Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Lego Review: Spinjutzu Training 70606

Theme: The Lego Ninjago Movie
Year: 2017
Price: $15AUD

I’ll be honest; I’m pretty ambivalent to the Ninjago theme as a whole. There were some very cool sets in the 2011 and 2012 releases, back when it was kind of a He-Man and the Masters of the Universe setting, but with Ninjas as the heroes. But it’s since moved into more heavily sci-fi territory, and I don’t really like the tech-heavy look they’ve gone with for the Ninjas. If I had my way, Lego would instead update the Ninja sets from the 90s, which were originally a sub-line of Castle.

However, money talks and AFOL bullshit walks – there’s no doubt that Ninjago has been a huge success for Lego. It’s spawned a huge amount of spinoff material, including books, clothes, TV series and a theatrically released movie. For any theme that isn’t City to run for 7 years continuously is a huge achievement.

As might be expected, the aforementioned film – The Lego Ninjago Movie – got its own series of building sets, which is where the subject of today’s review stems from. But if I’m not that fussed on  Ninjago, why did I pick this set up?

Well, despite my ambivalence to Ninjago specifically, I am a bit of a ninja tragic. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles helped spark my interest as a kid, but it quickly grew into its own thing. I think it was the black outfits that did it, to be quite honest. Also probably the combination of myth, folklore and flat-out pseudohistory that surrounds the subject. See also: Men in Black.   

As the name of the set implies, this looks like a small training dojo; it’s a total martial arts film cliché, which I find very endearing. There’s four primary elements and two minifigures:
  • a Wing Chun-style training dummy – ideal for practicing close quarters combat
  • a bop-bag style dummy, complete with samurai helmet
  • a katana rack, for safe weapon storage
  • a “shrine”. Presumably, this is where students bow upon entering and exiting the dojo.
  • Kai (the red ninja)
  • Zane (the white ninja)

The shrine is probably my favourite of the bunch. As a corner piece, it could be slotted into other sets easily enough, and it has some nice touches; the scroll on the wall and the red lantern look great, and the sides provide storage for two more weapons.

The minifigures are also pretty solid. The white ninja is particularly striking (if impractical for “real” ninja missions). While I think they should have stuck to solid red for Kai, the added black does make for a nice contrast.  My only real misgivings are about how the cowl has been split into two pieces now. I liked the turban-style mask from the original sets, as well as the armoured masks that were introduced later on. The new ones look pretty good if you can align them properly, but I don’t feel they stand up to play quite as well.  

Nonetheless, this is a nice back-to-basics set. It’s well-priced and can be enjoyed entirely separately from its larger franchise. My main disappointment is that it doesn’t include a traditional black-clad Ninja, but this seems like a relatively small gripe. 

Sunday, 18 February 2018

The 90s Poster Rack -- Part 1

The arrival of 90s nostalgia has been interesting for me. I had a great time as a kid, but a lot of the major cultural touchstones have left me a little cold in hindsight. I mean, I hate Titanic. If I never heard My Heart Will Go On again, it would be way too soon.  

But something I do remember fondly is the posters. Many of them were not particularly good, as you'll see below. But back then you could walk into just about any store on earth – no matter what else they sold – and there would be a display rack of posters available for sale. Reasonably priced and presumably borderline bootleg, they enjoyed incredible ubiquity while offering no discernible for why this should be so. Were lots of companies just getting good deals on printing at the time? It’s a true Unsolved Mystery.
In this feature – the first part of several – let’s take a look at some of the most common items you might see on one of these 90s poster racks.

“Trippy” posters

Remember Magic Eye? Well, how about if it used even more terrible CGI and espoused the virtues of marijuana, LSD or mushrooms? Yeah. Pretty ugly.

I guess maybe this was part of that 60s revival that happened in the 90s. If you look at the first couple of series of POGs or Glo Caps, you see very similar imagery there, too. It was weird for a suburban kid, so I guess it was one way of marking yourself out as different.

“Hilarious” Posters

Hahaha, look at how witty I am for having this poster on my wall. Mildly amusing at first glance and less funny with each successive look, these were an essential addition to any teen’s bedroom. Often found in sharehouses to this day.

Movie Posters

In contrast to the broad range of posters in other categories, movie posters were only available in two varieties – Pulp Fiction or Trainspotting.  

New Age Posters

In the 90s, New Age ideas were a lot more prevalent. The reasons for this are complex and multi-layered, but you really can’t discount the influence of The X-Files. Fuelling a whole cottage industry of weird shit in its wake, posters like this were just the tip of the merchandising iceberg. Often overlapping with the aforementioned trippy posters, these could sometimes engulf up to half a poster rack.

Arty Posters

Showcase how creative you are with ART™ on your wall. Choose from Giger, Escher or Dali. For maximum effect, get all three.

Did you/do you have any of these on your walls? Shout out in the comments below. More to come in part 2!

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

POP! 8-Bit: Freddy Krueger (NES)

A couple of weeks ago, I took a look at the NES version of Jason. Although I didn’t originally intend to, once I had Jason on the shelf it was only a matter of time until I picked up Freddy as well.

Unlike Jason, Freddy’s sculpt is more or less consistent with the game. This isn’t so surprising, as Freddy’s look hasn’t varied as much from film to film. However, he does share the same idiosyncratic colouring; rather than his traditional red and green striped sweater, he’s depicted with yellow and orange colouring. I’m not really clear on why they went for these colours when developing it, but such were the mysteries of 1980s programming and art directors.

As with Jason, the release of this figure is likely due to NECA. Following on from their 2013 Jason convention exclusive, they released a matching Freddy. It doesn’t seem to have taken off in the same way as Jason did, but it still makes for an easy colour variant. 

The two of them look great together – though I must note that Freddy's fedora makes him appear significantly taller than Jason. This would ordinarily be a big no-no, but such is the nature of the format. And since I plan to keep these guys in-box, it's not so noticeable. 

Funko’s commitment to horror since they started the POP line has been quite admirable. I sometimes wish there weren’t such big gaps between releases – but the fact that they’re still pumping out so many unusual things after so many years continues to impress me. Much like Jason, this is a niche but entertaining figure. Given the rapidness with which these figures were released, I wouldn’t be surprised if we eventually see an 8-Bit Leatherface or Michael Myers, based on their appearances in their respective video games. 

Novella update: Feb 2018

As some of you may be aware, I’ve been working on a horror novella for a while now. The writing process been quite extended for a relatively short piece of work – certainly longer than I would like. But as any fellow writers will know, the creative process is often beset by false starts, frustration and of course the regular interruptions of day-to-day life. We can’t all punch out 2,000 words or more a day like Stephen King!

A celebratory beer as I sent out the test reader copies
But better late than never. I’ve been through a number of drafts, and the manuscript is currently with a few test readers for their feedback. It’s pretty nerve-wracking to throw things out there to an audience like this; I know I can write and create content, but that’s not necessarily the same thing as stringing together a cohesive story.

Still, the wheels are turning. I plan to implement changes over the next couple of weeks, and I’ve got a good friend of mine working on the cover illustration at the moment. I saw the WIP over the last weekend and it is looking fantastic. Now the challenge is for me to have the final product live up to the cover!

Incidentally, the novella was originally known as The Tunnel. I’ve since discovered that there is an Australian horror film under that name. To avoid confusion (and potentially lawsuits!) the current title is now Lost Tunnels.

Barring any major disasters, I hope to have everything up on Kindle sometime in late April or early May. I’m still trying to decide whether I’ll make preorders available to order online or not. Either way, as the milestones come, I’ll post about them on here.

If you’re particularly keen, you’ll probably see things first on social media – so you can follow me at the following locations. More updates to come soon!

Twitter – @lupinebookclub

Instagram – @lupinebookclub

Monday, 12 February 2018

Transformers Generations – Power of the Primes: Liege Maximo w/Skullgrin

The last few years of Transformers Generations have been fantastic fun. Combiners have returned, Headmasters showed up in full force, and even a couple of Targetmasters have made cheeky appearances. Which brings us to the theme for 2018 – Power of the Primes.

Drawing on elements of Combiner Wars and Titan Masters (albeit indirectly), Power of the Primes also sees the return of the Pretenders, one of the more unusual gimmicks of the late G1 run. Now Headmasters, Targetmasters and Combiners are easy enough to slot into a canon explanation – but Pretenders really defy the (admittedly loose) in-universe logic. In the old storyline, a bunch of Transformers decided to kit themselves out in semi-articulated shells to better fit in and pass in human society. In principle this is fine, but I’m pretty sure no human was ever fooled by these designs.

Power of the Primes appears to have retained the names of the old Pretenders characters – but now the suits are repurposed as armour for the Prime Masters, as opposed to being independent entities. Who are the Prime Masters, you ask? Well, they’re similar in play pattern terms to Titan Masters; the Legends-, Deluxe- and Leader-class figures in the lines have slots that the Prime Masters can slot into, in order to provide a power boost. I guess it’s not totally dissimilar to the role of Mini-Cons in the Armada and Energon lines, though they don’t unlock new action features; it’s more cosmetic. In theory, you could pop the head off a Titans Return character and put a Prime Master in its place, though it would look a little weird.

In the mythos, they’re miniature robots that harness the power of the Primes, who are sort of the progenitors – gods even – of the Transformers race. Size really doesn’t matter, I guess.

Liege Maximo here is sort of a new character – there’s quite a mythos to the name itself, but it’s not totally clear how much of it applies to this toy. Presumably some of the tie-in media will fill these gaps in, but to me he seems a little small to be quite so…grand.

The Skullgrin armour was the bigger draw for me. It’s purple, which already puts it on my to-buy list, but it’s also one of the most heavy metal designs a Transformer has had in recent memory. A gigantic horned skull for a head, battle armour and a gigantic claw are all winning elements, and definitely help the figure pop on the shelf. There’s an impressive attention to detail on the sculpt too; even the interior panel has been decorated. If it had been totally blank, I don’t think anyone would have minded, and it’s little touches like this that keep me coming back to the line.  

That said, he’s not perfect. Articulation is limited to the arms swinging up and down, and the gun handle at his feet isn’t ideal for the look. The gun mode itself (not pictured) is kind of weak too, looking exactly like a Transformer lying on its face.   

Liege Maximo/Skullgrin is ultimately okay, and has left me with mixed feelings about the return of Pretenders. It hardly seems to have been a much-loved gimmick among the fanbase, and one must ask if design time and tooling might have been better spent elsewhere.

While I picked up a whole bunch of Titan Masters based on a mix of nice pricepoint, fun play pattern and good visual design, these figures are a much more mixed bag. The other two figures in this wave look horrendously ugly. Future waves? I’ll have to wait until I see them in person to make purchase decisions.  

Friday, 2 February 2018

POP! 8-bit – Raphael

Picking your favourite Ninja Turtle is like picking your favourite child – that is, people will judge you for it, but you should definitely know who it is in case you’re ever in a Sophie’s Choice situation. Who's mine? Well, as you may have guessed by the title and picture, Raphael is my favourite of the TMNT.

As a kid, I spent many hours at my friend Rohan’s place playing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game for the NES. If you have never played it, rest assured that it is a thoroughly frustrating experience. While not of the same difficulty as Battletoads, the game is still routinely unfair to the player – a deadly combination of the developers thinking they were making a game to suck quarters and flat-out bad design.

That said, we did have a lot of fun with it; we were too young to realise that some games were simply poorly made and we were both Turtle-obsessed. It had a cool soundtrack too! So when Funko announced that they were making the Turtles as part of their 8-Bit line, I thought I’d pick up Raph here as a tribute to those more innocent days.

Raph has a nice chunky feel. Though made up of more individual pieces than the average regular POP, the 8-bit figures have a real heft to them, and don’t feel quite as delicate as some of the newer POPs doing the rounds. While not an exact match for the look of the game, the style is great, too – it feels like a callback to the vinyl art toys that Funko was aping when it first came out with the POP line. I could see a few people who aren’t necessarily fans of the POP look picking this figure up.  

There’s not a lot of paint; most of the figure is simply cast in the appropriate colours. The only real paint is around the mouth and on his sais. It’s a little sloppy, but taken as a whole I’m quite happy with it.
In a world where there are literally hundreds of Turtles figures available, this isn’t particularly essential, but it is an amusing novelty. In my case, it’s a purchase driven out of a misplaced sense of nostalgia. Now if only it also glowed in the dark...    

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

POP! 8-Bit: Jason Voorhees (NES version)

Horror video games have a long, and often trashy history. For every Resident Evil, there’s at least three more crappy cash-ins that simultaneously typify the worst about video games and horror.

1989’s Friday the 13th for the NES is one of the latter. It’s acquired a cult following, but it really wasn’t well-received at the time – or even afterwards*. Developer LJN was notorious for releasing terrible licensed video games for the NES (including a very so-so adaptation of A Nightmare on Elm Street), which have mostly been lost to history. Yet here we are in 2018 holding a piece of official Friday the 13th video game merchandise – what a world we live in!

Part of Funko’s relatively new 8-bit subline, Jason is designed to look as though he’s stepped straight out of a mid-to-late 80s video game. However, his design isn’t strictly accurate; he appears to be an 8-bit version of his Freddy vs Jason self, with a jacket and stray hairs on the side of his head. But he is coloured to match the look of the NES game.

Now, you would be right in saying that purple and blue are not very “Jason” colours**, but the 8-bit era of gaming used plenty of idiosyncratic artwork. It’s just the nature of art meeting technology, with both often coming up short in the process.

I suspect its release is in large part due to NECA. Y’see, in 2013 NECA released a glow-in-the-dark version of Jason as a convention exclusive. As you might have guessed, that Jason was styled to look just like he does in the NES game. It was very well received by fans (eventually getting a slightly altered retail release) and sparked new interest in the game. There hasn't been a ton of merchandise since, but there's definitely been an upturn in what's been produced. Well done to Funko for riding this decidedly unusual trend.

While I’ve seen customs of the original Jason POP painted to match the game, this is not a figure I really expected to see mainstream release. It's great in or out of the box, a distinctive piece for your shelf that captures a fringe part of both Friday the 13th fandom. My only real complaint is that he doesn’t glow!

*The Angry Video Game Nerd had quite a bit to say about it back in 2006.

**There’s also a version in regular colours, which seems to be the more widely available of the two. This NES version is a Gamestop exclusive in the USA. You can also get a Freddy in both regular and NES colours too.