Wednesday, 29 July 2015

POP! Heroes – Reverse-Flash

Though I’ve never reviewed him on here, The Flash was actually one of the first Funko POPs I bought back in 2013. I remember having to buy him off eBay, as he was out of production at the time and the New 52 version hadn’t yet been released in stores.

But there were actually two other versions of the Flash available around the same time – Black Flash (which was ridiculously hard to find) and the Reverse-Flash (who wasn’t much easier to find, either). I didn’t pick him up at the time as I was busy buying characters like Martian Manhunter and Hawkman, with the aim of getting the Justice League going on my work desk.  

Yet on a Hobbyco visit just a couple of weeks ago, I found this guy staring up from the shelves at me. With a hankering to purchase something that afternoon, I decided that this guy would be a good addition to my DC shelf.

I’m not well-versed in the Flash’s extensive lore, so I’m not super familiar with Reverse-Flash. I do know that he’s one of the Flash’s main villains, and that a few different people have taken up the mantle over the years. One of those incarnations sometimes calls himself Professor Zoom. Lately he’s gained a boost in popularity by being featured on the new(ish) TV series based around the Flash, portrayed by Tom Cavanagh, playing against type as a villain.  Wow, everything you need to know, huh? For more detailed information I suggest this page.

Unsurprisingly, he’s made from the same mould as the Flash. The only difference is that his colours have been reversed – who’d have thought it, with a name like that? Silly naming conventions aside, the colour scheme looks fantastic. A lot of characters have had dreadful colour-inverted versions over the years, so this is a welcome exception. 

There is a Reverse-Flash based on the TV series which seems pretty easy to come by at the moment, and looks pretty cool. However, this particular version still seems to remain elusive. I don’t know what the situation is with him being released or re-released, but the one I picked up was the only one they had in-store – and I haven’t seen him elsewhere since. There is a glow in the dark version too, but he’s not readily available. He was some kind of convention exclusive a few years ago and will cost you a pretty penny if you can track him down. I would love one, but am not really willing to part with the $$$ necessary for it.

 Overall? Fun, but not essential unless you are a die-hard fan of the character. Flash is undergoing a real resurgence in popularity of late thanks to the prominent role he played in the Flashpoint crossover event and the TV series, which I think is a good thing. He’s always been a little under-appreciated and it’s nice to see him finally getting some of the love he deserves.  

POP! Marvel: Rocket and Potted Groot (Summer Convention 2015 Exclusive)

Back in 2014, 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 – Groot and the subject of today’s article, Rocket Raccoon. 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.

So here we are, almost a year and a half later, looking at the most recent addition to the Guardians of the Galaxy Funko POP! line – Rocket with Potted Groot. Characters who aren’t of regular human proportions don’t always look so great when translated into POP form. I was a little unsure on Rocket when I first saw his POP design, and I couldn’t say I’m totally sold on it as yet. But it’s grown on me. Not great on his own, but when taken with Groot they’re a pretty cool pair.      

Of course, this is theoretically a convention exclusive, so it needs to have something to distinguish it from the regular versions – hence the miniature Groot! It largely reuses the original Rocket sculpt, though he has a new right arm to cradle the potted Groot (who is very cute, in spite of the details being a little soft). Rather than his orange jumpsuit, he’s also been repainted in a Nova Corps blue. I don’t think it’s super film-accurate, but he does wear something similar near the end of the movie.   

So, the final verdict – the thing you all came here for. Mine has a black paint streak across his forehead, which is a little annoying, but not a deal-breaker. I actually think he turned out very well – I think that this guy should have been given a more mainstream release, given that he’s distinct from the increasingly innumerable Groot and Dancing Groot releases.

With that said, Popcultcha has him and I even saw him show up in a Co-Op Bookshop near Central Station in Sydney, so you’ll probably have an easier time getting him than most of the other SDCC exclusives. Nonetheless, I’d be surprised if we don’t see a regular release repaint at some point in the future – maybe in Reaver colours or something. Worth tracking down if you can find him at the right price.  

Monday, 27 July 2015

POP! Marvel Black Suit Spider-Man

Series: POP! Marvel
Year: 2015
RRP: $16.95

Though I own a whole bunch of POPs, this is actually the first Peter Parker Spider-Man I’ve bought. I’ve toyed with getting one of the comics-based ones, but to be honest I’m just not that huge a fan of him these days. But the Black Suit (or Symbiote suit, if you want to get technical) is probably my favourite costume of all the different versions he’s had over the years.

To cut a long story short, Spider-Man was on an alien planet as part of the Secret Wars (the 1980s one, not the 2015 one), and ended up bringing an alien life form back to earth with him – the symbiote. After a while, Spider-Man worked out that his new “suit” was causing him a few problems and got rid of it. But eventually it would find a new host – Eddie Brock, who we all know as that most 90s of comic villains, Venom.

Like his series/wave-mate Spider-Man 2099, this figure is built on the basic body, with the details coming from the tampos and paintwork. This might seem a little cheap, but it’s actually pretty true to the first appearance of the suit – you’ll notice there are a few blue highlights, but it’s otherwise flat and solid black. Blue highlights often look rubbish when translated to 3D form, so I’m glad that they have been left off here. 

This guy has been out in the US for a while, so far as I understand, but only seems to have made his way to Australia in the last month or so. The whole wave is Spider-Man themed, featuring the Punisher (who debuted in Spider-Man comic, before you get on your high horse), Venom and Spider-Man 2099. It’s a welcome change from the last couple of years; save for the X-Men wave released earlier in 2015, Marvel POPs! have been very heavily dominated by the movie universe for a couple of years. Most of these are great, of course, but it’s good to have some comic-based stuff too. This guy is highly recommended for Spider-fans. Hopefully we’ll soon see an Iron Spider released too.

POP! Marvel: Ant-Man (glow in the dark variant)

It's Funko POP! week again -- Hooray! So let's kick it off with a look at one of my least favourite characters of all time.

Series: POP! Marvel
Year: 2015
RRP: $16.95

Back when I was about 14 or 15, my local library started getting in a whole bunch of Marvel Essentials paperbacks – the big black-and-white ones. I remember reading the Avengers and X-Men ones, which compiled some of the very early issues of both titles. To the jaded eyes of a teenager raised on the X-TREME 90s school of comics, they were more than a little twee. Unfairly, they put me off Marvel quite a bit for a number of years.

In hindsight, I can appreciate a little more how important the books were at the time – the idea of a shared universe was really only sort of burgeoning at the time, and these titles did a lot to further that, even if some of the stories are a little hokey by today’s more sophisticated standards. Jack Kirby also had a very distinct art style, and though I sometimes have mixed feelings about that style, one would have to be a fool to deny the very real and positive influence he has exercised over the comics that have followed.

But one thing that I can’t really appreciate in hindsight is a key character – Ant-Man. Marvel and DC both have their share of decidedly average characters, but Ant-Man has always been one of my least favourite, across any company. Truly feeble, even by the “anything goes” standards of the early 1960s, Ant-Man was always a C-Lister trying to play in an A-Lister’s title. Tales to Astonish? The only astonishment experienced was at how lame he was, and that he continued to get published.

But more than 50 years since his debut, Ant-Man has just made his big-screen debut, defying all expectations. And I’ve done something even more shocking, something that I never, ever thought I’d do – bought a piece of Ant-Man merchandise.

Perhaps appropriately, I didn’t get off to a great start with this particular POP. He felt out of the box awkwardly as I was trying to get him out, and then his head was wonky. To be fair, this is a problem that affects a lot of Marvel POPs; as they’re contractually obliged to be bobbleheads rather than just figures, the wire can get a little bent out of shape. It’s easier to fix at some times than others, but this one looks just plain lopsided, his head cocked to one side. And then I tried to move him for the turnaround shot and he just fell over, due to the head being so heavy. Were it a lot of other characters, I’d be pretty irritated, but it’s keeping well within my experience of disappointment with Ant-Man.    
But on to the positive. Ant-Man is a very detailed sculpt, with loads of little details captured on both the suit and on the helmet. There are a few areas of paint slop around some of the smaller details, which isn’t really surprising – but the paintwork is relatively clean, much more so than a lot of POPs I’ve owned.

There are two other versions of this POP available – the non-glow version, which looks pretty similar, except the helmet has transparent lenses and Blackout Ant-Man, which was a repaint for SDCC. Yellowjacket, the film’s villain, is also available in both regular and glow versions too. The shop assistant who sold me this guy tells me Yellowjacket’s glow is not terribly amazing. I can confirm that Ant-Man's is definitely not great, though it is novel that his shirt and eyes glow red. I've found this mediocre glow to be spread across most of the GitD POPs I've bought. But I have yet to learn my lesson and stop buying them...

This POP has not turned me into an Ant-Man fan – he still kind of sucks – but I suspect that will be a big part of the humour in the actual movie. So this POP comes recommended for fans, but is unlikely to convert you if you're anti-Ant-Man or simply on the fence. 

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Funko POP! Games – Vault Boy (Fallout)

Fallout 3 was one of my favourite games throughout late 2008 and early 2009. I was going through a bit of a rough patch personally and it was an absolute lifeline at the time. Ever since, I’ve really enjoyed the series – New Vegas was hilarious fun (though I never did finish it) and I am eagerly anticipating the imminent arrival of Fallout 4.

I was quite pleased when I found out Funko had picked up the Fallout license. One of my favourite games meeting one of my favourite collectables? Should be great!

In practice the Fallout POPs are kind of a mixed bag; the male and female adventurers look great, as does the Brotherhood of Steel figure, but the Deathclaw isn’t as great. I like the Super Mutant, but feel like he should be a 6” POP (as should the Deathclaw too, really). The Feral Ghoul is fun, but it would be better if he glowed red in the dark.

Last but not least we come to Vault Boy, the subject of today’s review, isn’t actually a character in the game; rather, he’s something of a mascot for the series, both in-game and out. In the game's backstory, he’s the mascot of Vault-Tec, the company that produced the vaults which play such a central role in the game. In practice, this means he turns up in your skills menu (wearing a variety of zany outfits) and may show up on the odd bit of background scenery, like an in-game poster or something.
Though I like that Funko have done this figure, I’m not sure it’s entirely necessary. Vault Boy, after all, appears in-game as a variety of different bobbleheads -- and  a number of companies have already released real-life bobbleheads rendered in a game-accurate style. Funko has also just confirmed it will be releasing Fallout blind-boxed figures, which hew closer to the game’s art style (I must confess, I plan to order a box of them). Perhaps most curious is that they decided to sculpt him with his hands on his hips, rather than in his signature "thumbs up" pose

But there is also a fun variant – the Green Screen Vault Boy. What’s so special about him? Well, if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you’ll know that I am a huge sucker for things that glow in the dark. Which this guy happens to, and so I had to have both versions of the character. It's a nice touch, actually; the glow is more relevant here than on most occasions, given how much of the Fallout series revolves around radioactivity.   

In America, this variant is a Hot Topic exclusive; in Australia he’s available from a variety of sources, including EB Games and Popcultcha. In all likelihood he’ll show up in a few other places too, though they’ve only hit stores in the last couple of days.

To summarise, Vault Boy isn’t my favourite POP -- but he does conjures up a lot of fond memories and will tide me over nicely until the game arrives.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Funko POP! Universal Monsters: Dracula

Well, I was looking through some of the ol’ collection the other day and I came across Dracula here.  I think my wife picked him up for me a few months ago, but I don’t remember the details – at any rate, I figured he should get a look-in on the page seeing as he’s arguably the most iconic of all the Universal Monsters.

Most of you reading will know at least the broad strokes of the history behind the character; loosely inspired by the 15th-century Transylvanian ruler Vlad Dracula (aka Vlad Tepes or Vlad the Impaler), Bram Stoker published the novel Dracula at the end of the 19th century, bringing peasant legends of the  vampires to a general audience and essentially giving birth to modern-day vampire lore in one fell swoop.

A few decades later, Hollywood came knocking in the form of Nosferatu – an unlicensed retelling of the Dracula story with a handful of details changed to avoid paying royalties (it didn’t work), which was a masterful piece of suspense that stands as an impressive piece of cinema even today. But the cinematic version that really impressed itself into our collective psyche was the Universal version of Dracula. Released in 1931 and staring the then-relatively unknown Bela Lugosi, it was an instant classic (which of course I still haven’t seen) and firmly set the template for the character that most interpretations have since followed.

The image of Lugosi as Dracula has been imitated and parodied so often that it’s lost a lot of its impact over the decades – put a guy in a black cloak, give him a widow’s peak and an Eastern European accent, and people are much more likely to laugh than be terrified. Intentionally or not, this take on him hews a little closer to parody than gothic terror; though the details of the costume (like the pendant) clearly indicate this is meant to be Lugosi’s Dracula, the expression on the face looks much cheerier than it does angry or terrifying. It fits with the overall Funko aesthetic, but I would have liked a slightly angrier expression. 

Though I prefer werewolves to vampires, Dracula’s influence in the world of horror and on wider pop culture is pretty much impossible to overestimate. If you’re a POP fan and a horror fan, that makes this guy a near-essential purchase.

There only seems to be one variant available – a metallic version coming too, part of this 4-pack. It would be nice to get a glow in the dark or bloody one, but we’ll just have to wait and see.