Saturday, 26 April 2014

Creature from the Black Lagoon -- Diamond Select

Company: Diamond Select

Release: 2010/2012

Price: See below
Scale: 7”

The Background
Diamond Select has been producing action figures based on the Universal Monsters for a number of years now, with largely positive results. Their detailed sculpting is impressive, their paint jobs high-quality and their prices reasonable.

Having recently (finally!) watched the classic Creature from the Black Lagoon earlier this year, I liked the idea of getting my hands on their version of the Creature (aka Gillman).  One of the few classic Universal Monsters not based on a pre-existing folk tale or novel, the Creature burst onto cinema screens in 1954, spawning two sequels, as well as an appearance on The Munsters and in The Monster Squad. Though he’s not as ubiquitous as Dracula or the Wolfman, he’s undeniably left an impact on pop culture, even totally not turning up in Lego form a couple of years ago.

Sculpt and Articulation
I had my first experience with Diamond Select earlier this year, when I picked up their Silver Surfer. He was a pretty cool toy, though he had a couple of minor articulation issues. So I was reasonably confident when I ordered this guy. The box looked great, and I had looked at a few positive reviews some months earlier…but long enough ago that I’d forgotten a few key details.

Namely, articulation. “Action figure” is something of a misnomer here. The entire Universal Monsters range has very minimal articulation. In the Creature’s case, only his shoulders, elbows, wrists and ankles are articulated, and they’re all pretty restricted.

Here’s what he’s got:

*shoulders (balljoint?)

*elbows (hinged)
*wrists (cut)

*ankles (cut)
The shoulders can only really move in a hinged fashion – due to the sculpt of the torso, they can’t really swivel out to the side or anything. In the case of the wrists, they’re quite tight, initially, but they've loosened up now. As for the ankles, this is fairly redundant without accompanying leg and hip articulation, but it can be handy for getting him to stand on the base.

The sculpt gives a good overall impression of the creature, though the face is not quite as inhuman as the original mask – I’ve thought about it for a while, and I think it’s due to the difference in the eyes and giving him a closed mouth. While it now looks more like a “real” creature, these choices have had the (likely unintentional) effect of making him look rather ticked off and irritable – as opposed to being a terrifying prehistoric beast, fighting to defend his home against invaders.  He’s been standing in a queue for too long and is pretty darn annoyed about it!


Aside from this, I can’t pretend I’m an expert on screen accuracy, but it looks more or less right to me. One interesting feature which I saw pointed out in another review is that his shins are untextured – this is accurate to the film’s costume, but something that's apprently often overlooked.
The main problem is that he's probably a little too tall. Gillman is probably bigger than a normal human -- but not as big as a Predator. He's almost big enough to class him in 8" scale, rather than 7". However, though I'd read this online, I didn't really notice it until I lined him up next to the other guys in the photo above.
Just as a side note, going off reviews at and, this figure seems to have first been released in 2010, but this particular version is indicated on the box (and stamped on his foot) as ©2012. However, it doesn’t look to have been changed since this original release – maybe the paint has been altered slightly? I can’t spot any differences myself.

The creature comes with two accessories – a sandy, rocky diorama base and Kay Lawrence, who was the object of Gillman’s affection in the movie (played by Julie Adams).

The base is a little plain, but the upside is that it’s generic enough that you could use it for almost everything. There are rocks, sure, but it doesn’t look scale-specific. This could be fine for anything from Lego through to 7-8” figures.
Actually, calling Kay Lawrence an accessory is doing her something of a disservice. She’s a figure in her own right really, with plenty of attention to detail on the sculpting. She’s not really articulated, which is a shame – but her head is a separate piece, so you can turn it on the neck. She doesn’t sit quite flat on the base, but you don’t really notice most of the time.
I don’t think the likeness to Julie Adams is all that great, though. I agree with MWC's review that the set looks more or less based on this photo (far left) -- the hair isn't quite right and neither is the face. I suspect the likeness rights may have been tricky to get hold of – this was apparently the case with Diamond Select’s Dracula figure, which is a great vampire, but definitely not Bela Lugosi. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad sculpt. It looks like a very attractive young woman, in somewhat of a pin-up style.

Gillman wasn’t really an accessorised guy, so getting anything at all is a nice bonus. There’s no cause for complaint with what’s included, but it might have been nice to get the fossilised Gillman hand, which is found at the beginning of the film and sets off the whole chain of events that follow.

The Creature seems to be cast in black, with everything else painted over the top. For the most paint, the paint job is great, with the dominant colour being a metallic green. The finny attachments dotted around his body are a little sloppy, but nothing that distracts from the figure as a whole. However, the paint on his neck is one flat colour, and it seems to be a little thick. I think a subtle dark green wash here would have made it gel better with the rest of the body. Similarly, the pink of his lips contrasts just a little too strongly with his green flesh.   

Aside from these minor quibbles, the only real issue were small patches of unpainted skin on the right and left shoulders. It looks like some of the paint may have scraped off, but given that it’s an area completely concealed when the arm is hanging by his side, it’s not a major issue.  
The paint job on Kay Lawrence is very impressive, too. Apparently cast in skin-coloured plastic, her swimsuit, hair and face have all been picked out incredibly well, with no trace of slop. In a particularly impressive touch, even her fingernails and toenails have been painted with "nail polish".

Availability and pricing
This guy isn’t too hard to track down on eBay and he’s not particularly expensive either. I paid around $AUD25 for him – but I also paid close to that again for him in postage! Such is the case when you ship things from the US to Australia though, and I’m learning to just suck it up.

I understand that most of the Universal Monsters figures have been released in two different versions – typically a Diamond Select version, and a Toys R Us version. The Toys R Us version will have fewer accessories, but it will generally have a different paint job, and/or a slightly different head sculpt.
In Gillman’s case, he has a non-metallic paint job (and no pink lips) and a different, more detailed base. However, going from my eBay searches, the reviewed version looks to be the easiest to track down.  

This would have been an amazing toy in 2002-2004, alongside the relatively unarticulated toys NECA and McFarlane were offering at the time, but it was a little out of date by 2010 – and more so by 2012, I tend to think. Strange as it may sound, I don’t think this range of Universal Monsters has really been designed for toy collectors as such – rather, I think it’s been designed for movie fans. There can be a lot of overlap, granted, but this figure seems more geared towards being a movie memorabilia display piece, rather than a “proper” toy.

So I’m pleased, but not quite thrilled with this figure. Personally, I will take a good sculpt over articulation, but I was still a little disappointed that the arms were as restricted as they were. Additionally, the combined cost of figure and shipping made this purchase close to $AUD50, which isn’t great value for money – I think if I’d paid between $25-$35 total I would have been more satisfied.

If you’re considering the purchase, I might suggest that you wait for the new Diamond Select version later this year. He looks to be better articulated and has a cooler base – though doesn’t look to include Kay Lawrence. Had I known about it, I might have waited, but I don’t think I’ll double-dip – it’s just too soon.    

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Lego Review -- Dragon Mountain (70403)

Set: 70403 Dragon Mountain

Theme: Castle

Pieces: 376
Build Time: 1 ½ hours

Year: 2013

The Background
The 2010-12 Kingdoms series was a little underwhelming. Ditching the more fantasy-oriented elements of Castle in favour of a more “realistic” approach was a mistake in my opinion, so when Castle returned in early 2013, I was initially quite pleased. However, the sets left me a little cold at first – I was pleased to see a dragon and an evil wizard, as well as good and evil knights – but I didn’t see myself buying any.

However, I ran across some sets instore recently and reassessed my position. Dragon Mountain particularly took my interest. An evil wizard, a princess to rescue -- and of course, a dragon. It hits on a lot of fantasy archetypes in one fell swoop. So I decided that I would like it, and my wife was kind enough to oblige a few weeks ago for our first wedding anniversary :)
There are 5 minifgures in this set – 2 Lion Knights, the princess (the good guys), the Dragon Wizard and a Dragon Knight (the bad guys). None of them seem to have names, but that’s okay – all you really need to know is that the Lion Knights (silver and blue) and the Dragon Knights (black and red) are battling against one another. The rest is up to you.

The Dragon Knight looks like most of the others – black armour with red and silver detailing. His head is goateed, with stubble around it. He does the job of generic henchman quite well.

The same goes for the first of the Lion Knights – nothing out of the ordinary, just a conical helmet with a noseguard, and a spear as a weapon. He gets to tend the catapult.  

One of the Lion Knights looks significantly more “heroic” than the other, though he’s still not given a specific name. He’s armed with a sword and shield. He’s also got a closing helmet, with two faces beneath, seen in the pics in the review – one confident-looking, and the other terrified.

The role of the Princess will be seen by some as sexist, as she is depicted on the box art as being locked up, waiting for a knight to come and rescue her. But this is Lego, so you can make your own story. She uses the standard dress piece, and has two faces – anxious and happy. Her hair is cast in soft rubber, rather than hard plastic, and her crown/tiara slots into the top.  

The Evil Wizard uses a black rubber beard piece, like Gandalf, and comes with a cloth cape and horned staff – a bit like Skeletor’s but without the skull. He’s a nice, standard Dungeons and Dragons-style evil villain.


The set is relatively simple to construct, consisting of two main elements – the Lion Knight’s catapult and Dragon Mountain itself. The catapult is nicely detailed – and I would have enjoyed flinging the “rock” around immensely as a child – but it’s neither here nor there to me. I can’t help but think that the dragon’s flames would consume it quite rapidly. Still, it’s a nice generic piece to add to the medieval pile.
Dragon Mountain, on the other hand, is very cool. Split into two towers, connected by a bridge with a small catapult that shoots flaming projectiles, there’s a number of intriguing features packed into a relatively small set.

The most obvious is the jail cell on the taller of the two towers, where the Princess (or any figure of your choice, really) can be positioned. But turn the set around and you’ll see the bottom section of this tower is something of a break room or miniature mess hall. There’s a small table, complete with goblet and slice of cheese.  


A level up from the jail cell houses the a red crystal – one can only assume that it is some sort of nefarious object, perhaps the source of the Evil Wizard’s sinister powers. And at the top of the tower is the platform on which the wizard stands – though how he got there without a ladder is open to debate. Perhaps he can fly?
Over on the back of the other tower, you’ll see a large spiderweb, and a deadly spider lurking on it. But flip it down and you’ll see that concealed within is the Evil Wizard’s lair. Two keys (presumably for the jail cell), two mysterious flasks and a lit candle lie within.

It will sound silly to some, but one of the things I was most excited about was the inclusion of not just a treasure chest – but gold coins! I used to love these coins back in my childhood days, when they were included in Pirates sets. Now, as then, they have different denominations embossed on them -- and this time there’s an actual bar of gold included. It’s awesome!  

Last but not least, the mousehole – complete with mouse poking out – is a great touch. Presumably he was after the delicious cheese within.
The real centrepiece, though, is the titular dragon. Since 1993, Lego has produced several different dragons (and there are some amazing customs out there too!). This one was first released in 2007, and is classed as version 2.5, according to Brickipedia.  

Somewhere between an action figure and standard animal figure, his arms and legs are all swivels, and his neck is kind of swivel-hinged both where it connects to his head and body (albeit with somewhat limited range). His tail can be rotated to change its angle, but not moved much more. He’s also got a hole on the lower part of his mouth, where a flame piece can be inserted. This allows you to display him either neutral or breathing fire, whichever you prefer. His jaw is also articulated, so there’s a number of different looks you can go for here. Last but not least, his wings are ratcheted – which is very handy for keeping his wings in your preferred pose.

He looks pretty good on the whole, though in real life I was initially a little underwhelmed – I think due to the shape of his next being different to what I had expected. Nonetheless, he’s grown on me and is an impressively large piece – a terror for any minifigure to behold.

The set is a little small for its price, but it does come with a large amount of minifigs and obviously the dragon is where a lot of the cost is coming from. It’s not the best value-for-money set I’ve had from Lego, bbut as mentioned above, it was a gift from my wife for our first wedding anniversary a couple of weeks ago, so money wasn’t such an object J

After initially being ambivalent to iteration of Castle, I’ve come to quite enjoy it. My wife recently purchased me set 70402 (The Gatehouse Raid) -- but it’s similar enough to 70806 (Castle Cavalry) from The Lego Movie that I don’t think I’ll review it separately.
I owned a little bit of Castle Lego as a kid, but never a huge amount – it does not hold the same nostalgia for me as say, Pirates. As a boy King Arthur did not yet hold the same appeal as Robin Hood (granted, I did own some of the Forestmen), nor had I started reading fantasy novels and playing Dungeons and Dragons. Even though I’m quite late to this party, I’m glad that I decided to come. Now I’m eyeing off the King’s Castle – but at nearly $140 wherever I go, I’m having a hard time justifying it!


Friday, 18 April 2014

Casey Jones 2014 (Playmates Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)

Year: 2014
Scale: 4”

Company: Playmates
RRP: TBC (probably $AUD15)

Casey Jones has been one of the Turtles’ human allies since the days of the original Eastman & Laird comics. Originally created as a parody of characters like the Punisher who take “justice” into their own hands, he’s gone on to attract a fairly large cult following among TMNT fans. He only appeared in the original 1980s cartoon a handful of times, but he was a fairly major character (and love interest for April) in the 2003 revival. 

I first saw this figure previewed late last year and was immediately intrigued. However, we seem to be a wave or two behind America at the moment, and a lot of the stuff like the Ninjas in Training is only really just seeing a wide release over here. So rather than wait – and potentially miss out – I decided to order Mr Jones from
I haven’t seen any of the episodes featuring him as yet – but I do know that, like April, he’s been turned into a teenager for this series. I assume he’ll follow the usual pattern of being buds with Raph and a love interest for April – but this time around, he may well be a love rival for April with Donnie. I daresay I’ll get to watching it all eventually.

The sculpt is a good one. It includes some nice little details, such as the keys on his right hip, the bandanna hanging out of his back pocket. A lot of time and care has gone into the detailing, which is more disappointing when you consider the below-average paintwork (see below).

The main downside is that he’s been given rollerblades on his feet. They make it a little awkward to get him to stand properly, so while it’s probably pretty cool in the cartoon, I think it probably should have been left off the toy – or maybe interchangeable feet?
Here’s what he offers from an articulation perspective:

*cut neck
*swivel-hinged shoulders

*hinged elbows
*cut wrists (at the glove)

*cut waist
*swivel-hinged hips

*swivel-hinged knees.

Not a lot by, say, Marvel Legends standards, but pretty good for TMNT. The motion on the elbows is a little restricted due to the sculpt, but pretty much everything else moves quite well. It’d be nice if he had a ball-jointed head and could look up and down, but I suspect the hood would have got in the way anyway.


Casey comes with three accessories – a baseball bat, a hockey stick and his hockey mask. The mask is the best of the three, with his trademark skull painted on the front. His sports equipment/weapons are cast in light beige plastic – the picture on the box depicts them with paint apps, but these have been removed from the final item, which is a bummer.

As with all the other TMNT figures, paintwork on Casey is minimal, with most pieces being moulded in the appropriate colour. The box depicts a number of paint apps on the prototype which didn;t make it to the final stages e.g. the spikes on his left arm.

The notable exception is his face, which has skull facepaint – almost Immortal-esque. It’s a little sloppy, but the artwork on the back of the box also makes it look quite sloppy too. I prefer his masked look anyway, so the point becomes moot really.

More irritating, only the front half of Casey’s body is painted. As you can see in the pic at the end of the review, they’ve painted the front section of his pouches – but the back half has been left completely blank! I understand cutting back on paint apps for cost saving, but this is just lazy. I’m giving serious consideration to getting out some Citadel Paints and fixing up some of his finer details myself. With all the cool little details on this figure, it’s particularly disappointing that he’s been given such shabby paint treatment.   

Anyone who’s been collecting the new TMNT figures knows that they’re pretty hit and miss. There’s been some great stuff, but there’s been a lot of junk as well.  Aside from his paint, Casey is a good figure, and I’d like to hope he indicates future improvements for the line. Unfortunately, there have already been too many cool characters with lame figures, and I’d like to see that stop. I’ve said it at least once and will probably continue to say it in future – the Playmates TMNT line has been a great line as far as kid’s toys go, but not so fantastic for collectors.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Easter Dinosaurs

I don't really go all out for Easter -- chocolate is great when you're a kid, but as an adult you begin to realise that eating an excess of it could have serious consequences, diabetes being one of them. A typical Easter for me tends to involve church on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, then hanging out with friends and/or family for the rest of the long weekend (and I think I may have built some Galaxy Squad Lego last year).  Easter has become an increasingly solemn occasion for myself as I have grown older. Too much chocolate is usually consumed, but not to the order of magnitude that occurs during childhood.

Nonetheless I was in Target the other day, and passed through their Easter section, which is now getting into full swing. And I spotted this:

Eight dinosaurs for five bucks alone is a bargain, but GLOW IN THE DARK as well? Not to mention the four Easter eggs. I had to have it.

The chocolate was better than anticipated. I expected that dreadful compound stuff that's so prevalent among cheaper Easter fare. But as you might expect, the real draw was the dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs. Titanic beasts of prehistory. Favourite creatures of children and adults around the globe. I don't think they have a whole lot to do with the modern celebration of Easter, though to be fair they did lay eggs -- which means there's more of a connection than a lot of the other Easter merch doing the rounds.

The package contains the following creatures (L-R):

*Plesiosaurus -- waterbound creature, possibly best known these days as being a potential Loch Ness Monster. Not a dinosaur.

*Pachycephalosaurus -- probably used to have awesome headbutt fights.

*Styracosaurus -- like a Triceratops, but not.

*Bronto/Apatosaurus -- a herbivore, formerly at the centre of a naming controversy.

*Pteradon -- not actually a dinosaur, but lived in the same era. Soared above in the skies and
presumably rained death from above on its prey. A prehistoric Starscream, I like to think.

*Triceratops -- one of the most awesome herbivores. This bad boy could give most carnivores a run for their money in the violence stakes.

*The green one -- I assume this is a T-Rex, but it doesn't look quite right. So we'll go with cool-looking generic carnivore.

*Dimetrodon --not a dinosaur either, but actually a mammalian reptile. Lived about 60 million years prior to the Triassic period. Probably my favourite piece of the set.

So as we see, there's actually a number of non-dinos included here. This was pretty common with a lot of the toy dinosaurs I owned as a kid too -- I remember also having a sabre-toothed tiger, and even a set which included Neanderthals. So we won't hold it against them.

The figures themselves are cast in that "not quite soft, but not too firm either" plastic that you'd be familiar with from dinosaur toys in childhood. Some of the detailing is obscured due to the GITD colour scheme, but that's pretty standard. I'm pretty sure I've seen some of these molds before, back when I was a child -- the Pteradon looks particularly familiar.

As for the glow-in-the-dark feature, they all glow the standard yellow-green colour. I expected some other colours in there too, based on their non-glow colouring, but apparently not. Still, it's satisfying to see them glowing away on the bookcase as I drift into sleep after a hard day at the office.

Questionable links to Easter aside, this is a pretty cool toy set! $5 well spent. Recommended for any dinosaur or glow-in-the-dark fan. And if I don't get to post before then, have a happy Easter everyone!

FLASHBACK REVIEW! Freddy vs Jason -- NECA Jason Voorhees

Company: NECA
Year: 2004

Scale: 7” (?)

In 2003, a film was released that horror fans had been waiting years for – Freddy vs Jason. Opinions on it vary wildly, but it was reasonably successful at the box office and was, if nothing else, an entertaining piece of trash cinema. A part of me is still quite disappointed that the oft-discussed Freddy vs Jason vs Ash never saw release on a cinema screen.
One piece of merchandise that was released in its wake was a 2-pack from NECA featuring both the titular characters, complete with a semi-diorama of flaming timber floorboards (from their fight near the end of the film). 19-year-old me was a huge fan of the film, so I picked up this bad boy as soon as I could afford it. 
Freddy’s head has been lost to time (which consigned the rest of him to the bin) but Jason has stayed tucked away in my parent’s garage for almost ten years. Recently I pulled him out, thinking that there might be some good photo ops for him, now that I own a bunch of NECA figures. But how does he hold up to modern NECA standards?   


It has been a long, long time since I watched any of the Friday the 13th films, so I don’t recall whether this is a particularly accurate sculpt. It certainly conveys the vibe well – Jason was less elaborate-looking in this film than he was in some of the earlier releases, and I don’t see any details leaping out at me as “wrong”. But the first thing you’re likely to notice about Jason is that he’s BIG. Ostensibly in 7” scale, Jason towers over a modern Predator. I know he’s meant to be a tall guy – but not that tall.  
NECA went the extra mile and made the mask removable. I couldn’t tell you how accurate the head sculpt is beneath the mask – I don’t remember ever getting a good look at his unmasked (adult) face in any of the movies (except perhaps Friday the 13th, Part 2? It’s been years since I watched any of them…). However, it sure is impressively ugly -- and he kind of looks like a pirate…


As for articulation? Well, there’s not a lot by modern standards. His neck, right shoulder, left shoulder, left elbow and waist all have cuts in them, rather than hinges or swivels. He’s more than a statue, but not much more. This didn’t bother me at the time, of course. I preferred sculpt to articulation (still do) and the only massively articulated figures I knew of at the time were Marvel Legends – most of which seemed shockingly ugly, 700 points of articulation or not – who wanted a Jason like that?
Now we live in a different era, where you can have good articulation and a good sculpt working in tandem (and to be fair, a lot of those old Marvel Legends figures actually looked quite good). By these standards, Jason would be totally unacceptable to many. But he’s a product of his times, and judged on those standards I think he holds up pretty well.      

Jason comes with two accessories – his machete and his iconic hockey mask. As mentioned above, his mask is removable. Time may be fogging my memory here, but I seem to recall that that it was actually magnetised, to attach to Freddy’s claws. The level of detail in the sculpting and paint is admirable, and although I’m careful with my stuff, I’m still quite impressed that the cords haven’t snapped over the years.

The machete is okay, but not great. It’s cast in black, with a thin silver line drybrushed on the edge of the blade. There’s been a little bit of warping over the years, but nothing major.  And it would work just as well with almost any other similar-scale figure, such as Dutch or one of the Predators.  

When I bought this guy, I was amazed at the paint work. I knew that McFarlane and NECA could produce some great stuff, but I’d never owned any before, so I hadn’t really seen it up close. Ten years later, it’s certainly not bad, but perhaps seems a little basic by modern standards. Part of this is the colour scheme of the character – this iteration of Jason didn’t really lend himself to flashy paintjobs. It’s no Dutch or Lost Predator, but it doesn’t embarrass itself by comparison.   

Back in 2004, this two-pack retailed for approximately $60AUD, but I picked it up on sale for $30 at Electronics Boutique (now EB Games) – still a lot of money for a poor uni student at the time, but good value nonetheless. I miss the old days when EB had far too many toys and would eventually just mark everything down to crazy prices. But on that basis, I can definitely understand why they stopped stocking toys for years!  

This is also indicative that NECA’s prices really haven’t risen too drastically over the last 10 years. The average figure retails for $34.95AUD, though smart shoppers can often find them for around the $29.95 mark.  
From a sculpting perspective, Jason still holds up quite well, and paint is still well within the acceptable range. Articulation will be the big factor that prevents people from seeing him in a positive light. So I wouldn’t recommend going to any real lengths to track him down, but he’s a good snapshot of a particular style of collector’s toy in the noughties.