Thursday, 13 November 2014

Funko POP! Creature from the Black Lagoon

The Universal Monsters have become some of the most iconic horror characters in cinema history. Their distinctive designs have permeated pop culture, influencing the way horror films are made even to this day. Today we look at my personal favourite from the Universal stable – the Creature from the Black Lagoon, aka Gillman!

Debuting in 1954’s Creature from the Black Lagoon and subsequently showing up in a number of sequels, The Munsters and The Monster Squad, Gillman has inspired an absolute treasure trove of merchandise in the decades that have followed his debut. I've looked at a couple of items on this blog, but that’s not even scratching the surface of what’s available.  

Naturally when Funko announced that Universal Monsters POPs were on the way, I had high expectations – but I made sure I tempered them. As I've noted numerous times, paint has consistently been one of Funko’s weak points, and I naturally had concerns about whether the same issues would plague them for this series too.

Fortunately, I didn't need to have these fears – Gillman is easily the best painted POP I own. And while that may sound like damning it with faint praise, I should clarify and say that it actually has very good paint on its own merits. This is even more important when you consider that he is fairly uniform in his colour scheme – his stomach is slightly lighter-coloured, and his tongue is red, but they’re the sole distinguishing features in what is otherwise a sea of khaki-esque green. Unlike Groot, who suffered from just being too plain, Gillman has had key areas picked out with clever use of black overspray, adding some nice subtle shading which really accentuates the nicely sculpted details on the figure. Funko has obviously given this guy the deluxe treatment, though I haven’t looked closely enough at the others in the range to confirm whether all his monster buddies have been treated with the same level of quality.

Though I’m biased because of my pre-existing love for the character, Gillman has quickly become one of my favourite POPs. He comes highly recommended to Universal fans – now to start tracking down the rest of the team!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman – issues 12 & 13

Back in August, I posted my thoughts on the first two issues of Sensation Comics – DC’s new digital-first title centred on their most famous female superhero, Wonder Woman. My verdict, you may recall, was little mixed; while there were certainly elements I liked, the overall quality of the final product was lacking in a few areas.

Image copyright DC Comics
Since then, I’ve been picking up some issues and skipping others, on a case-by-case basis. For the most part my opinion remains the same as it did after reading those first two issues. The rotating cast of writers and artists makes it an interesting novelty to see who’s working on the book each week, but this isn’t enough to sustain a title on its own. Some of the issues are good, but they’re unfortunately in the minority.

However, the most recent issues – #12 & 13—have seen things dramatically improve. Written by Michael Jelenic and pencilled by Drew Johnson, the two-part “Generations” is a darn sight better than what the last few weeks have thrown at us.

Image copyright DC Comics
It’s Queen Hippolyta’s birthday – and while that may not sound like a particularly intriguing set-up, the action gets going pretty quickly, as Diana is seeking a very special and very specific gift for her mother. We get a few flashbacks to Diana's childhood on Themyscira, but the bulk of the two issues is taken up by a surprisingly violent confrontation with arch-nemesis Cheetah. It’s lengthy, but never feels like it drags. And while the story ends in fairly predictable fashion, it’s nonetheless satisfying.
These are probably the best illustrated issues we've had so far in the series, which certainly doesn't hurt my overall opinion of them. Are they the best written? Perhaps not, but they definitely kept me engaged throughout the two issues.

Image copyright DC Comics
I hope this marks an overall improvement for the title. I hope that it continues -- the concept behind Sensation Comics is great, and I hope it continues for quite a while. 
So for the time being I plan to continue to keep an eye on this series, I’m more excited for December – apparently the last month of 2014 will be bringing us Wonder Woman ’77, a digital-first continuation of the 1970s Lynda Carter series, with cover art from Australia’s own Nicola Scott. And with David Finch taking over illustration duties on the regular monthly title, it's a good time to be a WW fan. 

Monday, 10 November 2014

Funko POP! Groot

Earlier this year, Guardians of the Galaxy was released and rapidly took the box office – and the rest of the world – by storm. It was something of a surprise hit, as the property is pretty obscure even among comic fans, but it was pretty clear from the opening minutes that Marvel had something pretty special on their hands.

Though I enjoyed all of the main characters, my favourites were the two who could have so easily been the worst parts of the film – Rocket Raccoon and the subject of today’s article, Groot. A plush toy in the making, accompanied by a tree, who only repeats the words “I am Groot” over and over again? That sounds dreadful on paper. But in execution it was funny, charming – and in one of the film’s climatic scenes – surprisingly moving.

Almost immediately after I saw the movie, I decided it would be good to get myself a Groot POP, only to discover that Groot was rare. Very rare. I had the opportunity to pick him up prior to watching the film, but passed as I was unfamiliar with the character. And in the months since the film's release, he’s been virtually impossible to find. Star-Lord, Drax, Gamora and Rocket – you could own as many of the things as you wanted. But Groot? Not a chance.

Now I have him in my hands, I feel I can safely say that Groot is a fun POP, but you shouldn’t pay more than RRP for him. Collectors know that rarity is not necessarily synonymous with greatness – and though I like him, there are definitely more visually interesting POPs in my collection. He suffers from the same problem as the Dark Knight Rises Batman POP – there’s lots of interesting details, but there’s not enough use of colour to differentiate them from one another. Compare this to the Creature from the Black Lagoon POP (review coming soon!), who also has a reasonably monochromatic colour scheme, but makes good use of shading to give him that additional…well…pop. A little more green and grey thrown in the mix alongside the brown would have made a big difference, and made him look much more tree-like – not to mention evened out the colour difference between the head and the body.  

Colour issues notwithstanding, he does have a fun sculpt which successfully marries the essence of the character to the cutesy format, so he does come recommended on that basis. He's very charming.

Although new stock has finally been hitting stores in the last couple of weeks, but he still seems to be selling out left, right and centre. I managed to find him at a Co-Op Bookshop (a university bookstore chain here in Australia), but he was the last one in stock – still, one can only assume we’ll see more of him. Funko have indicated a December release date for Baby Groot, and there is apparently a “Mossy Groot” on the way from them too – a flocked version, or just more green paint apps? Maybe it will be the same as the Loot Crate one. The GITD aspect would certainly make it quite appealing…hmm…prospective purchasers may be better off waiting a couple of months, depending on their colour preference.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Lego Minifigures – Rock Star (Series 12)


We’ve had a couple of rocker characters in the minifigures range before – the Punk Rocker back in series 4, and the Rocker Girl from series 7 who was totally not Jem. But this is our first heavy metal guy – and having been a huge heavy metal guy myself in the past, I was pretty pumped to see this minifigure get released.
The tampoing on this guy isn’t super intricate, but there is a lot of it. It's basically a whole lot of silver dots to replicate the standard features you’d expect on a studded leather outfit – the lapels, the belt -- it’s even got the zips on the wrist. His hair has a metallic silver streak in it, which would serve well if you are keen to make some kind of glam rock custom. The hairstyle kind of reminds me of Nikki Sixx of Mötley Crüe, but I don’t think it’s specifically based on him.

He comes with one accessory – a red guitar, which looks to be a new piece. The guitar has a swirly circular pattern on it, which is not dissimilar to Zakk Wylde’s guitars, and the red is reminiscent of Van Halen’s legendary Frankenstrat.
So this dude is pretty cool in a generic 1980s metal kind of way – but as we see above, remove the hair, and you have Rob Halford, legendary lead singer of Judas Priest – sans goatee and head tattoo, admittedly, but it’s close enough to pass for my collection. In fact, if you bought a bunch of these guys, you could pretty much recreate Judas Priest! This is particularly fitting, because Halford and co did a huge amount to popularise the leather look, which I suppose went on to reach its logical (or illogical) extreme with black metal.

Overall verdict – fantastic minifigure on its own, even better once the hairpiece is removed to turn him into Rob Halford. Great effort, Lego!

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Friday, 7 November 2014

Warrior Woman – Lego Minifigures (Series 10)

Series 10 was definitely one of my least-favourite in the Minifigures range, but it still had some highlights. One of them was the subject of today’s review – the Warrior Woman. Actually, let’s be upfront about who this really is – it’s Xena, central character of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess, the Sam Raimi-created, ancient Greece-inspired series that ruled TV screens all around the world during the mid- to late-90s.

Though the series finished up in 1999 and 2001 respectively, they have never really gone away. Xena in particular (and by extension, Lucy Lawless) still has an incredibly dedicated fanbase, who follow Lucy Lawless’ past and current career intently. As for myself? Strangely, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a complete episode of either Hercules or Xena; I’m actually more familiar with Lucy Lawless from her appearances on The Simpsons, Flight of the Conchords and Parks & Recreation.

Nonetheless, I can recognise her massive influence on popular and geek culture alike, and it’s pretty easy to spot a lookalike. I mean, this minifigure even has Lucy Lawless’ distinctive cheekbones!

However, since for legal purposes she’s not actually Xena (or Lucy Lawless), she doesn’t have a chakram or sword; rather, she is carrying a spear and shield, emblazoned with an eagle-esque bird.
The pieces here are nothing new; the spear and shield have both been seen a number of times, and the hair is the same as Intergalactic Girl, though cast in black. One thing to note is that it’s not dissimilar to Wonder Woman’s hair – minus the tiara. So if you want to make it look like WW has just thrown her tiara, now you have a way to do it.  

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I missed this figure on first release, but picked it up on eBay recently. Currently it’s still readily available at a reasonable price, but I’d suggest getting in relatively quick if you’re keen to own her. 

Alongside the Battle Goddess (from series 12) and Wonder Woman, this minifigure adds to a small but steadily growing collection of female Greek badasses. Another great addition to the collection, and highly recommended for all Xena fans. Now we just need a "Gabrielle" to go with this "Xena"...and hopefully a "Hercules" too.  

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Book Review: Just Can't Get Enough -- Toys, Games and Other Things from the '80s that Rocked

Elements of this article originally appeared on the (now defunct) This one's for you, Phil!

Pic from

Just Can’t Get Enough: Toys, Games and Other Things from the ‘80s that Rocked

Authors: Matthew Robinson and Jensen Karp

Year: 2007

Publisher: Abrams Image

The Background

When my now-wife and I started dating back in 2009, one of the first things we bonded over was our mutual love of the 1980s. Sensing my fondness for kid's toys and pop culture, she loaned me the subject of today's review, which I instantly loved and have never really returned -- now that we're married, the point seems kind of moot, too.

The Book

Toy-wise, the 1980s and 1990s were an interesting time to be a child in the Western world. Cartoons and action figures had been around for several decades previously, but it was in the 1980s that the combination of the two really came into bloom. Cartoons like He-Man, Thundercats and Transformers dominated not only the TV screens but the toy shop as well. Care Bears sold by the truckload. Kids all around the world were lapping this stuff up, and the companies involved were presumably all sleeping on mattresses filled with gold bullion.
In hindsight, all these kid's fads seem to be a typical example of the “Greed is Good” attitude that many believe defined the 1980s. Yet it is a model that has never truly gone away…just grown more subtle over the years. As adults, we're a little more aware that our favourite childhood toys were often more the products of cynical marketing meetings, rather than inspired creativity -- and yet it does not usually affect our previous enjoyment of them.

Styled to look like a Trapper Keeper, Just Can’t Get Enough is awash with brightly coloured pictures, amusing anecdotes, disturbing personal revelations and historical trivia. It’s somewhat comparable in concept to The A-Zof Cool Computer Games, though perhaps a little more cynical and (although I dislike using the term as a descriptor) American.

Many of the biggest children’s fads of the decade get a look-in. He-Man, Voltron, World Wrestling Federation, Hungry Hungry Hippos….the list goes on. Most you’ll be familiar with, even if only in passing. But there were a few I’d genuinely never heard of before -- the Lite-Brite? Did any of you ever own one of these? Maybe it was a U.S. thing, or maybe I was just too young, being an '85 baby.

Each chapter takes a look at the history of the toy/game/book in question, its current availability status and a brief overview of any related spin-offs. For example, the section on He-Man features an assessment of the live-action movie starring Dolph Lundgren and Frank Langella (oh, it happened).

I was particularly pleased to see that Choose Your Own Adventure books were also featured within. Anyone who knows me well is probably aware of my childhood obsession with these marvellous pieces of children’s literature. They’ve long since come and gone in their popularity, but as a young child I was absolutely hooked.
Importantly, it’s not just boy’s stuff that gets a look in -- there’s plenty of coverage for more traditionally female items like Rainbow Brite and Strawberry Shortcake. The Cabbage Patch Kids chapter in particular is one of the funniest in the book.

How do all of these retro relics hold up after so many years? As might be expected, it’s a little bit mixed. There are plenty of toys within that still look cool as an adult. Other items have not fared so well, or were simply terrible at time of release, but people were sucked in by hype. Take Pogo Balls -- much like the authors, I remember just about everyone owning one of the things, but I would be hard pressed to remember seeing anyone actually use one. I suppose it’s a powerful example of how well marketing can work on young impressionable minds.

There were a few omissions from the volume that were disappointing. Perhaps the most shocking was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, posterboys for the 1980s if ever there were some. Still, things are always going to get left out, I suppose.
Not long after the original version of this article was published online, I actually interviewed Jensen Karp via email. My document of this seems to have been lost (though I am looking), but I recall him mentioning there were a number of other chapters planned, but for space and other considerations, they just didn't happen (possibly accounting for the lack of TMNT?). He also mentioned the prospect of a 1990s-based sequel, which didn't seem like it was getting off the ground through no fault of their own -- one was released in 2013, but it seems that it was entirely separate from their involvement. I own that volume too, though, so I may have to look at it on here soon.
Just Can't Get Enough is primarily a hilarious experience and highly recommended. But it's also slightly tinged with sadness; the 1980s are gone and they'll never be back. Similarly depressing is that  the reminder (or in some cases, revelation) that many of your favourite childhood moments were facilitated by cynical companies who were simply looking to squeeze money from your parents. Still, that’s all part of growing up; you can’t live in a rosy childhood forever.

Though it seems increasingly unlikely, I’d love to see a companion volume, covering some other '80s fads. With their reverential yet irreverent tone, Jensen Karp and Matthew Robinson did a thoroughly entertaining job of bringing some of these near-forgotten things to life again.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Lego Review -- Research Institute (21110)

Theme: Lego Ideas

Pieces: 165

Year: 2014



Lego’s Ideas program (formerly Lego CUUSOO) has yielded some really cool sets – cinematic fun like the DeLorean from Back to the Future and Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters, alongside real-world fun like the Mars Rover. And of course, there’s the stuff that could easily fit into more “regular” Lego releases, like today’s review – the Research Institute.

Developed by geoscientist and AFOL Ellen Kooijman (aka Alatariel), this set has attracted quite a bit of attention due to its female-centric nature. As much as I love Lego, they’re not above criticism, and Lego has copped a bit of criticism in the past for being a bit too…let’s say “boy-focused”. Though most themes tend to get a female presence, it tends to be a token one at best. The recent Friends theme is obviously intended for girls, but this has been a mixed bag for Lego too. It doesn’t fit in with other Lego themes, and as this letter from one of their young female fans points out, it seems a lot of the more exciting stuff is kept for the boys. So this set is not only an intriguing concept in its own right, but a good PR move for the company.


This set comes with three minifigures – the Astronomer, the Paleontologist and the Chemist.
All of them are printed with two faces – their standard faces are fairly neutral, and to some degree even interchangeable. The Chemist’s face is printed with what I assume are protective glasses, but they could easily pass as normal spectacles if you wanted (actually, she kind of looks like Modern Family's Ariel Winter, now that I think about it). The alternative faces a little more entertaining – the Astronomer has a strained expression with a squinting eye (for when she’s looking through the telescope), the Paleontologist has a grumpy face (presumably for staring intently through the magnifying glass) and the Chemist has a panicked face (for when an explosion occurs in the laboratory).


The Chemist is my favourite of the minifigs – with her labcoat and the little details like the lanyard printed on, she is most effective at conveying the image of a scientist.  The other two are perfectly fine too, but their more generic outfits means they could be from pretty much any City set. A couple of little touches – maybe the Paleontologist's necklace could have been a trilobite, for instance – would have added a lot here.   


Each diorama will likely only take you somewhere between 5-10 minutes to build, with the most complex being the Paleontologist’s, due to the dinosaur skeleton. Speaking of which, the dinosaur skeleton is easily my favourite part of this kit. Presumably a juvenile T-Rex, it immediately catches the eye and makes you wonder why Lego hasn’t spent more time creating prehistoric skeletons. As might be expected, it’s a little on the fragile side, but this doesn’t detract from its overall cool factor. A great centrepiece to the set.  

But the accompanying microscope is something of an odd inclusion. While it looks good as an additional piece of science equipment, it’s much too tall for the Paleontologist to look into directly. I think it might have been a better choice to feature a diagram board, similar to the Astronomer’s set-up – maybe with a dinosaur evolutionary timeline, or something like that. However, the magnifying glass is an appropriate addition, and actually works as a magnifying glass too.  

I expected the Chemist’s set-up to be the least interesting, but its exterior simplicity is actually quite cool. It’s immediately obvious that it’s some sort of chemistry set-up, but generic enough that it can be repurposed for a wide variety of uses. The Chemist’s diorama is also the most accessory-heavy. Naturally there are the bottles, jars and Erlenmeyer flasks we see, but the drawers and cupboard door at her workstation actually open too! They’re filled with needles and some cups, but in theory you could chuck pretty much whatever you want in there.


Though still quite fun, the Astronomer’s diorama is probably the weakest of the three. A proper observatory would be worth a full-scale set in its own right, and cramming it onto a 6 x 6 Lego base means that some of the detail is naturally going to be lost. Still, when viewed on their individual merits, the star chart and the telescope are cool pieces, though I would suggest using the set-up I've photographed here rather than the one depicted on the box.  


This set is not particularly easy to find in Australia. It’s a Lego Store exclusive, and we have precisely none of those in Australia. You can order it online, but postage is not cheap unless you’re buying a lot of other stuff too. How did I get it then? Well, my sister was recently travelling around Europe, and she tracked this down for me this in Copenhagen, of all places – unfortunately the London Lego store (which is amazing, I might add) was sold out at the time of her visit.


As a child I dreamed of being an astronomer, a paleontologist and a scientist at different points – so this set pushes all of the right buttons for me. The minifigures are fun, the dioramas are multi-purpose and the overall concept behind the set is fantastic.

There are many, many Lego sets that I “must” have upon initially seeing them, but with most the desire tends to fade away pretty quickly. Still, there are a handful that ingrain themselves on my psyche and truly do become necessary (I’m looking at you, Arctic Basecamp). The Research Institute is one such set. Though it’s not perfect, it’s quickly become one of my favourites for the year, and I would love to see it get a more mainstream release. Hopefully we’ll soon see Creator tackle a modular museum in which all of these guys could fit – that would be amazing.

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