Masters of the Universe: Revelation (Part 1)

If you’re into nostalgia then you’re probably familiar with how bad a relaunch, reboot, or long overdue sequel can go when it comes to fanbase reception. It’s essentially a form of gatekeeping, the time honored tradition of true fanatics who take ownership of an intellectual property they didn’t create and react in explosive, irrational, ways when something doesn’t go the way they wanted it to. The worst of it manifests in the form of harassment directed towards the actor, writer, etc. that the fanbase has decided has wounded them and it’s pretty gross. I think we saw the worst of this with The Last Jedi when angry fanboys decided to harass actress Kelly Marie Tron for playing a role they apparently didn’t like, never mind that the actor rarely has much input in how a character is presented and is just following a script and director. Like I said, it’s largely the reaction of the irrational and unfortunately it colors all individuals interested in these subjects as big man-babies, since this is largely the reaction of a male audience.

When tackling such a project, it seems the artists involved can either try to placate this segment of a fanbase or ignore it. With the new Netflix series Masters of the Universe: Revelation, writer and executive producer Kevin Smith seemed to try to have it both ways. The series was billed as a sequel to the Filmation series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe which ran from 1983-1985 and spanned 130 episodes. Rather than make the new show the same in style and tone as the original, Smith opted to write a sequel of a show intended for six-year-olds in the 80s for the same fanbase which is now approaching 40. It turns out this is a bad approach for Masters of the Universe if the most vocal portion of the fanbase is concerned. The show has received positive critical reviews, but has also been review bombed at outlets like Rotten Tomatoes with audience scores in the “rotten” range.

Teela assumes the spotlight for these episodes, and considering the MOTU fanbase is largely male, you can imagine how that has gone over.

What is the source of this fan outrage? As is often the case with these things, it’s hard to pinpoint. Some clearly went in expecting to hate the show and got what they wanted. They rage about “wokeness” or other abstract concepts they struggle to get specific with. And then there is the always prevalent “they ruined my childhood” cries if a character behaves differently than expected or is killed off, never mind that those 130 episodes Filmation made are never going anywhere. In the case of Masters of the Universe: Revelation, the complaints definitely span some of those topics, but one complaint I saw a lot of was that there isn’t enough He-Man. In hindsight, perhaps fans should have expected a more ensemble approach since the show purposefully dropped He-Man from its title. And the trailer Netflix released presented an honest look at the show. It’s also important to note, this is part 1 of a planned 2 part event and is only 5 roughly 24 minute episodes. It strikes me as a very Poochie response to complain about there not being enough He-Man, while ignoring that there’s a pretty obvious story in play here, but some fans are far more interested in feeling aggrieved over cries of a classic bait and switch.

Despite cries alleging the opposite, He-Man is still a part of this show.

I’ve already paid far too much lip-service to the arguments of a set of individuals who were going to hate the product no matter what. Is the show actually good though? It’s important to remember how this all originated. The original show was a glorified toy commercial. The animation was limited even compared with Hanna-Barbera properties of the era and the plots paper thin. There were some fun character designs, but clearly not a lot of thought was put into the creation of the series and characters as everyone has some generic name. Even He-Man himself, the title character, has an absurdly stupid name that we’ve just all grown to accept overtime. And it’s fine. That old show worked for what it was, but it’s certainly not the type of cartoon you can hand an adult who has never seen it and expect them to enjoy it. It’s not going to happen. Like many shows of that era, you need nostalgia goggles to have a good time. If Revelation had been designed as a sequel in both spirit and tone, it would have been terrible. It may have succeeded as a fun novelty, but nothing more.

Instead, we have a series that wants to treat the original premise with respect. There will still be the relics of the past that can’t be changed, like a character named Stinko, that pull the viewer out of it a bit, but I certainly don’t blame Smith for keeping that stuff in place. This series is given a TV-PG rating, but it’s definitely aiming beyond that in tone. It’s not overly violent, but characters do strike each other and we even get an impalement in one episode complete with a blade covered in blood emerging from the victim’s chest. Powerhouse Animation Studios was contracted to handle the animation and viewers may know them as the company behind Netflix’s well-received Castlevania series. Masters of the Universe has a similar look to that series, but with a brighter color palette befitting the show. The characters are large and the scenery detailed. The animation can be a bit jumpy at times, but I’m always delighted to see a series choose a 2D aesthetic over a 3D CG one. The series is scored by Bear McCreary and its mature tone matches the visuals well. It’s appropriately triumphant when it needs to be, and McCreary is able to add a dash of some of the familiar stings from yesterday that should please anyone familiar with the property.

Mark Hamill crushes it as Skeletor, which should surprise no one.

The setup for the series is a confrontation between He-Man (Chris Wood) and Skeletor (Mark Hamill, who is so good in the role) leads to the destruction of all magic in Eternia. In order to save the world, magic needs to be brought back and hero and villain will need to work together in order to make that happen. The heroine Teela (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is the focal point for these five episodes as she is turned into a reluctant hero entrusted with bringing back magic. She has a cast of allies at her side, but notably no He-Man for both he and Skeletor are essentially removed from the picture alongside magic. Their presence still looms large over the show, because how could it not, so even though they aren’t always there physically, they’re certainly there spiritually.

The only people who should be mad about screen time are Fisto fans. There’s just not enough Fisto.

Now, light spoilers ahead, but it’s hard to frame the series without revealing a little bit of the plot and nothing I say here isn’t already covered in the official trailer for the show. When He-Man is removed from the picture is when his identity as Prince Adam is revealed to Teela. Prior to the confrontation, Teela was made the Man-At-Arms for the kingdom as a promotion in a ceremony at the castle that is quickly adjourned when Skeletor strikes Grayskull. Upon finding out Prince Adam’s secret and that it was a secret also kept by her father, Man-At-Arms (Liam Cunningham), she reacts with anger. She feels like she has given her all to a kingdom and to a man, Prince Adam, who did not even deem her worthy of knowing what’s really going. Feeling betrayed, she abandons her post as a result of both that and at seeing how her father is “rewarded” for his year’s of service when the king finds out his son’s secret, and that sets the wheels in motion. A lot of criticism levied at the show that I’ve seen points to this moment as being unrealistic, poorly written, etc. It’s really none of those things. The audience does not need to feel it would react in the same manner, but that doesn’t make Teela’s actions unjustified or unearned. And the story will come back to that moment and explain it even better in the following episodes, maybe not as explicitly as some of the audience apparently needed, but it’s there for anyone willing to pay attention.

Heroes and villains on the same side?! Kevin Smith, what madness have you unleashed?!

The story takes on a quest-like feel as Teela gets pulled back into her old role as a Master of the Universe and will round up allies along the way. Each character they encounter is dealing with a new personal crisis resulting from the climax of the first episode. Where the show succeeds very well is in giving each character a clear arc that allows them to grow along the way. Some arcs will end in death, at least for now, which is always controversial. It’s important to remember this is only the first grouping of episodes and a lot can change in the next batch. While I suspect some deaths are permanent (and should be as they’re satisfying) it also would not surprise me in the least if the story finds a way to undo all of them, but I won’t prematurely criticize the show for something it may not even do. The show ends, as virtually all Netflix shows seem to do, with a cliffhanger and it’s one Kevin Smith likened to The Empire Strikes Back. Our heroes are going to get knocked down again before they can rise up, and we have to wait for the next batch of episodes (which presently have no release date, but Smith has indicated they’re nearly finished) to see that rise take place. And I’m pretty sure it’s going to happen, so fans crying about the end really need to chill.

Tri-Klops as a creepy techno-evangelist is a turn I didn’t see coming, but am very much here for.

Beyond the plotting, the show finds time for humor so it’s not all doom and gloom. There are some interesting developments for the world post magic, and the villain Tri-Klops (Henry Rollins) takes an entertaining turn. There’s a lot of humor and genuine chemistry found in the pairing of Orko (Griffin Newman) and the sorceress Evil-Lyn (Lena Headey) that may have been my favorite part of the whole thing. I actually wish there had been more time allotted for quieter moments between characters, but the short running time means this show moves at a brisk pace and it’s a pretty easy binge. I watched it with my kids on a rainy afternoon and it was short enough that I wasn’t feeling fatigued come episode 5. Mostly though, the cast should be praised for their work on this one. Netflix appears to have spent good money attracting talent, while the show probably also saved a few bucks by casting some Smith regulars (including his daughter) in a few minor roles. If you’re a fan of Kevin Smith’s work, you’ll probably find added enjoyment in trying to pick out actors like Jason Mewes and Justin Long from the cast of characters present.

Masters of the Universe: Revelation is the spiritual sequel to the original show from Kevin Smith that apparently many fans didn’t want. Despite that though, it’s well-written and the production values are about as good as it gets for an animated television series in 2021. The show is not prestige TV by any means, but fans of Masters of the Universe looking to see how the characters could behave in a mature setting should at least find it engaging. It is a fairly predictable show, especially if you’re familiar with Kevin Smith and the type of story-telling that intrigues him. Predictable does not equal unenjoyable though, and even though I could foresee a lot of the plot beats a mile away I still found them satisfying as they made sense for the story being told. I suspect the remaining five episodes will unfold in a similar fashion, and fans bemoaning the fact that they didn’t get to see tidy, little, plots where He-Man foils Skeletor at the end of every episode will eventually get the resolution they want. Part of the show’s premise, after all, is to showcase the final confrontation between He-Man and Skeletor. I’m guessing the people who don’t like this show aren’t wrestling fans because this thing is scripted like a classic wrestling angle where the hero needs to go away, because the return “pop” is always the biggest. This show is a fairly easy recommend from me since it’s quite digestible and it’s entertaining. If you’re someone who is very specific about what you want from your toy commercial turned show, then maybe it’s not for you. And if you’re someone who finds the whole concept of Masters of the Universe dumb to begin with, then yeah, it’s probably not going to win you over either. And if you just want to see Prince Adam wave his sword in the air and become bathed in light, well you can always go watch the old cartoon. Or wait for the more kid-friendly show coming out later. That one actually has He-Man in the title, so if he’s not in every episode you’re free to get mad.


Another Comic Con Season is Over and it was Expensive!

San Diego Comic Con has come to be a convention that means a lot of things. It only vaguely has anything to do with comic books and instead is more a celebration of, and I hate to use the term, “geek” culture: video games, movies, comics, toys, etc. It’s also a huge commercial event with many companies exhibiting wares like a trade show and also hawking rare, convention, exclusives to hungry patrons looking to get their hands on something unique. The problem is, these convention exclusives were once novelties, but in the toy industry, they’ve become practical necessities for fans of certain products and it creates a hyper-competitive environment full of broken websites, tapped-out wallets, and frustrated fans.

For the second year in a row, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the event to be done remotely. At least with this year, companies had plenty of time to plan for that and many crafted special videos or hosted live panels to show off to fans what’s expected to come later this year and into next. Unfortunately, a global shipping crisis could not be foreseen so a lot of product that would have been sold at physical booths this year are still in transit. It certainly takes a damper out of things when, as a consumer, you fight scalpers and busted websites only to secure an order for something that won’t even ship for 6 to 8 months. In that case though, at least the consumer can be happy to have secured a coveted item and the waiting is just what it is.

It’s been an interesting season. I was musing on Twitter how this time of year that purports to celebrate the collector, toy, industry instead brings out the worst in the industry. As one would say though, it is what it is. I spent a lot of time, and money, going after the stuff I personally wanted and watched from afar as plenty of other fellow collectors tried to get the things they wanted. Some experiences went better than others, but I can at least say that I did get everything I really wanted, and the things I didn’t I passed on because it just wasn’t worth it to me.

This fall, the mask comes off!

The company always in my sights this time of year is NECA. I have been collecting NECA’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles products ever since they started making the stuff back in 2008. NECA chose to use this time of year to only highlight items expected to arrive in stores between now and October, so while there weren’t a ton of reveals, there was certainly plenty to get excited about. On the film front, they had a new Casey Jones to feature that now comes with an unmasked portrait as NECA was able to get the likeness rights to actor Elias Koteas (with some help from April actress Judith Hoag) around the time the original figure was released. It looks great, though considering it’s basically the same figure I already have just with a new head and elbows means I may pass on it. Complicating the matter is Walmart posting a preorder just last night for a mystery two-pack claiming to be April and Casey from the farm portion of the film. There was no image to go with it, but being a TMNT product, it sold out. It’s dated for November so I suppose it’s not a surprise it was withheld from the show. Also from the movies is Shredder from the sequel, The Secret of the Ooze. He’s largely the same figure as the first film except he’s purple and has a new cape and helmet. Still, he looks pretty awesome and would pair quite well with Tokka and Rahzar.

From the cartoons, NECA had some two-packs that we knew were coming thanks to a Target leak, but had yet to see. Groundchuck and Dirtbag will be arriving together which makes sense since they debuted together in the same episode of the show. Dirtbag even has a nifty feature where he can separate at the torso and be placed in a sculpted pile of rubble like he came up from out of the ground (since he’s a mutated miner or something). The other big two-pack shown was Wingnut and Screwloose who too looked quite impressive. Screwloose in the cartoon was a much larger character than someone like Joe Eyeball so he gets a full figure this time around, which is awesome. He looks to be roughly the same size as Baxter. Those were the only new reveals, but they did show additional shots of some of the figures NECA put up for preorder earlier in the year and also teased a cartoon Tokka and Rahzar two-pack. For the comics, they only had a teaser for Fugitoid and nothing for the video game line was shown or teased which was expected as the comic line is intended to replace it.

I don’t know if the kid version of me would be excited for this group, but the adult version certainly is!

As expected, NECA did have an exclusive set to sell this year as they have every year going back several years now. And for TMNT, they actually had two. The first is an exclusive Super Shredder that will be sold at Walmart stores. It’s another paint variant meant to resemble a European version of the old Playmates toy, similar to how the Shadow Master variant was an homage to a mail order exclusive of the same toy. This one is basically hot pink with metallic blue shoulder pads and spikes. It’s fine, though most fans were more interested in the cartoon 4-pack that went on sale at NECA’s webstore yesterday. Titled The Catwoman from Channel 6, the set contains four figures: Mutated Cat April, Irma, Vernon, and Burne as well as a bunch of unique Channel 6 themed accessories like cameras and little mutated versions of Vernon and Burne as turtles. It’s a pretty cool looking set as the box is done up like the deluxe releases with f.h.e. inspired artwork, but mostly it’s the first chance at an Irma and Burne. They may not be heroes or villains, but they were in a lot of episodes of the cartoon and it’s hard to have a display that doesn’t include them. Many were disappointed that the Cat April doesn’t come with a new, non-mutated, April head, but her skin tone is different as a cat and it wouldn’t have made sense. Irma comes with rat parts, like Vernon, while the cowardly cameraman has two new portraits to differentiate him from his prior release: a scared version and a blindfolded one. The set was sold with some “swag” like last year’s Musical Mutagen Tour and set collectors back $175. A version without the swag will arrive at Target in the coming months and retail for $150. I was able to place an order yesterday as the set remained in stock for awhile relative to other NECA exclusives, which means about 15 minutes. International versions are still available, and really the only downer is NECA has not provided a release window so I have no idea when this thing will ship.

She looks perfect!

In non-turtle news, NECA had some horror stuff to show based on Halloween and Gremlins II. I’m not really into that aspect of their business, but I am very interested in one of their newest intellectual properties: Gargoyles. Despite boasting that they have around six or seven sculpts already completed, NECA was content to just show two characters: Demona and Thailog. Demona had been teased already so this was just a chance to get a closer look at her, and predictably, she looks terrific. Thailog, being a clone of Goliath, was a bit underwhelming as he’s basically a Goliath variant. He has a new portrait that’s rather smug looking, and I like it, but I would have preferred to see another new sculpt. Demona was confirmed as the second release, and I believe Thailog was confirmed as the third, but no release window was given. Since Goliath still hasn’t shipped, it would probably be generous to expect both to arrive before October is through, but hopefully Demona can at least make it out before Halloween. Goliath is my most anticipated action figure release this year and I can’t wait to go hands-on with this line!

After the NECA hysteria died down, my focus turned to Bandai. I am a casual collector of Bandai’s S.H.Figuarts line and it’s Dragon Ball figures, but one of their exclusives this year caught my eye. An anime accurate Nappa was going on sale following the manga-inspired version that was released a couple of years ago. I had seen that figure on display several times at a local comic shop and came close to pulling the trigger, but ultimately passed. I decided I would not do the same this time, but Bandai seemed to have other ideas. The sale started at 9 EST last night and it was doomed from the start. The website crashed and no one could check out. Twitter was flooded with complaints while the social media accounts for Bandai and Bluefin Brands tried to push patience. It was a repeat of last year, and despite promises to do better, Bandai came up short. After an hour of constant refreshing and baby steps, I finally got through, but others weren’t as lucky. It helped I was only going after one of the four Dragon Ball exclusives, the others being Goku, Whis, and Beerus. I would have liked to have grabbed Beerus as I enjoy that character, but I just didn’t feel like spending more money. Same for the special stands that were on sale which featured a custom base. At least with Nappa, I have an expected delivery window of August, so the wait for this exclusive should be fairly quick.

I can’t believe this exists.

The longest wait though is reserved for Mondo. I am a first-time buyer of Monda, though I’ve seen their stuff before. They did a line of Mirage-inspired Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that were pretty cool and also have tackled Batman: The Animated Series. Their figures are 1/6th scale, so they’re around 12″ usually and quite expensive. Last November though, the company unveiled a figure in a new line: Wolverine. Not just any Wolverine though, Wolverine from X-Men the animated series. I was immediately interested despite the scale and cost and I only became more interested when the company teased it earlier this week. This thing comes with the photo frame of Scott and Jean that Wolverine broods over and has become a popular meme over the past few years. And to top it off, he comes packaged in a window box that simulates Wolverine laying on his bed pining for Jean. It’s ridiculous, and also ridiculously expensive at $200. A standard version should arrive sometime next year that will certainly be cheaper. How much cheaper I’m unsure of as the world of action figures continues to get hammered by shipping price hikes. This figure comes with a sad Wolverine head and we know that’s exclusive to this set, but is the picture? Or the alternate Morph head? The turkey leg?! Yes, he comes with a turkey leg.

I wish I didn’t have to wait until 2022 to get it!

Mostly, I just felt the need to show my support for anything X-Men animated as that has become my new grail toyline. NECA has crafted the TMNT lines of my dreams and are now going to dip their toes into Gargoyles. X-Men though was my biggest love as a kid and I’ve talked about my desire to see that cartoon get dedicated action figures based on it. Some will wave the retro-carded line by Hasbro in my face and say “This is X-Men animated,” but it’s not. Doing figures based on the designs of Jim Lee is not the same as doing an actual cartoon line. This figure from Mondo appears to get that right based on the paint deco which uses two shades of yellow, two shades of blue, and doesn’t have over-the-top detailing like stubble on Wolverine’s face or individually sculpted teeth. Unfortunately, I’ll have to wait until January (if not longer) to find out just how good this thing is as that’s the current expected ship date. Apparently, this wouldn’t have been ready to sell at a physical booth had the convention happened.

It was quite a week though, and it followed a week of reveals by Super7 the prior week which got G.I. Joe fans talking. The state of the shipping industry makes it hard to say how many of the products shown off this week will actually reach collector hands this year, but it’s fun to know what’s coming. Right now there’s a lot of waiting going on which is rarely fun, but often necessary. And I’m an adult capable of being patient when it comes to my toy hobby. Still, waiting on the chance to try and buy these exclusives was anxiety-inducing when it doesn’t have to be. It’s great companies are creating products people want, but why the artificial scarcity? And with so many of them not even shipping for months, why not just open preorders for most of them? I get it if you’re selling some goofy, expensive, variant that not everyone needs, but a character like Nappa from Dragon Ball Z in his show accurate colors should be something every DBZ collector has a chance at. NECA appeared to meet demand with its set, and they have more shipping to stores as well, so I give them high marks this con season. Plus, I think the exclusive figures in that set, namely Irma and Burne, will see release in the main line at some point too. Even the mutated April might get a re-release and if that happens the only truly exclusive things in that set will be the large cameras and alternate Vernon portraits. And that’s fine! I want to get the toys that I like and I want everyone else to as well. I don’t need these things to be hyper exclusive to have value for me. Some people see things differently, but I’m confident in saying they’re the minority in this day and age. It’s a time of year I both look forward to a lot and also dread. It’s over now though and I’m largely feeling good so…mission accomplished?


A little Christmas in July

I’ve had Super Nintendo under the tree once before, but never on the tree!

As someone who loves Christmas time, the concept of Christmas in July should sound appealing. Instead, I’ve always kind of thumbed my nose at it. Part of what makes Christmas so special is the fact that it only comes once a year. Even though the actual holiday season is pretty lengthy, it still never overstays its welcome, for me anyways. And when it’s over, it’s over. I always put out my Christmas stuff on the day after Thanksgiving and I’m quick to put it away. Sometimes I leave stuff out until New Year’s Day, but if there is some unseasonable warmth between the 25th and the first then I’ll take advantage of that when it comes to the outdoor decorations.

Christmas in July is something that exists because it’s halfway until Christmas, and probably because Christmas is such a strong performer at retail. I’m assuming most of the Christmas in July mindset is driven by corporations looking to make an extra buck during the summer months and for companies like Hallmark, it’s become the time of year to unveil the latest in holiday décor. As a kid, I can recall Cartoon Network also using it as an excuse to tap into the trove of Christmas cartoons and fill some programming blocks during leaner times. Their Christmas in July programming was never appointment viewing or anything for me, but it wasn’t something I was offended by either. Even though in my household growing up we had a Christmas Tape; a VHS of Christmas specials recorded off of TV. That tape was completely off limits between New Year’s and Thanksgiving and it wasn’t as if it was under lock and key, it was just understood that to indulge in such when it wasn’t Christmas was borderline offensive. That tape, by the way, still exists to this day.

As an adult, I’ve softened a bit on the whole Christmas in July thing. The past couple of years I’ve caught Christmas episodes of popular shows on television during this time of year. Just last weekend Disney aired the excellent Duck the Halls, and getting in an early viewing was actually somewhat pleasurable. In 2020, it was positively delightful to take in some Christmas programming during a long year of lockdowns and isolation and catching a show set in the winter time is a bit therapeutic during a heatwave. No, I’m not getting out the decorations and breaking out the Christmas Tape, but a little holiday cheer in July isn’t so bad.

Isn’t it cute? Sadly, the NES ornament from last year is put away with the other Christmas stuff so no comparison shot with that.

One thing that’s good for Christmas lovers during the summer months is it’s a good time to do some shopping. Around the holidays, anything Christmas related is sold at its peak value, but during the rest of the year you can score some deals. I’m always on the look-out for stuff I like that I don’t have, and I’ll share some of my more recent scores shortly. Things that aren’t cheap or on-sale though are Hallmark ornaments. Like a lot of people who enjoy Christmas, I have probably more ornaments than can reasonably fit on an average-sized tree. And with the kids reaching school age, I’m probably due for a lot more homemade ones too that I’ll have to find room for. As a result, I tend to be rather picky these days with what ornaments I invest in, but one I couldn’t turn down was the new Super Nintendo ornament from Hallmark.

Part of me wishes the controllers weren’t glued down, but I’m sure there are some grooves in the sculpt for them so it probably wouldn’t look as good if someone were to pop them off.

Last year, I grabbed the Nintendo Entertainment System ornament from Hallmark and was quite enchanted by it. The sculpt is fantastic and it plays the theme from Super Mario Bros. when you press the power button. Naturally, I had to pair the SNES one with it when I was made aware of it. The SNES one is modeled after the US SNES and it features two controllers and has a copy of Super Mario World in the game slot. When you press the power button, it plays the main theme from the game complete with sound effects as-if you were watching the demo screen. The Super Mario World theme isn’t as beloved as the Super Mario Bros. one, but it’s still an ear worm all its own and an appropriate choice for the ornament considering it was a pack-in game originally (and I originally received my copy and a SNES on Christmas, as I imagine many kids did who had one). It might have been cool to see a different Nintendo franchise get to shine a little, but it’s also hard to fault Hallmark for just sticking with Mario. The ornament was created by artist Jake Angell and retails for a pretty reasonable sum of $20. It comes with the batteries needed to work the music, though Hallmark continues to cheap out on us by not including an ornament hook or ribbon to actually hang the thing from the tree.

Even the backside is accurate. The only question remaining is will this thing yellow over time like the real thing?!

The ornament itself though looks terrific. It’s pretty tiny, measuring approximately 2 and 7/16″ wide by nearly 3″ long. The power, reset, and eject buttons are sculpted and detailed, though only the power button functions. It also presses down instead of slides. Both the Player 1 and Player 2 controllers are sculpted separately and attached to the ornament; one on the left side and one on the top-rear. The attention to detail is, again, superb as the shape of the face buttons are even accurately represented in addition to the colors. The L button on the Player 1 controller kind of words on my ornament as well, though it doesn’t actually do anything and I’m not certain it’s supposed to have this much play. I am left wishing the controllers weren’t glued to the unit though. If the wires had been done to be bendy that would have been pretty near. Especially because the Player 1 chord wraps under the console so it doesn’t sit perfectly flush on a surface should you choose to utilize this as a desk adornment instead of a tree one. The rear of the unit is also accurately represented with really the only thing missing being the 1-800 Nintendo repair sticker.

It even fits in pretty well with your quarter scale action figures!

It should also be noted, the song is loud! I was pretty surprised when I hit the button for the first time that such a small device can generate such a big noise. As stated though, you get the regular theme from Super Mario World with some sound effects of Mario jumping around and finding Yoshi. It then breaks into the victory theme to close it out which is a nice touch. All in all, if you’re a Nintendo fan then you’re probably getting this thing or someone who loves you is planning on gifting it to you in December. It will probably be a big seller if it’s anything like last year’s ornament so it’s actually a good thing that it’s out now so you get several months to try to score one. They’ll be stocked regularly from now until the end of the year and you can pre-order it from some stores right now so anyone who wants it should be able to get it for retail. It might get harder though the closer we get to the actual holiday.

New ornaments are fun and all, but what people really love are novelty, singing, dancing, figurines which is why I invested in a Santa Dancing Homer. This guy comes courtesy of eBay as he’s no longer in production. He features a 2002 copywrite which makes sense as this was when Simpsons merch was still pretty robust. It would fall off not long after and resurface for the 25th anniversary, though surprisingly little seemed to come out for the 30th. Are we as a culture just officially sick of The Simpsons? Maybe, though I’m not. I hope it never ends! There’s just something comforting about there always being new episodes of a show that’s been on since I was a kid and it’s not some dumb news program or pro wrestling. And yeah, I know, it past its peak in 1999 or so, but so what?!

In case you’re wondering, yes, that countdown is accurate.

Homer is festively attired in a Santa suit which has a soft, though somewhat rigid, texture. Not including the base he’s attached to, Homer is about 12″ tall with the base adding roughly 1 1/4″ to that height so he doesn’t require a lot of room for display. The portions of his body that are visible are cast in yellow plastic and the added details, like his eyes and trademark stubble, are painted effects. I suppose it should be noted this Santa suit is a bit nicer looking than the one he wore in the series premiere, “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire,” though it’s pretty similar to the much later Christmas episode “Grift of the Magi.” The main difference between the two is the original costume came with a scruffy beard.

Homer runs on double A batteries and is not, by himself, posable. When you have fresh batteries in him, you can either activate him via the yellow button or by a switch on the bottom of the base. The yellow button will make him wiggle and utter one of his many phrases or sing a song. The button on the bottom of the base is for activating the motion-sensing function so you can scare people who walk by him. When he does animate, his lower jaw moves and his hips sway. Sometimes he’ll turn his head too. If he goes into song, his arms will move up and down a bit along with the hip swaying and mouth-flapping. The songs are pretty amusing as Homer doesn’t know all of the words. When he sings “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” he mostly just says the song’s title over and over and ad-libs a bit all while adhering to the song’s melody. The speaker is a little fuzzy, but Homer can be understood clearly and obviously the lines were recorded by Dan Castellaneta. It’s a novelty Christmas item, so how much you enjoy it probably depends on how much you like Homer Simpson. I love Homer, so this decoration is an easy win. It also wasn’t hard to come by, nor was it super expensive. I think I basically ended up paying retail for it, though he’s used. Another neat feature is that you can use a 6V wall plug to power him if you would rather not use batteries. It’s not a bad idea since batteries being left in a Christmas decoration like this one throughout the year can often lead to leakage and a ruined toy.

The last holiday item we’re going to look at is a simple one: this plush Santa Raphael from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It was in reading the book Rad Plastic earlier this year that I was reminded about the plush line of TMNT toys from the early 90s and it was the first time I can recall being made aware of this Christmas variant. It pains me that the original Fred Wolf cartoon never did do a Christmas episode, but this plush kind of makes up for that. Well, not really, but hey, it’s Christmas!

There’s not much to say about this guy though: what you see is what you get. The tags on him reflect a 1990 release for this guy and that agrees with the book. It’s basically the same as the regular plush turtles that were available, only this one has Santa pants and boots stitched onto it. He’s about 17″ long from the top of the head to the tip of his toe as his feet are kind of outstretched as there’s no stitching to orient his feet in a standing position. The coat can probably be removed, as I don’t see any stitching holding it to the body, but it has white elbow pads stitched to it that are pretty tight and I don’t want to risk messing this up. The white elbow pads are actually a nice touch and the white cuffs on the boots basically line-up with where Raph’s kneepads normally would end up. It even appears he has his red elbow pads on underneath the jacket, though it’s impossible to say if the same is true for the knees. He also comes with a removable hat that mostly just rests on his head. I wish it was a bit bigger, but it’s all right.

“Aww c’mon, man! You’re embarrassing me and the other Raphs around here with that get-up!”

As you can probably imagine, this was another eBay purchase and yet another inexpensive one. For a 30 year old plush, Raph is in pretty good shape. The whites are still white, and the only sign of ware really is on the eyes which are a bit scratched. This style of plush is definitely assembled on the cheap, so there are exposed seems and I don’t really like the material used for the mask as it’s thin and prone to wrinkling. On the plus side, he has no odor which is always the risk when buying an old, used, plush and he’s still quite soft to the touch. It’s probably helped that he’s a Christmas decoration and whoever owned him before me may have had him put away 11 months out of the year lessening the annual ware and tare. He’s kind of dumb, but what can I say, I like him!

Well, that’s about all of the holiday cheer I have in me at the moment. Maybe I’ve inspired you to hit a Hallmark store or check popular resell locations for some Christmas stuff while the getting is good. It’s a good time to be on the hunt right now, but things tend to change quickly. If you need more Christmas in July though, you could always head on over to The Christmas Spot and check out several year’s worth of Christmas goodness. I’m already at work on the 2021 version and I’ve got some slight changes in store for this year, but don’t worry, you’re still getting 25 posts in 25 days about a Christmas special of some kind. Unfortunately, there will not be anything TMNT related this year, but it’s a safe assumption we’ll be heading back to Springfield, at least. And you know what? Mario may make an appearance this year too. Be sure to check back in December! Merry July, everybody!


NECA TMNT “Trouble’s Afoot” Deluxe Foot Soldier

Threatening, but also not.

I’m back after a much needed break, and wouldn’t ya know, I’m back with another NECA toy review from its mega popular line of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures! Today’s subject may not be the sexiest release from this line, but it’s one that is still worth talking about. The lowly Foot Soldier from the original TMNT cartoon series was basically just fodder for the turtles to smash, slash, and bash and chew up screen time. As the show moved away from letting the turtles even carve up robots with their weapons, the impact of the Foot was diminished, but they never went away completely. The Foot Soldier is a bit underwhelming on its own, but this deluxe, stand-alone, release, is made even more tame by the fact that it’s essentially a modified re-release of a figure we’ve had for a few years now. That, however, does not make this one the first skip-able release in the growing toon line.

The deluxe Foot Soldier comes in NECA’s Ultimates styled packaging which features a five-panel window box with impressive artwork and photography all over. Like the prior deluxe releases in this line, this one is adorned with f.h.e. inspired artwork to mimic an old VHS release. Titled “Trouble’s Afoot,” this one was handled by artist Dan Elson and very much looks the part as it stokes the flames of nostalgia. These boxes are so hard to toss because they’re so charming, and they do a good job of holding all of the stuff (and there is a lot of stuff with this one) contained in the box. If you’re a mint-in-box collector, then you should be very happy with this release.

I absolutely love the packaging decisions NECA has made with this line.

This Foot Soldier release has been a long time coming. It was originally going to be the first deluxe release, but it was passed over in favor of both Metalhead and Krang to officially be released as #3 in the series. This decision ended up delaying this one for over a year, but few collectors were actually disappointed since the other deluxe releases were far more exciting. And that’s because this figure is largely the same was what was released back in 2017 as part of NECA’s San Diego Comic Con exclusive set. Following that release, Foot Soldiers were released in two-packs with a turtle as part of the first wave of Target exclusives and then again as a dedicated two-pack as part of Wave 2. Following that, special battle damaged variants were included in Wave 3 which featured new torsos, but largely retained everything else. Given NECA already gave us an army builder set and multiple other avenues to acquire Foot, some may have wondered why we would ever need a “deluxe” version, but NECA had an ace up its sleeve in the form of Alpha One.

Yeah, I had to get two.

Somewhat later in the cartoon series, there was an episode called “The Foot Soldiers are Revolting” which featured the super intelligent Alpha One. The Alpha One Foot Soldier looked like a regular Foot Soldier, but with an oversized head that resulted in the metal interior to burst forth from the purple hood. This Foot Soldier lead a rebellion against Shredder that lasted for an episode, and NECA could have just put this guy into another two-pack, but instead chose to release him as a solo effort. This does mean one deluxe Foot Soldier costs a few bucks more than the standard or battle damaged ones (30 bucks compared with the 52 dollar two-pack price), but NECA is hoping collectors will appreciate the packaging and additional accessories, as well as some new engineering.

New Foot vs Old Foot. The differences are subtle, but do exist.

Yes, that’s right, there is a bit more “new” here than some may have realized. NECA is pretty good about making running changes to its figures when a change is warranted. For years, this line has been criticized for joints that are too tight and hips that are prone to breaking. In my experience, I have not had any significant quality control issues with my figures, but that doesn’t mean issues haven’t come up. The Foot I had acquired as part of the box set were pretty stiff and ended up being my least favorite from that particular set, but they didn’t break or anything. This Foot has a re-worked neck joint which is largely done to make it easier to swap heads. It’s possible to swap heads on the original Foot, but the ball in the torso is likely to pop out first as opposed to the second one in the head so it’s not easy, or recommended. The other difference is in the hips which are now simple ball-pegs. The end result is a much looser, and freer, range of motion, but the downside is the looseness makes it a little harder to pose as the figure sometimes wants to just do splits. I ran into a similar issue with the Punk Frogs two-pack, but this is how NECA is doing hips now so I suppose we better get used to it. It’s better than the absurdly tight Bebop and Rocksteady hip joints, but it is disappointing to see one problem solved, only to be replaced by another. The other additional change is in the ankles, so much like the new turtles we got in the disguise four-pack, these Foot have true ankle rockers. Beyond that, the articulation is the same as the previous release. The only other difference is this Foot Soldier is noticeably brighter when it comes to the purple in comparison with the past release. I say “noticeably,” but it’s really only noticeable when you have an old and new figure standing side by side. And even then, you’re not likely to notice if they’re on a shelf.

This really only happens in video games.

Even with the change in hips, this new Foot still stands at roughly six and a half inches which is right in-line with the previous release. Where it is going to distinguish itself beyond the subtle articulation improvements is just in the amount of stuff. This guy comes with six sets of hands: fists, gripping, tighter gripping, trigger finger, relaxed, and a set of “chopping” hands. The plastic used for the hands is nice and pliable, which is necessary because the included accessories seem to range in thickness. Returning from prior releases is the long rifle with a suction cup end on it. The dark gray on this gun is ever so slightly darker than the previous version, but is otherwise the same. There’s a small, white, handgun which has been repeated a few times and the bulbous, blue, rifle from the damaged two-packs returns as well. The gray and orange ninja stars are present, as is the blue and purple mutagen canister. The sword with a yellow and brown hilt that was previously packaged in the SDCC set and with Shredder is included and we get yet another purple communicator, this one features the new Krang and has been released previously. I feel like NECA missed an opportunity to put a sticker of post shower Krang on this one, but oh well.

“You have failed me.”

That’s all of the old stuff, what you probably want to know about is what’s new. Well, one of the guns is a mix of both. The rifle we’ve seen included with the other Foot Soldiers as well as Bebop and Rocksteady makes a return, but with a new purple and gray paint deco. It’s kind of silly, and I don’t know if they were ever colored this way in the show, but I like the end result as it looks like a Foot-specific gun and every soldier should color coordinate with its chosen weapon. We also have a long spear that’s nearly 8″ long. It’s definitely low tech amongst the other weapons, but looks pretty cool in the hands of the Foot. There’s a new sword with a white and gray deco that has a serrated edge. It looks similar to some of the Mirage weapons and is fine. There’s a fan that’s done in a peach and gold color scheme that looks sleek. I can’t recall if it was a special item in the show, or just a fan, but I think it there was one with magical properties? It’s been awhile. There’s a second Foot head with a yellow Foot insignia on the forehead instead of a red one which was basically just a color variation in the show. I know it was present in the Alpha One episode so it makes sense to have it here. There is also a cop hat if you want an Officer Foot. There is, of course, the Alpha One head which looks great and has the same range of motion as the other heads and I suspect it is this head most will choose to display. Lastly, Alpha One has his own, unique, handgun represented as well.

You’re in trouble now, Shredder. Maybe.

That’s a lot, and it’s a bit overwhelming. It feels like NECA is encouraging collectors to get multiples of this release and army build a group of Foot Soldiers with some variety in their arsenal. The only problem is that by buying multiples you double that amount of accessories and it’s just so much! It’s a good problem to have, but NECA probably could have omitted some of the repeat weapons like the old sword, blue rifle, and white handgun. I also wish they had a proper sash on the figure, instead of just a sculpted one, so we could store some of these weapons on the actual figure like the illustration on the box featuring a Foot Soldier with ninja stars in his belt. Instead, you basically have to pick what you like best and just put the rest out of sight. At least I have extra Foot Soldiers to best align my preferred weapons with my display.

Looks like they figured out how to work together, after all.

The Deluxe Foot Soldier is definitely the lesser deluxe release of the three available, and will probably remain so after the next three drop (Mondo Gecko, Muckman, and Krome Dome), but that doesn’t make it worthless. The base figure represents an improvement over what has been released before, and we basically have every accessory under the sun now. The Alpha One head makes this a release to track down on its own as that is a unique character and one likely to remain exclusive to this set. Part of me hopes that NECA does a new Foot Soldier two-pack that’s like a budget release with less accessories, maybe even just hands, so we can make better use of the accessories we have here. That probably won’t happen, but I would not be surprised if these new Foot Soldier bodies are re-released as a standard two-pack with the Wave 2 accessories. Maybe they’ll include the new color scheme on the rifle as well.

Updated display. Maybe slightly irresponsible to add two new Foot Soldiers considering the space limitations already.

Like all of the other cartoon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles releases from NECA, this figure is exclusive to Target stores in the US. International collectors can find these at specialty shops, though all of the international releases seem to be lagging way behind compared with the US ones (I don’t think Canada, for example, has received a release for Krang yet) with the exception of China which has had this guy for about a month (among other upcoming releases). Target isn’t stocking this release, and hasn’t done any online sales for this line in months, so your best bet is to check often and figure out the local rep’s schedule to maximize your chances of finding this release on the shelf. Hopefully with this being a re-release and an army builder, they stick around on shelves longer than usual. Good luck, and don’t feed the scalpers!


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – The Last Ronin #3

IDW recently dropped the third issue in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles mini series The Last Ronin; the flash-forward, what if, story about the last of the turtles and his quest for revenge. I have so far enjoyed this series and have shared my thoughts here. The first issue was like a big introduction as it was largely about the hero infiltrating a future New York controlled by the Foot on a suicide mission that wasn’t successful, in more ways than one. In that issue, we saw that our hero is haunted by the ghosts of his brothers, possibly literally, but likely not as he interacts with them like they’re still alive. Issue number 2 was the first issue where the story is only partially in the present, and largely took place in the past as the writers and artists on the book started to peel back the layers of what happened to get us to this point.

In that second issue, we saw the death of one of the ninja turtles, as well as the death of a major villain. When that happened, I hypothesized that this would be the format for the next few issues. Plot developments in the present would be kept to a minimum, while much of the books would be devoted to showing us the death of a turtle. Sure enough, issue three is more of the same as we see a little bit more of what happened following the death of the first turtle and how we ended up where we are.

Seeing one of my childhood favorites killed off was actually a lot harder than expected. Even though the story begins with three of the four turtles deceased (and other allies unaccounted for), I didn’t really consider how I felt about these characters being dead. Nor did I really think about what it would be like to see their last moments, and it turns out, it’s hard! As such, I had a slight feeling of dread walking into this one as I pretty much knew what was coming. In some ways, I guess I’m happy to say it wasn’t that tough a read after all, but that’s also disappointing as well.

Our hero has a new problem he needs to deal with: teenagers.

The confrontation we see this time around concerns a character’s rise to power in the Foot and how that individual orchestrated this whole thing. Much of the book is spent in the past showing what happened, but when it gets to the “hard” part, the story takes an easy way out. I was left holding the book and saying to myself, “That’s it?!” as I flipped back and forth to see if I missed something. Everything leading up to the moment was fine and compelling, but the payoff just wasn’t really there. I don’t expect to see any of the turtles brutally murdered on the page, but this death was a bit confounding and the presentation almost Saturday morning cartoon-like. Some additional mileage is spent on the present time, and the story there moves a bit further than it did in issue #2. Things are moving, but the end game isn’t in sight yet, which is fine as I like the pace this story is setting.

As was the case with the first two issues, the artwork here is great. Esau and Isaac Escorza do a fantastic job bringing this world to life. The colors are muted and dingy befitting the subterranean setting throughout. I like the look of the turtles as they’re uniquely designed for this story. The human characters are a bit ho-hum by comparison, but it all looks fine so I’m not complaining. As was the case with the previous issue, there is a layout done by Kevin Eastman. It’s another flashback presented in black and white which is just a fun throwback to the original Mirage issues. I suspect that will continue at least into the next issue when we should see how the third turtle was dispatched.

We get to check-in with another villain from the past in this issue.

The Last Ronin #3 is a minor stumble for the series. I am enjoying the overall story, I was just less satisfied with this entry and less moved by what transpired within the pages. I still have high hopes and great expectations for the fourth issue, and I’m genuinely curious to see how this is all wrapped up. That conclusion is still many months away as I’m not even sure if the goal is to finish it before 2021 ends. The fourth issue is scheduled to ship in August, and I’ve got it on my pull list at the local comic book store. With the world coming back to life, I heartily recommend you not only check this series out, but support your local comic book stores in the process!


The Hot Wheels Batman Series

Hot Wheels gave their Batmobiles a makeover.

I’m not much of a car collector, but when I was a kid I went through a Hot Wheels and Matchbox phase. My favorite car was a small, black, one that I only barely remember. I have no idea what make or model the car was, but what I liked about it was that it had something on the rear that reminded me of the turbine on the back of the Batmobile from the Batman television show. As a kid, that was my Batman and I loved watching reruns of the 1966 show even though the cliffhanger endings always bothered me as a kid. I loved that car though, but I’d eventually replace it when the 1989 Batman movie arrived for with it came a ton of merchandise, including a Hot Wheels sized Batmobile. I don’t remember if it was actually a Hot Wheels brand or not, but it worked with the few sets I had and I very much liked having it. I also got out of cars not that long after though, so it would be the only tiny Batmobile I’d ever have.

When my son was around the age of 2, I started buying him Hot Wheels and one of the first priorities I had as a dad was to get him a Batmobile. And I did, getting him a variation of the ’89 Batmobile and later one based on the design from Batman: The Animated Series, but his love affair with small scale cars didn’t last very long. He still has a bunch of them, and also has the giant garage and some track sets, but he’s moved on much like I did when I was his age.

In my numerous trips to Target in search of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and assorted other action figures, I’ve come across a new line from Mattel’s Hot Wheels brand. It’s a line of Batman vehicles, but they’re not at the usual roughly 1:64 scale of a traditional Hot Wheels car. The regular BTAS Batmobile is rougly 3 1/8″ long while this new scale puts it at 4 1/2″. They’re also not the same price since they’re around 9 dollars after tax. I’m not sure what the scale of these cars are. Their construction though is largely the same as they’re a mix of diecast and plastic with Mattel using diecast on the more prominent pieces with the plastic often used for the base. And since they’re bigger, they look better and they stand out.

My childhood affection for the Batmobile is something that’s never really left me. When I bought those Batmobiles for my son, I was tempted to buy an extra for myself. I never did, but when I saw these larger ones it had me thinking these could be daddy’s Batmobile. I still didn’t jump right away, as that price was a turn-off initially, but I just couldn’t keep turning them down. Eventually I caved, repeatedly, and now I have a small assortment of miniature vehicles from Batman. On an individual basis, there isn’t much to talk about, but now that I have a small assortment I figured it made sense to take a look at them in a blog post. I’m going to start with the one that made me jump into this line first.

Mattel went a little too far with this one including things it didn’t need to.

The 1989 Batmobile from the movie Batman might be my favorite. I say might be, because I really have a hard time deciding between it and the next two we’re going to look at. It’s just a cool design though that combines a flashy aesthetic with something that’s actually functional. This thing looks drive-able, even though it would be a bit long and cumbersome to steer. It’s sort of like the car Cruella DeVille drives, but with armor and a bat theme. Seeing the Batmobile self-drive in the movie was a huge thrill for a kid at the time, and when I got a chance to see the real thing at a car show I begged my parents to pay for a photo of us with the Batmobile.

Mmm that backend.

This Hot Wheels version of the Batmobile pretty much nails the likeness. It’s cast all in black and has all of the little details you probably remember from the film like the ribbed rear panels, the ports for the machineguns, and even the little side hatch for that grappling hook it can fire. Mattel did take some liberties with the coloring though as maybe they felt it was just too black as presented on film. They used a metallic silver for portions of the engine on each side of the vehicle, on the gas tank access, and on the hubcaps. From what I can tell based on shots from the film, the gas tank access points weren’t black, but they definitely don’t stand out as much as they do here. I’m guessing their color was closer to a gunmetal finish. The hubcaps though are definitely too shiny and bright. They do have the little bat logo on the center, but they should be black and it does kind of bother me that they are not. It’s still better than the standard Hot Wheels I got for my son, which has a random, red, racing stripe on it for some reason.

Neat, but unnecessary.

What might bother me more though, is the little action feature Mattel included. The hatch on the Batmobile is functional and it slides forward to reveal the innards of the car. It’s not super detailed inside, but it looks pretty neat. What’s not neat is how they engineered it. In order for it to slide forward, Mattel had to cut a track into the vehicle’s hood. It’s an eyesore, and what kind of sucks about it is that the car is packaged with the hatch open so you don’t see this eyesore until you open the box. It looks fine when open, but I bet most people want to display it closed. I don’t really know of a way Mattel could have engineered this without cutting an ugly track somewhere into the car. Tracks on the side would have probably looked worse, and sticking in a hinge instead would be inaccurate. I think I would have just not included the feature if it was up to me, or maybe try to attach the hatch with a magnet. That though would have required the hatch be engineered differently too as it’s plastic, which is also a bit of a bummer as it’s noticeably more shiny than the diecast portion. It doesn’t ruin this toy, but it’s far from perfect.

If I had to pick a favorite Batmobile this might be the one.

The Batmobile from Batman: The Animated Series was my second purchase from this line, and unlike the 89 Batmobile, it’s pretty damn near perfect. It feels a bit more weighty than the 89 one as I think there’s more diecast in use here. It gives it a wonderful feel with a lovely matte finish. The hatch doesn’t function and instead it has a blue piece of plastic serving as the windshield. It’s a little odd, but it contrasts nicely with the all black exterior. And that’s basically the only nitpick I have with this one. The Batmobile from BTAS wasn’t black, but dark blue. Most of the toys though cast it in black, which always annoyed me. It’s similar to how many Batman action figures make Batman’s cape and cowl black instead of blue. The best solution is probably to make it black with blue highlights to make it look like it was pulled right from an animation cel, but if a company isn’t going to invest that much in the paint application, then just make it blue. The standard sized one my son has was given a dark blue, sparkly, paint job. It’s pretty cool, though the sparkles might have detracted at this scale, but at least they tried to capture that color-changing aspect of the source material.

A more exciting paint-job and this thing would be perfect.

Aside from that, I really can’t find anything to complain about. The “ribbed” portion of the hood looks great, the front-end is accurate, the hubcaps are the right color, and even the headlight placement looks good. I do think Mattel probably had to dull the points on the back of the car to adhere to safety standards, but it doesn’t harm the look of the car. There are no treads on the tires, which is a little odd, but you can’t really see the tires unless you flip it over so it’s not really an issue. Of some interest to me is the 2017 copyright on the bottom of this one so I guess this thing isn’t new, but it’s new to me.

I can’t look at this and not hear the theme song.

The first Batmobile I fell in love with was indeed that 1966 one from the television show Batman. This Batmobile, based on a Ford concept vehicle, is definitely more of a style over substance vehicle. The previous Batmobiles we looked at are like luxury tanks or something, but this one is just a slick car. Except for that siren in the middle, that’s a little dorky. It’s all black though with logos on the doors and hubcaps. The open top design meant that Batman and Robin could just jump right in, rarely utilizing the doors, though it also meant that Batman might have been slow to respond to distress calls from Commissioner Gordon if it was raining out. The dual, bubble dome, windshield is such an “of its era” design that remains charming. By far though, my favorite feature of this Batmobile when I was a kid was that turbine on the rear of the car in which flames would burst when Batman hit the gas. That feature is so awesome and stylish that future versions of the Batmobile made sure to keep it.

Nice car, but what is up with this?!

The Hot Wheels version does a good job of replicating the car from the show. The proportions and front end look great, and they even sculpted a Batphone in-between the two seats. What hurts it a little is that this is a design that calls for finer details, and even though this is bigger than a typical Hot Wheels car, it’s not really big enough to capture those finer details. Some of the interior comes across as a red-orange blob because of paint limitations, and they chose to paint the siren the same color rather than use translucent plastic. There’s also a blemish on the passenger windshield on mine that’s disappointing, but not truly detracting. What really confounded me though was the presence of a trailer hitch. It’s weird to look at the rear of the car for that iconic shot from the show where the flames burst forth, only to see it obstructed by a trailer hitch, something that definitely wasn’t present on the actual vehicle from the show. If Batman wants to tow something he should probably just get a Bat Truck.

When the streets just won’t do.

This line isn’t just Batmobiles though. There’s actually a bunch of other vehicles, like Penguin’s duck and the Batcopter, but I didn’t want any of those things. What did catch my eye though is the Batwing from Batman: The Animated Series. The Batwing from that show is heavily influenced by the same vehicle from the film. Its proportions are altered slightly, but the general design of replicating the classic Batman logo is preserved. It’s definitely a cool vehicle, and I had the Kenner version of the movie Batwing as a kid and loved it. When I saw this at the store, which is from the second series of vehicles, it was an easy buy.

The stand is simple, but pretty cool.

This Batwing is basically just a solid piece of black metal. It’s extremely satisfying to hold and I instinctively started flying it around my head and making soaring noises when I pulled it out of the package. Like the BTAS Batmobile, Mattel utilized translucent blue plastic for the windshield which looks pretty cool. The subtle, sculpted, details on the top of the plane look nice and sharp, and this thing is just all-together a little slice of cool. The points on it are dulled to a degree, but it’s not something that truly takes away from the toy. It doesn’t have any additional features, but Mattel did include a little flight stand. It’s just a ball peg that snaps into the underside which lifts the Batwing about 2″ off of the surface it’s on. The ball-peg connection means it can pivot a bit to either side or up and down to give you some display options. This one just simply gets the job done, and it might be my favorite of the bunch as a result, though that BTAS Batmobile is right there with it.

Batman, the maritime warrior!

That 66 Batmobile is pretty cool too, but that trailer hitch is confounding. Or at least it was until I saw my latest purchase from this line: the Bat Boat! The Bat Boat from the 1966 television show is part of series 2 and with it comes a trailer. Now, I remember the boat from the show and the movie, but I don’t remember ever seeing Batman tow the thing with the Batmobile. It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to hitch a trailer right where flames fire out of a car, but that era was definitely style over substance. It’s definitely a humorous image to conjure up of Batman waiting in line at a public boat launch towing his Bat Boat with the Batmobile, then struggling to launch or pull it out, getting his boots wet or his cape hung up.

Even Batman’s trailer is tricked out.

The Bat Boat certainly looks the part though at it’s a metallic blue with white underside. This one is mostly plastic and it has a very light feel in the hand. It’s definitely not as cool as the Batmobile as it has these dorky flame decals on the side, but it does have that giant engine on the back so it was capable of shooting out flames as well. I do like the metallic blue finish it has though as the glossy look works well for the source material. The trailer is just all plastic, but it does have bat fins over the tires and the big, orange, bat logo on the hubcaps. The details around the hitch are actually pretty well done and it looks like a real boat trailer and the boat itself rests on it well enough. The actual connection to the Batmobile is a bit odd as Mattel basically put a ring at the end instead of an actual hitch design which is cupped and rests on top of the ball on the back of the vehicle. The ring design makes it look like the Batmobile hitch should snap into this ring, but it doesn’t really work with mine. Just resting it works okay and the Batmobile can actually pull this thing. Was it worth it to ugly the design of the Batmobile with that trailer hitch? I don’t know, but I guess I would have displayed the two connected if given the chance. I just wish the hitch was easily removed from the Batmobile. It is a separate piece so maybe I could work it out if I was determined. At any rate, if I never wanted the boat and hated that hitch I could definitely remove it, but I might destroy it in the process. Since I do have the boat, I’m not willing to take that risk.

So that’s why we have a trailer hitch on the Batmobile.

That’s it for now though. As mentioned earlier, there are other vehicles in this line that are mostly different versions of the Batmobile or one of Batman’s other flying vehicles. I don’t really like any of the Batmobiles that followed BTAS, so I’m good. The only tempting one is the Super Friends Batmobile which looks a lot like the 66 version, but it’s blue and has softer features since it came from a cartoon. As for future vehicles, I’d probably be interested in the 89 Batwing, but I’m not into the 66 Batcopter or the Bat Ski Boat from Batman Returns. Maybe there are other Bat vehicles I’m spacing on, but for now, this is a fun little assortment of Batman vehicles and if it never grows beyond this then I’ll be perfectly content.

Bat cars! Assemble!

S.H.Figuarts Juckie-Chun/Jackie Chun

It was about a week ago in my write-up on the Dragon Stars World Martial Arts playset that I bemoaned my decision to pass on the S.H.Figuarts release of Jackie Chun and I hypothesized I might rectify that. Well, it didn’t take me long to make up my mind as here I am to tell you all about Jackie Chun! The martial arts master and winner of the 21st World Martial Arts Tournament has been cast in plastic and is ready to join my humble Dragon Ball collection. What motivated me to finally pull the trigger on this guy was largely my completist nature. The Dragon Ball set from Bandai is pretty small when compared with the assortment of Dragon Ball Z figures, so why not get them all? I have the first Bulma Bandai released in my Pile of Loot at Big Bad Toy Store so the only one I’m missing now is kid Chi-Chi. I can’t get past her costume though, so I don’t know if I’ll ever pickup that particular figure.

“Boy, you sure do look familiar!”

The reason I initially passed on Jackie is because he’s very similar to Master Roshi. Not only do they look strikingly similar, they’re literally the same figure. For the most part. The only difference in terms of sculpting is the head and lower leg area, but the torso is the same. Jackie just dresses all in a deep navy blue, almost black, as opposed to Master Roshi’s much more colorful attire. And if you didn’t notice right away that they’re essentially the same, the give away rests on the back of the figure where Bandai just glued in the plug piece intended to seal the peg hole for Master Roshi’s turtle shell accessory. It’s a minor eyesore on Jackie, but the figure is helped out by the fact that we’re dealing in dark colors here and it is on the back of the shirt. At the same time, it’s a bit annoying since the shirt is in three separate pieces and one has to wonder how much money was really saved by not redoing it. At least he has a peg hole if you want to utilize a more dynamic stand.

He can pose.

Being that he’s essentially the same figure as Roshi, the articulation is also the same. That figure had some good and bad to him, and a lot that has to do with the clothing. The shoulders flare out and the wrist area is surrounded by large cuffs so it all limits the articulation a bit. The shirt is also intended to be a long martial arts uniform, and since Bandai doesn’t utilize cloth goods, the only way to properly articulate that is to “scallop” the sculpt and insert a series of ball-pegs into the torso. It’s not the cleanest sculpt in the torso as a result, but it’s not truly an eyesore either. Again, the dark color of Jackie works to the figure’s advantage in hiding this somewhat, but I do wonder how he’d have come out with a cloth robe.

He can siiiiiiiiing!

Bandai doesn’t use much paint with its S.H.Figuarts line, and it is a common complaint I hear from other collectors. Jackie is no except as he’s mostly just colored plastic. The only paint on the body of the figure is the white stripe and black fasteners down the center of the shirt and the gray soles of the shoes. The rest is reserved for the head and face where the eyes and eyebrows are well-painted. There may be a touch of a wash in the hair and beard as well which helps bring out the sculpted details and looks pretty sharp. His hair color has a gray to it, unlike Master Roshi’s all-white beard, which helps distinguish him further. The choice of doing the figure in a very dark blue as opposed to black is a little curious. As far as I can tell, his outfit is sheer black in the anime. And unlike many comic books, there’s no blue shading to speak of. I don’t know if this was based on information from Toei, or if Bandai just made an artistic decision not to go full black. As a result, under some light he looks a little blue and others a little gray, but always pretty dark. It’s not something that bothers me, I just find it curious. The finish is at least fairly matte which cuts down on the plastic sheen some figures in this line feature. Ultimately, the likeness is pretty on point and the sacrifices the figure makes in the sculpt to accommodate the articulation are worth it in the end.

“Ka…”

If you wish to know precisely how he’s articulated, I’ll run it down for you here. If you’re familiar with the Master Roshi figure, then skip ahead. Jackie has a ball peg at the head and base of the neck and he has some pretty solid range. Surprisingly, he can look down quite well despite the presence of the beard, it’s looking up that he’s not great at. At the shoulders we have ball-hinges with a butterfly joint. He can raise his arms out to the side better than expected and the butterfly joint allows him to achieve his Kamehameha pose fairly convincingly. There’s a biceps swivel below that and single-hinged elbows. The elbow is probably the least impressive part of this figure as they’re on these big ball-hinges that look funny from some angles. They also can’t achieve a 90 degree bend due to the way the sleeves flare out. It’s close, but not quite there. At the wrist are ball-joints which is a good choice since the sleeve works to conceal the ball-hinge which can be unsightly on other figures. In the diaphragm is a ball-hinge mechanism that mostly affords tilt and twist. Twist too far though and you end up with some ugly gapping. The hinge allows the upper body to lift up and crunch forward, but the shirt doesn’t seem to want to cooperate. A lot of rubbing occurs and I worry about smudging if utilized too much. Below that is another ball-peg at the waist allowing him to rotate and tilt. At the hips he can kick forward about 90 degrees and spread his legs out to the side almost into a split. He kicks back a little bit and the double-hinged knees basically give him 90 at the knee. There are thigh swivels and the feet are on ball-pegs. They’re not great, but the cuffs at the end of the pants were going to limit him anyway. There is a toe hinge as well.

“…ha!”

Jackie-Chun should be able to get into the poses he needs to be able to get into. Martial arts posing and energy blasting all are achievable. Helping him to do all of that are the loads of extra parts Bandai tossed in. Probably as a make-up for him containing a ton of parts reuse, Bandai made sure to give him an array of hands and facial expressions. He has the one head, but three separate faces. And like Master Roshi, you can swap the mouth and beard piece between the faces to mix and match expressions. You basically get angry eyes, serious eyes, and excited eyes to go along with a closed mouth, an angry yell, and a surprising, or singing, open mouth. That last one pairs with a microphone stick, as is the case with many Dragon Ball characters, there’s a serious side and a playful side to Jackie which this figure seeks to capture. As far as hands go, he comes with two crane pose hands which are unique as the peg basically goes into the underside of them to achieve the proper the shape. He also has two Kamehameha hands which are essentially the opposite as they peg into what I would call the top of the hands. He also has a set of peace sign hands, some chop hands, fists, martial arts pose hands, splayed open hands, and one gripping, right, hand for the microphone. Unique to Jackie are also swappable forearms. These are present so that he can roll up his sleeves. The arms separate below the elbow and the new ones just peg in. They don’t appear to be designated as left or right so either side works. They allow for more freedom with the hand articulation since this eliminates the cuffs from play, though another point of the figure that can come apart means there will be times you pull the arm off when you don’t intend to. A minor annoyance for an interesting feature. Lastly, there’s a 3 star Dragon Ball. This one has a pearl finish to it as I believe Bandai has already released seven standard balls so this new finish is being applied to the line going forward.

“No, Goku!”

Posing and utilizing these parts is all pretty painless. The hands pop on and off with minimal fuss, though the left arm of mine features a loose forearm connection so often the whole thing comes off when I’m just trying to swap the hand. The extra forearm doesn’t seem to peg in snug either so it becomes a balancing act posing him with the sleeves up. Unlike with Master Roshi, I don’t feel like we’re missing any expressions as far as the hands go, though a “drunken master” face would have been excellent. What’s really missing though is an energy effect. A charging one would have been nice, or just a Kamehameha attack since this guy is the master of that technique. I am guessing Bandai wants to do a Kamehameha Master Roshi that’s all bulked up and that’s why we don’t have that here. At least this time we have the hands.

Jackie Chun looks pretty good opposite the kid figures when placed on the World Martial Arts Tournament set. He is, more or less, in scale with them. It’s not perfect, but that’s more of a critique of the kid characters which were sized-up for the figure release. Bandai seemed to prioritize scaling Master Roshi, and Jackie Chun as a result, with Kid Goku and Krillin so he looks kind of silly next to Bulma, who is just way too small. King Piccolo towers over him well enough, though that figure should probably be bigger than he actually is. Scale is a limitation of this line in general and Bandai just seems to approximate it as opposed to trying to make it totally accurate.

I couldn’t quite get them into the double kick pose from the anime.

Adding Jackie Chun to my collection allows for me to pose him opposite Goku or Krillin, leaving Master Roshi to be more of a goof off to the side. I like that Jackie has the singing face and microphone for when I don’t want him on the battlefield, or I could just let him be the stern, wise, old, master watching silently. I liked the Master Roshi figure so it stands to reason I like this one. Is he essential for a Dragon Ball collection? Probably not, but it’s not as-if the character isn’t memorable. I hope Bandai continues to release more dedicated Dragon Ball figures so my display can continue to grow. They have Lunch/Launch coming this summer, but nothing has been announced beyond her. There’s still Pilaf and his gang, end of Dragon Ball Goku and Chi-Chi, Tien, and plenty more. I’d be interested in basically all of them, so hopefully Bandai comes through. Right now though, I have a fun little collection that’s pretty nice to have all on its own.

Yes, this’ll do nicely.

Dragon Stars World Martial Arts Tournament Play Set

One of the main draws for me in getting the NECA Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles diorama was that it was going to open up some more space for me. The diorama allowed me to move my TMNT collection from a shelf to a new place since now my display had a vertical component. This was necessary since that prior shelf featured my TMNT collection basically jammed together with my Bandai SH Figuarts Dragon Ball collection. I know some people out there like mixing their collections, but I am not some people. I prefer to keep my intellectual property separate and only display different IPs beside each other when I just have no other alternative or my collection in a certain IP is relatively small (which is why D&D’s Drizzt is standing next to Batman on a shelf).

The Dragon Stars line has certainly grown over the years.

It was several months ago that I grabbed a Bandai Dragon Stars World Martial Arts Tournament play set from a sale at GameStop. It was so long ago, that it was in the same order as the Capsule Corp motorcycle I reviewed. I had been eyeing this particular play set for a couple of months because it looked like something that would work well as a backdrop for my modest Dragon Ball collection. Normally, this isn’t the type of thing I buy since this is really more of a true toy intended for kids as they act out battles from the show and take advantage of the built-in play features the set comes with. However, I liked how it looked and when the price came down to a point that made sense to me, I jumped on it.

I’d say it looks the part. Could use a ring announcer though.

If you’re not into Dragon Ball collecting, basically what you need to know is Bandai has two, distinct, main, figure lines: SH Figuarts and Dragon Stars. SH Figuarts is the collector line and figures range from around $50 to over $100. Dragon Stars is the more general audience line aimed at kids and casual fans. That doesn’t mean collectors don’t or can’t collect the line, it’s just a line not specifically courting that market. The Dragon Stars figures are usually around $25, so not exactly cheap, but a far cry from the SHF product. Bandai is also able to pump them out quicker and the character roster is quite robust at this point. It started as a line focused on the latest iteration of Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Super, but it also includes most, if not all, of the main characters from Dragon Ball Z at this point. And it’s that line that this play set is from.

The scaling is a bit wonky, especially when you introduce an actual Dragon Stars figure like Future Trunks.

Now, even though this is a Dragon Stars release, I would say the play set is not exactly to scale with that figure line. It would have to be positively massive to properly scale with any line, but I don’t know that it would appeal to collectors looking to pit Goku vs Piccolo or whatever. I only have one Dragon Star figure, Future Trunks, and he looks a bit silly standing on it. However, I grabbed this for my Dragon Ball display specifically eyeing it for Kid Goku and Krillin. It’s still not perfect, but as a backdrop and platform to draw attention it gets the job done. The set itself measures about 12 1/2 inches tall and 11 1/2 inches deep. The platform is about 15 1/4″ wide, and the backdrop extends about a half inch off either side. It’s not small, but not as big as it should be. How small is too small will be a bit subjective, but for what I want to do with it I think it works fine.

Introduce a figure like King Piccolo and the set really starts to look silly.

The set is essentially three parts: the ring surface, the rear wall, and the rear building. There’s a small gap between the rear wall and building, but not big enough to do much of anything with. If you had some paper cut outs of characters I suppose you could try slipping them in as spectators, but you’re not going to fit any figures in there. The main attraction of the set is its play features. Just as the ring and building tended to get beat up over the course of a tournament, so too can your set. The wall comes apart, mostly on its right side (the left side if you’re standing in front of it) to simulate damage as if something was thrown into it or a wayward energy blast smashed into it. The marquee is removable so you can display it ajar in a dilapidated state and a center panel in the ring can be lifted out. In its place you have a crater formation to swap-in which is pretty fun. These are all features I’m not going to get much use out of, but it’s cool to have should I want to change-up my display at all and that gap between the wall and backdrop can at least accommodate the wall fragments. There’s sadly no real way to store the optional crater though. I thought maybe I could get away with storing it underneath the platform, since it’s hollow, but there’s just enough stuff on the underside to make that problematic. I suppose the flat panel is easily stored though.

With these guys? It looks pretty good!
“Take that, Goku!”

The set itself is just largely comprised of molded plastic. There’s some nice detail on the various ugly heads that adorn the structure, but no added paint effects to bring them out. A confident collector would take this and probably dry brush it to bring out some of that detail, but I am not confident in my abilities in that regard. In terms of accessories, there isn’t much to speak of. There’s just the bits of wall, the marquee or sign that goes over the entry way, and another sign that you can position wherever to go along with the crater piece. It would have been nice if Bandai tossed in an exclusive figure like the ring announcer, who likely would never see a retail release as a stand-alone figure, but not having one at least keeps the cost down. The only letdown for me is the tine, or point, alongside the entryway on my set is warped and bent. It’s made of a flexible material, maybe as a safety measure since it’s pointy, and I was able to fix it with some hot water.

Let’s turn up the intensity!
That crafty Krillin.

In short, this set does what I need it to do. I think it looks great as a little battleground for Kid Goku and Krillin. Should Bandai ever do a Dragon Ball Tien then that could get interesting. Would he look too silly being that he’d be a bigger character? Possibly, but maybe not enough to bother me. I passed on the Jackie Chun release, and now I’m kind of rethinking that as I think he would look okay battling Goku. Should Bandai ever get to end of Dragon Ball Goku and Piccolo Jr. then I probably would keep them off of this thing, but since Bandai doesn’t have any plans to release either of those figures I’m not going to worry about it. For now, this is a solid, eye-catching, item that adds a little prestige to my humble Dragon Ball display. Hopefully, it’s a display that will continue to grow!

The new display! More figures coming soon too!

Super7 Ultimates! Voltron – Defender of the Universe

What have I gotten myself into?

My children are unknowingly a terrible influence on my spending habits. It was last summer they started watching Mighty Morphin Power Rangers awakening within me a long lost desire to acquire Power Rangers toys from back in 93/94. Recently, it’s my son discovering the Netflix Voltron series. Voltron was a show I paid little attention to as a kid. It was on early in the morning on week days and that was just a terrible time for me. I was not a morning person so I slept as late as I could and moved slowly through my morning routine. There was no TV watching for me as a result, but when some of my friends started insisting I check out Voltron I did take a peek. Years later, the show would return on Cartoon Network on week day afternoons and at that point I did give it an extended look, though it wasn’t particularly good.

What was undeniably good about Voltron though were the toys. My friend had a vintage, combining, Voltron toy. It should have predated he and I by a few years so I don’t know if he got it secondhand or what, but it was undeniably cool to have five toys that combined into one, bigger, better, toy. It was my first experience with the concept as I wasn’t a Transformers kid and Power Rangers were years away. The concept was better than the reality to some degree as Voltron was rather cumbersome. He articulated rather poorly, but back then, five points of articulation were pretty standard still so he wasn’t that bad. He was just a bit bland with a sword in hand since he couldn’t hold it in a natural way, at least in a natural way for a being made up of five robot lions.

Super7 had one goal with this packaging: shiny!

Over the years, I have resisted the temptation to go after a Voltron. When the Netflix series showed up, Voltron returned to toy stores and comic shops in classic and updated versions. The lions were available individually and I think there were deluxe versions that put everything in one box. There have also been mega expensive Soul of Chogokin versions of the character for those who really wanted to take Voltron to the next level. I resisted those calls though, and I was probably most tempted by the Lego Voltron of a few years ago because that just seemed really cool to me, though I wondered how durable a Lego Voltron would be and ultimately passed. Now, watching the show with my son, I found myself wanting a Voltron all over again, but now the options are severely limited. Those lions that once retailed for 20 bucks or so are near 100 on the secondary market as they’re no longer in production. Suddenly, the Toynami Ultimate EX Voltron is looking like a bargain at $400! I tossed around the idea of getting a Mini-Pla model kit Voltron since it was a combining Voltron, but like the Lego Voltron, I had durability concerns. Especially since that’s another figure that’s going to run close to $100 now since it’s no longer being manufactured. I was left thinking I’ve gone this long without a Voltron, so maybe it’s not something I need.

I found myself at a comic shop over the weekend and there on the shelf was a brand new Super7 Ultimates! Voltron staring me in the face. This edition of Voltron is a pure action figure, so there’s no breaking him down into five individual lions. Part of the appeal of Voltron is definitely the combing element, but there’s also the practical reality that I would never display the character in lion mode. I felt like I couldn’t pass it up, and maybe the shiny, chrome, packaging had something to do with that so I bought it and brought my little robot buddy home.

It’s important to note that this is actually the second version of Voltron Super7 has released. The first one was referred to as a deluxe release and I’m not entirely sure it was considered a true “Ultimates” release. This new one is largely the same as both present the classic interpretation of the character, but it has a different deco and a minor change to the articulation. The first release featured a matte finish aiming to approximate the cartoon aesthetic. This edition swaps the matte out for a glossy approach as this is a very shiny figure. The blue and green especially possess a pearl quality in the paint and the silver bits do a nice job of faking metal. And to emphasize this new approach, the figure comes in a shiny, chrome, box that basically has a mirror finish. This is a snazzy figure, and it’s almost a shame the packaging comes with a slipcase which hides much of the shininess.

Here’s our boy…robot…whatever.

Packaging is cool and all, but the real star is the figure inside. Voltron stands around 7″ in height and he’s one chunky boy. There’s a lot of plastic on this guy which gives him a nice, heavy, feel in the hand. He’s very similar to the Hasbro RED Transformers, only bigger. Part of my reasoning in buying this guy was just to get a sense of how Super7 is going to handle these robot characters as the company has already solicited Transformers Ultimates! and is about to do the same for Power Rangers. It’s potentially going to be a neat, unofficial, line from the company as they build out a fleet of robot figures. The glossy paint job is what stands out the most about this guy and it’s largely applied well. There are a few nicks and small amounts of paint overrun here and there, but overall it’s pretty clean. The only spot I’m not happy with is the nose of the yellow lion which is scratched. I’m tempted to fill it in with a black marker. This Voltron is at the old price point of $45, so he’s in that odd space where he’s more expensive than your average retail figure, but not quite at premium figure pricing. And for what he is, the paint job is fair as they did a very good job with the finer details like the face and the shield logo on the chest.

Admit it, you wish your hands could roar.

The sculpt, on the other hand, is done quite well. This definitely resembles a transformed Voltron so the lion “feet” are a bit stretched and rectangular as that is how they looked on TV. There’s a lot of layers to the sculpt in the chest which is nice to see and really adds depth and character to the figure. The lion head hands look great and remain one of the coolest aspects of the character design. The wings on the back of the figure are a softer plastic so there’s little chance of them breaking. And I can’t stress enough just how good this figure feels in the hand. There’s a lot of different textures to the sculpt and the heaviness is perfect.

A shiny sword demands a shiny shield.

Such a chunky and oddly designed character is going to be a challenge when it comes to articulation. Since this is a non-combining Voltron though, it’s pretty important that Super7 do a great job on that part as we’re giving up an important play feature in order to improve the sculpt and articulation. And with this figure, there’s some good, and there’s some not-so-good. For starters, the head is on a ball hinge, but the boxy nature of the upper torso means he can’t do much more than turn his head. You get a little up and down, but it’s minimal. At the shoulders, Super7 did get a little creative as they used two, big, ball-hinges to increase his range at the joint. You can slide the arm up and down a great deal and even get him to reach across his body as a result. Beyond that, you also get the usual rotation. Below the should is a biceps swivel and single hinge, followed by a “wrist” swivel and horizontal hinge. Elbows remain a disappointment with Super7 as he can’t do 90 degrees. It’s also odd they didn’t give him vertical hinges at the hand given he’s a sword wielder, they’re usually really good about getting that part right. In the torso, we have a ball hinge in the diaphragm (I guess) that lets him rotate mostly, but there’s a tiny bit of tilt and crunch. There’s a waist twist below that as well. At the legs, he can kick forward to 90 degrees and kick back a bit. Below that is a thigh swivel, which is new for this edition of Voltron, followed by a single-jointed knee hinge that does achieve a 90 degree bend. At the ankle, we have a hinge and rocker, but both are fairly limited due to the blocky nature of the feet.

This is about as dynamic as he gets.

It’s an okay assortment of articulation, but there definitely is stuff missing. The lack of double elbows is to be expected of Super7, they have an aversion to them for aesthetic reasons, so I’m not that broken up about it. What is borderline unforgivable though of a modern collectible is for the legs to not be able to lift out to the sides. There’s a part of me that thinks it’s unacceptable for an action figure in this price range to lack such a basic point of articulation. Even the cheap, Hasbro Megazord is able to widen its stance, and that adds a lot to the figure’s posing. It speaks to a larger issue I have with Super7 where it seems that when they run into a part of a figure that gets a little tricky they just punt on the articulation. I like their emphasis on sculpting and not marring that with too much articulation, but sometimes they get too timid. I think they could have done a ball joint here without really harming the sculpt, but they opted to do something different. At any rate, it was something I was aware of before I bought the figure and I did really consider passing largely because it’s so disappointing a feature to not have. I’m glad I was aware of it though because I would have been pretty bummed if I found out about it when I opened the thing.

If you prefer glow-in-the-dark to shiny, Super7 has you covered.

Articulation is useless without some fun accessories to pose Voltron with and Super7’s Ultimates! are known for including a fair assortment of those things. For starters, Super7 included an extra pair of “hands.” It was a bit weird to see that the jaws on the lion head hands were static, but that’s probably to make the grip tighter. The open hands basically replace a jaw hinge and also allow Voltron to act out his dramatic posing following the combining animation in the show, though the feet can’t roar (and I’m fine with that). In addition to the hands, Voltron also comes with not one, but two, swords! The default option is an all chrome, vac-metal, blade that really shines. It’s a throwback to the old toy and it looks especially great when the light hits it just right. He also has a matching shield that’s just as vibrant as the blade. The only downside to vac-metal accessories is the substance can be brittle. My shield has a little chip on it which is a bummer, because otherwise it looks rather glorious. If you think the sheen is overpowering though, there’s a second sword with a pearl blue hilt and glow-in-the-dark blade. The glow-in-the-dark plastic gives the sword a laser quality in natural light, and of course in the dark it glows with a greenish hue. It’s a fun accessory, though I suspect most will opt for the vac-metal blade. As for me, I might just go with a dual-wield display because I really like both. The accessories are also easy to work with. The gripping hand-heads have soft plastic teeth so it’s easy to pop the swords and shield in and out. Swapping hands is also pretty much effortless as they pop out with ease.

Yeah, lets ditch the shield and dual-wield!

The end result is a pretty good Voltron action figure. Yes, it’s not without its problems, number one being articulation, but it makes up for those shortcomings with a good sculpt and truly eye-catching paint job. The weapons are fun, and there’s just enough articulation that I can find some decent poses. And what really works in the figure’s favor is availability and affordability. Super7’s Ultimates! is famously a made-to-order affair, but retailers typically order more than they pre-sell so he should be easy to find as long as you don’t wait too long. And at $45, he’s far cheaper than basically every other Voltron on the market right now. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.

Lets get in a quick robot comparison before wrapping: (left to right) Banpresto Weltall, Voltron, RED Soundwave

NECA TMNT Cartoon Street Scene Diorama

The long-awaited diorama has arrived!

It was early last September that NECA made available for pre-order a redesigned version of their Street Scene diorama tailored specifically to fit-in with the company’s growing assortment of action figures based on the animated series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Fans had been asking for this set for even longer as NECA had been featuring it in its own displays at trade shows for about a year and fans were eager for one of their own. The orders for the diorama were open for two weeks on NECA’s own webstore which meant they were all made to order. A large item such as this wasn’t attractive to a big box retailer like Target where NECA’s toon line of figures is sold exclusively in the United States. Initially, there wasn’t a release date attached to the orders, but NECA would clarify not long after that the company hoped to ship product sometime in Q1 2021. The state of shipping in the world being what it is, Q1 turned to April, to May, to now as the diorama has arrived, though not entirely as expected.

When the diorama was made available to order there was a bit of sticker shock felt by the collecting community. An item like this is always going to be fairly expensive, but fans had a decent gauge of what to expect as this was mostly a re-deco of an existing product that retails for around a hundred bucks. This set, however, was listed at $150 and included a $20 shipping charge meaning it was going to cost collectors roughly $170 to bring this baby home. The increase in price appears mostly to be attributed to the inclusion of a plastic tower on the roof of the diorama as well as some additional paper goods. It was also suggested by NECA that part of the cost increase was attributed to the packaging design which would feature new artwork and photography to distinguish it from the standard diorama sold at retail.

Heeeeeere’s Casey! (and Metalhead)

Well, some things apparently were changed between September and May as the diorama arrived in a plain, brown, box. It’s possible the art didn’t cost out after the orders were placed, or maybe the company scrapped the idea to either get the item to consumers faster or because it just didn’t make much sense. Packaging is nice and all, but how many mint-in-box diorama collectors are out there? There probably are some, but this is an item intended to be opened and displayed alongside the action figures from the line (or any action figures, I suppose) and it’s not really something that will necessarily be attractive to mint-in-box collectors. On the other hand, NECA said one thing, and delivered something else, so anyone angry about it has a right to be. I was always planning on tossing whatever box this came in so I’m not particularly broken up about it. And I sincerely doubt fancy packaging was expected to account for the price difference. It should also be noted, the company previously did a one-off TMNT themed diorama for the movie figures that was priced at $125 which is a better comparison. This is basically that set with more stuff. Is it 25 dollars worth of new stuff? That’s for the consumer to decide. My entirely speculative take on the whole packaging thing though is that NECA had to trim costs on the units and the packaging was the first to go. They only sold around 2,000 of these so the margins are likely small. That doesn’t excuse NECA not informing its customers of the change to the packaging. It’s basically always better to be upfront rather than surprise people with something that isn’t exactly a good surprise. At the end of the day though, a product was listed at a price and consumers were free to ignore it or toss a stack of bills at NECA. I, obviously, enjoy throwing money at NECA.

I hope Foot Soldiers don’t feel pain.

This diorama has been something I’ve really been looking forward to. That’s not because it’s particularly impressive or amazing. It’s just a fancy stand. I was looking forward to it though because my current display needs more room. I have been finagling a display out of my collection on a shelf behind a bar. I had to clear out a bunch of drinkware and liquor bottles to make room for the initial release of 8 figures, which has only grown over the months since the line was launched at retail. I had a hard time sliding the Rat King and Vernon set into it, and the recently released sets were non-starters. I needed to find a new spot for my display, and this set was my excuse to do some re-arranging.

Hiding in plain sight.

The actual diorama is fairly basic. It’s a bunch of plastic panels that snap together to form a stand and backdrop for your action figure display. It’s a three-level display once completed: street, balcony, roof. It’s colored and styled to evoke images of the classic 1980s cartoon series with an almost cream colored brick pattern and a cardboard backdrop featuring the iconic Channel 6 building. The included tower is intended to go on the roof and it was featured in an episode of the cartoon and is the unique item expected to get the most attention. There’s also a manhole cover, fire hydrant, and numerous paper goods dotted with familiar faces and references for anyone who grew up watching the show. It’s also not just a façade as there is room behind the windows to place figures and objects so that you can have a villain lurking in the shadows or maybe place a cowardly camera man to shoot the violence on the streets.

The billboard also serves as an excellent way to cover a flight stand.

The controversial brown box comes in a an outer shipping box. It’s about 27″x14″x6″ so it’s a pretty sizable package. The diorama is designed to be assembled starting from the ground up. The walls basically tab into each other, but forcibly so they’re not going to fall apart. Each front-facing wall features removable components as this is a modular set. There are two blank walls, five windows, and one shutter and you’re free to arrange those however you want. The shutter is non-functional, but the windows are open and there are included window panes that snap into place. The window panes are fingerprint magnets though as well as dust and hair or pet dander and installing them means you can’t have figures reaching out or into the windows, so I didn’t use them. There are also several holes that bricks can peg into. NECA did it this way so you could peg additional accessories basically anywhere.

This corner will haunt me.

I didn’t run into any construction issues until I reached the top. Getting the top level to slide into the roof of the bottom was rather cumbersome and it seems to want to bow out. I was able to get it to a place I was happy with, but the following step was far more annoying. NECA included six support pieces intended to snap under the roof. I don’t see how these add a ton of support, but it didn’t matter since I could not get the pieces to actually fit the peg holes. I wrestled with it for far too long before just ditching them and it seems fine. The rear of the unit also is designed to have the backdrop peg in. You line it up and NECA included some push pins that are meant to hold it on, but all it did was fall for me. And I definitely should have done this on a large surface or floor, and not the shelf, because my backdrop fell and the corner dented which left me momentarily irate. I ditched the pegs and am just relying on good old gravity for the backdrop as my diorama is against a wall so it doesn’t really need to peg in.

A familiar poster.
Ace Duck is apparently far more popular than I realized.

Once the diorama is together there are quite a few accessories that can be added to the display. NECA included a pizza billboard that pegs into either side of the unit and looks pretty cool. There’s a second billboard that is modular in that NECA provided multiple cardboard art pieces so yo can customize your look (I went with Slash for Cash for now), most of which feature a pizza advertisement. There are little lamps that can plug into it too and NECA included a stand so you can either position it on the roof or it can tab into the side of the building. There’s an air conditioner that can peg into virtually anywhere you want it and a bunch of paper goods. There are three wanted posters and four Ace Duck themed posters. The wanted posters should look familiar to anyone who got the cartoon themed Loot Crate as stickers of them were featured there. These ones are a little larger and they feature Mad Dog McMutt, Jersey Red, and Scrag who were all featured in the actual show. I stuck all of them on with some blue sticky tack and they hold fine. I do wish there was a bit more variety though as I don’t think we need four Ace Duck posters. The last two accessories are a fire hydrant and manhole cover. They don’t tab into anything and are just meant to be placed wherever you wish. The manhole cover is a little weird since the street-level portion looks like a sidewalk, but whatever. It also doubles as something a figure could wield so that’s cool.

Sigh…

The main attraction is the large antenna tower that sits on the roof. It’s made of plastic and painted in a two-tone black and gray and looks sharp. There are two pieces that tab into it in the form of an extended antenna on top and a satellite dish that can go on any side. Unfortunately, my dish arrived broken as the center antenna was snapped off. I don’t know why they didn’t make it two pieces that snapped together to prevent damage in shipping, but it is what it is. I know a few other people had the same problem and I reached out to NECA’s customer service about a replacement and received a response that was essentially “we’ll see what we can do.” I don’t really expect anything as this was made to order and I don’t know if they had the foresight to make extras for such an issue. With past made-to-order sets, like Tokka and Rahzar, customers have basically been shit out of luck when running into problems.

One loaded diorama.

The finished diorama accomplishes two goals: it looks great and it provides a lot of room for toys. The unit itself is pretty large measuring around 19″ tall, 13″ deep, and 25″ wide. Factoring in the backdrop brings it to around 27″ tall so you need a fairly large area to display this thing properly. I was able to incorporate every figure I have in the toon line, though the posing had to be kept a bit vanilla to fit them all on. I also positioned the triceratons on either side of the unit and Metalhead, Casey, April, and Vernon are inside the unit. The bottom piece does result in a lot of wasted space as the building has a ton of room inside it. It’s at least a good spot to store extra hands, weapons, heads, and so on and keep them out of sight. It would have been cool if NECA found a way to better utilize that space, maybe with a panel that looks like a smashed wall so you could make it look like a figure is busting out or something. I can see some people adding lighting to make the figures placed behind a window stand out better, though it’s not something I plan to do.

Finally, a play pen for the juvenile Shredder.

The NECA Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Street Scene Diorama largely accomplishes its goal. It’s not without some minor disappointment with the packaging and a broken accessory. I was at least able to glue my piece together so even if NECA doesn’t come through with a replacement (and I will update this entry if they do) I can at least display it and likely only I’ll notice that it’s been glued. I’m actually far more bothered by the damaged corner of the backdrop as that sticks out more to me. The only other real negative is my diorama is basically full! Whatever figure comes next is going to be a challenge to incorporate into the display, but I suppose that’s a good problem to have. I’m sure there will be those who wish they could buy a second, or even third, especially since the non-licensed version doesn’t really fit the look. NECA might one day put this set up for order again, or maybe they’ll re-color the standard version to match the color of this one, just without the accessories. Unfortunately, if you didn’t grab this last year it’s to the secondary market you must go where $150 probably seems pretty cheap now.


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