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).