Monthly Archives: July 2013
Hey gang, sorry for the lack of posts but real life has been keeping me pretty busy. I actually have a couple of reviews written but haven’t found the time to take the pictures required. Despite having a stockpile of reviews at the ready I’m writing this one up fresh because it’s a special occasion: G.I. Joe Retaliation has arrived on DVD and Blu-Ray. I have been super pumped about this. I saw the film twice in the theaters, once in 3D and once standard, and have been eager to see it again. I really really liked this movie. I haven’t pre-ordered anything in years but I pre-ordered my copy of Retaliation from Best Buy because I didn’t want to risk them selling out of their exclusive “extended action cut” with 13 additional minutes of footage added to the film. Vanessa and I went to Best Buy right after work yesterday so I could pick up my copy. I was dying to get it home so that I could explore all of the bonus features and watch the added content but I had to wait a couple of hours because we went and saw the new Steve Carell movie “The Way, Way Back”. That was a good movie too but it was no G.I. Joe 2.
I watched the extended cut of the film when I got home and it was pretty cool. Jinx is much more fleshed out in this version as the majority of the added scenes benefit her. I liked the new footage but I must confess that it didn’t feel essential so don’t be bummed out if you picked up the theatrical version. The hour of behind the scenes stuff was entertaining and the 3 deleted scenes were decent as well. There doesn’t appear to be a director’s commentary on the extended cut so that sucks. I’m hoping that it’s included on the theatrical-cut DVD that was included with my blu-ray. If it’s there I will most likely watch/listen to it tonight.
As an excuse to prattle on about the movie as I just did, I had planned on reviewing a Retaliation figure like Roadblock or Snake Eyes. However I have covered both of those guys recently during my “Retaliation Week” from the time the movie hit theaters. Plus, I had recently promised regular reader Paul an Alley Viper review. As luck would have it a new Alley Viper was released in the most recent wave of Retaliation figures. So, while no Alley Vipers actually appeared in the movie (which would have been awesome) I can still technically relate this figure to the film.
The first Alley Viper figure was released rather late in my Joe collecting youth, hitting the shelves in 1989. And yet my Alley Viper saw plenty of use and became one of my favorite Cobra figures. After Ice Viper and Heat Viper I’d say he was my third favorite Cobra Trooper. Alley Viper was billed as an Urban Assault Trooper. His crazy orange and blue camo didn’t make much sense but I thought it was awesome. He definitely stood out amongst the sea of blue and red Cobra troops. Alley Viper was released several times in the years that followed and each time the colors got weirder. The 2004 redesign of Alley Viper was god awful. The Alley Viper had become over exposed and fallen from grace.
That is until 2009 when an updated version of the ’89 original was released in the Defense of Cobra island 7-pack. I loved the 2009 version, it retained all of the elements that I loved about the original and added some new stuff such as a fully removable helmet instead of simply a removable visor. I liked the ’09 version so much that I felt that there was no improving on it. I passed on the next two Alley Vipers, released in the Renegades and Pursuit of Cobra waves, as I felt they didn’t compare. I’m not even sure if I would have bough this red one (version 14) had I seen it at the store. The reason that I ended up with it is because I pre-ordered the entire wave 2 from BigBadToyStore. I was mostly looking forward to the Joe Colton, Lady Jaye and Cyber Ninja, this guy was just kind of an add on.
But now that I have this figure in hand I’m very glad I got him. I was expecting a straight repaint of the 2009 version but that’s not what I got. He shares some of the same pieces as the ’09 version but there were quite a few changes made including a different head and torso. Instead of a flak vest this new Alley Viper has elaborate webgear able to store his knife and baton. His primary weapon has been changed up as well. I have a soft spot for the orange and blue color scheme but dare I say this red and gray might be even better. It’s not as unique but it looks fantastic. He still has his crazy shield and retractable face plate, as every respectable Alley Viper should, along with a rope, missile launcher and a bunch of other stuff. this is an excellent figure that I strongly recommend you pick up. And go pick up a copy of the blu-ray while you’re at it. 9 out of 10.
The first Shipwreck figure was released in 1985, which is regarded by many to be the best year ever for G.I. JOE. The comics and cartoons were both very popular, the toys filled entire aisles at the toy stores, and great new product was continually being added to the brand. In 1985 we were introduced to such diverse new characters as Alpine, Bazooka, Flint, Lady Jaye, the Crimson Twins, Barbecue, Dusty, The Dreadnoks, Snake Eyes’ new ninja look, and the Snow Serpents, just to name a few. I liked Shipwreck right away. Voice actor, Neil Ross, infused Shipwreck with a ton of personality by doing his best Jack Nicholson impression. Shipwreck was one of those characters, like Quick Kick (another ’85er), who joined the team through very unorthodox means in the cartoon. In the second animated mini series “The Revenge of Cobra” a couple of Joes on the lam from Cobra are given a ride to safety by Shipwreck on his sand sailboat and so they let him join the team. Shipwreck remained a lead character on the series until it was cancelled. His parrot Polly was alway on his shoulder providing some comic relief.
Doug owned the 1985 Shipwreck and another version wasn’t released until 1994. The second version was wearing a wet suit which was appropriate because the Joe brand was pretty dead in the water by that time. I never owned my first Shipwreck figure until the New Sculpt era kicked off in 2002. By this time though Shipwreck had ditched both his sailor’s uniform and wetsuit in favor of a sweater and knit cap. That design was based on how the character looked in the relaunched Joe comic book by Devil’s Due. I guess they felt the little white cap wasn’t badass enough anymore. I liked the new look, it felt more multi-purpose than his classic design, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the classic white cap and blue shirt. Shipwreck was released multiple times during the New Sculpt years but never returned to his iconic look until 2007 when the 25th anniversary series kicked off.
I really liked the 25th anniversary Shipwreck but not everyone agreed with me. He had cartoonishly big biceps which I think was done as some sort of silly nod to Popeye. The arms didn’t bother me that much and I thought the face sculpt suited the easy going personna he had in the cartoons. Not only was it my first “sailor” Shipwreck but it was also my first Polly figure, as Shippy’s sidekick was absent through most of the 2000s.
In 2012, during the lull in figure releases caused by G.I. JOE: Retaliation being delayed 9 months, Dollar General stores put out an exclusive line of 6 Joe figures. I think the figures were produced by Hasbro to throw fans a bone during the 9 month wait. The DG figures were much cheaper than other recent Joe releases but they lacked some of the frills of those other figures. Most of the DG releases only had 1 or 2 accessories and they didn’t have any card art, just generic packaging. The 6 figures included in the exclusive wave were Cobra Commander, Cobra Trooper, Storm Shadow, Snake Eyes, Duke, and Shipwreck. All were well known characters who had been released plenty of times before but the Dollar General figures managed to effectively fill some holes in the modern era collection. Shipwreck, for example, was released in his Devil’s Due sweater and cap look for the first time in the modern era. It was a figure a lot of fans were happy to see, myself included.
Unfortunately we don’t have Dollar Generals in Canada so I had to shop for my figures online which negated the lower price point. Online retailers were charging between 12 and 20 bucks plus shipping for most of these figures. I decided to bide my time until I could score all six figures for a good deal. Months after their initial release at Dollar General, BigBadToyStore finally got the figures in for a very reasonable price. I ordered the lot of them and waited for them to arrive in the mail.
I was a little disappointed to discover that the 6 figures I ordered were actually repaints of the original Dollar General figures. I was expecting a black Cobra Commander and Trooper but instead I got cartoony blue and yellow ones. The changes made to Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow left me disappointed as well. The repainted Shipwreck was probably the one that made the least amount of difference to me. I would have rather gotten the blue sweater, blue cap, gray pants version but this green version is fine too. This looks like a Shipwreck ready to emerge from a Cobra Swamp, quietly slit some Swamp Viper throats, and then infiltrate a Terrordrome. While I like my sailor Shipwreck, I don’t think you can deny that this one looks more badass. For a figure that’s supposed to be light on accessories, I’m impressed by his removable scuba mask, backpack and pistol (but sadly no Polly). This figure has a great sculpt and a decent paint job but I think I may still seek out the blue sweatered one too. 7 out of 10.
This here is the X-Men’s Kitty Pryde. That’s what the package read and that’s what they usually call her in the comic books these days. Kitty has always been the character’s “real name” but I prefer her super hero code name, Shadow Cat. I like the name Kitty Pryde, it’s unique enough that it could be a code name all on its own but I’m partial to calling her Shadow Cat because that’s what she went by when I first discovered the character. When my brother Doug and I got into collecting comics I was drawn to Spider-Man while Doug veered towards the X books. The first issue of X-Men he bought, issue 210, featured Kitty and the rest of the team looking totally badass and it remains one of my all-time favorite comic covers. It was drawn by one of my favorite funny book artists, John Romita Jr., though at the time he was still developing his unique style which I came to appreciate even more over the years. This issue was the lead in to the “mutant massacre”, a story line which holds tons of nostalgic value to me. During the story Shadow Cat was impaled by one of Harpoon’s electrified harpoons and the result was that it left her permanently trapped in her “phase mode”. Shadow Cat’s mutant power is that she can become intangible, basically turn into a ghost, allowing her to phase through walls and anything else that might be in her way.
Kitty was introduced into the X-Men book in the early 80s as a peppy thirteen year old as a means to inject some freshness into the team. I never really saw her as a kid because by the time Doug and I had started reading the books she had been through the ringer a couple of times and was a much tougher character. Shadow Cat was actually my favorite X-Man in those early years of buying comics. Her costume at the time consisted of blue spandex leggings, a loose fitting blue jacket, a domino mask, and big curly 80s hair. It may not have been the best look but it’s the one I always associate as her “main” costume.
The get up that’s she’s wearing in this figure is the standard X-Men duds that the original team wore back in the 60s and has been worn by the New Mutants and several other X characters since. It serves as a generic outfit for young mutant recruits and, while I don’t mind it, I feel that Kitty deserves her own unique costume. I wish they had went with the silly blue 80s design for this figure. Oh well.
I’m practically a completist when it comes to the Marvel Universe line but Kitty was one of the few figures that I refused to buy when she came out. I found the standard X-Men outfit too dull and I haven’t been attached to the character in decades. I know she died a while back but I’m pretty sure she was resurrected..I dunno. Go buy a comic if you want to know what her current status is.
I finally picked up this figure when I found her loose for $2 at that comic shop in Moncton I talked about in my Viper Commando review. I still think that the figure is dull, but the face sculpt is actually pretty darn good. On the plus side of her wearing this costume is that she blends in quite well with some of my other X-Men figures. This figure is not as bad as I initially thought it was. 5 out of 10.
As a side note, Kitty was portrayed by Ellen Page in X-Men 3 and she will be reprising the role in the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past. I thought Ellen did a great job on the character with the small amount of screen time that she had. I imagine she’ll have a much larger role in the new film considering the character’s pivotal role in the original comic story and how much bigger a star Ellen has become since X-Men 3. Ellen is from my home town of Halifax and actually grew up just a few streets over from where I live now. I don’t know her personally but she goes to the same comic shop as me when she’s in town and I’ve seen her around the neighborhood a couple of times which is pretty cool.
I have a very hard time getting rid of anything, but on occasion I must; I simply collect too many things. My man-cave is only so big, hell, my apartment is only so big, and with the never-ending swell of new comics, movies, and action figures I am quickly running out of space. This does not mean that I’m going to start shipping off my action figures or comic books so don’t bother asking. I have however accepted that every few months, maybe twice a year, I need to purge myself of a few things. I’ve been selling off comics and graphic novels by the box load over the past year and its getting easier each time. I’ve sold off a few toys here and there as well and I’m always thinning the closet of clothes that no longer fit my fat ass. On a recent purge I went through a bin containing my Toy Biz Marvel figures. That collection has already been thinned out considerably and I don’t plan on getting rid of any more. However, resting atop the brightly colored 90s super heroes lies the remains of my once mighty plush empire.
As a kid I had a ton of stuffed animals and I loved every one of them. I loved my Joes and Transformers too but with stuffed animals it was different; the stuffed animals felt more like friends. Every time I part with one of them I get sentimental and a small part of me hopes that they’re not mad at me. When I watch Toy Story 3 my eyes always water up as the unwanted toys are drawn into the incinerator, and it’s not because Woody and the gang are about to bite it. It’s because it makes me think of all my old pals, Longnose the elephant, Lobby the lobster, Jack the owl, and others whom I have sent to the landfill. Only three of my old bedmates remain with me: Mack, Champ, and Popcorn.
But my Marvel bin is topped with more than just those three long-time friends, it’s also padded with a few other plushes that I’ve accumulated over the years as an adult. This fella here, Chim-Chim, falls into that category. (FYI: I named Chim-Chim after a Dave Chappelle joke. At the time I didn’t realize that Dave had borrowed the name of the monkey from Speed Racer.)
Now there’s not much to review here per-say. He’s a small, white, stuffed monkey with suction cup hands. I suppose he’s meant for a car window or something. There’s no denying that he’s a cute little bugger with those big black eyes and devilish grin. My ex-girlfriend Nicole bought him for me when she vacationed in Ireland. I think she picked him up at a zoo or something. It was early on in our relationship and I think she wanted to get me something but we weren’t at the elaborate gift giving stage at that point in time. Chim-Chim was a fine souvenir and I appreciated the gesture.
But that was a long time ago. Nicole and I are still good friends but our romance has long since come to an end. And Frankly, while this stuffed monkey is cute, it holds no sentimental value to me. And so, as I was looking to thin out some of my storage bins last week, Chim-Chim ended up in the discard pile.
I was about to bag him up and send him on his way when suddenly I paused. Chim-Chim wasn’t with me back when I was 6 years old and assigning personalities to all of my belongings so he never felt “alive” to me, but with this blog I have a venue to at least pay him some sort of tribute before saying good-bye. By taking some pictures and immortalizing Chim-Chim online I’d like to think that in some way it atones for me sending so many of my beloved childhood stuffed animals to the incinerator. So I bid you safe travels Chim Chim, I take comfort in the fact that you’ll be bagged with a few other plush rejects (to be covered later) so you’ll have a hand to hold, like Buzz and Woody did, as you make your way to that Irish Jungle in the sky. R.I.P.
Many times I’ve told you how I’m only interested in the Generation 1 era of Transformers. I have no use for Beastformers, Energon, Generation 2, the live-action movies, or any of the many other variations of my beloved 80s toy line. But there are exceptions. I was out at Walmart a while back with some money burning a hole in my pocket. I was looking to buy something but there were no good Blu-rays available and the action figure aisle was slim pickings. But as I flicked through the lackluster peg warmers I came across this little fella, Hardshell, packaged under the “Beast Hunters” Transformers: PRIME brand. I must admit that the Prime designs have caught my attention a couple of times. I’ve purchased a few of them and have even reviewed a couple for the blog, like Soundwave and Cliffjumper. In the case of those two, they’re at least G1 characters who have been made over to fit into the new aesthetic. Hardshell is a brand new character, with no ties to G1, and yet I wanted him anyway.
The fact that he’s an Insecticon intrigued me. In the old days there were 3 Insecticons: Bombshell, Shrapnel, and Kickback. They were featured heavily in the cartoon and they were some of my favorite characters (well not so much Kickback). I truly only cared about a Transformers alternative mode when they transformed into other living things like Dinosaurs, Monsters, and Insects. I never cared for cars so Bumblebee’s Volkswagon Beetle mode didn’t do much for me, but I found Shrapnel’s Stag Beetle mode totally awesome. Last year I got some really nice updated versions of my two favorite Insecticons via a third-party manufacturer. Check out Bombshell here is you like.
When I saw Hardshell I imagined him as an underling to my G1 Insecticons. In the comics and cartoons the Insecticons are often shown to swarm the Autobots which was something I could never replicate with only 2 figures. My trio of Insecticons are still a far cry from a swarm but they’re getting there. I don’t know how many different Insecticons are featured in the PRIME cartoon but rest assured that I’ll buy as many transforming bugs as I can find.
Hardshell transforms into a Rhinocerous Beetle, so he fits right in with fellow beetles Bombshell and Shrapnel. I actually haven’t transformed mine so I had to steal a promo shot of his beetle mode from another site. It’s a cool alt mode though it actually reminds me more of one of those Starship Trooper bugs than any actual creature.
Hardshell is quite small in either mode which I don’t mind. I like that Transformers come in so many shapes and sizes, and if anyone should be smaller than the others its an Insecticon. The robot mode is solid and has some real bulk to it. His arms, legs, and wings are all ball-joint articulated which allows for lots of posing possibilities. There’s no joint on his neck though which is kind of disappointing. The face is pretty cool and and creepy with a thin visor for an eye and lots of jagged fangs. I also really like the green and yellow with gray color scheme, seems very militaristic. However, he would have been even cooler if he was painted in classic Insecticon black, yellow and purple. A nice little find, well worth the 10 bucks. 6 out of 10.
A while back I reviewed the 1989 Frag Viper. If you read that review you know it’s a figure that was released around the time that my childhood interest in G.I. Joe was waning. Neither Doug or I owned the Frag Viper. I have no recollections of them doing anything worthwhile in the comic books and the Sunbow produced cartoon was off the air by then so I basically have no nostalgic attachment to the character. I found the Frag Viper to be kind of goofy looking. His helmet was very science-fiction inspired and bug-like and yet his costume looked like it was stitched together out of a potato sack with some blue sashes for added flair. It was an odd juxtaposition of styles. I didn’t hate the Frag Viper but he wasn’t nearly cool enough to make it onto my Christmas list that year. The ’89 Frag Viper that I reviewed last January was actually a newly acquired piece for me which is rare because I hardly ever purchase vintage Joe figures. Since committing to the modern style I’ve pretty much given up on buying vintage Joes. But one particular used toy website that I frequent had a great deal on some old Joes, only a buck or two a piece, so I couldn’t resist the urge to pick up a few; Frag Viper being one of them.
Finally owning the ’89 Frag Viper didn’t do anything to change my opinion of him. The helmet was neat but weird and the rest of the outfit was pretty bad and also weird. Probably the main reason I got that figure so cheap was because none of his unique weaponry was included with him. The Frag Viper was named for his ability to hurl grenades long distances with the help of his jai alai inspired curved throwing basket.
Right around the same time that I purchased the version 1 Frag Viper, a brand new version was announced. Three identical modern-styled Frag Vipers were to be included in the 2013 Joe Con convention set. The Frag Vipers weren’t a big draw to the set for me but I had already decided to purchase it based on the inclusion of Cobra Mortal, Spearhead and others. The Frag Vipers were really more of an added bonus to me. Like the 3 SAW Vipers included in the same set, I wasn’t opposed to building a small squad of new Frag Vipers, but I was pretty indifferent about it.
Both the SAW and Frag Vipers were troops that were released late in the vintage line, both looked kinda dumb, and neither were figures that I was clamoring to see redone in the modern style. I would have much preferred some Heat or Hydro Vipers but any new Viper is welcome in my collection.
In the case of the SAW Vipers, the Collector’s Club really beefed them up for the set, making them taller and padding them with heavy vests. They went the complete opposite route on the Frag Vipers, making them extra scrawny. The body used for the Frags comes from the upcoming “Ultimate Snake Eyes” figure but it seems far from ultimate to me. The body is so lean and there are no sculpted wrinkles or bulk to the uniform that it ends up looking like a spandex unitard. The base color remains that pooey brown of the original. The teal sashes are still present and do a good job at replicating the 1989 look but I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing. The footwear on these figures are also very odd looking, looking more like high-top sneakers than combat boots. Maybe they were on their way to a hot yoga class when summoned to battle.
The helmets are very nice recreations of the original and remain the best aspect of the Frag Viper. The gray color and big black eyes immediately remind me of the classic space alien look. Very menacing.
For accessories the Frag Vipers include display bases, pistols and knives that can be holstered/sheathed on their hips, backpacks, hoses, throwing baskets, and a couple of loose grenades which most kids would lose in about 10 seconds. Where the weapon is so crucial to this trooper I wish the club had done a better job on it. The basket clips onto the Frag Viper’s hand, at least it’s supposed to, but it is a frustrating ordeal to keep it in place. The hose that attaches the basket to the backpack is way too stiff and only helps to pull the delicately resting weapon from the viper’s grip.
Considering that each of these Frag Vipers cost me between $25 and $30 I cannot say that I think they were worth it. I would have been content with 1 Frag Viper but the set essentially fills 4 of its 15 slots with these goofy bug headed gymnasts (one of them is a neon green repaint of this Frag Viper which I will cover in a future review). If you find one on ebay for $20/$25 bucks I say go for it but trust me, you do not need three of them. 5 out of 10.
The first Sorceress figure was released in 1987, kind of late in the game as far as Masters of the Universe figures go. Neither Doug or I ever owned her as we had pretty much moved on from He-Man by then. Had they released her earlier I’m sure one of us would have put her on our Christmas list. Without her there seemed a large void in our Masters of the Universe collection. We owned both Snake Mountain and Castle Grayskull and while Skeletor ruled over the mountain we had nobody to sit in the throne of the castle.
By the time of the 2002 MOTU relaunch I was really into the brand. The figures sculpted by the Four Horsemen were awesome and the cartoon was actually fun and exciting to watch. The Sorceress played an important role in the 2002 series, just as she had in the 80s series. She served as a guide and mentor to He-Man. The 2002 series delved deeper into her past and her connections to Teela, Man-At-Arms, and Fisto. Sadly the toy line was cancelled before a Sorceress figure was released. Fortunately the Horsemen were able to release a series of action figure sized statues under a different licensing agreement. This allowed them to put out compatible display pieces of important characters that didn’t make it into the all too brief toyline. The Sorceress was one of those late release mini statues, which are commonly referred to as staction figures.
I imagine it was because of the cancellation of the cartoon and the “failure” of the action figure line that none of my local shops carried the staction figures. I own about 5 of them and all of them had to be purchased online. Had I found them at retail the statues would have cost about $30 each but on the secondary market they sold for twice that amount. I shelled out the cash for must haves like Mantenna and Stinkor. A few of them were obviously in higher demand than others because the price tags on a couple particular statues were especially brutal. When it came to Leech and the Sorceress, the last two essential missing pieces of my collection, I trolled about on ebay on a regular basis hoping to find a good deal. To this day I haven’t found a reasonably priced Leech. Though the “need” for him has been reduced since acquiring the Classics version of the character in 2011. I did eventually find a Sorceress statue selling at near retail price but it took years.
It was a bittersweet victory when the statue, my first ever Sorceress collectable, arrived in the mail. I finally had her but a new Classics version of her had just been announced meaning that I would have to start my Sorceress hunt all over again. At least the new toy would be easy to get, I would just order her from MattyCollector.com on the 15th of the month as I do with every other MOTU Classics figure. Easier said than done. The Sorceress, like Kobra Kahn and Fisto, sold out at a lightning fast speed. Once Matty sells out then you have no choice but to turn to the dreaded secondary market of ebay. I had no desire to pay a ridiculously inflated price for the figure so I waited and hoped that Matty would eventually offer her up again.
I didn’t have to wait long. Mattel produced this all-white variant of the Classics figure called the “Temple of Darkness Sorceress” which was slated to be a Convention exclusive. In a surprise move, Mattel made the figure available through their site for a limited time and I snatched one up. This figure gets its name from one of the mini-comics that came packaged with the vintage figures. Those mini-comics predated the animated series and had a more serious Conan-esque tone. I recall reading some of those early mini comics but I don’t recall this specific one which featured the Sorceress in all white garb.
While I usually prefer to have a character in their most recognizable iconic outfit I think that I’ve come to like this white version of the Sorceress even more than the standard blue and orange one. She looks less like a super hero and more like an elegant, mythical, keeper of the power of Grayskull. The translucent wings go a long way in adding an air of mystery to the figure, as if she’s an apparition.
Other than a slight change to the boots this is the exact same sculpt that was used on the standard release figure and it’s a nice one. She’s well-proportioned with lots of articulation and solid joints. The joints on her shoulders that hold the wings in place are a little clunky and they look unnatural when you turn her arms to the side but that’s my only gripe. The cascading wings actually work quite well in how they spread when her arms are raised, using only gravity instead of springs and levers.
In place of her bird-self, Zoar, which was included with the standard release, Temple of Darkness Sorceress has a crystal ball stand which makes for a nice little display piece on my shelf. It should be noted that the actual crystal ball came packaged with King Grayskull. This is a very nice figure from an obscure corner of MOTU lore. 9 out of 10.
I’m 35 years old; meaning that I was a wee boy when the original Star Wars trilogy came out. I saw them in the theaters, loved them, and then watched them repeatedly on VHS tape in the years that followed. I know them well.
Rumors of Lucas doing a prequel trilogy had been floating around for ages but once it was confirmed, I, like every other genre nerd in the world, was stoked. I couldn’t wait to see the origins of Darth Vader, the formation of the Empire, Obi Wan and Anakin fighting side by side in the clone wars…the possibilities were endless! I was brimming with curiosity as to what other characters from the original trilogy would pop up. Would old favorites of mine like Ponda Baba or Ree-Yees get some time in the spotlight? What new wonders would I behold? And perhaps most importantly, what new action figures would result from these new chapters. It was truly an exciting time to be a Star Wars fan.
I have mixed feelings about that movie. I had been anticipating it for so long that I had ridiculously unfair expectations for it. There was really no way it could live up to the hype I had built up in my mind, no matter how good it was. But high expectations aside, that film missed the mark big time. The dialogue, the acting, the midichlorians. Ugh. I’ve watched it several times since and I honestly don’t know if it’s gotten better or worse with time. Sometimes I’m in a forgiving mood and I can enjoy it, other times I’m feeling critical and I watch it with a palm on my face.
Today though I want to focus on some of the good aspects. Let’s put Jar Jar aside for a moment and remember that Menace also gave us Darth Maul. Boss Nass was an abomination but Qui-Gon Jinn was the man. Lil’ Anakin Skywalker was painful to watch but his owner, Watto, was a pleasure.
Watto is one of my favorite things about The Phantom Menace. Maul was probably my favorite new character to be introduced but he really didn’t get to do a whole lot before ending up in two pieces at the bottom of a hole. Watto on the other hand had plenty to do in the early half of the film. He had dialogue scenes with multiple actors and I think this chubby little computer animated winged anteater stole most of them. He was interesting to look at and the voice work done by Andrew Secombe was great. I loved his gruff blue collar attitude, “What, you think you’re some kind of Jedi, waving your hand around like that? I’m a Toydarian! Mind tricks don’t work on me; only money.”
When it comes to Star Wars action figures, the character likenesses of the 80s toy line left a lot to be desired. Sometimes the results were kind of charming, like with Ponda Baba (Walrus Man)’s webbed feet, but as much as I may have liked those silly 80s toys I still longed for film accurate figures. By the time Menace had come out Hasbro had come a long way in that regard. The likenesses were much better, especially on the alien characters. This Watto, released in the first wave of Phantom Menace figures in 1999, is a pretty decent representation of how the character looked in the film. He’s nicely detailed with lots of wrinkles in his flesh, folds in his leather and veins in his wings. The face of this figure has a lot of attitude sculpted into it, from the furrowed brow, to the broken teeth. The colors are nicely done and subtle, unlike the day-glo 80s toys. The articulation is limited but that’s no surprise for a Star Wars figure. He’s articulated at the legs, arms, head, and his wings which can be swiveled or popped right off.
His scale looks about right, he’s about half as tall as a standard figure. He came packaged with an ipad like device and a stupid sound chip thingamajig which went straight into the garbage. Every figure came with one and you had to buy a separate device to play the sound bites from the film embedded in the chips. Dumb accessory. Nice figure. 8 out of 10.
So yesterday was Wednesday which means new comic books. I popped on over to the new Strange Adventures location on my lunch break to grab my weekly stack. This week’s haul consisted of Spider-Man, Superman, Supergirl, Tank Girl, and the Killjoys. However, in an all too common scenario, I didn’t leave with only my comics. Displayed in the window was the first wave of Pacific Rim action figures based on the Guillermo Del Toro monster flick due out this Friday. The 3 figures included in the wave consisted of jaegers (robots) GIPSY DANGER and CRIMSON TYPHOON and kaiju (monster) KNIFEHEAD. I’ve been super stoked about this movie since it was first announced and I originally imagined that I would end up buying all of the action figures associated with it (Robots vs Monsters? action figure no-brainer). But in the months leading up to the release, as images of the jaegers were released, I found myself unimpressed; especially in the case of Gipsy Danger, who is the hero of the picture. Seeing the figure in front of me did nothing to win me over. If anything it solidified my opinion that Gipsy Danger is lame looking which is especially frustrating because this movie isn’t based on any existing property, meaning they could have made him look like anything in the world and yet they went with this. meh. Crimson Typhoon is cooler looking but not cool enough to warrant the $30 price tag. I left both jaegers in the window. Knifehead however I could not resist. This ugly mother f**ker was just way too cool looking to pass up.
I set him down on the front counter with my comics and expressed my joy to the shop owner, Cal, about buying the figure. I grew up on Godzilla movies and just can’t get enough of big ol’ city stomp’n monsters. Well to my delight Cal presented me with a free double pass to an advance screening of the film in 3D Imax for that very night. Boo-Yah!
As soon as work got out for the day, Vanessa and I headed over to the movie theater to get in line. We scored some excellent seats and settled in for a wild ride. Vanessa did not have the same enthusiasm for the film as I did going in but she ended up quite enjoying it. I enjoyed it too but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t also disappointed with it. I won’t give away any surprises so it is safe to read on. I just found the script weak and the acting bad. The scientists inserted as comic relief failed to generate any laughs and the practical sets failed to impress me. Having said all that, I was going to this film to see giant robots fighting giant monsters and this movie delivered in that department. The CG looked great and the battle scenes were enormous in scale. Unfortunately the action was shot Transformers style meaning I didn’t know what the hell I was looking at half the time. And every fight scene takes place at night, usually in the water, so we never really get a monster money shot. Still, you should go see it.
Knifehead’s scene was brief but he was my favorite monster in the film. He looked badass and he got to lay some serious smack down. I was excited to get home from the movie so that I could open up my new toy of him and maybe review him for you guys. I opened him as soon as I got in and, like with the movie, I was torn. The figure looks great. He’s got a really nice sculpt, especially in the face and his skin has multiple cracks and bumps which add plenty of texture. The paint aps are decent and reflective of the look from the movie although, as Vanessa pointed out to me, some glow in the dark paint would have been sweet.
The main problem is the lack of articulation. There is very little movement in this figure. His jaw opens slightly, his arms and legs move forward and back and he has knee and elbow movement….that’s it. His smaller secondary arms have no movement at all and his frig’n head doesn’t even turn. His limbs really should have been ball jointed to allow for some more dynamic posing and fighting. This thing is way to stiff for a $30 figure in my opinion but he does still look cool as hell. It looks to me like he’s probably based on the real-life Goblin Shark which is a solid choice for a monster design. Plus his name is hella cool as well. I will likely buy a few more of these kaiju figures provided they release more. I only wish they were bigger so that I could display them next to my 12″ Godzilla. 7 out of 10.
Yesterday a big Transformers haul arrived in the mail from BigBadToyStore. This is rare for me. My big hauls usually consist of G.I. Joes, Beast Saga, or Marvel Universe figures. That because I tend to collect the full lines of those brands so when a new wave hits the shelves I buy them all up at once if I can. When it comes to Transformers I’m lucky if Hasbro produces 5 figures that I’m actually interested in buying any given year. Yesterday’s shipment was larger than my usual Transformers purchases because only two of the five bots that arrived yesterday were officially licensed, Hasbro produced Transformers. The other 3 were third party produced “knock-offs”. I use the term knock-off loosely because while the toys are made to look like the official Transformers characters without any permission from Hasbro, these third party produced toys are often superior to the real deal. This figure, released by iGear, is a great example of this.
As you can see on the box, this guy’s name is COGZ and he is a member of the Mini Warriors. Of course he is. iGear creates original names for their characters to avoid legal woes from Hasbro but anybody who knows Transformers knows that this is Gears, a member of the Autobots. How would you know that? Because it’s a dead ringer for the character. This toy looks more like Gears than even the official Gears.
When the Transformers brand was first launched, before it was a proven toy juggernaut, the toy line was made up of a bunch of different sized robots imported from various Japanese toy lines. Like they did with G.I. Joe to great success, Hasbro decided to team with Marvel to produce a comic book tie-in to their new toy line. The comic book artists didn’t have all of the reference material they needed before launching the comic and so the book was put out with character designs that differed from the toys, sometimes drastically. Then the cartoon came out with character designs influenced by the comics.
Gears was one of the earliest Transformers released (way back in 1984) and he was one of my favorites. You can read all about the original 80s toy of Gears in a previous review. I loved that little toy because of its cute robot mode, its adorable truck mode, its simple transformation, its bright colors, and its durability. Gears never got much time in the spotlight on either the cartoon or in the comic but when he did appear he was a gruff little scrapper. That characterization also endeared the character to me. As much as I liked the toy it was a pretty shoddy representation of the Gears I saw in the comics and on TV. Gears was supposed to be a tough guy and yet who’s butt could he kick? Gears, Bumblebee, Cosmos, and other mini Autobots were all imports from a Japanese SD penny-racer toy line and yet absolutely no Decepticons were imported from the same line. This meant that the only Decepticon smaller than Gears, whom he might have had a chance of defeating in a fist fight, was Lazerbeak or one of the other evil cassette tapes. His miniscule size aside, another issue I had with the original Gears was his face. I quite liked the visored face on the toy but it did not match up with the humanoid face seen in other media. Inconsistencies like this bothered me.
When Hasbro started producing their “Classics” line of figures, a couple of the mini-coms like Bumblebee, Warpath, and Cliffjumper finally got the figures they deserved. They were bigger so they no longer looked ridiculous standing next to larger characters like Optimus Prime. The upsizing allowed for more sculpted details, paint aps and articulation. I crossed my fingers that I would eventually get a similarly updated Gears. Years passed, no Gears. Thanks for nothing Hasbro.
And then this trend of third party companies producing quality knock-offs began. Initially the trend seemed to encompass only small characters which I assume is because of the cost associated with custom building these figures. Spray (Sea Spray) was the first one I purchased. He was decent. He was tiny, not much bigger than the 80s original and the face sculpt wasn’t cartoon accurate but it was far superior to the original as far as articulation goes. Then came Rager (Huffer). I really liked this figure. He was still teeny as well but the look and articulation were great. This made me hope that an updated Gears would be next on their list but iGear opted to homage Brawn and Cosmos instead. Cosmos was another childhood favorite of mine. Hasbro’s modern update failed to impress and sadly iGear’s take on the character (UFO) missed the mark for me as well. On the plus side they increased the size of their figures. The iGear version of Brawn (whom they named Hench) was amazing; and I never really cared much for the character before having never owned him as a kid. With Hench iGear seemed to have ironed out all of the kinks in their designs. Brawn was a solid, customizable, well sized, cartoon accurate figure; one of the best looking Transformers in my collection. Now I was really hoping for a Gears update. I didn’t have to wait long before he was announced in their next wave.
I pre-ordered Cogz (Gears), the red and white repaint Veer (Swerve), and a white repaint of Hench named Buswacker (Outback) as soon as they were available on BBTS. I really hoped that the actual product would live up to the high expectations I had based on the prototype photos shown. Months passed. Yesterday they finally arrived on my doorstep in my mega Transformers haul. The Outback is great as I expected him to be considering he’s just a repaint of the Brawn that I was already very pleased with. I am happy to report that the iGear versions of Gears and Swerve have surpassed my expectations. Gears in particular has skyrocketed to the top of my Transformers collection in terms of sheer coolness.
First off there’s the size of this toy. He’s big and bulky, bigger than the Brawn even. This guy no longer has to worry about being stepped on by Grimlock, he can hang with him. There’s loads of articulation so Gears can actually be posed dynamically for the first time in history. This toy looks like it leapt off the pages on a Transformers comic, the likeness is absolutely fantastic. Even the truck mode retains the cute stocky look of the original except now it looks tough, like it could really rip up some rough terrain. The colors aren’t as bright on this version but the colors look great with a nice matte appearance.
The absolute best thing about this toy is the face. Gears finally has a cartoon accurate face and I love it. The sculpt is spot on. However if you’re feeling nostalgic for the visored face from the 80s you can spin the face around to get an excellent reproduction of the 1984 look.
I really could go on raving about this thing for ages but this post is long enough as is. I would say the only negative aspect of this figure would be the hefty price tag but it’s so damn awesome that I feel it was worth every penny. Stellar toy making. I tip my hat to you iGear. 10 out of 10.