Thursday, 29 December 2016

Funko Mystery Minis Horror Classics Series 3: Imhotep the Mummy

Just over two years ago, I reviewed the Mummy Funko POP – as we’re looking at the Mystery Mini today, I’ll take my intro from that article.

Boris Karloff – a horror legend if ever there was one. Almost 50 years after his death, the image of him as Frankenstein’s Monster continues to dominate popular culture. Universal must be making more on merchandise than they ever did on the movie itself, going off the sheer amount of stuff that’s been produced in the decades that have followed.

But Frankenstein’s Monster wasn’t the only role Karloff was famous for – another was Imhotep, the titular character of the Mummy. Released in 1932 to cash in on the craze for all things Egyptian following the 1922 discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb, The Mummy was an immediate hit. Imhotep never achieved quite the same iconic status as Frankenstein’s Monster, but he remains an important part of the movie monster pantheon. The character also got a revival of sorts in 1999, when a remake (or re-envisioning or reboot, whatever you’d prefer to call it) of The Mummy was released, and became a tremendous hit. 

The original is not a perfect film, but it evokes a dark mood that still manages to unsettle to this day. Almost as importantly, Boris Karloff’s makeup as the titular character in his coffin still holds up quite well – just look at the comparison here with a real mummy.  

Recap done. So how does the Mystery Mini stack up to the POP?

Well, like the POP, Imhotep has the issue that his design is not as interesting as some of his Universal Monsters contemporaries. For most of the movie he’s a guy in a fez with an eerily wrinkled face, and he’s only actually in his burial wrappings for a short period at the beginning of the movie. In this format, it translates to him being in off-white wrappings, while his face is grey, the only real colour coming from his bronze-gold scarab ring. The underlying sculpt is very good though, with lots of detail in the bandages, and brings the character’s features to the Mystery Mini format quite well.

As with the POP Funko would have been better investing in a dark brown or black wash to go over the bandages. This would have brought out the sculpted details much more, and also made him pop more visually. Additionally, they could have gone for a green-grey look to the flesh as well, as here.

The end result is an imperfect but still enjoyable figure. The Mummy is quite under-merchandised in comparison to some of his Universal brethren – though that may change on the back of the 2017 remake – and sometimes as a result you just have to accept that you will be getting a good piece of merchandise as opposed to a great one.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Wacky Wobbler – Rat Fink

Company: Funko
Year: 2000/2005

These days, Funko are far and away best-known for their distinctive POP! range of vinyl toys, which they’ve been pumping out to great success since around 2010. But before that particular cash-cow made its way into the paddock, Funko was founded as primarily a bobblehead company – one that was intentionally retro in its outlook. The company’s first ever toy was a bobblehead of the Big Boy restaurant mascot (who’s probably best known to Australian readers via his Simpsons parody, Lard Lad).

The next few years saw Funko enjoy a reasonable level of success, though they weren’t making waves in the same way as some of their designer toy contemporaries like kidrobot. The emphasis was primarily on retro mascots released under the Wacky Wobbler banner*, like Big Boy, Count Chocula, Tony the Tiger…and the subject of today’s review, Rat Fink!

Now Rat Fink is one of those characters that virtually everyone recognises, but unless they’re of a particular age, they rarely know his name. Drawn by the now sadly departed Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, Rat Fink emerged out of the Kustom Kulture hot rod scene during the 1960s, an ugly (but endearing) anti-Mickey Mouse. He’s adorned countless t-shirts since, and spawned his fair share of associated merchandise – not to mention the considerable influence that Roth’s art has had on various underground art scenes.
Rat Fink is typically depicted in a sketchy-looking hot rod, one hand clutching at an impossibly-angled gearstick – but here he’s travelling on foot. At a guess, the figure is based on this art, though if there’s someone out there who knows better, please mention it in the comments below. The sculpt is solid, rendering Roth’s art nicely in slightly simplified 3D. He’s technically a bobblegut rather than a bobblehead, but we won’t bandy semantics here.

There were a huge amount of Rat Fink Wacky Wobblers produced. The one reviewed here is the most common colour and mould, but there were a few different moulds and dozens of different colours produced as well. Many of them were limited edition or convention exclusives; for a more comprehensive list, check out Pop Price Guide. Personally I’d be quite keen to get my hands on a glow version of any of them, but a quick look at eBay seems to suggest that virtually all of the figures go for pretty silly money these days. This version has a copyright date of 2005, but it seems that it was originally released around 2000 -- as you can see in the pic, Ed Roth contributed some notes to the back of the box, and he passed away in 2001.

And on that note, how’s the paint? Pretty ordinary. It’s never been one of Funko’s strong points, and the additional detail in the sculpt certainly highlights its inadequacies. But considering they’d only been a company for a few years at this point, it’s acceptable, if not ideal.

Overall? Rat Fink is a cool piece of Funko history, and quite fun in his own right. I found him at a shop in Surry Hills and paid a little more than he probably cost at retail back in the day, but certainly not an outrageous price – if you want one, I’d suggest you do the same. My wife described him as “disgusting” and didn’t really want to look directly at him, which means that Funko pretty much got it right. He’s accompanying all of my horror POPs at the moment, which is probably the best place for him. Now I just hope we get an update of him in POP form – maybe as a POP ride? C’mon Funko! 

*Funko’s Wacky Wobblers line still exists, though in a greatly reduced capacity. It’s nowhere near as comprehensive as their POP! range, and now tends to focus more on comics and movies. But for aficionados, NECA also produces some bobbleheads in a very similar style. 

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Funko POP! Heroes – Power Girl

Company: Funko
Year: 2016

Power Girl! My main familiarity with her comes from the Superman/Batman series that ran from the early noughties through to the New 52 reboot. She turned up there reasonably regularly as a supporting character, never quite breaking through to the mainstream appeal of some of her contemporaries but nonetheless retaining a cult fanbase in the process.

Still, for the purposes of this review, all you need to know is that she’s an alternate dimension, gender-swapped Superman. She hangs out with the Justice Society, too. Pretty lazy backstory, but that’s all you needed in the 1970s.

So, how’s the POP? Well, pretty good. I believe Power Girl’s outfit has changed a few times over the years, but this would be the only one anyone would be able to pick out of a police lineup – white leotard, blue boots + gloves, red half-cape and belt. All of it virtually unchanged since her very first appearance, 40 years ago. Her hair fluctuates in length from time to time, but it’s always quite short in comparison to say, Zatanna or Wonder Woman.

Paint is adequate, but not amazing. And to be fair, I think you could apply that description to the POP itself. Maybe it’s just the fact that her costume – which is quite distinctive on the printed page – isn’t quite as vibrant when it’s rendered in 3D form.

Overall? I bought her on sale and she’s fine – but though Power Girl is a character who I like well enough, and it’s always good to get more of DC’s female cast members, there’s something that keeps it from being a truly excellent POP. She’s good, rather than great.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

POP! Games – Call of Duty Spaceland Zombie

Series: POP! Games
Year: 2016

The Call of Duty games are fun and all, but I’m years behind on them. I think the last one I bought was Black Ops 2, maybe? Long time ago now. Nonetheless, this particular piece of CoD merchandise jumped out at me – not because of my interest in the game, but because he is perfect as a Deadite to go with Ash from Army of Darkness!

This guy is gross, on par with Funko’s Walking Dead figures – a range he’d fit in with quite well. His face looks almost like it’s melting, and he’s leaking blood out of his eyes…which is quite an effective (if disgusting) rendering of the decomposition process that “real” zombies would likely go through. There’s been quite a bit of attention paid to sculpting; in life, this guy looks to have been some kind of frat boy on vacation, dressed in some very Abercrombie & Fitch-esque clothes. That said, I can’t find a reference image from the game that seems to match this particular character. If you have one, mention it in the comments below.

Overall, this detail is great, but does seem slightly strange; apparently this obscure character gets a bigger tooling and paint budget from Funko than some of the world’s biggest superheroes. I can’t imagine it’s selling in anywhere near the same numbers!  

This guy was exclusive to Target in the US, but over here you can get him from Popcultcha or – if you’re lucky, EB Games. Thanks to the success of The Walking Dead (among others), there is now a total plethora of zombie merchandise on the market. As with any trend, it’s a mixed bag; some of it’s fantastic, other stuff is total garbage. This is one of the good ones -- if you’re a zombie fan in any way shape or form, Spaceland Zombie here is a very sound investment. 

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Predators Series 16 – Spiked Tail Predator

Company: NECA
Year: 2016

In the 1990s, Kenner was a ubiquitous brand in the world of action figures. Though they’re probably best remembered for their Star Wars and Super Powers toys, they also produced figures based on delightfully child-friendly movies such as Aliens, RoboCop and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
I had quite a few Kenner figures as a youth in the 1990s (mostly Star Wars: The Power of the Force), and though many were pretty ordinary but today’s standards, they were fantastic at the time. Sadly, Kenner is no more – bought out by Hasbro some years ago, the brand has long since been absorbed into its parent company, the licenses it once held divvied up among other companies. But its legacy still lives on today, in some small part, every time an adult movie like The Dark Knight Rises or Van Helsing gets a toyline intended for children. But it’s rarely as off the wall as it was back then…I don’t think so many people see ultra-violent movies as potential kid’s cartoons, and that’s probably for the best.

So, why mention Kenner in a NECA review? Well, series 16 of NECA’s Predator line is yet another tribute to those often wild and wacky days of toy manufacturing – specifically, a modern update of some more of Kenner’s Predator range. So today we look at the Spiked Tail Predator; we’ll be looking at his two series-mates very soon.

I guess if you had to sum up Spiked Tail’s aesthetic very briefly, you’d say “Steampunk Predator”. Fortunately this is not as terrible as it sounds. The original Kenner toy was very heavily armoured and cyborg-esque, but also kind of plain, with the unusual helmet/facemask combo and odd colour the main selling points. In a line that seemed to have two ugly toys for every good one, Spiked Tail stands out as being almost aggressively unmemorable.

But NECA have outdone themselves with this update. It’s clear that the bulk of this series’ tooling budget went on this guy; though not all of his accoutrements are new tooling, most of them are. As a result, he has a nice, chunky feel to him – though I’m definitely putting him on a stand, as that gigantic dreadlock ponytail thing does leave him a little unbalanced.

Once the mask is on and the gun is mounted (either on his back or on his left arm) he looks fantastic, a wonderfully futuristic take on the hunter. In spite of him shifting well away from the more traditional Predator look, he still manages to feel somewhat plausible once the mask goes on. Maybe not so much as his seriesmate Ghost, but you could see a more muted version of this design making it into a future Predator movie.  

Now lest you fear that I gush too much, there are some problems:
  • The armour really hinders the articulation all over the body – given some time you can work with it, but straight out of the box you’re probably going to keep him in fairly vanilla poses.
  • The gun falls off the backmount quite easily
  • The mask doesn’t quite stay on his face as it should
  • His left forearm popped off when I tried to plug the gun in (though could be popped back on)
  • Paint is a little thick on his armour and bionic hand
  • The “pistons” on his left leg weren’t glued on properly when he came out of the box, and thus don’t sit quite correctly.
None of these are dealbreakers in and of themselves…but when you consider that these figures are now selling for $49.95AUD a pop it does leave a bit of a bitter taste in the mouth.
Interestingly, the copy on the back also gives us a bit of a taste of some potential future Preds, with mention of the Lasershot and R’Zor Predators. Lasershot was a previously released Kenner design that looked a bit like a modified Scarab/Nightstorm Predator. It sounds okay…but the mention of R’Zor is particularly intriguing. Information online is scarce, but it seems that he was a cancelled figure that was actually a human marine disguised as a Predator. Some sample figures did make it out into the wild, but they’re definitely few and far between. NECA already has a lot of tooling from the Marines in the Aliens range, so I’m hoping we do eventually get this figure in some kind of official form.  

When I reviewed Nightstorm Predator almost three years ago, I noted that I probably would have hated it back as a kid, and noted that the Kenner Aliens and Predator lines typified some of the worst trends in 1990s action figures – namely, a thin basis in source material, garish colours, little to no resemblance to the “real” character/s and ultimately quite gimmicky. But now, as then, sometimes something will grab me. I was going to pass on this guy when I first saw the promo images, but in person he really popped off the shelf. And so I decided I had to own the whole series, instead of just going for the glow-in-the-dark Stalker Predator.  

So overall? Cool update of a pretty bland design, but it’s somewhat flawed in execution. I’m still glad I made the purchase, but if this was my first experience of the line I’d be less than impressed.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

POP! Movies: Pinhead (Glow in the Dark)

Company: Funko
Year: 2016

I’ve been in a Hellraiser kind of mood of late – I rewatched the first one over Halloween, and finally saw the second one a few weeks later. But the third film is the first one I actually watched, back in 2005; it was where Pinhead first made the transition from minor antagonist to main character and focal point of the series. It’s a pretty terrible film, but it has its share of memorable moments, primarily thanks to Doug Bradley doing a great turn in the role.

Now, as I said in my previous Pinhead review, Funko have been smart – officially, this figurine is licensed from Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth. The costume differences between this and the first film are pretty minor to a layman like me, and I’m sure the costs involved were a fraction of those for licensing the original film.

And it's a good variation on a previous release; I’m almost certain it’s the same head sculpt that was used on the previous Pinhead pop, though the cuts in his face do seem much “softer”. This is probably the result of it being cast in glow in the dark plastic, and the lack of paint and wash. The arms are now folded across the chest, rather than extended, and the Lament Configuration is nowhere to be seen.  The lower half of the body looks to be identical, probably using the original prototype or sculpt as a base. It’s distinct, but not miles away from the original; for me, the glow was the main differentiation.

Paint is not as tight as the previous version, but I didn’t look very closely at the options I had in the store; I was just too excited to come across it in the wild! The glow itself is quite bright too, displaying as a luminous green on the head and also the hands.
Considering that the Hellraiser films have many visually interesting characters/villains, it’s a bit of a shame that we haven’t seen more figures released in the line. I can appreciate that some characters are not as retailer friendly as others – skinless Frank and Julia would likely elicit a protest similar to the whole Breaking Bad/Toys R Us fiasco – but I hope that we’ll at least get some of the other Cenobites sometime in the near future. Butterball, despite being my least favourite design in the actual film, seems like he’d lend himself nicely to the format -- and this custom Chatterer is quite impressive.  

This new version of Pinhead originally saw release alongside new versions of Beetlejuice, Jason and Alex (A Clockwork Orange) as Hot Topic exclusives, randomised in mystery boxes. Fortunately, in Australia they’ve been released in much easier-to-obtain form single form, though I suspect they will end up vaulted much sooner than their regular counterparts. Though not an essential purchase if you have the existing Pinhead figure, it’s still distinct enough to be worth considering. As aterrible tragic for all things that glow, I simply had to have it; I probably would have skipped it otherwise, but a good use of glow will push me over the line every time. 

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Transformers Generations: Titans Return – Galvatron (Voyager Class)

Company: Hasbro
Year: 2016

Sigh…I’ve been putting this review for a while, because generally I try and write positive reviews rather than negative ones. But in for a penny, in for a pound. Today we look at Galvatron from Titans Return.

Galvatron first appeared in Transformers: The Movie, way back in 1986. After Megatron came close to being killed during battle with the Autobots, he was taken away by Unicron and reformatted into GALVATRON, complete with a new voice from Leonard Nimoy.

Now the original Galvatron toy was somewhat unusual; most of the original Transformers toys were repurposed from a couple of different Japanese toylines – Diaclone and Microchange. But by 1986, Hasbro had burned through a lot of the designs from both these lines that worked with the Transformers concept and were starting to branch out with a few of their own designs. Galvatron was one of the first cabs off the ranks, as Hasbro had essentially planned to kill off a bunch of characters who were being discontinued in the next year’s range of toys – including Optimus Prime. That’s quite a story unto itself, of course…

I’ll start by saying that Galvatron is not a bad toy, but I’ll be keeping it fairly short. Refer to the points below:
  •  Considering I recently bought the quite similar-looking Cyclonus, I can’t help but think he wasn’t quite worth the price of admission.
  • The Titan Master function is a great concept, but it’s hindered by the execution of the head’s faceplate – you can’t turn his head, which is just kind of…silly in this day and age.
  • The alt modes are a chore to transform. The gun/cannon mode looks good, particularly as a tribute to the original toy, but the jet is a really mixed bag. It looks cool on the box and I love the concept, but I don’t it just doesn’t translate in physical form. The whole thing screams of computer design combined with improperly tested protos.
  •  There are a few known production issues with the toy – read about them here.
  • Overall? Cool bot mode, but given my time again I would’ve saved my $$$. Here’s hoping he gets a better toy in years to come.


Album Review -- Arctic Thunder vs Self Destruct

In 2002, I was 17 and listening to all the metal I could get my hands on. But my ambitions far outstripped my budget, so I used to scour the second-hand stores near my home, and every now and then I’d find a few gems.

One of them was Darkthrone’s first album – Soulside Journey. It was $5, and the Duncan Fegrado cover art intrigued me. I took it home, popped it in the CD player, and things were never the same again. Though it’s never garnered the acclaim of their later, explicitly black metal works, it resonated closely with me. The sheer heaviness – and darkness – was a sound I had been looking for, though I didn’t consciously recognise it at the time. And around the same time, I was also getting acquainted with Metallica’s earlier (and best) years. Master of Puppets rapidly became one of my favourites, and remains so to this day. In tandem, these two albums were profoundly influential on me, an embarrassingly angsty teenager – though not emo, never emo – coming off a profoundly unpleasant year.

Flash forward to 2016 and Darkthrone are releasing their sixteenth studio album – Arctic Thunder. Metallica, just over a month later, released their tenth – Hardwired… to Self-Destruct. Having returned to metal in 2015 after a couple of years off, both were essential purchases. 

Though there’s a disparity in the number of releases between the two bands, I’d say that’s not so surprising. Darkthrone haven’t played live since the very early days of their career, whereas Metallica are seemingly on a constant tour. Not to say that both bands don’t have other responsibilities (both Nocturno Culto and Fenriz still have day jobs, for starters), but I’d imagine this is at least part of the reason why. So with that aside, let’s take a look at both albums in more detail. 


I haven’t really kept up with Darkthrone’s albums over the years. I listened to the first four albums a lot back in the day, but then I kind of lost track. Most of their albums were a real pain in the ass to find in Sydney for a long time, which is at least part of the reason…and I was never really on-board with a lot of their lyrical themes, which probably played a big part too. Through friends, I knew they’d gone kind of “punk” for a few years there, but the tracks I heard here and there were a lot more Discharge than Good Charlotte.

So to cut this long story short, Arctic Thunder was kind of a fresh experience for me. I’d say it still borrows its share of stuff from punk bands like Amebix, but I’ve read others describe it as a big move away from their “punk” albums, so go figure. It’s pretty raw in terms of production, but not that “turn up the treble to 11 and use the shittiest mic/amp combo you can” kvlt aesthetic that has featured so prominently in black metal.  In spite of being a two-man project, the album really does have a band feel about it; I don’t know for certain, but I strongly suspect that most the instruments were recorded at least partially live to preserve that feel.

Nocturno Culto is back to performing vocals on all of the songs, which is a good thing. His pipes have held up well over the years, and he’s shifted back to more of a roar than a shriek. My main criticism is that I think that the producer has smashed the echo button a few too many times. It can be a really great technique, but it gets a little too much outage on this occasion, featuring on almost every track. Nonetheless, it’s a minor quibble; when the tracks are listened to in isolation, it’s not as problematic.   

And for someone who allegedly doesn’t practice very often, Fenriz is crushing it on the drums. It’s not Pete Sandoval-style blasting or anything, but it works really well within the context of the songs. He has never been one to big-note himself, but he certainly has impressive chops.   

Best song: Boreal Fiends


As you might expect, Hardwired… to Self-Destruct is a much more polished affair than Darkthrone’s album. This is not necessarily to its advantage; while I know that we’re never going to go back to that mid-range “scooped” engineering we heard on Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets, I think it’s definitely over-produced. Tracks like “Hardwired” could definitely have benefitted from a bit more grit, a little less finesse and a slightly rougher style of vocals. And the album as a whole could have benefitted from the songs being shortened, and not being split across two discs. Double albums are generally warning signs of trouble, and this is no exception. The best songs could have been fit onto one disc, and the other pretty easily discarded. Additionally, I have never been on the “bash Lars” bandwagon, but I will say I think his drumming is lacking here. The production on them is good, but there’s something just…off about them that I can’t quite pinpoint. They feel intrusive, as opposed to an integrated part of or driving force behind the songs.

Nonetheless, there are good points. Hetfield sounds more fired up than he has in years, and I still think he’s a good frontman, even if the material he’s working with is rarely as good as it could be. Kirk Hammett also turns in some good solos, and I think we can be safely confident that the days of “Hardrocktallica” are safely behind us.    

Best track: Atlas, Rise!


As someone who is adamantly not a fan of the post-…And Justice for All Metallica, and has memories of St. Anger and the painfully embarrassing Some Kind of Monster documentary still looming large in my memory, this new album was a pleasant surprise. Of course, “not being as shitty as St. Anger” should be at minimum a default mode, not an aspiration. It’s overproduced and overlong, but it’s enjoyable enough to have on in the background. Metallica don’t have much to prove in terms of commercial or artistic success, and that’s part of the problem. But team them with the right producer – perhaps one more removed from their present-day commercial concerns – and they could do great things again.  

Darkthrone, on the other hand…well, at this stage in their career, they’ve certainly settled into something of a comfortable groove. As with Metallica, they don’t really have anything to prove artistically. And though some of their albums have sold quite well (in comparison to other extreme metal bands) they’ve always been quite happy to give the middle finger to more corporate considerations. What distinguishes them is a willingness to explore new territory. Not that they’re experimental, per se; more that they have used their reputation and experience to do what they want. If you happen to enjoy it, good for you – if not, then they won’t be losing any sleep over it. 

Hardwired…to Self Destruct is enjoyable -- and it's definitely pleasing to hear Metallica sound re-energised -- but Arctic Thunder genuinely rocks. I can already tell you now which one is going to sound better in ten years.