Monthly Archives: October 2016

MARKO (2016)

saga-marko-fullSAGA

A couple of posts ago I reviewed the Nico Minoru Marvel Legends figure from Hasbro. Nico was co-created by Brian K. Vaughan, the writer of the series she starred in called Runaways.  That was the title that introduced me to Mr. Vaughan. I really liked that series and I really enjoyed his run on Ultimate X-Men that followed. That prompted me to check out some of his original books such as Y: The Last Man and Pride of Baghdad. It’s fair to say that I’d become a fan but not enough of one to buy just anything with his name on it.  In 2012 he launched a new creator-owned series called Saga through Image Comics. The cover of the first issue featured a dude with goat horns with his arm around a chick with butterfly wings breastfeeding a baby. My first impression was that it didn’t look like something I needed to read. But because I was a fan of his previous work I kept my ears open for positive buzz thinking that if I heard good things I would check it out.

Well, it didn’t take long before the word was out that Saga was a hit. It quickly garnered a ton of critical acclaim and began racking up awards.saga-marko-cover

Upon its release I bought the first trade paperback which collected issues one to six.  A few pages in I was hooked. I’ve been collecting the series ever since and now have all six TPBs presently available containing the first 36 issues. It can be frustrating waiting 6 + months between collections but each one is such a satisfying read when I finally get it. I go through each new one in a single sitting. The characters are just so well written and believable despite the fact that the universe they inhabit is completely nuts. Saga can be quite graphic at times, sexually and violently, which was a surprise but that’s part of the appeal; it’s a grown up book and you have no idea what’s going to happen from one page to the next. Vaughan makes you fall in love with characters only to abruptly kill them off later. Sometimes narrative years pass between issues and background characters get thrust into the spotlight. A fellow named “The Will” was an early favorite of mine. He was a bad ass bounty hunter; part Han Solo part Boba Fett. Then he went through a transformation that you don’t often see in comics during one of the time jomps; he got really fat. Plumping up a main character might not seem like a big deal but could you imagine picking up the new issue of Batman and being told three years had passed and now Batman is obese? Bold choices like that keep Saga interesting. Never once have I felt like the book was getting stale.

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The subject of this review, Marko, is one of the main characters in Saga. He’s a “moonie” from the satellite called Wreath that orbits the planet Landfall. The moon and the planet are at war with one another and the two sides loathe one another. Marko is a captive when the series starts. One of the Landfallians tasked with guarding him is Alana. The two fall in love,  she helps him escape, they go on the lam together, adventure ensues. I really can’t say enough good things about this book. I just think you should check it out because its a super fun read.

I should also mention that it looks amazing. Artist Fiona Staples absolutely kills it every issue. I wasn’t familiar with her before reading this book but now I’d follow her anywhere. Last year she got me to start reading Archie comics for the first time since I was a little kid.

Saga features so many unique and colorful characters that it would make for an incredible action figure line. Unfortunately, seeing as it’s an independent title for mature readers, chances of anyone producing Saga action figures seemed awfully slim.saga-marko-face

 

 

So imagine my surprise when I heard that there was going to be a Marko and Alana 2-pack available exclusively at 2016 San Diego Comic Con. When I learned the toys were being produced by McFarlane Toys it made more sense. McFarlane are the guys that make action figures based on the Walking Dead, the most successful independent comic for mature readers of all time. I’ve avoided collecting Walking Dead figures for the most part but Marko fits in perfectly with the few I do have.  The scale and the level of detail are a perfect match.saga-marko-attack

 

 

Marko features his trademark outfit consisting of jeans, a t-shirt, a hoodie, and a jacket. The outfit is very comic book accurate with the exception of his hoodie which seems to vanish on the figure. The green hood can be seen on his back and the sleeves poke out from his jacket cuffs but there’s no sign of it on his torso. It’s kind of a weird omission but not a big deal. overall, the sculpting and the paintwork both look great. The black paint wash really brings out all the wrinkly details. Marko’s got quite a bit of articulation and the joints are well hidden but his posability is still rather limited. It’s hard to display him in any pose beyond just standing still which is pretty standard for a McFarlane figure. The head sculpt is awesome but I wish there were alternate smiling or bearded versions. This Marko looks a little sour. For accessories he comes with a sword and sheath that can be plugged into  his leg. I really dig this figure and I’m very happy to add Marko and Alana to my collection. I hope McFarlane doesn’t produce too many more Saga figures as I’m trying to cut back on my toy purchases but I’d love to add a few more characters to my shelf: The Will, Lying Cat, the Stalk, Upsher, Doff, Prince Robot IV… 8 out of 10.

FREEFALL v.2 (2016)

joe-freefall-v2-fullG. I. JOE

Every year there is a G.I. Joe Convention held somewhere in the United States. As a Canadian I have never attended and I likely never will. I’d totally attend if one was held in my backyard but conventions simply don’t thrill me enough to warrant travelling great distances. However, this year my buddy Sean did attend the 2016 Joe Con in Loveland, Colorado. Sean’s alter ego, the Wordburglar, is a bit of a Joe-lebrity so I’m sure many Joe fans were just as thrilled by his attendance as he was to be there. If you’re not familiar with Burgie I suggest you check out some of his music videos on youtube. “Rap Viper” is just one of the many gems you’ll find on his G.I. Joe-themed concept album, Welcome to Cobra Island. I would especially recommend you check out his latest video, Channel Halifax, which is a love letter to our home town.joe-freefall-v2-wordbuglar

Having an inside man at the con this year was handy because Sean was able to nab me one of the elusive attendee-only figures. The Collector’s Club, which organizes the Con every year, always produces a 15-figure Convention set that they sell at the show. Fortunately, for those of us who can’t attend, the Club also takes pre-orders for the set online. I have ordered the non-antendee sets for the last several years. The theme of this year’s box set was Air Patrol. I have slowly been working my way through reviews of those figures (i.e.Black Vulture, Air Devil, Airborne, Static Line). But in addition to the box set the Club also produces a handful of figures only available to con attendees. I have acquired some of those figures on the secondary market over the years (like this year’s Heli-Viper) but they don’t come cheap. The Club limits what attendees can buy, and Sean bought one of everything for himself, but he also somehow managed to get me the attendee figure I most wanted, Freefall.

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Freefall is not a character I have any particular attachment to. The original figure was released in 1990 which is the year I quit collecting Joes as a kid. I never owned the ’91 Freefall until the epic haul of June 2014 (Thanks again Eric if you’re still out there). Freefall was a pretty basic figure but that was part of his appeal. For a toyline that was skewing weirder each year the 1990 assortment consisted of quite a few realistic looking military figures. Freefall was simply a paratrooper dressed in camo and carrying a rifle. He was made of all new parts and none of them flashy. He had a lot in common with Rip Cord, an equally basic but fan-favorite paratrooper released in 1984. I didn’t pay much attention to him at the time but Freefall is a character I’ve come to appreciate over the years.

The original Freefall was not branded as a member of the Sky Patrol sub-team which is rather odd since they also debuted in 1990. Yet it makes perfect sense that the Collector’s Club would piggy back their updated version of him into their Sky Patrol set. He was the perfect choice for the Club to select as their 2016 para-drop figure (every year they toss an army of exclusive figures on parachutes from the roof of the convention).joe-freefall-v2-compare

Unlike the 1990 figure, none of the pieces used to create Freefall 2016 are original.  He’s got a Snow Job torso, Snake Eyes legs, and Joe Trooper arms. His head is another Airborne repaint, the same one I talked about being over used in my recent Sneak Peak review, but I think this is the first time we’ve seen it blonde which differentiates it enough I suppose. Besides, it looks close enough to the 1990 figure to keep me from complaining.

Freefall’s accessories are all recycled too but they’re nice pieces. I like that his knife has a silver painted blade and his green machine gun is pretty snazzy. It’s a much tougher looking weapon than the rinky-dinky hose gun that came with the 1990 figure. The mask and helmet are the same as the ones that came with 25th anniversary Blowtorch. I wish Freefall had more unique headgear but this combo was also reused for Rip Cord so at least there’s consistency amongst the Joe paratroopers. Freefall also comes with a parachute which seems like a no-brainer but most paratrooper figures don’t. The parachute is appreciated but I honestly don’t have much use for it as it can’t really be displayed.

I think this is a great update of an obscure character. He’s nothing to call home about but he’s a solid soldier that looks great on display and has some solid play value for the kiddies. 8 out of 10.joe-freefall-v2-masks

K-2SO (2016)

swb-k2so-fullSTAR WARS BLACK SERIES: ROGUE ONE

It’s hard to believe that we’re two months away from a new Star Wars film. I’ve become so accustomed to waiting years or even decades for new Star Wars movies that it’s hard to process the idea that they’ll be coming out on an annual basis for the foreseeable future. I’m really looking forward to the upcoming Rogue One. I feel it has the potential to be just as thrilling as the Force Awakens but with a little more wiggle room for originallity. I’ve watched the first trailer but beyond that I’ve avoided articles and videos as I’d like to enter the theatre on December 16 as spoiler-free as possible.

On Friday September 30th the Rogue One merchandise hit sales floors across the country. I was moderately excited but it definitely didn’t feel like an “event” the way the release of the Phantom Menace toys did back in ‘99. Maybe it did for some people but my love of Star Wars toys has cooled significantly since the prequel hype. I completely stopped buying Star Wars toys for more than 10 years afterwards. It’s only been over the past two years that denizens of a galaxy far, far away have started trickling back into my collection.swb-k2so-face

So I didn’t line-up at midnight outside Toys R Us the Thursday before “Rogue Friday” but I did venture out the next afternoon hopeful that I could find the new 6” Black Series figures. That’s the line that roped me back into the brand after so many years away. The larger Black Series format allows for more detail and articulation which makes familiar old Star Wars characters feel fresh and contemporary. To my surprise the shelves weren’t stripped completely bare when I arrived at Walmart. In fact, the regular Star Wars section, and a bonus endcap, were both flush with new product.

I was awfully tempted by some of the neat looking new 3 ¾” figures I saw. Is that a frig’n Wampa in a gas mask?!! (it isn’t) I vowed to stop buying small Star Wars figures after Episode II but I caved and bought a few Force Awakens figures last year because I let the dark side get the better of me.swb-k2so-movie

This year I was stronger; I had to be because my disposable income isn’t what it used to be. Wampa in a gas mask remained on the pegs and I focused my attention on the larger format figures.  There were only six new Black Series figures to choose from. One was a re-release of Rey from Force Awakens with a slightly tweaked paint job. Another was Kylo Ren without his mask. I easily passed on those two since I already have those characters. Another was a new character, Cassian Andor who is played by Diego Luna. I have no doubt that I’ll pick up a Cassian figure eventually but this snow suited version didn’t appeal to me so I passed on him too. However I did buy the other three figures: a Death Trooper (a twist on a black storm trooper), Jyn Erso (the female lead portrayed by Felicity Jones), and a brand new droid by the name of K-2SO.

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All I know about K-2SO (Kaytoo Esso) is that he is an imperial droid that has been reprogrammed by Cassian Andor to fight for the rebels.  I’m guessing he’ll be featured prominently in the film but he may only be on screen for 5 seconds for all I know. I hope he’s featured prominently because he’s really cool looking.  He’s very Star Wars in design and yet he’s something completely new.  I love his tall and lanky design. He looks like a mechanized Jack Skellington. His nearly featureless face makes for quite a creepy design. He’s vastly more visually appealing than the duck-faced Battle Droids of old.swb-k2so-back

 

 

The sleek design translates beautifully into action figure form. This toy is super fun just to hold. He’s got a bulky torso which gives some weight to the figure and then he’s got his long slender spider-like appendages. They’re strong and durable so he stands up quite well on his own;  the weight is well distributed.  He’s got loads of articulation (foot, ankle, knee, hip, chest, shoulder, elbow, wrist, neck, head) and for some reason I really dig the clear joints. I’m not sure if they’re supposed to represent open spaces but they look really cool.

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The paint job on this figure is also very nice. He’s sculpted in a metallic black plastic and he has lots of silver scuffs and highlights added to give him that lived-in Star Wars look. Plus there are white, orange, blue, and red details speckled throughout. Hasbro could have copped out on the paint apps for a character that’s almost entirely black but they didn’t. It looks like a lot of care went into this toy at every stage.

If this character ends up being Jar-Jar level annoying I may have to adjust my score but based on this figure alone K-2SO gets a solid 10 out of 10.swb-k2so-group

NICO MINORU (2016)

marvl-nico-fullMARVEL LEGENDS

In publishing, an imprint is a trade name under which work is published. A single publishing company may have multiple imprints for material that appeals to different demographics. In comics, Vertigo is one of the most well-known imprints; it’s where DC publishes its mature reader content. In 2003 Marvel launched a new imprint called Tsunami that was supposed to appeal to fans of Japanese Manga comics which were growing in popularity at the time. The Tsunami line of books mostly featured established Marvel characters, like Venom, presented with an anime inspired twist. The only one that caught my attention initially was Human Torch. I’ve never been a huge Torch fan (the Thing is my Fantastic Four member of choice) but I was intrigued by the concept of a Johnny Storm solo book and the stylized artwork really appealed to me (though it struck me as more graffiti than Manga). The artist, Scottie Young, has since become a huge name in comics. I liked the series but it only lasted 12 issues.marvl-nico-torch

Because I enjoyed the Tsunami take on the Human Torch I figured I should reconsider some of the other books in the line. I read up on them and the one that piqued my interest was a title called Sentinel. It was about a kid named Juston that finds a crashed Sentinel, one of the mutant-hunting giant robots from the X-Men comics, and befriends him. It was essentially a new take on the Iron Giant which is one of my all-time favorite movies. It was a concept with potential but I was still reluctant to buy it because I found the artwork too cutesy. I went to my go-to comic shop Strange Adventures I asked my pal Cal if he’d heard good things. He told me that I could find out for myself and he gave me a reprint that collected the first two issues in a single book. I liked it and continued to collect the book until it was cancelled (none of the Tsunami books lasted very long). Even better than Sentinel though was a series called Runaways, the first two issues of which were also included in that reprint Cal gave me. I likely never would have picked up Runaways on my own because it didn’t look like anything special but it really was a unique and captivating story. The writer/co-creator, Brian K Vaughan, has also become a comic book superstar in the years since Runaways by way of original works like Y-The Last Man and Saga.marvl-nico-team-art

Runaways was about a group of teens that didn’t have a whole lot in common with each other than the fact that their parents got together every year and dragged them along. In issue one the kids snoop around while their parents are meeting and they discover that their parents are actually an evil criminal organization called The Pride. The kids freak out and runaway together, hence the title. In time they discover that each of them has inherited their parents supervillain abilities.marvl-nico-back

 

My favorite character was the Japanese-American Nico Minoru who inherited magical powers from her wizard parents. Using the “Staff of One” Nico is able to cast spells akin to Harry Potter. However,  an interesting twist on Nico’s abilities is that she can cast each spell only once.

After 3 different on-going volumes and a couple of limited series together the Runaways went their separate ways. Nico next appeared in Avengers Arena, a series where various young heroes were abducted by Arcade and forced to fight each other to the death a la The Hunger Games. After that she appeared in Avengers Undercover and nowadays she can be found in the girl power book, A-Force. I have followed Nico through the various titles and I’m pretty stoked to now be getting her in action figure form.

The Runaways all seemed like unlikely candidates to ever be made into toys. They’re super heroes but they don’t have code names or costumes. They just look like normal kids.marvl-nico-art

 

Nico’s Gothic attire kind of passes for a costume I suppose which is probably why she’s the first one to make the plunge into plastic. I’m sure Chase Stein and Molly Hayes have just as many loyal fans as Nico but Hasbro probably has doubts that an action figure of a shaggy haired stoner in a t-shirt or a little girl in a bunny hat would fly off the shelves. The rest of the Runaways may work better as a comic-con exclusive set aimed at hard-core comic fans (though I hope that isn’t the case because that would be hella expensive).marvl-nico-arm

 

I don’t recall Nico having any ties to Doctor Strange so I’m guessing she got thrown into the good Doctor’s Marvel Legends assortment simply because of her magic-based powers. I’m totally fine with that but some Doctor Strange fans may gripe that she’s stealing a slot that should go to a character more relevant to the Doc, like his disciple and  girlfriend, Clea.

I expected this figure to borrow a lot of parts from other recently released female teens such as Silk and Spider Gwen but there appears to be mostly new parts.  Her legs are probably reused but she has these fantastic multiple buckle boots that are original. Both parts of her torso feature sculpted bits of her corset so I think those are new too. Her arms don’t feature any noteworthy sculpting but the paint job is very intricate on her lace sleeves. Her skirt is a separate piece that sits nicely and does not hinder articulation.  Lastly there’s her head which is amazing. The paint job is spot on with black lipstick and  eerie reflective pink eyes. It’s a very pretty face and the hair, which is a separate rubbery piece also looks great. I’m impressed by how well the sculptors were able to translate Nico’s spikey ‘do from the printed page into three dimensions.marvl-nico-side

For accessories Nico come with the Staff of One.  It’s rather plain looking with no paint apps and it seems shorter than it should be.  However there’s a cool translucent purple smoke effect that wraps around the staff and adds some pizzazz.   She also comes with with a an alternative left arm that features a translucent effect below the elbow to recreate how she appears in the comics when casting spells.

I have zero complaints. Not only is this a great figure in its own right but it’s also a breath of fresh air after a number of repetitive Marvel Legends waves. Nico look like no one else on your shelf and I think she is a must-have. 10 out of 10.marvl-nico-coven