Author Archives: Joe

Jakks Pacific Classic Sonic the Hedgehog

Not way past cool, but cool.

Ever since I was introduced to the character Sonic the Hedgehog via the Genesis game of the same name I’ve found the character just very aesthetically pleasing. And that’s apparently intentional as Sega relied upon tried and true designs like Felix the Cat and Mickey Mouse when it instructed artist Naoto Ohshima to come up with a new mascot that could rival Nintendo’s Mario. Now of course, it’s not necessarily Mario’s design that made him a star, but it certainly can’t hurt. Sega needed to pull gamers away from their Nintendo system with something flashy, and Sonic apparently fit the bill. And like Mario, it turned out his game was pretty good too and a rivalry was born!

Back in the early 90s, there was no shortage of toys at retail. Action figures, which really took off in the 80s, were still going strong and brands like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers were raking in revenue. Strangely, the mascot characters from the world of video games largely sat things out. While fighting games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat were able to force their way into toy stores, Sonic and Mario instead found themselves relegated to the Happy Meal. Maybe because neither character was really associated with action figure tropes like guns and other weapons their respective parent companies didn’t see a reason to seek out a toy deal that included action figures or maybe producers weren’t interested. There were some non-articulated PVC figurines and even plush options, but no true action figures that I can recall.

Not the usual collector grade packaging I look at.

Today, things have changed and both Sonic and Mario can be found occupying space at retail alongside the likes of Star Wars and He-Man. Interestingly, it’s Jakks Pacific that has the licensing rights for both Mario and Sonic when thirty years ago that might have seemed somehow wrong, though DiC did produce cartoons for both. Nevertheless, Sonic has had a toyline for awhile now and most of those have been focused on bringing the modern Sonic to toy form. When Sega launched the Dreamcast in 1999, it was released alongside a brand new Sonic game titled Sonic Adventure. For that title, Sonic received a slight redesign. He dropped the spherical torso he borrowed from Felix and replaced it with something longer and trimmer. His legs were also lengthened, his shoes were redone, and his eyes made green. It wasn’t particularly radical, but it was noticeable.

The cross-sell seems to contain two additional classic interpretations of characters and one that is definitely not classic.

Sonic’s new look was fine, as far as I was concerned, but I did miss the slightly more chunky iteration of the hedgehog I knew and loved from his days on the Genesis. And even though I’m supposed to have aged out of toys (hah!), my desire for a classic interpretation of Sonic has never fully gone away. Recently, when browsing the toy aisles at my local Target, I came upon the latest from Jakks Pacific: a classic Sonic complete with a bouncing spring. It’s a figure that adheres to my chosen aesthetic for the character, and considering it runs a mere 10 dollars, I decided to purchase it and take a look. Is this the Sonic I was desperate for as a child, but never had the opportunity to purchase? Or, is this just a cheap, piece of crap designed to sucker kids and their parents into making a foolish purchase?

Sonic and his trusty spring! That’s a thing, right?

Sonic comes packaged on a standard blister card. There’s a picture of the character in the top corner and he’s surrounded by a printed, gold, ring. The package affords a good look at the figure within, which is appreciated since it allows for some inspection before purchase. Freeing the hedgehog from his plastic confines is actually a bit tricky since he’s wedged in there pretty tight, but considering this isn’t meant to be resealable packaging one can muscle him out. Once placed on a surface, Sonic stands roughly 4″ tall, probably a tick under, and is mostly head. He’s a fairly light shade of blue, almost teal, and his eyes dominate his visage. He has his long, rounded, nose and trademarked red shoes. He has six spikes on the rear of his head and two more on the back of his spherical mid-section. His little tail pokes out like an extra spike, though curled in the opposite direction of his spikes. He seems to adhere to the design of classic Sonic as presented in the game Sonic Generations. That Sonic was meant to resemble the Genesis era Sonic, but he’s a lighter blue and has yellow buckles on his shoes. I think I would have preferred a slightly darker shade of blue and no buckles, but it’s not a big deal. It’s near enough though that I think the sculpt is fine.

Spikes! I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt that they counted the amount of spikes present on the model in Sonic 2.
The side view gives you a good look at the iffy paint on the shoes.

Since he’s basically two colors, there isn’t a lot of paint to speak of with Sonic. All of the blue is molded plastic as are the arms in that peach color. The white of the eyes is quite sharp as is the belly, but the rest of the painted areas all feature some fuzzy linework. It bleeds a bit, especially on the mouth, which I don’t know if that’s been painted properly on this figure. It looks like there’s a sculpted line of teeth that I presume should be white, and is, with the rest of the mouth intended to be red? Instead, the white continues past the teeth and there’s just a line of red above it. Perhaps knowing this area would be the most problematic, Jakks declined to include any promo images on the rear of the box that feature the mouth prominently so it’s hard to say what should be going on here. It’s unfortunate since I don’t think an open mouth was even necessary. I always associate classic Sonic with a simple smirk. The white stripes and buckles on the shoes also aren’t terribly clean, but there’s at least no random splotches of paint. For a 10 dollar figure, the paint is fair and is better than some of the Hasbro Power Rangers I’ve purchased recently, so that’s a plus.

He can kind of run. It’s the lack of a head tilt that really hinders the posing.
It looks a little better when you turn the head, but what he really needs is just a plastic base that simulates his legs in motion.

Given the size and design of this figure, there isn’t a ton of opportunities for articulation. Jakks has largely kept things fairly basic in that area. Sonic’s head is on a swivel and can rotate. Since he doesn’t possess a neck, he can’t really do anything else. There’s a tiny bit of play that allows for him to ever so slightly look down, but I think that’s just the head moving on the ball peg that’s likely in there. Sonic’s arms are traditional ball-hinges that can rotate and raise out to the side just fine. His arms are permanently curved as he lacks elbows. The gloved hands can rotate and have some in-out as well as up-down play, though without the aid of hinges. His right hand is a fist, while the left is a gripping hand even though he has nothing to grip. There’s no articulation in the torso at all, which is expected of a character with Sonic’s anatomy, while his legs are on ball-hinges. They can swivel where they meet the torso and can kick forward and back pretty well. Since they’re ball-hinges, you can also rotate them to put Sonic into a split, if that’s your desire. Sonic does have knee hinges while his feet appear to be on ball pegs, like the hands, so they can rotate and have some play in all directions. It’s honestly better articulation than I expected and the only area I wish had more is the head. If he could look up that would have been terrific, but would have probably required a bit of clever engineering considering the lack of a neck. Even though he’s considerably top-heavy, he’s not too difficult to pose. I was able to get him to stand in a slight running pose and I suspect that’s what a lot of people want him to be able to do.

There’s a surprising amount of tension in the spring as the weight of the figure isn’t enough to push it down.

As far as accessories go, there isn’t much to talk about. Sonic comes with one spring platform that does at least have a spring action to it. It’s pretty boring looking though as it’s just a piece of red plastic for the top and gray for the base. A little black paint on the sculpted spring would have made this look a lot nicer, but wouldn’t really change a whole lot either. What’s missing is a power ring, which is made all the more obvious by the fact that he comes with a gripping hand perfectly suited to grasp such a ring. None of the figures in this wave appear to come with one which is bizarre, and it makes that gripping hand feel out of place. I’d much rather he have two fists for a true running pose. The gripping hand isn’t far removed from a fist so it’s not that big of a deal, but how much cost would a plastic, yellow, ring really add to this thing, Jakks? Even better would just be an extra hand with a ring molded into it, but swappable parts isn’t something I expect out of a 10 dollar figure. I also would have preferred a base to the spring. Just a piece of molded plastic for Sonic to stand in that resembles his running animation from the game would have solved some of the posing issues. Jakks could have even put it on wheels if they felt a play element was needed with the figure that would be lost by dropping the spring.

I think you’ll find he doesn’t really scale with much. He’d probably look fine beside one of the Mario figures though if you want to stage your own Mario vs Sonic at the Olympic games.

The Jakks Pacific Classic Sonic the Hedgehog is perfectly fine for what it is. It’s an inexpensive, simply painted, representation of the character’s classic look that does a good enough job with the sculpt to justify its existence. My complaints and criticisms with the figure are, at best, nitpicks and it’s important to remember what this figure is meant to be. It’s a kid’s toy first, collector item second, and that’s probably a distant second. And considering it does a good enough job with the aesthetic, I’d say I’m happy. Prior to getting this, I had been tempted by the Nendoroid Sonic release. That’s a figure modeled more on Sonic’s modern look, but the Nendoroid aesthetic means it works pretty well as a classic interpretation too. It’s also more than four times the price of this figure, so while I’m sure it’s superior, it’s probably not four times superior to this figure. This guy will look fine amongst my classic gaming artifacts and should one of my kids want to play with him, I can at least hand him off with no worries. Now lets see if I can suppress the urge to grab Tails and Knuckles as well.

This picture could really use a Mega Man.

Freaks and Geeks

The credited main cast of Freaks and Geeks (left to right): James Franco, Jason Segel, Linda Cardellini, Seth Rogan, John Francis Daley, Martin Starr, Samm Levine

I can remember hanging out with some of my friends at another friend’s house back when I was in high school. I think it was 2001, and we were just riffing on some music when one of my other friends entered the room and remarked that we reminded him of some characters from the show Freaks and Geeks. It was the first time I had ever heard of the show, and I can’t even recall which characters he referenced (probably the geeks). We then all watched Galaxy Quest and had a shared infatuation with Sigourney Weaver’s blond wig.

I never would seek out Freaks and Geeks, even though I valued the opinion of my friend when he said it was a good show. It was short-lived though, which implied that it wasn’t very good, and I was at an age where I was spending most of my time playing video games and not watching TV. If I was going to watch something, it was going to be something animated or maybe Jackass or a CKY video. Over the years though, I would hear more good things about Freaks and Geeks, especially as the cast started to find success in film. I don’t think I ever really talked about the show with anyone in-person and most of the chatter was just all online. I was quite curious about it, but by the time the DVD set came out I was less interested. It was also expensive since it included a lot of licensed music and I didn’t want to get invested in a show that was going to end after 18 episodes. I was late to the streaming platforms, and this was a show that I just never would make time for. Recently, Hulu added it and they got the broadcast cut with all of the licensed music in place (I believe some prior streaming options omitted it), and being that it’s winter and COVID is still a thing, I found myself with plenty of time to finally get to know the characters of Freaks and Geeks.

Lindsay is looking to make some new friends and Daniel is her gateway to just that.

Freaks and Geeks is a sitcom set in the school year of 1980-1981 that aired from 1999-2000. It was created by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat, Ghostbusters (2016)) and executive-produced by Judd Apatow (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Funny People). It was the success of Apatow directed films that really brought posthumous attention to Freaks and Geeks, for the show had a relatively short existence. It’s a show about teenagers and school life with a young, mostly unknown at the time, cast that found itself in primetime on a broadcast network. Network shows set in high school weren’t unheard of in the 90s, but they were usually relegated to the Fox Network which prided itself on being different from the big three of ABC, CBS, and NBC. That network’s hit teenaged show was Beverly Hills 90210, which was more of a soap opera than a sitcom and starred a bunch of beautiful people who looked way too old to be in high school. Freaks and Geeks was set in an unremarkable suburb of Detroit and featured quite young-looking actors (for the most part) in much more of a grounded, real world, setting. It also found itself on NBC and in the unusual position of being a primetime sitcom that was an hour long. I don’t know how Feig and Apatow were able to convince NBC to give them an hour on television in 1999, but they did it somehow. Unfortunately, there was a changing of the guard at NBC in between the show being picked-up and it going to air, and the new boss wasn’t a fan. The show was a critical darling, but it wasn’t a huge ratings hit in terms of 1999 numbers and it was cancelled after 12 episodes. Fans actually had to petition the network to get the remaining 6 of 18 episodes aired, which did happen over the summer in 2000, but on cable.

Since leaving the airwaves of NBC, it would seem Freaks and Geeks has garnered nothing but praise from both critics and viewers, alike. It’s young cast which would have quickly aged out of high school meant that the show was probably never destined for a long run, but it certainly deserved a second season and it would have been a treat to see where Feig and Apatow took things, especially considering that the show was really hitting its stride at the end of its lone season. I suspected that would be the case as I went into the show and it was one of the reasons I resisted it for so long as it always sucks to get into a show when there’s no hope of seeing what would have come next. It’s basically a slice of life type of show so there really was no way for it to ever have a truly satisfying conclusion, but it certainly would have been nice to at least see the cast graduate from high school or something.

Freaks and Geeks may have wound up on the radar of many a comedy fan thanks to Apatow, but it’s the cast that will keep viewers around for 18 episodes. It stars Linda Cardellini as Lindsay Weir who is a high school junior that has always been a gifted student. Academics come easy to her, but when the show begins we find out she recently lost her grandmother and it’s brought on a change in attitude. She has stopped socializing with some of her childhood friends and dropped off of the Mathletes program, a competitive math team. She’s also taken to wearing an old, olive, army jacket and has her sights set on making some new friends. She’s basically been living a life devoted to pleasing the adults in her sphere and setting herself up for the ideal future most parents want for their kids and is now likely having some regrets. She wants to have other experiences while she’s young, and she looks to the so-called “freaks” of her school for that kind of fulfillment.

Busy Philipps (front left) is not part of the opening credits but her character, Kim Kelly, is very much a major player on the show.

Cardellini has gone on to have a successful career in Hollywood, but it’s her co-stars that make up the freaks that have become household names. The freaks are basically just the slackers and kids who have no real academic ambition and just have their sights set on enjoying themselves and one day getting out of their small town. The first one we’re introduced to is Daniel Desario played by a young James Franco. Daniel is Lindsay’s gateway into his circle of friends, which all seem to at least know her from the start, but aren’t close with her. The most eager of Daniel’s friends to get to know Lindsay is Nick, played by Jason Segel. Nick is clearly attracted to Lindsay from the start and plays the nice guy routine. He’s an aspiring drummer and idolizes the likes of Jon Bonham and Neal Peart. Seth Rogan plays Ken, who is more of a sarcastic wallflower at the start of the series who gradually becomes more involved as the show progresses. Daniel’s girlfriend, Kim (Busy Philipps), is the only one who takes a combative posture towards Lindsay’s associating with their crowd. She presents a problem at first as she doesn’t understand why Lindsay suddenly wants to associate with them and finds the girl boring.

Much of the first several episodes are spent on Lindsay trying to fit in with her new group of friends while they try to figure out what she brings to the table. Other forces in Lindsay’s life try to pull her back towards academics or the Mathletes. She struggles to find her place as she’s rather open to discussion and being introspective while her new friends almost all avoid any form of conflict. The only one who doesn’t is Kim, but the others just seem to brush off anything she does or says while Lindsay can’t help but take things personally. As viewers, it’s hard to find much to like about Daniel and Kim early on. They seem eager to take advantage of Lindsay, who has had a more privileged upbringing and access to more of everything, while they come from troubled backgrounds and broken homes. Much of the Lindsay/Kim dynamic gets settled in the fourth episode “Kim Kelly is My Friend.” It begins a bit too familiar with Kim seemingly using Lindsay to her advantage as she wants her mother to see she has made a wholesome friend, or someone her mom will approve of. By the end of the episode they seem to find a new understanding and the title of the episode feels like a true a statement. Plenty of the remaining 14 episodes demonstrate a deepening of the relationship between Kim and Lindsay as Lindsay begins to find her own place. Other episodes, like the following “Tests and Breasts,” put the focus on Lindsay and her relationship with another member of her circle of friends, such as Daniel. Just about every character gets a spotlight of sorts early leaving the rest of the episodes to examine other aspects of school life, relationships, and the like.

Left to right: Bill, Sam, and Neal comprise the geeks portion of the show.

As the title of the show implies, there are two social groups the show focuses one. We’ve discussed the freaks, now lets talk about the geeks. The geeks are, as you probably could have guessed, a more nerdy group who are a bit outside the popular crowd like the freaks, but for different reasons. The group begins the series as a trio and includes Lindsay’s younger brother Sam (John Francis Daley), Neal (Samm Levine), and Bill (Martin Starr). All three are freshmen and in that awkward stage where their shared interests are being forced to compete with the onset of puberty. They’ve always been comfortable with who and what they are, but now are beginning to doubt themselves and all to a different degree. Sam is the most conflicted and confused by everything. He’s a sweet boy who likes the comedy of Steve Martin and Bill Murray and also enjoys Star Wars and playing Dungeons & Dragons. He’s also sweet on Cindy Sanders (Natasha Melnik), but she’s a cheerleader unlikely to ever view him as a romantic possibility. Sam questions if his enjoyment of the nerdier things in life are keeping him from attracting someone like Cindy, causing him to contemplate rejecting them. Meanwhile, Neal is the Jewish son of a dentist obsessed with comedy, but also is very much interested in women. Given his background, it’s not hard to imagine both Feig and Apatow seeing a bit of themselves in Neal and his uncompromising attitude towards finding what’s most funny about a situation or joke, He’s also probably overconfident in his ability to be a real Casanova. Even though he has no luck attracting women, he’s fairly certain that he’ll grow up into someone who is not challenged by such at all. Bill is the most secure in his nerdy ways. He’s not that interested in popularity, and while he likes girls, they’re definitely not a priority at this stage of his life.

The two cliques cross paths at times in the show, but for the most part their stories are self contained. Sam and his friends have their problems to deal with, while Lindsay and her friends have their own. They’re both able to be quite relatable, though this is coming from someone with a bit of a freak and geek background myself, so maybe this show plays differently for someone who was a jock in high school. There are a lot of ongoing plots that the show is willing to just let simmer in the background like Sam’s pursuit of Cindy and some problems at home for both Neal and Bill. For Lindsay, there’s a bit of a “will they or won’t they?” towards her relationship with Nick. She gets caught in a relationship quite quickly with him as a result of her feeling pity for him, but she keeps up appearances by convincing herself that since he’s a nice guy he’s worthy of being her boyfriend, and that’s never a healthy way to begin a relationship. It gets called off after a few episodes and tension is allowed to play out for the rest of the season. It’s definitely something that would have continued into a second season, though at the same time, it’s not exactly a Ross and Rachel situation as I don’t get a sense that the audience is rooting for things to go one way or not. Then again, I was never into Friends and I get the sense most people dislike Ross so maybe it is the same? Nick is at least likable, but it’s reasonable to doubt if he’s right for Lindsay.

I love Tom Wilson on this show. I would have been very interested in seeing how he was utilized in a second season.

The main cast of teens and young adults is great. They absolutely are capable of carrying the show, but thankfully they also don’t have to. Making up the rest of the cast is an assortment of utility players. Lindsay and Sam’s parents Jean (Becky Ann Baker) and Harold (Joe Flaherty) are excellent as parents that try to be supportive and keep their kids on the straight and narrow, but also stumble. Flaherty is particularly terrific in his portrayal as Lindsay’s father as he tends to get frustrated with trying to relate to his daughter quickly so he just makes demands that are only partially effective. He changes as much as the kids as the episodes roll along and anytime an episode lingers on him it’s for the better. It’s reasonable to wonder if he would have followed in the footsteps of other TV dads and taken on a bigger role had the show continued. Dave “Gruber” Allen is also perfectly cast in his role as counselor Mr. Ross. He spends a lot of time trying to keep Lindsay on the path she was on before the show began, but unlike some of his fellow teachers, he doesn’t exactly discourage her from hanging out with her new friends. He doesn’t consider them lost causes and tries his best to be a positive influence on their lives. He’s just a great character because most people can probably remember someone like him from their adolescence. Possibly my favorite member of the recurring characters is Tom Wilson’s Ben Fredericks, the coach and PE teacher the geeks tend to find conflict with. It’s just great to see Wilson outside of the Back to the Future franchise even if he’s playing a Biff-adjacent type of character as it’s not hard to imagine Biff becoming a hard-ass of a gym teacher. He gets a lot opportunity to show his range though leading to some really nice scenes with both Sam and Bill.

As I alluded to at the start of this post, the music licensed for the show plays a substantial role in evoking the spirit of 1980. Every episode begins with Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” as the main cast is shuffled quickly through a picture day setting at school. Over the course of the first 5 or 6 episodes we’re exposed to the entire self-titled Van Halen debut album, which must have been pricey on its own. There’s also numerous other cuts along the way, some that come as expected while others are a bit of a surprise. It’s mostly era appropriate too, though as a former punk rocker back in the day I feel obliged to point out that Daniel at one point ends up with a copy of Black Flag’s Damaged several months before it was actually released. Music plays a large role in the lives of the freaks as well since they start their own band playing mostly Cream covers. They all have an appreciation for Led Zeppelin and in the last episode Lindsay discovers The Grateful Dead. In an era where televisions only had a few channels and video games hadn’t quite taken over, music was a huge past time for kids and it’s great to see that reflected in the show.

There’s a lot of loose ends when the credits roll on season one, like where Lindsay and Nick’s relationship is heading, but sadly we’ll never get to see how that stuff would have resolved itself.

Freaks and Geeks consists of a simple premise, but one that is frequently hard to execute. It’s difficult to find kids and young adults who can actually act, and while few members of the cast were actually high school age at the time of shooting, they were all close enough. And they’re all really good! It’s not surprising so many have received bigger roles in the years since the show came to an end, some of which were roles from Apatow, but also many found their own way through the entertainment industry. The show is funny, but also captivating. It’s not afraid to be honest with its characters and it tackles some pretty interesting subjects. The only one that I felt stumbled a bit was the requisite drug episode when Lindsay is worried Nick is addicted to pot, which seems kind of ridiculous, but they are kids, I suppose. There are issues of parental infidelity as experienced by a kid and also the issue of one’s mother dating an adult her child is familiar with and not exactly a fan of. Like a lot of Apatow’s movies, the show is rather adept at putting its characters into uncomfortable and awkward situations, for both them and the audience, and we have to see how they untangle the knots. Mostly though, it’s just enjoyable to watch these characters, and the show, grow over its 18 episodes. Some of that growth is intentional and some of it is just the natural progression of a show discovering itself and coming to a greater understanding of what it is, who inhabits its world, and where everything is going. The show was cut down too soon, but the final episode does at least have a touch of finality to it, especially for what I consider the two main characters of Lindsay and Sam. I wish there was more, but I’m happy I finally took the time to watch what we have.


NECA Ultimate Flasher Gremlin

Here we go!

I’ve had NECA’s Ultimate Flasher Gremlin on my “want” list for awhile now. I grabbed the Ultimate Gizmo last summer, and while he’s fairly limited as an action figure, he is fun to have on display in my home. He has occupied a little section of my knick-knack shelf in the living room area of my house, a spot normally reserved for more “tasteful” decorations. I’ve changed his look up with the seasons and for Christmas he was joined by the Santa Stripe figure that came out last fall. When Christmas came and went though, so did Stripe leaving Gizmo all alone on the shelf. I wanted to pair him with another Gremlin, and it was the Flasher Gremlin that spoke to me the most. He’s ludicrous and comes with a bunch of stuff that makes posing plentiful, I was just hesitant to actually make the purchase. I figured, for once, I’d let it be known that I wanted this thing, but not actually buy it for myself. Christmas came and went, and so did Valentine’s Day, and when the wife decided not to indulge my passion for toys I finally caved. I added the Flasher Gremlin to my display one weekend in February, and I do not regret it one bit.

Both the figure and the packaging should be pretty familiar to collectors at this point.

The Ultimate Flasher Gremlin is based on the many background characters in the film Gremlins. He’s a gremlin in an oversized coat who wants to show the world what he’s packing (which isn’t much, so maybe he should be more bashful). For fans of NECA’s line of figures based on the film, he’s a very familiar release. He comes in the same five-panel window box all of NECA’s ultimate releases come packaged in complete with numerous product shots. All of NECA’s gremlins are basically re-releases of the same figure, but with new accessories. Perhaps that sounds cheap, but in the film most of the gremlins looked the same. There were a few unique ones, like Stripe, but the rest are indistinguishable. And to make the consumer feel like they’re getting their bang for their buck, NECA overloads each release with accessories. There’s basically more stuff here than could be handled by one gremlin, so the point is really to buy a bunch of figures to create your own gremlin horde. I don’t have the space to dedicate to a large Gremlins display, but I certainly see the appeal as this release is basically parts of a flasher, card player, and bar fly.

This guy comes with a lot of stuff.

The actual figure is basically the same as Stripe, but with the standard gremlin head. He’s a little over six inches tall and has plentiful, if not entirely functional, articulation. The sculpt is very impressive which is an especially good thing for a figure that gets re-released over and over. The texture, paint, and personality present in the face are just spot-on to the film. The paint is all clean and the darkness of the figure helps hide a lot of the articulation. The jaw is articulated, and yet you wouldn’t even know at first look because NECA engineered it so well. I’ve seen the prop replicas of the gremlin puppets from the film and honestly they don’t even look as good as what NECA has done. I have to hand it to sculptor Jason Frailey because this guy is awesome and it makes me want to buy more.

He’s so happy to be out of that box!

The gremlin is articulated just like Stripe, but I’ll give you a run-down here if you don’t want to read about the Christmas figure. The head is on a ball joint and can rotate, and independent articulation in the neck allows him to look up, down, and to the side. The ears and jaw are also articulated and it works well to have the ears articulated because it helps with positioning his hat. The shoulders are ball-hinged, but the way the shoulders are sculpted means he can’t lift his arms up all the way, but they rotate fine. There’s a swivel at the single-jointed elbow and rotation at the hands with a hinge. There’s a diaphragm joint that provides for tilt and an ab crunch. The legs have extra articulation to give the gremlin that insect like positioning. There’s a knee hinge, a hinge at the dewclaw, and a hinge at the ankle. Because he’s designed to be in a semi-crouch, it’s not terribly functional, but it looks good and that’s clearly what NECA prioritizes. The feet are rather small and the figure is top heavy given the size of the head and neck relative to the body, so he can be tricky to stand. There are peg holes on the bottoms of the feet if you want to use a simple stand, and there are more robust stands available from NECA and other companies if that’s your preference. I find the articulation does enough to allow the figure to mimic the actual puppets in the film. They were limited as well by the technology of the time and there’s a stiffness to their movements, especially with the excessively long arms.

Smoking is a terrible habit, but damn does he look cool.
Trench 4 life.

With the articulation out of the way, we can talk about what makes this guy fun: the stuff! He comes packaged in a trench coat and that’s the key piece here that makes him a flasher. The coat is similar to the one we saw released with Raphael in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie line, but it’s not the same coat. This one lacks pockets and the liner inside the coat is quite glossy, a necessity for someone trying to get attention. It has an actual belt and if you want to complete the whole flasher gimmick you will need to pull the belt strap out of the buckle to free the beast, so to speak. It’s pretty cool to see every day engineering like a belted coat on such a small scale, though I’m left wishing NECA cheated and made it Velcro for ease of use. He also has a plastic fedora that’s intentionally oversized for his head and just rests on the top of his noggin. There are some grooves in the opening of the hat for his eyebrows and they do a good enough job of keeping the hat in place that you can tilt the head up or down in your pose.

He’s setup for a good night.

Joining the hat are some additional accessories that may or may not complete the look for you. He’s got some black sunglasses that I believe have been released with other Ultimate Gremlin releases. They slip onto his face quite easily and are pretty snug once in place. He also has four, little, cigarettes that you can either wedge between some fingers or stick between his teeth. They’re white, though one of mine is almost translucent and I don’t know if that’s intentional or not, with painted filters and a long bit of ash at the end. It would have been neat if one had less ash and a red tip, but I suppose it wouldn’t be hard to modify one if I wanted to. There’s something extra sleezy about the long tail of ash that suits the character. I am not a smoker, and I find the habit disgusting, but these little cigarettes are really entertaining to me just for the novelty factor and it has me wondering what other figures in my collection I could pair them with. How many figures come with such a thing? Even though this is an adult collectible, it’s still almost shocking in this day and age to find evidence of smoking in a toy. And if smoking wasn’t enough, he also has a mug of beer. The beer is removable and is just a piece of thin plastic filled with air. The foam on the top though is highly detailed to an impressive degree. The only downside to that is it draws attention to the fact that the actual beer is just a flat color as opposed to a translucent, bubbly, form. It’s another re-released accessory from, I want to say the Ultimate Gremlin, but it works well to have extra so you can have empty mugs and full mugs in a larger display.

This is what you cam here for, right?

Pivoting from the flasher persona, there’s also some extra stuff that allows you to create a gambling gremlin or dealer gremlin. There’s a red visor that, like the fedora, just kind of sits on the gremlin’s head. It doesn’t really hook on, that I can see, so it just sits there and looks okay. There’s a hand of playing cards he can hold and a pile of poker chips and cards to plop on a table or something. Intermingled with the chips and cards is popcorn, which naturally makes this guy pair well with any of the gremlins that come with popcorn. If you want your gremlin to be a little more classy there’s a bowtie. It’s a solid ring of black plastic with the tie on it so in order to put it on the figure you need to pop its head off and loop it around the neck. Mine didn’t seem to want to come off so I didn’t push the issue since I have no plans to utilize the bowtie. The neck is pretty substantial on this figure so I don’t think I’d break the figure if I was more determined, but I’ve had some bad luck with figures breaking lately so pardon my reluctance.

It’s his dream to be a world famous ventriloquist.

In the realm of the goofy, this guy also comes with a hand puppet. It appears to be of a bee and I recall it from the film as it’s almost painful to watch the gremlin playing with it amongst spilled beer and soda and the like. That poor puppet probably got all gross. The texture and paint work on it is way better than it needs to be and it really looks like a grimy plush some gremlin has been dragging around all night. To actually use it with the figure, just pop one of the hands off and the puppet pegs in. Also included is a giant mallet, because a mischievous gremlin can always use such a thing. To best utilize the mallet, there’s an extra, gripping, right hand included. I actually couldn’t get the hand to peg into my figure, but I suspect if I were to heat it up then I could get it to go. The hand does get a nice grip on it, so if you want your gremlin to be less flasher and more Itchy and Scratchy, there you go. The gripping hand also works well with the beer mug, though the more relaxed hands the figure comes with work fine too.

I guess Gizmo doesn’t like what he sees.
Or does he?!

That’s a lot of stuff, but ultimately, I’m amused by the flasher gimmick so that’s how he’s going on my shelf complete with hat, beer, sunglasses, and a cigarette dangling from his mouth. And the gimmick works all right. It’s tough to actually get him to grip the edges of his coat, but it can be finagled. Had NECA run a wire though the coat it might have worked a little better, or if belt loops could have been strategically placed to hook onto figure’s fingers. There’s at least enough substance to the coat that it will hang open all by itself, so I think it accomplishes what it set out to do well enough. I love how this guy looks with my Gizmo and he’s a fun figure to have around. I haven’t decided if he gets to occupy the shelf 11 months out of the year, or if I should make him my winter gremlin and swap him out with another for the summer, or whatever. That would require a new purchase though, and while some of the other Gremlins releases are intriguing, none have pushed me to purchase any just yet. For now, this is good enough.

The display, for now.

And now, lets end this review with a series of tasteless pictures featuring characters smoking that should not be!

He wants to be Keith Richards, but Richards wouldn’t be caught dead in ankle warmers.
Maybe not that off-brand for Max.
You’re looking a little green there, buddy. Might be time to cut back.
After a long day fighting monsters, Tommy just needs a minute to unwind.
The mutagen probably already did a number on his life expectancy, so how much can a cigarette really hurt?

Hero Cross HMF Donald Duck #006R

Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!

I have coveted the Donald Duck figure from Hero Cross for a few years now. If you’re not familiar with the company, Hero Cross is a toy manufacturer based in Hong Kong that specializes in hybrid figures that utilize both plastic and metal. Their main line is called the Hybrid Metal Figuration series, or HMF for short. They have managed to accumulate a few different licenses for this line of figure, and one of those licenses happens to be Disney. For Disney, Hero Cross has mostly stuck with classic characters, but has also branched out to include Pixar. My main interest though lies in the ducks, and in particular, Donald.

Donald Duck, for as prolific a cartoon character as he is, doesn’t have a ton of action figures to turn to. The best ones are based on his appearance in Kingdom Hearts, but that’s not a franchise I have a ton of affection for. It’s fine, but my Donald is not a wizard. Phat Mojo did a Donald in its line of DuckTales action figures based on the relaunch of that series, but it was a short-lived line of figures and the company never got a chance to improve upon its initial offering. There is one in that Disney Infinity relic of a toyline that the Disney Store sells, but it’s not great. There was also a Donald action figures based on his appearance in Mickey’s Christmas Carol, but that was quite a long time ago now and that thing is lone gone. If you want a collector grade Donald Duck action figure right now, it’s basically Hero Cross or bust.

The size of the box relative to the size of the figure makes the toy seem huge!

Hero Cross first released a Donald Duck action figure in either 2016 or 2017. Being that it’s a Hong Kong import, a licensed product, and it includes metal components, it wasn’t cheap. I kind of found out about it late when my options were sketchy eBay listings or ordering direct from Hero Cross, but shipping was going to make the figure cost well over $100 at the time. I reluctantly passed, and that didn’t help matters as the figure was eventually retired from production and it only grew more expensive. Then last summer I was sitting on my couch watching TV late at night when a Twitter post from the podcast DuckTalks alerted me to the fact that Hero Cross was taking pre-orders for a new version of its Donald figure. Dubbed a V2.0, this Donald Duck was going to largely be the same as the one previously released, only now it was going to come with three unique heads and rather than sculpt his hat onto them, the hat would be removable and attach via a magnet. I kind of didn’t care about the changes, I was just psyched to have another chance at this figure and I pounced on it. The cost was around $60 for the figure, plus around $30 to ship it from Hong Kong, so it wasn’t much cheaper than what I had passed on previously, but this time I had buyer’s remorse. I had to pay upfront, and then wait.

The somewhat generic licensing art gets the most attention, but check out the comic art in the background!
The product shot on the side panel reveals a pose I’ll likely never achieve with my figure. Read on to find out why…

My Donald finally arrived in January of this year. The production cycle was a long one, but the shipping ended up being lightning quick since it was via FedEx Air. It left Hong Kong on a Thursday and was at my house in Massachusetts on the following Monday which is pretty incredible. Donald comes packaged in a simple, but effective, window box. It’s a royal blue with a Donald Duck logo done in orange. On the side of the packaging are product shots, one of which showcases Donald’s fancy new hat, and some licensing artwork on the back. It’s a no frills, but striking, box though it’s so small relative to the figure’s size that I don’t know how well it would display for a mint-in-box collector, but like most packaging these days, it’s pretty easy to reseal.

Check out the duck butt!

Donald Duck stands a little over 5 1/2″ tall. I was pretty surprised by how big he is. I kind of new how tall he was, but I also had avoided reviews and such because this line was completely new to me and I wanted the whole experience to reflect that. Not only is he a bit taller than I thought, he’s also just more substantial. I expected weight due to the metal, but he’s a thick duck. The metal parts appear to consist of the arms and legs. The head, hands, body, and feet are vinyl. It mixes pretty well, though the legs are definitely a lot shinier than the plastic feet. And with the metal there’s always a concern that paint will scratch or flake off and there is a tiny scratch in the knee joint on my figure’s left leg, but largely the paint looks pretty nice. Donald has a very round, smooth, head which is the biggest different from his initial release which featured an angry head that had some ruffled feathers. I obviously don’t have that figure, but based on images I’ve seen, that angry head is probably better than the rest so I kind of wish I had it, but it’s fine. This Donald does have an angry head too, but it’s smooth like the other two heads.

New for this version of Donald is a removable hat!

I think this Donald looks pretty nice, all things considered. I’m a little surprised with the sculpt of his shirt as the flap on the back of it is molded to the main part of the shirt. I would have expected it to be an actual flap and I think it would have looked better. Instead, it kind of reminds me of a Donald bath toy my kids used to have which was solid vinyl. He is depicted in the current licensing art colors, which as an old school Donald fan, is not my preference. That means he’s got a blue shirt and hat with gold buttons and trim and a red bowtie. I would have preferred a black bowtie, as that is what he usually wore in the classic shorts. I also would not have minded him in his comic black shirt. It’s not a big deal as this is definitely Donald Duck. The metal legs also do not hide the joints at all, so it is something you just have to get used to. It’s hard to argue with the end result though which is that this figure has a really strong base and he is not going to fall off of your shelf. The metal also gives him a high quality feel, which is necessary for a figure that retails for $60.

He can move, but can’t quite nail his classic hopping mad pose.

Being that Donald is a collector grade action figure, he features several points of articulation. Hero Cross totals it at 20 points, and it’s pretty substantial for a character with a unique body shape. Donald’s head sits on a simple ball pegs and it can move around quite well. He can look up, down, tilt, you name it. At least the default head (we’ll get to that). There is a joint at the base of the neck that provides a little more tilt, but it’s negligible. The shoulders are ball-jointed. He can raise his arms out to the side and rotate all around, but be aware of rub with the vinyl body. There’s a biceps swivel and a single hinge at the elbow allowing him to bend his arm 90 degrees. The hands are on pegs affixed to ball joints. There’s a hinge in there and they can rotate all around and tilt a bit in every direction. There’s a waist joint that appears to be a ball joint. It’s under the shirt and pretty generous, but again, I worry a little about the blue shirt rubbing the white vinyl lower body and leaving some smudges behind if manipulated a lot. The legs are a bit odd, since he is a duck, as they’re affixed via ball-joints, but they basically just swivel and tilt a little where the legs meet the body. There are single hinges and the feet are on ball-pegs so they can roll around all over the place. The metal gives him such a strong base that he can easily stand on one foot or simulate a walking pose as long as one foot is flat on a surface. He’s not terribly dynamic in his posing options, but that is more a limitation of the character’s shape than what Hero Cross did.

Donald can be happy, kind of mad, or very mad.

Donald comes with extra parts, but no real accessories aside form his hat. He has three heads: an open mouthed happy expression (default), a frowning expression, and a slight frown with his eyes looking left expression. Of the three, I definitely like the angry one the most as I think of Donald as just a grumpy, angry, character. Sadly, that head is the one that is the hardest to work with as the other two pop on and off with no issue, but the angry is super tight. Once on, it doesn’t really want to move much, but for a figure destined for a shelf it’s not a big deal. As for hands, Donald comes with a relaxed, open, left hand and a stiff, open, right hand (basically a hand wave). In the box are a pair of fists, a relaxed, open, right hand, and a pointing right hand. Missing is any kind of gripping hand, but in order to get those you had to get the box set release of Donald’s nephews. It’s a decent assortment that leaves room for improvement. A company like Bandai has taken to making the eyes swappable on its figures and that would be pretty neat with Donald. A more modular approach that allows eyes, bills, and such to swap is intriguing, but at least he doesn’t have any unsightly seams in his head. And Hero Cross is definitely going for as seamless an aesthetic as possible. The swappable hands make for some decent variety in the available poses, but there is a problem there that detracts from the figure.

Fuck.

And that’s they’re a pain to remove. And they’re such a pain, that mine broke not long after I opened it. I tried to remove the waving right hand he comes packaged with in favor of one of the others and it felt pretty snug. The head was easy to remove, and being that this just sits on a peg, I really wasn’t too concerned with breaking it. I applied consistent force, and tried wiggling it a little and the peg just came right off behind the ball joint of the wrist. The actual peg is really small as it’s basically a half-circle instead of a full one. My guess is they do it this way to make sure it doesn’t interfere with the the ball-joint in the wrist, but it’s pretty odd. Mostly though, I was super bummed, frustrated, angry, you name it, to finally get this figure only to have it break within a half hour. It feels like such a high quality item that it lulls you into a feeling like it couldn’t possibly break with normal interaction. Falling off a shelf is one thing, but trying to take advantage of a basic function? That surprised me. I honestly felt a little sick when it happened because I know how far this had to travel to get to me and how expensive it was just to ship it here, so I wasn’t expecting any help to come from Hero Cross. And if any did, I expected it to come at a cost.

Fuck! Fuck! FUCK!

Upon breaking, I reached out to Hero Cross via email and via a form on their website. No where could I find any information on quality control issues or refunds, so I wasn’t feeling too great about it. I reached out on Twitter and DuckTalks, the same podcast that brought this release to my attention, suggested messaging them on Facebook as that appears to be a place where they interact with their customers the most. Hero Cross did not respond to my initial email, but it did to the form I filled out online. After sending photos the correspondent told me they would check with the factory about a replacement arm. I didn’t hear anything for a couple of weeks and reached out again, and they basically said the same thing as before. Then a day later I got an email saying they had good news: there were spare parts available in the factory and they would send me a new arm! They confirmed which arm I needed, my address, and sent along instructions for swapping it out.

This was the only pose that felt appropriate for the past month.

About two weeks after that, my new arm arrived in the mail via USPS. The arm is connected to the figure at the shoulder and held in place by a screw. It’s an interesting setup, but an easy one to work with without fear of breaking anything. Upon removing the screw, the shoulder comes apart as it’s two pieces of molded, painted, plastic. Once apart, the bicep can pop out and I swapped in the new arm that Hero Cross provided, replaced the plastic piece, and screwed it back together. Hero Cross sent an extra upper arm piece, but it was for a left arm. Maybe they anticipate people scratching or ruining that bit of plastic during the removal process, but I had no issues reusing the same one. They did not send a new hand, so I had to take the old hand and get the peg removed somehow. I basically just grabbed the ball it sits on with some pliers and tugged away. It was in there pretty snug and it was a pain, but I got it off. It helped that I didn’t have to worry about damaging the ball any longer. With Donald reassembled, he basically looks as he’s supposed to. After the reattachment though I’m left with a pretty loose biceps swivel. The screw feels snug so I don’t want to risk stripping it, but it could just be a case of the factory getting that in better than I can. It kind of sucks, but better than a broken hand.

It’s an odd construction as you can see the peg sits way up inside the hand. Worse though, only half the diameter of the peg is fused to the ball joint and that piece is expected to withstand the force of removing the hands many times over. The rear of the ball joint is fused to the peg in the arm in the same fashion. There’s no need for the hands to be so snug on a collectible intended for adults.

With the peg finally extricated from the hand I finally got a look at the thing. It’s long and sits way up inside the hand. It’s honestly a surprise to me that these breaking isn’t a common occurrence, but then again, I don’t know anyone who owns this particular figure so maybe it does break a lot? Even putting another hand on this new peg is a struggle, and you can probably tell in my post surgery photos of the figure that it’s not quite seated all the way. I’m basically afraid that once I get the hand on it won’t come off without breaking again.

Back together, so a reason to smile!

Given all of that, I have had no appetite to test the left hand. Hero Cross was kind enough to replace one defective piece, I don’t really want to test my luck with a second. And it is a credit to them that they stand by their product and are willing to send replacement parts across the Pacific at no cost to the consumer. I was heart-broken when my figure broke, so I’m happy to have that remedied. It doesn’t necessarily fix my confidence in the figure though. If a figure is designed to have a certain feature, that feature should function without a risk of breaking the figure. After my experience with the product out of the box and seeing how this hand joint is constructed, I can’t say I have any confidence in the feature working properly. I am at least happy that the swappable heads work all right, as that is more important to me than the hands. It also helps that this figure does not need to hold anything so the hands do not serve a function other than to change the pose. And while I definitely would like to have the freedom to do so, I can at least accept what I have here.

I can’t quite get that right hand to fully peg-on, but it will stay on, at least. And I don’t know that I want to seat it all the way as then I may never get it off again.
“Come here!”

What my experience with this figure did do for me is make me less likely to purchase more figures in the line. When I ordered this one, I was toying with the idea of adding the nephews and taking advantage of the gripping hand they come with, but now I’m less interested. And playing a role in that are new offerings on the way from other toy companies. Since placing an order for this figure, Super7 has launched a Disney Ultimates! line of figures. Only the first wave has been shown and it includes Mickey Mouse, Prince John, and Pinocchio. Their interest is in underserved characters (as far as collector grade action figures go) from the company’s animated films, so Donald Duck may not be a high priority for them right now, but he’s also insanely popular and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if we get a Three Caballeros Donald or something. Beast Kingdom has also unveiled a Donald Duck figure in its Dynamic 8action Heroes line that looks rather promising. It features cloth goods instead of sculpted clothes and is something that is definitely on my radar. It doesn’t have a release date or a price, but the company is taking orders for a Sorcerer’s Apprentice Mickey and the MSRP is about $70, with a deluxe version at $100. Collecting Donald Duck figures isn’t going to get any cheaper any time soon, but it’s nice to have options.

“What are you smiling about?!”

Ultimately, I do not regret my purchase of the Hero Cross Donald Duck. The likeness is good and he certainly looks nice on a shelf. This figure probably won’t scale with any other lines, so that’s kind of a bummer, but also not a standard I think is fair to hold it to. I’m sure it scales fine with other Hero Cross HMF releases like Scrooge McDuck and the nephews. And there may come a day when I decide I do need to place him with some friends on a shelf, or maybe he’ll just be a featured piece in a more robust Donald Duck display (because, lets face it, I’m probably getting the Beast Kingdom figure and would definitely grab a Super7 one). This figure isn’t the ultimate Donald Duck figure that I wanted it to be, but it’s still worth having for a Donald Duck enthusiast like myself.

“I’ll get you, you little devil!”

Strong Bad Talking Plush

“Hey, what’s up? I’m Strong Bad. Pay no attention to the juice can propping me up.”

When it comes to anything post 2000, there isn’t a ton I have nostalgia for. One of the very few things though is Homestar Runner, and in particular, the character Strong Bad. Strong Bad was brought to my attention by my best friend when we were in college. He was not my roommate, officially, but he might as well have been as he was in my dorm all the time, save for when it was time to sleep. He somehow found out about http://www.homestarrunner.com and was playing catch-up with the Strong Bad email segment. The first one I can even remember watching was the infamous “Dragon” installment which spawned Trogdor: The Burninator. I talked about my affection for that segment when I reviewed the Trogdor board game over a year ago, but now I get to really talk about Strong Bad.

“Hey guys, it’s me, Strong Bad, back at the keys where you want me!”

Strong Bad is the villain of homerstarruner.com though he quickly supplanted the titular character as the most popular character featured on that website. Everyone loves Strong Bad, who is more rascal than dastardly. Created by The Brothers Chaps, Strong Bad speaks in a gravelly tone with a slight Spanish accent which matches his appearance of a Luchador with boxing gloves. The boxing gloves are an intentionally odd touch, but certainly a part of the character’s charm. The character has sibling characters in Strong Mad and Strong Sad, neither of which are as entertaining as Strong Bad. He also has a sidekick, or lackey, in the form of The Cheat who long ago received a plush doll all his own. Strong Bad did not, though there’s been Strong Bad merchandise over the years, but it was mostly stickers and apparel.

I love the floppy disk tag too much to remove it.

In 2020, Strong Bad got a brand new plush. Designed by artist Nina Matsumoto, this plush of the beloved web toon is adorable in its accuracy and pretty interesting in its construction. Sold exclusively through fangamer.com, Strong Bad sold out pretty quickly, but was re-stocked recently and I was able to grab one. Since this is a plush toy, there isn’t a ton to say about it other than what you see. Standing at 11″ tall, it absolutely nails the character aesthetic which is certainly aided by the fact that it’s a simple character design to begin with. The proportions are not exact to the web toon as if they were the head would probably be a little larger relative to the body, as would the boxing gloves. Instead, we have something that was perhaps designed to be more aesthetically pleasing all on its own and it definitely works for what it’s going for. The gloves are constructed of a faux leather material that is reminiscent of real boxing gloves and the mask features actual laces. It’s not removable, and the horror that would be underneath it if it were is too impossible to imagine, but it’s a nice detail to feature. The stitching seems clean, though I wish they didn’t need to put a seem right down his chest and abdomen. There’s a little bit of “fluff” protruding from the rear seem on the head and back of my doll, but the actual stitching doesn’t appear loose anywhere. He seems like he’s plenty durable, but the tag also says for ages 12 and up so don’t be surprised if your toddler wrecks him.

The “dukes” have been put up.

Even though this is a plush, it actually features some degree of articulation. There’s a wire frame of some kind running through the limbs of the doll. This allows for some posing in the arms and legs which was unexpected. No, you can’t really get him to stand on his own, but Strong Bad can kick his legs forward or raise his arms in a victory pose. It’s possible that over-working of these limbs could cause the skeleton inside to eventually protrude from the plush body, but so far I don’t get the sense there’s any undo stress being placed upon the doll by moving his arms and legs.

“Check out my cool laces!”

You can only cram so much majesty into a plush of Strong Bad without also jamming his actual personality into the doll, which is why this plush can talk. He has 15 voice clips built in that are activated by squeezing his face. It can be a little tricky finding the right spot, but it’s there. There’s no easy access to it should the battery run out, which all batteries do, but hopefully it lasts a long time. The phrases are pretty much what you would expect of a Strong Bad doll. There’s his mild brand of swearing (“What the crap?!”), a Trogdor sound, and some good attitude baked into this guy that should please any fan of the character. And even if you’re unfamiliar with Strong Bad, you still may enjoy listening to him if my kids are any indication.

What else is there to say? If you like Strong Bad, you’ll enjoy this talking plush. He retails for $36, and even though he’s presently sold out, Fangamer is planning a restock so head on over to their site if you’re interested and sign up for email notifications. He’s probably been a pretty nice seller for them and I suspect they’ll keep ordering more until they either lose the license or people stop buying. He’s been such a hit that I wonder if we can expect more characters to follow. I don’t know if I’d necessarily be interested in other characters from the Homestar Runner universe, but maybe a new Cheat to go with Strong Bad would be pretty cool.


Superman II (The Richard Donner Cut)

You’ll believe a man can fly…again.

When the original Superman was conceived for a theatrical release, the producers on the project were ambitious. Convincing audiences that a man could fly sure seemed like enough ambition for one film, but not Superman. Alexander and Ilya Salkind decided it would be more prudent to shoot the film and its sequel at the same time. Producer Pierre Spengler was onboard and they were able to find a director in Richard Donner willing to undertake the difficult task. At the time it made some sense since the films would be closely tied together thematically and the mercurial Marlon Brando was onboard to play Superman’s biological father, Jor-El. Brando was hard to secure and the type only willing to attend as little days of shooting as possible so shooting his parts for both films at the same time was basically a necessity. The production could reuse sets, the actors wouldn’t visibly change much, and it also meant Warner Bros. would have a sequel practically at the ready in the event the first film was the success everyone hoped it would be.

Of course, you know what they say about the best laid plans. Tensions between the Salkinds and Donner arose during filming as much of the project could be kindly described as disorganized, at best. Production would have to be halted in order for the first film to be properly edited and released, and it sounds like everyone just grew to hate one another. With the film approximately 75% complete, Donner was relieved of his duties and replaced by Richard Lester. By then, the first film had been a success and Brando had started crowing about his share of the box office causing the Salkinds to drop him from the sequel. Lester inherited a mess and set out to re-shooting several scenes, and even changed the ending. Despite all of that, Superman II was warmly received by fans and critics and for a long time it was considered the pinnacle of super hero films with its status really only being called into question when films like Spider-Man 2, X2, and Batman Begins were released in the 2000s.

Lois demands that you hand over the Donner cut!

As a kid, I grew up watching the Superman movies mostly on cable and Superman II was probably my favorite, though I did enjoy the zaniness of Superman III and I don’t think I ever saw the much maligned Superman IV. I wasn’t at all aware of the controversy surrounding the first sequel though and only came to find out about that as an adult. It took me awhile, but I finally got around to viewing the Richard Donner cut of the film recently. Released in 2006, brought along partially by a settlement with Brando’s estate to use his likeness, Donner was brought onboard to recut the film using all of the footage he had overseen which had been discarded by Lester. Editor Michael Thau did a lot of the grunt work of putting the film back together, which Donner would basically give a “yay” or “nay” to finished pieces. This meant Brando’s character could be restored to communicate with Reeve’s Superman and the original ending could be seen for the first time. Every scene Lester had re-shot could also be tossed, with the only stuff kept being the scenes Donner never got to shoot (mostly featuring the villains rampaging through the Midwest). The only truly cumbersome piece is re-assembled from screen test footage and features a confrontation of sorts between Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) and Clark Kent in a hotel room. It’s fair to wonder if some of the more effects heavy shots would have turned out better in post production with a bigger budget than what was available for a restoration, but this is a fairly different film, but also a complete one despite the circumstances.

Hackman’s Lex Luthor is still here, but he’s been usurped by some guys in bad pajamas.

I have not seen the Lester cut in years, so I’m less interested in the comparisons with the Donner cut and more interested in how this holds up as a film. In my return to the original Superman, I found the film quite long and at times humorless. Superman is presented in a very earnest way which plays differently now than it did in 1978. A hero saying he fights for truth, justice, and the American way without a hint of cynicism is just a bit hokey today. If this Superman were featured in a modern film there would be a character snickering at how wholesome he is right after he says his line. These films seek to present Superman as an idealized hero, a myth made man, which might not be for everyone.

With Superman II, most of that earnestness is still preserved, but the film is more willing to explore Superman’s weakness. And I don’t mean Kryptonite. His weakness is Lois Lane and his infatuation with her which naturally leads to a yearning for a normal life. That is on display in this film with Superman literally giving up his powers, and starting a trend for super hero sequels, in order to live life as an ordinary citizen of Earth. His timing proves terrible though as three criminals cast out from Krypton at the beginning of the first film, General Zod (Terence Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas), and Non (Jack O’Halloran), just so happen to find their way to Earth. Being fellow citizens of Krypton, they too are enhanced beyond normal men by Earth’s yellow sun and are essentially three supermen themselves. Three against one are daunting odds to begin with, but a powerless Superman obviously stands no match and apparently neither do the militaries of the world. Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) is still a presence as he seeks to benefit from the chaos created by these new beings, but strangely he keeps the information about the effects of Kryptonite to himself never once attempting to use it against these new enemies.

Here comes the romance!

Superman II is a far brisker film since it doesn’t need to tell the origins of its hero and its villains are about as direct as villains get. It has a bit more action to it since Superman is pitted against villains that can actually match him blow for blow, and some of his powers were also held in reserve for the sequel. We get to see Superman utilize his laser eyes and his super breath in addition to his super speed and ability to fly. He doesn’t get to do anything as impressive as land an airplane, but there’s plenty of heroic feats for him to accomplish. The film is still at its best when Superman is doing more mundane things like saving a falling child while onlookers “oo” and “ahh.” The battle of Metropolis, which makes no attempts to disguise the fact that its New York, is not nearly as impressive to modern viewers as it would have been in 1980 which probably detracts from the spectacle some.

Fans of the eye beams had to wait until the sequel just to get a peek!

The film also spends a lot of time exploring just what it is that distinguishes Clark Kent from Superman. Some of the best comedy involves Lois trying to figure out if the two are one and the same and she goes to some incredible lengths to confirm her suspicions. Reeve and Kidder seem to possess better chemistry this time around though it can still be hard to see just what it is about Lois that makes Clark willing to give up everything just to be with her. There’s also no way to shake the feeling of deja vu the ending brings about, which was originally changed for that very reason. The ending Lester settled on was arguably dumber and was just different for the sake of being different. Both achieve the same end result, but neither is particularly satisfying.

Screen test footage had to be used to complete Richard Donner’s vision. It’s a little jarring, but not something that should impact one’s viewing pleasure.

One also cannot mention that with the loss of Donner originally came the loss of what was perhaps my favorite part of the first film: John Williams. His main Superman theme was present, but that’s all as creative differences with Richard Lester caused Williams to quit. Ken Thorne was brought on to score Superman II, but when Donner was asked to put his name on this new cut he wanted Williams back as well. Williams, unfortunately, was not able to score the film so Donner did the next best thing and simply reused much of the first film’s score and even some music that had not been used. Some of Thorne’s score is still present in the Richard Donner cut, but the presence of Williams really helps make the sequel feel like an extension of the first film.

He’s watching. Always watching…

The Richard Donner Cut of Superman II restores the sense of continuity the film shared with its predecessor. There’s no one who would watch these two films back to back and come away surprised they were mostly shot simultaneously. There’s a real, cohesive, feeling to both to the point where watching one and not the other almost feels silly. And yet, there’s no denying that Superman II is no longer a contender for the best super hero movie brought to cinema. While it’s probably still the best Superman film, I don’t find it as entertaining today as I once did. The villains are one-note and the film is quite eager to rely on the deus ex machina device to push its plot along. Superman has powers, then he doesn’t, then he does again despite being warned it was irreversible, and so on. Lex Luthor makes a proverbial deal with the devil, gets double-crossed by said devil, then makes yet another deal only to be double-crossed yet again! Some criminal genius. It’s a bit messy, but there are moments of fun and the more digestible run time means the film doesn’t overstay its welcome. Mostly, I’m left feeling happy for Richard Donner and fans of Superman that the original vision of the film was finally realized, even if it took more than 25 years for that to happen.


S.H.Figuarts Bulma’s Motorcycle (Dragon Ball)

Looking around my basement office and thinking back on all of the various toy reviews I’ve done over the years has made me realize that I’ve never done a vehicle review. Vehicles are not all that common in the collector community, usually they’re more of a kid’s toyline occurrence. That doesn’t mean they aren’t fun when they do come along or that I’m not interested in them, they just need to convince me a bit more of their worth and work in a display. Oh, and they need to not cost an arm and a leg. And recently, the cost of vehicles is a hot topic in the collector community and it’s a topic that probably isn’t going away as NECA is expected to unveil a Turtle Van in its Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line at some point this year.

When it comes to Dragon Ball, there are a handful of vehicles that come to mind. Especially in Dragon Ball Z where Vegeta and the other Saiyans travel through space in those adorable little pods. There are a few other spaceships and the occasional car as well. In Dragon Ball, there were arguably more vehicles, though I don’t know that many are truly memorable. They were more of a necessity though as in that series few characters could fly so if they wanted to traverse the world they needed help. And the character usually able to aid the most in that regard was Bulma and her wonderful assortment of capsules. The famous Capsule Corp that her father founded created the technology to store vehicles, homes, food, you name it, in tiny capsules that could recall the product in seconds. It’s a fun concept for a television show and an especially convenient one if you don’t want to have to explain how the characters manage to carry so much stuff with them on their adventures.

Hooray for stuff!

One of the earliest capsules we see in the show is Bulma’s number 9 – her motorcycle. After Goku smashes up her car, Bulma is forced to turn to the bike to resume her journey for the seven Dragon Balls and Goku comes along for the ride which is essentially how the story begins. Bandai decided this moment was important enough to be immortalized in plastic and commissioned a version of the bike for its S.H.Figuarts line of products.

I hadn’t even thought of it until I got this set, but the capsule Bulma is holding is the #9 capsule so nice forward-thinking on the part of Bandai.

When Bandai first showed the bike I thought it looked great. When I saw the functionality that would be built into it and the accessories it came with, I was further convinced it would be a fantastic item to add to my Dragon Ball collection. When I saw the price, I was a little less enthusiastic. This bike retails for between $70 and $75, which is almost twice what the actual figure of Bulma costs. I knew I liked it, but did I like it enough to spend that kind of dough on it? Thankfully, a clearance sale at GameStop made it easier when I scored the set for 25% off. I had to wait a little while for it to arrive as apparently a lot of people were like-minded and the product actually sold out and my order was changed to backordered, but eventually GameStop came through.

She’s a beaut!
It’s almost a shame that the nicest part of the sculpt is arguably the tech around the handlebars, since that’s an area that doesn’t really show when displayed.

The bike comes in the same window box packaging we’re used to with this line. It has some nice product shots on the front and is using a white and teal color scheme. Once removed, the bike can either stand on its own via a working kickstand or be placed on an included stand. It’s about 7 inches long and scales well with the Adventure Begins Bulma figure that I reviewed last year. In fact, the bike is intended to work with her and even includes some new parts for that figure. The handlebars are functional and turning them will cause the front wheel to turn. The overall look of this bike is just fantastic. I love the rounded edges, the clean, white, finish, and the big, oversized, tires. The rear wheel is noticeably larger than the front wheel and we do have some diecast parts added in, such as the kickstand. There’s some nice sculpting down around the handlebars and the clear, curved, plastic, windshield removes easily to position a figure on the bike. There’s not a ton of paint on this thing, but since it’s basically white plastic I think it looks fine. There’s colored plastic for the turn signals and clear plastic for the non-working lights. The decals are all very cleanly applied and this is just a very pristine looking item.

Let’s go for a ride!
A frontal view of the happy teen.

The bike does roll on those tires which appear to be made of rubber, or a similar substance to rubber. They’re not as squishy or bouncy as some rubber tires, but it definitely isn’t a hard plastic. If play is your thing, you absolute can place a figure on this bike and have a good time. Since this is a collector line though, my guess is most will want to place this on a shelf. And if you do, the kickstand works fine. It’s quite tight, so tight that I doublechecked the included instructions to make sure it was meant to function before I really laid into it. The bike is probably too heavy to have a figure support the weight of it with one leg Akira style, but you can easily fudge that with the stand. The base of the display stand Bandai included is a simple plastic circle with the Capsule Corp logo printed on it. There are two inserts and there are three different stands to choose from that plug into the base. One stand is a simple straight up and down stand so the bike looks like it’s in motion. There’s an angled stand to make the bike look like it’s turning which is pretty neat and can be angled for either a right turn or a left one. And then there is a third stand that’s the wheelie stand which raises the front wheel higher off the ground than the rear. It’s a great variety of poses available and if there’s any room for complaint it’s that maybe the wheelie stand could have been more exaggerated, but at least as-is there are no stability concerns.

Left turn stand.
Wheelie!

In addition to the stands, we get some extra parts. There are two gripping hands for Bulma since she didn’t come with plain, old, gripping hands before. Interestingly, both hands are painted when normally the flesh-colored hand is just plastic. It’s strange because if ever you wanted to avoid having painted hands it’s with hands that will be gripping handlebars. The color looks a little off compared with her arm, but it’s not terribly noticeable. There’s also a new skirt piece for Bulma since her other skirt really wouldn’t allow for her to sit on a bike. This one has ridges in it for her knees to fit into to create a more natural sitting pose. Bulma simply separates at the waist to facilitate swapping the parts. It’s easy to get her apart, but a little frustrating getting her back together again as you need to contend with the skirt and her belt. There’s also a swappable rear seat on the bike which is easy to make use of. The extra set has a peg on it and it’s for our last accessory: a terrified kid Goku. This Goku, unlike the actual figure, is in-scale with Bulma so he’s pretty small. He’s a little painted guy with some very minor articulation at the head and tail. He’s meant to just be along for the ride and looks pretty great. I suspect many will pose the two on their shelf with Bulma sporting her terrified expression as the two pop an unexpected wheelie.

Goku seems to be enjoying himself.
It’s a bit crazy to see just how small Goku would have to be to be in scale with Bulma.

For a premium price you should expect a premium product, and Bandai delivered with this release. Not everyone is going to want a motorcycle in their Dragon Ball display, but any who do are likely to be very happy with this release. Especially if you’re able to get it on clearance like I did. It’s well made, high quality, and Bandai included basically everything it needed to. Whether you have Bulma sitting on it, or standing beside it, the big going to attract attention to your display. Maybe some will wish Bandai had gone even further and included some electronics, but I’m happy to not have had to pay for that since that’s something I’d rarely use. If you want Bulma to have a bike though, this is pretty awesome!

“Come on, kid, please put it down!”

Super7 TMNT Ultimates! Bebop

He don’t get mad, he gets stabby!

This is a big figure. That’s the take-away and the thing any reviewer has to mention when reviewing Super7’s take on the classic warthog from Playmates. Back in ’88, Bebop was bigger than the turtles, but he was also really hunched over to the point where it was like his neck was coming out of his chest. This made sure the figure would fit on the blister card and not break the mold of a line that was just starting out and probably needed to keep costs down as much as possible. With Super7’s line of Ultimates! based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, no such compromise needed to be made. Bebop can be his big, beefy, self and it’s quite a sight to see.

I won’t make you wait for the big comparison shot with the turtles in this line.

The turtles in this line come in at 6″ in height. It’s a 7″ scale line so the turtles are a bit on the short side in this universe. Bebop is definitely the opposite as he comes in at 8″ at the top of his mohawk. More so than the height though is the fact that this guy is chunky! Just picking up the box after handling the Leonardo one drove the point home that there was a lot more plastic in this package than before. It’s a bit awe inspiring to behold this figure as it just so fundamentally changes how one views the character.

It only took the better part of 30 years, but Bebop finally has something he can call a logo all to himself.

Bebop comes packaged in the same window box style we’ve seen with the other releases. Even though he’s much larger than what’s been released so far, he still fits into the same sized box, though he certainly takes up more room in the window. The slipcover that goes over his box is purple, as all of the villains are, and features a Bebop face on a manhole cover on the front with drill bits on either side of his head. It’s a small thing, but I love how each character gets their own logo of sorts for this line.

That’s a tight fit.

This Bebop is, like the other figures in this line, a throwback to the old Playmates toy released in 1988. He’s very similar in terms of sculpting, even though he looks quite different at first glance. That’s due to that old figure having so many sculpted details that were left unpainted. Some may see the knee brace on this figure and struggle to remember if the vintage one had that. And it did, as it did the turtle skeletons and stich pattern pants. By far the biggest benefit to this new scale and approach is Bebop’s red, leather, vest. The texture and the saturation of the paint is just exquisite. It might sound ridiculous, but it was how this jacket looked in promotional shots that got me to buy into this figure. It’s a separate piece of soft plastic that fits over the torso which just adds nice depth to the figure. Especially considering a lot of the other effects are sculpted into the main body. The necklace, bracelets, belt – that’s all sculpted which is in contrast to the more recent NECA offering which went with chains for the belt and bracelet. It gives this figure a bit of a juxtaposition in terms of the presentation as the separate pieces (jacket, shoulder pads) really bring this guy to life while the sculpted-in parts preserve the toy aesthetic of the original.

I don’t know if it sounds stupid, but I’m obsessed with how good this jacket turned out.

The paint job on Bebop also walks that line a bit. There’s a lot of pink utilized on his snout and the underside of his neck. The original figure did feature a pink tint as well, though not to this extent. If it’s too much for you, Super7 did include a second head which is the same as the default one, but without the pink air -brushed on. The hair, shells, and shoes look terrific with their paint app, while the chain bracelet came out a bit chunky. We should probably see some of his flesh through the chains, but it’s just solid gray. The arms and the main body of the figure are just brown plastic and he does have a bit of a shine to him. He’s just so big that when you have something that’s low detail like his arms it really stands out. Maybe a wash or some fur sculpted into him would have improved this. His old, purple, mohawk is now more of a hot pink and it looks like they failed to paint the elastic at the end of his ponytail. It’s not a big deal, but again, with such a big figure everything stands out.

I think this drill gun showed up in the cartoon and it fired a laser, in case you thought it was just a power drill. That would explain why it has a scope on it.

In spite of those critiques, I will say the overall sculpt and look of Bebop is pretty fantastic. If you prefer your Bebop to look more like the old toy and less like the cartoon then this is going to make you happy. As a kid, I was the opposite as I wanted Bebop and especially Rocksteady to look like the characters I saw on TV every day. And yet, I am floored by this sculpt and am completely smitten. It’s just so demonstrably different from the NECA offering that I don’t even think they’re comparable. The NECA Bebop is my favorite figure in that line because they so perfectly nailed the aesthetic of that cartoon. And this one is terrific because he’s just not that character. This is a more monstrous Bebop. I assume if he were in a cartoon he wouldn’t be as dim as the one we got. He’d actually be something to fear rather than laugh at.

It’s a lot easier to put him in a “knife toss” pose than a conventional knife pose given how tight those gripping hands are.
The rare two-headed warthog.

A big figure like this presents some opportunity for articulation. Even though he’s a brute, he still needs to move. Bebop’s head is on a big ball peg. I was worried it would be hard to remove, but it actually pops off pretty easily. He can look up, down, tilt, and swivel. It’s a lot better than expected and also plenty sturdy. The shoulders are just ball-hinges and those big shoulder pads will limit how high his arms can come up. They’re also pretty tight, but that’s good for a big figure and the bonus of him being big is he at least feels less fragile. He has a hinge at the elbow and his arm also swivels there. The wrists swivel and have big, horizontal, hinges in them. Like the head, they’re surprisingly easy to pop on and off. There is a waist swivel, but it’s just a swivel and there’s no other torso articulation. The thighs are on ball-joints and they can swivel there. The knees are single-jointed and the right leg can swivel at the knee. The left cannot and that’s because he has that big knee brace and it’s pretty cool that Super7 respected that brace and didn’t just ignore it. He can also swivel above the ankle, below the cuffs of his pants, so the knee swivel isn’t missed. The ankles are hinged and can also rock side-to-side. Lastly, Bebop’s tail is now articulated. It’s just a swivel, but it’s cool to be able to position it a bit now.

The second head basically just omits the pink wash on the snout.
A close-up of the alt head.

Bebop’s articulation is just okay. The range of motion at the elbows and shoulders isn’t very good. You can argue it doesn’t need to be great, but it’s disappointing. More disappointing though is the lack of something in the torso. He really would benefit from a diaphragm joint that would allow him to twist a little and tilt. The articulation just makes him quite static. He really needs his size to command attention on your shelf because his posing just isn’t going to do it. What also works against him is his very neutral expression. It’s accurate to the vintage toy, but there’s just no personality there. Bebop relies on his attire and the fact that he’s a big, ugly, warthog to form an identity. It makes the second head feel like a wasted opportunity as since it’s just the same head, but with less paint, it took away a chance for Super7 to create something more expressive as it’s been able to do with Leo and Raph. Imagine a Bebop with a snarling mouth or even a hinged jaw, that really could have taken this one to another level.

As you can see, Bebop may have increased in size, but his accessories have not.

Somewhat playing into the nonchalent posing of Bebop are his accessories. He’s a lot of plastic and his tooling is unique. Maybe some of this will work for Rocksteady, but I am assuming Bebop is a high cost figure when compared with Leonardo. That probably plays a role in his accessories, which are limited. He comes with just one extra pair of hands and they’re fists. His standard gripping hands are so close to fists that these just feel like a waste. I would have much preferred a style posed hand in place of fists. Bebop also has his drill gun which is almost comically small in his massive hands. Super7 should have probably considered upscaling the gun to go with the figure, but instead, it’s actually a little smaller than the vintage one which makes no sense. The trash can lid is the exact same size and getting him to properly hold it is nearly impossible. His hands are super stiff and I had to heat them to get them to bend a little to try and force that handle into his hand. At best, I basically just got it to hook on his thumb. It’s so small though that it looks stupid. His knife is his best accessory. It’s a little tough getting it into those tight, gripping, hands of his, but once there it looks fine. It does make me wish they added a sheath for it on his belt though for storage. Or if he had an actual belt we could have slipped it behind that. Oh well. Like the turtles, there’s also a set of unpainted weapons on a sprue. Bebop’s are gray and I don’t know why you’d ever want them, but they’re there if you do.

The pink on the new figure is definitely a lot more pronounced than it was on the vintage figure.

Super7’s take on Bebop is both incredibly impressive and also a bit disappointing all at the same time. It averages out to a really good release though because what’s most important are the overall aesthetics of the figure, and that’s the part Super7 handled the best. The only reason to not like it is if you disliked the Playmates figure, and if that’s the case, why would you buy this? I suspect those who just want this line to match the vintage one piece for piece are very happy. I’m more of the type that wants Super7 to key in on the nostalgia, but also improve things where possible. I accept that they have a different philosophy when it comes to articulation too, as I know they dislike double elbows and probably aren’t fans of torso joints either. I’ll continue to call out where I think those joints make sense though, and maybe one day they’ll come around.

Here’s the one for folks who like to put Super7 against NECA. I love both of these figures for different reasons.

Bebop is a tremendously fun figure, and you still have a shot at getting him. Super7’s Ultimates! line is a made-to-order line, but retailers are free to order as many as they want and sell them and he’s still available in some places. The MSRP is $45, but you’ll probably have to pay a small markup at this point. And it’s small compared with what this figure will fetch going forward so if you want him, grab him. He’s the last of Wave 2 that I’ll be reviewing as I just wasn’t feeling Shredder or Mutagen Man, but when Wave 3 drops I’ll have at least 3 reviews coming your way so there’s something to look forward to!

Good luck, boys! This isn’t the moron you’re used to!

Rad Plastic

I think it was during the summer of 2020 while spending one of the many days of that year inside and isolated that I stumbled upon a Twitter post about an upcoming book titled Rad Plastic. I believe the tweet was from the account The Toys That Made Us, which is (was?) a Netflix series that chronicles the early days and success stories of toy lines from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. It was interesting the tweet came from that account as one of the disappointments of 2019 for me was the episode of that show concerning the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

The Toys That Made Us is the brainchild of comedian/director Brian Volk-Weiss. His background seems to be in television and comedy and it seems the approach to the series The Toys That Made Us is to select an important franchise and then find the story. It makes for an entertaining documentary, but Netflix constrains it to a mere 45 minutes or so per episode which just isn’t enough time to really dive deep into a subject that spanned years, or even decades. The unfortunate side effect of this approach is the series really doesn’t have much time to talk about what I want to hear about the most: the toys! And with the TMNT episode, it was able to talk a lot about the development of the property and its eventual acquisition and launch by Playmates, but then pivoted to a story about reuniting the co-creators of the franchise Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. It was a nice a story, it just wasn’t a story about the toys, which is what I wanted to hear about most. When I found out about Rad Plastic, it seemed like it would be the thing to fill-in that missing information for me.

Ready to feel nostalgic?

Rad Plastic is a book by Chris Fawcett and it’s all about the vintage Playmates toy line. Specifically, this is a book about the creation of an action figure. It goes into great detail spotlighting the incredible sculptors contracted by Playmates, most of which worked for either Varner Studios or Anaglyph. Fawcett confesses upfront he wasn’t big into TMNT and only really became interested in the toy line in 2017 when he stumbled upon some materials he felt really showed off how intricate these figures were. And while it’s easy to look back on that vintage toy line through the lens of a modern toy enthusiast and wonder what’s so special about it, those of us who grew up and owned those figures likely remember how wild and detailed those sculpts were. A character like Muckman was particularly incredible and much of the detail put into that figure by sculptor Alec McTurk went unpainted for the finished product and maybe was unnoticed by some. It’s not something that shows well in pictures online and it’s easy to overlook a figure from 30 years ago that’s been beat up and played with, but they really were something special.

After pre-ordering my copy over the summer, it was quite a long wait before the product arrived. Which is fine, as these things take time and COVID surely made its presence felt. The book is designed by Chance Sanderson to resemble the classic Party Wagon. Since this is an unofficial release, it doesn’t feature the classic logo or any of the turtles on the cover, but does feature their silhouette in the windshield and the book’s title is done as an homage to that logo. And I love that on the back of the book is a seemingly perfect recreation of the sticker that went on the back of the Party Wagon itself. The interior of the book is loaded with plenty of official artwork though and the pages are nice and thick. It’s also a heavy book as this is designed to go on your coffee table. It’s a hardcover and is approximately 11.25″ x 11.25″ and is about an inch thick.

This book will tell you how action figures are made.

The first chunk of the book goes over the creation process for an action figure. It covers everything from the design phase, to concept art, sculpting, mold creation, and finally production. It’s not exhausting, so it isn’t a particularly long section. The entire book is rather breezy and even though it’s 400 pages many will probably finish it in one sitting. That’s because the main meat of the book is a walk-through year by year of the vintage line that unfolds mostly in pictures. A lot of the pictures are test shots and resin models of the figures before production and in some cases there are prototypes for unreleased figures. There are blurbs to go along with each page as well as a handy checklist of the product released (and cancelled, in some cases) for that year. It’s not a complete capture of the product for that year as Fawcett is basically limited to what has survived all these years so if a hardcopy or test shot of a figure no longer exists, it won’t be shown here. He also covers play sets, vehicles, and extensions to the line like the giant figures and plush dolls.

Mikey in blue?! Blasphemy!

By far, the part of the book I enjoyed the most is the material concerning the inaugural wave of figures from 1988. That section contains a lot of the concept art that existed before the line was launched. This includes an interesting character sheet that shows Leonardo was originally going to wear orange and Michelangelo was going to sport blue. I found this amusing since, if you recall, the original title cards for the cartoon were miss-colored with Mikey as Leo wielding twin katana and Leo as Mikey getting ready to scarf down some pizza. There are several shots of the early villains in the line which were all going to be humans as well as shots of the original sewer lair which had some kind of god for a wall called The Face. Yeah, I’m happy that didn’t make it into the line or the show.

This guy was going to come with a gun that shot “snot” rockets. We really missed out.

The year-by-year stuff is all color-coded and the colors are visible when looking at the book from the side so it’s easy to jump to a section. Still, I find myself wishing there was an index in the back of the book so if I was looking for a picture of Sewer Samurai Leonardo, for example, I could quickly find it. And while the checklist is nice, I feel like this book would have greatly benefited from a visual guide as an appendix. Just a simple visual checklist that included a picture of each, finished, figure in its final packaging or loose, if that’s all that was available. Surely, there are collectors out there with an entire run of the Playmates line that would have been happy to show off and have their stuff make it into a book. I think even Peter Laird used to make sure he got copies of everything Playmates released, though I have no idea if he is still in possession of all of that material.

By contrast, I don’t think we’re missing out on anything when it comes to The Face.

Since the book is right at 400 pages, my suspicion is adding even a single page would have upped the costs by a non immaterial amount, but it’s also possible that just wasn’t Fawcett’s goal with this book. This is not a guide for collectors nor does it contain much information on where these characters originated, outside of the ones in the first wave. I would have loved to hear who came up with Monty Moose or Walkabout and where the inspiration came from. It’s possible such information has been lost to time, or maybe it wasn’t particularly interesting to begin with. That would be a different book though. This one wants to highlight the sculptors and designers who worked on the line. And if you’re someone like me who enjoyed and collected that line growing up, it will probably satisfy your thirst for nostalgia. I know I couldn’t suppress my grin as I flipped through this book and remembered the figures I owned and the ones I coveted and even the ones that let me down (those talking turtles were trash). It wasn’t planned to work this way, but this was a welcomed tandem with the recently released Super7 action figures which celebrate the Playmates line in their own way.

The lists are nice, but a visual guide would have really cemented this book as a must have for TMNT fans.

If you’re a fan of the turtles and want to check this book out for yourself, copies are available at www.radplastic.com. I do not know if more printings will be done, so consider this a limited time released for now. If you want it, don’t wait, and if you do get it I have a feeling you’ll enjoy it quite a bit.


Super7 TMNT Ultimates! Leonardo

“Leonardo is the perfect turtle…” is the truest statement to ever appear on the back of a product box.

If you ask me what my most cherished childhood toy was I won’t hesitate to answer Leonardo. My original Playmates Leonardo was a figure I adored and played with for years. I would get other Leonardo action figures, but they were always a temporary joy. When I sat down to act out and play with my figures, it was the original Leo from 1988 that I reached for. And it’s one of the few figures from that line I can vividly remember getting since he (along with Donatello) was my first. I was so young that I was too short to even reach the pegs and my mom had to sift through the rows of figures for me to find that Leonardo.

When Super7 first debuted its Ultimates! line of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles I was noncommittal. It wasn’t until Leonardo and the rest of wave 2 was unveiled that I felt the pull. I could push aside the strings of nostalgia on that first wave, but it was Leo I could not resist. I then had to scramble to get Raph, and I was quick to pre-order the other turtles as they became available all eagerly awaiting the release of Leonardo.

Since Leo’s accessories are all the same as Raph’s, consider this your accessories pic.

Leo finally arrived in February after a lengthy wait. I pre-ordered him through bigbadtoystore.com which had pre-orders open for a long while beyond the usual Super7 window. It was certainly convenient, but it meant a long wait as, for whatever reason, BBTS seems to be the retailer who always receives Super7 releases last. While those who ordered direct from Super7 had their Leonardo in December, I was forced to wait nearly two months beyond that. BBTS did come through, and I was never in doubt about that part, and he’s largely as expected. Like all of the figures in Super7’s line of Ultimates!, he comes in a cardboard mailer with the product logo on it and the figure’s name. Open that and you get the actual box the figure comes in. It’s a three-dimensional, trapezoid, which probably has a proper name, but I was never into geometry. The green slipcase slides off and the figure is below in a nice window box. It’s the same packaging as the wave one figures and it’s great. One could argue lesser packaging would result in a cheaper price (the MSRP on Leo is $45), but at least it’s attractive and mint-in-box collectors are happy while openers have a reasonably easy to reseal packaging for moves and such.

It’s like seeing an old friend…who has had some cosmetic enhancements.
Are your swords hanging low? Well have we got a product for you!

Leonardo should be quite familiar to anyone who has Raphael. That’s because they’re the same figure. The only differences between the two are the head and belt. Even the little blemishes on the shell and creases of the skin are identical. Leonardo is designed to mimic the 1988 release so he’s an olive shade of green with a belt that features a crisscross design across the chest, white eyes, and a blue mask with blue pads. Super7 added a bit more embellishment to the buckle area of Leo’s belt seemingly swapping some of the gunmetal parts of Raph’s belt for a chrome color. I really liked the understated gun metal so this looks less neat to me and I even wonder if the extra chrome was a factory error that Super7 was forced to just roll with or if they just view it as a way to distinguish the turtles from each other. I guess we’ll see what the other figures feature down the road as the promotional shots of Leo, Mike, and Don feature a belt similar to Raph’s and not the final Leo belt. The shell is now a deep green color as opposed to the brown Raph had and the front of the shell is a deeper yellow, like a marigold, when compared with Raph. The headsculpt that Leo comes packaged with looks just like the Playmates Leo. He has that almost concerned look to him, but Super7 did adjust the angle of his eyes ever so slightly so it’s not as pronounced. I feel like I was always a little disappointed in Leo’s facial expression, and yet I find myself really loving this head for pure nostalgia reasons. There is a bit of shine on the head of my figure, under his right eye, that might not come across in the photos. I don’t know if they’re all like that, or if it’s just mine.

Imagine if he had swords like these in Turtles in Time.

Since Leo is the same figure as Raph, his articulation is the same. He’s got a ball-peg that his head sits on which allows for some up and down movement and side to side along with full rotation. I didn’t really touch upon it in my Raph review, but the only aesthetic with these figures I don’t care for is the gap between the head and neck as from some angles they look like amusement park actors in oversized costumes. From head-on, it looks fine though. The shoulders are standard ball-hinges with swivels at the biceps. The shoulders were really tight out of the box, but I didn’t need any heat to get them moving. Single-jointed elbows follow with wrist rotation and hinges, and he has hands with vertical hinges and horizontal, so that’s a major plus. There’s some rotation at the hips, which are still fairly loose, but not quite as bad as Raph’s, but the shell won’t allow for too much range of motion. The legs are on ball-pegs and can swivel and kick out forward and to the side just fine. The knees just peg into the lower leg with single-hinges and swivels below the kneepad while the feet feature a hinge and generous rocker. The ankle hinges were, by far, the tightest joints on my figure out of the box and I did run them under hot tap water to get them going. It’s a suitable level of articulation, though it doesn’t really rise above other brands and some would argue it doesn’t even meet them. The lack of double elbows and knees is unfortunate and I still don’t like how the knees are engineered. It feels like there’s a lot of stress on that peg holding them together every time I bend the knee. Since Leo and Raph are the same though, I suspect I’ll just have to accept what we have here is what we’ll get with Donatello and Michelangelo.

Even Leo is subjected to Zoom meetings these days.
I think he dropped it…

It’s great to receive updated articulation, but one of the major selling points of the Super7 Ultimates! brand is the wealth of accessories the figures come with. Leo has a plethora of hands at his disposal for holding his various weapons and accessories. He has vertically hinged gripping hands in the box, plus horizontal gripping hands and open style pose hands as well as a set of fists. They peg in and the peg is small and thin, but thus far I have not heard of any issues and haven’t experienced any myself. Leo also comes with the same slice of pizza as Raph and the same communicators: one open and one closed. The only difference there is the parts painted red on Raph’s are brown on Leo’s (why not blue?!). He also has the standard allotment of ninja weaponry including throwing stars, a small, triple, bladed knife, and that large, hooked, thing. It’s a lot of stuff, but plenty could argue a large chunk of the accessories are useless. Are you ever going to pose Leo with one of the other weapons or ninja stars? Not likely. And strangely, the paint app on the pizza slice is different from Raph’s. I don’t think it’s intentional, but it looks almost dirty.

Careful there, buddy.

Most importantly, Leo also has his trusty katana blades. This has been a minor point of contention in some of the collecting spheres I frequent as these swords are not accurate when compared with the vintage figure. There was some hope that Super7 would include two different sets of swords to appease collectors (as they did with Splinter’s robe including a plastic one and a cloth one), but apparently collectors didn’t make enough noise for that to happen. Leo’s old swords were basically fake katanas. They were referred to in all TMNT media as katanas, but looked nothing like an actual katana. Super7 decided to get authentic so Leo has two, long, curved, blades. It takes some getting used to, not so much because of the curved nature of the swords, but the length. Anyone fighting with two swords, especially two katana, looks ridiculous. Part of the nature of the brand though is to look ridiculous. These are giant, mutated, turtles after all. I do wish they were smaller though as it’s hard for me to suspend my sense of disbelief that this character could effectively wield these swords in this manner. I think I may opt for a one sword look for my more permanent display as a result. The actual swords though at least look great. The paint is nice and the handles are well done and they’re not warped and flimsy like Raphael’s sais. And they also fit in the holsters on the back of his shell fine, and despite their length, don’t look particularly silly.

The alternate head definitely has a different energy.
I wish his bandana tails had a bit more life to them. It’s very rare to have a turtles figure where the bandana knot and tails aren’t visible from the front.

Lastly, Leonardo comes with an alternate head. Like Raph’s, Leo’s alternate head is a brand new, stylized, headsculpt that’s an all new creation. It obeys the same rules of colored mask and blank eyes as the vintage toy, but has a more realistic expression and texture. There’s a warmth with the new one that creates the illusion of this character existing in the real world, as opposed to the cold, plastic, very toy nature of the original. The expression is similar, but clearly more angry, and I think I prefer it to the vintage look. It’s basically how I would envision a new Leonardo would look today if the line were just starting from scratch like the original Playmates line did once upon a time. And it’s a nice look, though I think Raph’s second head turned out a little better. It’s the straight bandana tails that change the head profile a bit for me and I would have preferred something more dramatic. Though if you like the vintage look, you have it with the default head and you even have a sprue of weapons and accessories in classic brown, though the swords are the updated, curved, ones. My affection for that old head would probably win out for my display if I didn’t like Raph’s alternate head so much. I want a uniform look and don’t want to mix vintage and alt heads, so for now, I’m going with this updated one.

If you prefer a more vintage look.

The Super7 Ultimates! Leonardo is basically the figure I thought it was going to be. And that’s good! As I expected to like this one. I do think there’s room for improvement, as there often is with anything, as the articulation is lacking, most of the accessories are useless, and the swords are too long. That sounds like a lot of negatives, but this is a $45 action figure so it should be held to a higher standard than a $20 one found at Target. Where it does succeed is just in the overall look and presentation of the figure. Even if a lot of the accessories are ho-hum, the extra head is great and the hands are what you want. He looks like Leonardo and really captures that Playmates look which was so obviously inspired by the art from the Mirage line of comics, but was also its own thing. He looks great with Raph and I have a feeling my display will only improve with the additions of Michelangelo (expected probably four months from now) and Donatello (hopefully before the end of the year). Leonardo is also yet another reminder of how awesome it is to be a TMNT collector right now. Turtle power, indeed!

You didn’t think I’d end this without a comparison shot, did you?
It’s a Leo convention! Left to right: S.H.Figuarts, NECA toon Leo, Super7, Playmates, Playmates ’03, which was really the first attempt at making over the classic ’88 figure and still kind of kicks ass today.


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