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!