TOP OF THE POPS 2016

Yesterday I posted my annual “best action figures of the year” list. In past years I’ve included Funko POPs on that list. This year I left them off because I simply got too many cool POPS in 2016 that they could have potentially taken over the entire list and lets’s face it, they’re not really action figures. Therefore I’ve decided to post a separate list naming the TOP 16 POPS of 2016.  Since there were hundreds of these things released this year I cheated a bit and lumped a few of them together.

2016-pop-elvira16. ELVIRA: MISTRESS OF THE DARK-I’ve always had a thing for Elvira. The whole macabre mistress thing just has an appeal I can’t explain. My buddy Miguel got me her autograph in Vegas a few years back and I later met her myself when she came to Halifax for a speaking engagement. She was very sweet and she still looked great. I’ve never owned any Elvira merchandise before other than some of her horrible movies so I was stoked to get this figure. Unfortunately the hair isn’t big enough and she doesn’t stand on her own very well. The standing would have been forgivable had Funko included a stand but they did not.2016-pop-firestorm

15. FIRESTORM-I know next to nothing about this DC character. I think he’s two guys living in the same body or something. I don’t really care but this figure was too cute to pass up.  His translucent fire hair is pretty awesome.2016-pop-gerard

14. GERARD WAY- This is the lead singer of My Chemical Romance as he looked during their Black Parade phase. They were one of my favorite bands and that was a great album. The gothic look of the Black Parade makes for a great looking figure. Funko also produced a “Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge” era Way which I passed on but I’m hoping for a Killjoys version in the future.2016-pop-cammy

13. CAMMY-I was more of a Virtua Fighter guy but who doesn’t love Street Fighter? Cammy was one of my go-to characters whenever I played.  Her military-thong was definitely a unique look that appealed to me for some reason. The blue eyes on this figure really make it stand out from the pack and I dig the braids.2016-pop-scarlet-spider

12. SCARLET SPIDER-The clone of Spider-Man. This guy is a controversial character who has just returned to Spidey comics after his supposed death 20 years ago. I’m happy to have him back because I was always a fan even though the comics were a bit of a mess at the time he was introduced. The costume, a full body red unitard with a sleeveless blue hoodie overtop, is horrible even by super hero standards and yet I can’t help but love it. This POP was a Walgreens exclusive that I found while vacationing in Chicago a couple weeks ago. I normally don’t buy Marvel POPs because I don’t like their bobble heads but I couldn’t pass this guy up. Hopefully this doesn’t open the floodgates…2016-pop-alex

11. ALEX DELARGE-This character from Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange was a must have for me. Alex is an iconic film character with an interesting look and, most importantly, he is played by Malcolm McDowell. I’ve been a Malcolm fan ever since Tank Girl in ’95  (Why isn’t there a Tank Girl POP?!) This is a decent figure but the walking stick is a little long which makes him a little topsy turvy.

10. CONAN & RED SONJA-I’m not a die-hard Conan fan but I saw the Schwarzenegger movies when I was a kid and I owned one black and white Conan comic book magazine.  Even though my exposure to the character was minimal I thought he was the epitome of being a bad ass.  I also enjoyed the spin-off Red Sonja movie as a kid, partly because I thought Brigitte Nielson was hot back then.2016-pop-conan-and-sonja

I always wanted to dive deeper into their comic books but there are so damn many of them that it’s hard to know where to start. Multiple versions of these guys were released as POPs this year. I went with War Paint Conan because I thought it made him stand out of the shelf better. With Sonja my choices were bloody or not bloody. I went with the first one I found (not bloody) because I was really excited to finally add these characters to my collection for the first time. They look great.

2016-pop-batman

9. BATMAN-One of the very first POPs I got was a Batman.  I thought it was so cute that it convinced me to buy a few more POPs and now look at me. I’ve started a collection within a collection when it comes to Batman because I’ve been collecting all the interesting variations of him. This year I got Dark Knight armour, BvS trench coat, Rainbow, and 3 villain imposter versions (Penguin, Riddler, and Harley Quinn). Why so many? I don’t know. I have a problem. Each of these Batmen are lovable in their own way, even the trench cost version from that awful awful movie.

2016-pop-ufc8. CONOR MCGREGOR & ANDERSON SILVA-You might assume I’m not a sports guy because I have a blog about action figures. You’d be mostly right but I do love UFC. I’ve been watching for many years and these two are a couple of my favourite fighters. Silva is a soft spoken and noble warrior while McGregor is a cocky trash talking prick but they’re both a lot of fun to watch. I love how McGregor’s tattoos look on this little body.

7. STAR TREK CREW– After seeing Star Trek Beyond I developed a bit of a crush on the new alien character named Jaylah so I bought her POP figure. Then I though I should buy Chekov to display with her as a sort of tribute to Anton Yelchin (R.I.P.). The next thing I knew I had bought the whole damn crew. They look great together and even though they don’t have any facial features I can see the individual actors in each of them. For example, I can’t look at the Kirk and see William Shatner, just Chris Pine, even though a Shanter Kirk POP would be practically the exact same. Weird.2016-pop-star-trek

2016-pop-negan

 

6. NEGAN-This is another POP that doesn’t stand up on his own very well which is annoying because it’s such a great figure otherwise. The fact that this figure has a moustache and goatee gives him more of a complete face than most POPs have and allow the sculptors to more realistically capture the actor’s likeness. It really looks like Jeffrey Dean Morgan who plays Negan on the Walking Dead.  I love all the little details in this figure, especially the barb wire baseball bat and the 5 o’clock shadow. Never has such a disturbing character been so adorable.2016-pop-bill-and-ted

 

 

 

5. BILL & TED– I watched the shit out of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure when I was a kid. Seriously, I watched it so many times. My brother and I could quote the whole thing and we often still do.  It’s so awesome to finally have figures of these guys in my collection. I don’t think I ever would’ve bough lifelike action figures of these guys but there’s something about the POP format that makes everybody fun to own.

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4. VOLTRON– This is probably the most detailed POP in my collection. I didn’t expect it to look this good when I heard it was coming out but it looks fantastic. It would be easy to forget that this even is a POP figure and not a standard action figure because it looks so good.All the bright colours and elaborate detailing really makes this figure stand out on the shelf.

2016-pop-mr-t3. B.A. BARACUS-I grew up watching the A-Team and B.A. as played by Mr. T was my favourite character. You may have noticed that I have a picture of my vintage B.A. action figure on the banner of this very blog. I missed out on the Clubber Lang from Rocky Mr. T so I’m stoked that I got this one.  This look is far more iconic as this crazy getup is what Mr. T seemed to wear even when he wasn’t playing B.A.

2016-pop-wonka

2. WILLY WONKA-Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was a fantastic movie and I loved it when I was a kid. Gene Wilder was magical as Willy Wonka but I didn’t realize just how special he was until I saw Johnny Depp’s portrayal of the character many years later. yeesh. Losing Gene this year made tracking this figure down that much more important to me. From the hat and the curls to the cane and the vest this figure is fantastic.2016-pop-bowie

1. JARETH THE GOBLIN KING-This is another bitter sweet action figure. I loved Labyrinth as a kid. I saw it multiple times and replayed it over and over again via reusable stickers and background that came in Shreddies boxes back in the day. The film introduced me to David Bowie and he was captivating as Jareth. I’d always wanted an action figure of him so this was a must-buy even before Bowie’s death earlier this year.

TOP 16 ACTION FIGURES OF 2016

It’s time once again for my annual “best of” list; a tradition I began in 2012. I posted fewer toy reviews this year than I ever have before but that does not mean I purchased fewer action figures. My collection continued to grow by leaps and bounds in 2016 and as always it was very difficult for me to pick my favourites but pick them I did. The only criteria I had for toys to be named on this list was that they must have been released in 2016 and I must have acquired them personally. So without further ado let’s get started…

2016-sneak-peek16. TIGER FORCE SNEAK PEEK-I only have two G.I. Joe figures on my list this year so Sneak Peek may seem like an odd choice in the eyes of many Joe fans. We got a lot of excellent G.I. Joes this year between the 50th anniversary series, the Figure Subscription Service, and the Collector’s Club box set and I’d bet that most people would place Sneak Peek near the bottom of their “best of” lists. Not only is he completely made up of rehashed pieces, including one of the most over used heads in the biz, but this figure doesn’t even recreate the classic 1987 Sneak Peek we all owned as kids.  Instead the Club gave us an updated version of the lesser known European exclusive Tiger Force repaint. So why is this figure on my list?  Well, I simply love Sneak Peek.  The character was a favourite from my youth and one I’ve been clamouring to see updated since the beginning of the modern era 9 years ago. The reused parts work well together in my opinion and I quite like the face regardless of its familiarity. If the Collector’s Club had sculpted a new head for this figure I probably wouldn’t like it as much because they’d likely make it pudgy and round to match the vintage figure. I didn’t expect to like this Tiger Force paint job as much as I do but I think it’s a great mix of colours so I find myself really enjoying this more obscure deco.

2016-vultak15. VULTAK-The Masters of the Universe Classics line has been killing it since 2008 providing fans with awesome new versions of the property’s numerous iconic characters. But after so many years it was inevitable that the line would lose steam and fizzle out. In past years I bought Mattel’s latest MOTU offering on the 15th of every month as soon as it went up for sale exclusively on their website. I couldn’t afford to wait because new toys sold out almost immediately. Nowadays toys of obscure characters remain on sale for months so there’s no sense of urgency.  I didn’t purchase a single MOTU figure this year until they were discounted during Mattel’s Black Friday sale. Even though my excitement for the toyline has waned a bit there’s nothing more exciting than opening up a new box of He-Man figures from Mattel. My Black Friday shipment contained 6 figures (none of them well known characters) and they were all awesome.  Vultak is like a slap in the face reminding me why I loved MOTU in the first place. He’s like a mix of Marvel’s Vulture, Thundercats’ Panthro, and MOTU’s Hordak.  He’s bright, he’s big, he’s fun, and he’s awesome.

2016-rod-drill14. ROD DRILL-Hasbro’s Transformers were my jam growing up but I also enjoyed Tonka’s line of transforming robots called Go-Bots. I had a handful of the toys and while they weren’t as complex as Transformers their simplicity and their silly names made them charming. The line has been officially dead since 1987 but in the past couple of years some third-party companies have produced unofficial homages of Go-Bot characters. You may recall that DX9’s remake of Cy-Kill (named Salmoore) nabbed the number two slot of my best of 2014 list. I love seeing old Go-Bots characters revived after so many years. My fingers are crossed for new versions of my childhood favourites Cop-tur, Loco, and Water Walk. If those characters are ever to be reproduced it will likely be by way of a company called Action Toys. They’ve been doing a great job of  releasing spiffy new updates of classic Go-Bots. Vanessa got me Rod Drill for Christmas. He’s Action Toy’s version of Screwhead who transforms into a drill tank. This figure is immediately recognizable as Screwhead as they share of the same physical characteristics but Rod Drill is a far superior figure. He’s a bit larger and far more posable. He’s not as nice as update as Salmoore was but Rod Drill’s price point is a little easier to swallow.

2016-snowtrooper13. SNOWTROOPER-Everybody loves the generic Stormtroopers from Star Wars but as a kid I held the Snowtroopers from the Empire Strikes Back in much higher regard. My brother Doug and I both owned a Stromtrooper but he also owned the AT-AT Driver and the Biker Scout. I suppose that’s why the Snowtrooper was the only Stormtrooper variation that felt like mine because it was the only one he didn’t have. My original 1980s Snowtrooper was one of three vintage Star Wars figures I held onto when I got rid of my collection in my teens. There’s something about that long featureless mask that always appealed to me; I thought it looked more like a ghost than a soldier. I already have a very cool 12″ version of the Snowtrooper plus multiple 3 3/4″ figures but it was still at the top of my want list when I started collecting the 6″ Black Series figures. I just got this figure a week ago and he did not disappoint.  It’s not exactly what I was expecting because it’s far more “dirty” than previous versions.  The base uniform is more beige than white and his boots and skirt are speckled with grime. It looks really cool though so I don’t have any complaints.

2016-valkyries

 

12. MARAUDER VALKYRIESLast year I named the Marauder Task Force in my number six spot. I didn’t name a specific figure as I used the slot as more of a catch all for the whole wave of interchangable soldier figures produced by Marauder Gun Runners via a Kickstarter campaign. MGR put out variations of those same figures with new parts added this year so they could have easily made my list again. I’m a big fan of the yellow “Shock-Ops” and orange “Hazard Ops” they released this year. However they overshadowed those releases with the launch of their all-female Valkyries line this year via another Kickstarter. Thus far I have four complete figures in hand with another shipment on the way. These figures look excellent. MTF has given us a multitude of hair styles and colours, gear, and accessories so you can make unlimited figure variations. I wish Hasbro put this much care into their G.I. Joes. Hasbro has given us some pretty fugly ladies over the years but MTF has given us a squad of attractive ladies with realistic proportions. I can’t recommend these figures enough.  The only reason they’re not higher is that their tiny accessories don’t stay in place unless glued which is a pain in the ass and I have no childhood connection or elaborate backstory to latch onto.

2016-namor11. NAMOR-What a year for Marvel Legends. Hasbro pumped out 7 waves of figures this year. It was just a couple of years ago that I was writing on this blog that I had no interest in collecting 6″ Legends because I was committed to collecting the 3 3/4″ Marvel Universe figures. I found Legends to be gangly and awkward looking.  Well Hasbro has upped their game big time and now I’m buying Legends figures every other week. I bought over 50 Marvel Legends figures this year and I’m continually impressed. I could have made a top 16 list of Marvel Legends figures alone and I still would have had to exclude a bunch of stellar toys. To pick only a choice few for this multi-line list truly was difficult. After a great deal of thought the first Legend I’ve chosen to spotlight is Marvel’s King of Atlantis, Namor the Sub-Mariner.  When I first started collecting comics as a kid I didn’t like Namor. He struck me as an arrogant Mr. Spock flying around in his underwear. I’m not sure when that changed but somewhere along the way I really fell in love with Namor. His arrogance actually makes him a lot of fun to read.  The fact that he started wearing pants probably helped too. Truthfully, I don’t even mind the green speedo in the comics but it just doesn’t make for a very interesting action figure.  My 3 3/4″ Namor is a testament to how boring that design can be.  This Walgreens exclusive Namor is sporting a much cooler black and blue costume with a nice metallic sheen.  The elbows are a little weird and the trident looks dumb but those issues are out weighed by the phenomenal head sculpt. Depending on the angle you look at him he can appear regal, smarmy, pissed, or playful. This is the finest Namor ever produced.2016-k-2so

 

10. K-2SO– When I reviewed this figure a couple of weeks ago I hadn’t yet seen Star Wars Rogue One. Now that I have I like this figure even more. K-2S0 was a real scene stealer in the movie.  He was tough, sarcastic and funny and i was really bummed when things weren’t going his way.  I’m glad I picked this figure up when I did as I imagine it will be in high demand now that everyone has seen the movie. This figure just looks and feels cool.  As soon as I opened him up I wanted to pose him and fiddle around with him. He’s built nice and sturdy for such a lean figure. This sculpt, paint apps, and articulation are all great. No complaints.2016-batman

 

 

9. BATMAN-Putting Batman on a “best of” list seems like such a no-brainer that it’s almost a waste of a slot. He has such a cool and iconic design that you’d think it would be a snap to design an amazing Batman figure, right? So why are there so many terrible Batman figures? Have you walked down the action figure aisle lately? It’s full of Batmen and most of them look like crap. I feel bad for kids that think those are the only Batman figures available. If only they’d venture into a comic book shop like Strange Adventures they’d discover a whole new world of awesome action figures geared towards adult collectors. For example, DC Collectibles line of designer action figures based on the artwork of Darwyn Cooke. I bought the Supergirl, Catwoman, and Harley Quinn from this line and any one of them could be on this list but I think Batman edges the others out. This figure depicts Darwyn’s contemporary version of the dark knight as seen in stories like EGO. I think this figure is a wonderful tribute to a brilliant artist who we sadly lost this year. It makes me emotional every time I look at it.

2016-pythona8. PYTHONA- I wanted a Pythona figure SO BAD in 1987. She was one of the new characters introduced, and heavily featured, in the animated G.I. Joe movie released that year yet she got completely snubbed by Hasbro. Her absence from the ’87 line-up seemed like a huge oversight to me. Big Lob was similarly snubbed but I didn’t like him as much. He’s finally getting a figure courtesy of the G.I. Joe Collector’s Club in 2017 but 2016 was Pythona’s year…finally. She was the free membership figure you got this year when you signed up as a member of the Club. It’s been a 30 year wait so thankfully the Club delivered a stellar figure to make the wait all seem worth it. Pythona’s got a very nice newly sculpted head with a removable ponytail which allows her to  don the hood of her cloak. The intricate facial paint is well done too.  The Club has been doing a great job making figures of characters long desired by fans, like Dr. Venom and Billy, but Pythona is the one I’ve wanted the most so I’m very glad the Club didn’t cut any corners. Awesome figure.

2016-gorgon7. RINGNECK GORGON-I backed a Kickstarter campaign by Boss Fight Studios back in 2014 to help them launch their own line of figures called Vitruvian HACKS. Those figures finally arrived in 2016.  I received over 30 figures and honestly I could have put each and every one of them on this list. BFS has constructed some of the nicest action figures I’ve ever seen in their Mythology themed HACKS line. Series one primarily consists of ancient warriors and gorgons. The construction of the gorgons alone is a thing of beauty to say nothing of the sculpting, painting, and accessories. The way their multi-jointed tails allow for them to be posed  in an upright position without the aid of a display base is amazing. I have seven gorgons including Medusa.  She seemed like the obvious choice for this list if I were to showcase just one gorgon but I just so happen to prefer the purple and orange colour scheme of the ringneck. I also prefer her closed mouth. This figure is perfect and I can’t wait to see what BFS does next.

2016-cap-britain6. CAPTAIN BRITAIN-Picking Marvel Legends for this list was really tough. I thought that Nico would make my list for sure. Silk, Black Panther, and Deadpool all seemed like shoe-ins as well. I wasn’t even sure I would buy this Captain Britain and I certainly didn’t expect I’d like him more than those other figures but here he is. CB was included in the most recent Captain America wave. The only figure I planned to buy from the wave was Eel. I really like Captain Britain as a character but this figure doesn’t feature my preferred costume so I planned to skip it. While in Chicago the other week I found the Cap wave in a comic shop (I haven’t found them here at home yet) and there was Eel. I picked him up and looked over his scrawny physique. Then I saw Captain Britain out of the corner of my eye practically bulging out of his packaging. I picked him up and was immediately won over.  See ya later, Eel. This Cap looks tough as nails. The standard “bulky” body is perfectly sized for him and the unique Captain Britain parts really look great.  The buckled boots, the wrapped forearms, the sunken eyes in the helmet, I love it all. Throw in an excellent and eye-grabbing paint job and you have yourself a winning action figure.

2016-venom5. VENOM– Next up is another Marvel Legends figure, Venom. I’m not even a big Venom fan yet this is the second time he’s made my “best of” list in just three years. 2014 saw the release of an awesome Agent Venom. This year we got two other versions of the character.  There was the large build-a-figure Space Knight Venom which looks neat but whom I have no affinity for because I didn’t read any of the short-lived Space Knight comics. The second 2016 release was this classic Venom. This toy looks like it leapt from the page of the character’s first appearance as drawn by Todd McFarlane.  It makes me very nostalgic for that late 80s era of Spider-Man. The body is the exact same one that was used for Captain Britain and it works wonderfully for Venom too. He has standard “sock” feet and open clawed hands. I’m not sure if those parts are reused or not.  The one piece that is definitely unique is the head and thats the piece that really elevates this figure.  The head sculpt looks so good that I can’t imagine anyone ever making a better Venom figure than this.

2016-talos4. TALOS-This is another figure from Boss Fight Studio’s Vitruvian HACKS line. It was exclusive to Kickstarter supporters so I don’t think you’ll ever be able to buy it from their online store. That’s a real shame because this is one of the nicer looking figures from the assortment. Most of the warrior figures share the same parts, they’re just painted differently. I don’t think there are any parts on this figure that can’t be found elsewhere. For example, Talos has the same bearded head as Leonidas and the same armor as the Myrmidon Warrior but what makes them unique to Talos is the bronze paint job. The figure is painted entirely in bronze with a green patina to add realism. It looks amazing; like a little metal statue. Whether you want to display this guy as a statue or some sort of living bronze warrior he really should be a part of your collection.

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3. MALLEUS 2016 saw the release of the Four Horsemen’s newest toy line called Mythic Legions.  It’s a fantasy-based line full or Orcs, Trolls, and Knights. I couldn’t afford to go all-in on their 2015 kickstarter but I did pitch in by pre-ordering 4 of the 34 available figures. My quartet arrived in June 2016 and all of them are awesome but Malleus is my favourite. This figure is amazing in every category. The sculpting, the painting, and the accessories are all incredible (the dual axes are sick!). He’s very well articulated right down to a movable jaw. The 6″ scale really allows the Horsemen to show off.  Originally I thought I might display Malleus as a minion of Skeletor but the level of detail on the Legions figures far surpasses that of MOTU figures so there isn’t much consistency there. If I had the space and the money I’d love to own all the Mythic Legions figures but if my collection never grows beyond the four I have  I’m confident that I have the best one right here. 

2016-tailgate2. TAILGATE/REAREND-Many times on this blog I’ve told you how great James Roberts’ “Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye” comics are. I think its the best comic on the stands. He has a way of making you fall in love with characters you never thought you’d care about. One of the stars of the book is a little Transformer named Tailgate. I never owned the Tailgate toy as a kid because he was just a crappy repaint of Wheelcharger, a Transformer who I really liked. Well Roberts has made Tailgate a far more interesting character than Wheelcharger ever was and so I desperately wanted an action figure that reflected his comic book appearance. Hasbro obliged me with this turd in 2014. Thankfully, a third party company called Make Toys answered my prayers this year. Because this is an unofficial release they can’t call him Tailgate so Make Toys has dubbed him Rearend. It’s a silly name but who cares, everyone knows this is Tailgate. This figure is quite small so it may be hard to justify the large price tag but thankfully Vanessa got him for me for X-mas so I didn’t have to. I’m actually glad he’s the size that he is because its true to the character. The likeness to the comic book art is perhaps the best I’ve seen yet.  This toy truly look like an Alex Milne drawing some to life. I love it.2016-underworld

 

1. UNDERWORLD WARRIOR-You shouldn’t be surprised that one of Boss Fight Studio’s Vitruvian HACKS figures tops my list. Almost every figure in this line is a showstopper. The paint work, sculpting, accessories, articulation, and customization possibilities launched HACKS straight to the top of the heap of quality action figure lines. Every toyline should strive to be this good.  As soon as my box of HACKS arrived it was almost a certainty that one of them would top my list this year. The trouble was in deciding which one.  I thought it would be harder to choose but I actually arrived at my answer quite easily. The Underworld Warrior was the figure that appealed to me the most when the concept art was first revealed at the launch of the kickstarter and once I had the figure in my hands I felt it lived up to and surpassed my expectations. It’s not the most detailed or innovative figure of the bunch but it sure does look damn cool.2016-group

 

 

 

RHINO CALF

rhino-baby-fullPAPO

2016 is drawing to a close so that means I’m preparing for my annual “best of” list. It’s my favourite post to write each year. Thus far I’ve narrowed it down to 31 action figures but I still need to whittle it down to my top 16 of 2016 by year’s end.  I had planned to write full reviews of every figure on my list so that I’d be able to link to a detailed analysis of each one but regrettably there are many toys on my prospective list that I haven’t gotten around to yet. So, after my month long blog hiatus, you’d think I’d be in a mad rush this week to get those top contenders reviewed but instead I’ve chosen to write about this little plastic rhinoceros, which I assure you will not be on my year-end list.rhino-baby-chicago

The reason I’ve selected this Rhinoceros calf to review today is less about sharing my thoughts on the actual toy but rather the vacation on which I acquired it. Last week I went to Chicago to visit my little brother, Brian.  Last time I mentioned him I may have said he was living in NYC but he moves around a lot and he now resides in Chicago. It was Brian and his twin sister Katie’s birthday last week so he flew her down there so they could celebrate together. I tagged along because I wanted to see Jerry Seinfeld perform at the theatre down the street from Brian’s apartment (and to spend quality time with my siblings of course).rhino-baby-back

 

I live in Nova Scotia on the east coast of Canada and this was my first trip to the United States. It’s okay if you don’t know where Nova Scotia is; nobody in Chicago did either. Chi-town was a much bigger city than I’m used to but I navigated my way around all right. At times my brother was working and my sister was preoccupied with department stores and boutiques so I was forced to venture off alone to find the things I was after. Flying solo I saw Seinfeld which was amazing, I went to the Double Door nightclub to see local punk band the Lawrence Arms, I found an indie record store, and I found a comic shop. Graham Crackers Comics was a decent shop but it didn’t really have anything that I couldn’t buy back home.  I picked up a Captain Britain Marvel Legend and some Funko POPS to be supportive.  With my siblings I took a bus tour of the city, saw the bean, ate at a bunch of restarants and visited the world’s largest indoor aquarium. On Sunday we went to the Lincoln Park Zoo which is open year round and it’s free. We had a great time there and it proved to be the trip highlight for all of us.  There were hardly any people there, a light snow was falling, and the animals were all very active. We saw Lions, Tigers, Gorillas, Giraffes, Crocodiles, Polar Bears, etc. The last pavilion we visited was the one I was most excited about because it had the Rhinos.

Hippos are pretty cool too

Hippos are pretty cool too

As a child I always named Rhinos as my favourite animal and I’m still fascinated by them today. Unfortunately, I learned that the rhinos are the only animals at the Lincoln Park Zoo that don’t go outside in the winter and cannot be viewed from indoors. Apparently the zoo houses three rhinos but they are not for public viewing in the winter. Huge bummer.

As a pitiful consolation prize I bought myself this rhinoceros figure at the gift shop on the way out. It’s made by the fine folks at Papo who always do a stellar job on their animal figurines. This rhino calf a single hunk of plastic so there’s no articulation but the sculpt is nice, the multi-coloured paint job is subtle and believable, and he’s frig’n adorable. This toy is to scale with 3 3/4″ action figures so perhaps I’ll display him with my G.I. Joes.  He could be the adopted pet of the team’s jungle trooper, Recondo. It would’ve been nice if he was to scale with the adult Rhino toy I purchased on a trip to the Metro Toronto Zoo 30 years ago but what can ya do?

All in all, I had a great trip and this is a fun (but overpriced) souvenir.  7 out of 10.rhino-baby-mother

MEGATRON: ANIMATED (2008)

tf-megatron-08-fullTRANSFORMERS: ANIMATED

If you’re not up to date on your Transformers comics be warned: Spoilers ahead.

I know I’ve mentioned this multiple times before but allow me to say it again, Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye (MTMTE) is one of the best comic books around. I’ve been reading comics consistently since I was 8 years old, over 20 books a month at some points, and MTMTE is one of the best series I’ve ever read. I’ve always enjoyed Transformers comics; the original Marvel run in the 80s, the Dreamwave books of the early 2000s, the Fun Publications convention exclusives, and the various titles published by IDW beginning in 2005. Since 2012 IDW has been publishing two on-going Transformers comics simultaneously, MTMTE and Robots in Disguise (RID). RID has had its ups and downs but for the most part it’s been quite good. Quality-wise it’s what I’ve come to expect from a Transformers book which is to say that it’s an entertaining read with solid art. MTMTE, on the other hand, is in a league of its own transcending Transformers as a property. If you hate the Transformers you probably wouldn’t pick up RID no matter how good I told you it was but as long as you like good storytelling you should be reading MTMTE. Writer James Roberts has crafted an epic, hilarious, and heartbreaking tale that I cannot recommend enough. It would help you enjoy the story if you’re a Transformers fan well-versed in the lore but I really don’t think it’s necessary. Many of the characters featured in the book are not those who starred in the IDW books previously so MTMTE serves to introduce them whether you’re brand new to the franchise or an old-school fan like myself.tf-megatron-08-cover

For example, in the 80s Swerve and Tailgate were repaints of two of my favorite toys, Gears and Windcharger. They weren’t developed at all in the comics or cartoon so I always saw them as unmemorable second stringers. In MTMTE Roberts has infused Swerve and Tailgate with such personality that they’ve become two of my absolute favorite Transformers eclipsing Gears and Windcharger. Any character Roberts spends even a page on immediately becomes 10X more interesting. Despite this ability, I was skeptical about his decision to add Megatron to the cast in issue 28. As I’m sure you know, Megatron is the leader of the Decepticons. He’s always been the big-bad of the Transformers mythology responsible for the deaths of countless beings across the universe. I’ve always found him to be a fine villain. He was sufficiently menacing in the 80s cartoon (largely due to the memorable voice work of Frank Welker) but he never struck me as a very deep character. He was simply a bad guy because the property needed a bad guy. His origins and motivations have been explored in comics before, and those stories have helped to add some depth, but overall he’s an archetype. The same is true of Optimus Prime at the opposite end of the spectrum.tf-megatron-08-back

 

A few years ago the Cybertronian war finally came to an end in the IDW universe. The Autobots and Decepticons set their differences aside (for the most part) and everybody settled into relative peace back on Cybertron. The new status quo is explored politically in RID. In MTMTE Hot Rod decides to devote his time to searching for the legendary Knights of Cybertron on his ship, the Lost Light. He leads a ragtag crew of lovable ex-Autobots (and one or two ex-Decepticons) into deep space where they stumble into a number of entertaining adventures. Issues 1 to 25 are regarded as season one.

When season two begins in issue 26 the Lost Light crew return to Cyberton for the trial of Megatron. However, due some slick legal maneuvering and some wonky loopholes in Cybertronian law Megatron was able to talk himself off of death-row and into the position of co-captain of the Lost Light. I was leery of this plot development because I’d grown attached to the Autobots on the Lost Light and they’d now be bunking with their murderous sworn enemy and I didn’t want to lose anyone. Also I was worried that a bot as popular as Megatron would steal the spotlight from the lesser known characters like Swerve and Tailgate. In that regard I was absolutely correct because that’s exactly what happened…but I was wrong to worry because in Roberts’s hands Megatron is truly compelling. On the surface it seemed as though Megatron was really changing his ways and looking for redemption but I simply couldn’t believe it to be true. I just knew it was all a ruse and that he would eventually take over the ship and kill a bunch of characters I care about…but he didn’t. Every time Megatron showed remorse or compassion I was shocked and fascinated to watch this previously one-dimensional character actually grow. I never would have guessed it but now Megatron is one of my favorite Transformers.tf-megatron-08-art

I never owned the original 1984 Megatron figure when I was a kid. You’d think that might have bothered me but I always found the toy to be really wonky looking and not very representative of the character as he appeared on TV. I had the Shockwave figure though and he served me well as the leader of my Decepticon toys. Dozens of versions of Megatron followed the original and I never had any of them. When I got into collecting Transformers again as an adult with the launch of the “Classics” line in 2006 (starting with Bumblebee) Megatron was a character I was looking forward to owning for the first time. The Classics line was all about well-made toys based on the characters iconic 80s looks. Unfortunately, when a Classics Megatron came out later that year it totally sucked and was not faithful to the original. I decided to wait for the next release but sadly it was based on his Generation 2 green tank look so I passed on that too.  Years went by and my modern Transformers collection grew rapidly but Hasbro never released a Megatron that lived up to my expectations.tf-megatron-08-head

A couple years ago, on a trip to Giant Robot Comics, I came across this version of Megatron for sale in their loose figure case. It’s based on his look from the stylized 2007 Transformers: Animated cartoon. The exaggerated proportions of “Animated” didn’t look too bad on this figure, I needed a Megatron, and the price was right so I went for it.  I didn’t love the toy but I didn’t love the character at that time either so it was good enough; I just wanted a half-decent Megatron for my display. Now that Megatron has earned my love I will be seeking out a better version.

Things I don’t like about this toy include his cartoony appearance, the pink “battle damage” paint apps, his weird alt mode, and the struggle required to keep him standing. His joints are loose and he’s top heavy so he wants to constantly topple over. None of those issues are deal breakers for me though. His cartoony appearance is pretty close to his Generation 1 look with maybe a slight bit of live-action influence. The pink paint is dumb but at last it adds some color. I wish he transformed into a gun like he’s supposed to instead of a spaceship but I never transform my toys anyway. The thing I like least about this figure is its size. I’ve always felt that Megatron and Optimus Prime need to be bigger than their soldiers because thats how the original toys were and thats how they were portrayed on the show. Having a 5″ Megatron that stands shoulder to shoulder with an Insecticon just doesn’t seem right. When I do upgrade my Megatron I will be sure to get a taller one.tf-megatron-08-animated

 

Despite its flaws this is a decent Megatron which is why I got it in the first place. He’s got a pissed off look on his face that suits him well. I actually dig the exaggerated proportions that result in really large feet and Popeye forearms. The greys and reds look good together and the light-piping effects on the eyes and arms are cool too. My favorite feature is the massive arm cannon. This is Megatron’s defining feature and never has it looked so badass. I know they can do better but I still think this is one of the best Megatron toys Hasbro has produced. 7 out of 10.tf-megatron-08-fight

 

SUPERMAN: JIM LEE BLUELINE EDITION (2016)

dc-superman-blueline-fullDC COLLECTIBLES

I have way too many Spider-Man and Iron Man toys. I know this. As a loyal Marvel reader for the past 30 years I have seen those characters wear a multitude of costumes and for some reason I feel compelled to own an action figure of each new look. It’s a problem. Conversely, I have never been a diehard DC fan. I really like some DC characters but I buy their books much more selectively. I tend to stick to critically acclaimed stories. There are exceptions to this rule but generally good stories do not feature alternate costumes. For that reason I’ve had very little exposure to short-lived, one-off DC costumes. Electric Blue Superman? Never read it. Bearded hook-hand Aquaman? Never read it. Knightfall Batman? Never read it. I suppose that’s why I’ve managed to avoid buying multiple action figures of DC characters. I’ve only ever felt the need to collect one iconic version of each. One Superman, one Batman, etc. Unfortunately that plan has been unravelling lately because of DC Collectibles’ designer action figures based on the specific artistic styles of various pencilers.

Ed McGuinness, Jim Lee, Jae Lee

Ed McGuinness, Jim Lee, Jae Lee

For a long time my Ed McGuinness inspired Superman figure was all I needed. Then last year DC Collectibles released a Jae Lee inspired figure which I couldn’t pass up. Next year they’ll probably put out a John Romita Jr. Superman that I’ll be powerless against but this year the Superman I got roped into buying was based on the artwork of Jim Lee.dc-superman-blueline-art

Jim Lee is one of those superstar artists that made a big splash in the comic book industry in the early 90s with his dynamic drawings. He was best known for his work on X-Men before he left Marvel and co-founded Image comics where he focused his creative energies for the next 10 years.

It was a pretty big deal when, after a decade primarily working on his creator-owned material, Jim Lee came back to mainstream comics in 2003. Rather than return to Marvel Jim opted for DC where he drew the 12–issue Batman run titled “Hush”. Hush has plenty of flaws but its undeniably a fun book. Writer Jeph Loeb crammed every Batman character he could think of into those 12 issues and it was a real treat seeing Lee put his unique stamp on each one of them. A series of Hush action figures released in 2004 is one of the earliest examples of DCs artist inspired toylines. Hush was a huge sales success for DC and it got me buying Batman comics on the regular for the first time ever.

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Lee followed up Hush with a Superman story written by Brian Azzarello called “For Tomorrow” in 2004. Lee’s art corralled me into collecting Superman comics for the first time as well. However, the story lacked the event feel of Hush and it was pretty forgettable. Story aside, it looked really nice and Jim Lee proved he could draw one hell of a Superman.

Lee returned to drawing the last son of Krypton on a monthly basis for the relaunch of the Justice League comic in 2011 as part of DC’s New 52 initiative. The New 52 Superman was younger than the Superman Lee drew in “For Tomorrow” and he had a different costume (lots of pointless lines and no more undies). An action figure featuring the New 52 look was released in 2012 but it didn’t interest me because I like my Superman old school. The figure was most likely based on Jim Lee’s artwork to a degree but it wasn’t specifically marketed as such and I don’t think great pains were made to capture his style.dc-superman-blueline-color

A couple of months ago DC Collectibles released this “Jim Lee Blueline Edition”  Superman figure similar to the Blueline Batman they released as a San Diego Comic Con exclusive in 2015.  The concept is that these figures capture the look of a Jim Lee pencil sketch before it’s inked and colored. I think it’s a pretty neat idea so I promptly purchased this Superman from BigBadToyStore when it went up for pre-order. A Blueline Wonder Woman is planned for later this year which I also considered pre-ordering but I’ve decided not to because I like how unique this Superman looks in my collection.

This figure features the exact same build as the previously released New 52 Superman except its molded in solid white plastic.  The only paint apps are the grey lines that represent Jim Lee’s pencils. I think this makes for a far more visually striking figure than the colour version. The pencil lines make the sculpt look more detailed than it really is. The colored version was mostly just sold blue without any sort of muscle definition.  This version’s muscles are very well defined courtesy of Lee’s etchings. I initially thought this figure shared the same head as the color version as well but after closer inspection I believe this is a newly sculpted head.  I don’t think the folks at DC Collectibles could get this figure to look so different using paint apps alone.  This version looks like the pre-New 52 Superman featured in stories like Hush and For Tomorrow rather than the 2011 Justice League Superman which is A-OK in my book. This version appeares to have a squarer jaw and a more recognizable Superman swirl in his hair.dc-superman-blueline-face

The articulation leaves a little something to be desired, especially when compared to Marvel Legends, but it’s pretty standard for DC figures. He moves at the knees, hips, shoulders, elbows, and neck. It’s a rather rigid figure but I’m fine with that as this is clearly a display piece for collectors; I don’t think too many kids would choose this version to play with over the full color version.

This is a great looking toy that does Jim Lee justice. I think it totally nails the concept of a sketch brought to life in 3 dimensions. I don’t usually talk a lot about packaging in my reviews but it should be noted that this toy came in an amazing box with a magnetic seal, a unique shape, and a bunch of Jim Lee artwork. The box itself is worthy of being displayed. Good work DC Collectibles. 9 out of 10.

 

dc-superman-blueline-box-backdc-superman-blueline-box-front

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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.

joe-freefall-v2-back

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

 

PINK SKELETON (2016)

bfs-pink-skelly-fullVITRUVIAN H.A.C.K.S.

Hey gang. It’s been ages since I reviewed anything so I thought I’d throw up a quickie while I wait around for the Trump/Clinton debate to start. I haven’t been feeling very motivated to blog lately so I’ve selected a figure which should make for a short and sweet write-up.

I’ve told you before about Boss Fight Studio’s Vitruvian HACKS toyline, a project they funded via kickstarter and that I supported. Series One consists of figures based in Greek mythology, primarily Greek warriors and gorgons. There are also a number of customizable blank figures available which allow you to create wholly original characters. The fourth and final category of figures included in series one is skeletons. You can use the skeletons as set dressing or as undead warriors a la “Jason and the Argonauts”.  bfs-pink-skelly-movie

Since I bought the all-in kickstarter package I received  skeletons in a variety of colors: white, black, yellow, translucent purple, and hot pink. I believe the pink one was a kickstarter exclusive so if you like this one you’re out of luck unless you buy one on the secondary market. The others are currently available to purchase on BFS’s website along with a new grey version. It’s neat to have an exclusive but honestly the pink is my least favorite of the bunch.bfs-pink-skelly-back

The sculpt is the same on all the skeletons regardless of the color and it’s fantastic.  It is truly impressive that the ladies and gentlemen over at BFS were able to capture this much detail in such a small figure and still load it up  with articulation. No corners were cut in designing this figure. There are spaces between all the ribs in the ribcage and there are gaps between the fibula and tibia and the ulna and radius.  He’s articulated at the ankles, hips, waist, ribs,  shoulders, elbows, wrists, neck, jaw and he has double jointed knees. The movable jaw is super cool and  really makes a skeleton go from docile to manic.

This is a skinny figure as you would expect but thankfully BFS provides display bases with each figure to help them stand up. They also provide clear plastic foot braces that offer additional support for skeletons specifically. There are also 4 more clear braces for the legs and arms which make it easy for you to strap armor to the skinny frame. All of the accessories from other V-Hacks figures are compatible with the skeletons. Even some of the body parts can be swapped out which can make for some eerie customsbfs-pink-skelly-girl

 

These skeleton figures are awesome and they can be used to enhance any 3 3/4″ action figure display. Up the stakes on a G.I. Joe battlefield or recreate Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru’s demise on Tatooine.

bfs-pink-skelly-dance

 

If I have one negative thing to point out about these figures it’s the lack of paint. I was so excited to receive these skeletons when they first arrived in the mail a few months ago that I didn’t give a second thought to the fact that they had no paint apps; bones are white anyway so who needs paint. But then my Mythic Legions Skeletons from Four Horsemen Studios arrived. The paint work on those 6″ figures was so rad that it made the Hacks skeletons seem a little boring by comparison.  That’s not entirely fair though as BFS’s skeletons are smaller, much more affordable, and intended for customizing.

A Vitruvian Hacks skeleton in another color would easily rate a 9 or a 10 but in pink I give this guy a 7 out of 10.bfs-pink-skelly-fight