Sunday, 15 April 2018

POP! WWE – Mick Foley

I wrote about The Undertaker just over a week ago, and I would say he’s still my all-time favourite wrestler. But Mick Foley comes a very close second. 

Best known for his stints as Mankind, Cactus Jack and Dude Love with the WWF/WWE, Mick Foley was a hardcore wrestler for years before he ever entered the public eye. Yeah, wrestling’s not “real”. Vince McMahon admitted it way back in 1989, we all know that. Give yourself a pat on the back for being so edgy as to say it out loud. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t hurt yourself doing it – just take a look at this video of Undertaker and Mankind if you doubt that’s the case.

And boy oh boy, has he destroyed his body in service the industry over the years. A missing ear, missing teeth, a ton of concussions, busted ribs, burns…this doesn’t even begin to cover the workaday injuries he accrued from doing things like thumbtack matches, barbed wire, beatings with steel chairs and just generally being thrown around the rings. In terms of how all this impacts on a person day-to-day, you should check out this episode of Celebrity Wife Swap from a few years ago.

Yet Foley has emerged from all of this punishment with an impressive lack of guile and cynicism about the industry. Whereas other legends like Rick Flair and Hardcore Holly are seemingly keen to slam everyone they’ve ever worked with, Foley seems to be a genuinely pleasant and likeable character both onstage and behind the scenes. So let’s take a look at the POP! 

It seems like a slightly odd choice to go with a generic Mick Foley as the first release of the character, but maybe he’s just more identifiable in this persona to modern viewers. Either way, this POP is instantly recognisable as Mick. He’s in fairly casual mode here, presumably styled on his post-wrestling days. His shirt has a smiley face, which is a nice reference to Mankind’s “Have a Nice Day” slogan, and he’s wearing a flannelette cut-off over the top, along with some white sneakers. Most people's wives wouldn't let them out of the house dressed like this, but for Mick Foley it's apparently the ideal thing to wear when appearing before millions of people on TV. Indeed, it's probably not unfair to say that Mick Foley looks an awful lot like plenty of the dads who watch WWE, which may explain a few things about his enduring appeal.  

Longtime fans will also recognise that casual Mick here looks pretty close to Cactus Jack, and it wouldn’t be too hard to repaint him accordingly. Or just not…and call him Cactus Jack anyway. 

All pretty good so far, but there is one major flaw – he’s got both his ears! Granted, in real life Mick Foley has part of his right ear, but it’s definitely not complete. Given the unlikelihood of their reusing the mold for other characters – except perhaps Cactus Jack or Dude Love – it seems like a fairly big oversight.

This issue aside, it’s good to see Mick Foley get POP representation. He’s a key figure in WWE’s history, both past and present. Hopefully we see a Mankind figure in the near future too -- maybe in a 2-pack with another iteration of the Undertaker, given their longstanding rivalry.  

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Novella Update 3: Cover Art Revealed!

Given that today is Friday the 13th, I thought it would be an appropriate time to reveal the cover art for Lost Tunnels. If you’ve got no idea what I’m talking about, read this and this first to get filled in.
All up to speed? Good. So without further ado…

I asked an old friend of mine, Sophie Berry-Porter, to create this particular artwork for me. We’ve known each other since primary school, but this is the first time we’ve collaborated on a large-scale project together. She's an extremely talented artist and actress, and I'm honoured that she agreed to tackle this artwork for me. 

I gave her this brief:

Which she then turned into this:

I’m thrilled with the result, and even more excited about getting the whole thing finished and released now. Edits are still underway, and the full layout for the cover will need to be done, but things are still looking on track for a June release. 

Watch this space, the LBC Facebook page and the LBC Twitter for more updates as they come -- and in the meantime, I hope you enjoy this preview for the final book! 

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

POP! WWE – Jake the Snake

My wife and I watched The Resurrection of Jake the Snake on Netflix the other night. Those of you who’ve seen it know it makes for some rough viewing. If you haven’t though, I thoroughly recommend giving it a watch. You don’t have to be particularly interested in wrestling or anything; it’s just a well-made sports documentary which (fortunately) has a happy ending.

I wasn’t much of a fan previously, but this was more to do with timing. Jake the Snake was a huge presence in the WWF during the 80s and 90s, but he left the company in 1997. I didn’t really start watching until 1999, so my first experience of him came in Mick Foley’s first book Have a Nice Day, which tells a few interesting stories about his gimmick. 

Never having been a huge fan of snakes, I didn’t think a lot about him in the intervening years. But I’ve had a renewed interest in wrestling over the last few months, and so I’ve been digging back through some of the history of WWF/WWE. Then the POP got released, and a friend mentioned the documentary was on Netflix…well, I’m definitely a fan now. Better late to the party than never.  

I’ve been watching a few clips online, and the man had HUGE charisma and stage presence. Not to mention that he popularised the DDT, a manoeuvre that’s so ubiquitous in wrestling these days it’s often taken for granted. It’s easy to say these things in hindsight, but his is a name that really should be thrown around in the same way as Hulk Hogan, the Ultimate Warrior or Andre the Giant. Undertaker is a frightening, because but Jake the Snake gives off this terrifying serial killer vibe that really helped sell his character.   

Sadly, a few different issues derailed him over the years – company politics, drug issues and drinking. The usual stuff that causes a lot of wrestlers problems, but on a much grander scale. Fortunately, he managed to get his life under control a few years ago with the help of Diamond Dallas Page, and at time of writing he seems to be doing quite well. 

The POP is an excellent sculpt, complete with a giant signature snake draped around his shoulders.  His hair is a little thicker than it was in real life, but that’s just the way the format works. The only real downside is that he can’t turn his head too far, due to the mullet. Paint is really good too! The snakeskin pattern on his boots is well-replicated, as is the Medusa-esque portrait on his right thigh. Granted, these are tampos, but the regular paint lines are pretty clean as well. He’s one of the best I’ve bought in ages.  

There’s also a Chase version of Jake; the sculpt is the same, but the tights are blue instead of green, and the snake is a slightly different colour too. This is a good Chase. It’s fun but not essential to consider your collection complete, which is a marked contrast to this upcoming Chase*. Whichever version you get, Jake the Snake is an excellent POP. He’s essential for any wrestling fan – and maybe even if you’re not, but you enjoyed the documentary and want to make sure he gets a few royalties to better look after himself.

*I’ve sunk a lot of money in Funko products over the last 5 years, but sometimes I feel like they actively hate their fans.  

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Minifigure Mini-Review #6: Firework Guy

In the last review, we looked at Cactus Girl, and today we’re taking a look at Firework Guy, who's also from Series 18. On the face of it, this is a pretty fun costume. But I can tell you exactly who would wear this sort of costume to a party, and it's not fun at all. 

The main sort of person to buy this costume would be an ageing uncle, invited out of obligation and with the secret wish that he wouldn’t come. He’d carry on like he was the life of the party – but in truth, he’d forget to bring to bring a present, proceed to drink too much and then embarrass everyone with crass rocket/penis analogies. 

When he finally poured himself into a cab, hours after the party had finished and all the other guests had left, the hosts would secretly hope they’d seen him for the last time.  

Arriving home to his one-bedroom apartment in a bad part of town, he’d burst into tears because he’s still not quite over the wife that left him all those years ago for a much better guy. Deep down, he knows how little other people like him – at work, down at the pub, and worst of all, his former family. The moment his kids turned 18 and they didn’t have court-ordered visits anymore, they stopped showing up. He’s staring at the wrong end of 50, all of his ambitions have amounted to nothing and the nights can be so lonely. 

Fireworks may light up the sky, but they can never truly brighten the darkness within your soul. 

Aside from that, Firework Guy is a pretty solid Minifigure. Just make sure you keep him away from the liquor cabinet at any Lego party he might attend.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Minifigure Mini-Review #5: Cactus Girl

Minifigures are one of my favourite things about Lego. Collecting them helps stem the encroach of the void within and it’s a huge source of joy for me to see what they come up with each series. Well, Series 18 is finally hitting Australian shelves – and boy oh boy is it a great one. 

It’s a Costume Party theme! Today, we take a look at Cactus Girl!

My immediate thought upon seeing this Minifigure was to think of a Cactuar from Final Fantasy, and I’m sure I’m not the only one to notice it. Beyond this, the Minifigure does exactly what it says on the tin – it’s a girl in a Cactus costume.

But let’s get a little more granular. She’s specifically dressed as a saguaro, which is often thought of as being the archetypal cactus thanks to a ton of American movies that feature shots of the desert. However, there are actually 1750 known species of cactus, so it’s kind of selfish of the saguaro to hog all the attention. Yeah, we know your flower is the state wildflower of Arizona! So what?  

The arms are posable, so can be rendered at the jaunty angle of your choice. I prefer mine both up, but I’m sure you can change things according to your specific taste. Cactus Girl also comes with two faces – one happy and one anxious. I’m not totally sure on why they’ve done this, but it’s always nice to have an extra option, particularly if you like to mix and match parts.

The only real letdown is that there’s no paint on her spines. It’s understandable why they didn’t do it, but it detracts very slightly from the final effect. Nonetheless, Cactus Girl is a solid figure, and would easily be a series highlight in any other series. She’s not the standout figure from this particular series, but I do like her very much nonetheless.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

POP! WWE – The Undertaker

I was a bit of a wrestling fan around the middle years of high school. Not a massive one, but I enjoyed the action, the over-the-top personalities and the campy tone. This was the “Attitude Era” of WWE, which was an interesting time for the company. The departure of a number of big stars like Hulk Hogan had left them floundering a little, and they were trying to figure out where they sat in the market – were they aiming to bring in a new generation of kid fans, or where they trying to cater to their existing and now-adult fans?

As might be expected, they kind of went for both, with predictably weird results. There was a big emphasis on being EDGY and DARK and SEXY, which meant kids were pretty keen to watch while their parents – and older fans – were often less than approving. It was a big financial success for the company…but a lot of really hasn’t aged very well. Still, a number of modern wrestling legends like Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H and rose to popularity during this era. Modern day golden boy John Cena also debuted shortly after its end, so I guess you could tack him in there too.

But the wrestler that always leapt out at me was The Undertaker. As a teen who was interested in kind of dark and goth-y things but hadn’t yet properly discovered heavy metal or horror movies, the Undertaker was a bit of a pointer in the right direction. A gateway drug, even. So when I stumbled across this POP a few weeks ago, I thought I should add him to the horror shelf.  

This POP looks to be based on ‘Taker in his "Phenom" phase, a look he debuted in 2004. It was a bit of a hybrid of a number of his previous looks, essentially functioning as an edgier update of his original mortician look. It was a great choice; for fans like myself who haven’t kept up on all of the minutiae of the WWE’s lore, it serves as a good generic look for the character.   

But it’s not perfect; in person, The Undertaker is extremely physically imposing and visually interesting – but this hasn’t always translated well to his toys, because he’s pretty much just dressed in different shades of black. This toy suffers from a little of that, with the only real differentiation between different areas of black being the gloss on his coat to give it a leather look. Nonetheless, it’s a well-sculpted figure which allows him to be instantly identified – something that I don’t feel can be said for quite a few of the other WWE POPs.

Undertaker here was apparently released all the way back in 2014, but I managed to stumble on him in a Sydney record store. He’s probably about due for another iteration, perhaps one focused on his "American Bad Ass" era. Until then, this is a solid piece for the casual and dedicated Undertaker fan alike.  

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Lego Review: Creator 3in1 Modular Winter Vacation (31080)

Creator is great at slice-of-life stuff, frequently accompanied by a healthy dose of the fantastic. Most of the sets would look great in a full-blown City set-up, but they also work as standalone dioramas for your desk. The Lakeside Lodge that I bought a couple of years ago is a great example, and this one probably exemplifies it even more effectively.

Today though, we take a look at the Modular Winter Vacation. The primary build of the set – seen in these photos – is essentially a chalet. Originally developed in the Swiss Alps, you can now find them dotted all over snowfields around the world. In real-life, its angled roof serves a practical function; snow naturally slides off, preventing build-up and reducing maintenance in the process. Sadly, in real life a couple who can afford to rent or own it would likely be extremely high maintenance.  

However, Lego is free of real-life WASP-ish social concerns and so the minifigures included in this set look friendly enough. There’s a guy and a girl – presumably a couple, though you can insert your own narrative here – equipped with skis and a snowboard respectively. You can make either of them bust out a sick 1080 if you want. Neither of them warrants a lot of comment; they’re both dressed in appropriate snow gear but they’re not particularly exciting. Though in a nice touch, the guy also has a frightened face printed on him too, which is great if you want to send him down the sloping roof of the house.

The chalet itself is great fun to build; a deceptively simple design that looks quite impressive, effectively creating the illusion of fallen snow and a cosy cottage. There’s two exterior elements too; a snow-capped tree and a bench for lunch.

The interior isn’t as great, but it looks generic enough that it could be a place to stay, a cafĂ© or perhaps even an equipment rental store. For myself, I’m sticking with accommodation, particularly as that’s how it looks from the front.

On the roof, there’s also an area for the holidaying couple to sip on schnapps, beneath the light of a lantern. An owl also perches on the balcony, presumably drawn by the heat – and here we move to an unusual point.

Towards the end of building this set – actually, pretty much when I got to building the owl – I stumbled upon a subconscious reason as to why I may have wanted this set in the first place. Sure, it’s pretty cool in its own right, and the build featuring the Yeti looks really fun. But I think an underlying reason I wanted it was because the main build looks a lot like the way I used to picture Whitley Strieber’s cabin in Communion. Those of you who’ve read the book or seen the movie will also know that owls play a significant role in the narrative, which makes its inclusion particularly poignant. As you can see in this link, it doesn’t look much like the real thing. But I first read the book around ’98 or ’99, and I don’t think I ever saw a picture of his cabin until ’10 or ’11.

There are two other ways to build the set – a bobsled launching point, and a public toilet being attacked by a Yeti. I like both of them, but my main issue with them is that they’re sort of devoid of context on their own. Ideally I’d buy three separate copies of this set and build them all together, but in the meantime I think I’ll just maintain this build for display.

Even without the (admittedly tenuous) Communion connection, this is a really fun set. It doesn’t have a lot of other sets to go with it at the moment, but hopefully there will be more snow-themed sets in the near future. It’s an area that could have plenty of potential and hasn’t been widely explored outside of the of the Arctic-themed City sets a few years ago. Highly recommended.