Saturday, 28 February 2015

Funko POP! Books -- Cthulhu

Company: Funko
Year: 2015
Series: Books

"In his house at R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming"

It was only a matter of time till we got a POP! Cthulhu. H.P. Lovecraft has always been a hugely influential writer, but in the last decade or so his popularity really seems to have soared. Modern geek culture has really picked up on his stuff and applied it beyond the horror genre – it’s nice to see him get the recognition he deserved but never received during life.

For those unfamiliar with his work, H.P. Lovecraft was a pulp magazine author in the early 20th century, primarily writing weird fiction – supernatural, horror, that kind of thing. He eked out a modest living in this way, but was more influential than successful in his own lifetime – sadly, he died at the young age of 47.

His short stories and themes have been tremendously influential, but the most famous of his creations was the subject of today’s review – the hideous creature Cthulhu. Cthulhu is namechecked in numerous H.P. Lovecraft stories, but I believe he only appears in person in one – The Call of Cthulhu, a story which ranks among the best of Lovecraft’s work and has gone on to lend its name to a pen-and-paper RPG centred around Lovecraft’s mythos.

Appearance-wise, Cthulhu is an unnatural combination of squid, humanoid and dragon, around the size of a mountain. Temperament-wise, you probably won’t be shocked to discover that he was pure evil. Lurking beneath the sea, he was worshipped as a deity by crazed cultists seeking after forbidden knowledge.

But for all his adoption of supernatural themes and imagery, Lovecraft was an atheist in real life. As I understand it, Cthulhu was not actually a god per se, but rather an immensely powerful alien entity which had arrived on this planet in earth’s dim pre-history. Over time, he became the subject of numerous human religions, as he lay “dead but dreaming” beneath the Pacific Ocean. In a way, Cthulhu was the original ancient astronaut.

This rendition of Cthulhu is a nice balance of cutesy and disgusting. He’s an entirely unique sculpt, and actually quite a bit larger than a regular 3.5” POP -- Dracula is pictured for reference -- but still retails for the regular price! This is good – it can serve as a monstrous terror for my Lego minifigures collection, as well as a POP in its own right. 

There’s lots of little details (some might even say a couple too many for the relatively simplistic aesthetic) sculpted all over him, such as the sucker-like appendages on his head, warts on his wings, the chubby hands and the little spikes on the back of his ankles. To protect his modesty, he wears what must surely be the world’s biggest loincloth. It’s been a while since I read any Lovecraft, but I don’t recall this being a detail he mentions in his stories. It’s a good addition, though – it breaks up what could have been an monotonous display of green. With that said, I think it should have been a darker brown. Which brings us to the issue that plagues most of the POPs you’ll ever get – PAINT.  

There’s not a lot of paint, but the paint that is there is kind of sloppy. The main issue is on his mouth tentacles, the undersides which are painted with a kind of bleached bone colour. It hasn’t been done very cleanly, and the paint looks just a little too thick. On the upside, he’s ripe for customisers to repaint, and hopefully give that him that shiny, just-emerged-from-the-sea look via some gloss varnish. It’s a project I’d like to undertake but currently I lack the skill, the time and the inclination to do so. But maybe one day.   

There are two versions of Cthulhu available – the one pictured here and the Entertainment Earth exclusive version, which glows in the dark and has completely open red eyes, rather than half-closed black ones. I was only going to get one of the two, but after this one arrived I decided I had to own both. So I’ll hopefully be pre-ordering the other version shortly (it seems to be arriving in April). I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a few more versions in future, but I’ve been wrong about most of my POP variant predictions/hopes (Glow in the Dark Gillman/Flocked Wolfman, please Funko?), so don’t be surprised if I am again.

Despite some reservations about the paint, Cthulhu here still comes recommended for all H.P. Lovecraft fans (even though the man himself probably would have hated the cutesiness of it!). Ideal for anyone who needs to add some cosmic terror to their display shelf.    

Thursday, 26 February 2015

I bought some Matchbox cars!

I wouldn’t describe myself as a spoiled kid, but I did have a lot of toys as a child. It spanned a wide spectrum of action figures, plush toys, Lego and various other novelty items. But some of my earliest toy memories are connected to cars. In a way, cars are the ideal toy for little kids. They’re small, so you can carry quite a few around. They’re very cheap, generally around $2 or $3, so they’re easy to get on your average trip to the supermarket. They’re readily available and there’s almost infinite variation, so kids need never get bored. And pretty much any surface is good terrain for a toy car to drive on. Reality need not apply. 

I had a fairly large assortment of them as a child, as well as a parking garage. I remember a friend of mine owning a large-scale one that – if memory does not betray me – featured a working elevator for cars, hand powered a pulley and crank system of some kind. It was awesome. If you’re reading this now Paul, thank you for the hours of fun we had with cars, in between playing rugby league and Police Rescue in your backyard. (Balmain Tigers and Brian forever!)


It’s difficult to discuss toy cars without highlighting the two major brands that dominated the toy car market during my childhood – Matchbox and Hot Wheels. These two brands still own the market, with any other brands looking pretty average by comparison.
Of the two brands, Matchbox was the more realistic. By and large, they produced toys based on real vehicles, or at least similar enough that they didn’t stretch your five-year old credibility too far. There was something British and dignified about them. In fact, I’m fairly certain I used to own what I still think of as the ultimate Matchbox car – a black British taxi.*

To contrast – and though I dislike using this expression – Hot Wheels was a lot more American: cooler and edgier, with over-the-top adverts. Their toys tended to be highly outlandish, often bearing little resemblance to real-life cars, or at least real-world paint schemes. Of course, I wouldn’t want anyone thinking that Hot Wheels produced bad cars. Certainly some were ridiculous and unacceptable to look at, but their durability as playthings was never in question.

This trend continues today, and I think it’s actually become even more pronounced as the years have gone on. One of the last Hot Wheels cars I bought as a child (probably around age 12) was some kind of green and purple plane/tank hybrid. Pretty awesome to look at, bright 90s colour scheme and all, but stretching the boundaries of what constitutes a toy car, I tend to think. Their associated playsets followed a similar pattern. Cool as it was to be able to race your cars around a track featuring a T-Rex…well, I think that says it all, really.  

Yet despite Hot Wheels having the edge in marketing, a quick survey of a handful of friends reveals an overwhelming consensus that Matchbox was the better of the two brands**, though most (myself included) owned their fair share of both. The argument has become redundant now, too – Matchbox is now owned by Mattel, the creators of Hot Wheels.  

The Ugly Truth

Full disclosure: in spite of this great enjoyment of toy cars, I have never acquired a great love of real cars. As a teen, I found car chases in movies unbearably tedious. I only acquired my learner’s license at age 23, and didn’t get my P-plates until I was 27. So if you asked me what my ideal car was now, I would say it was the 1989 Batmobile, without any trace of silliness. 

The Vaguely Relevant Finale

I keep an eye on the toy cars in the stores when I’m scoping out Lego and TMNT, but it’s very rare I buy any,

unless it’s for a gift. These days I can take or leave toy cars, due to my lack of interest in the real thing.

But the other night I was in Woolworths and I came across these two beauties pictured above – the Matchbox Desert Thunder V16 and the MBX Two-Story Bus. The photos do most of the talking, of course – everyone loves a double-decker bus, whether real or toy – and it does tie into the essential Britishness of Matchbox.

The Desert Thunder V16 is a little more outlandish, given its paint scheme. The words “T-Rex 
Transporter” dot the side, as does a silhouette of a roaring T-Rex. Ordinarily, we’d already be well into Hot Wheels territory with something like this, but look at it more closely. Aside from the out-of-scale accessories sculpted onto the roof, this is kind of convincing as a dinosaur transporter. Well, maybe for baby or juvenile dinosaurs, but dinosaurs nonetheless. That’s good enough for me.     
I am a die-hard opener when it comes to toys – but these two beauties are staying sealed for display. Guests to the house will admire their majesty, just as I do.      

*Recent toy archaeology at my parent's place indicates that I did! But it doesn’t seem to actually be a Matchbox car – rather, some no-name brand.

**Number of people surveyed: 2 or 3, including myself. 

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Lego Review – Pirate Treasure Hunt (10679)

Set: 10679
Pieces: 57
Theme: Juniors/Pirates

Build Time: 15 minutes


Pirates was far and away my favourite Lego theme as a child. Castle was great, Town (later City) had its moments and Space was boss – but my heart belonged to Pirates.

So when I found out that the theme would be returning in 2015, I was over the moon. The sets that have been announced so far are a little on the mixed side – though The Brick Bounty looks great – but I’m hopeful that we’ll see the theme continue beyond this year and grow into its own thing again.  

Today we look at the first of the sets released for this year – Pirate Treasure Hunt, released under the Juniors brand. Juniors is aimed at kids who are too old for Duplo but perhaps aren’t ready for more difficult builds. They use standard brick sizes and minifigures, but tend to incorporate a larger number of pre-built elements than standard Lego sets.


Two minifigures are included in the set – a Pirate (unnamed on the box, and Brickipedia hasn’t updated its page yet) and a skeleton (who appears to be actually dead, rather than undead).

The Pirate is presumably some kind of captain, as he’s wearing a hat bedecked with a Jolly Roger, and also has a wooden leg. He’s armed with a cutlass and carries a treasure map; presumably the diorama elements are the “X” marked on the spot.

Though they’re a little on the morbid side, Lego skeletons are always great. This particular guy is wearing a red bandanna. He’s also decked out with a blunderbuss pistol, and has a gem tightly clutched in his skeletal fingers – though you can obviously display him without these extra elements should you wish.  

Additionally, the set includes a shark. It seems to be exactly the same as all of the ones that were released back in the 1990s. This is a good thing – those sharks were great, and it’s always nice to have another.


There’s not a whole lot of building that goes on in this set. There’s a rowboat, which you do add a few bricks and a barrel to, but is largely pre-built. The other main component is a small set of ruins; presumably it used to be some kind of house or outpost, but it has now fallen into disrepair. The sole occupant is the skeleton, who keeps watch over the very thing that has drawn the pirate captain to this forsaken place – TREASURE!

It’s not the most impressive haul of booty I’ve seen from the Pirates line, but it is quite diverse – a goblet, a gemstone set atop a golden stand and some gold doubloons. These doubloons are a little unusual -- they’re simply 1 x 1 round pieces cast in gold, rather than the actual coins that Lego has used over the years. This may simply be the result of the set being part of the Juniors range, but I couldn’t say for sure.  


Despite its release under the Juniors brand, I’m not sure how suitable this would be for a genuinely young child. There are a large number of small pieces in the form of the gold pieces, the gem and the weapons. Granted, this was all around when I was in this age group too, but we didn’t have such strict laws governing the size of children’s toys. 

Nonetheless, it is a cool diorama set that could easily be incorporated into a larger Pirates display. I’m a huge fan of it. So don’t be put off by the “Juniors” label – invest today!  

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Jarugar and Trypticon (Transformers: Age of Extinction Kre-O Microchangers)

Some months ago, I reviewed a few characters from the Transformers 4: Age of Extinction blind-bagged Kreons. But I bought several others too – so let’s look at two Decepticons today, Jarguar and Trypticon.

Jarugar changes into a car. This is unfortunate, as I hate the Kreon cars. While some of them look good, the articulation of the arms and legs on the Kreon body makes them quite flimsy, and they don’t hold together particularly well. Move it slightly and wheels start popping off, pieces don’t hold…it’s a pain in the butt. You’ll also notice that there’s no photo of him in alt mode, but if you’re really keen you can see it here. As you’ll read on that link, building him in alt mode works even more poorly than normal cars in this line.   

Nonetheless, he’s a cool-looking grey bot. His burgundy dual-wielded guns are particularly flash, and he makes for a solid, if unspectacular addition to my Decepticon forces.

Trypticon is a little more interesting, given that he is a giant purple tyrannosaurus rex. How could that possibly go wrong? Oh, wait…

Obvious jokes aside, Trypticon is fun in his T-Rex mode, and perfectly serviceable in his bot mode. I’d love to see more of this design in different colourways. My only real issue (and this applies to Jarguar too) is that their paintjobs have clearly been inspired by the Michael Bay style of Transformer, where there are zillions of moving parts -- this works fine for the movies, but for this style of figure, I tend to think simpler is better.  

Essentially, neither of these guys really blew me away, but Trypticon in particular is a fun addition to my small collection. 

It seems that the Microchangers theme has come to an end, but we will see another blind-bagged Kreons line sometime in 2015, re-branded as Kreon Warriors. Will they make it to Australia? Given that these guys are still pretty easy to find almost a year after the movie came out and that Collection 2 of the Age of Extinction Microchangers never made it here, I'm a little sceptical. But it's been a reasonably fun ride while it has lasted.  

Lego Minifigures – Forestman (Series 1)

Back in 2010, Lego released the first of their now ubiquitous series of Minifigures. The blind-bagged concept isn’t particularly new or inventive, but it was the first time Lego had done it. Much more importantly, it was a cool way of bringing out characters that either hadn’t been seen before, or as in the case of the Forestman here, hadn’t been seen in decades.

The Forestman, as his name suggests, is based on the Forestmen faction from Castle. They were released in the late 1980s, heavily inspired by the stories of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. Indeed, this guy looks to be the famous outlaw himself. He's got a very Errol Flynn look to him -- it's not  perfect representation but it covers all the important details like his beige collar. The belt in particular is spot-on! I love Lego's pop-culture tribute, and it's cool to look back and see that they've pretty much been doing it since day one of the Minifigures.   

The Forestman comes with three accessories -- a bow, a quiver full of arrows and a feathered cap. The only other thing I think it should have (realistically) included is a sword, though I've got enough of them lying about the place that sourcing one shouldn't be a problem. However, in an ideal world it would have also included a dead deer, to replicate this iconic scene

My main disappointment with this minifigure is that it didn't spark off a re-invention of the Forestmen. Castle has been a little bit all over the place in the last few years; the 2013-14 had some great sets, but the Kingdoms theme that had been running for a few years prior didn't really grab me. It seems 2015 will leave us without a medieval-oriented theme, which is a real shame.  

Perhaps even more sadly, Minifigures series 1 & 2 don’t seem to have been released in Australia. You can still track down most of Series 2 at a (somewhat) reasonable price, but even the crappiest characters from Series 1 are now outrageously expensive. I’ve seen Forestman here go for around $50AUD – but the Zombie is the worst, now usually selling for about $60AUD. It’s a bit of a shame that Series 1 was such a limited run, because it had a lot of cool characters who are now priced out of many people’s budgets. Still, the Forestman is a great minifigure, and worth adding to your collection if you spot him for a reasonable price.  

Friday, 6 February 2015

Dungeons and Dragons: Knight’s Catapult (Kre-O Review)

It’s been a while since I’ve looked at any Kre-O, and all of my previous posts (and purchases) on the subject have related to Transformers. But today, we take a look at another license that Hasbro is using for these building toys – Dungeons and Dragons.

I’ve discussed on numerous occasions my love for the game here – but these Kre-O sets do not really seem to be intended to be incorporated into a “proper” game of Dungeons and Dragons (though no one is stopping you from doing so). Rather, they seem to be elements for creating a Crossbows and Catapults-style wargame. 

This is a starter pack and comes with two main elements. A catapult (complete with three marble-sized projectiles) and a small barricade with a flag. The catapult apparently goes with the Orc and the barricade with the Barbarian, but I’m sure you can mix them up as you see fit. There are also a few details about rules included too, and some relevant cards. I pretty much just skipped over these, as I won't be playing. 

Kreons – the name Hasbro has given their little Kre-O people—are quite visually endearing. Aesthetically, they sit somewhere between a Minifigure and Minimate; like the aforementioned products, a base body is used to create all the characters, with differentiation coming via paint apps and accessories.

In the plus column, they have increased articulation in comparison with a minifigure. Their shoulders and hips are ball-jointed, and their torso can also swivel. This comes at a price though; the torso is wont to pop straight off, as there is only one plug and very little friction holding it to the waist. As a result, the whole thing tends to feel fragile and delicate in comparison with your average minifigure. In spite of their shortcomings, the two included with this set are both a lot of fun.   

The Barbarian is the main reason I bought this kit. Though I am primarily a DM, Barbarians are my favourite class to play. You can definitely see touches of Frank Frazetta’s take on Conan in him, but he’s distinct enough that they’re not in danger of getting sued. He comes with an axe, which he holds in one hand on promo art – but it seems like it’s actually a greataxe, and he can grip it in both hands.  
Of course a Barbarian with a mighty axe is useless without an enemy to hack into, and so the set comes with an Orc too. He’s wearing heavy armour, in contrast to the barbarian’s bare chest. 

Presumably he’s a devotee of Gruumsh, based on the scar over his eye, and stitched up eyelid. He’s much cooler than I thought he would be – distinct enough to be an individual character, while generic enough to be an army builder. He’s armed with a massive, bone-crushing hammer. You would certainly not want to be on the receiving end of one of its blows.

Both figures also include a stand for stability in posing. It fits the Barbarian fine, but the Orc seems quite awkward on it, and won’t fit properly in regular standing pose.   

I could see myself picking up some of the blind-bagged army builders that Hasbro has released to support this line, but I don’t think I’ll invest further in the starter sets like these. Though better than I anticipated, I am quite content playing the more traditional form of Dungeons and Dragons, and ultimately my heart belongs to Lego when it comes to building toys. But this kit will make a nice supplement to my Castle-themed sets.