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Action Figure Zone June 4 2002
by Rudy Panucci

Well, that was an interesting three month break. For those of you wondering what happened to me, I had a sudden illness, and was out of commission for quite awhile there. However, I'm back and loaded for bear with tons of the latest news and reviews from the world of action figure collecting!

First up: The latest news from the wrestling front. Not only does the former WWF have a new, court-ordered name, WWE, but they've also split their roster into two separate factions, and have a really cool new line of figures that will cover "The Draft"! After that, we'll take a quick look at the battle between Spider-man and Attack Of The Clones, and how it's affecting toy sales. We'll wrap up with reviews of the latest Sideshow Toy offerings, and some recent WWE figures.

STAND BACK! THERE'S A DRAFT COMING!

There have been some changes lately in the world of wrestling. Recently, the WWF, who defeated all comers to finally become an unstoppable wrestling monopoly, lost a court battle. Back in 1994, when WWF owner Vince McMahon was distracted by a nasty steroid trial, the WWF entered into an ill-advised agreement with the World Wildlife Fund-you know, the panda folks-in which the wrestling company promised not to use the initials "WWF" in a variety of ways that they eventually did anyway.

As a result, the Panda laid the smack down on the wrestlers, and now, the WWF has become WWE, or "World Wrestling Entertainment".

I know what you're asking…."Who cares?", but I'm offering up this brief recap to explain why, from now on, the WWF will be referred to as "WWE". That's not the only changes that have happened, though.

On March 25, 2002, World Wrestling Entertainment(urgh) made history by creating two distinct divisions, Raw® and SmackDown!®, at a televised and highly anticipated Draft. Both divisions have a roster of top WWE(yeech) Superstars, and each will maintain independent storylines and programming.

Just as the summer begins to really heat-up, JAKKS Pacific announces a Limited Edition assortment of World Wrestling Entertainment(that just looks wrong) action figures called The Draft(tm). This assortment of figures will begin hitting shelves worldwide mid-July, with new figures arriving at retailers throughout the following weeks.

"We expect a world-wide search for this new assortment of action figures based on WWE(sic)'s recently televised Draft," stated Stacey Pauly, director of marketing, boys action, JAKKS Pacific. "Our retail partners are working closely with us to support this unique initiative, which will have secret assortments of Superstars in each case-pack arriving on a weekly basis over the -multi-week shipping schedule. Even they will be surprised at which figures they're receiving at any given time. Our strong base of World Wrestling Entertainment(cough) action figure collectors should really have fun with this one."

So what that means is that there will be short-packed figures included in this series, and if you want to collect all the figures, you'll have to check stores constantly, because even they won't know what will be coming, or which figures will be rare. That cheering sound you hear is the roar of approval coming from the crowd of speculators in the Hot Wheels aisle.

Back to the press release: JAKKS Pacific's Draft(tm) assortment will be branded Raw® and SmackDown!® and will feature the top 20 draft picks from each brand's talent roster. Each figure will be produced as a Limited Edition, with quantities for individual Superstars varying from 3,000 figures to just under 30,000 figures. Dramatic packaging will reflect the two brands with a checklist provided on the back of the package to help fans collect them all! The six-inch Real Scan(tm) figures feature special metallic paints, a branded Raw® or SmackDown!® stand, and each also includes an official "Contract" which serves as the Certificate of Authenticity.

In reality, there will be more than twenty figures in each of the two rosters. Some of the draft picks were for tag teams or factions, so there will 22 figures on the RAW side, and 21 on SmackDown!

Also of note is that two of figures are of guys who have recently been fired. Scott Hall and "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig were recently given the axe, and Hall has already signed with another company, the upstart NWA-TNA pay-per-view federation. Also, some of the wrestlers are either on injured reserve, or off making movies. It remains to be seen if these situations will have an effect on which figures get the short runs, but it would make sense that the folks who aren't there would have fewer figures produced. Also, and oddly enough, Stone Cold Steve Austin, the most consistent merchandise seller in the company, is not going to be in this series. Since he wasn't drafted, it makes storyline sense, but it's still an odd move.

The Raw Roster consists of:

  • · Undertaker
  • · NWO Scott Hall (no longer with the WWE)
  • · NWO X Pac
  • · NOW Kevin Nash (injured, but back on TV)
  • · Kane (injured, coming back with a whole new look)
  • · Rob Van Dam
  • · Booker T (now part of the NWO)
  • · Big Show (now part of the NWO)
  • · Bubba Ray
  • · Brock Lesnar
  • · William Regal
  • · Lita (injured, not expected back this year)
  • · Bradshaw
  • · Steven Richards
  • · Matt Hardy
  • · Raven
  • · Jeff Hardy
  • · Mr. Perfect (no longer with the company)
  • · Spike Dudley
  • · D'Lo Brown
  • · Shawn Stasiak
  • · Terri

SmackDown!'s Roster includes:

  • · The Rock (off making movies, not expected back full-time)
  • · Kurt Angle
  • · Chris Benoit (recently returned, but may wind up on RAW)
  • · Hollywood Hulk Hogan
  • · Billy
  • · Chuck
  • · Edge (recently injured, likely gone for the summer)
  • · Rikishi
  • · D-Von Dudley (now known as "Reverend D-Von)
  • · Mark Henry (leaving soon to compete in strongman competitions)
  • · Maven (broken leg-out for two months)
  • · Billy Kidman
  • · Tajiri
  • · Chris Jericho
  • · Ivory
  • · Albert
  • · The Hurricane
  • · Al Snow
  • · Lance Storm
  • · DDP (severe neck injury, will probably retire, become an announcer)
  • · Torrie Wilson.

Looking at the list, it's interesting to note that only a few of the wrestlers are making their first appearance as a WWE action figure. Going from my fuzzy memory, only Brock Lesnar, and Shawn Stasiak from the RAW roster, and Hollywood Hulk Hogan, Chuck (Palumbo), Maven, DDP, and Torrie Wilson from the SmackDown! Side have not been previously made into WWE action figures by Jakks before. Scott Hall, Kevin Nash and Terri were briefly available under their old names, "Razor Ramon", "Diesel" and "Marleena". It's probable that the female figures will be short runs, and that The Rock, despite his hardly being on the shows anymore, will be easy to find. Other than that, it's a guessing game, and one that can be fun if you don't take it too seriously or give in to scalpers.


BATTLE OF THE SUMMER FLICKS!


So far, Spider-man is kicking butt all over the latest Star Wars movie, Attack Of The Clones, at the box office. But when it comes to the toy sections, it's a different story. The only Spider-man toys selling are the hard-to-find deluxe 12" figures, and a few of the super-articulated six inch figures. There's more stuff sticking to the shelves than there is flying off. The reason is probably that most of the Spider-man merchandise is pretty lame.
AOTC, on the other hand, is doing gangbusters. Having learned a great deal from the excesses of the previous Star Wars movie. Lucasfilm and Hasbro have scaled back somewhat, and seem to have struck a balance between supply and demand with this go-around. It doesn't hurt that there are just so many more marketable characters in the Star Wars saga than there are in Spider-man. Hasbro has done a fine job with the new card designs and vastly-improved sculpting, and figure design.
Spider-man may earn more money from the movie-going public, but he's going to be a distant second-place, if not worse, in the toy stores, if current trends continue.

QUICK AND DIRTY REVIEWS

Bayonets and Barbwire British Lewis Gunner
1st Battalion Lancashire Fusilliers, 29th Division

By Sideshow Toy around $40 at online and specialty retailers
Yet another terrific WWI period collectible from Sideshow. Featuring a distinctive headsculpt by Mat Falls, this is an incredibly detailed set, the highlight of which is the beautifully executed Lewis Gun. In addition to the gun and the figure, this set also includes a Helmet with cover; trousers; uniform blouse with 29th Division insignia; British undershirt; P '08 Shoulder braces and waist belt; P '08 Haversack; entrenching tool with handle and carry; Pistol holder and ammo pouch; Webley No.VI Pistol; ammo boots with puttees; P "08 Bayonet frog; Water Bottle; Small box respirator and bag; and a rolled rain poncho.
The very sharp packaging has a brief but informative history of the 1st Bn, and the Lewis Gun, and sports a WWI-era British recruitment poster on the fifth-panel box-front.
With the Bayonets and Barbwire line, Sideshow is setting a very high standard for accuracy, detail and quality. So far, hardly any another premium action figure company is even hinting at tackling "The Great War", and with figures this nice, it's no wonder why.
As usual, the only minor quibble I have is with the height of the figure. He's a full 12 inches and that makes him tower over other 1/6 scale figures. It's not a big deal with this particular series, since nobody else is releasing WWI figures, but it does annoy kitbashers who might want to mix and match with other companies' action figures.
Still, this is a great set, and the headsculpt would make a great "grunt" from other military eras, like WWII, Korea, or even Vietnam. Highly recommended!
Grade: A-plus

Bayonets and Barbwire French Rifleman
151st Regiment d'Infanterie

By Sideshow Toy around $40 at online and specialty retailers
Released at the same time as the above figure, this set features the French Rifleman in his distinctive blue uniform. This is another masterpiece of detail, featuring a figure with an Adrian Helmet; Single breasted great coat; Infantry tunic; breeches with Infantry stripes; boots with puttees; Leather Y strap and waist belt; cartridge boxes; haversacks; bayonet frog and scabbard; 2-litre canteen; M-2 gas mask and bag; large wire cutters; 1886 Epee bayonet; 1907 Berthier rifle.
The packaging is top-notch, with a history inside and French recruitment poster on the front of the box. The Mat Falls headsculpt is a bit more specific than the Lewis gunner, and the helmet has to sit on the head a certain way, which limits the display possibilities, but other than that minor glitch, this is another terrific set that will help turn the spotlight on a military era that's sorely under-appreciated.
Another 1/6 scale winner from Sideshow.
Grade: A


Ringside Rebels series 2 Chris Jericho, Triple H, The Rock
By Jakks Pacific $14.99 at K Mart

So far, these have only shown up at K Mart, but they may be available elsewhere, or online, later in the year. This is the third series of 12" figures from Jakks Pacific's WWF line. What's nice about this series is the presence of a couple of new faces. What's not nice is that they're still using the same old crappy, barely-articulated, over-muscled body.
The headsculpts were created using Real Scan technology, and they may be the best yet. Jericho is a dead ringer for the real guy, but he posed with his mouth open, which may not be the way most people want him. The Rock is still suffering from a failure to incorporate the eyebrow lift into Real Scan, and this is also his third appearance in 12" form. Triple H is the best likeness of the lot, and he's also the only one who looks right with the chemically-enhanced body style.
Jakks really needs to develop a new body for this line, if they want to continue it. They've started using whole body scans for their smaller figures, and that's been a major improvement. It hurts this line that the The Undertaker, from the first series, a fella who stands 6' 10", is the same height as Chris Jericho, who's an even six feet tall, if you count the lifts in his boots.
Most collectors are buying these for the headsculpts and transplanting them to more articulated bodies, and they're fine for that. They could just be so much better. The headsculpts are the only thing keeping these figures from getting a failing grade.
Grade: C-minus

WWF RAW Unchained Fury Tajiri, Rob Van Dam
By Jakks Pacific under $8 at most major retailers

"Unchained Fury" is a new line from Jakks that features the debut of six wrestlers who have never been made into WWF action figures by Jakks Pacific before. Aside from the two figures I'm reviewing here, the line consists of Booker T, Hurricane Helms, Ric Flair, and Lance Storm. What's interesting about this line is that, with the exception of Flair, these guys will also be turning up in the aforementioned "Draft" line. Had Jakks delayed this line a couple of months, the Draft line would have five more debut figures to add to the excitement.
This is a pretty nifty line. All six guys in the series have been scanned for the first time, and the detail is amazing. However, they didn't go all out, since there are a few details that are a bit off. Tajiri, who has been made into a very clunky ECW action figure before, has no mustache on his figure. He has one in real life, but it's missing on the figure. It's not really missing. They just didn't bother to paint it, but if you hold him up to the light, you can see it molded above his lips.
Rob Van Dam is beset by a different problem. His thumbs are dislocated. You see, RVD does this thing where he points to himself with both thumbs. It looks like they tried to get close to that here, but maybe they didn't want to sculpt new hands, so they just used the closest thing they could get to a "thumbs up" hand. It looks a tad goofy. His ECW figure looked goofy, too, but at least they got the thumbs right.
However, on a whole, this is a pretty decent collector-friendly line that focuses on some of the new faces at the WWF, instead of just rehashing the same old guys. Not a bad little six-inch line.
Grade: B-plus

WWF Royal Rumble Earl Hebner
By Jakks Pacific under $8 at most major retailers

So I have a weakness for the obscure. Out of a line that features Stone Cold Steve Austin, the Undertaker, The Rock, Triple H, and Kurt Angle, I pick the referee, Earl Hebner.
Still, there's plenty of reason to pick up this set. Earl is the most hated man in Canada for his role in the infamous 1997 Montreal screwjob (and if you don't know what that was, you probably don't care). He's also a normal, sorta doughy guy, but they went to the trouble to Real Scan him. And he comes with a collector's stand, to boot!
It's not the best Real Scan likeness I've seen, probably because he's smiling here, and he rarely does in the ring, but it's still cool to have such an offbeat choice for an action figure. It almost makes me want to go to Value City and pick up some of those five-year-old Jim Cornette figures.
Earl comes with the ring bell-ironic, if you know the Montreal story-but for some reason, the bell is way out of scale here. This is a standard six-inch action figure, but the ring bell is closer to being in 1/6 scale. If you need a ring bell some sort of diorama (and to get even more obscure, you might want one if you buy the Sgt. Rock Jackie Johnson figure later this year) then you can get one with Earl, for not too much money. In fact, there's a chance that Earl won't sell too well, so you might want to wait and buy him at a markdown price.
Grade: A, just so you can say, "I have an Earl Hebner action figure!"


That's all for this Action Figure Zone. Next up, well get back on track with more reviews, and news from Ertl, Mattel, and Toy Biz.

Later, Rudy