Tuesday, 29 December 2015

POP! Movies -- Godzilla

Company: Funko
Series: POP! Movies

Year: 2015

Few movie monsters are as iconic as Godzilla. Debuting in the 1954 Japanese film ゴジラ(Gojira), he has since gone on to star in dozens of movies, becoming emblematic of an entire genre of films – and in some ways, of Japan – in the process.

There have been countless items of Godzilla merchandise released over the decades; Funko is just the latest in a long line of licensors to take a crack at him. They’ve done so in two styles – a Mystery Mini, which I’ll hopefully take a look at in the next few days, and a 6” Funko POP which is the subject of today’s review.  

As you might expect, a character that’s existed for seven decades has had some changes in appearance over the years. The differences – with the exception of the American versions from 1998 and 2014 – are not always obvious to my eyes. They largely seem to be oriented keeping his look fresh and moving with the special effects technology of the day, rather than allowing it to be limited to a 1950s. That said, judging by the box art, this POP does appear to be based on Godzilla’s first incarnation. The back of the box depicts him picking a train up from the ground; it obviously looks a little dated to modern eyes, but would have been undeniably impressive in its heyday. Perhaps most importantly, it gives a great sense of just how big this guy is!   

There are currently four versions of this POP doing the rounds. Two of them are convention exclusives – the Ghost (i.e. glow in the dark) and Black & White versions. A few of these have shown up in some Australian retailers, like Zing. But they seem to have long since sold out, so expect to pay an extortionate price on eBay for them.
There’s also a Burning Godzilla, who I believe is based on a scene from one of the 1980s films, and the plain regular version which we’re looking at here today. Curiously, the Burning Godzilla seems to cost substantially more than the regular version. It doesn’t seem to be an exclusive, and I believe it’s exactly the same sculpt, so I’m not sure on the rationale behind this. Limited edition, sign of impending price rise or simple aberration? Hopefully the third option.    

There are still relatively few 6” POPs doing the rounds, so they are always an interesting novelty. This is one of only two I own, the other being ThanosSculpting, if not 100% accurate to the 1954 incarnation of the character (and let’s be honest, it’s not meant to be), is quite impressive. He’s got a very avocado-esque look to his skin, both in texture and colour. The face is rendered in cutesy fashion while still having a hint of looming menace, reinforced by his chubby little hands with chubby little talons. It captures the essence of Godzilla’s pseudo-dinosaur look quite well. Anyone who’s vaguely familiar with the character should recognise who this is meant to be, and find it appropriately endearing. The main shame is that Funko didn’t include some kind of city skyline in the box for him to lurk over/totally destroy.

Paint is mostly fine, but there’s still room for improvement. The gums and teeth are a little sloppy, giving a somewhat Joker-esque look to his mouth. The silver spines on his back are the main area likely to be problematic. Painted silver, coverage can be a bit uneven and the green shows through a little too much. Of course, you can’t check his back in the box; you can only check the face.   

Unusually, Godzilla is totally static – he doesn’t even have the token neck articulation. Any potential movement is blocked by a large back spine, glued in right where head meets neck. This isn’t a big drama for me – after all, though I would disagree with OAFE’s assessment that POPs are not toys, they’re certainly not action figures and I don’t buy them with that expectation.    

Godzilla is a good POP, not simply because he’s an awesome character, but also because he’s a good entry level POP. Nowadays there are so many different POPs available across so many different licenses (which is a good problem to have, mind you) it can be difficult to know where to start! Godzilla is a fun POP for those who are fans of the franchise – but you don’t need to be a diehard fan of the character to justify picking him up either.

Overall? Godzilla comes highly recommended if you can find him – the usual retailers I frequent either seem to have not got him or just sold out crazy fast. But don’t pay silly money on the aftermarket, because he’s a big enough that he’ll hopefully get a wider release/re-release in the near future.    

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Funko Mystery Minis: An American Werewolf in London (Horror Classics Series 2)

I only watched An American Werewolf in London a couple of months ago, around Halloween. But given my penchant for all things Lupine (pls refer to the name of the blog), it should come as no shock that I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was quite different to my expectations. Though quite gory, violent and disturbing in parts, it’s actually quite a funny film. Yet it doesn’t really move into Evil Dead territory; it manages to retain a lot of poignancy, particularly with the tragic ending.

John Landis really got it right with this one, and I can’t help but think that it would have a difficult time getting made today. Hollywood and filmmaking have always been heavily influenced by the prospect of making money; I’m not going to try and pretend that there was some golden era in the 1970s/80s where everyone was just making art for art’s sake. But it does seem like studios were a little more confident to let a movie find an audience over time, rather than freaking out and yanking them from circulation just because it didn’t make thirteen trillion dollars in the first weekend.*

Of course the titular Werewolf (sometimes called the “Kessler Wolf”) is the biggest star of the film. You don’t really get a good look at the fully transformed beast until right at the end of the film, but the David Naughton’s transformation has rightly gone down in cinema legend.  

This is not a bad thing. Seeing any villain too much tends to reduce its effectiveness, and impressive as the creature design itself is, seeing too much of a (presumably) limited puppet could have done more harm than good to the film. As it is, it retains its B-movie sensibilities without ever getting too camp – that subway scene is genuinely frightening. And when he escapes the cinema, it’s brutal (confident in calling that one NSFW).  

So, naturally Funko has decided to turn this violent supernatural beast into a cutesy collectible. It’s actually kind of difficult to find reference photos of the Kessler Wolf from the film – there are a few collectibles and replicas out there, but a lot of them look a little off to me. This can probably be attributed to a couple of factors; there are usually at least two or three different puppets of a monster on a film like this. This provides the filmmaker with different options for long shots, close-ups, stunts, and simply to allow for wear and tear. All of these can have subtle – or sometimes drastic – differences between them, which in turn means that there isn’t always a definitive version to refer to when it comes time to make merchandise. The Creature from the Black Lagoon is a classic case in point – the main suit is different from film to film…then you have the underwater suit…plus the mask that was used to generate the breathing effect in the first film. But there are lots of films like that. It’s compounded by the fact that people didn’t anticipate that someone would still care about the film decades later, so reference photos may be in short supply or simply non-existent. Not to mention that the suits and puppets themselves tend to succumb to age pretty quickly.
But on the whole, this figure isn’t a bad likeness considering its stylised nature. I think the face should probably be a bit lighter, but its somewhat generic nature means it also serves as a good werewolf sculpt for anyone who wants to mix and match with a compatible series of Mystery Minis –  like Funko’s Walking Dead Mystery Minis. Let’s see you crossbow your way out of that one, Daryl!!!

This figure, like Cthulhu, is packed at a 1/24 ratio. He’s an absolute pain in the bum to find – in trying, I drew three Eds (I must be the only person in the world who didn’t like Shaun of the Dead) and three Cthulhus, two of which were the glowing variant (more on that another time). So I can’t offer any grand insights into how to find him. I ended up caving and ordering him on eBay for slightly more than I would have liked to paid, but not a totally outrageous amount either.
Overall, he’s a fun figure, and probably the figure I wanted most from this series after Cthulhu. Just don’t let his apparent rarity trick you into paying a fortune – with the film’s 35th anniversary next year, I’m hoping NECA or someone will pick up the license and do an exceptional take on him.




*Things are not quite that simple, of course – back then the idea of a blockbuster was still pretty new, having been pioneered by films like Jaws and Star Wars only a few years before. You only had one or two of those films a year, whereas now there are a HUGE amount competing for attention and dollars. In 2015 alone, we’ve had Avengers: Age of Ultron, Mad Max: Fury Road, Furious 7, Jurassic World, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed! This doesn’t even include outrageously high grossing films that we might not consider traditional blockbuster films, like Fifty Shades of Grey or Magic Mike: XXL. See how a more…ah…offbeat film like An American Werewolf in London might have some issues standing out in a crowd like that? Back in 1981, it only had Raiders of the Lost Ark and Superman II to compete with – on that front, anyway.  

Likewise, thanks to increased instances of downloading and piracy, it’s harder for films to recoup costs – or continue to generate revenue – on home media. Plenty of now-famous day cult films were seen by about three people in cinemas, but eventually found their audience on VHS or DVD. Not to say that can’t happen now, just that it’s more difficult.        

POP! Heroes: White Lantern Flash

I mentioned a while ago that I had at least one more Flash POP to review on here – well, here he is!

First released a year-ish ago in conjunction with White Lantern Superman, I initially passed on this Flash. Of course, now that I’ve got the (glow) versions of Batman and Wonder Woman, I’m incredibly annoyed at myself for not getting the glow Flash and Supes back then – but hey, if that’s the worst thing that happened to me all week, I’m doing pretty well.  

But I was in Geelong a couple of months ago and came across this non-glow version in the Popcultcha store, and thought it was time to take the plunge. So now it’s quite possible that I’ll get White Lantern Supes too, though we’ll have to wait and see… 

This figure uses the same mould as the original Flash, New 52 Flash, New 52 Reverse Flash, Black Flash, Blue Lantern Flash, Reverse-Flash and Black Lantern Reverse-Flash – in other words, the exact same mould as all of the non-TV series Flash POPs. Funko sure is getting th
eir money’s worth from this mould; the only other mould I can think of that they’ve used this much is their original Batman, who is currently available in 3049235804+ different colour schemes (plus chases and retailer variants).  
  
The concept is good but the execution is lacking. The basic paint is cleanly executed across most areas, but the body is kind of dirty, possibly dropped on the ground at the factory. The tampographs on the other hand, though – they’re not great. The chest one has been stamped on properly, but the belt and wrists are pretty darn sloppy. The black lines are uneven and the silver is pretty sloppy. It’s disappointing – if you want to go ahead with a purchase, make sure you inspect it carefully. I’d be less disappointed if this was the glow version, but from a distance it’s still a striking colour scheme. He’ll look good on the shelf. However, in tandem with the QC problems with White Lantern Wonder Woman, it's made me very hesitant about picking up White Lantern Superman to complete the collection.
    
For someone who barely reads the Flash outside of his Justice League appearances, I’ve somehow managed to buy the same mould four different times. Batman is my favourite superhero, and I only own two of him! Fortunately, I’m not a big fan of the Black Lantern Reverse-Flash POP that came out just recently, so I’ve saved myself a bit of money there. White Lantern Flash is definitely not an essential purchase, but you may find him an interesting one. And I'd like to see more of the White Lanterns, particularly some of the harder to find moulds, like Green Lantern and Hawkman.  



Sunday, 13 December 2015

Fallout Mystery Minis: Fallout - Grim Reaper's Sprint

Well, once again I've found myself not updating the site in weeks. Lots of easy excuses to throw around -- busy with work, busy with life, Christmas approaching etc etc -- and these have definitely played a part. But I've also just been plain lazy. I love running the LBC, don't get me wrong. I have no intentions of giving it up in the foreseeable future, I've got plenty of stuff I want to write about on here -- but a short break has been a good thing.

But today, I'm back. And we're looking at another of Funko's Fallout Mystery Minis -- Grim Reaper's Sprint.

To give the simple explanation, Grim Reaper's Sprint is one of the perks your character can pick to boost AP if you manage to kill someone/something in VATS mode. The perk has varied in its exact rules and usefulness since its introduction back in Fallout 3, but irrespective of your feelings about its gameplay application, it's definitely one of the coolest Vault Boy illustrations.

He's depicted as a Bergman-esque Death i.e. black cloak, pale white face that's not quite a skull.  But it still manages to be very Fallout; his blue Vault Jumpsuit is visible beneath the robes and his face is full of that signature chipper Vault Boy attitude. In his right hand he holds a scythe, which has been pretty standard issue for Death since at least the Middle Ages. In his left hand he holds a briefcase. The symbolism of the briefcase is probably something incredibly obvious, but it escapes me nonetheless.

Of the four figures I've picked up from the range (one review still to come), this is far and away my favourite. Paint is a little fuzzy in parts, but the distinctive cartoony style of Fallout's in-universe training materials is lends itself particularly well to Funko's Mystery Minis. If this series sells well, hopefully we'll see a second series that tackles even more perks and unique creatures from the Wasteland.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

POP! Heroes – Swamp Thing (glow-in-the-dark variant)

Company: Funko
Series: POP! Heroes

Year: 2015

It has not been a good few weeks over here at the LBC. For the last few weekends I’ve been laid low with various illnesses and maladies, so updates have been pretty thin on the ground. So I’m sitting at home, struggling to keep to it together as snot emerges from my nose at a frightening speed. What connection does this have to Swamp Thing? Well, he’s quite green and is presumably always dripping with ichorous fluids, so yeah, let’s go with that. 

I always liked comics as a kid, but Swamp Thing is the one that really pulled me into my current level of interest. Y’see, back in the late 1990s, DC republished a bunch of Alan Moore’s run on the title as black and white single issues. Flash forward to 2006 and Gosford Book Exchange had a bunch of them in stock – a relic of the long-closed Phantom Zone store that had once been next door. This was right around the time the film of V for Vendetta had been released, so I held Alan Moore’s name in quite a bit of esteem. They were going cheap, so I picked them up and promptly became a huge fan, rekindling an enjoyment of comics that actually became quite unhealthy for a while. 

But I emerged better for the experience, and here we are today. Pretty much ever since I started collecting POPs, I’ve wanted Funko to do a Swamp Thing. But I wasn’t confident that would happen – his complex design was quite far removed from the simplistic style Funko was working with at the time, and the character’s peak popularity was a couple of decades ago.    

The box art is great. The Funko art style is a good render of the character’s distinct look, and they’ve incorporated the old-style logo, rather than the New 52 version. The back of the packaging is a little curious; as Swamp Thing has been released solo (I’ll get to that in a moment) rather than in conjunction with other characters, the box just depicts the first few DC POPs that were released, including the now-rare Batgirl. Fingers crossed for a re-release of her, as I didn’t pick her up in back in the day and she’s now exceedingly expensive…

The sculpt is some great work from Funko. Lots of little details have been worked into the sculpt, like the vines, the I think the nose should have been a little bit more prominent on the face, like this, but it’s otherwise quite well executed. He's cast in semi-translucent plastic, which is a good idea, but does mean that the head and body are slightly different shades of green. He’s been given a black wash to bring out all of the little details, which is a good touch. But on the subject of paint…     

Paint…sigh…well, I don’t need to tell any regular readers or fellow POP collectors that Funko tend to do a below-average job when it comes to paint. Swamp Thing does not buck that trend, unfortunately. The front of him is okay; the brown vines could be a little neater and red eyes, but they’re within the acceptable range. But turn him around and you’ll see he just hasn’t been painted – all the details are just blank!

Now, I should clarify that this may be because I picked up the glow in the dark version specifically. There are three versions of this POP available – a regular, a glow one and a flocked one. All of them look pretty good. The regular and glow versions look virtually interchangeable; you’ll notice on the box that there isn’t the usual “Glow in the Dark” sticker, so how these will be told apart in a shop setting (as opposed to ordering online) is a bit of a mystery to me. The flocked version also looks fantastic, and I was tempted to order that too – but we’ll see.         

Overall, Swamp Thing is a good addition to the collection -- I never really thought we'd see him released, particularly not in multiple forms. While I don’t think they quite knocked it out of the park, I do think that Funko have delivered a solid product in sculpt, if not paint. Highly recommended for Swamp Thing fans, regardless of era. 

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Funko Mystery Minis: Fallout – Deathclaw

Good heavens, I got a chill when I opened the packet and found this guy inside the box. No matter no high a level you get in Fallout, Deathclaws are always a terrifying sight. Towering over the player character like some kind of bastard hybrid of lizard, werewolf and devil, they can kill you within a swipe or two, wiping out hours of gameplay if you’ve forgotten to save…so finding one in such close proximity to yourself is a daunting prospect!

While I liked a couple of the Fallout POPs, I found the Deathclaw to be a bit underwhelming; the paint scheme was good, but I didn’t love the head sculpt. Mystery Minis are sculpted in a very different style to POPs, and in this case, it’s substantially better. He looks appropriately menacing, retaining key features like his back spikes, titular claws and long tail – yet he’s cutesy enough that he wouldn’t look too out of place in a kid’s toy collection, which is the balance I tend to think these figures should strike.    

Fallout Mystery Minis are packed at a 1:12 ratio. In theory, this means that buying one case should ensure a complete set – but there’s actually a little bit more to it than that. Y’see, there’s a Gamestop exclusive set too. It’s got most of the same figures, but it’s replaced a few with some Gamestop exclusive ones – including this Deathclaw. Certain EB Games stores seem to be stocking the Gamestop exclusive figures, but not all – check the box carefully before you buy, to make sure you’re getting one from the set you want. As with most blind-boxed things, I’m kind of irritated that there’s no way (that I’m aware of) to distinguish which character you’re getting. EB Games is selling them cheaper than most other places ($12 each) but that’s still too expensive for something blind boxed in my book. Cool as they are, release these as normal figures (maybe in a blister pack or something) and we’d be on to a much better thing. 


Nonetheless, this figure is a really good rendition of the Deathclaw – I actually think he should have been included in the regular series, rather than being a Gamestop exclusive. Just make sure you get a Vault Dweller to partner with him! 

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Transformers: Generations Combiner Wars Optimus Prime (Voyager Class)

Series: Generations
Company: Hasbro
Year: 2015
RRP: $50AUD

 INTRO

I am a Decepticons man through and through, but Optimus Prime nonetheless remains pretty much the best Transformer out there. But as a kid, I didn’t actually own very many Transformers and Optimus Prime was certainly not one of them. Though my memory is probably not totally accurate, I think he was a pretty expensive toy even then – probably around $100ish by today’s standards. I only knew one kid who had him, and believe you me I was jealous.

Though I came close to buying one back in Transformers: Armada days, I never pulled the trigger on it. So today I present to you the first Optimus Prime I’ve ever owned. Was he worth the years of waiting (since 1991)? Read on to find out!

OPTIMUM PLAYABILITY

The thing I like about the Generations theme is that they pretty much always strike a good balance between kid’s toy and adult collectable. They’re reasonably well integrated with one another, so even though certain series within the theme (like Fall of Cybertron) are designed to be faithful to their source material, they don’t look radically out of place when viewed as part of a larger whole. I guess it’s like a “Greatest Hits” line. More dedicated collectors than I may disagree, of course, but other than the Masterpiece range, I think it’s the best Transformers line on the market.     

Optimus here actually has three modes – robot, truck and head/torso of Ultra Prime. And not for the first time, I will complain about the instructions included. Hasbro needs to switch to using either photos or full-colour instructions – some of the instructions are frustratingly unclear – but fortunately Optimus is relatively straightforward to change. Still, though… 

As is typical of all Transformers lines, scale is a joke. In real life a truck is noticeably smaller than an F-16 fighter jet, yet Optimus towers over Starscream, for example. Though I think he looks kind of right next to Devastator in bot mode; I base my idea of scale on how big characters “should” be in my own personal canon. Optimus should be big, as he’s extremely powerful and the leader of the Autobots. But it’s okay for other bots to be bigger – even Megatron. It’s a pretty loose standard but it’s helped me avoid a ton of frustration over the years.    

The truck mode is perfectly serviceable. The edges are a little too rounded for my preference – I like my trucks blocky, rather than streamlined – but it’s still satisfyingly chunky. Kids will have a lot of fun driving him around, but I’ll probably keep him in bot mode most of the time.  
I haven’t even bothered switching him to Ultra Prime. Though I’ve bought a couple of Aerialbot Combiner Wars figures, I’m interested in Optimus more as a solo character – and some of the bots who are his “official” companions are not Transformers I’m interested in buying at all. Still, the figure does look cool – so I may do it one day.   

The real highlight for me is the bot mode. It’s not spectacularly different from most of the other 493287409325790732095732509 different Optimus Primes that have been released since 1984, but it’s a good distillation of the basic elements. Blue head, red body, blue legs, with grey/silver accents in the appropriate spots. Nothing flashy, nothing outrageously out of the ordinary – it’s exactly what I want for my first Optimus Prime. He has all the main points of articulation that you’d want, but some are a little less mobile than you might like. A lot of this has to do with allowances needing to be made for not only his truck mode but for his Ultra Prime mode. Nonetheless, the designers have done a good job of making him as poseable as possible, while still minimising kibble.     

My main nit was that I think the head is just a little too small, even allowing for the necessity of transformation. No doubt a 3rd-party company will release an upgrade kit, if they haven’t already.  But the main point of contention is likely to be the lack of trailer. I don’t terribly miss it myself, but it would have been radical to see how the designers fit it all into the Combiner Wars aesthetic. Still, the money spent on additional tooling would have driven the price of the figure up to a (personally) unacceptable level. And I’d rather have none than one of those cardboard ones that have been included in other Optimus releases.

ACCESSORIES

Optimus comes with two guns, which can also combine to form one larger one (presumably for Ultra Prime mode). I would have liked them to look a little more like his G1 pistol, but as guns taken on their own merits, they’re pretty darn cool. They don’t sit terribly deep in his hands, due to the unusual shape of their handles, but they can be stored on his “legs” when he’s folded into truck mode.   
He’s also packaged with a trading card, which is likely to vanish into the ether within the next couple of weeks. Cool art, but nothing to get too excited about.   

AVAILABILITY

Most of the Transformers: Generations figures sell out like nobody’s business in Sydney – and once a wave has gone, that’s generally it. But a couple of the Voyager Class figures, including Optimus here, seem to have gone through a couple of releases and actually been restocked. Incredible! So though he’s been out for a few months, you may still be able to track one down. I believe there’s also some kind of white repaint on the way – I assume it matches something going on in the IDW comics, but I don’t know.  

OVERALL

So, does he live up to more than 20 years of expectations? Well, no. I don’t think any toy can really live up to those kind of expectations…well, maybe the Masterpiece version. But at $50AUD, this is a great, cost effective way to get hold of a nicely designed, well-articulated Optimus Prime. It may not be the classic that the 1980s toys where, but it can certainly move a lot better!


As a toy, he’s no Devastator – but he is an essential addition to any Transformers collection.  Recommended for those who need a good, all-round G1-inspired Optimus. 


Tuesday, 27 October 2015

POP! Marvel Daredevil

Company: Funko
Series: POP! Marvel
Year: 2015

Daredevil has easily been one of my favourite TV series for this year, and – true confession time – one of the few new series I’ve watched this year. It added a really good slant to the MCU, and while the surprisingly upbeat ending felt a bit at odds with the tone of the other episodes, it was still thoroughly enjoyable. Season 2 is eagerly anticipated. It was made even more enjoyable by my relative ignorance of the character; I know he's blind (but can virtually see anyway) and that Elektra died, but not too much more than that. The show really sold me on a character who I previously associated with the fun but heavily flawed Ben Affleck film. 

So now we have The Man Without Fear himself rendered in Funko form. There are currently two versions available, the red outfit reviewed today and his yellow “first appearance outfit”. That one's not out in Australia yet, but has been available in the US for a while.

There is very little paint, which I think is a good thing; it’s not really necessary to render the costume effectively. But if there was nothing but cast red plastic, it would be a bit dull – so a few select details have been picked out in a slightly different shade of red, namely his “eyes”, gloves, billy clubs, holster and boots. The string binding his billy clubs/walking cane together is painted black, and a black tampograph of his “DD” logo decorates his chest. He’s quite good; from the front, he’s almost perfect in fact. On the back of his head, he has some white marks – I’m not sure if this is stray paint, abrasions from being dropped, mould or glue. Not a major drama, but I was a little annoyed considering how well done everything else had been. Incidentally, he is a MUCH brighter red than you see here -- my photo set-up at home is quite primitive, which I hope to rectify soon.     


I’ll be a little surprised if we don’t see some TV-based Daredevil POPs, but it may take a while. Sometimes Marvel’s wheels seem to spin a little slowly – for example, in spite of Agent Coulson’s breakout popularity since the release of The Avengers, he only just got a POP this year. While I’m not entirely sure on the actual Daredevil costume that’s worn in the show, I am a big fan of the black ninja-esque costume he wears for most of the series -- so the sooner Funko get cracking on that, the better. In the meantime, this a great comic-based version, well worth picking up for any Marvel fan.   

Sunday, 25 October 2015

POP! Games – Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel

Company: Funko
Series: POP! Games
Year: 2015

As I mentioned in my Vault Boy review, Fallout 3 got me through some pretty rough times a few years ago. One of the most iconic images from the game, of course, is on the cover itself – a Brotherhood of Steel soldier, bedecked in the game’s most powerful armour.

Joining the mysterious Brotherhood is a key point of the game’s plot, occurring towards the end of the game if I recall correctly, though you can spot them at multiple points prior. The events leading up to the finale are pretty epic, so I won’t spoil them for those who haven’t played the game previously, but suffice to say that it’s great fun – even if the original ending of the game was quite disappointing.   

This POP can serve as a latter-stages player character, or simply a generic NPC character. It does a nice job of replicating the broad strokes of the costume, but doesn’t veer into “overly detailed” territory, which is nice. It’s a good caricature, which is when Funko tends to be at their best. As an example, though I really liked my AoU Captain America POP, I think the level of sculpt detail was kind of unnecessary. For the broader aesthetic Funko is going for, simpler is generally better.    
Paint is nice and even, with some very minor issues on the yellow. This is at least in part to do with him not having a lot of paint – he’s cast in faintly metallic plastic which shows up a nice swirly effect in a couple of parts, particularly the chest.    

There’s a convention exclusive of this guy too, which was released to tie in with New York Comic-Con. It’s basically the BotS body with a (male) Lone Wanderer head chucked on top. It’s a pretty cool idea for a variant, though I’m sure it’s not too hard to create the same effect via a custom. Australian readers will be able to find him at EB Games or Popcultcha.

The Brotherhood of Steel POP is the best of the Fallout series, and naturally enough seems to be quite a bit harder to get hold of. Mine was actually the display – and final – one in Kinokuniya when I picked him up! I’ve only seen a few in person, while others seem readily available. I hope that we see the series expanded, but I have a feeling that the timing was just a little off on these being released. Though certain characters are still selling well, I some have already ended up being functionally peg warmers – particularly both versions of the Vault Boy POP. Supply has far outstripped demand. Funko isn’t quite done with the Fallout license yet though – under their Legacy brand they’ll also be releasing action figures of a male Lone Wanderer and a Brotherhood of Steel soldier. It’ll be interesting to see how they turn out. 

Friday, 23 October 2015

POP! Movies – Jason Voorhees (Glow in the Dark Chase Edition)

Year: 2011
Series: POP! Movies
RRP: See below…

I watched a LOT of horror films between the ages 18 and 25, ranging from more tame, mainstream fare through to the highly disturbing and Z-grade. The Friday the 13th series really straddles both worlds – though Jason is a pretty iconic protagonist/villain, a lot of the films are objectively terrible. Camp sensibilities get more and more pronounced as the series goes on, but the energy just isn’t there to sustain it, especially in clunkers like Jason Takes Manhattan. Some of the latter-day instalments like Jason X and Freddy vs Jason were certainly not masterpieces, but at least they were self-aware enough to be fun. So though I definitely used to be a fan, I don’t have strong reasons to recommend other people spend their time watching them! There are plenty of better films – horror and otherwise – to watch. 

But as I said, Jason is iconic. He’s a character who has grown much larger than the films that spawned him, thanks in no small part to his hockey mask. He’s also not an entirely unsympathetic character – Freddy Krueger was a bad, bad man before becoming an undead nightmare monster, Pinhead was a total hedonist, and Michael Myers was a psychopath from childhood. Jason, on the other hand, was a child with some kind of severe medical issue who was unfortunate enough to drown at a summer camp. His motivations are never really explored, but you can extrapolate that this may have played a role in why he acts the way he does.

At any rate, he is a sure-fire movie merchandising success these days, so it’s not really surprising that he was one of the first POPs Funko produced. Jason has had a number of looks through the different movies – not surprising, given that the series has had numerous changes in direction, many different people handling the mythos and multiple actors playing the character. This figure looks to be mostly based on his appearance in Freddy vs Jason, which, while not as detailed as his appearance in some of the other films, is a nice “generic” look for him. It captures how the public tends to think of him, even if it’s not entirely reflective of most of the actual films. His machete is spattered in blood, unsurprisingly. Jason hacks up just about everyone he runs into, which skews against Funko’s cutesy aesthetic, but is certainly character-accurate.

Paint is pretty good (what a shock!), but the mask is a little rough with the way the grey is applied around the holes. This is accentuated a little as the mask is not painted – it’s cast in glow plastic, so errors couldn’t really be covered up with other paint, as you could theoretically do with the regular release. Nothing especially problematic, particularly considering that this is one of Funko’s older figures when paint was regularly much, much worse than this.  

Overall, it’s a good example of the kind of figure I like from Funko’s earlier years. While the more detailed sculpts they use now are still frequently very cool, I like the simplicity of the older ones – it didn’t work perfectly for every character, but it helped give a slightly more unified aesthetic to the your collection. 

Now…to cost. As Jason here is a chase version, some retailers will just sell him at the same price as a regular POP, if you can actually find him. I’m not sure if Funko has re-released this figure, or if this is genuinely old stock that has just shown up in store now. I came across him in an EB Games store in Sydney a couple of months ago, and he was just sitting in among all of the rest of their POP section. I paid RRP, but on eBay he goes for absolutely silly money. So think wisely before going ahead with the purchase – the only real difference I can see is that his mask glows in the dark, so the “regular” version is perfectly serviceable. Don't get me wrong, I love glow in the dark stuff! Just not at that kind of price tag. 

I don’t watch a lot of horror anymore – I don’t get time to watch a lot of movies, and I don’t have the same stomach for gore – but Jason is a well-made POP and a fun reminder of those younger days. Now, if only they’d make some Zombie Flesh Eaters POPs…  

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Harley Quinn: Arkham Knight

Company: DC Collectibles
Year: 2015
Scale: 7"

BACKGROUND
The Arkham series video game figures have been a really mixed bag over the years, yielding up some great figures – but some absolutely dreadful ones too. The Arkham Origins ones were particularly good -- much better than the game they accompanied, which is probably why there are still plenty of Batmans warming pegs in stores around Sydney, two years after release.

So it was with some trepidation that I gazed on the first wave of Arkham Knight action figures. Batman looks a little neither here nor there; Arkham Knight looks intriguing, though I need to know more about the character first, and Scarecrow looks pretty good. But the real star of this wave is Harley Quinn. So after having a particularly big week at work a few months ago, I decided to have a Parks and Recreation-style TREAT YO SELF moment.      

SCULPT & ARTICULATION
Harley has been sculpted with an oddly demure look on her face – it’s a bit of a contrast to her usual sinister expression. Does this mean she’s taking a turn for the better during the course of the game? Possibly, but probably not. (I don’t know all the plot twists and turns – a friend was kind enough to give me Arkham Knight for my birthday a few months back, but I still haven’t finished it – I’ll have to go back to it soon, because it was great fun!) 

In fact, it’s a little too demure, virtually devoid of personality. Though the overall character design is much better than it was in Arkham City, Harley has had plenty of action figures in the past that have nailed her facial expressions better. Maybe it’s just a side effect of the (presumably) digital sculpting that Gentle Giant tend to employ. The other side effect of this seems to be the relative softness of a lot of the details – the pattern on her corset, the lacing at the back, the rings on her sleeves -- little bits and pieces like that. Though it’s not awful or anything, it seems a little on the soft side overall. 

However, she's quite well-articulated, with the following points: 
*Ball-jointed neck
*Swivel-hinged shoulders
*Swivel-hinged elbows
*Swivel-hinged wrists
*Ball-jointed torso
*Swivel-hinged hips
*Swivel thighs
*Double-hinged knees  
*Cut calves
*Rocker ankles

All the joints move smoothly, with the only one not working so well the neck. The high collar and the ponytails tend to get a bit stuck against each other, and the neck itself feels quite tight. The main thing that I think it missing is swivel biceps – it would have been easy to slot them in where the puffy sleeves end and the arms begin, and made a considerable difference when it came to posing.  
  
As the sleeves are so puffy – and sculpted from hard plastic – within a few minutes they’d caused some paint to scrape on the corset buckles. So just be careful when you’re first moving the joints around.

ACCESSORIES
Accessories with figures are shockingly rare in this day and age but amazingly Harley Quinn comes with no less than 6! Two alternate hands, a baseball bat painted like a barbershop pole, a pistol (which can be held in the left or right hand, thanks to the alternate hands), what looks to be a detonator – and best of all, a jack in the box, mounted on a real spring!

The handle on the jack in the box actually rotates, but I would suggest caution with it. It’s pretty fragile and could break quite easily – but that in no way detracts from how cool it is! You can actually position her holding it to wind it up, though this will NOT be a good option for long-term display.  

I assume all of these will have some kind of role to play in the game – the jack in the box is probably some kind of bomb, or maybe a collectible like the Riddler’s question marks in the other games. I'll let you know when I've finished the game (yes, I know I'm months behind...)! 

PAINT
Paint on Harley is great on her face, while the rest of her is adequate but not amazing. I suspect some apps got cut at production stage, as some strange decisions have been made -- shading on the hair and sleeves, but no drybrushing on the skirt, for instance. Some of the issues can be attributed to the soft sculpt, but on the whole lines aren’t quite as tight as they could be. From a distance you won’t mind too much though. Just take a good look before you pick one off the shelf.    

OVERALL
Harley isn’t perfectly executed, but I think she’s pretty good. She’s no NECA Predator, but she’s a few cuts above plenty of Marvel Legends. I picked her up for $39.95AUD – not my ideal price, but considering I recently saw Marvel Legends selling for the outrageous price of $49.95, I think she represents pretty good value on the whole. She’s got a decent unique sculpt and enough accessories to make her stand out from the pack. So overall, not essential but a good gift for the Harley Quinn fan in your life.       






Monday, 19 October 2015

Funko Mystery Minis: Fallout – Vault Dweller

We’re just a few weeks away from Fallout 4 dropping, and I am exciiiiiiiiiiteeeeeed!  So naturally I’m picking up some of the attendant merchandise. Funko has already released a range of Funko POPs, which were a bit of a mixed bag. Much cooler is their new range of Mystery Minis, whose only real downside is BLIND-BOXING!!!

Today we take a look at the Vault Dweller, who is essentially serving in the role of the player character for the purposes of this set. He’s a pretty generic white dude, with brown hair. For some reason he’s got a sulky expression on his face; I’m not sure if that’s because he’s now out of the comfort of the Vault, or whether he’s just generally a sooky la-la.  


However, all the correct details are present; he’s got a Pip-Boy on his left arm, and in his right hand he clutches a gun which looks to be a 10mm pistol, which you can generally acquire quite early in the game. This guy must be straight out of the Vault (101)! He’d better get some better armour and weapons, or he’ll soon be dead.     

Paint is serviceable – my only real complaint is the obvious brown smear on his forehead – but the Wasteland is pretty dirty, so you can kind of palm it off as being “battle damage”, if you feel the need to explain it away.


Gamestop exclusive version
Regular version
Now, to my main point of contention – the blind-boxing. Though these figures are packed at a 1:12 ratio – and thereby ensuring that buying one case should ensure a complete set – there’s actually a little bit more to it than that. Y’see, there’s a Gamestop exclusive set too. It’s got most of the same figures, but it’s replaced a few with some Gamestop exclusive ones – including a female Vault Dweller. Certain EB Games stores seem to be stocking the Gamestop exclusive figures, but not all – check the box carefully before you buy, to make sure you’re getting one from the set you want. As with most blind-boxed things, I’m kind of irritated that there’s no way (that I’m aware of) to distinguish which character you’re getting. EB Games is selling them cheaper than most other places ($12) but that’s still too expensive for something blind boxed in my book. Cool as they are, release these as normal figures (maybe in a blister pack or something) and we’d be on to a much better thing.  
This guy isn't the best figure in the series, but he's necessary if you're looking to stage some kind of battle scene with any of the "enemy" figures. And if these sell well, we may get a Series 2 with some more varied Vault Dwellers -- that would be fun!


  

Sunday, 18 October 2015

POP! Heroes -- The Phantom

Company: Heroes
Series: POP! Heroes
Year: 2015

Though he hasn’t enjoyed the same popularity as many of his contemporaries in recent years, The Phantom is one of the very first superheroes, first being published as a newspaper strip in 1936. He still enjoys considerable popularity in Australia and much of Europe. Though his star has waned in his native USA somewhat, he’s still a daily presence in many newspapers over there.  

The Phantom has many of the qualities you need to have a successful superhero – exotic scenery, high adventure and interesting backstory. But attempts at updates and modernisation have not tended to fare as well for The Phantom as they have for say, Batman or Superman. There are probably a few elements contributing here; some might find the portrayal of the African and other foreign scenery and characters a little on the “questionable” side. He also doesn’t have an iconic rogue’s gallery; though the Singh Brotherhood shows up a lot, individual villains tend to come and go, nameless thugs, cronies and interchangeable crime bosses. He lacks a Lex Luthor or Joker-style character

to serve as a main antagonist.

But I think the main issue is that costume…well, it was well ahead of its time, but now it just looks a little on the weird side, like some kind of fetish gear. Attempts to modernise it have ranged from the pretty cool to the not great. There’s probably a way to do it, but then you still have the purple colour issue – it’s just not camouflage-friendly or intimidating, no matter which way you look at it. Nonetheless, The Phantom remains one of my favourite comic characters, so I was over the moon when this POP got announced. Now that he’s finally here, how does he fare?  

Pretty darn good! I’ve been disappointed by a couple of POPs I was really looking forward to recently – most notably White Lantern Wonder Woman – so it was great that this one turned out well. There are a few nitpicks I have; as might be expected, there’s a couple of minor paint errors, and the pieces could be assembled a little more tightly, but he is very-well executed. All the necessary details (like his distinctive rings) are present and accounted for, but there’s not so much detail that it overwhelms the simplistic POP aesthetic.   


There are two variants available – red costume and dark blue costume. Why, you ask? Well, although in Australia and the USA we best know him for having a purple costume, other publishers around the world took a bit more license. In France, Italy, Spain, Turkey and Brazil, he’s better known for having a red costume, while in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland he’s known for having a dark blue one. So though these colourways may look odd to us, the purple one looks just as odd to many other readers worldwide. Given that The Phantom is not the draw he used to be, I suspect this will be the last time he gets a POP, but if they were going to do one more they should make a grey one, as this was his originally planned colour in the comics. Who knows – maybe we’ll see it as a convention exclusive next year! 

In the meantime, this is an essential purchase for Phantom fans.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

POP! Heroes – Black Flash

Company: Funko
Series: POP! Heroes
Year: 2012

Confession time: Black Flash isn’t a character I’m terribly familiar with. Though I love The Flash as a character, I’m really only familiar with him as a result of his adventures with the Justice League, rather than his own titles. As a result, a lot of his rogue's gallery remains borderline unknown to me.    

But from what I can see online, Black Flash is still pretty mysterious, even though he’s been around since 1998. Given his rictus grin and pallid skin, you could be forgiven for thinking for he was one of the Black Lanterns, but he’s actually some kind of harbinger of death, seemingly serving a similar function to the Grim Reaper for DC's speed-powered characters. Seeing that he’s partially a Grant Morrison creation, there’s probably some kind of obscure occult/magick/mysticism reference going on, but that’s outside of my expertise. I don't even know if it would be right to call him a villain, to be honest; the Reaper comes for us all eventually.    

Given his relatively recent creation, it’s a little bit surprising that Funko produced him so early on in their run of DC characters – this guy was released back in 2012! But The Flash’s star is rightfully ascendant thanks to his appearances on Arrow and the release of his own TV show last year. Perhaps even more importantly, this was an easy way to get reuse out of the unique pieces of Flash’s mould, back when POPs were all virtually identical.   

Paint on mine is pretty solid. The edges of the lightning bolt on his chest are a little faint, but that’s the consequence of printing red on black. I saw one particularly bad example of a mouth though – so pick carefully. His red wings feel a little soft and sticky; the original Flash POP’s wings weren’t super solid, but these feel a lot flimsier. Maybe it’ll “dry up” a little after a few days out of the box.

Black Flash is a great purchase for any Flash fan. He’s not the most essential member of the Flash family to track down, but given that like Reverse-Flash, he was incredibly rare for a long time and is now readily available again, it's a good time to pick him up. You'd think after buying the same mould three times now I'd be sick of it, wouldn't you? Well, there's still at least one more Flash to be reviewed here...keep your eye out!


Tuesday, 13 October 2015

POP! Marvel: Frost Giant Loki (glow in the dark variant)

Company: Funko
Series: POP! Marvel
Year: 2014

I have always had mixed feelings about Marvel’s take on Norse mythology. Though I don’t mind the Ancient Aliens take that the Cinematic Universe has offered, and the “Is Thor legit or crazy?” take from The Ultimates, the mainstream universe version has never really grabbed me. So if you had told me a few years ago that I would be buying anything to do with Marvel’s Loki, I would have laughed in your face.

Yet here I am. One of the best things about 2012’s The Avengers was Tom Hiddleston’s take on Loki. It retained a lot of the character’s visual trappings, but upgraded for more modern sensibilities and made them much cooler, at least to my eye. So three years on I’ve finally picked up a Funko POP of him – albeit one that seems to be based on a moment that I don’t think ever actually happened in the movie. Why, you ask? Well, he glows in the dark. The regular Loki is still a pretty cool POP, but I needed something to bump it up to the next level before I was willing to take the plunge – long-term readers of the site will recall that I am a glow in the dark tragic

Paint is a little tricky to judge – most of the paint on his body is fine, though there’s some fuzziness here and there; nothing too major. The face and helmet are a different story; he’s got a bit of paint missing on the top of his helmet and he’s got some missing on the area of the helmet covering his cheekbones. It’s not terribly noticeable in the photos, and I didn’t notice it in the box – but now I’ve seen it, it bugs me a lot. I may end up repainting the whole helmet and doing a pseudo-custom.
There are now a whole bunch of different Lokis from Thor: The Dark World – there’s the regular version, the B&W version, the Frost Giant version and the one reviewed today. All use the same sculpt; there’s an unhelmeted Loki from the first Thor movie, which I believe had a few variants too. This particular variant isn’t terribly rare. I’d say I’ve maybe seen 1 or 2 for every 5 regular Frost Giant Lokis, though this is far from an exact figure. The glow is – as you might expect – fun but not amazing. It looks like it needs an awful lot of light to get a good glow going. It’s better than Ant-Man was, but it’s no Gillman. But it looks virtually identical to the regular Frost Giant version, so why not just get this one instead?

This was a good POP for me to get personally, as I’m not so invested in Loki as a character and didn’t really need a “standard” version of him. He’s a fun, but non-essential variant; just make sure you check the paint more carefully than I did -- and don't pay some crazy aftermarket price for him either.    

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Funko Mystery Minis: Cthulhu (Horror Classics Series 2)

Company: Funko
Series: Mystery Minis Horror Classics Series 2
Year: 2015

I stumbled across Funko’s initial series of Horror Classics Mystery Minis sometime last year in a hobby store in Sydney, but they didn’t grab me for a few reasons. Firstly, they were blind-boxed, which is fine (if not ideal) when something costs $2-5, but these were about $15 each. Secondly –and I may court some controversy here – as much as I liked the style, I don’t really know that the world needs another Freddy, Jason or Michael Myers collectible.

But when series 2 got announced earlier this year, I was intrigued. While it was covering a lot of the classics like Gillman and Frankenstein’s Monster (yes, I know we have plenty of collectibles for these two as well) it moved into less-merched territory too; An American Werewolf in London, Hellraiser, The Fly and the one and only ALFRED HITCHCOCK – YEAAAAAAH!

So when I was in Melbourne last weekend, I spotted these in Minotaur and though I’d take a plunge. The box felt heavy; I suspected it might be the Werewolf, titular star of An American Werewolf in London. That would have been pretty awesome, but I think it actually went one better – this box contained the literary horror icon Cthulhu!

I’ve talked elsewhere about Cthulhu’s backstory before, so I won’t repeat myself here. What we’re looking for here is a point of differentiation – if you have the POPs, do you need this guy? Well, he’s not a miniaturised version of the POP, for one thing – he’s been rendered in a totally different style, with the most obvious difference being the dragon-like tail. I’m not particularly familiar with Mystery Minis, but I do know that most of the lines Funko has released share a very similar cutesy aesthetic to one another. I quite like it myself – it’s gives them a maquette-like appearance, as though they were preliminary designs for a kid’s cartoon or something. This is a nice bit of consistency across collections, but of course your own opinion of this particular style will vary.     
Paint is not perfect, but it’s of a slightly better standard than his POP counterpart. Green is obviously the predominant colour, but he’s also been speckled with brown dots. It’s a simple touch, but one that prevents him from looking like a boring block of single colour. As before though, his mouth tentacles are the weak point; they’re a slightly lighter shade of green and I think they would have been better to stick with the same colour as the main body.

Cthulhu is packed in a 1/24 ratio – there’s only 12 boxes in a case, so theoretically you’d find him once in every two cases. There’s also a glow version, which is 1/36. This is a little annoying given the character’s popularity – after-market buyers are likely to pay through the nose for him. But spare a thought for Pinhead fans – he’s packed at a staggeringly low 1/72 ratio!



Overall, as with the POP versions, Cthulhu is ideal for anyone who needs to add some cosmic terror to their display shelf – even if H.P. Lovecraft would have hated the cutesiness of it himself. As for Funko Mystery Minis, I could see myself picking up another one or two. I have my eye on that Gillman and that Werewolf!
 

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Lego Minifigures Series 14: Monsters (Part 4)

Lego Minifigures Series 14: Monsters (Part 4)

Here we are with the final instalment of this series – I actually completed my set a number of weeks ago, but time constraints enforced by starting a new job and a couple of weekends away from home have meant I’ve been, well,much slacker in putting this review online than I would have liked to have been. Never mind though – here we are now!

Spider Lady

A nice riff on Elvira and to some degree the Bride of Frankenstein, the Spider Lady also serves as a great partner for the Vampire, who appeared all the way back in Series 2!
At initial glance, she looks fairly simplistic in her design – beehive hairdo, spider-web dress and a red spider accessory. But there are a couple of little details that elevate her above your average Halloween costume. One is a little spiderweb printed on her hairpiece, which (intentionally or not) is a nice little reference to an old urban legend about beehive hairdos. She’s not my favourite figure from the series, but she’s a fun addition to the overall horror theme.


Square Foot

It’s been two years since we saw this mould – it was originally introduced as the Yeti’s head back in Series 11. Not a huge surprise that we saw it reused in this form, but it’s certainly welcome. It’s a really nice touch that he comes with a camera, given the prevalence of alleged Bigfoot/Sasquatch photos out there – his official bio over at Lego.com even makes reference to his keen amateur photographic endeavours.      

Given the iconic status that Bigfoot has in the cryptid world and wider popular culture, it was only a matter of time till we got a Lego take on him. My only real disappointment was that the paint on his teeth is a little bit sloppy. The Yeti had similar issues, so I suppose it’s not that surprising.

Banshee
What do you think of when you think of Ireland? I’d be willing to bet that leprechauns rank fairly highly. But there’s another Irish creature of folklore that’s arguably as famous – the banshee. Rendered in Lego form, she’s pretty endearing, but the banshee actually has a pretty grim history. In traditional Irish folklore, the wailing, screeching or singing of a banshee was typically seen as an omen of death. Of course, Lego didn’t go that route – she’s described as being more of an omen of inconvenience or minor accidents in her official bio.
   
Like the Specter, she uses the smoke waft/spirit piece for her legs. Her top half is dressed in a ragged peasant blouse. Her hair is also cast in translucent plastic, which adds nicely to the overall ghostly effect – however, I think they should have gone all out and simply cast her in entirely translucent plastic. It would have looked really cool, and elevated her from being fun and entertaining to being great.   

Monster Scientist

Mad scientists are a staple of the horror genre, with my personal favourite probably being the guy from Dr Butcher, M.D. aka Zombie Holocaust – a movie which lacks a lot in plot (famously lifting most of it, including actors and footage, from Zombie Flesh Eaters) but makes up for it in enthusiasm and genuinely frightening/disgusting scenes.

For some strange reason Lego have decided to be a little more restrained in their depiction of mad scientists, so they’ve given us the creator of the Fly Monster. The only real indication of this is the fly printed on the Erlenmeyer flask he’s holding, but that’s good enough for me. He’s also spilt a bunch of the purple fluid on himself, so he’s obviously not very careful. I hope that’s thick protective gear he’s wearing.

With his headpiece on, this was initially my least favourite figure from the series. He does have a full face printed underneath there, but he doesn’t look particularly sinister or zany – more like someone’s grandpa. But it has grown on me more than I expected; I suppose Lego will probably reuse the piece for a future Ultra Agents set, where it seems that anything goes.


And thus we wrap Lego Minifigures Series 14: Monsters. As always, it has been a tremendous pleasure – Lego has really been on the up-and-up with these figures. I can’t wait to see what they do for Series 15, which will presumably be launching early 2016. Stick around on the LBC, as we will have more reviews coming up shortly.