Monday, July 25, 2011

A Toy Collector's Dilemma

Here's a test for you. You go into a store planning on buying lunch and you see the new (fill in the blank) action figure. You only have 10 dollars in your pocket. What do you do? Do you leave that store with a fast food combo? Good for you, but there's the door, and thanks for stopping by. If you choose to exit the store with figure in hand and a stick of gum for lunch, you passed the test and may enter. Let's be honest, if you are even reading this, welcome to the club.

Man, I love toys. I really don't know why. Is it nostalgia? Do I want to go back to my childhood? I remember playing with my toys on the kitchen floor one Christmas. I think I was telling my Mom how much I liked my new Super Powers toys or something. She told me that I'd grow out of them someday. She said I would like cars, clothes, and girls when I got older. At the time, I was baffled at the concept. She was right about most of those things. But, as my plate of interests filled up, somehow I still had room for dessert. Now, she jokingly calls me Peter Pan.

How many of the same figure do you buy? Are 2 enough? I prefer 3 myself. That's one to open, one for safe keeping, and the last one for "just in case". That is, just in case I want to sell it in the future. Sometimes I'll even go for 5, but this move is reserved for only the best versions of my favorite figures. Marvel Universe's Cable with baby Hope, I want 3. ARC Trooper Commander from the 2011 Star Wars Vintage Collection, I want 5. You seen that figure?! It's like two figures in one!

Is it unhealthy how much I enjoy these things? I'm not a smoker and rarely drink. This is money I would have spent on those vices. Can justify my collecting that way? I tell myself the toys I buy are an investment, but really, I just like them. I like posing them in ways that look better than the showcase on the back of the card. I like displaying them in dioramas on my shelves. I guess it's like owning models, but these models are a little less fragile and a little more flexible. I collect new toys from new shows, old toys from old shows, and new toys from old shows, but not old toys from new shows because that's impossible. Wait a minute, have they ever created a new show from an old toy? They kind of did that with He-man, but then they created new toys for that series. Hmm. That's one to grow on. Pretty much, if it's cool, I'll collect it.

Some people dismiss toys as kid stuff. It's true the targeted audience for toys, and the shows that promote these toys, are kids. But, take a look around you. This stuff isn't just for kids anymore. The movies on the big screen, the comics on the racks, the products in stores, the games on your console, and even the cartoons on the television. The stories are, dare I say, deeper and more complicated than 10 years ago -- Scratch that, even 5 years ago! Toys are caught in the same current. The paint jobs are getting better, the plastic is a higher quality, and the points of articulation are increasing. Sure, kids get these toys for Christmas and Birthdays, but adults design them and collectors appreciate the advances in craftsmanship and planning. With toys like the newest Snake Eyes (version 8), cartoons like Young Justice, movies like X-Men: First Class, video games like Arkham Asylum, and products like the Han Solo in Carbonite ice cube trays, it's a great time to be a collector. And the promises of the future, (The Avengers, Thundercats, Arkham City), make my wallet flinch, and my mouth water.

R. Ticulation

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

You Call Him Dr. Jones, Babe.

If you haven't guessed it already, I'm old school. It's Star Wars, not Episode IV: A New Hope. Zombies are the undead and shouldn't be sprinting like Olympic athletes. Finally, it's Raiders of the Lost Ark or "Raiders" (if you're hip enough not to use the word "hip"). Stop calling it Indiana Jones AND the Raiders of the Lost Ark!

Speaking of Dr. Jones and his adventures, I heard that the "Raiders" franchise is getting some love at the 2011 San Diego Comic Con. If you got the coin, or a solid gold fertility idol, you can bring home this 6 pack of figures that sparked the trilogy. (Listen to me carefully. Indy never rode out a nuclear explosion in a fridge, never saw a flying saucer, and never saw Sam Witwickey swinging through the trees with a pack of monkeys. There was never a 4th movie.)

The Raiders Pack includes Indiana Jones in his German disguise and bazooka prop. An unbelievable Toht figure with hat, fire poker, Marion's medallion, clutched hand, jacket, and a variant melty face. "It's beautiful!" The shirtless German mechanic gets a hat that he wears in the movie for even less time than his shirt, a gun he never uses, and a wrench he never holds. It would have made more sense if he came with a propeller blade. I'm looking forward to owning my first Doc Ock figure in hiking fatigues. I like that Satipo comes with a backpack of tools and a backpack of spiders. He also gets a torch. The Marion figure comes with a dinky, dare I say useless, pile of snakes and a torch. How clever was it for the figure to be designed with a removable shoe. Then, I noticed you don't get a removable shoe. The figure was designed with one bare foot. Finally, you get Indiana Jones in all his glory. Indy comes with a torch, bag of sand, fertility idol, and gun. Not sure if the satchel is removable or not.

I was very interested to learn that each figure would be individually packaged on it's own card. Think of the Marvel Universe Invaders pack with Cap, Torch, Namor, and Red Skull. Then, I was bummed to find out Hasbro is using the new card backs for these figures. I SO wanted Hasbro to go back and take the design of the old Kenner figures. You know, like Hasbro is presently using for the new Star Wars Black and Silver Vintage figs. Even first time figures from Attack of the Clones and Return of the Sith are getting this treatment.

You know a 6 pack is nice, but I'm really hunkering for that classic Indy figure. I want this to be the last Indy figure I ever need to buy. I just want this figure to be the pinnacle of all Indy figures. Strike one was missing the opportunity to use the 1984 design. Strike two is a coiled up whip that doesn't extend. So, I guess I don't have to worry about this being my last Indy figure after all.

R. Ticulation

Thursday, July 14, 2011

There Can Be Only One!

Who's up for a round of "King of the Hill", the Transformers version? I was planning on just taking a relaxing stroll down memory lane with a Top 10 list. Then, I realized, not all G1 Transformers measure up to the wonder and ingenuity of the first series. A similar thing happened to the GI Joe lines of the late 80's and early 90's where the Joes got gaudy florescent paint jobs and bigger, unweildly weapons. As Transformer lines progressed, they suffered from the complacency of repeated transforming mechanics. How many Autobot legs were just the back trunk and back windshield folded over? That said, my biggest beef with any type of Transformer, old or new, is concerning the proportions. Ironhide anyone? Not that anyone clamors for a red van, but a front windshield for a face? You kidding me? I guess someone thought it was a good idea. Good enough to paint him white, slap on some red lights, and call him Rachet. So instead of a list, these guys have to battle for the top slot and earn the right to scream victorious on the backs of lesser toys.

With that said, of course, cocksure Starscream is our first contender. The plane looks awesome. A big fan of accessories, I like the interchangeable missiles and love how the launchers can be removed and reattached as the I'll-shoot-you-in-the-back-to-climb-above-my-station forearm lasers. The arms themselves had a decent range of movement and their size and length were a nice balance with the robot as a whole, but the oversized boxing gauntlets threw everything off. I don't blame the gloves, they actually balance Starscream's large feet, I blame his head. Having trouble finding it? Not surprising. Starscream's head is tiny. To make identification worse, no stickers or paint applications were used to call attention to it. (At least, I didn't get any eye stickers.) Instead, you're wondering who stuck a burnt mini-marshmallow into the undercarriage of your Transformer. (It was probably your older brother.) Even so, if somehow you could look past his shrunken head, a glance from the side reveals another eyesore in the form of his gray nosecone protruding out the back of his head. Nice try Starscream, but down you go. As long as this next Transformer still functions, you will never hold the title.

Megatron. How awesome that you not only get a gun with chrome plating, but it's got some die cast metal in there to give it some weight. These were the days before the orange tips on every toy gun. Back in the day, the more realistic, the better. I never had a Megatron, and kind of wrote him off until I had a chance to transform him into a robot. It was some very crafty engineering behind this toy's construction. Combine the barrel, stock extension, and scope to form a laser cannon. These accessories were a nice touch, but we can't ignore the elephant in the room. In robot form, Megatron just didn't look that good. Even the coolness factor of an arm cannon couldn't distract you from the stubby arms and twiggy thighs. The future would bring some sweet versions of Megatron, but as far as G1 versions go, Megatron is taken down by 6 green transformers with hardhats.

Devastator. Not only do you get 6 separate construction vehicles, but you can assemble them to form a super robot! This green Goliath came with shooting fists and missiles, which were neat on their own, but when deconstructed, each robot had tiny weapons and accessories of their own. Yet, as they say, the bigger they are the more tears that fall when your toy takes a digger. Thanks to the wheel loader aptly named Scrapper, he most likely would. If Devastator wasn't falling off a table, he was falling apart. Maybe the gun was too heavy, or flawed construction plagued this Constructicon. Whatever it was, Devastator had the hardest time staying together. As a display piece for a collector, this is a nice item, but for any type of play, its a massive headache. So, Devastator topples from the top with a push from our heroic red diesel. The Japanese call him Convoy.

Optimus Prime is a fan favorite and I can see why. He was a great character and had a great toy incarnation. Ironhide was a pretty cool character as well, but fell to pieces as a toy. Optimus had no such failings. This was one of the smoothest Transformers ever made. As a kid, I remember driving him off my couch and trying to transform him as fast as I could before he hit the ground. Of course, the transformation sound effect was provided by my own throat clearing. (Anyone not familiar with the Transformers must have thought I was constantly hacking up my lungs. I pretty much had strep throat when I was finished transforming Devastator.) Optimus must have had the biggest accessory in the Transformer lineup in the form of his trailer which doubled as a repair shop and battle platform. I always wondered if little figures were originally designed to come with the Transformers, especially with Optimus, due to the little control panel seats. But, as great as Optimus Prime is, he has his flaws. I guess Optimus was hinting at his future Beast Wars self with those gorilla arms. It was the added length caused by his blue fists that gave Optimus his Reed Richard's look. I also wanted to be able to move his legs past the straight position. They could go backwards, but never step forward. It's time for Optimus to transform and roll on out of here. A great toy, but not even his simian strength can prevent Optimus from losing his grip on the throne. His vanquisher was once a Decepticon, but now flies the banner of Autobot.

Wonderful plane. Wonderful robot. Wonderful balance. Wonderful Jetfire. I was a big fan of this jet. If you somehow avoided the yellowing plastic that progressively darkened with every passing year, count yourself lucky. If you also have all your armor without any clips broken, go buy some lottery tickets! This one took some finesse to transform. I was always worried I would break it. The wings seemed so slim to me. Once transformed though, wow. Arms and knees could bend, shoulders and thighs also had a great range of motion. This didn't have to just stand there, he could be posed! You could even half transform him into some robot/plane hybrid. This toy was incredible! Something that always bothered me, though, was the face. For some reason the toy's face looked nothing like the cartoon face. Then, I ran into the cartoon Robotech and noticed the Veritech fighters. Jetfire was no Transformer! They just put an Autobot sticker on Rick Hunter's VF-1! You are disqualified Jetfire!

Does this mean Optimus wins by default? The prize for the best transformer goes to Opti--did you hear that? Sounded kind of like a Cylon from the old Battlestar Galactica.

"Buzzsaw. Eject. Operation: Conquest."

I can't say anything bad about Soundwave. It stinks that tape decks are no longer in "play", but that doesn't take away from this marvel of manufacturing. Proportions are even and Soundwave transforms without a hitch. While Optimus had Roller, a solid blue, 6 wheeled rover, Soundwave came with a cassette tape that could be ejected from his tape deck chest and transformed into a bird. How do you compete with that? I was always partial to designs of Ravage or Rumble over Laserbeak, but the condor tape holds its own. Though I like the color scheme of Laserbeak better, there is no denying as far as accessories go, Buzzsaw takes the cake. The best poses are with Buzzsaw on Soundwave's shoulder or perched on the extended arm of his master. If that isn't enough, batteries doubled as a gun and shoulder cannon and could be stored in the compartment under the belt clip. The Japanese took it a step further and included headphones to make the Walkman form even more convincing. For these reasons, Soundwave stands alone at the top of the heap as the best Transformer of the vintage G1 series.

R. Ticulation

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Gauntlet of the 5 Ps: A Toy Review

Just so we understand each other, I'm only interested in awesome toys. I don't care if they're vintage or new. What do I mean by "awesome"? Glad you asked. All toys fall under my 5 part scale that, luckily for you, I'm willing to share. I call them "The 5 Ps". The categories are: Package, Paint, Parts, Poseability, and Planning. (Price would have been included, but let's face it, you and I both know that if you want it bad enough, you'll justify that purchase.) Package, Paint, and Poseablitly are pretty self explanatory. Parts and Planning, on the other hand, may need a little extra info. "Parts" is my way of saying Accessories, while Planning covers a whole list of things from the color of plastic used to the sculpt itself. Scores range from 0 to 10, and every figure starts at 5. You impress me, you get a point added to your score. Try and play me for a novice, you'll pay for it in the form of subtracted points. And don't worry, I'll list my reasoning for each so, agree or not, you'll see where I'm coming from. Score all 10s and you get the coveted R. Ticulation Certified Seal of Awesome!

Oh, and for the record, I am looking at these toys through the lens of display. How cool can I get these toys to look on my shelf? I don't care how much kids would enjoy playing with these things or how good/bad the TV show/cartoon/movie was. That's not to say I won't comment on these things, but in no way will they sway my scoring.

I bought a Star Wars The Clone Wars Captain Rex a while back. I wanted a mail-away Boba Fett with the firing missile. You know the one. Got the thing and the card was dinged up in shipping. Not happy about that, and they wouldn't replace it either. But, I'm drifting. Rex got pulled out of the package and posed on my shelf. Let's put him through the meat grinder of the 5 Ps and see what comes out the other end.

Package: 6

Nothing too impressive. I like these darker blue packages better than the white ones of the year before. I also enjoy that you get a pic of the character, but disappointed that it's, pretty much, just a head shot. Collectors have to be happy about the cardboard backing and the glued blister, though. I know I was. It's just like old times. I hated those older blister cards with the tape slapped on all over the back. I'm glad Star Wars toys got away from that, but the curse lingers on in other toy lines, that I won't mention. (Cough.) Captain America Movie Figures (Cough.) Ahem. But the cardboard itself is a double edged sword. It looks nice, but there are so many angles on this card that it's hard to find one that doesn't have a dulled corner.

Paint: 5

Again, this is a kids toy so the paint applications aren't exactly the highest priority on Hasbro's list. It would be nice if they could mimic the scratched-up-detailing-look from the Star Wars The Clone Wars computer animated show, but then I think back to the first wave of "dirty" Clone Wars Troopers and how crappy that looked so I think what they got going, for now, works.

Parts: 9

I'm a big fan of accessories. I love how this guy gets two pistols, a rifle, and a missile launcher AND a missile with a cable attached AND AND AND a helmet. Just make sure you buy a helmet that isn't turning yellow. You'll notice that some of the other clone figures suffer the same discoloration on their legs and chest pieces. Cheap plastic, sun discoloration, or whatever the reason, take a closer look before you throw one in your basket.

Can a figure have too many accessories? You wouldn't think so, but then you haven't met the Star Wars Galactic Battle Game. Now, have I played this game? No. Do I ever plan to play this game? No. Did anyone ask for a game to be included with their figures? Not me. Like the game or not, we all know this die, skill set card, and figure stand were just another way to justify an increase in price. It's like paying for that two year phone contract when you only wanted a year. You don't have a choice to just get what you want. And the stand? A well made figure shouldn't need no stinking stand. A figure should stand on it's own. I'm so tempted to just throw that stuff right in the trash, but my collector instincts won't let me.

Poseablitly: 10

Thanks to the Clone Wars Movie I had almost sworn off Star Wars for good. Horrible story aside, I felt this advertised "new" look ripped off the character designs from Genndy Tartakovsky's Clone Wars cartoon shorts and pretended they never happened. I saw the figures in the stores and the Jedi figures didn't have any knee joints and the Clone Troopers, going for that battle worn look, had instead a "dipped in tar" look.

By accident, I stumbled across some of the deeper episodes of The Clone Wars: Season 1, and actually enjoyed them. I'm thinking specifically of the "Rookies", "Lair of Grievous", and Cad Bane's introductory episode. By the time I saw these episodes, the new packaging was on the shelves and the dirty clones were a thing of the past. When I came across the Clone figures again, I noticed their wrist joints. That put me over the top and I started collecting Star Wars figures again. The subtle tilts bring a realism to how the Rex holds his pistols or tucks his rifle into his shoulder. With Rex's ball jointed head, you can tilt his head to look down the sights of his rifle. Then you have the waist joint. If you ask me, every figure needs a waist joint. For this figure it's bumped up to just below the chest, but it serves the same purpose and has been engineered not only for side-to-side movement, but also up and down. I'm also a fan of the ankle joints. They're not very useful for standard flat footed poses, but that subtle, added joint allows for some dynamic stances.

Planning: 8

Again, my hats off to Genndy Tartakovsky's idea of designing skirts for the figures. They just look too skinny without them. The shoulder pad also helps bulk up this bean pole. The face looks alright. I give the bald head with painted hair a pass since I know the head will be used for umpteen other Clones. My biggest beef is the trigger finger on the right hand. Why not design a mold with a separated trigger finger like the left hand? Without that correction, he's pointing his arm at, let's say, 12 o'clock, but his gun is pointing to 2 o'clock. How hard would that have been? Not hard at all I figured and broke apart my razor and became a toy surgeon. Ever so carefully, I sliced between the index and middle finger. With a little black marker touch up, Rex can actually point his arm in the direction he wants to shoot.

Now, I've noticed the newest clones actually have two trigger fingers. (Yeah!) But, now the wrist joints are gone and Jedi figures are loosing ankle joints. (Boo!) Are these figures actually de-evolving? That's a topic for another time. But, for this figure, the placement and design of the joints allow for numerous sweet poses.

So there you go. Rex makes the Top 10 of Clone Wars figures, but you might want to keep him in his package unless you're willing to take a razor blade to his finger. Now I've got to buy another Cody, Gree, and maybe a Wolfee figure (if I can find one) and put all four of them into a group pose.

Until next time, I'll see you in the toy aisles.

R. Ticulation