Saturday, 16 November 2013

Funko POP! Plague Doctor Review

Company: Funko

Series: POP! Games (Assassin's Creed)

The Background

During the time of the black plague, many doctors adopted a distinctive uniform – a bird-faced mask, accompanied by a thick leather coat. While more than a little disconcerting to the modern eye, these distinctive costumes were essentially a crude version of a modern-day hazmat suit.

Germs and disease transmission were not fully understood at the time, but their coats served as a means to insulate doctors against the infected patients that they visited. The nosecones were filled with spices and pleasant-smelling flowers, with the idea that the sweet smells would ward off airborne disease (though as would later be discovered, the plague was not airborne).  They also often carried a long stick, which was used for prodding patients to examine them, rather than touching them directly.
Plague doctors have been getting a bit of attention over the last few years. They featured quite prominently in Assassin’s Creed 2 and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, as background characters in the main game and as a skin for multiplayer. A co-worker also informs me that they’ve appeared in an episode of True Blood, in a flashback.  

My own experience with plague doctors dates back to 1999ish, when I came across this picture in a history textbook at school. The book gave very little context for the image, and I remember feeling a curious combination of being simultaneously disturbed and fascinated. It definitely stuck with me, though – in 2010 I got a tattoo of that same image on my right shoulder.  

But plague doctor-related stuff is still relatively uncommon, so I was pretty pleased when I saw that Funko were releasing the Plague Doctor from Assassin’s Creed as part of their POP! Games series. The other characters (The Assassins Altair, Ezio, Connor and Edward) are neither here nor there to me. No, this was bought solely on the basis of being a plague doctor.

The Packaging

This is in the same basic style as all the POP!s have been – greyish box, with a cartoon of the figure on the side and front. All the other characters in the series are pictured on the back. There’s also some Animus-style details added in the background, which is keeping in the theme of the release.

Funko boxes are pretty neither here nor there to me, as they all end up in the bin anyway. But this one struck a chord with me and I seriously considered keeping the Doctor MIB – not something I do often. However, habit won out and I opened him within minutes.  I still have the box as well, and may do something with the art on it.

If you do display yours MIB, you probably already know that Funko boxes tend to use a fairly cheap cardboard and get banged-up pretty easily. Just be careful when storing.   


I’m quite satisfied with the sculpting on the whole. The key feature – the mask – looks good, with little lines of detail etched in where they probably could have got away with making a flat sculpt (e.g. the mouth, the cheeks). I also like the strap on the back of the head. I wouldn’t have missed it if it wasn’t present, but it’s a nice little touch. There’s also some subtle detailing on the robe and the gloves, all of which enhance the overall look, rather than being distracting.

I’m not sure how closely it resembles the in-game character (though from memory, it’s not a bad likeness), but as I mentioned above, I didn’t buy this for the Assassin’s Creed aspects, so matching the exact appearance wasn’t too important for me. Mileage may vary for more dedicated fans.  

There aren’t really accessories per se; however, he does have a syringe filled with a green fluid moulded to his right hand. Articulation is virtually non-existent. His head swivels on a peg, and that’s it. Still, Funko toys are display pieces, not action figures, so he doesn’t lose any marks for that.   
Funko does quite a good job of cuteifying iconic characters. But while the Plague Doctor is certainly cutesy, I wouldn’t say he’s cute. I don’t find him unsettling, but others certainly have, and I can understand why – I was definitely unsettled the first time I saw a plague doctor outfit.

I’ve bought quite a few POPs since the beginning of the year, and the paint jobs can be very hit or miss. This one is probably a bit below average for Funko. The whole fig appears to be moulded in green, with details picked out in paint, primarily brown. There’s a bit of slop onto the robe, which does give the impression that he’s been out working, I suppose.

The metallic buttons on the collar have also been done quite questionably. At least one seems to have gone around the button, rather than on it, though it’s been quite washed out. The buttons on the coat are also a little off.  
But the main thing to look out for is the goggles. Around the eyes, I can see that there’s been slop from the black detailing – which has then been less than subtly covered up with almost-matching paint. It’s not a dealbreaker, but it is disappointing.

If this were some other companies, I think I’d be quite annoyed. But I’ve come to almost expect this from Funko. It’s an area where they could really lift their game, but it still doesn’t wreck my overall enjoyment of the figure.
As for variants, I’ve only come across one in the Assassin’s Creed series thus far – Ezio in his black robe – but I’m kind of hoping for a glow in the dark variant of the Plague Doctor. I haven’t yet dipped my toes into the obscure waters of Funko variants as yet, but a release like that might just tempt me. 


"The mask isn't for you - it's to protect the people that you care about!"

I can see the Plague Doctor becoming a bit of a cult favourite with POP! collectors, whether they’re Assassin’s Creed fans or not. Most of my POP!s are superheroes, so he gains a lot of points simply by virtue of being different.  The sculpting is solid, even if the paint isn’t, and he’s an endearing little fellow. The longer I have him, the more I like him. He makes a fine addition to the collection.


Friday, 8 November 2013

Ninjas in Training – Leonardo and Donatello (Playmates Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)

Ninjas in Training - Leonardo and Donatello

Series: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Company: Playmates
RRP: $15

Right before I was going to publish this review, I picked up Raphael and Michelangelo as well. They won’t get a review on their own, as everything I have said (good and bad) about Donnie and Leo below applies more or less equally across all four turtles. Just substitute the words “Raph” or “Mikey” at the appropriate juncture. The main difference for myself was that Raph and Mikey are my favourite turtles, and their weapons (sais and nunchaku) are smaller, so they're less likely to warp. If you’ve got any specific questions about them, please feel free to comment below.

The Background
I had many, many toys as a kid, but the first toyline I really “collected” was the 2003 Playmates TMNT series, when I was finishing up high school. I didn’t buy every figure, but there were only a handful from the first few waves that I didn’t get – one of which was the “Toddler Turtles” 4-pack. I think it was just too difficult to find, or by the time I did come across it, I either didn’t have the money or had simply moved on in my interests.

Flash forward to earlier this year, and I discovered that there was a new TMNT series (released late 2012), as well an accompanying toyline. What I’ve since watched of the new TV series is excellent, with my main criticism being that it’s a little too “monster-of-the-week” heavy.
The new TMNT toyline, on the other hand, is a bit of a mixed bag. The turtles themselves are excellent, but the supporting cast have been all over the place, with questionable scale being a particular issue. It’s been some time since I’ve gone back and looked at the ’03 figures closely, but these ones feel a little “cheaper” overall, in quality of plastic and paint.

I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but availability is also a problem over here in Australia, which adds to the difficulty of collecting. The turtles and Shredder (original) are easy to find, but there are some – like Cockroach Terminator – that I’ve never seen in the wild and a number of others that I’ve encountered only once or twice. But the line does have a lot of potential, and I hope that its various issues do get resolved eventually. 
But I recently came across word that “Ninjas in training” 2-packs were beginning to hit the stores in America. Never having been able to get the Toddler Turtles 4-pack, I was definitely keen to add these new versions to my small collection of TMNT figures. The next day, a search of my local Kmart uncovered a solitary Donnie and Leo, but no sign of Raph and Mikey.

The Packaging

Keeping in style with previous releases, the backing card is purple and green. I’ve got mixed feelings about this colour scheme, but it’s certainly eye-catching. As always with blister packs, the box is not collector friendly and will need to be chucked if you open it. MOC collectors shouldn’t have any complaints – the figures are nicely displayed, and you can see all of their accessories.

The Figures Themselves

It would have been pretty easy for Playmates to use the exact same mould for all four turtles, simply painting their bandannas a different colour. Fortunately, they haven’t taken this approach – each turtle is unique, even if their poses are quite similar. Looking closely, you’ll notice that all their chest shell pieces are unique too, just as they are on their older counterparts. It’s a subtle touch, but a nice one. 
Articulation is very minimal – the shoulders are swivel hinges, and the neck is cut. The legs on both figures are in locked poses. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the Marvel Superhero Squad figurines that were doing the rounds a few years ago, though these are cast in a harder plastic. There’s a cut across their bellies, but this seems to be the result of the figure being produced in a few different pieces and then stuck together. It’s not an ideal spot for the cut to be placed, but at least it’s in line with their shell plating.

Paint apps are very minimal – the turtle’s bandannas are actually moulded from separate plastic, not just painted on, as far as I can tell. Only their shells and eyes seem to really be painted, and these counts they’re both fine. A couple of highlights on the skin might have been nice, but I think Playmates is probably keeping the costs pretty low on this one.   

Donatello comes with a miniature version of his bo staff, and Leonardo comes with two toy swords, all of which are cast in beige plastic to look like wood. Some paint on the bandaged areas would have been nice, but it may have looked out of place -- I don't think any other characters in the range have paint apps on their weapons.


The weapons aren’t cast in super-soft plastic, but don’t be surprised if one or both of Leo’s swords are a little warped. I don’t think Donnie’s staff should give you any problems – it’s rounded and a little thicker, so it shouldn’t “wilt” in the same way.
I can see a lot of broken arms happening on these toys, as they’re quite thin and fragile. Be careful about who you give these to. And maybe have a replacement handy.

My last issue is a small one – a very small one, in fact. Donnie’s mouth is partially open, and you can see his distinctive gap tooth. However, they’ve decided not to put paint on it, which is slightly disappointing. Of course, if they had painted it I’d probably be complaining about paint slop… perhaps a closed mouth would have been preferable.   

These figures are okay. They’ve got a cute design, and they do look spiffy on your desk. They also look cool when paired up with their teenage counterparts. I was able to pick Leo and Donnie up for $10 (Edit: and as mentioned above, Raph and Mikey too) rather than the usual $15, and I was satisfied with them for that price – but $15 seems a little overpriced for these figures, even if there are two of them in the box. Put all four together (as Playmates previously did) and I think we would have had a more acceptable package, if not a total winner.  


Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Spring Loaded Holster RoboCop Review

Spring Loaded Holster RoboCop

Company: NECA

Series: RoboCop

RRP: approx. $29.95 AUD


The Background

On one level, RoboCop is a standard sci-fi action film, distinguished from dozens of others primarily by its cool-looking main character and a level of violence which still shocks almost three decades after release. On these merits alone, RoboCop would probably be considered a classic action film of the 1980s. 
But scratch the surface, and it holds up to deeper examination. Like most good sci-fi, it says a great deal about the time it was made, framed within a (mostly) believable future world. It is laden with social commentary, parody and religious symbolism, yet never forgets to entertain.

Last year was the 25th anniversary of the film’s original release, and as a result, a bunch of RoboCop merch began to appear on store shelves – NECA’s figures among them. NECA has released four figures in this series – Robocop, Battle-Damaged Robocop, Night Fighter Robocop, and the subject of today’s review, Spring Loaded Holster Robocop. The series isn't finished yet, either – a fifth is to come early next year, based on his appearance in the RoboCop NES videogame. With the upcoming remake next year, I suspect that there will still be more of Alex Murphy to come.
The Packaging
In June this year, I purchased Night Fighter RoboCop. The box art for that was great, an obvious and loving tribute to the Kenner RoboCop toyline, which was in turn based on the 1980s RoboCop cartoon. This packaging is a little plain, by contrast – it’s a standard NECA clamshell case, with the art consisting of some close-up details from RoboCop’s armour panels (chest and right leg, I believe) and helmet. It does the job, but it doesn’t “pop” for me. Still, I open all my figures, so the point becomes moot shortly after purchase.
The Sculpt and Articulation

The sculpt looks virtually identical to Night Fighter RoboCop, with the exception of the right thigh, which now acts a holster for his gun. This reuse is a good thing, as the sculpting on that toy was excellent. And now I’ve got a “regular” RoboCop in addition to the glow in the dark version, I’m noticing all sorts of little details on his sculpt that I hadn’t realised were present before, such as the Omnicorp logo on his left leg.  
The head and upper legs are ball-jointed, the knees and elbows are hinged, and the shoulders are swivel hinges. My favourite articulation feature comes in the form of the pistons on his ankles. Though the ankles are hinges only, the pistons actually move up and down within their casing as the ankles move. Just be gentle – they’re a thin plastic and could break easily in rough hands.
Overall, articulation is solid, but not spectacular. This would be a minus for some figures, but seems okay for RoboCop, given his rigid and…robotic…movements in the film.
The Paint
The paint work is quite good, for the most part. The original NECA RoboCop seemed to have the torso as a slightly different colour to the arms, but this looks to have been resolved here.
The armour isn’t actually plain silver either; it’s got some of the highlights that are seen in the movie paint job worked into it as well. I’m not quite sure how they pulled it off – it may be some kind of two-tone paint, I suppose – but it looks good. It’s also pretty smooth, though you’ll never mistake it for real metal.
However, the chinstrap area is another story. Some of the flesh-coloured paint around the mouth has spread to the black jaw. Fortunately, it’s not noticeable at a distance and it’s nothing that a pot of paint and a fine detail brush shouldn’t be able to fix.  

RoboCop comes with the same two accessories that he uses in the film – the Auto-9 pistol and the dataspike. The Auto-9 is made of a nice hard plastic, not the rubbery stuff that’s often used for toy weapons. Though the sculpt is a good one, I think it would have been better off with either a light metal drybrush or maybe a glossy black finish like his gloves/chinstrap/etc, rather than plain black plastic. Still, no real cause for complaint.
The dataspike is on a separate right hand, and looks more or less as it does in the film, with the hand in a clenched pose. Unfortunately there’s no Clarence Boddicker figure with removable throat, so re-enacting that part of the film will be a little tricky.    
Whether it’s an accessory or not may be up for debate, but the main feature of the figure is the right-thigh holster. This is one of his coolest features in the film, and it’s almost a little surprising that the original version of the toy didn’t include it. I like having the holster option, but I don’t think I’ll be using it all that often. It’s a little tricky to get the gun in there at the right angle, and similarly tricky to get out again – though it should be pointed out that I have quite large hands, and this may be part of the problem. As a purely aesthetic point, the inside is quite plain, just bare plastic. There are probably logistical reasons for this, but it was a little disappointing nonetheless.   
A removable helmet would be nice, but its absence was not a deal-breaker for me. In the original film, the mask’s removal acts as an important symbol of Alex Murphy reclaiming his humanity, but I still get a little disconcerted when I see him without it. It was, and remains, an impressively disturbing piece of prosthetics work. So removable helmet or no, mine would be getting displayed with it on. 
The biggest issue I had was with the right arm. The armour at the elbow was a little warped, bending outwards. It’s not particularly noticeable when the arm is bent, or pointed straight ahead, but when he’s got his arm hanging straight by his side, it’s quite obvious. It was one of the first things I noticed in the box, and had I been picking it up in-store instead of online, I would have looked for another one before purchase. Still, these are issues that can occur with softer plastic – one of the small “hooks” on his upper chest was also a little warped.   
The other main issue was the right knee. I’m not sure whether it’s because of the hollow thigh, but the right knee seems particularly stiff – I’ve been a little hesitant to bend it too far, as I don’t want to break it.
Alex Murphy, haunted by the ghosts of his past
As happy as I was (and am) with Night Fighter RoboCop, I’m pleased to have the “real” version joining Predator and Dutch on the shelves. Though he has a couple of issues, I’m still quite satisfied. I’m not sure if he’s completely identical to the previous versions, but he’s similar enough that I probably wouldn’t buy this one if I already had the original. But it if you’re after a RoboCop and don’t have money for the forthcoming Hot Toys version, this bad boy is ideal.
"You and me, Metalhead...we're going to clean up Detroit!"



Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Lego Review - The Werewolf (9463)

Set:  9463 – The Werewolf
Series: Monster Fighters
RRP: $29
Pieces: 243

Build Time: 1-1 ½ hours


The Background
Well, I know I said I didn’t think I was going to get any more of the Monster Fighters range – but the Kmart near my work still seems to have a whole bunch of in stock, and I am a bit of a sucker for werewolves. So a month or so ago, I found myself walking home from work with the kit tucked beneath my arm and an excited gleam on my face. A werewolf to accompany the Swamp Creature was an exciting prospect, as was the idea of having a regular minifigure-sized werewolf to accompany my giant Lego CHIMA werewolf.

The Minifigures

The Werewolf, front and side-on
When I first saw this kit’s Werewolf minifigure about a year ago, I was not particularly impressed. I had previously owned the Werewolf from the collectible minifigures (series 4), who was styled after the Lon Chaney Jr. Wolfman, and was quite endearing. This one is a little more Dog Soldiers in its approach, which was part of the reason for my caution. Non-standard heads are very hit and miss when it comes to minifigures. Also, oversized Wolverine claws? Even if they did glow in the dark, I wasn’t quite convinced. Though I prefer the wolf-man hybrid look in most other forms of media, I thought the 1940s approach was probably the better one to take when it came to Lego.
But almost a year and several close inspections later, I’ve changed my mind. As I’ve mentioned before, my Lego purchases tend to be very minifigure driven, and this one definitely fits that pattern. Of course, my love of all things glow in the dark definitely gives my overall enjoyment level a boost – I’ve changed my mind about the claws, and think they’re a nice little touch, and they do glow in a highly satisfying manner.

                                                              Major Quinton Steele

The Monster Fighter – Major Quinton Steele –has a stern, colonial look about him. I suppose he’s meant to be a bit of a Van Helsing-style mentor figure for the Monster Fighters team. He’s somewhat older, presumably highly knowledgeable about the subject of monsters, and though his best combat days are behind him, he can still kick a good bit of butt when push comes to shove. He’s not bad – but I already have the Explorer from series 2 of the collectible minifigures. They’re definitely two distinct figures, but it does feel like there’s a lot of similar ground covered between them. Still, the Major does have a badass rifle – a cool toy gun will make up for a lot of other shortcomings.  And as you’ll see, he does have a pretty cool car.

The Build

There are two builds contained within the kit – Major Steele’s hot rod, and a tree which incorporates the Wolf Moonstone.
We’ll tackle the hot rod first. I don’t really “do” cars. I know virtually nothing about them, only got my Provisional license earlier this year and I don’t really enjoy driving. But with that said, I can still appreciate a cool-looking car. This particular vehicle is exactly that. It looks somewhere between FAB-ONE (of Thunderbirds fame) and one of those hot rods that you see at tattoo or rockabilly festivals. No doubt there are many flaws more knowledgeable people than I could pick with it, but I think it looks pretty cool nonetheless. 

Major Quinton Steele's Hot Rod

The only real letdown is its colour. While I appreciate it’s meant to be functional rather than edgy, I think it would have been better to have it as a reddish or metallic colour, rather than a similar shade of beige to the driver’s outfit. Nonetheless, it remains a very cool piece - close observers will note that the hood ornament is actually a frog.

The tree, though, is the true centrepiece of the kit, and I’m quite pleased with it. It’s one of the more unusual Lego builds I’ve seen in an official kit. While it’s obviously intended to have an eerie, low budget horror vibe about it, I think it works just as well in a fantasy setting.
Conan discovers the lost secret of the Wolfstone, after slaying countless hordes of evil monsters.

The Wolf Moonstone is placed in a vaguely altar-y setting, though with a little tweaking it becomes a wolf-throne – or if we’re going for the fantasy vibe, a wood-elf throne. Additionally, it works quite well with the little piece of swamp that came with the Swamp Creature set. Going off the box art, it looks like 9467 is driving through a swampy area, too. I can only infer from this that the Swamp Creature and the Werewolf live quite close together. As a bonus, it’s got an action function which allows the werewolf to “jump out” from among the leaves. Not a feature I’m overly fussed about as an adult, but I would definitely have appreciated it as a kid.

The Werewolf poised for launch


I still have fairly mixed feelings about the Monster Fighters theme, but it has grown on me a lot. I do like the Ghost Train (set 9467), but it’s primarily because of the abundance of glow-in-the-dark pieces on the kit. I could see myself picking up a glow-in-the-dark ghost or two, but buying the (very expensive) set itself would be quite hard to justify.  
With this said, I have heard rumours that Lord Vampyre's Castle may be on the way for Christmas...
The minifigures receive a combined score of 6/10. The Werewolf is great on his own, but I’m not really fussed on Major Steele – he’s not a bad minifigure, just not really the sort of minifigure I prefer. As for the build, I’m giving it a 7.5/10. It’s far from the most difficult one I’ve ever done, but it’s certainly one of the most unique. The car is pretty boss, and the tree lends itself to a variety of different settings.  All in all, $29 I’m quite happy about spending.

The set in its entirety

Friday, 20 September 2013

Lego Review - Minifigures Series 11 (71002)

It’s September, which means it’s time for a whole bunch of new Lego releases. And this is the one I’m probably most excited about for 2013 – series 11 of the Minifigures range!

I began collecting the Lego Minifigures around the time that season 4 was released. From 4 -7 I was fairly obsessed with them, and would do my utmost to build complete sets, whether or not I particularly liked the included characters.
But my interest gradually waned as the series continued, for a variety of reasons. Series 8 and 9 had a few cool figures, but I certainly didn’t feel the old desire to get all of them. And I was particularly disappointed with series 10 – though Mr Gold was an attractive prospect from a collector’s point of view, I didn’t think he was that great a figure on his own merits. Perhaps if they ever do Mr Glow-in-the-Dark I’ll be more interested…

But series 11 is a real return to form. There’s a nice mix of original characters again, as opposed to simply gender variations on older releases. I’ve now purchased five minifigures – I don’t know if the bump codes and barcode systems are in effect for this series, but I’ve always relied more on feeling the bags to get the characters that I wanted. So after a good deal of fiddling, I ended up with the Barbarian, the Yeti, the Evil Mech, the Constable and the Island Warrior. So let’s get into it!  

The Barbarian is the figure that I was most excited about from this series, strange as it may sound to some. To the untrained eye, he’s quite plain and doesn’t have a lot of accessories. But I am a big Conan the Barbarian fan. Though I was familiar with him by reputation for many years prior to actually encountering him (via sources such as He-Man and Dungeons & Dragons), I was properly introduced to the character around 2007, when I sat down and watched the classic Arnold Schwarzenegger movie – surprisingly enough, called Conan the Barbarian.
Instantly it became (and remains) one of my favourite movies. Shortly afterwards came the purchase of The Complete Conan Chronicles, a compilation of the original Robert E. Howard short stories from the 1930s. Rarely have I come across an author that I have enjoyed as much - I like to think he's influenced my own writing, though it may not be so evident on this blog. Howard died tragically young as the result of a self-inflicted gunshot, but his work left behind a legacy that has grown to encompass a multimedia empire – not to mention the many derivatives the character spawned in his wake.
I have been hoping for a Conan minifigure ever since I saw the Jungle Boy “Tarzan but not Tarzan” minifigure in series 7. And though this minifigure is not technically Conan, I daresay it’s about as close as we’re ever going to get. And that’s good enough for me. Close observers will notice that his belt is even adorned with an eight-pointed star, similar in design to the sunwheel-type necklace that Arnold wears in the movie. It’s a nice little touch.
The figure comes with two swords, but I generally prefer to pose him with just one. It feels more right to me that way...But of course, now I want an elaborate skeleton and throne set-up, to hand over the sword... 
Overall – very satisfied with this figure.

Evil Mech
As the (presumably) more sinister and evil counterpart to the Robot in series 9, this robot actually looks kind of like a cyborg ninja. Add a ninja/samurai sword and you're there.
I think he’s quite cool, but to me he doesn’t actually scream “VILLAIN.” But I do think he fits in nicely with the Galaxy Squad theme, which has yielded at least one of my all-time favourite Lego sets – the Vermin Vaporiser.
The only real downside about the figure is that his gun needs to be held sideways, due to his large chestplate. However, it’s nothing to get too upset about, and the gun works quite well with other Space-themed minifigures that don’t have chestplates.
Overall: very pleased, and hoping that more sci-fi-oriented Space themes are on the way.
The Yeti
I would not be able to tell you how many hours I have whiled away reading about UFOs, alien abductions, the paranormal, the “unexplained” and – of course – cryptozoology. Suffice to say, it’s a lot. As an adult I am far more sceptical than I was a child or teenager, but a part of me does still hope that Bigfoot and his icy counterpart, the Yeti, turn out to be real one day.
I tend to have reservations about novelty heads for minifigures. Some are quite good, but others tend towards the rubbish – the early versions of Yoda, for instance. Still, I went ahead with the purchase, with the idea that I could make some good action photos of him and the Barbarian fighting.
After opening the bag, I’m quite pleased – but I can’t help but feel that he should look angry, as opposed to the neutral/disgruntled expression that’s on his face currently. But this largely comes down to me purchasing him as a foe for the Barbarian – taken on his own merits, he’s quite cute. He also comes with a transparent blue ice block (popsicle for my American readers), which is a giggle-worthy inclusion.
Overall – satisfied. But I’d like to see a Yeti done like the Hulk, as a bigfig.

The Constable
My father is English, and I am very much an Anglophile as a result, so I have a soft spot for the Constable. He’s doesn’t look like he could double as an action hero, unlike the previous, American-style police that have been in the minifgures range. But he looks like he could be an extra in a Famous Five or Secret Seven novel, and that makes me happy.
Overall – Jolly good, eh? Splendid!
The Island Warrior
I suspect this figure is meant to harken back to the mid-90s Islanders that were released as part of the Pirates line, though taken at face value this figure is a curious mash-up of stereotypes – specifically, Hawaiian and Maori, though there's more than a hint of pulp adventure story in there too. 
The mask is very tiki-like in design, but the face beneath is decorated with Maori-style facial tattoos. To me, the hair (though not the bone through it) also looks somewhat Aztec or Mayan in style.
He too was purchased with the intent of making him a foe for the Barbarian – intentionally or not, with the mask on he does somewhat resemble some kind of 1930s-witch doctor stereotype. But he just looks too friendly without the mask (facial tattoos notwithstanding), and much more of a warrior. Perhaps the two of them can be allies instead, against some kind of evil wizard…stay tuned for photos with Lego Saruman.
Overall – quite a cool figure, particularly for Pirate fans. But a little on the racially insensitive side…
I should also add that this figure was ridiculously difficult to find. I had to do a lot of searching to get him. I don’t know if he’s packed into boxes in small numbers, or if he’s just quite popular.

The Others
For the most part, I’m pretty happy with what I’ve seen of the other figures in Series 11. Though I don’t think I’ll get them all, I would have without hesitation a couple of years ago. Aside from the four I’ve already got, the main “want” I have from series 11 is the Scarecrow. I’m yet to encounter him in the wild – I suspect he may be one of the rarer figures. The Welder is probably my other main want. I think he’d look cool with the hazardous materials guy from series 4.
The Holiday Elf seems to be ridiculously easy to find. He’s a decent fig, but he doesn’t really grab me. Maybe if I’d picked up the Santa from series 8 I might have been more inclined. I feel similarly about the Bavarian Lady – it doesn’t seem right to get her without having Lederhosen Guy from series 8.
The Rock Climber also seems to be quite easy to pick up as well. Decent figure, but not really up my alley. I did buy him for a rock-climbing friend, though.
The Saxophone Player looks just like a member of the Blues Brothers, and were I to buy one of him, it would be necessary to buy two. Very cool. He would also be great for those looking to make a Mac Tonight custom, though that may be a little obscure these days.  
One that I think is bound to be a fan favourite (if perhaps not one of my own) is the Gingerbread Man. He’s quite a clever addition to the line. He looks nice, cheery and happy. I could see him getting added to my collection eventually, but I’m not quite sure where he’d fit in.
The Diner Waitress is not the sort of figure I’m really after, but I do like her accessories – a big bowl of ice-cream and a pair of rollerskates. I feel similarly about the Scientist and the Grandma – though in their cases, it’s a set of two lab beakers, and a cat.
The one I’m probably least excited about is the Lady Robot. Though I liked the male version in series 6, consciously retro things are very hit and miss for me. I tend to prefer my robots looking more Pacific Rim than Forbidden Planet.
Though I’m quite pleased with what I’ve seen of series 11, I do have a couple of criticisms. The earlier minifigure series seemed to use a cheaper plastic than “normal” minifigures, that often had somewhat wobbly legs and arms. This was resolved in series 3 or 4 (and to be honest, I bought so few of 8-10 that I don’t know if it was an issue again then), but it seems to have returned for series 11.
But this is the best series of Minifigures Lego has produced in a long time. I look forward to what series 12 brings. Lego seems to use these ranges as testing grounds for potential new themes – so I'm also keen to see what larger themes we may see over the next couple of years. 
If you're keen to get another opinion, I'd also suggest checking out this review at  – it does have nicer pictures than mine...  
So who's your favourite from this series? Comment away!


Friday, 13 September 2013

Jungle Hunter Predator Review

Jungle Hunter Predator

Company: NECA
Series: Predators - series 8

RRP: approx. $29.95 AUD

The Background

I’ve started buying action figures again after several years out of the game. My last big purchases were from the ’03 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, so I’m pretty out of date with what has been coming out over the last…well, decade, really.
I’m a huge fan of action figures, but I’m quite fussy when it comes to actually plonking down money for them. They take up quite a lot of room, and they’re not easy to store, unlike books, games, DVDs or CDs. Even Lego can be dissembled and stored in a box or bag.
But I recently purchased an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie boxset, watched Predator for the first time in a number of years, and decided it might be nice to have a Predator sitting on my shelves – specifically, the Jungle Hunter Predator. Credit must go to for making me aware of the range to begin with. So, armed with my credit card and searching online, I placed my order. I ordered Dutch too, as I mentioned here. But as much as I like Dutch and Arnie, the Predator is the true star of the show. The movie is named after him, after all.
"Do you even knife, bro?"
The Figure Itself

Online sources tell me that this is a new Predator sculpt, apparently replacing an older model which has been used for most of the prior series. It doesn’t look drastically different to me, but granted I haven’t owned any of the previous versions.
I’m particularly impressed with the skin. The paint job has done a good job of making him look clammy and slimy (though it hasn't shown up in the photos as well as I would like), as well as giving his skin a mottled look. There are no paint issues worth getting upset about, and his bone necklace and adornments are impressively sculpted and painted too. Similarly, the armour and mask have been nicely done. Most areas have a subtle brown wash over them, giving them a worn-in look.
In a nice touch, the gauntlet blades are extendable. Be gentle, though. I could see these breaking very easily in careless hands…
There are some minuses. The plasma-caster backpack is a little bit iffy – the piece clicks into place, but his dreadlocks (predlocks?) get in the way a little bit. Tilting his head works around this a little, but I have concerns about maintaining this pose long-term. The dreadlocks are made from soft rubber and I can see them getting warped in time – not to mention that it means he can really only have his head at one angle while the accessory is attached.
          Two deadly predators. It's nice to see them together in an Instagram besties shot.
However, the plasma-caster gun itself is also adjustable. You’ll need to jiggle it a bit to get it to stay in a certain position (it’s very easily bumped out of place), but it definitely looks cool once you’ve got it there.
More irritatingly, he doesn’t seem to be going so well with the standing business. He’ll stay upright for a certain period of time, but the hip-joints don’t seem to be tight enough, and so he’ll eventually totter over. He hasn’t really suffered any damage as a result of this, but he’s staying lying down for the time being, until required for photos. I can deal with this, but those looking for something that’s capable of permanent display may want to consider carefully. It may just be an issue with my particular figure.
As a more minor point, it’s a shame that the mask isn’t removable. I can see how it might be a casting issue – but later this year a 2-pack is being released with versions of Dutch and Predator from the film’s final fight, which does have a removable mask. There have already been a few Classic Predator variations in this NECA line, so I have to question whether an entirely new figure is necessary for this feature.
For the most part, I’m pretty happy with the Predator. He towers over Dutch, as he should. I was a little concerned that they’d both be the same height. He’s not quite as easily posed, due to the armour plating, tubes and whatnot that adorn him, but it’s still not hard to get him into some good positions for photos.
All three of my NECA figures put together for scale. Pretty good for the most part, but I can't help but think that Dutch should be more noticeably shorter than Robocop, though....
From what I’ve been reading online, people seem to be more excited about the Dutch figures in series 8 and 9 than the Predator. This may be because there have been an awful lot of Predator figures from different companies over the years, and so it’s harder for a new one to stand out from the many that came before. In contrast, there’s been very little of Dutch.  Being a relative newcomer to the series, I think they’ve done an exceptional job of sculpting Arnie’s likeness – and I’m hoping for another Conan line – but the Predator himself is the one I was most excited for.
And for the most part, he delivered.  Looking back over this review, I seem to have spent more time talking about the negatives than the positives. But you shouldn’t get the impression that I’m unhappy with the purchase. The figure is apparently quite screen-accurate, takes good photos and makes a worthy adversary for Dutch...
"Let's see you make fun of my knife now!"
…and Robocop....
The box for Nightfighter Robocop mentions that his new armour makes him invisible to criminals...I wonder if the Predator sees the irony in being stalked by an invisible foe?
"Dead or alive, you're coming with me, creep."
Of course, if Robocop did kill the Predator, presumably another gang of Predators would turn up and give him some kind of obscure gift as they carried off the body.
…and Raphael!
So overall, the Jungle Hunter Predator gets a rating of “very pleased.”
"South America was a long time ago, Dutch. The Predator's dead. He can't hurt you now."
NB: Keep in mind that the price indicated is retail only. This figure is already tricky to get hold of – mine came from – but on eBay, I’ve already seen him selling for upwards of $40 (Australian).


Saturday, 31 August 2013

Action Figure Review - Jungle Encounter Dutch (NECA)

Figure: Jungle Encounter Dutch
Company: NECA
License: Predator (Series 9)
RRP: $24.95 -$29.95 AUD

The Background

Predator is a classic of the 1980s. Watching it more than a quarter-century after its release it’s easy to see that it’s not a perfect film, but it’s far more than the sum of its parts. It’s ridiculously silly, yet never falls into parody. And the Predator itself is a very frightening, yet very cool-looking Stan Winston creation.

But today, we’ll be looking at the other star of the film – Dutch, as portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Specifically, the Jungle Encounter Dutch action figure.
I’ve been spending a lot of time spent over at www.ItsAllTrue.Net, and I can’t deny that I’ve been heavily inspired by them to do this action figure review – and, I must admit, they were the inspiration for my more regular Lego reviews too. It was actually through them that I discovered NECA was releasing these 25th anniversary Predator action figures. The guys over have got their reviews down to a fine art, and if you’re remotely interested in action figures it’s well worth your time to check them out.
The NECA Predator series has been running since 2010, apparently  in tandem with the release of the film Predators (which I still haven't seen), There’s been a mix of original film, Predator 2, Predators and even a few “fanon” action figures released over this time, and the range is quite impressive for its attention to detail.
Series 8 and 9 are the most recent releases - though at least up until series 11 is planned - and they're both based on the original movie, to coincide with the film’s 25th anniversary. It's a nice touch, and it would be nice to see the second (admittedly inferior) film get some similar action figure love in the next couple of years.
The Packaging
The box (not pictured) is nice enough – it’s roughly in the shape of a Predator in profile. The copy on the back of the box does a good job of conveying the backstory , and all the photography for the figures themselves is excellent. However, I do tend to prefer NECA’s clamshell cases. This does become something of a moot point, as I’ve never been one to keep action figures in their packaging – I guess I just prefer them.  
The Figure Itself
The figure's front and back views  
I am yet to see a NECA figure that didn’t deliver the goods in terms of attention to detail, even if I didn’t particularly like the property it was based on, and this figure is no exception.
Across series 8-9 there are four different variations of Dutch, all of them good in their own way. But I chose this particular variant of him as it also looks quite a bit like Arnie’s character from Commando – Colonel John Matrix. I doubt we’ll see a Commando line anytime soon – but the idea of a matching Bennett figurine is certainly an entertaining one.
The likeness on the face sculpt is quite good overall. The original review I read over at noted the impressive detail on the stubble, and I’m inclined to agree. This is a level of detail that’s I’ve rarely seen on toys in this price range, and I’m also particularly impressed with the fact that they’ve managed to make him look sweaty, as though he’s actually been spending time in the jungle.
The only real problem with the likeness stems from a small paint issue on the lips. I ordered my figure online, so I wasn’t able to check the paint job before purchase. Not anything worth getting too upset about, but if you get yours in-store I’d suggest checking a couple of different figures first.
Dutch comes with three accessories – a rifle with grenade launcher attachment, a pistol and a knife. Nothing too complex, but I’ve never been a fan of toylines that give movie or TV-based characters a zillion different accessories that are never seen or mentioned in the original property.
The articulation is good, as well. You can get Dutch into a lot of different poses, and combined with the great sculpt, it’s pretty easy to get some good photos. I want to take him out to some bushland and do some location photos with him and the Predator, though that may have to wait for another day.
However, the figure isn’t perfect. The knife can’t really be held by either of its hands, so stick it in the holster if you don’t want to lose it. The pistol can also be a bit tricky to get into the right hand as well, as it’s made from somewhat harder plastic than you might normally expect. Additionally, the pistol holster does not seem to want to close properly – you can see it dangling in the photos.  
Still, these are relatively minor issues, and don’t spoil my enjoyment of the figure at all. I ordered the series 8 Jungle Hunter Predator too, and they work quite well together...but more on him in a future review, hopefully.
I am very, very pleased with this figure of Dutch. Though he’s quite basic, it works to his benefit, not his detriment. The great likeness of Arnie really elevates it above your average “adult collector” movie tie-in.
With that said, I’m not super-keen on the other figures in series 9. Though I might be sold on the Water Emergence Predator if he glowed in the dark (and the same goes for the upcoming Heat Vision Dutch from series 10), I don’t think there’s enough reason to purchase it if you’ve already got the Jungle Hunter Predator (i.e. the standard or “Classic Predator” from series 8).
Jungle Disguise Dutch looks kind of cool – and it’s a very cool part of the movie – but he does also look a bit like he’s a regular Dutch action figure who’s fallen into the toilet. So I’ll probably pass on that one too...
What I would have liked to have seen – and I know I’m not alone in this – is the other squad members from the film. I have read elsewhere that NECA have said that they will not be doing this, and I suppose I can understand why. I would imagine getting all of the likeness rights would be expensive, and I daresay that none of them would sell as well as Dutch. Nonetheless, the thought of a screaming one-armed Carl Weathers variant action figure is an intriguing one.
Still, the fact that NECA now have such a good sculpt of Arnie makes me hopeful that we’ll also see some other Arnie properties released by NECA. Conan the Barbarian had a small series few years ago – which is now reselling for a pretty penny on eBay – but they were more akin to statues than action figures. Time for a new one? Hopefully!
And of course, having Dutch means that you can have awesome  1980s team-ups which never happened, but would have been great. Here we see Nightfighter Robocop and Dutch teaming up to take on crime!