Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Where All the Toys At?

I can't wait to get my hands on the 2012 Vintage Collection Luke Skywalker in Hoth Gear.  Rebelscum had some nice pics of Luke and his two legged sleeping bag.  Impressed,  forever ago I got the Target Exclusive Taun Taun and I've been waiting to plop Luke into its saddle ever since.  I'm still waiting...and waiting...and waiting.  So, where the heck is Wave 3?  Wave 4 figures arrived at our warehouse doorstep not too long ago and about two weeks ago we got wave 5. What gives?!  Why hasn't wave 3 arrived in my local stores yet?  Before you tell me I'm not visiting my stores often enough, I'm telling you I go nearly EVERY DAY, and I go to more than just one store.  Here, I'll take you for a little drive.

Monday through Friday I take my lunch break and do my "rounds".  Usually I leave somewhere between 12 and 1 o'clock.  My first stop is Target.  With 3 stores to visit, I always enter with a little spring in my step.  Cutting a diagonal through the men's casual, under, and athletic wear, I speed walk over to the toy department.  Like a Terminator I set my eyes to "action figure" and scan the shelves for my top 3 figure lines.  I look over the Marvel Universe toys:  Nothing on shelves recently to get my collector's blood flowing.  That is, nothing until Wave 18's new Hulk, Spider-man, and Beast are released.  Next, I process the pegs holding the Joes:  Hey, look!  It's Arctic Destro!  I'm still hoping against hope that I'll come across a Renegades Stormshadow.  I know, I'm not holding my breath.  Finally, I check out the Star Wars Figures:  I'm going over Clone Wars figures as well as the Vintage Black and Silver Collection.  Since the New Clone figures are practically neutered of their articulation, I'm pretty much only looking forward to the re-pack of Aayla Secura.  I DO still want a Phase II Captain Rex, though.  I want to pop off his head/helmet, take a drill, and hollow out his mask.  I'm getting into customizing figures and "improving" on them.  The new Clone Wars Rex doesn't come with a removable helmet, so I'm going to make him one. This customizing started as simply switching Clone Trooper heads with ARF trooper heads to expand on leg posablity, but it's escalated into Doctor Frankenstein territory.  (Check out Matchstick1984 on YouTube and see if you can resist throwing your figures in the microwave and pulling them apart.  He makes it look so easy!  But, that's a blog for another day.)  Target's new figure average has dropped significantly.  Just last year my local Target was the lunchtime goldmine.  Hopefully, these new figures will start to trickle in and the drought will end.

Next, it's off to Toys R Us.  Similar to Target Toys aRen't Us has been a recent disappointment.  I'd swear there is dust on the shelves and tumble weeds in their aisles.  Nothing has changed in my local store for about 2 months.  I should be angry but I'm almost glad.  When there are new figures on the shelf a have to CHOOSE which figures I'm going to buy.  Up, up and away seems to be Geoffrey Giraffe's pricing mantra so I have to ask myself, what are my "must haves" and what toys can I wait out.  Which figures will be gobbled up to only be seen again as an Internet picture, and which figures will be the new peg warmers of the future.  I want to know so I can buy the later for a lower price at Target or Walmart. 

Speaking of Walmart, that spark at the end of their name should be a 4 leafed clover since I've had the most luck within their walls.  Granted, most of the time the figures are smashed. But, if I'm planning on purchasing another, I'll bite the bullet and lay my money down.  I don't know about your Walmart, but I've noticed if I park near the Garden Center entrance, I can be in and out of the toy section in just under 2 minutes.  If I just so happen to find something ripe for the picking, I harvest my crop and make a bee line for the fastest register.  Lunch is an hour, so there's no time to waste.  Sometimes I can hurry right through the Garden Center check out lanes. Other times, those lanes are clogged with 30 customers convinced that these two cashiers move faster than the 12 plus registers near the main entrance, I take my chances at the other side of the store.  Plus, I'm right next to the RedBox rentals. 

On the weekends, I sometimes visit another Walmart, Target, and Toys R Us, but these trips are killing my wallet.  It isn't cheap to drive to these places day in and day out.  Furthermore, it seems that new figures are here and gone in an increasingly shortening cycle.  I use to enjoy the "hunt", now I just hope to stumble across something I want.  Maybe I've jumped a hurdle of maturity.  Maybe I'm actually growing up.  Or, maybe it's just math.  I drive about, let's say, 5 miles round trip.  Gas is $3.60-ish and my vehicle gets 17 city miles to the gallon.  So my weekday rounds add up to an extra $5.29 per week.  Haven't seen anything new in about 2 months so that makes it $42.32.  Seriously, I wonder if the amount of action figures released on shelves has decreased in the last 5 years.  I know Hasbro was loosing money and had to let go of some workers.  Doesn't it make sense that they would also cut back on their figures?  Heck, maybe Star Wars is loosing its shelf space clout.  Those weak sauce Clone Wars episodes aren't helping matters any.

I work for Past Generation Toys.  Now, I'm going to start buying from Past Generation Toys.  With all the gas, time, and disappointment, it seems like the logical choice.  I'm not going to miss out on the Galen Marek (Starkiller) figure, or pay 40 plus dollars for him once the hype arrives with his release along with all the sunk costs of looking for him. (Darth Malgus anyone?)  I'm going to take the stress out of my purchase and go the PGT route and pick up my "must haves".   I'll still drive my rounds, but maybe not as often.  If I see a second figure to the one I already have, I'll consider that a bonus and bring down my spending average.  The worst of the two will be either become my display piece or my guinea pig for a custom makeover.  (Insert evil laugh here.)

See you in the toy aisles,

Steve R. Ticulation (yea, I'm the guy who usually answers the phone when you call PGT!)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Young Justice is Served

Have you been watching the Young Justice cartoon on Cartoon Network?  No?  Hello, Megan!  In a nutshell, all the sidekicks -- but don't call them sidekicks -- are off on their own weekly adventures with minimal adult supervision.  Their ranks keep growing and the main team consists of Robin, Kid Flash, Aqualad, Superboy, Miss Martian, and Artemis.  Some satellite characters are Red Arrow (or Speedy), Zatanna, Rocket, and that scene stealer Captain Marvel.  The focus is on the youngsters, but members of the Justice League also make their appearances.  Batman dishes out the assignments, Red Tornado is den mother, and Black Canary is in charge of combat training.  Superman shows up too, but he's a little freaked out about Superboy.  Since the cast is full of teens, you get a full dose of the emotional angst you'd expect without, surprisingly, compromising the story.  Actually, the romantic relationships, insecurities, and immaturity only adds to the interest.  Superboy is doing "drugs".  Miss Martian has trust issues.  Artemis has some questionable family ties.  Sounds like it could be a disaster, but thanks to the skillful juggling act of the writers, it's definitely "aster".
And then you have the action figures.  They stink.  Or, should I say "stunk", as in past tense, since the line has been canceled by Mattel.  You have to go back to the 1970's to find figures of such limited articulation.  I know Mattel released larger sized figures with more articulation, but their proportions are all screwy.  Robin looks like a munchkin wrestler with those broad shoulders.  Seriously, if you wanted to collect the whole line of figures, you'd have to stick with the smaller guys.  Plus, these figures came with individual pieces to build your own Hall of Justice backdrop display!  That was a stroke of genius.   I soooooo wanted to buy me some Young Justice figures too and from a distance, at first glance, they looked promising.   Upon close inspection though, you'll notice that the arms, legs and chest pieces were repainted and recycled over and over throughout the line.  Somehow Mattel got away with this for the Justice League Unlimited line, but we won't be fooled again.  Paint application was also a problem.  Has anyone seen a Black Canary figure with her face stamped on straight?   She looks like her eyes and mouth were applied with the technological precision of Easter egg dunking decals.  And, what was with that dainty pinky hand mold?  I don't recall any tea cup accessories with these figures.  Needless to say, I was less than "whelmed".

The toys are one thing, but you can't argue that this cartoon has raised the bar and set new standards of what a super hero cartoon can be.  Below is an abbreviated version of my favorite parts and episodes.  Mostly, these are just little details that I've come to expect from the creative team behind the series.  I tried to disguise the spoilers for those who have to catch up, but those who have seen the series, it's a little walk down memory lane.

Independence Day - It's a fun fanboy moment as each hero defeats their designated cold villain in the first 3 minutes of the show.  When that same incident is revisited in Episode 11, it's no longer a throw away moment.  I got a kick out of the common confusion of Speedy being the name of the archer instead of the speedster.  This first episode gives you an idea of what you're in for.  The Justice League will NOT be playing an overwhelming role in this series.  The focus is definitely the young-ins.

Welcome to Happy Harbor - I love how Red Tornado sounds.  His voice has that cool resonance that reminded me of the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica , Soundwave from the G1 Transformers cartoon, and the communication system between X-wing pilots in Star Wars.  I started to hate the catch phrase "Hello, Megan!" until it all made sense 18 episodes later.

Drop Zone -  This was the episode where I knew I was hooked.  When Mammoth's skin actually rips due to the accelerated muscle growth brought on by the Kobra Venom, I knew I was hooked on this series.  The gang is still having trouble working as a team and it gets them into trouble, as it should.  I also liked how Bane spoke Spanish.

Schooled - I thought I was having deja vu when the episode opened with an out of control yellow school bus nearly launching itself off a red suspension bridge.  It was just like the first Superman movie with Christopher Reeve.  Then we see Superman, through the windshield, fly across the front of the bus in a shot identical to the movie I start laughing.  Like the brass statue of Shakespeare in Bruce Wayne's office, it isn't an accident, but an homage.  As one of the best episodes, I used "Schooled" as a recruiting tool to get my friend to watch.  He liked the concept of Amazo, an android that could mimic the powers of any super powered being it came in contact with, but he hated how Amazo called out the names of the heroes when using their powers.  I told him that was for the viewers, so they knew what was going on.  He countered that Amazo should just stay with Superman's powers.  I couldn't argue that logic and decided it was better to enjoy the show alone.  I thoroughly enjoyed the whupping Black Canary dished out during training, and how the lesson came full circle in defeating the bad guys.

Downtime - Clayface still has the same wet, mucky sound effect from Batman The Animated Series.

Terrors - This was a whole episode dedicated to the "fish out of water" concept.  You don't expect to see super heroes in prison.  The bad guys are thwarted, but unbeknownst to the good guys, the ultimate goal has succeeded and another chess piece is moved into place.  I love how everything is happening just below the surface, and the good guys don't always win.  Star Wars the Clone Wars should try out this concept.

Alpha Male - Captain Marvel steals the show.  The team's reaction to Marvel wanting to "hang out" is totally misunderstood and hilarious once the ending comes around.  Aqualad officially becomes my favorite character of the main group.

Failsafe - Knew what the ending was going to be, but still loved the ride.  Miss Martin is a powerhouse.

Misplaced - Billy Batson hops a fence when he could have just walked through the open gate 10 feet beside him.

Agendas - Didn't know Superboy's back-story in the comics so I got plenty of surprises. That "Red Sun" phrase comes in handy.  The backwards "S"  has an interesting origin.

Performance - A great stand alone episode.  Upon multiple repeat viewings I noticed that there wasn't a wasted sentence spoken.  Every line was relevant and all the pieces fit perfectly.

Usual Suspects - Everything pretty much comes to a conclusion and then goes totally berserk.

Auld Acquaintance - Did anyone else notice the heroes that came through the stargate?  All they were missing was the Flash.  Then again, maybe they were going for the Justice Lords.  The toe to toe battles were awesome. Was I the only one who was yelling and cheering at my screen?

I haven't seen this quality of storytelling since the first season of Justice League Unlimited.  No doubt when the whole collection of Season 1 is released in a single package, I'll lay my money down.  Like Wally, I want a nice souvenir of these adventures. Season 2, Young Justice:  Invasion, has already started and is just a few episodes in.  We have even more characters, new hair styles and outfits, and, oh yeah, it takes place 5 years in the future!  I'm not complaining.  From what I've seen, they'll get around to filling in the gaps.  I don't know how their going to improve on what we've already seen, but I'm willing to wait and see.

Steve R. Ticulation