Tag Archives: x-men

We Need to Talk About this X-Men Toy Line

As a kid, I was introduced to the X-Men without even knowing it. Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends was airing in my region and it was a show I watched when I could. That show featured Spider-Man (naturally) alongside Firestar, a new character created for the show, and Iceman. I had no idea Iceman was a member of the X-Men, or even what the X-Men were, and I wouldn’t for years after. I barely knew anyone from the Marvel Universe as outside of that show I basically saw Spider-Man PSAs and that Marvel Productions tag that would roll at the end of shows like Muppet Babies. Captain America? Wolverine? Iron Man? Totally off of my radar. Actually, the only other character I knew was the Hulk due to his television show.

In the early 90s that obviously changed. I was properly introduced to the X-Men via the inaugural line of action figures from Toy Biz. Despite not having a television show to cross-promote with, Toy Biz released the first wave of figures in 1991 complete with advertisements during the shows I watched. That’s how I learned who Wolverine and Cyclops were alongside Storm, Nightcrawler, Magneto and others. My friend from down the street loved the line, and at first that’s how I experienced the toys, but once the cartoon series launched in 1992 I too was hooked.

That show was X-Men and it was a ratings hit in 1993 when it was properly launched following “sneak peaks” in the fall of ’92. Once the show got its claws in me I was hooked and ready to turn aside the likes of Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. X-Men became my life, and even though I also got comics and trading cards featuring my favorite mutants, it was always the cartoon series that was my first love and primary method of interacting with the brand (aside from the toys, of which I had many). As my passion for collecting action figures has reignited over the past five years or so, a dedicated line of toys based on that show has become my grail line, of sorts. It was on my mind so much that I had to get it out in this space, and despite not being an avid collector of Hasbro figures, I always kept tabs on the company and anytime a question was asked of the community about what they wanted next, I was always there to tell them.

Aside from the odd choice of shading the figure that gold or mustard color, Wolverine looks fine.

With 2022 marking the show’s 30th anniversary, it has long been in my sights as the most logical time for such a toy line to come around. And sure enough, last fall Hasbro confirmed it was indeed heading to the animated universe when it announced a new line of toys based on the show starting with Wolverine and Jubilee. Since then, we’ve seen reveals of Mr. Sinister, Storm, and Jean Grey with Wolverine and Sinister starting to make their way into the hands of collectors in the UK. Presumably, their arrival in the US is imminent, but before I even have these long sought toys in hand I’m feeling a bit letdown by this whole thing.

Hasbro is one of the biggest toy producers in the world. The company produces mass market toys sold all over the place and often at a fairly affordable price relative to other goods in that space. They have tremendous negotiating power with the likes of Target and Walmart and even own their own factories so they’re far more insulated against some of the challenges faced by smaller outfits dealing in the same type of goods. For awhile, their Marvel Legends and Star Wars: The Black Series have been consistently good at a relatively low price. While a figure from NECA might cost you 30 bucks, a figure from Hasbro would sit at $20. Over the last year though, things have changed and prices have gone up. Now that same NECA figure is around $37 while Hasbro’s is $25. And when it comes to the new X-Men line, we’re talking $28. And while the gap still remains around 10 bucks, the NECA figures continue to come with loads of accessories and are often uncompromised when it comes to necessary tooling, while Hasbro has gone in the other direction. Fewer accessories, fewer paint apps, and more reuse have made Marvel Legends no longer the value it once was.

Hasbro saw fit to sculpt new hair for Storm, but kept a face that doesn’t match the show.

With the animated X-Men line, Hasbro is targeting a rather specific audience. It’s one that experienced the show as a kid 30 years ago and is an adult collector now. In truth, almost every action figure line Hasbro produces is consumed by more adults than children, but with this line Hasbro can’t even pretend like it’s aiming to attract children. It’s being sold exclusively through Hasbro’s own online store, Hasbro Pulse, and will eventually be sold on Disney’s website and maybe at some of their physical stores. It’s simply a line meant to appeal to collectors, and since they’re promising figures based on the show, you would think accuracy would be important, no?

Apparently that’s a foolish assumption as it appears Hasbro is looking to cut corners wherever it can. When the line was announced, it became obvious right from the start that Hasbro would be re-releasing some older figures with cel-shading paint apps to mimic the show. The encouraging part though was some of the little details. Wolverine had two, newly sculpted heads that better reflected his appearance on the show. He also came with a little picture frame from the episode “Captive Hearts” that is quite popular in the online meme community. These figures may not be on the level of high grade imports, but at least the love was there (aww). Jubilee, on the other hand, looked almost nothing like her show counterpart aside from her gloves being color-corrected. She was coming with effects parts that looked nothing like her fireworks, but it was Jubilee, a character I’m not particularly fond of, so I could overlook it.

The face is wrong, the hair is wrong, and even that orange they used for her costume looks off. They literally just needed to give her a new head and match the cartoon colors, but weren’t willing to even go that far.

The reveals to follow have been uneven, at best. Sinister is an almost straight repaint of the previously released Marvel Legends figure. He looks fine, and Hasbro fixed his neck by making it bare instead of featuring the riveted costume, and applied a good paint job. He has zero accessories though, which is beyond cheap at this price point. Storm followed and, again, she’s mostly a repaint. She gets a new hair sculpt that looks okay in some stills, but her complexion is wrong, her costume is wrong, and she has a lighting effect, but no white-out eyes to pair with it. It’s just all wrong if it wants to be what it claims to be. Jean Grey is the latest reveal, and once again, Hasbro is just repackaging an older figure. For this one, they seemed to even instruct artist Dan Vessenmeyer to model the artwork on the inaccurate figure. Or, they gave him shots of the figure and he just went with it. Either way, her hair is wrong, the coloring on her costume looks off, and they’re including a second, non pony tail head when it doesn’t even make sense to do so in the context of the cartoon. Yes, she went without a pony tail for the series finale, but her costume was also more yellow than the usual tan. And you may be wondering why I would complain about a bonus accessory, but it sucks to get a useless accessory when a more appropriate one could have been included like a powers effect piece or a Cerebro helmet. All things that would make sense for the character.

What it comes down to, is that I look at these solicitations so far and I just get the sense that whoever is in charge of this line has no real attachment to the source. Or, they’re being so severely restricted by corporate that it’s completely stifled their attempts at making the best figures they could. And that’s Hasbro, in a nutshell: they’re not interested in delivering the best possible product. They want to deliver an acceptable product at as cheap a cost as possible. And I get it to some degree, the Marvel license is probably expensive, but so is Star Wars. Their Star Wars output looks a million times better and is far more accurate than what’s being done with the X-Men. Clearly, they value that line more, and I’m not saying they shouldn’t as Star Wars probably sells well. They’re going after a somewhat niche audience with this line, but I’d argue it’s not a tiny one. Literally millions of kids tuned into that show every Saturday, and I bet millions are still interested in it. What would it cost to do this line properly? If these figures had to be $35 to make that happen then so be it! I think collectors, generally speaking, will pay more if the product warrants it. We’ve seen prices go up this past year and spending habits don’t appear to be wildly affected by them. Everything has a limit, but Hasbro doesn’t appear interested in seeing what that is with this line.

Compare Hasbro’s Jean to what Diamond is doing and it becomes even more frustrating. I wish I could be happy with just collecting busts from this show.

It becomes even more frustrating when this X-Men line is compared to other lines based on 90s television properties. NECA’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line strives to match the cartoon as much as possible and it looks great. And the actual figures in that line cost similar to what Hasbro is doing here, and they often feature unique tooling that’s not likely to be reused. DC Direct did a Batman: The Animated Series line that, while imperfect in some respects, at least looked like the source material. Even Hasbro has done better as their Into the Spider-Verse action figures looked terrific! I pondered on more than one occasion picking those up despite not really feeling an impulse to collect figures from the film just because they looked so good. Mondo’s sixth scale Wolverine looks great, and Diamond Select has a line of busts based on this show that look fantastic. If Hasbro didn’t want to do this line right they should licensed it out to Diamond because they clearly seem to have someone onboard who values this show more than anyone at Hasbro does.

When this line became a reality, I knew it wouldn’t be exactly what I wanted. How could it? I knew there were going to be compromises, and in some respects it’s gone as well as I thought it would because my expectations weren’t terribly high to begin with. Still, I’m bothered by it as I’m preordering all of these figures out of obligation rather than a desire to actually have them in my possession. Perhaps my enthusiasm will rise when I have them together on a shelf, but voicing criticism now is really my only weapon as a consumer. Again, I was happy with the initial Wolverine reveal. I think he should have represented the standard for the line: some parts reuse, new toon accurate head, and one accessory clearly inspired by the show. That’s all! That’s a pretty low bar, it should have been manageable, but Hasbro is fucking it up. That Wolverine isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough, and I’m not sure I can say that about the other four. I hate to prejudge anything I have yet to experience, but it’s hard not to in this case. Will my opinions change when I’m actually reviewing these toys for this blog? It’s possible, but right now, it does not seem very likely. What was a dream line for me, has turned into a joyless obligation and that’s not something I anticipated happening. Do better, Hasbro.


Mondo X-Men TAS Wolverine 1/6 Scale SDCC Exclusive Action Figure

Look who finally arrived!

When San Diego Comic Con was cancelled for 2021, many of the entities that would have sold exclusive merchandise at the event pivoted to web sales. And since the 2020 iteration of the famed event was also canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many seemed to expect the same for 2021, or the massive delays experienced by many industries just played a large role in delaying product intended for the event to sometime after. I talked about this in my review of the NECA Toys San Diego Comic Con set for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The wait for that seemed long, but it wasn’t as long as it was for my most anticipated release related to the event: Mondo’s 1/6 scale Wolverine!

Each box is individually numbered and comes with a slipcase featuring storyboard art for the show’s iconic intro.

Halloween 2022 is going to mark 30 years since the premiere of X-Men on Fox Kids. The animated series was the introduction to the famed superhero team for a generation of fans. It was what helped vault the already popular team of mutants from just a comic book phenomenon to something bigger. Since then, the X-Men have seen their standing relative to other costumed superheroes falter some, largely due to Marvel selling off the film rights to 20th Century Fox leaving them out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe which has turned also-rans, like The Avengers, into some of the hottest properties in the world. Seriously, as a kid if you told me The Avengers would one day dwarf the X-Men in popularity I would have looked at you as-if you had two heads. It was just unheard of at the time that Captain America or Thor would ever have that kind of appeal.

Am I really going to open this?!

Well, 2022 is apparently the year the X-Men will attempt a comeback! In celebration of the animated series turning 30, we can expect a host of new merchandise to mark the occasion including a series of action figures from Hasbro. And it will spill over into 2023 with a new series set to launch on Disney+ continuing the adventures of the animated universe which ended in 1997. The appropriately titled X-Men ’97 is still shrouded in mystery, but we know a lot of the voice cast is returning to reprise their roles and there seems to be an energy about the franchise that hasn’t been there in recent years.

Oh my god, that’s perfect. How can I open this?!

The first of this new wave of merch is now upon us. Mondo’s take on Wolverine from the show was the first such figure I saw announced. I’ve been pounding the drum for a dedicated line of figures based on the show for years now, and seeing Mondo enter the market was a huge development. Mondo is a company I’m not personally familiar with. I certainly know of the company and their wares, I’ve just never owned any as they tend to stick to larger scales. And larger scaled figures come with larger price tags and larger space requirements. Do I necessarily want a sixth scale version of the X-Men? No, but seeing how it’s just the first of what I hope will be more toys based on the property I had to jump in and support it. And to make the package even more special is the SDCC theming which positions Wolverine in his longing pose on a cardboard bed pining over his unrequited love for Jean Grey. It’s a scene, and a meme, brought to life and it certainly put a smile on my face. What didn’t was the hefty price tag of $200 plus $20 to ship it. I wasn’t certain of the price until I got into the website to order it, and by then I was past the point of no return. At least with Mondo charging upfront some of that sting has subsided in the ensuing six months since I ordered this item. Any bruises have been replaced by my own longing to get this thing in-hand and see how it turned out.

I opened it.

First of all, the packaging is quite fetching. It almost feels like a crime to open this guy. It’s an elaborate window box positioning Wolverine on his bed, photo of Scott and Jean in-hand, looking pretty miserable. He’s got himself a nice pillow propping him up, and it’s the type of package that I see many people never opening even though he’s got an assortment of parts for a more traditional display. If the price tag wasn’t so high, I’m sure more would entertain the idea of leaving this figure sealed and buying another for display. This is the SDCC exclusive, while a standard release is expected to follow that omits the packaging and some of the accessories that will cost less. How much less is still unknown as the figure has yet to go up for order anywhere. I am very entertained by this package, but I can’t leave him in place, so out he comes!

He’s out! Though he doesn’t look any happier. Mondo included a stand that is unnecessary, and kind of boring. They couldn’t put a big, red, X, on that base and dress it up a little?

First of all, getting Wolverine out without destroying this box was a challenge, but one I successfully navigated. The ties on his torso aren’t actually twisted, so they can be pulled off once you slide the display out of the window box. Getting at the other stuff was more challenging as it’s under the bed and you need to open it up. I found going at it from the foot of the bed easiest and was able to slide out the inner cardboard box and the bagged accessory piece as well. From there, I found it easiest to just snip at the other ties holding him down to the plastic bubble. Mondo wisely put paper inbetween the ties and the figure so you don’t have to worry about scratching it as you remove them. The hands and picture frames are wrapped in plastic to hold it in place and that has to be just torn off. Once the restraints are removed he lifts out rather easy. The pillow is also tied down and I just left it for now. It’s funny, when the figure is in the box I never noticed that the pillow is basically just suspended in air on top of the plastic bubble, but once the figure is out it’s definitely noticeable.

Wolverine towers over his Fox Kids contemporaries.

Now that Wolverine is out, I can tell you he stands at about 10 3/4″ to the top of his head. The “ears” take him to around the 11 1/2″ inch mark. The sculpt is very neat as there’s not a lot of articulation showing. The cel-shading is also done in a manner where it goes from lighter on the figure’s right side to darker on the left. It’s most noticeable on the gloves as the top of the left hand is almost entirely painted in a dark blue while the right hand has just a bit of that on the left side and palm. The head features shading on just the left side of the yellow portions and it’s very subtle from the front. The exposed flesh on Wolverine’s face has some shading on the left side and above the chin. True to the show, the black ears feature no blue accents. The rest of the figure follows the same pattern with the paint getting progressively darker as you move from one side to the other. There are three shades of red and three shades of blue on the belt and trunks to accomplish the effect while a more saturated, honey-like yellow, is used to outline some of the muscles. It looks pretty damn terrific and accomplishes what it set out to do. One could quibble with the chest area as the shading is least pronounced there. Maybe adding in some white would have accentuated that as that was a common tactic in the show, but sometimes less is more.

Bring in a quarter scale turtle though and he’s dwarfed. He’s still got bragging rights on Venom though.

The overall sculpt for Wolverine is also quite nice. His ears really fan out and are a bit narrow in keeping with the show’s look. It stood out in images to me as being a little odd, but in-hand the likeness seems more realized, or I’m just charmed to finally have it. He’s broad-shouldered and the musculature looks rather true to the show and not overdone. I like how they did the hair on his arms entirely with paint which keeps with the somewhat flat look of animation. The X logo on the belt is sculpted and is rather clean which does a fine job of drawing attention to it. Everything looks well-proportioned too, though it will be interesting to see how much taller future figures are in the line given that Wolverine is among the shortest characters on the show. Mondo pretty much nailed the look of the character and it’s nice to see.

As far as I can tell, the “Come here” hand is best utilized to recreate this legendary cover. Too bad he doesn’t have a smiling, unmasked, head.

And that’s just out of the box with the sad face and no clawed hands. Underneath that bed is the other stuff. For starters, Wolverine has an open right hand and a relaxed, sort of gripping, left hand for the packaging setup. In addition to that he has the following: left open hand, left curled index finger hand (maybe for a “Come here” gesture?), a right gripping hand, clawed fists, and clawed fists with the sparking effect arcing between them. The gripping hand is here for the turkey leg accessory, another frequent meme or gif shared on social media, and it could also hold the picture frame if you really want it to. The clawed hands feature long, hard, grey, claws. I think one could argue they should have been white in keeping with the show, or white with some blue shading, but they look okay. The claws on the arcing piece are perfectly straight and it’s a great looking item. The sparking part is a translucent blue plastic and it’s soft and bendy which helps make it easy to pop the hands in place. I’m surprised they didn’t just make the blue part removable, but maybe they feared people breaking the claws when putting it on. Swapping hands is mostly easy, but those claws are tricky to work as it requires some force to remove the hands and you have to be mindful not to break the claws (or stab yourself). I’ll probably display him with the arcing effect for at least a little while. The picture frame is really well done and you can remove the picture from it via a slit in the top. It’s not probably not going to be easy though as it doesn’t seem to move around at all in there. It might be easier to just continue to use photoshop instead.

Of course, it’s a lot easier to swap the clawed hands if you just take the claws off first! I actually had forgot about the teaser images for this figure which featured Wolverine with un-clawed fists or with just one claw extended to carve the turkey. The claws are in there pretty snug out of the box, or at least they were on one hand for me. Maybe swapping hands around caused the other one to loosen, but either way, I was able to pull them out of one hand easily enough while the other I dipped in hot water first. It’s a great idea for a figure at this scale since the claws can be thick and durable enough to withstand such use and they’re not tiny and likely to get lost. All of the channels on Wolverine’s hands feature holes for the claws, but they definitely do not go in easy. I think if I really wanted Wolverine to have claws in the non-fist hands I’d probably have to insert a paper clip or something into the channels first just to widen them and push some of the paint out of the way, but it’s probably do-able. I don’t particularly think he needs to be able to have claws on his non-fist hands, but I do like the option to have his fists without the claws if I want. It also makes it easier to straighten the claws, as they probably won’t look perfectly straight out of the box. Of course, I took most of my pictures before realizing I could even do this, so if you think his claws aren’t straight enough in my images at least you know that’s something that’s adjustable.

Snikt!

Wolverine also has extra portraits to work with. The default one is the sad face which is mostly good for a laugh, but isn’t one you’re likely to display outside of the pose he came in, but it will probably be something fun to use with photography. He also has a neutral head and a teeth-gritting, angry, head. Both expressions work very well for this version of the character and it’s hard to pick a favorite, or would be under normal circumstances, but I’ll explain that in the next paragraph. Wolverine also has an unmasked head that looks…okay. He’s making an odd shape with his mouth and I don’t know what Mondo was going for. Something more neutral would have likely looked better. I do like the shading on his hair though and his mutton chops are on display. It’s not terrible, but hard to imagine many using it.

The hair looks good, but I don’t know about that expression.

Lastly, we have another odd, but welcomed, head in the form of Morph. He’s depicted with his black hair and a slight smile. His facial structure looks good, but the eyes are a bit off. They painted black lines on the bottom of the eyes and then additional lines below that and it makes them look like they’re upside down. I don’t think they needed the added lines for this particular expression and they probably should have outlined the whole eye. Still, it’s something people are unlikely to make much use of since Morph never changed his body to look like Wolverine in the show while leaving his head unchanged. He did the opposite with Gambit, though. I know Magneto is slated to come with an Evil Morph head, but beyond that I don’t know what the plan for the character is. Seems unlikely they’d go full build-a-figure with him at this scale, but who knows? Maybe they’ll just do Morph eventually and he’ll completely different portraits and these will be bonus extras for those all-in on the line.

This is actually a Morph figure with a bunch of Wolverine heads.
Hey, another use for sad Wolverine and the Morph head!

Where things do come apart at the seems a bit with this figure is with the overall paint job. Bigger figures mean more opportunities for shading, and also more opportunities for things to go off the rails. The main figure is largely good, but there are parts where the paint gets a little iffy. The black teeth, or claws, on the torso aren’t always sharp. The worst spot is on the figure’s right just below the pectoral where the yellow and black meet to form a little green. There’s also a little paint rub on the left thigh where it meets the blue trunks. Yellow is tough to work with as any little instance of rub is going to show, but it’s still disappointing. By far though the worst is with the neutral expression head. That has a bunch of the black paint mixing with the yellow over Wolverine’s left eye. It looks like what happens when you go from using a black watercolor and dip it into yellow without cleaning the brush well enough. It’s terrible looking and renders that head unusable, as far as I’m concerned. I did reach out to Mondo in hopes of getting a replacement because it’s not acceptable for any figure to have that bad a paint app, and certainly not one that cost 200 bucks. All of the other paint imperfections I can live with and find acceptable, even at this price point, but not that head. I haven’t heard back as of this writing, save for an automated response, but I’ll update this post accordingly should I hear from them. UPDATE – not five minutes after this post went live I was contacted by Mondo to say a replacement was on the way and should arrive within five business days. Nice!

UPDATE Part 2A week and a day following my initial reach out and I had my replacement. Only, Mondo didn’t replace the one head I had an issue with, they replaced the whole thing! Yes, they sent me a whole other, unopened, still sealed, unit. It’s kind of crazy and I don’t know what I’m going to do with it. I want that head, but do I want it enough to open another one of these or should I just keep it sealed and deal with the initial crummy one? I did take the bad head out of the baggie it came in to find it’s more like a glue that is on the head. I don’t know if I can remove it without damaging the head further. I’m tempted to try and then paint it, or I could just open the new one and see if it has a better neutral expression then ship it off at cost to someone I know would like to have this and might not care about a bad head. Regardless, that’s certainly good customer service, even if I think Mondo is kind of crazy to not just have some spare parts on-hand.

Well, that’s not good.

The articulation for this figure might be the only other area collectors are likely to find fault with. Mondo likely prioritized the overall aesthetic for Wolverine with articulation taking a back seat. Personally, I’m happy with that decision and I think it’s the right choice as the animation was pretty stiff. Wolverine’s head sits on a double ball-peg so you get rotation and the ability to look up and down slightly. There’s also some tilt. Some of the heads seem to have more range than others as I could get sad Wolverine to look up a bit, but angry Wolverine not really at all. The unmasked heads are a pain to get seated properly on the peg and sit quite deep so their range isn’t any better. At the shoulders are standard ball-hinges and you will want to take care not to rub the shoulder pads. They come out to the side a decent amount, but not 90 degrees. There’s no biceps swivel with Mondo instead opting for a swivel just above the elbow hinge. It works okay and I admittedly like the look of his arms so I’m fine with the trade-off. This does mean the elbows are single-jointed so that’s a bummer as you’re not going to do better than 90 there. The hands are on ball joints so they at least move around just fine. Removing the default ones was a little scary and I did dip them in hot water just to air on the side of caution, but I have not had any issues swapping them.

Posing isn’t going to be this figure’s strong suit, but he does balance really well.

In the torso, Wolverine has a diaphragm joint and a waist twist. The diaphragm joint is quite noisy so there’s a lot of rubbing going on so do be careful. It lets Wolverine tilt back a fair amount, but he doesn’t crunch forward hardly at all. You do get some twist too, but again, lots of rubbing and you have that black paint right underneath. The waist twist is just a twist and doesn’t feel like a ball joint. The belt and trunks are also all one piece so, again, be mindful of potential rubbing. At the thigh, it feels like we just have a simple ball and socket joint. Again, and I sound like a broken record, lots of rubbing on that crotch piece so how far forward he can kick is largely dependent upon how far you want to push it. There’s a twist there too which works fine and the knees are double-jointed, but really just present a 90 degree bend. At the ankles we mostly have a pivot, or rocker, joint as there’s very little up and down because of how deep into the foot the joint was set. He stands just fine, though Mondo did include a stand, but doing a running pose or something similar would be a challenge for Wolverine. The joints are all at a good tolerance. Nothing is loose, and none felt scary to move out of the box. It’s just not the most dynamic assortment of articulation, but it is very low profile. And really, the only thing that would have made him more exciting for me would have been butterfly joints so he could really reach out with those claws. Those tend to be ugly though so I understand why they aren’t present. Others may feel differently though.

Ultimately, this just looks like Wolverine from the show and I think that will make a lot of people very happy. Plus, that packaging! They even included the reference art on the back of the box!

Mondo’s first foray into the X-Men animated universe is mostly positive. Objectively speaking, this figure has some problems. The articulation isn’t great and certainly the paint on one of the heads is not acceptable. I also assume the more minor paint issues will vary from figure to figure and there are more subjective things to critique like some of the shading choices or the expression on the non-masked head. For me personally though, this figure is a ton of fun to both look at and handle. He looks like the character from the show I loved as a kid and I couldn’t be happier that this exists. Certainly, I wish he didn’t cost 200 bucks as this line will get very expensive if all of the figures are priced at that level. This is the San Diego version, but also the brown costume variant was priced at 200 so who knows what the going rate is going to be? On the other hand, if they only put out one or two per year then that certainly makes it a lot easier to budget.

Wolverine is lonely though. Imagine Sabretooth at this scale?!

This version of Wolverine was a convention exclusive limited to 3,250 pieces. If you want him, you’ll have to go to the secondary market or hope that Mondo does indeed release a stripped down version in the future. Again, Mondo has been pretty quiet about that release and future ones so I don’t know if that’s still the plan. The secondary market is basically you’re only source for this one now where it will likely cost more than the $200 Mondo charged. How much more remains to be seen. Right now, the listings are pretty high, but I don’t know if they’re actually selling. This is a rather niche item because of its scale and there’s a very real possibility that those hoping to make a buck have to settle for far less than they expected. Over three-thousand units isn’t a small number for this sort of thing so keep your eyes open if you want him. As for me, I can’t wait to have a more robust X-Men collection to display. Between Mondo and Hasbro, it figures to be an eventful 2022 for the almost 30 year old show.

That was a long one, I could really go for something to eat. Who wants turkey?!

Arcade 1Up Marvel Super Heroes Counter-Cade

Arcade 1Up has been around for a few years now selling arcade cabinets at a reduced size and also a reduced price. The cabinets are significantly smaller than an actual arcade cabinet, but still plenty large enough to take up a lot of floor space in your home. And while they’re cheaper than the “real thing,” they’re hardly what I would call cheap. Many of the full-size units will set you back over 500 big ones, and newer models have eclipsed the $700 price tag as components become harder to come by and virtually everything has become more expensive. Even when the units were cheaper, I was never able to bring myself to spend hundreds of dollars on what is essentially a novelty item. The cabinets, being smaller than the real thing, are less functional. You can’t physically accommodate four adults for a game of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, for instance. And these are all games that can be experienced in a far more convenient and cheaper manner. Only some of the side-scrolling beat-em-ups are unavailable for purchase these days, but they’re also games not really designed for home consumption. They were made to entertain in bursts and consume quarters, with free play they last less than an hour and have little to no replay value once completed.

There’s nothing particularly practical about what Arcade 1Up sells, but that doesn’t mean it’s worthless. I already used the term novelty when talking about them, and that’s really what they are. They liven up a room at your house, give people something to talk about when they come over for the first time, and do offer some entertainment value. Especially when it comes to skill-based games. And I certainly am willing to spend money on novelty items as I own several mini consoles and recently reviewed the Zelda Game & Watch. I just have a limit on what I want to spend on such a device and on how much room I want to dedicate to one. I’ve often considered buying an arcade cabinet for my bar room at home. I was really close to doing so with an SNK cabinet more than 10 years ago since those can actually swap games. And when a local arcade closed-up shop near me five years ago I strongly considered making an offer on their Simpsons cabinet, but thought better of it in the end. Arcade 1Up has always had some appeal to me, but nothing got me to bite. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles one came the closest because of my love for that IP, but realistically I’d play it a couple of times and then never touch it again. I thought I might take the plunge if Arcade 1Up ever did The Simpsons and they did in 2021, but the $700 price tag was a non-starter for me.

Now isn’t that cute.

Arcade 1Up seems to know there are lots of folks like me out there that want their product, but are hesitant either due to cost or space concerns. Enter the Counter-Cade! This is a smaller version of an arcade cabinet intended to be placed on a counter, or better yet, a bar. And I have a bar! Aside from a bar-top juke box, I can’t think of a better accessory than a small arcade cabinet. And that’s what the Counter-Cade is, it’s just a small arcade cabinet with a short base. Since they’re even smaller than the normal Arcade 1Up, they’re only suitable for 2 players so no four-player models exist (that I’m aware of) and it looks like many have fewer games loaded on them than the bigger model, which makes sense as Arcade 1Up needs something more than size to entice folks to pony up the big bucks. There’s no wi-fi either, but you can plug in a controller if you find it too small to comfortably accommodate two players (though I tried it and didn’t have much luck). I was interested when I first saw the Counter-Cade, but I wanted it to contain games I’d actually play. My wife seemed to pick-up on this for underneath my Christmas tree was the Arcade 1Up Marvel Super Heroes edition of the Counter-Cade.

The games that come pre-loaded.

The Marvel Super Heroes Counter-Cade from Arcade 1Up comes with four games pre-loaded onto it: Marvel Super Heroes, X-Men vs Street Fighter, Marvel vs Capcom, and The Punisher. All four are developed by Capcom and obviously contain characters from the world of Marvel Comics. Three of the four are 2D fighters, while The Punisher is a two-player beat-em-up. It’s a solid assortment of games as you get a traditional 2D fighter in Marvel Super Heroes and a pair of tag-fighters. I would have preferred it if Arcade 1Up had made this an X-Men themed unit based on Children of the Atom, but oh well. I’m sure almost everyone would have preferred another “VS” title in place of The Punisher, but I’m okay with it as it gets another style of game into the set.

There’s a USB port on the right side for a controller, though when I plugged in my 8bitdo controller it didn’t map the buttons properly.

What’s going to sell this unit is the size, price, and game selection. As far as size goes, the cabinet basically takes up a space of 16.5″ wide, 16 1/8″ high, and 13″ depth. That’s me measuring the unit at it’s widest part, which is the platform where the controls are mounted, but that’s roughly the area this thing occupies. It runs off of an AC adapter so you do need to be relatively close to an outlet as the chord is only about 4′ long. The screen is approximately 6.5″ wide x 5″ high and it’s suitable for the software. The colors are vibrant and there’s no taring of the sprites. It’s also pretty loud so if you were worried about the audio I think most will be fine. There is a headphones jack for those who want to game without disturbing others, though the clicky joystick and buttons will prevent truly silent play.

Soda can for scale.

The components outside of the screen seem fine. I don’t know that the joystick is quite on the level with a true Capcom unit, but it’s better than a lot of third party joysticks I used long ago (granted, I have not bought an arcade style controller for about 25 years). There are seven buttons for each player with one of those being a Start or Credit button to enter the game. There are six buttons for actual gameplay, which is all you need for the software present here. The buttons feel okay, I feel like they’re a little soft and could rebound a touch firmer, but are otherwise fine. The theme is Marvel Super Heroes so you get Thanos on each side with blue filtered comic art on the front and platform. The marquee does light up when the unit is on and features the cast from that game so if you were hoping to see Rogue or Ken on the cabinet you’ll be disappointed.

This bad boy is going to live beside my Lego NES.

When the unit is powered on it takes you to a simple screen with the highlighted game displayed. You can cycle through and upon selecting a game a quick controls dashboard is displayed. It’s not entirely useful as it basically just tells you what each button does in the game. It won’t tell you, for instance, how to tag out in the VS titles or how to use grenades in The Punisher which stinks. Once you select a game, the unit basically becomes an arcade cabinet. If you leave it alone you’re effectively in “Attract Mode” for the selected game, which is definitely a fun thing to have in a rec room, even if it isn’t practical from a power consumption point of view. Everything is set to free play and there are no coin slots anyway so you can’t make money off of your friends directly. It’s easy to get out of and into another game and the interface is simple and intuitive enough.

As for the games, well, reviewing each one individually would take some time. Basically, if you’ve played a Capcom fighter then you probably know what to expect. Marvel Super Heroes is the most straight-forward as it’s a one on one fighter starring some of the heroes and villains from the Marvel Universe. It’s always been a little odd in that respect (Shuma-Gorath?), but it’s actually probably better received now than it was in the 90s given how popular the Avengers are now versus then. Still, it was pretty cool to get a dedicated Marvel fighter in 1995 and the fact that it was dedicated to Jack Kirby gives it a little extra sweetness. I don’t consider it a great 2D fighter, but it’s a perfectly fine alternative to Street Fighter 2 for the Marvel fan.

SNES and Genesis model 2 for scale.

The VS games are probably want most fans will play the most. X-Men vs Street Fighter is what got the whole thing rolling. It features a terrific roster from both franchises and it actually feels more focused than the games that followed. If X-Men is your jam, then this might be your favorite from the set. Marvel vs Capcom is very similar, but bigger. This was the last 2 vs 2 fighter as its sequel would up things to 3 on 3 and get almost too big for my liking. You may notice one game was skipped, Marvel vs Street Fighter, but you’re not missing much by going straight to Marvel vs Capcom. This lets other Capcom stars get a chance to shine and help even the sides as it was pretty rough for the World Warriors to have to take on the entire Marvel Universe.

Lastly, we have The Punisher. It’s a perfectly cromulent brawler. Player One controls the Punisher while a second player can join in as Nick Fury. The two will banter a bit (via text) to liven things up while battling through the criminal underworld leading to a final confrontation with the Kingpin. It’s less impressive than the fighters from a presentation aspect and the mechanics of the game are pretty standard: attack, jump, and a special attack that drains life when it connects. Sometimes The Punisher and Fury will be allowed to use guns, usually in response to when the villains do the same, but mostly it’s a melee affair. There’s an abundance of temporary weapons to bash foes with that helps add a little variety, though most are just something to bash a foe with. A playthrough will take most around 45 minutes and when it’s over there likely will be little appetite in venturing forth again. There’s no reason to from a gameplay perspective aside from achieving a better score, it’s just the video game equivalent of chewing gum. At least it’s a longer experience than what Fruit Stripe offers.

One last shot for scale. It’s certainly not small, but definitely not as big as a true stand-up cabinet.

I had a desire to add an arcade machine to my bar room, and this Counter-Cade from Arcade 1Up gets the job done. It’s an attractive piece with a solid selection of games which 3 of the 4 offer incentive to play and replay while the 4th is certainly good for entertaining younger gamers (ignoring the violence). And the other important selling point, maybe the most important, is it’s not ludicrously expensive. The MSRP on this is $229 at most stores and many offered discounts during the holidays. Since this was a gift, I don’t know exactly how much my wife paid, but I know it was less than $200 due to sales and the use of good old Kohl’s Cash. At the high end of $229, I do think it’s a tougher sell, but not terrible. If you really love the games included and want something to bring your room together then I think it’s doable. On sale though, it becomes a much easier call. You’re still better off going in a different direction if your goal is simply to play these games, but as we established earlier, if you’re interested in this set then you’re in it for the novelty more so than the software.


It’s Finally Happening – The Animated X-Men are Coming Back in Figure Form!

Eric and Julia Lewald have something to share!

It was almost two years to the day where I made an entry here expressing a wish for Hasbro to tackle the X-Men. And not just any X-Men, the now classic animated series from 1992. That was probably my greatest obsession as a kid. I loved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but I grew out of it after 3 or 4 years. X-Men filled that void and my obsession lasted longer. I collected the toys from Toy Biz and it was the first time I displayed my toys like collectibles instead of just dumping them in a large bin when I was done playing. I still played with them too, but when I was done I had makeshift shelves to pose them on. It was a large shelf that went three or four rows deep and eventually I had to add another. I was able to separate heroes and villains, though with how quickly things can change in the comics, sometimes I had to move guys back and forth. I don’t think I stopped collecting though until I was in high school in the very late 90s. By then, the X-Men line was nearing its end anyway and Toy Biz was pivoting to more collector-focused lines for their legacy properties while the kid-friendly stuff was focused on new shows like X-Men Evolution and the movies.

There weren’t a lot of toon-specific figures back in the 90s, but Morph was definitely one of them.

Like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles though, the thing with the old X-Men toyline is that it wasn’t really an animated focused line. It started as a comic book line with the inaugural first wave reflecting the 80s costumes and lineup for the team. It was only once the show became a hit that the toyline started to mimic it to a point. One of the first instances of that I can recall is the wave one Storm, who was released in a black costume, getting repainted silver with two ring-capes added on to kind of match her show appearance. Toy Biz would also repackage some of the previously released figures with new card backs advertising them as from the show, but the figures were basically the same comic book inspired releases we already had. Wolverine, for instance, still had his giant buckle on his belt instead of an X logo. Storm did get repainted yet again though, this time white and with a more elaborate cape. The most well-remembered instance of the line matching the show was in the Morph figure. Morph was famously created for the show, though he was modeled after the character Changeling from the comic, and killed off in the second episode. Kids loved him though, so Toy Biz made a figure with swappable heads to mimic his shape-shifting powers. He didn’t look much like the cartoon character aside from the general costume, but it was still one of my favorite figures because it was freakin’ Morph! Toy Biz would also do a Phoenix Saga wave of figures clearly inspired by the cartoon, and other figures here and there appeared to match some show designs, but for all intents and purposes the toys from Toy Biz were comics first and the show a distant second.

2022 will mark the show’s 30th anniversary, and as I hypothesized two years ago, Hasbro is finally going to do proper action figures based on the show. This past week saw Hasbro host its own virtual convention, Pulsecon, and the guests of honor for the final panel on Saturday were Eric and Julia Lewald, authors of the wonderful X-Men: The Art and Making of the Animated Series. Eric was the showrunner for X-Men and his wife Julia a veteran TV writer who contributed some scripts as well and the mere fact that they were announced as guests had my juices flowing all last week. Surely, they were there to pitch their book, but also to reveal something. What we didn’t know is what that something would be. It would likely tie into the animated series, but did we dare hope it would be an actual line of Marvel Legends based on the show? Maybe it would just be more retro card-back releases, which is what Hasbro has been doing for the Spider-Man cartoon lately. There’s also the new retro, five points of articulation, line. I was both optimistic and guarded, but I’m happy to report my dream has come true!

This is glorious!

Hasbro had the Lewalds show off two figures for the new X-Men animated series line of toys: Wolverine and Jubilee. The figures will come in an oversized VHS styled box with new artwork and product shots. They’re meant to be displayed as one would those old VHS releases and they look positively striking. I don’t know if Hasbro got the idea from NECA’s TMNT releases, or if it was an organic thing, but either way it looks fantastic. Not to be outshined though, are the figures themselves. They are indeed Marvel Legends-styled releases and I’m sure there will be a lot of parts reuse between these figures and previously released editions. Wolverine could very well be the same Wolverine body that’s been released before, though it looks like he has new heads to better reflect the show art design. What stands out most though is the paint application which has that cel-shaded look to better match-up with the show. He’ll come with the now standard swappable hands, one with claws out and one claws retracted, but he also gets to bring along the photo of Scott and Jean (just like the upcoming Mondo release) so fans can reenact the most memed scene of the show. Jubilee, for her part, appears to mostly be the same release as before too only I don’t think she’s getting a new head. She’s less impressive as a result since she’s lacking her show-specific earrings on one head, but she does have yellow gloves now. Like Wolverine, she’ll have two portraits and she also has some effects pieces. I do wish they worked in a show specific accessory for her as well (maybe some chili fries? A Genosha collar?) to up the fun factor. One show specific accessory per figure would be a nice goal for Hasbro to have.

Only thing missing is a turkey leg.

These two figures are definitely promising and they’re pretty much exactly what I hoped for, even though they weren’t announced as one big wave as I had previously hoped for. There are a few things to nitpick based on the few shots we were given. Wolverine’s hands appear to lack the claw channels on his non-claw hands which isn’t show accurate, and Jubilee’s head just doesn’t look very “toon” to me. I’m hoping Wolverine is more indicative of where the line is going as opposed to Jubilee, but only time will tell. Otherwise, I like this direction and that parts reuse doesn’t bother me. Now if they try to re-release Sabretooth and pass him off as animated that will be worth criticizing because the Sabretooth on television was pretty different from the comics. He was just huge and honestly a little weird looking, but not in a bad way. Hasbro is a company more focused on price and keeping the price low. These figures already run high by their standards as they’re currently available for preorder at $27 a piece. Wolverine is slated for a May release with Jubilee following in June. Not shown, but announced, are figures for both Storm and Jean, two characters who should be easily adapted from recent releases with some paint modifications. No release date was announced for them, but maybe July and August? A monthly schedule would be fine with me and maybe we’ll learn more in early 2022. Or maybe Hasbro is saving something for Halloween, the 29th anniversary of the show’s premiere, to give us a peek at either Storm or Jean.

Less impressive than Wolverine is Jubilee, but there’s still time for things to change.

What is great is the goal of Hasbro’s to make this a full line. It’s going to be a slow release compared to some of the others, but I can be patient. I’ve waited nearly 30 years for this, I can wait longer. I know some fans were disappointed in the character selection. Wolverine is a given, but he’s also a character that’s been made and released over and over while Jubilee is…Jubilee. A lot of fans were hoping for Morph as he’s become synonymous with the show and is a character that collectors have wanted for years now. I feel very confident that Morph is coming, so I’m not sweating his exclusion for now. He’s the character Hasbro has to hit a homerun with, and hopefully they do. He seems like the most obvious candidate if they want to time a figure with the 30th anniversary on Halloween of 2022. Will they time the reveal or the release with that date is the big question. This is a good time to be an X-Men fan though, and I’m already brainstorming ways to display this line. It’s going to be a long wait until May, but it’s going to be worth it!

Preorders for Wolverine and Jubilee are currently available on Hasbro Pulse (no premium membership required) with an expected release on Disney’s shopdisney website at some point. These are not planned for mass market retail so get your orders in if you want them.

UPDATE: Just a few days after the big reveal, Hasbro went and revealed a third figure in the wave. And despite having already soft announced Storm and Jean, the third figure shown off is none other than Mr. Sinister! He’s available for pre-order on Pulse and currently has the same release date as Jubilee. He is almost a straight repaint of a previously released Mr. Sinister (they may have had to swap out the neck, or it’s just now painted white instead of blue) and will come in an oversized box. Needless to say, it’s a good sign that Hasbro is willing to do villains alongside the X-Men!


Dark Phoenix (2019)

What is it with the X-Men film franchise and its aversion to simple titles? We couldn’t just have X-Men 2, we had to have X2. The third film was billed as X-Men: The Last Stand in some places, but the theatrical poster seemed to imply it was X3: The Last Stand. At least the reboot films seemed to rectify this with X-Men: First Class followed by X-Men: Days of Future Past, but now we have just Dark Phoenix. Not X-Men: Dark Phoenix, but Dark Phoenix. Just in case you were confused though, at least the theatrical poster circled the “X” in Phoenix, but why not just keep things nice and simple?

Dark Phoenix is the 2019 film that marks the end of the X-Men film franchise as we know it. It’s been an interesting, confusing, frustrating, and sometimes thrilling ride. The franchise took off in 2000 with X-Men, and arguably peaked with the sequel. The third film was a let down, and then we had some solo Wolverine outings with one being terrible and the other acceptable, plus a sort of prequel, reboot, in 2011. X-Men: First Class turned me off initially, but once I finally gave it a chance I was forced to concede it was at least a fun film. I just didn’t really like how it tried to be both a reboot and a prequel to the original film and felt it would have been better to just commit to one. Apparently, the studio saw this as an issue too so Days of Future Past in 2014 basically served as the sequel to First Class and as the true reboot for the franchise as the time-traveling original heroes changed history and likely inadvertently erased basically everything that happened in the original trilogy. Confused? I suppose you should be, but at the end of the day, it just meant we were truly were dealing with two distinct sets of films that just both happened to be about the X-Men.

The sequels/reboots ended up being a lot of fun, but things took a turn in the third film, X-Men: Apocalypse. That one was a mess and was a textbook example of what not to do when telling an X-Men story. The villain was just an all-powerful being with no subtext. I likened Apocalypse to a natural disaster in my review of that film and I stand by that. He was a foe that just was; there was no getting away from him or around him or reasoning with him, he just had to be endured. The cast basically exploded which meant we had a bunch of new faces and not enough time to get to know any of them. It was almost as if the film depended on people knowing who these characters were and establishing a connection based off of that and not by what was presented onscreen. Given that, the obvious next step was to tell a story entirely dependent upon the audience caring about these new characters – what could go wrong?

The original story of Phoenix unfolded over several years and was anchored by characters introduced 20 years prior, this film is counting on viewers caring about characters introduced just a film ago and given minimal screen time at that with only 2 hours to tell the story.

Apocalypse made enough money that a fourth film was commissioned: Dark Phoenix. The Dark Phoenix Saga is perhaps the most famous X-Men story ever told. Crafted by writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne, The Dark Phoenix Saga unfolded in the pages of Uncanny X-Men spanning 8 issues in 1980. Some would argue the story began earlier with Uncanny X-Men #101 which began the story of Phoenix way back in 1976. In essence, this was a story that unfolded over parts of 5 years, so is it any wonder that other versions of the X-Men have struggled to match the original story?

Probably the best adaptation of The Phoenix Saga and Dark Phoenix Saga is in the animated series X-Men. That show devoted basically 10 episodes to the event and had given us multiple seasons before that to develop a connection to the characters in the show. When the X-Men originally went to film, we had at least had two films to connect with characters Jean Grey and Cyclops, only Cyclops was basically written out of the sequel and quickly killed off at the beginning of the third. Oops! At least The Last Stand had the Wolverine/Jean dynamic and the Xavier/Jean relationship to fall back on, but it was sloppy with the Phoenix character taking a backseat to Magneto for large stretches of the film.

This film is not good, but that’s not because of the performance of actress Sophie Turner.

In the waning moments of Apocalypse, the film started dropping hints that Phoenix was next so I was not surprised to find out that Dark Phoenix was in development, but I immediately expected failure. Once again, a film was jumping over The Phoenix Saga and going straight to Dark Phoenix, only this time, the title character was one no on cared about. The film had a lengthy development cycle due in the part to director/screenwriter Bryan Singer getting fired for being a sexual predator and the studio having enough issues with first-time director Simon Kinberg’s final act that they sent the whole crew back for reshoots. The release date got kicked around as the film would basically become akin to a lame duck president since rumors were flying, and would later come to fruition, that Disney was purchasing 20th Century Fox which would bring an end to the X-Men film franchise. The film was finally released in June 2019 and it bombed. If Wikipedia can be believed, it would eventually make more than its budget, but that probably doesn’t factor in marketing costs so it’s possible the studio lost money, though it’s certainly likely that it did not realize a substantial profit.

The poor reception to the film is why my review has taken more than two years to arrive. I’ve simply been unwilling to spend money to watch it, so I waited for it to finally show up on a streaming platform I was already subscribed to. I will come right out and say it: this movie is not good. I was hoping that maybe for a longtime fan of the X-Men, it would work on a basic level for me and I could have some fun with it despite its flaws. Instead, I found little to enjoy.

For starters, the script and screenplay are poor. Characters are given lines riddled with clichés. One can practically predict every word about to come out of a character’s mouth in a given situation and it just feels like amateur hour. Despite the poor script, some actors are able to rise to the occasion. Sophie Turner, who plays the title character, received poor marks for her performance in Apocalypse, but here she redeems herself. Yes, the movie does her few favors, but she performs as well as could be expected. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender continue to be pleasant as Professor Xavier and Magneto, respectively, though the latter’s appearance felt especially shoe-horned this time around. Just like with Apocalypse, Magneto is basically just to hear to clearly demonstrate that another being is more powerful than him. Nicholas Hoult is fine as Beast/Hank McCoy, but that’s basically it. Jennifer Lawrence continues to underwhelm as Raven/Mystique which is partly due to the character being underserved by the role while Kodi Smit-McPhee (Nightcrawler) and Alexandra Shipp (Storm) are treated more like tools than characters. Jessica Chastain, who reportedly turned down numerous offers to appear in a “superhero” film before, plays the villain Vuk and it’s truly puzzling that this is the role she finally accepted. She must have owed someone a favor or just really likes Kinberg because the role is terrible.

A space rescue leads to an encounter with the Phoenix Force, setting the wheels of the plot in motion.

The plot of the film basically tries to adapt portions of both The Phoenix Saga and Dark Phoenix Saga. When the film begins, Xavier is basically a celebrity with direct access to the President of the United States and things are going well for mutants. It’s supposed to be set in the early 90s, but the period is not utilized in the least. When the X-Men are called upon to save a stranded space shuttle in the outer rim of Earth’s orbit, Jean Grey is exposed to a supernatural force and is forever changed. This causes a rift between Raven and Xavier, with Beast caught in the middle, over Xavier’s willingness to place his student’s in harm’s way to further his agenda while Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) is left to worry about his girlfriend, Jean, who is acting different. Things take a turn as Jean essentially becomes the Dark Phoenix character as we know her leading to tragedy and her fleeing the team. In the process, it’s discovered that Charles had used his own powers to hide traumatic memories of Jean’s when he took her in, and now those barriers are failing causing others on the team to question Xavier’s judgement and Jean to basically go out of control.

Vuk (left) basically plays the role of Mastermind this time around as she attempts to forge a bond with Jean to gain control of the Phoenix.

Complicating things further are the D’Bari, a race of shape-shifting beings made extinct by The Phoenix Force before it ever encountered Jean. Their leader, Vuk, wants to take control of the Phoenix which now rests in Jean, and in order to do so needs to become her ally. Along the way Magneto will be pulled in and Xavier will be forced to reassess what the X-Men stand for. It’s a mess of a plot that both asks us to care about characters we barely know and is also afraid to actually put a lot on the shoulders of these characters. A lot of what happens, particularly with Magneto, feels like the film just padding out its length. Once again, Magneto is presented as being in a state of peace, but then immediately goes back to being a tool of vengeance. It’s ridiculous what the past two films have tried to do with the character and the only silver lining is that Michael Fassbender continues to be terrific in the role. The presence of the D’Bari is essentially taking the place of the Hellfire Club from the comic, and not the Shi’ar, as Vuk tries to coerce Jean into being an ally in order to take control of the Phoenix Force. The film isn’t really interested in explaining this cosmic entity; does it just function like a power amplifier or is it in control? It’s basically just there to give Vuk a motivation and a reason to exist, albeit a flimsy one. The film would have functioned in the same fashion if Vuk just wanted to use Jean like a weapon, as Magneto had done in The Last Stand, and the Phoenix entity was just something that existed inside her character.

I love Fassbender’s Magneto, but he did not need to be in this picture.

Dragging the film further down into the mire are the special effects and action pieces. The effects are not bad, just not interesting. It’s a lot of characters just putting their hands up and CG taking over to add in some flames or lightning. The only interesting moment involves a subway car crashing up through a street, but it’s also a head-scratching moment as the character responsible didn’t really need to do that and it just looks like the film trying to show off. There’s no moment that made me say “Wow” and there’s no signature fight scene either. The final battle is one of the film’s most underwhelming moments. The costumes at least look okay. Beast still looks kind of dumb, but a lot of that has to do with the character’s design and not the makeup effects being utilized. This one, like the previous film, does draw attention to how the franchise loves blue characters as we have the blue Beast, Nightcrawler, and Mystique making up half of the X-Men. The franchise is finally confident to give the team a comic-inspired uniform, but still not willing to give other characters a cool, fun, look. Jean, as Dark Phoenix, just wears street clothes throughout this one and Magneto apparently lost his threads between films.

Dark Phoenix is not a good film and a whimper for the franchise. Technically, the final X-Men adjacent film is last year’s The New Mutants, another film fraught with delays and reshoots that ultimately did not pan out. It’s a shame that a cartoon in the early 90s is still the best depiction of a classic comic story like The Dark Phoenix Saga and I wonder if the repeated failures will cause Disney to bypass it when X-Men finally enters the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s a shame, because it’s really not a hard story to adapt, it’s just one that needs time. It’s not a one-movie deal, it has to be cultivated across films and, most importantly, they need to be films that actually respect the characters. Marvel has proven it can create a team and have the audience care about it, and I don’t mean The Avengers. That was obviously a different animal where most of the characters got stand-alone films first, but Guardians of the Galaxy did not go that route and found a way to make us love the characters on that team. I do suspect that when it comes time to onboard the X-Men that we’ll meet someone like Xavier in a different film before being properly introduced to the full team. And it’s possible we’ll meet other characters prior to that as well. It wouldn’t be hard to slip Storm into whatever comes next for the Black Panther and Wolverine can fit in almost anywhere. That’s a whole other subject though. For now, the X-Men film franchise that began in 2000 is over. It had its ups and downs, but it’s also a big reason why we have the superhero genre today. It was immensely important and I’m glad it exists even if it has many flaws. It’s unfortunate it didn’t get a better send-off, but I think of Days of Future Past as the true bookend and that film is great. And if not, well Logan is possibly the best superhero movie ever and also would be a fine end. Dark Phoenix just happened to be the movie that came last.


Another Comic Con Season is Over and it was Expensive!

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

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

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

This fall, the mask comes off!

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

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

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

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

She looks perfect!

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

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

I can’t believe this exists.

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

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

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

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


X-Men: The Art and Making of the Animated Series

A few years ago, I talked about my love of X-Men, the animated series, via a book review of Previously…on X-Men by Eric Lewald. That book chronicled the development of the 92 animated series that helped propel the Fox Kids Network to the top of the Saturday morning leaderboards through notes from the author and extensive interviews with the folks that helped bring that series to life. Now, Lewald is back with his wife Julia with a complementary piece all about the artists and artwork that went into creating that series, X-Men: The Art and Making of the Animated Series.

There are probably a few individuals out there who first wrinkled their nose at the thought of an art book based on the animated series starring the X-Men. That’s because the show was somewhat famously underserved by Saban Entertainment who had little interest in sinking much money into the art and animation that went into the show. It’s not that the show was abysmal to look at, it’s more that it was always going to be compared with Batman: The Animated Series. Both shows launched in 92 on Fox, though X-Men only in a sneak preview with the proper launch coming in January of 1993. Batman was on weekday afternoons, while X-Men was allowed to reign over Saturday morning. The other big difference though was Batman had the might of Warner Bros behind it which produced the series and just licensed it out to Fox. X-Men had the backing of Marvel, which wasn’t what it is today. Marvel was a bit touch and go for many years even when it was starting to take over the news stand with a lot of help from the mutants who starred in this series. Rather than self-finance though, Marvel licensed it out to Saban who partnered with Graz Entertainment. The budget was never going to be the same, nor was the confidence. X-Men was unproven outside of the comic book world, and thus received just a one season order initially, followed by a second, before eventually the big order came in.

X-Men on the front, bad guys on the rear. What does it say about me that I think I prefer this to the cover?

Despite all of that, and a legend who had no idea how the property should be presented (::cough:: Stan ::cough::), the show was a smashing success. It’s interesting to look back on because I think many consider Batman to be the superior show. And yet, X-Men was the ratings champ and my favorite of the two. And when it came to my friends, most liked Batman, all loved X-Men. I don’t know why that is, though I have some theories. Batman was a known property and the show reflected the Tim Burton films. Whenever something goes from the big screen to the small one (especially in the 90s), there’s a feeling that the TV version is inferior. The X-Men may have lacked the recognition of Batman, but it also lacked any sort of baggage. Batman was also quite great at being a moody, superhero, show with a lot of style. It was also mostly rooted in that, where as X-Men was an ensemble with more characters to lean on. Batman was almost devoid of personality as a character by choice, while basically every member of the X-Men (well, maybe not Cyclops) was rather colorful able to display a wide range of emotion and even drop a one-liner or two. Or maybe it was just the prestige of being on Saturday morning? Either way, it was a good time to be alive.

It’s an art book, so expect a lot of artwork!

Both shows were part of a gradual maturation taking place in children’s cartoons. We basically had left the wacky and cheap 80s in favor of something that actually had respect for its audience. Shows like The Pirates of Dark Water and my beloved Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars were quite different in tone from the likes of Thundercats and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Most of those shows still featured a character that could be turned to for comedic relief, and even Batman has the Joker. X-Men didn’t really feature that though. Morph could have been that character, but he was killed off rather quickly. It’s a drama starring people in bright spandex that captivated me as a kid. The serialized nature and some of the nuance of the show asked something of me, and I was willing to rise to the program as a mere 7 year-old. It’s no surprise to me that when I look back on my youth, X-Men is there and always will be as it was far and away my favorite program.

Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of the book is getting to read the descriptions that go along with each storyboard panel.

And despite what you may think, a lot of really talented and devoted artists contributed to this show. Knock the animation all you want, but I’ve always been rather insistent that the show looks pretty great in stills. Sure, pick through it and you’ll find some weird stuff or miss-colored limbs and costumes, that’s true of a lot of shows from that era. Where this book is able to shine is with the stuff not broadcast. All of the developmental art that went into the show; costume ideas, height charts, storyboards, are quite rewarding to look at. When Lewald and his team were handed this property, there were decades of material to cherry-pick for the show and a lot of ideas were cast aside. There’s also plenty of production art, like cels and such, that are quite interesting to look at. Especially some of the backgrounds, like the lair of Mr. Sinister, which featured several layers of artwork to make it right.

And it’s not just art! The books is broken out into six chapters, plus an intro and an afterword, with each containing a detailed breakdown of what went into each section. Some of this stuff is lifted from the prior book, so it will be a bit familiar for those who read it, and some of the details are new. Since this book is focused on the art of the series, you’ll hear additional nuggets about what went into a character’s look or a particular background. There’s a lot of ink spent on the various cameos that occurred throughout the series and some of the other details may surprise and amaze. One such nugget came from Director and Storyboard Artist/Supervisor Larry Houston who pointed out how difficult it was to animate a character like Mr. Sinister. His irregular cape basically forced Houston to storyboard the character with as little motion as possible. Basically, the camera was either directly in front or behind him and he was basically never allowed to rotate. It’s fun to go back and watch the series with such information in hand and it gives some newfound appreciation for all of the work Larry and his team had to do before sending an episode off to Korea for animation.

When the X-Men ruled the world!

There’s a lot to unpack in this book and I don’t want to reveal too much since a lot of the enjoyment I had was uncovering things I either didn’t know or really paid little attention to. There’s also some nice additions to this one like a collection of all of the episode logs and a picture to go along with it. Some time is spent on looking back at the X-Men craze, like the Pizza Hut promotion and the action figure line from ToyBiz, which might make you wish for a third book that covers all of that tie-in merch. The book itself is also quite lovely. It’s hardbound with new cover art from Houston, I think. There’s no explicit “Cover” credit, just a case credit to Houston with ink by Rick Hoberg and colors by Laura Martin. It’s a bit confusing as the inside of the front and back cover are storyboards which were definitely done by Houston, so the credit may be referring to that. Regardless, the cover, featuring the main team including Morph and Bishop, and the rear cover featuring the villains of the series look great. Pages are nice and thick and the whole thing totals 288 pages. Since it’s mostly artwork, it’s not a tremendously long read, but it’s hardly brief. I mostly read it while sipping a morning or afternoon coffee (first starting my read, appropriately enough, on a Saturday morning) over the course of a week. It was a wonderful, leisurely, trip back to the 90s and my youth that not only left me wanting more, but also with a desire to go back and revisit the show once again.

One of my favorite inclusions in the book is the visual episode guide with accompanying logs, a tremendous resource to have on-hand.

X-Men: The Art and Making of the Animated Series is a great companion to Previously…on X-Men. It’s a book intended to satiate fans of the show, but would also probably entertain casual fans as well. I had a great time engaging with the art from the property, and while I already had a pretty terrific appreciation of the art that went into the show, I think those who might not have that same level of appreciation will likely leave with a bit more. Eric and Julia Lewald do a great job of recounting their time with the show and the various artists and executives they speak with bring a lot to the table. It’s my assumption that anyone with a love for this old show will be delighted by this book and it’s something I plan to flip through again.


Take My Money, Hasbro, Give Me X-Men Animated Series Legends!

 

x-men animated group shot

Let’s talk some X-Men!

It’s been probably 13 or 14 years since I’ve purchased a Marvel-branded action figure. This is somewhat shocking to me because from the age of 7 to around 25 I spent who knows how much money on Marvel action figures. I was there for the inaugural Toy Biz line of Marvel Superheroes and X-Men action figures and I continued buying Toy Biz figures well past the age of when it was considered “appropriate” by my peers. And even after I stopped actually playing with my toys I still kept them on display in my room. Two pieces of old countertop on milk crates served as my makeshift shelves. Good guys on one side, bad guys on the other. As characters changed allegiance in the comics, so did their placement on my shelf. Aside from that, I didn’t like to mess with them and the dust would grow thicker and thicker and probably contributed to my constant sneezing. I didn’t care though, because I really loved my toys.

When action figures grew up with me I grew extremely excited. There were a few dedicated collector lines, most memorably one based on the Onslaught mini series, but things really changed with Marvel Legends. I was a bit tepid at first with them, mostly due to the absence of X-Men, but eventually I got into it. I started with just a figure here and there, and soon enough I found myself buying entire waves. I also added the occasional Diamond Select figure which at the time prioritized sculpt over articulation making some of the toys little more than glorified statues. I even got into Mini Mates for a period, since they initially focused on the Ultimate X-Men which was a comic I grew attached to pretty quickly.

Eventually, I stopped collecting. Part of that coincided with the dissolving of Toy Biz by Marvel which chose to instead license its properties to Hasbro. Those first few Hasbro waves weren’t very strong, and with the build-a-figure shrinking down to more normal proportions it failed to really motivate me. I think the last wave I bought to completion was whichever one featured The Blob. And even with that, I think I had to buy some figures based on X-Men: The Last Stand which did not sit well with me. That also happened to coincide with me moving out on my own trading the confines of my old bedroom for a small apartment. I didn’t want to have to lug a bunch of toys around with me every time I moved, and once I got settled into my own home that I purchased the itch had passed. I had moved onto other hobbies and comics just didn’t appeal to me like they once did. Sure, there have been a few figures over the years that tempted me, but the rising cost in standard toys makes it pretty easy to just focus on the things that really bring me joy.

That could change though, and if Hasbro wanted me back (and who wouldn’t?) there is one thing the company could do that would guarantee it many of my dollars and it has to do with my favorite show as a child:  X-Men.

xmen three pack

This recent action figure three-pack is what put my brain into this mode. These almost work as animated versions, but they’re different just enough to not be perfect. And I’m not just referring to Wolverine’s bone claws.

Nostalgia currently has me hooked via NECA’s line of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys based on the old cartoon series. That show may not be particularly good, but I loved it as a kid and it’s something I can’t let go of. Similarly, I have a huge amount of affection still for X-Men. That show was my life for a few years and unlike TMNT, the show is still watchable today even if it doesn’t hold up as well as Batman or possibly even Gargoyles. And I know I am not alone. There is a lot of love out there for that show and that has been preyed upon via action figures based on the costume designs of the Jim Lee era X-Men from the comics. There was a recently announced three-pack featuring Wolverine, Jean Grey, and Cyclops which is what really got my juices flowing. Those characters bare a strong resemblance to their animated counterparts, but the figures are also clearly aiming to capture the look of the comics and not a cartoon.

What gives me hope that such a line could work is because animated versions of these characters are not far off what is already out there. Take your standard Wolverine action figure, for instance. To make him better resemble the cartoon, Hasbro basically just needs to reduce detail. No stubble on his face, not much hair on the arms, and less muscle definition. DC has done a great job bringing Batman: The Animated Series to plastic form in terms of aesthetics, so why not do the same, Hasbro?

Because I’m such a generous guy, I’m even going to provide a road map for Hasbro. I envision six figures per wave with a build-a-figure bringing the total to seven. Adhering to modern times, the extra buildable figure is not some titanic character, but something closer to a standard sized figure. It would be a good fit for those figures that would need to be 7 or 8 inches as opposed to 5-6, which is what I imagine most figures would fall into. They could be done, and really should be, in scale with Marvel Legends and I would prioritize characters from the first two seasons. If the line’s a success, then sure go for more. If the series happened and worked out as outlined below, then I would definitely buy every figure and really annoy my wife as I hunted for more space to display them.

Series 1

  • Wolverine
  • Cyclops
  • Rogue
  • Morph
  • Mystique
  • Magneto
  • Build-a-Figure:  Sabretooth

This mix would get some fan-favorite good guys out early and also a few villains to pose them against. Wolverine is an obvious must for the first series as he was the most popular character. He should come in his standard uniform and additional hands, some with claws in and some with claws out. A second, unmasked, head would complete the look. Cyclops should also just have his normal look. If a removable flight jacket could be added without harming the sculpt, then all the better, but not necessary. Similar to modern Cyclops figures, he should have a second head with a blast effect and probably an extra set of hands including one with two fingers extended on his right hand to activate his “X” communicator. Morph, on the other hand, should have his flight jacket since he was most often depicted wearing it. He should also have black hair as he did in seasons one and two and an alternate “evil” head. Mystique would need few additional accessories, making her the likely landing spot for a larger piece of the build-a-figure. Magneto would need a helmeted and un-helmeted head to properly capture his long hair. A nice, heavy, fabric cape would also look great, but soft plastic wouldn’t be bad either. Sabretooth, being featured in episode one, makes for a good choice as the first build-a-figure given his size relative to the other characters.

X-Men (FOX) [1992-1997]Shown from left: Wolverine, Morph, Beast

That’s how I want my Wolverine to look, bub.

Series 2

  • Gambit
  • Bishop
  • Storm
  • Cable
  • Pyro
  • Avalanche
  • BAF:  The Blob

Wave Two would be anchored by the next most popular character after Wolverine, Gambit. He’d just need various hands and his bo staff to be authentic. Storm would be the other character from the team, and in the interest of “keeping them wanting,” would be the only other from the main team. Bishop and Cable both played large roles as guest characters and lend themselves well to action figure form. Cable should probably have his season two look which featured a metallic left arm, a more common look than the season one version. Bishop should also feature a removable time bracelet to go along with his really big gun. Pyro and Avalanche would serve as the villains with the BAF being their comrade Blob. A desire to assemble Mystique’s troop would hopefully help drive sales.

x-men_L48

Everyone can relax, Gambit is in series two.

Series 3

  • Beast
  • Jean Grey
  • Archangel
  • Civilian Wolverine
  • Graydon Creed
  • Mr. Sinister
  • BAF:  Apocalypse

Series 3 would be the one that nearly completes the main team. Beast, unlike most figures based on the character, should have a cheerful disposition as opposed to an angry one. Jean Grey would need her cartoon-accurate costume, something Toy Biz never delivered on when the show was popular, which was blue and orange as opposed to blue and yellow. She should also probably come with a Cerebro helmet. This would also be a good time for a second Wolverine figure. Since he was so often featured in plain clothes (yellow flannel with a brown jacket), a figure based on that look makes sense. He should have two pairs of clawless hands, ones that look like normal fists and ones that have the steel ports on his hands as he was incorrectly portrayed in season one. Diehard fans of the show, such as myself, really appreciate little details like that. Creed was a big player in season two, and he warrants a figure as a result. Of course, Sinister was the main big, bad, guy of that season and series three feels like a good spot for him. Lastly, Archangel should be included (with a masked head and unmasked head) to pair with the BAF Apocalypse who would be depicted in his animated purple and blue color scheme.

apocalypse cartoon

I don’t know why they made him purple, but the toy better follow in the same footsteps!

Series 4

  • Jubilee
  • Colossus
  • Omega Red
  • Forge
  • Civilian Cyclops
  • Professor X
  • BAF: Juggernaut

Series 4 would finish the main squad by including Jubilee and Professor X. Xavier would be the tough one to include as he would need his hover chair. Recently, Hasbro did a Professor X that I think retails for more than a standard Legend. The company could save money by retooling it and if it has to retail for more then so be it. Colossus guested a couple of times and is deserving of a figure himself. He should be clad in his blue pants and white tank top to match his appearance in the show. If a second, non-transformed, upper torso could be done then that would be really neat. Omega Red is a villain with a great, 90s, design, and even though he’s a bit bigger than other characters, I don’t think he’s so large that he would need to be a BAF. Cyclops had enough non-costumed appearances to be the second main cast member worthy of a civilian look. And Forge had multiple appearances as well. He should come with an alternate head so he could be depicted as main timeline Forge and future Forge. The Juggernaut is the last character that serves as an obvious choice for a BAF and would be a sought after one helping to make sure fans buy the entire wave. That only challenge with him is I think he would need two heads as well, one masked and one unmasked, because it’s hard to make a good-looking Juggernaut figure that features a removable helmet.

colossus 92

Colossus proved you didn’t need a real costume to be a hero.

Series 5 and 6

  • Phoenix
  • Gladiator
  • Nightcrawler
  • Dazzler
  • White Queen
  • Sebastian Shaw
  • Henry Gyrich
  • Bolivar Trask
  • Dark Phoenix
  • Banshee
  • Fabian Cortez
  • Empress Lilandra
  • BAF:  Sentinel

I’m grouping these two together because I have a radical idea for the BAF. It would be a sentinel and the pieces spread between both waves. The piece loadout would be like Giant Man from the Toy Biz days which did an oversized wave of Marvel Legends as a Wal-Mart exclusive. This would allow Hasbro to do a bigger figure to do the sentinel justice, because we need a sentinel for such a series since they were so important in that first season. The desire to have a cartoon sentinel would help move some of the less exciting, but still essential, characters contained in this wave. Trask and Gyrich, specifically, would be unsexy figures, but they had such a large presence over the first season that it feels wrong to exclude them. Much of these waves would also be devoted to the Phoenix and Dark Phoenix Sagas. Doing both regular Phoenix and Dark Phoenix would also save Hasbro money since they’d basically be the same figure, different head. For Lilandra, I’d also go with the Empress version of the character as that would just make for a more striking visual. Cortez is the only character from a later season, but I see more opportunity for villains and I just happen to like him more than someone like Erik the Red or D’Ken.

sentinel 92

I don’t see how you could have a toy-line dedicated to the X-Men cartoon and not feature a sentinel somehow.

If the line was a success, it wouldn’t have to end there. I completely ignored Sinister’s Nasty Boys and all of the mutates from the Savage Land. They would really help to bolster the ranks of the villains, but it might be hard to convince people they’re more deserving of plastic than some of the others. An entire Savage Land wave could even be done, though I don’t know if that would be a big seller. Another big bad guy I left out is Mojo who would probably work best as a BAF. If he was done, then he would need to be paired with a Longshot.

As for heroes, there are alternate versions of other characters that could pad things out. Civilian versions of Storm, Rogue, Jean and Jubilee (or her in a flight suit) could be added. Beast and Gambit had other looks as well, but nothing really drastic (though Beast with his Howard the Duck shirt is pretty tempting). Archangel also briefly appeared as Angel in season one and returned in season four sporting his white and blue Angel costume. Wolverine had other looks as well, though my personal favorite would probably be the alternate timeline Wolverine from “One Man’s Worth” which also featured a mohawked Storm. Other guest heroes included Iceman, Psylocke, Alpha Flight and X-Factor so there are certainly more characters to mine from, I’m just not sure any really need a dedicated figure based on their look in the cartoon.

Hasbro missed its chance to honor the cartoon with a line of figures to celebrate the show’s 25th anniversary. There’s still time though to recognize the 30th in 2022 and a toy-line near then would be an appropriate way to do so. If 2022 seems too far away right now it could be timed to end that year. The show is also about to gain new exposure via Disney+ where it and other X-Men cartoons will be available day one. And with Disney acquiring 20th Century Fox it stands to reason that the X-Men will soon join Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe bringing even more of a spotlight to the brand. The time is right, Hasbro, make it happen!

 

 


Sunshine Blogger Post

 

sunshineYou may have heard of or seen this Sunshine Blogger thing going around. It’s essentially a chain post, not unlike a chain letter or those chain posts that used to (still do?) circulate through social media. I was tagged by Jay Friz over at RJ Writing Ink for such a post in which most of the participants appear to be anime-centered blogs. While The Nostalgia Spot is not an anime blog, it has certainly touched upon the subject from time to time mostly via several posts on the Dragon Ball franchise. I am a lover of animation though, so naturally I do enjoy anime and this presents an opportunity to touch upon it, so thank you for such, Jay.

All chains have rules, and these are the rules for this particular chain:

1. Thank the blogger who nominated you in your post and link it back to them.

2. Answer the 11 questions the blogger asked you.

3. Nominate 11 new blogs to receive the award and write 11 new questions for them.

4. List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo on your first post.

Once again, thanks go out to Jay for the acknowledgement. If you have not visited his blog, he does a lot of animation-related posts of old and new properties and is currently doing a daily Halloween post (and if you read this regularly you know about my affinity for that format) and it is certainly worth checking out.

What got you into blogging?

My journey into blogging began nearly 9 years ago. I had always wanted to write and pursued a writing degree while in college. It eventually struck me as something impractical, and rather than reach for a dream I went with a different major. It has financially worked out, but I missed writing. After being out of school for many years and finding myself with a lot of spare time, I decided to start a blog for my own benefit. The theme of nostalgia came naturally, and it’s something I’ve had fun writing about. I do it for the enjoyment of writing, not for publicity. If people read and enjoy it then that’s great, but if no one read it I’d still consider it a worthwhile endeavor.

scrooge triumphant

I love me some Christmas, and here’s a little teaser for a future Christmas Spot post. Recognize it?

What’s been your favorite thing to blog about?

Nostalgia seems like too broad a topic for the purpose of answering this question. I have greatly enjoyed revisiting Batman: The Animated Series. Not only does it provide me with something to write about, but I also re-watched every episode along the way. It spanned more than two years of my blogging life, and I’m actually a little sad it’s over (final post scheduled for the end of November). I have also enjoyed doing the same for the much smaller Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars. Bucky O’Hare being a smaller, often forgotten, subject makes it rewarding for different reasons, even though the quality of that series is not on par with the likes of Batman. Without question though, my favorite posts are the Christmas ones. After dabbling with Christmas for years, I finaly went all-in on doing an advent calendar of posts a few years ago. When you blog for sheer enjoyment it can be hard to find time to make posts. Plus my own tend to total 3000 words no matter what I do, so doing 25 days of posts is hard. That’s why I spread them out and make use of the scheduler function to make sure they post when I need them to. It gives me a reason to stay tapped into Christmas all year round.

If you could date one fictional character, who’d it be?

Let’s go with Sara Valestein from the Trails of Cold Steel video games. She can kick ass and loves a good brew – what’s not to like?

The-Legend-of-Heroes-Trails-of-Cold-Steel-II_2016_03-11-16_006-555x328

Sara (left) was likely created with the whole “Hot for Teacher” vibe in mind.

What’s your all time favorite show? Or video game?

My favorite show is probably either Futurama or The Venture Bros. Those are the two I’ve revisited the most. From a more nostalgic perspective, my favorite as a kid was X-Men. As for video game, it’s a lot harder since I play a lot of RPGs, but rarely revisit them. I’ll just stick with the same answer I usually give and go with Xenogears. It has its problems, but I love the aesthetic of it and the battle system is unique enough to separate it form other JRPGs.

What’s your favorite show from the 2010s?

It’s hardly much fun to say this is my favorite show from the past decade, but it’s Game of Thrones. The showrunners may not have stuck the landing, but it was a fun ride while it lasted.

What are you looking forward to the most in 2020?

Whatever NECA releases in its line of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures, and the same for Boss Fight Studio and its Bucky O’Hare line. Looking forward to new toys is supremely exciting for me, likely because it allows me to feel like a kid again. That and I rarely have time for video games so looking forward to them feels like a waste of energy.

bfs bruiser and bucky

Bruiser will hopefully arrive in 2019, but could slip to 2020. Either way, I look forward to whatever is next in this toyline.

If you could have any fictional power, what would you want?

Let’s keep it simple and just go with flight. I live in Boston and traffic is brutal, flying would solve so many problems.

What’s been your favorite anime recently? For non-anime fans, you can say cartoon

Recently it’s been Dragon Ball Super, which just wrapped up a week ago for the English dub. I never really wanted a proper sequel to Dragon Ball Z, so I’ve been surprised at how much I enjoyed the new series. I’ve also really enjoyed My Hero Academia and Devil Man Crybaby, as the Devil Man OVA was one of the first DVDs I ever purchased.

If you could travel to a fictional universe, which one would you want to go to?

Duckberg. I’d stand out, but it would be fun trying to break into Scrooge’s Money Bin.

What was your favorite cartoon/anime growing up?

My favorite cartoon was X-Men, my favorite anime was Dragon Ball Z.

X-Men (FOX) [1992-1997]Shown from left: Wolverine, Morph, Beast

I lived for Saturday morning as a kid.

Beef or chicken?

Chicken, always chicken.

 

Thanks again to Jay for the chance to do something different. He made his questions fairly broad and not applicable to anime, which probably worked better for me since most of my anime related responses would just refer to Dragon Ball or Cowboy Bebop, fine shows certainly, but also shows that have been talked about a lot. My insulated nature means I have no blogs to tag for future responses as the few I follow have already done this post. I don’t normally spread chains too, but I wanted to play along with this one especially since I’ve been buried in Batman and Christmas-related writings lately. If this is something you want to do, feel free to consider yourself “tagged” and answer the same set of questions I already have, and as always, thanks for reading.


Dec. 3 – X-Men: Evolution – “On Angel’s Wings”

x-men evolution intro

X-Men: Evolution “On Angel’s Wings” originally aired on December 15, 2001.

Long after the X-Men animated series that originated on Fox Kids had ended, along with basically every other Marvel cartoon at that network, X-Men:  Evolution showed up on Kids WB. It’s kind of odd considering WB owned DC and yet they went in on X-Men, but X-Men were still popular and were gearing up for a run on cinema. It also didn’t hurt that a lot of talented people were attached to the show, and today’s episode features the duo of Boyd Kirkland and Frank Paur, both former directors on Batman:  The Animated Series.

snowy nyc

A snowy New York, which may have possibly been edited considering the events of 9/11 two months prior to air date for this one.

X-Men:  Evolution was an attempt at making the X-Men appeal to a younger audience. It fit-in with WB’s programming which also included super heroes like Static Shock and Batman Beyond. Even The New Adventures of Batman had placed an emphasis on the allies of Batman, including the very young Robin and the not quite so young Nightwing and Batgirl. The setup for X-Men:  Evolution was not that radical from other depictions:  young mutants were gathered at the home of Professor Charles Xavier (David Kaye) to learn how to control their mutant powers. Only in this show, basically everyone is in the Kitty Pryde/Jubilee role of being a teen and they include:  Cyclops (Kirby Morrow), Jean  Grey (Venus Terzo), Nightcrawler (Brad Swaile), Spyke (Neil Denis), Rogue (Meghan Black), and Kitty (Maggie Blue O’Hara) herself. The twist comes in that the students do not receive their schooling at Xavier’s mansion and instead attend a normal high school where they are put into conflict with a teenaged version of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Also, Storm (Kirsten Williamson), Beast (Michael Kopsa), and Wolverine (Scott McNeil) are teachers at Xavier’s home. Yes, Wolverine is in kind of a grumpy uncle role in this show, which is definitely an odd place for his character, but probably better than having a teenaged Wolverine. Thankfully, he doesn’t lust after Jean in this one. Honestly, the setup of the show never appealed to me and sounds kind of dumb. I checked out a couple of the first season’s episodes when this show premiered and they were pretty lame. Surprisingly, the show started to find itself in season two. It established some strong conflicts and the young team assembled works well. I was wrong about the show, and it actually turned out quite well in the end.

lonely warren

A lonely, wealthy man, just watching some TV. Note the lack of Christmas decor.

In season two the show rolled the dice on a Christmas episode. “On Angel’s Wings” is predictably about the character Angel (Mark Hildreth), who previously had not appeared in the show. It starts off in New York, where the wealthy Warren Worthington is shown in an isolated state. He’s ignoring his phone calls and watching television. Elsewhere in the city, a fire is ripping through an apartment building and a disabled woman is trapped inside. Her daughter is pleading with firefighters to save her mom, and this mobilizes Worthington. He flies to the sight, enters the building, and removes the woman leaving her safely on a nearby bench. No one witnesses it, but her daughter soon spots her mom and runs over to her. They embrace, and when the daughter asks how she escaped she tells her a real, live, angel carried her to safety.

scotts present

Rogue sheepishly gives Cyclops his Christmas present early. They actually would have made a cute couple.

At Xavier’s mansion, everyone is getting ready for the holidays. The kids will be leaving to head home and they’re having a little party in celebration. Two students will not be leaving:  Cyclops and Rogue. Cyclops, being an orphan, has no home to go to while Rogue is a runaway with a poor home life. There’s nothing for her to return to. As the other kids give gifts and Nightcrawler tries to steal a kiss via mistletoe, Jean looks on with jealous eyes as Rogue gives Cyclops a gift. If I recall correctly (and it’s been many years), Cyclops was one of the few to be nice to Rogue when she first showed up early on so she took a liking to him. Plus, they’re both able to kind of bond over the fact that neither is able to fully control their mutant powers. Rogue’s crush was not reciprocated in a romantic way, and Cyclops may even be oblivious, but Jean notices. And like basically every other version of the X-Men, Jean and Cyclops are romantically linked. As everyone departs, leaving only Xavier, Beast, Cyclops, and Rogue behind, Jean looks on with some sadness and worry as her limo drives away (what a tough life).

angel in action

Angel in action.

In New York, the Angel makes another appearance in Central Park thwarting a mugging. An onlooker is shown and he looks rather menacing. Later, a car gets into an accident on a suspended bridge (maybe the George Washington?) and the Angel, now in a resplendent super hero costume, swoops in to make the save. The car is up against the cables and he first saves a child from the backseat then returns for the parents. As everyone celebrates his heroics, the shadowy man from the park emerges. Summoning powers of his own, he makes one of the broken, steel, cables grab onto Angel. Startled, he flutters his wings and accidentally knocks the little girl he just saved off of the bridge. He dives into the water after her and does return her safely to the bridge, though she’s unconscious. The man, obviously Magneto (Christopher Judge), then shouts that it was the angel who knocked her off. The crowd of onlookers then turns on the hero, declaring he’s not a real angel just some freak, and he’s forced to flee.

cd shopping

I miss CD shopping.

At the mansion, the X-Men have heard the reports of the angel sighting in the city. Feeling kind of restless, Rogue wants to head out and see what they can uncover and she and Cyclops are permitted to go. They have a discussion and it’s revealed that Cyclops kind of wants to believe the person is indeed an angel, while Rogue is dismissive of the concept. She does apologize to Cyclops though, fearing she hurt his feelings, but he assures her he’s fine. They go to a music store and are browsing CDs when they hear about the latest sighting. It’s quite a trip seeing the pair thumbing through music and Cyclops listening to the free previews on a headset – my how the times have changed.

On_Angel's_Wings-_Scott_n_Rogue

The city of New York is alive with Angel Fever!

We’re then whisked away to a hospital room. The little girl Angel saved is in a coma and her parents are understandably worried. Angel drops in on her and seems depressed over what happened. He swipes a doctor’s jacket and heads off into the hallway. There, Rogue and Cyclops are at a nurse’s station asking about the young girl and they’re told they just missed her parents who left to head to church. Angel overhears this and starts heading off. Rogue notices a feather wafting out from underneath the coat and alerts Cyclops that it’s him, rather loudly. This startles Angel and he takes off running. The two X-Men in training give chase, but he escapes out a window.

angel and magneto

I will admit, that’s one bad ass looking Magneto.

At the church, the girl’s parents are shown praying in an otherwise empty building. Angel is looking on from a balcony in the back, shamefully.  The camera pans and a figure lurks in the shadows behind him. It’s Magneto, now in costume, and he confronts Angel. He knows who he is and that he lives an isolated, lonely, life. He points out how quickly the people turned on him at the bridge, despite his best efforts, and uses a lot of the same arguments you’ve probably heard from Magneto before about why humanity can’t be trusted. He offers him a place for people like Angel and he, but Angel turns him down rather angrily not wanting to associate with “freaks and weirdos.” He’s a self-hating mutant.

x-men and angel

Angel meets the X-Men. They discuss tailors.

Magneto is not going to let Angel just walk away. He attacks, and Angel is forced to flee the balcony. The people below see him as Magneto uses a chandelier to wrap Angel in a chain. As he falls from the sky, a red laser beam cuts through the air and blasts Magneto out of the church through a stained-glass window. Cyclops and Rogue, now too in costume, come running in and free Angel. Magneto quickly returns as a confused Angel flees once more. With Magneto baring down on the young X-Men, Angel emerges from behind Magneto and wraps him in a bear hug. Cyclops calls for him to stand down, and pummels Magneto with more optic blasts knocking him from the sky. While on the ground, Rogue is able to get up close and personal with the Master of Magnetism and syphon away some of his energy. Now armed with the powers of magnetism herself, Rogue is able to chase Magneto through the skies of New York City. Magneto though is a pro with these powers and is able to knock her from the sky, but Angel is there once again to make the save causing Rogue to playfully remark, “I’m starting to think you are a real angel.”

gotcha

Of course, Rogue needs to be rescued by an angel since she was a non-believer earlier.

Apparently admitting defeat, Magneto is gone and the trio of heroes are back at the hospital. They’re in the waiting area probably hoping to hear how the young girl is doing. Cyclops explains who they are and gives the X-Men sales pitch to Warren, who questions how they’re any different from Magneto. As they talk, a doctor comes out to tell the parents of the girl that she’s awake and going to be all right. Warren is overjoyed and sneaks over to the girl’s room. As he does, Rogue asks Cyclops if he thinks Warren will join the X-Men and he curtly responds, “No.” They join Warren though as the little girl tells her parents she saw her angel again in her dreams. This puts a smile on Warren’s face while Rogue squirts a few tears. We’re then treated to a little montage of the other X-Men and how they’re enjoying their holiday. Jean with her family, Kitty doing Hanukkah stuff, and Wolverine kind of sadly just playing pool all by himself in a dimly lit dive. Xavier and Beast are shown last toasting a couple of hot beverages in front of a Christmas tree to close this one out.

x-men happy ending

Looks like that little girl is going to have a Merry Christmas after all!

“On Angel’s Wings” is what I consider a quiet Christmas special. It takes place around the holiday, but Christmas just serves as a backdrop for the events in the episode. Tying Angel to the holiday is a smart move, since his obvious biblical appearance lends itself well to the theme. Though despite his presence, this doesn’t go full Hallmark Channel on the Jesus stuff. Beast quotes the Bible at one point, and other than the brief talk of Cyclops possibly believing in angels, the episode chooses not to dive into that subject. There’s also no Santa Claus or anything of that nature. The episode is also very stand-alone as it doesn’t aim to resolve anything like Jean’s jealousy or Wolverine’s loner tendencies or even what Warren Worthington will do next, but it’s still a satisfying little story. The ending is a bit sappy, but the montage was rather tasteful. Also, it should be noted, this show looks terrific and is miles ahead of the old animated series. New York City looks especially authentic and I always enjoy the cool tones of winter in a cartoon.

kitty hanukkah

We need to slide this one in for the Jewish fans.

The voice cast for the show does leave a little something to be desired. Our leads are pretty good, and I think Xavier and Beast sound about right (though Beast is basically a carbon copy of the same character from Fox’s X-Men), but there is also a woodenness to some of the performances. Not every line is crips. The tone of Megneto’s voice is rather intimidating, but the inflections aren’t there (especially when he can’t just be scary, like when he was shown among the mob on the bridge). The character designs are fairly simple and work well. Cyclops has a bit of an X-Factor vibe to his costume, but with the open Jim Lee cowl. Magneto looks rather imposing as his face is often entirely black when in costume, the shape of his helm also reminds me of Age of Apocalypse Magneto. Rogue’s costume is a bit on the bland side though and I never much cared for the design. It has an odd piece of green armor across the chest that’s rather boxy looking. And in general, the female X-Men are drawn rather maturely. It’s a tad creepy how sexy the animators made these children.

X-Men:  Evolution has seen an incomplete home video release. It’s also no longer on television, but good news, no one seems to care about it so it’s easy to find online for free. If you want to spend the holidays with Marvel’s most famous mutants then go for it. It’s better than the other X-Men Christmas episode and it should put you in the Christmas spirit.


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