Thursday, October 26, 2023

The Hulkster & The Hot Rod Still Settling The Score

The Mattel WWE Superstars line. Talk about mixed emotions. A great line created to emulate the classic Remco AWA figures. Thanks to exclusivity to everyone’s favorite Arkansas-based retailer it’s also proven to be a distribution nightmare. While nearly every figure thus far has seemingly become easy enough to acquire, eventually, store exclusives have cemented themselves as an absolute thorn in the side of collectors. The official line from Mattel is that without retailers wanting exclusives it’s likely that certain figures and series would never get produced. Well, if they’re not easily accessible what’s the point in making them in the first place.

The latest few series of the WWE Superstars line, while sort of fluid if going by the back of the packaging, took the distribution issues to new levels. Most, if not all, collectors had pre-orders on the figures which were eventually cancelled. For Hulk Hogan and Rowdy Roddy Piper, seemingly released in conjunction, the idiocy went even further. Weeks after cancellation notices were sent the two figures began showing up on doorsteps, often without even a shipping notice. Many collectors even received a “price adjustment” on one of the figures. The cost? $0.00. Don’t ask me what they’re doing. They don’t even know!

Continuing with the packaging as it’s been since the beginning of the line, the card backs are what could best be described as a mashup between the LJN WWF Wrestling Superstars line and the aforementioned Remco AWA line, specifically the final, single-carded series titled “Mat Mania.” The cards are colorful, though the thin cardboard used often makes it difficult to find examples in good shape. Amazingly you’ll often find cards that are “unpunched.” Even more amazing is when they’re shipped to you both unpunched and in good shape. The back of the card features Remco-esque drawings of the figures and some wrestler specific quotes which are mostly correct, though I’ve seen some creative liberties taken.

The first “chase” of the line is in this series. The Hulkster comes in the standard red and yellow or, as a chase, in blue and white. When this element was first announced it was feared that, due to the figure coming clad in his red jumpsuit, it would be impossible to tell which version you had without opening. Due to the boots being different colors you can tell via the side of the bubble. In a line where virtually every figure is a “chase” due to the double ineptness of the manufacturer and the retailer there is simply no room for chase variants. Ultimately, it’s the manufacturer costing themselves money. If you equally distribute the figure In both looks most collectors will buy both. Stupidity reigns.

In any case, I’m very pleased with how both of these figures came out. I’d go as far as to say that it’s one of Mattel’s best Piper efforts thus far. He actually very much reminds me of his look on Hulk Hogan’s Rock n’ Wrestling cartoon. The kilt is soft rubber while the shirt is cloth. A modern looking microphone is included. The Hulkster has his aforementioned jumpsuit which is in two pieces, headband, weight belt and crucifix. Both figures also include several interchangeable hands. One of my peeves with the line is that it has zero focus as far as era, but they have done a nice supply of mid-80’s names recently with these two, Mr. T, Captain Lou Albano and an upcoming Andre the Giant, the latter featuring two looks in one as several of the figures do.

You’re really just going to have to luck out with these, although as I’d stated earlier most if not all eventually became easy to purchase. Some even went on clearance. Upcoming names in the line include the previously mentioned Andre as well as another Hogan (and chase…ugh), Doink the Clown, Davey Boy Smith and Kane. I really wish that they’d stay out of post-1995 with these, but The Big Red Machine isn’t the first and won’t be the last, I’m sure. With a lineup that already includes Randy Savage, The Ultimate Warrior, Ted DiBiase, The Honky Tonk Man, The Natural Disasters, Mr. Perfect and Rick Rude, I guess I don’t have too much to complain about.

How about Dusty, Lawler, Harley and The Funker? I mean, I can always request rather than complain…

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Collector Rage In The Cage!

Ah, playsets! The centerpieces of action figure collecting. Back in the day, an action figure line just wasn’t serious without them. Most wrestling figure lines have had them in the form of rings, but they seemed to die off more and more for other genres as the ‘90s progressed. Now, with pretty much anything action figure related seeing a resurgence, playsets are back. Not only have they returned, but for most lines they’re more expensive than ever! Want the archway where Jabba the Hutt sat his slimy self? That’ll be nearly $300, please! Thankfully, wrestling is for kids (and if you think any different, you’re crazy) and some of the playsets are staying just for them. Our favorite (heh…) red bullseyed retailer is back with an exclusive one that’s sure to excite you and the kids alike. It’s the WWE Legends Classic Cage playset! Let’s open the box and have a look.

Again, just like all of the rings that you find in brick and mortar stores these days, this is for kids. This isn’t meant for replicating an exact ring or the look of one. That being said, I have yet to see a scale ring over the past two decades that looked “right” to me. They always appear to be just a tad too big. Yes, television distorts the actual ring size, but there needs to be a balance between actual size and perception that’s then transferred to the toy itself. I had high hopes for The New Generation ring to finally solve this issue, but that thing is just a tad too big as well, among other issues. Here, for forty bucks, you get the classic blue ring and the classic blue bar cage, complete with opening door.

This isn’t the first time that Mattel has released this set. The same retailer had it as an exclusive several years ago when they had the WWE Hall of Fame Elite figure line and the set was released under that banner. I didn’t purchase it so I can’t tell you if the cage utilizes the same tooling although I would imagine that it’s the same. I can tell you that the ring will be different. This ring, or at least the posts, are the more updated style with somewhat more realistic looking molded turnbuckles and pegs to, theoretically, pose your figures as they’re coming off of the posts. The original blue ring that was released under the Hall of Fame labeling was also a K-Mart exclusive as the Tribute To The Troops ring around a decade ago.

Seeing as that it is, in fact, a kids toy, it’s fairly easy to assemble. The ropes are all permanently attached to one of the posts and easily slip onto the others. I always recommended unattaching them for storage as they can and will stretch and/or break. It happens. The cage is attached with eight clips (two on each post) that are removable when you want to utilize just the ring. I had an issue with the very last bottom clip connecting. It was barely noticeable and the cage stayed on perfectly fine, I just didn’t feel like fixing it. I’m sure that had I used a bit more time I could’ve straightened it, but again, I didn’t feel the waste of time was necessary. Also, I rarely apply the stickers on these things but I did throw them on the turnbuckles this time. I, personally, despise the center mat stickers, though a kid would probably want it on there. I always save it, still attached to the sticker sheet.

It's a nice cage. It looks to be the right height. Jakks did a similar playset many years ago and the blue bar cage was just way too high. They did a “real scale” version, too, but not only did my above gripe about those types of rings fully apply, but the thing was an absolute pain in the neck to assemble. Seeing as that Jazwares grew out of that company,  it isn’t surprising that their AEW scale rings prove that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Back to the set at hand, my only true gripe is that there’s a fairly wide gap between the ring apron and the cage when it’s applied. This isn’t going to bother a kid, but I don’t remember this with other Mattel “basic” rings and cages. No figure is fitting through it or anything like that, but I like when the cage looks as if it’s resting on the ring apron.

Hopefully the attached photos give you an example of just what kind of magic you can do with a $40 kids playset. If you’re into figure photography it’s a heckuva bargain. Even if you just want to display, it works for that, too, especially compared to a real scale ring. I like the “slamming” sound that Mattel’s spring mechanism gives. Oh? You’re afraid of chipping the paint on your figures? Get off my blog. Kidding. Kinda. Anyway, if you’re going for 100% realism chances are that this won’t satisfy you. If you’re looking for a ring and cage playset in the vein of classic toys that you can have a little fun with, this is for you. Works great with the WWE Superstars line, too, as you'll see here on the blog next week! And come on, this is the blue bar cage! Get out your Hulk, get out your Bundy, get out your Ricky Schroeder and let’s have some Mania 2!

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Wrestling MarketWatch: Hype Then. Hype Now. Hype Forever.

“Then. Now. Forever.” Is more than just the name of the figure set we looked at here last week. It’s more than just the company motto, too. It’s hype and that’s definitely something that WWE was built on. Sure, it’s good business, but to their credit the company has always known how to do it well. Ever since the famous WWF logo debuted they’ve plastered it on absolutely everything – and it’s worked! Heck, look closely at the picture to the left. At one point they were printing card lineups on envelopes! I can’t count the number of times that I’ve referenced the WWF marketing machine over the years here in the blog, especially since merchandise is the name of the game. In this latest edition of Wrestling MarketWatch we’re looking at several items that reflect the never ending push of the brand, concepts and top stars of the WWF as we knew it.

*We’ll start in 1995. The World Wrestling Federation is no longer the mainstream entertainment choice that it had been just a few years earlier, though the diehards are still rabid for the product. I wouldn’t quite call it a transitional period, either, as honestly a lot of it felt quite stagnate. That being said, I personally prefer it to a lot of what happened in just a few years time. Nonetheless, the WWF was still looking to get their name out there. What way better to do that than to plaster the WWF logo on an airship? Gliding into cities across America, the WWF blimp was wrestling’s answer to the more widely known Goodyear counterpart. It may not have lasted more than a few years but it did yield an inflatable replica that was available through the catalog and likely at live events as well. Recently selling for $110 this is down from $190 back in 2020.

*The WWF was not only a pioneer in hype but a groundbreaker in pay-per-view television as well. After the success of WrestleMania III the company knew that it needed a follow-up in much less than twelve months. Thus, The Survivor Series was born. While teams of five may have strived to survive, all eyes were on Hulk Hogan vs Andre the Giant. Unlike their one-on-one bout at WrestleMania, the two epic gladiators would instead lead their own teams into battle. Hogan led Bam Bam Bigelow, Ken Patera, Paul Orndorff and Don Muraco (replacing Superstar Billy Graham) into the Thanksgiving night war against Andre and his team consisting of King Kong Bundy, The One Man Gang, Ravishing Rick Rude and Butch Reed. Several Survivor Series-branded promotional photos came out of the hype including one featuring a Hogan-Andre stare down in an image recycled from the WM III media blitz. This photo recently sold for $166.

*Andre may have been Hulk’s greatest rival but as we all know it didn’t end there. Perhaps no one, over the span of years, had more ups and downs with The Hulkster than Randy “Macho Man” Savage. While the two teamed for the first SummerSlam they led opposing duos for the second edition of the event in 1989. The show, emanating from East Rutherford, NJ, saw Hogan and Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake managed by Miss Elizabeth take on Savage and “Human Wrecking Machine” Zeus led by Sensational Sherri. It was one of several tie-ins to the “No Holds Barred” motion picture starring Hogan and Zeus, a film now considered by many to be a cult classic. The artwork promoting the event is a lot of fun and is featured in several outlets including a post card which recently sold for $18.

*1997 was most assuredly a transitional time for the company. Although the event was held in Chicago, WrestleMania that year always felt small to me. Many fans love the matches, however, and have fond memories of the show which honestly acts as a bridge between the “cartoon era” of yore and the “Attitude Era” about to be ushered in. For better or for worse (you know which way I vote), the company and the industry as a whole was about to rake in a whole lot of money. It looks like some sellers are trying to take in similar amounts of money for the promotional Burger King WrestleMania cup that was exclusive to the Chicagoland area. As usual, folks should be aware that those are the ASKING prices. The actual recent selling price is $15. We all know that prices go up and down on a whim. Always get in there when demand is low.

*Cable companies got into the act in those early days of pay-per-view as well. If you weren’t around then you may not know the lengths that fans often had to go to in order to see these events. While it eventually became a single phone call, the early days called for special receiver boxes and other gimmicks just to watch the show that you’re already paying extra for. It was the technology of the time. I can remember difficulties with cable boxes as late as the early 2000s. I’ve long since cut the cable, thankfully, and now it’s as simple as pulling up Peacock. More often than not it’s more entertaining to then go and watch a classic event than what’s streaming live, but I digress. We’ve shown a lot of WrestleMania IV love this year due to it being the 35th anniversary. One item promoting the show was in fact provided by the WWF for individual cable companies to distribute. It’s a WrestleMania IV branded Hulk Hogan promotional photo complete with facsimile signature. The name of the cable company was added to the top of the photo which is on a far thinner paper stock than the traditional promo. While sellers, again, try to get way more for this photo, it recently sold for $15.

Are you hyped? I am! For the days when the hype was worthwhile, that is…

Thursday, October 5, 2023

A Hunka Hunka Boxcar!

Yet another figure review? Sure, why not? You never know when a gem is going to pop into the picture, much less a Figure of the Year candidate. Do we have one here? Like with “the best” of anything it’s purely subjective. Only each individual person knows exactly what is “the best” or “the greatest” to them. In my world it’d be an absolute miracle if a figure of someone like The Undertaker or Stone Cold Steve Austin would be considered for FOTY. They’ve simply been done one hundred times too many and there just isn’t enough variation in their looks. But a wrestler who’s had a limited amount of figures, especially in a certain look? Couple that with fairly flawless execution from design to accessories and we’ve got what I consider to be the complete package.

Mattel WWE Legends Series 20 features Mr. Perfect, Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase and Triple H, but I’m fairly certain that most eyes flew to a figure who’s had both a storied and unfulfilled history: Rhythm and Blues Greg Valentine. It’s the last series to feature the packaging introduced when Mattel brought back their Legends-titled line with Series 7. Interestingly, that series featured the Mattel return of “The Hammer” with a traditional look in both black and yellow trunks. Here we’re getting Valentine as he appeared for most of 1990 while teaming with The Honky Tonk Man. The bio on the back of the box would lead you to believe that this occurred in 1988. If Mattel would like to replace their current bio writer/historian with someone who knows the facts without even needing to research I’d be happy to take over the position. Ozer? Call me.

“The Hammer” comes complete with guitar, glasses, jacket, belt and a hunka hunka Honky love. I’ve complained about this breakaway guitar and I do wish that they’d replace it with a solid version. I’m ok with it this time around for two reasons. Rhythm and Blues had two high profile appearances that are well remembered, those being at WrestleMania VI and Survivor Series 1990. At the former their guitars were indeed smashed to smithereens by The Bushwhackers. The other reason that I’m alright with it is that it seems to stay together just a bit better. Like many of you I’ve taken to keeping the clear plastic band used to keep the guitar intact in the packaging. I removed it then replaced it for the photography that you see here and had not one instance of premature guitar collapse. This is a good sign since, as of press time, there’s no known remedy for PGC. Consult your physician.

Mattel really went all out on this one. If the often discussed budget breakdowns of individual figure series is true, most of it for Series 20 went here. The belt and jacket are amazing. They capture “Boxcar” just as we remember him from those magical months in 1990. The glasses appear to be a new design, too, although it could just be the color. They’re removable yet stay on when you need them to which is always the sign of a good figure accessory.

The real “main event” feature of the figure is that Mattel fixed the leg issue from the previous Valentine release. The legs are a bit shorter and thicker really capturing the look of “The Hammer” as we all remember. That being said, I now want re-releases of the previous looks. I still want some other designs, too. Let’s compromise. We’ll take redos of the yellow and black ones in the upcoming Legends Greatest Hits line and then we’ll take new versions of Greg, with slightly different hair and new robes, in the regular legends line. Since “Dream Team” Brutus Beefcake is seeing a re-release, why not a matching Gregster? If we had as many versions of Valentine as we do Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart I’d be a happy collector.

Who am I kidding? I’m happy anyway! After three decades of complaints about Hasbro not releasing “The Hammer” in this look we now have several to choose from. While the Retro Hasbro-styled version is essential, this one is the ultimate. He’s available now through everyone’s favorite red bullseye retailer and I’d advise to get one if you want one. We all know the penchant that this retailer has for suddenly discounting the price on these figures for a spell, but if this is one that you want I wouldn’t wait around. It’s fairly visually impressive. There will also be those who pass now yet want it when The Honky Tonk Man is re-released in the aforementioned WWE Legends Greatest Hits series for which he is scheduled. Plan your purchasing accordingly.

Enjoy the figure, ponder it as FOTY, but remember, “if you hung The Hammer for being a good singer you’d hang an innocent person!”