming Paul E. Dangerously release. We still need a more modern release for Bobby Eaton, a short-haired Rick Rude in WCW era tights as well as Madusa. Speaking of that legendary lady, why not a “Ducey” release in the Legends series? I can even think of easy chase options. With all of her involvement in WWE promotions and anniversaries it feels like her license would still be available, but who's to say?

If you’re not concerned about missing out on the Television Title, I believe that Austin and most of these will be “waitable” aside from Andre. The Giant has always had a unique desirability among figure fans and with one this special I predict that it will not be different. A long awaited design coupled with a much desired accessory in the belt? The chase is already commanding high prices and was from the beginning with certain online retailers who need not be mentioned.

100 series is quite a milestone, but a lot like my recent 1,000th post on my wrestling figure photography social media account (Instagram: @The_Figure_Arena), I don't see things like that as really being accomplishments. Just as anyone can make 1,000 Instagram posts, any company can churn out 100 series of action figures. It's the fans and collectors who made it what it is. As much as Mattel is patting themselves on the back, I turn around and salute you and I and our wallets. We made it what it is and will continue to do so. Never lose sight of that.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Wrestling MarketWatch: The Big Men!

You may not realize it today, but years ago wrestling was a big man’s business. Some promoters lived by the mantra that in order to get a push you had to be noticeable walking through an airport. A head-turner, if you will. There is some truth to that. I think too many of today’s stars look like your average joe walking down the street. But seeing as that the visual of a “big man” wrestler is a major part of the attraction, that obviously translates well into merchandising. In the latest edition of Wrestling MarketWatch we’re going to revisit some of the classic big men of wrestling and maybe even a modern one. As always, recently sold prices quoted are for unsigned examples unless otherwise noted.

*Big men weren’t always lumbering giants. Many had the athleticism of wrestlers a third of their size. Many arguments have been made that the most athletic wrestling big man of all-time was Big Van Vader. Not really hitting his stride in wrestling until a stint in Japan, it’s easy to see why the hard-fighting mastadon did so well over there. “Strong style” isn’t just a catchphrase. Vader, without a doubt, had his most successful years in the business as part of World Championship Wrestling. He honestly may have seen more merchandise there than his less-than-successful WWF run just a few years later. During his tenure at WCW the company had a comic book published by Marvel. Vader made the cover of Issue 12 which recently sold for $20.

*Another mid-‘90s bohemoth was the man known as Mabel. Originally part of the tag team “Men On A Mission,” Mabel would get to the top of the card as “King Mabel” and eventually adopt other monikers such as Viscera and Big Daddy V. He was just as frightening as Vader albeit in a different way. His consistent mass caused audiences to wow whenever the man known as Mabel took to the ring. Before sadly passing away in 2014, Nelson Frazier had quite a career that rarely saw him fully out of the spotlight. He eventually saw action figures under every gimmick name that he had, but the Jakks WWE Classic Superstars figure of King Mabel has been selling at an average of $55.

*One big man who may have been one of the WIDEST wrestlers to ever grace the ring was the late, great King Kong Bundy. The villain of WrestleMania 2, Bundy gained attention wherever he want. Looking like a classic movie brute, or even monster, Bundy eventually left the wrestling business for a small career in Hollywood. In real life, Bundy was a genuinely nice guy who seemed to enjoy his times at the many conventions that he attended over the years. He, along with Junkyard Dog, were the first two wrestling names that I ever remember knowing. At the height of “Bundymania,” King Kong Bundy appeared on the cover of WWF Magazine in September 1986. The issue recently sold for $30 which is up from $17 when the issue was last featured in MarketWatch five years ago.

*How about a little giant? Nothing about Andre the Giant was little, but some of his merchandise could fit that bill. One of the smallest versions of Andre is the Wrestling Superstars Clip-On from HB Toys. The design greatly resembles that of the first LJN Wrestling Superstars Andre figure. The original packaging for these clip-ons even has the LJN Wrestling Superstars logo and color scheme. Hulk Hogan was also done in this form. While no other characters were produced, HB Toys couldn’t go wrong with those two names. Andre himself recently sold for $17 out of the package.

*One man who has carried the tradition of wrestling big men into the modern era is Braun Strowman. A true giant in every sense of the word, Strowman is not just a “big man” but a “monster among men.” WWE surprisingly let him go during one of their talent purges of the past few years, but the immense superstar recently made it back into the company. Strowman also found his way into one of the earlier Mattel WWE Retro figure waves when the company was still including modern talent. The figure, autographed, recently sold for $100. Monster, indeed!

Quite the variety of gargantuan grapplers. I did originally intend to include three little items featuring The Twin Towers – Akeem and the Big Boss Man, however none have seemingly been sold lately! The items are three cards from the 1989 WWF Classic series. Most collectors are familiar with the 1990 release where the only cards of Akeem and the Boss Man are their single cards. The earlier 1989 set featured those as well as three cards of the twosome as The Twin Towers tag team. When the more widely available set showed up on shelves in 1990 the team had already broken up and the cards were replaced. I wouldn’t necessarily call them rare but I’m always intrigued at their going price since many fans aren’t even aware that they exist. Towers or not, this was a MarketWatch of epic proportions!

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Remembering A True Genius...

Humbled. Those who met the man know exactly what Lanny Poffo’s reaction would be of the talk and remembrances of the last several days. Completely humbled. The outpouring following the death of Mr. Poffo has been like that of what is usually reserved for a major star. Sadly, that’s something that the former “Poet Laureate of the WWF” (as deemed by Gorilla Monsoon) would not have listed himself as. Us fans knew better.

I had the pleasure of meeting “Leaping Lanny” several times. He always gave off the impression of being surprised that fans had so many great memories of his career. Yet we all did. Some fans remember his early days best in the Poffo family’s ICW promotion based out of Kentucky. Others remember him being a quintessential under-carder in the WWF. I wouldn’t quite deem him “enhancement talent” in the same way that I wouldn’t lump men such as Special Delivery Jones there, either. They were names that never quite made the mid-card level in the World Wrestling Federation. Yet, we all remember them fondly. Sometimes meaningless wins and losses overshadow what really made the classic wrestling memories – ability. Lanny Poffo sure had that.

Even as he was wowing fans in opening matches across the world, that wouldn’t be his biggest claim to fame. His unforgettable manager/wrestler character of The Genius is where Lanny will always shine brightest for most of us. Who can forget The Fink alerting us that we were about to hear a special poem from The Genius? How about the dastardly attack that he and Mr. Perfect unleashed on Hulk Hogan and the beloved “winged eagle” WWF Championship belt? Even as he returned a few years later to manage The Beverly Brothers, the trio had some fun six-man matches against The Legion of Doom and Paul Ellering. I still remember Sean Mooney pointing out how the question mark-filled wrestling gear of The Genius resembled Frank Gorshin’s Riddler costume. It did indeed!

Even with more merch than someone who wasn’t a star would have, it still didn’t go to Mr. Poffo’s head. Not only did he have a book of poetry (often authentically signed by BOTH Poffo brothers), trading cards, his ubiquitous Leaping Lanny Poffo frisbee (completely with poem) and, thanks to Jakks WWE Classic Superstars line, a two-in-one figure that was marketed as “Leaping” Lanny Poffo but came complete with the mortar board and gown of The Genius! His is a look that I would definitely love to see tackled by Mattel in the future if given the chance. Not only would a “Legends” figure entry be ideal, but he is a prime name for the retro line that is used by many collectors to “fill in the blanks” of the Hasbro WWF line in which he was a glaring omission.

I think, like his brother Randy, family is what meant most to Lanny Poffo. The brothers were raised right. The family is now reunited, much too soon.

I recently shared some of my memorabilia remembrances of Leaping Lanny on social media and I even came up with a little ditty that hopefully does him a wee bit of justice…

“Leaping Lanny, with glory and renown, left memories to lift us up when we are down.”

"Leaping" Lanny Poffo