Thursday, 18 August 2016

Transformers: Titans Return -- Crashbash

In the 4.5 billionish years this planet has existed, dinosaurs have been pretty much the coolest creatures to ever walk God's green earth. Sure, humans weren't around for their heyday -- but ever since that first Megalosaurus bones were discovered back in 1824, they've had a stranglehold on popular culture, showing up in all sorts of bizarro places -- not least of which was Transformers.

Titans Return is pretty much the reintroduction of the Headmasters concept to the Transformers franchise, last seen in the late 1980s. Basically, the theme introduces the concept of Titan Masters – small Transformers who can combine with larger ones to supplement their power by replacing their heads. While it’s an excellent idea for establishing a play pattern, it’s slightly disturbing in storyline terms – two robots bonded together for the indefinite future, the larger stuck in a useless state when the head decides to pop off and move around on its own. I’m sure that’s not quite how it works, but it’s the version of events that sticks in my mind.    
However, as these transforming heads are intentionally designed to be interchangeable with one another, Hasbro has taken the novel step of selling some heads separately, using it to reintroduce some characters who presumably might not have gotten a release in another form. But though a head that transforms into a teensy robot is pretty cool, it's a little thin for a regular each of these figures also comes packed with some kind of vehicle that can also be transformed into a weapon -- which can then be used either by the miniature pilot or by a larger figure. Pretty cool, huh? 
Considering that Hasbro tends to overprice TFs a little, I expected these heads to sell for $15-20 each, but I found this one at Hobbyco for a much more reasonably priced $11.95. This means they'll probably be $9-10 at Big W/Target/Kmart. The first wave offers some good options, but I was naturally enough drawn to Crashbash -- a purple Decepticon t-rex? Had I died and gone to heaven??? After recovering from this  near-death experience, I seized it tightly and knew that I had to buy it. It would go with my bizarro collection of other Decepticons, which currently numbers at somewhere between "waaaaaay more Transformers than I had as a kid" and "why didn't I buy a Thundercracker when I had the chance, aftermarket prices are redonk now".

Now, Crashbash is a character that was released back in the 1980s, though he was then known as "Squeezeplay" and was a kind of crab-person thing. Pretty cool, but the only real resemblance this modern version has to his 1980s incarnation is in the head mode. The T-rex look is a new one. 

And it's awesome!!! Crab people are cool and all, as South Park taught us years ago -- but T-Rex alt mode conquers virtually all other contenders. It's made by combining the Titan Master and the weapon mode together, Ingeniously, the legs become the lower half of the jaw, while the Titan Master's arms become the T-Rex's arms. You can also cheat a gun mode for bigger figures by fiddling with the legs and tail while using the "cannon" as a gun handle, but I haven't included a pic here.  

The Dragon (weapon) mode, by contrast, is neither here nor there -- it looks kind of like some kind of dino-chicken hybrid, and I don't really plan to make much use of it. It's nice to give the Titan Master something to stand on to. 

And head mode? Well, with the purple colour he might look nice on Galvatron. But I think he's going to stay in T-Rex or Titan Master mode most of the time. Though it is cool that the Titan Master's own head is a miniature facsimile of the larger head.

Now, I do have some minor criticisms. First, the promotional render makes this toy look as though it's kind of lavender in colour, but the real toy is much darker, more of a magenta colour. This isn't a problem -- I prefer magenta -- but the increasing reliance on renders in Hasbro's promotional material is giving a less and less accurate impression of what the final toy is actually going to look like. Going back to hardcopies really would be a better option, even if their paint jobs tended to be a little... questionable.  

Secondly, be warned -- the Titan Masters are a bit fragile, so have a spare or two handy if your kid plays rough. I'm quite gentle, and I've already had a couple of white pressure marks appear on him. 

Overall? If this toy had existed when I was a little kid, I have little doubt that it would have been one of my favourites. There's something indisputably awesome about a gigantic chunky figure like Devastator, but I have a lot of love for figures that are near capsule-toy size too. Ideally, I'd build an army of these guys...but I'll probably limit myself to just to or three. I vote that these separately-sold Titan Masters are a big success!  

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Transformers Generations: Combiner Wars – Cyclonus

Company: Hasbro
Year: 2015

Originally debuting in Transformers: The Movie back in 1986, Cyclonus has never quite achieved the fame of some of the A-list characters of the franchise, but that doesn’t mean he’s not pretty awesome in his own right. Controversy still dogs his G1 origins – is he a reformatted version of Skywarp, or Bombshell? 30 years on, no one is really sure. For good reason, more recent continuities have avoided the question altogether by simply making him a separate character. IDW continuity currently has him as a good guy, serving aboard the Lost Light – but here, he’s all villain.

Retooled from the Aerialbot Silverbolt, Cyclonus is (to my eyes) a much better use of the mould, primarily thanks to his purple colour scheme. It’s weird; I don’t like purple all that much in my day-to-day life, but I have a real weakness for purple on Transformers.  

Cyclonus is a little unusual in that he doesn’t have an accompanying wave of bots to serve as his limbs when in his combined Galvatronus form. According to the box, his “official” limbs are Sky Dive, Air Raid, Dragstrip and Breakdown – but his bio also indicates that he can wield hypnotic power to make any compatible bot a potential limb, including Autobots. Personal canons can obviously run wild at this point. Currently I own three compatible bots, so if I ever buy a fourth (and I probably will at some point) I may actually build Galvatronus. Keep an eye on my Instagram (@lupinebookclub).  

The transformation is simple in principle but quite frustrating in execution. DO NOT LOSE YOUR INSTRUCTIONS if you can help it; I had an absolute pain of a time trying to track down some online after mine vanished into the aether. But the transformation essentially amounts to a sort of shellformer, like most of the Aerialbots did -- fold the nosecone up and then fold away the limbs to create the vehicle mode. 

Speaking of which, the vehicle mode is supposed to be some kind of Cybertonian plane, but as it shares a mold with Silverbolt it essentially amounts to a purple Concorde jet. Which is pretty great; Concorde jets were amazing to look at, and it's a shame that they're no longer in service -- the speed at which they could travel between countries was incredible.  

(Side note: in a curious twist, the fins on his on the back of his vehicle mode are actually assembled incorrectly in the box – they’re flipped the opposite way to the original G1 toy. You can pop them off and reattach them easily, but they do look fine in their “incorrect” form – they’ve been corrected for these pictures though.)   

In bot mode, articulation is pretty good – ball-jointed head, swivel shoulders, swivel biceps, hinged elbows, swivel-hinged hips, cut thighs and hinged knees. The neck doesn’t have a lot of motion, but his shoulders, biceps and hips are ratcheted, so they’ll stay put – and also keep everything sturdy when in Galvatronus mode.     

Accessories are always kind of ordinary with Transformers these days – the fact that the main toy can transform is really the main draw – and Cyclonus continues that trend. He’s armed with the same weapon as Silverbolt, but this time it’s been cast in a greyish silver. It splits into two pieces – a shield and a gun – but I think it looks a lot better as one long rifle, myself.  

Dubious accessories aside, Cyclonus makes a fine addition to any Transformers collection. As a big ol' purple Decepticon, he was a near essential purchase as soon as I laid eyes on him, and he continues the high standard that the Transformers Generations line has been setting for some years now. He's mostly gone from shop shelves now, but you may still be able to find him kicking around at a Target or Kmart. Recommended.  

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Funko Mystery Minis Horror Classics Series 2: Nosferatu

Nosferatu - B&WCompany: Funko
Series: Mystery Minis Horror Classics Series 2
Year: 2015

About a year ago, I reviewed the Funko POP version of Nosferatu. I won’t recount the full backstory behind the character – you can read it here if you want – but suffice to say he started life as a bootleg Dracula, and as a consequence he’s now in the public domain. You can watch the film on YouTube for free, if you've got an hour and a half to spare. And so as far as I understand, if you're really keen, you can go and make your very own Nosferatu merchandise too!  
As with his POP counterpart, he’s based on the 1922 version of the character (rather than the wonderful 1970s Werner Herzog remake). It’s recognisably the sinister Count Orlok, but it’s been run through a heavy Mystery Minis filter -- so your mileage will vary, depending on how much you like that particular aesthetic. I think the POP was a slightly better rendition, but they have captured the thick furry eyebrows nicely and general rat-like demeanour quite well.

Nosferatu Mystery Mini and Funko POP

Paint is simple, but mostly well-executed. He’s got a dirty mark on the back of his head, which isn’t a major drama. But there is a big blob of glue across one of his eyes, which looks to have occurred before the paint app had actually been applied. Presumably this is a bit of a one-off, but it’s a little bit annoying -- Nosferatu here is packed at a 1/24 ratio, so getting another one isn’t exactly easy.

So is he worth tracking down? He’s pretty fun; a good piece of merchandise for a film that’s now more than 90 years old. I’d suggest that the POP is a better investment, but the aesthetic works nicely with the other figures in the Horror Classics Mystery Minis series.   

Nosferatu Mystery Mini and DVD

Remember, you can follow me on Instagram and Twitter – @lupinebookclub 

Sunday, 24 July 2016

POP! Television – Green Ranger (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers)

Tommy Oliver - Green RangerSeries: POP! Television
Year: 2016
Company: Funko

I loved Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers as a kid. Or more accurately, I loved the concept and the toys – prehistoric creatures, martial arts and transforming robots made for a heady brew. And Tommy Oliver, aka the Green Ranger, was unquestionably the best element of the show.

Initially introduced as a villain, he pretty quickly became one of the good guys, bringing with him a sweet green outfit, the amazing Dragonzord, and a much better attitude than Jason the Red Ranger. And of course, Tommy went on to date Kimberley the Pink Ranger (cue joke: something something Twilight something better love story something). Poor Jason – ostensibly the team leader, he was demoted from fan-favourite overnight, and was never really able to reclaim his status.

These days, the actor who played him – Jason David Frank – is still a pretty cool guy. He’s still a martial artist (even having a brief foray into professional MMA), and covered in tattoos – though the long hair is long gone. He’s also got his own MMA clothing line (Jesus Didn’t Tap). I think he still does the odd bit of acting, but he seems to mostly be working the convention circuit and doing Power Rangers-related projects. You can find him on Facebook and Instagram, and man does he show a lot of love for his fans – it’s quite admirable.

Now three Power Rangers POPs were originally released back in 2013 – White, Red and Pink – and it’s only just now that we’re seeing the rest of the team make their debut. Those original three now sell for an outrageous amount of money online, and when this new wave was announced, Funko’s Facebook post went berserk with commenters demanding either that the originals be un-vaulted so that newer collectors could complete the team, and older hands demanding that they stay vaulted, so the value of their figures would be protected.

I’m kind of ambivalent myself; I would like a White Ranger without having to pay hundreds of dollars for one, but I was always a Green Ranger guy anyway – and I don’t plan to complete the team, this is likely to be my only purchase from the line. But I would like to see a 6” Dragonzord. It could battle with my Godzilla. Or Thanos, I guess.

The sculpt is quite good, capturing all of the essential details the figure should have – the dragon helmet and golden chestplate – even the Dragon dagger has made an appearance, stashed safely on his belt.  

But now, to the bad – Funko’s paint jobs are rarely stellar, and plenty of them were terrible back in 2013. This is a real throwback to that era – an annoying one, but oddly appropriate given when the original Power Ranger POPS were released. He was the best of the four they had at the store, and if you click to embiggen the picture, I think you’ll see that he’s adequate…but certainly not outstanding. Some of the other examples in the store were so bad I seriously considered skipping the character altogether.

In spite of the paint-based shortcomings, I am very happy to add this figure to the shelf. Though I am not typically an MIB collector, I think this is one POP who will be staying in his box for display purposes. Well done on finally getting him out Funko, even if it is a few years later than ideal.   

Monday, 18 July 2016

POP! Marvel – Doctor Strange

Series: POP! Marvel
Year: 2016
Company: Funko

I’ll confess – I have only a passing familiarity with the good Doctor here, primarily through The Infinity Gauntlet. He played an important role in that story, after discovering the Silver Surfer near-powerless in his attic (as one does). But he actually debuted back in 1963, one of Marvel’s first supernaturally themed superheroes. Though never as controversial as say, Ghost Rider or Son Of Satan, he still managed to find himself in a bit of hot water back in the early 1990s, when the cover of one of his issues used the unauthorised likeness of then-prominent Christian singer Amy Grant. Marvel eventually had to come to an out-of-court settlement on that one, though I doubt the whole situation would raise the same kind of ire these days.    

The first thing you’ll probably notice is that this POP is quite heavy, due to the cape attachments on both his shoulders and head. It’s quite a clever solution, actually – attaching part of the cape to the head means that the bobble is retained without massively disrupting the look.

Doctor Strange has had a few costumes over the years, but this is his best-known look. And boy is it a product of its time! It’s a great martial artist meets wizard combo – and though definitely dated, it offers a nice contrast to the usual superhero spandex garb. Benedict Cumberbatch looks to be wearing very similar garb in the upcoming film, though the colours are a little more muted. Speaking of which, the colours all contrast nicely with one another, with the exception of the orange gloves. Online research seems to indicate that his gloves are usually yellow – maybe he’s meant to be casting a spell here or something? Or perhaps it’s a Marvel style guide thing. The control art on the box renders the gloves a slightly different shade to his sash and cape trim, but the difference isn’t this extreme. Hopefully a running change fixes it later.  

On the upside, his hands have been sculpted in his signature spellcasting/heavy metal/webslinging poses. Which makes me think wishfully – we’ve had an Ozzy POP, could we get a Dio one sometime soon? Also, intentionally or not, his arms sort of mimic the traditional Baphomet pose from Eliphas Levi’s famous illustration, though his hands are held quite differently. Sinister hidden symbolism? I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but I’m sure there will be at least one parent out there that stops their kid from buying it for exactly that reason.   

The Eye of Agamotto holds the cape on at his neck, though it probably could have been picked out a little more with paint – for all its importance to the character, it’s barely noticeable here. The rest of the paint is fine; the hairlines could be a bit neater. The only odd choice is that the lower half of the cape is actually cast in blue, and then painted red. It seems an odd choice – I can only assume it was a costing thing at the factory; there’s no other reason it makes sense. 

Doctor Strange is a character I’d like to read more of, particularly in light of his upcoming debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m mostly planning to check out his 1970s adventures, as I suspect the film will draw most heavily from that era; but if anyone has any suggestions, I’m more than happy to hear them – list them in the comments below. 

Saturday, 16 July 2016

POP! Marvel – She-Hulk

Series: POP! Marvel
Company: Funko
Year: 2016

Well, it’s an awkward time for She-Hulk to debut as a POP because *SPOILER ALERT* it seems that she’s just been killed off in Issue 1 of Civil War II. Whether this is a real death or simply a cliffhanger remains to be seen, of course – and let’s not forget that death is rarely permanent in comics.

Debuting in 1980 as Hulk’s angry female cousin, She-Hulk has been an Avenger, a member of the Fantastic Four and quite successful in her own right, too. She’s never attained A-lister status, but she’s carved out her own little niche in the Marvel Universe -- and to be honest, I find her a lot more endearing than the Incredible Hulk. Marvel’s female characters have been gaining an increased prominence over the last few years, thanks to reinventions (like Ms Marvel becoming Captain Marvel) and new additions (such as Spider-Gwen), so it’s good to see some of that goodwill overflow to She-Hulk too.   

It’s a while since Marvel released any non-movie related POPs – I think Daredevil might have been the last one, actually – and this wave is a good one: She-Hulk, Spider-Gwen, Captain Marvel, Dr Strange, Dr Octopus and (comics) Falcon. I’m not partial to all of these characters, but the designs look pretty great on all of them. With the imminent arrival of the Dr Strange movie, I’ll probably end up picking that one up too.  

This particular costume isn't her first one, but it is probably her best-known. She first adopted it after leaving the Fantastic Four and rejoining the Avengers, so it's not a huge coincidence that the two costumes look quite similar, save for their colour. 

But… as much as I like the design, buying a She-Hulk POP will leave you with a trade-off – how visible the mould line on the chin is, vs how sloppily the costume is painted. I went with a slightly more prominent mould line than I would have liked -- it's not very obvious in the picture, but it's very noticeable in person -- and a relatively neat costume. There were 8 to pick from when I bought her, and this was really the best overall option. Custom painters will no doubt be capable of addressing these issues, but it’s a pain nonetheless.

We could see a few variants further down the line – a Fantastic Four She-Hulk and/or a Gamma Glow-in-the-dark She-Hulk. I’ve got my fingers crossed for a glow version, as aside from being awesome, it would make the mould line much less prominent. But we’ll just have to wait and see.

She-Hulk is a good purchase for fans of the character. For more casual fans like myself, she’s got a great colour scheme that stands out nicely on the superheroes shelf.

Monday, 11 July 2016

POP! Heroes – Armoured Batman (The Dark Knight Rises)

Series: POP! Heroes
Company: Funko
Year: 2016

The Cold War cast an ugly shadow over the collective unconscious of the world for decades, but few decades showcased it as much as the 1980s. In the dying days of the conflict, the threat of nuclear annihilation was at an all-time high as America and Russia strove to outdo one another in an arms race. The mood of paranoia inspired artists across all manner of media. Amebix channelled it into a raging blend of punk and metal, John Carpenter made Escape From New York and Frank Miller funnelled it into a radical reinvention of the Dark Knight. 

The resulting book, The Dark Knight Returns was fantastic. But it’s also become a bit of an albatross around the neck of the Batman mythos; it was revolutionary when it came out in 1986, restoring Batman to a menacing, dark figure in the public eye, and showcasing some decidedly subversive takes on numerous other DC stalwarts. Naturally, it spawned a bunch of imitators – and as often happens, the imitations were far inferior to the original. They made everything as DARK AND EDGY as possible, without actually paying attention to the many other elements that had gone into making the book so readable. Perhaps the most extreme example of this is the recent Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. If you’ve read the comic and seen the movie, you know exactly what I’m talking about.     

But this year marks the comic’s 30th anniversary, and so now we’re getting a bunch of merchandise based on it – as well as a second sequel to the comic. Mattel has already pumped out some action figures, DC Direct have re-released some of the figures they put out earlier in the century (feels weird to be saying that) and now Funko has seemingly out of the blue released a series of POPs. So today we look at the (masked) version of the Armored Batman POP. 

Frank Miller’s art always had stylised elements, but by the time he drew The Dark Knight Returns, he had really sort of come into his own. I don’t love his art style – especially in more recent years – but it was unlike most other stuff out there at the time. Much as I love George Perez and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, their style probably wouldn’t have worked for this story. The advantage of this is that it mostly lends itself to Funko’s stylised look rather well.

The relatively simple helmet is certainly accurate to the comics, but the contrast with the highly detailed body is maybe just a little too extreme; it works in the comic, due to the proportionate size of the head, but here it’s accentuated. Batman’s older, wrinkled face can be seen beneath the mask – Superman eventually breaks off the mask during the fight, and so there’s also an unmasked version available, if you’d prefer. It’s cool and all, but even with the slightly odd look of the helmet, I’m happier with this version.

Batman doesn’t traditionally use guns, but every now and then he makes an exception. On this occasion, he’s got some kind of sonic weapon – I don’t remember all the details, but I think it gives Supes a splitting headache or something. We’d see a very similar design in The Dark Knight Rises, when Bats carried around that EMP gun.    

Lastly, the body is covered with body armour that would have looked quite futuristic in the 1980s. It’s not how the future has turned out, of course, but it’s still cool. Lots of Michelin Man-esque padding, rather than straight-up metal sheets like the BvS redesign.  

Ultimately, since there’s already been around 12,000 Batman POPs previously released, it’s great to see that this wave doesn’t just consist of simple repaints. While I don’t think it’s as good as the Armored Batman from the Legion of Collector’s box, it’s a good tribute to a classic comic series, and a solid addition to any DC-oriented POP collection.