Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Rant Review: Mattel Halo Master Chief and Ghost with Elite Officer

I've slacked off a great deal on buying action figures the past few years-- a combination of decreasing space in my home and rising costs of toys to often ridiculous levels led to this-- so, despite my love of the Halo franchise, I didn't pounce on Mattel's new line of Halo toys right off the bat. I planned to pick up a Master Chief figure, at the very least, but I figured I could stand to wait for a better deal than the $20 retail price. Thanks to Amazon.com, I finally picked up a couple! Today, we'll be looking at the Master Chief and the Ghost vehicle, which comes packaged with an Elite Officer.

The Master Chief and Elite Officer are sculpted quite well, with some nice detailing on the armor. The EO has a suitably angry expression on his face. The detail isn't on the same level as you'll find on many other adult-oriented lines, however, including the offerings from former Halo license holder McFarlane Toys. These are still very good looking figures, though. The MC stands about six inches tall, as Mattel has chosen to eschew the five inch scale McFarlane went with. This is a big positive, in my opinion. That said, MC may seem a bit on the small side next to your superhero figures, considering he's supposed to be a big dude wearing armor that makes him even larger. The EO is bigger, and actually looks pretty good next to other lines in this scale. If anything, I think he may be a bit too large in relation to the MC.

The plastic quality is also good; this has been an issue for many Mattel lines in the past, but I had no problems here. All of the armor pieces apart from the MC's helmet are removable, and can be put on and removed without too much trouble. A few of the pieces move around a bit when you're posing the figure, but it's not much of a hassle to put them back in place, and they stay put as long as you're not messing with it. That applies to the MC, anyway. Several pieces of the EO's armor is much more prone to falling off if you try to move the figure. Or breath near it. Or look at it. Or think about it too hard! (More on that later.)

Other accessories for the MC include an assault rifle, plasma sword, and an alternate hand designed to hold the plasma sword. A build-a-figure piece for an alpha crawler is also included. The weapons have sculpts that are good, but not great, and they have a couple of issues. The rifle includes a pin to attach it to MC's back when he's not holding it, which is a nice move. The hole to attach it to the pin goes all the way through the gun, however, which is not. It's also pretty difficult for the figure to hold the rifle in a manner that looks right, owing both to the gun's design and the clunky armor limiting the range of motion in the arms somewhat. As for the plasma sword, it's made of a softer plastic which is prone to bending, and there are a couple of bits of plastic along its length designed to hold the blades in alignment. It's a bit of an eyesore, but I'm sure safety regulations meant that Mattel couldn't just use a very stiff plastic for the sword to avoid this issue. (This is an issue that amply displays the differences between a collector-focused lines and one mass-produced and designed to be kid-friendly.) The EO includes a carbine rifle, which also has the pinhole all the way through it.

The MC's articulation is excellent, with a total of thirty points of articulation, as boasted on the packaging. The EO gets slightly less, but is still amply articulated. As I mentioned previously, MC's range of motion is hampered a bit when he's fully armored up, but not too bad. The EO fares slightly better here, but again, the armor is likely to give you a good deal more trouble during posing. (Seriously, more on that later. Promise.)

The figures don't fare so well in the paint department. Mattel has seriously cut back on paint apps in the past few years, to the detriment of many of their products. (See last year's Batman v Superman line for clear evidence of good sculpts ruined by terrible paint apps.) They've done the same here, but thankfully, the designs of these figures means that they don't suffer much because of it. A decrease in the quality of paint apps affects faces most of all, and MC's face isn't visible, and the EO looks fine with just the two dabs of paint for his eyes. I plan to do some drybrushing over both figures to bring out the sculpted details, but they actually look pretty decent from a paint standpoint right out of the box.

This brings us to the elephant in the room: the Ghost. It's quite large, and sculpted quite well. The MC can be sat on it pretty easily, and the scale is good. The EO, on the other hand, doesn't fit on it well at all. the biggest issue is that he's just too damn big. (As I mentioned earlier, he's a bit to large in relation to the MC, and this is another sign that the Elites in this line are larger than they should be. Or that everyone and everything else is smaller than they should be; take your pick.) Once you remove his butt armor and finagle him around on the seat, trying to get him to fit, you'll notice several things:
1. His legs are far too long for his feet to rest on the footrests.
2. His arms are far too long for him to grasp the controls in any way that looks remotely natural.
3. His goddamn arm and leg armor will pop off any time you make the slightest adjustment!
This last point is what has me planning to apply some gorilla glue to this bastard as soon as I'm done typing this review. The tiny forearm pieces, in particular, fell off constantly, prompting me to finally just remove them altogether until I had the figure in a reasonably stable position on the ghost. The thigh armor was also a big problem, but nowhere near on the same level. I'm sure that removable pieces of armor sounded like a fun feature, but in practice, it's mostly a source of frustration. I pity any child who gets this toy and is actually interested in keeping the armor in place while they play with it. (Hopefully this hypothetical kid has some super glue!)  Once you get the EO on it in a somewhat decent looking pose, you'll probably want to just leave him on there to avoid having to go through the whole hassle again. After I spent hours (actually just a few minutes, but very long minutes) wrestling the EO around on the seat like he was riding a mechanical bull, flinging armor aside as it was shed like so much dead skin, and muttering prayers to Cthulhu to aid me in my predicament, that is most certainly my plan.

Once you get the bastard on the ghost and attach it to the included base-- which is design to look like the energy trails the vehicle emits while it's flying, a very nice touch-- it looks pretty great. Despite the relatively minor frustration, it was well worth the fourteen bucks I paid for it, and I hope Mattel makes a Warthog in this scale soon! (They already have one for those twelve inch figures, so it has to be just a matter of time, surely?) Even with a few shortcomings, these are some good looking and very fun figures, and I highly recommend them to Halo fans, especially if you can find them for less than the retail price! (Here's a hint: go check Amazon.com now! They're $15 each right now!)

Rant Review: DC Multiverse Batman- The Dark Knight Returns Joker figure

(I have a concussion as I type this, so you'll have to forgive any odd phrasing that may pop up in the course of this review. If anything, it'll probably just amount to some typos I don't catch.)

As someone who was an avid collector of Mattel's DC Superheroes and DC Universe Classics lines, I've bought surprisingly few of their DC action figures in the last several years. This is due to several factors, chief among them the rising prices and increasingly poor execution of many of their products. Let's face it, while $20 has become a pretty standard price for a mass market figure in the six-ish inch scale, it's still a nice chunk of cash for one toy. That alone would make me more selective, as I don't have a whole hell of a lot of disposable income, but couple it with Mattel's cheapness compromising more and more of their figures, and there just haven't been many of them that I felt warranted their bloated price tags. There have been quite a few that I wanted based on prototype photos, but any desire I had to own them dissipated once I saw the actual figures in person. It's a disappointing turn of events, but hey, at least it saved me money!

Obviously, there have been a few exceptions. The small subset of figures based on the seminal Batman story The Dark Knight Returns, spread throughout their Batman Legacy and DC Multiverse lines over the years, are among them. Mattel addressed the one glaring whole in that set with the release of the Joker as he appeared in that story.

The sculpt is very good overall, and both heads are excellent. Whichever head you choose to display him with, the Joker looks as if he stepped right off the printed page. One head has a calm expression, while the other captures the Joker at his maniacal best, with a removable batarang in his right eye, as seen in his climactic battle with the Dark Knight in book three of the story. His right hand is sculpted to hold the gun perfectly, but also holds the knife with no issues. Perhaps owing to the lack of paint apps on most of the figure, the heads feature much better attention to paint detail than most of Mattel's figures these days. Paint apps are clean and precise, with a nice wash over the skin that really captures its appearance in the source comic. The open-mouthed head has a gloss coat over the interior of the mouth to lend it a wet appearance. There is also a well done wash on the hair to bring out the sculpted details. The paint apps on the rest of the figure are basic, but overall, this is fairly impressive work for a mass market toy.

Articulation is more or less the standard for this line. The Joker has ball joints at the head, shoulders, and hips, swivel & hinge joints at the elbows and knees, swivels at the waist, wrists, and upper thighs, and hinges at each ankle. The lack of bicep swivels is made up for by the swivel/hinge elbows, and the missing abdominal hinge isn't an issue, since the suit coat would greatly hinder its movement anyway. The hips are the MOTUC style joints, which I prefer to the normal Mattel hip articulation. They are rather unsightly, but the long coat covers them without impeding their range of motion much. While the articulation is adequate, and you can get some very cool poses, it is a bit outdated; swivel & hinge wrists should be standard by now, along with double knee joints. Hasbro has been implementing these points of articulation on most of its Marvel figures for years, and Toy Biz before them, so it's frustrating that we DC figure collectors are still getting figures that omit them.

The Joker includes the previously mentioned alternate head, gun, and knife, along with a torso for the King Shark build-a-figure. Even if you don't give a damn about the BAF, it's still a solid set of accessories, and it's particularly nice to see Mattel including alternate heads on some of their mass market figures. Hopefully we'll see this more often going forward.

Despite a few mostly minor flaws, this is a great figure, and a real standout in Mattel's recent DC offerings. This Joker figure is a fantastic addition to anyone's collection, and is an absolute must for anyone who already has some of the previous DKR figures. He's a bit too large to work scale-wise with most of the DCUC figures, but he scales nicely with Mattel's DKR figures, which tend to run larger. Walmart currently has the price of DCM figures cut to $16, so that's the place to look if you want one. I suggest grabbing one now if you have any interest, as the price is likely to rise once the supply dries up. That's it for today! Barring any unforeseen delays, the regularly scheduled MOTUC review should return next Tuesday! For now, scroll down for more photos!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Rant Review: Masters of the Universe Classics Multi-Bot figure

The Evil Horde arrived during a period of great experimentation in the original Masters of the Universe line. By this time, most figures were defined by their action features, and the line had become such a monstrous success that Mattel didn't hesitate to invest in lots of new tooling for most figures. Part of this experimentation was occasionally incorporating aspects of other types of toys, such as a transforming aspect to create the rock warriors, and an interlocking building block style of play for Modulok. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to proclaim Modulok one of the line's greatest successes, and he (They? It?) was popular enough to inspire the creation of another figure with the same gimmick the following year: Multi-Bot.

Multi-Bot was dismissed by some as a mere retread with none of the great design and panache of the original, and is still treated as such by many adult collectors today. Personally, while I found Modulok's monstrous design more to my liking, I always preferred playing with Multi-Bot. In that intervening year, Mattel's designers refined the design of the interlocking pegs and holes to address the issues Modulok had, and the result were pieces that attached and detached more easily. This made for a toy that was simply more fun to play with. I tended to keep Modulok in a single form, and ditch the plain red arms altogether, since they were very difficult to attach, and constantly fell off. Multi-Bot, on the other hand, was a toy I constantly disassembled and reassembled into numerous configurations. So, while the monstrous space demon vibe Modulok has appeals to me, I have a soft spot in my heart for Multi-Bot that many adult MOTU fans do not. 

With Mattel's long history of quality control issues, there was some concern about the MOTUC iterations of Modulok and Multi-Bot. There were many parts to each figure, and the QC had to be on point for them to function properly. Unfortunately, I don't yet have the MOTUC Modulok, but I can say with some relief that they nailed it with Multi-Bot. MB includes a total of 28 interchangeable pieces, and they all fit snugly and disconnect without much trouble. The pieces are engineered well, and the neck connectors allow for a separate point of articulation at the base of the neck, which is a nice bonus. MB is even more fun to assemble into crazy configurations than the vintage version, thanks to the increased articulation. While it is very easy to place him into the default configuration shown on the box, with six legs and a torso and head at each end, I find that I actually prefer having the two bots separate. Of course, part of the fun is taking him down from the display and reconfiguring him whenever the mood strikes, and he works great in that regard.

Sculpting is excellent, successfully translating the vintage design to the MOTUC aesthetic. Even the odd helmet on the green head, which I always inferred as that head having a big metal mustache, is presented in loving detail. While I normally find figures that are straight updates of the vintage figure with nothing new added boring, MB's design naturally allows for far more details than are standard in the MOTUC line. The Four Horsemen took the mechanical details present on the vintage figure and extrapolated plenty of additional details that fit perfectly with a design that is firmly rooted in the vintage look. I was particularly surprised and pleased to see circuitry sculpted in the interior portion of the abdominal hinges, which are only present when the upper part of the torso is bent backward. This sort of attention to detail is a big reason why the 4H remain some of the very best in the business.

Unfortunately, the paint lets the sculpt down a bit. The paint is very clean where it counts most, on the faces and the eyes, and paint apps are generally quite clean. the problem is that there just aren't enough of them. There are some nice metallic accents on the arms and legs, but the legs are basically molded in the proper color and left almost completely plain. The back of the torso pieces are also completely unpainted. Given the complexity of this figure, if costs had to be cut, I'm glad they cut the paint apps rather than compromising the main feature by using a lower-quality plastic, but it's still a shame. Given the retail price of the figure, one would think the additional costs would have been covered. 

Articulation is quite good. Each of the torsos and limbs have all the standard MOTUC articulation, with some additional POAs here and there. As mentioned previously, the neck pieces have an extra POa at the base. The arms have hinge & swivel elbows, as opposed to just a hinge. Swivel & hinge joints are on the purple set of legs, but the other legs only have hinge knees, for whatever reason. 

MB's lone accessory is his rifle, which splits into two pieces, just like the vintage one. Like much of the figure, is' molded in the appropriate color and completely unpainted. Some would call this "adhering to the vintage design;" I call it being cheap. 

Despite a few flaws caused by Mattel's incessant cost-cutting, Multi-Bot is a very cool figure with an awesome action feature. That such a figure was produced so well with a design that is far more complex than the original is testament to the skills of the 4H and Mattel's design team. (Sure, their designers have caused many headaches for collectors of this line, but credit where it's due! They knock it out of the park sometimes.) Multi-Bot can currently be found for well below his retail price, so grab him cheap while you can! It's tempting to pick up an extra so I can make even bigger and crazier bots from the pieces. My problem now is finding an affordable Modulok so I can build that Ultrabeast! 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Skeletor and He-Man Lego-style minifigures are here!

I came across these LEGO-style minifigs a couple of weeks ago, and naturally, I had to order a set! There are a few issues with them-- He-Man's sword bears little resemblance to the Sword of Grayskull, and Skeletor's hood is far too light a shade of purple, for instance-- but they're still very cool! The quality of the figures is very good; in fact, they're nearly indistinguishable from legit LEGO minifigs! The quality of LEGO-compatible stuff from other manufacturers can vary wildly, so I'm glad that these two are on the higher end.

Regular Rant readers may remember the Throne of Bone I made for my cobbled-together Skeletor minifig a couple of years ago. With a couple of parts swapped out, this new Skeletor minifig looks quite awesome atop the throne! All in all, I'm very pleased with this pair of figures, especially for the dirt cheap price. The only problem is that I now want minifigs of more MOTU characters even more than I did before! Alas, we all have our burdens to bear. That's it for today, but keep scrolling down for a few variations of the throne photo, and be sure to creep on back next Tuesday for the next MOTU Classics review!



Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Rant Review: Masters of the Universe Classics Point Dread & Talon Fighter playset with Teela figure

When the adult collector-aimed Masters of the Universe Classics line debuted at the end of 2008, while everyone hoped for the best, I think most of us expected that, realistically, we might get a few dozen figures. I know that I was just crossing my fingers that we'd get the core heroic and evil warriors groups completed, since Mattel's bungling saw that the 2002 MOTU line couldn't even manage that. I don't think anyone was honestly expecting that we'd get so much as a Battle Cat, much less any full-on playsets. And yet, today we're looking at one of the largest vehicles produced for a toyline in this scale, along with the second playset in the MOTUC line! Sometimes I really am astonished at how much the MOTUC team was able to get produced.

As a playset & vehicle combo, the Point Dread & Talon Fighter set is a big-ticket item. Unfortunately for Mattel, but thankfully for me, they wound up with a lot of unsold stock, and I was able to grab one on the cheap. It's a good thing, as even though the Talon Fighter was possibly my favorite vehicle in the vintage MOTU line-- it was always neck-and-neck with the Battle Ram for that title-- I don't know that I ever would have been able to justify spending the cash to grab it for the retail price. that's important to keep in mind, since the execution would have to be extremely poor for me to be disappointed with it at the price I paid for it.

That said, Mattel's spotty quality control reared its ugly head the moment I opened the box. The instructions, sticker sheet, and radar dish were all missing. A replacement is on the way, but since it didn't arrive in time for this review, that dish will be missing in all the photos. I'll also note that the set is so large that my normal photo setup couldn't work for anything other than the pair of photos showing the Teela figure, so I had to photograph it in my bedroom using the flash. The quality of those photos is affected accordingly. My vintage Talon Fighter is in storage, so I couldn't take a comparison photo. With all that out of the way, on to the meat of the review!

The first thing you'll notice upon seeing this set in person is its size. It's huge. The box itself is quite large, and features some great art from vintage MOTU packaging artist Rudy Obrero, but it belies the size of the assembled product. The Talon Fighter is about eighteen inches long, and about as wide. Perched atop Point Dread, it's about eighteen inches tall. It's one thing to read those measurements and see the scale in photos, but until you actually have it in your hands, it's really impossible to know just how gigantic this thing really is. The Talon fighter's cockpit is large enough for up to three figures to sit inside it, though you'll need two females in the back to achieve that. Point Dread itself is tall enough to allow a figure to stand inside in front of the control console, but adding anymore figures requires some creative positioning. This is due to some extra plastic added to the open side of it, which is necessary to support the massive Talon Fighter. there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth over this, but given the choice between posing multiple figures in the back of the playset and having it sag under the weight of the Talon Fighter, I think Mattel's designers made the right call. (If anything, they made a mistake in showing it to us with the open back before the design was finalized.)

Point Dread has an interesting history. Very early in MOTU's existence, before Snake Mountain was created, it was considered the headquarters of Skeletor, but this was abandoned early on. The Point Dread of the early minicomics was a powerful battle station capable of turning the tide of any battle, and was deemed too powerful to remain accessible to the likes of Skeletor and his crew, so the Goddess used her magic to place it atop Castle Grayskull, where it would be inaccessible. This was a very cool play feature with the toy, as the top of Point Dread could be detached and placed on the right-hand turret of the Grayskull playset. So it is with this version, though I can't include any photos of that since I don't have a MOTUC Grayskull... yet.

Thankfully, Point Dread makes a fine display piece all on its own. It still has the odd staircases that are in two different scales, which I always found a puzzling feature on the vintage PD. The base is very wide, giving the set a large footprint, and a very stable base for supporting the weight of the TF. The control console is a plastic piece, which is definitely a huge upgrade to the cardboard of the original. The perch is sculpted with mechanical details, rather than the plain brown of the original, which gives it an appropriate feel that meshes with the futuristic TF. The feet of the aircraft lock into place on the perch, and there is a release lever on the underside. This is a nice touch, and gives the vehicle more stability.

The sculpting on the Talon Fighter is excellent, a perfect update of the vintage toy. I normally find MOTUC releases that are straight updates with nothing new in the mix boring, but this doesn't really apply to the vehicles, for whatever reason. There is so much detail here, and areas such as the thrusters and some of the consoles inside the cockpit are sculpted, rather than stickers. (The flyswatter is there, too!) There are still a couple of stickers in the cockpit, however. I'm not sure why this is, as it's somewhat jarring to see sculpted control panels right alongside stickers. There is a blank area on the main panel, and the sticker sheet has three stickers that can fit in this area, so you can choose the radar screen you prefer. (This is all theoretical in my case, of course, since that sticker sheet was missing.) Paint apps are inconsistent. Some of the small bits on the consoles are neatly applied-- I'm assuming this is tampo-- while other areas have a good bit of slop or overspray. Of particular note is the swath of very gloppy blue paint on the back of my TF's canopy, and the orange bleeding over the front edge of the bird's head. Given the price of this set, and how few paint apps there are, this is an area where the otherwise excellent set is really let down. (Of course, given what I paid for mine, I can easily overlook it.)

Assembly of the set is easy, with only a few detached parts that snap easily into place. When attaching the top of Point Dread to the base, it is necessary to press down fairly hard to get it to lock into place. Otherwise, it will come apart when you pick it up. It's also worth noting that the control console does not snap into place inside Point Dread, it simply stands wherever you place it, so be sure to remove it before you transport the set, or it'll fall out.

Now, on to the most controversial part of the set: the pack-in Teela figure. First seen from behind in a video about something else entirely, this figure was standing inside Point Dread, and could be seen off to the side. Speculation ran wild, particularly since the details that could be made out indicated that this would be a Filmation-style Teela figure. Then the first photos showed up, and people lost their goddamn minds. The figure was derided as the worst in the entire line, and the complaints overshadowed the set itself. Though something clearly happened during production-- the head on this figure is clearly not the same head the Four Horsemen sculpted-- the figure is nowhere near as terrible as the apocalyptic reaction would have you believe. That said, it does have some serious issues.

The normal head sculpt suffers most from the lack of a chin. Her face appears to be sliding off her head. The alternate head is much better, but still nowhere near as good as the original figure's. (Personally, I think this figure will be sporting the extra "snake armor" head from the first MOTUC Teela.) The clothing overlay makes the body look overly bulky, a problem that was plagued the line for years as Mattel's designers seemingly forgot how this issue was avoided in the line's first year. The waist cut really stands out and looks awful, which was unavoidable, given the white expanse of the outfit. The only other option was omitting the waist cut altogether, as with the original MOTUC Teela. Collectors loudly complained about that for years afterward, so Mattel's designers were really in a no-win situation here.

Aside from the head, sculpting is mostly good, though inconsistent. The clothing and new bracers are sparsely detailed in an attempt to capture an animated look, while the upper arm bracers and boots sport the more detailed sculpts of the original version of the figure. This creates an incongruity that gives the figure an odd appearance. The paint apps are pretty good, at least. The paint on the basic head on my figure is much better than many of the heads I've seen online, which improves the overall figure quite a bit. Teela has some very cool accessories, including a Filmation-inspired sword and shield, and a removable visor for the helmeted head.

Despite a few shortcomings, this is a very impressive set overall. The sheer size of it makes it an excellent display centerpiece, if you don't have a Castle Grayskull, anyway. I could see someone having a bit of buyer's remorse if they shelled out to get it at the original $125 price, but as I only paid a third of that, I'm extremely happy with it. The biggest knock against this set is the pack-in figure, and that's hardly a deal breaker. For what you can currently get the set for, Point Dread & the Talon Fighter is a must-have for MOTU collectors.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Rant Review: Masters of the Universe Classics Saurod figure

I was eight years old when the Masters of the Universe movie was released. I was convinced that this was going to be the greatest movie ever made! In those pre-internet days, information on upcoming movies was tough to come by, especially for a little kid, so aside from a small feature in one of the few issues of the official MOTU magazine, I had seen virtually nothing of the movie when my Dad took me to the theater to see it soon after it opened. (That's a story in itself. Dad refused to bother with calling the theater to get showtimes, and just left at a random time. We had to drive to all three theaters in town before we got to the right one, and then had to kill about an hour before the next showing!) My thoughts and feelings about the movie are too much to get into here, and my stance on it has softened quite a bit over the years, but let's just say that I was disappointed. After the awesome opening, I began to realize that we just weren't going to get to see all the characters I loved, and were instead being given new characters to fill those roles. My feelings about these new characters at the time: Karg? A fur-wearing loser with a bootleg Trap Jaw arm. Blade? A poor man's Tri-Klops. But the third new villain was actually pretty cool. (So he was the one who got killed pretty early on, naturally.) That was Saurod.

(I'll take a moment here to apologize about the photo quality. I was unable to use my normal lighting setup, and I'm nowhere near a skilled enough photographer to compensate properly, so the result is that all the photos look like Saurod is about to sit down for a Barbara Walters interview. Just bear with me, and hopefully things will be back to normal next week!)

While Mattel has repeatedly insisted that movie figures are not possible in the MOTUC line-- which is a damn shame, as I would fucking love a couple of Langella Skeletor figures, in both standard and golden-armored Master of the Universe versions-- they can make new figures of the characters they produced figures for in the vintage toyline. That means we can get Blade, Gwildor, and Saurod. I wanted the Saurod toy as a child, but never saw any of the movie figures in any store. So, the arrival of this figure has been a long time coming, to me. Does he live up to the anticipation? Well, mostly.

The first thing I noticed about Saurod as I removed him from the package was his size. He's taller than most figures in the MOTUC line, and that additional height also makes his proportions seem a bit leaner, which suits the character. While there are a few re-used parts, most of Saurod is new tooling. His sculpt is more detailed than usual for this line, which is appropriate, given the source is live-action material. His armor has lots of detail, including some small dings and indentations to show that it has seen some wear. The skin and chain mail are meticulously detailed, especially Saurod's eyes. They have a sinister, reptilian coldness that make the character very imposing. Saurod's left hand is sculpted with his fingers flayed out, emulating a movie scene in which he shoots darts from his fingertips. Unfortunately, this brings us to one of the two quality control issues my figure had. His index finger was badly warped in the package, so it's flush against the forefinger. I'll be applying some heat to the hand so I can reposition it. Saurod's lone accessory, his gun, suffers from a similar issue. The scope on top of it was also warped, and leans off to the side instead of facing straight ahead, as it should. Again, heating the part and repositioning it will fix this issue, but it's still annoying that these are recurring problems with these figures. That said, the gun is cool, with a very detailed sculpt. It does have a bit of trouble fitting into its holster, though.

Saurod features the standard articulation for the line, though the stiff armor severely impedes the range of motion in the abdominal hinge. The ankles on mine are super tight, but that's better than them being really loose. His head has particularly good range, far better than many figures in this line. His tail, sadly, is not poseable. Paint apps are very simple, and do just enough to get the job done with no frills. The eyes are quite good, with shades of green and yellow, with a pinkish-red surrounding that looks very alien and cool. Saurod's scales and the mail he's wearing are the exact same color, which just seems odd. The textures are clearly distinct from one another, so I don't think it's all intended to be his skin. A different paint wash on each texture would have helped distinguish between the two, and a wash over the armor to bring out all the sculpted detail would have been most welcome, too. These are things that are easy for me to do myself, but it would have been nice to have the figure that way out of the package. I got this figure for $16, so I'm not too fussed about it, but for the people who paid $30+ when he was first released, I can see it being more of an issue.

All in all, Saurod is a figure with some minor issues that do little to harm him in my eyes. He's a very cool figure with a fantastic sculpt and an imposing presence on the shelf, and he'll make a great addition to Skeletor's army. Now to get Blade and Gwildor!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Rant Review: Masters of the Universe Classics Anti-Eternia He-Man figure

For a few years, Mattel "treated" MOTUC customers to a chase figure each year. These figures would show up on their adult collector website randomly several times throughout the year, usually disappearing again within minutes. 2016's chase figure drew from a German audio story from the '80s that saw Skeletor opening a portal to a nightmarish dark dimension seeking aid in defeating his mortal enemy, and finding the He-Man of Anti-Eternia. Drawing his power from Hell-Grayskull, shortened to Hellskull in the Classics line, this He-Man was an immense evil that had conquered his own planet. Where Skeletor sought an alliance with him, AE He-Man had other plans. When Mattel stopped producng the MOTUC line at the end of 2016, their remaining stock began appearing on other sites, and AE He-Man turned up on Gamestop's website, of all places. He's still available as I type this, so hurry on over there if you want one!

I rarely touch on the packaging, since it's the same basic design for the entire MOTUC line, but AE He-Man got some sweet custom packaging. It's just the regular MOTUC art tinted red and black to suit his color scheme, but it looks awesome. I always open all my figures, but I was actually tempted to display this one in the package because he just looked so damn cool inside it. Of course, I got over that feeling and opened it before long, but this is one of those very rare cases where I'd pick up an extra to display one in the package if I could spare the cash for it.

As a He-Man repaint, AE He-Man has the same sculpt and articulation we've already seen many, many times in the MOTUC line, with one difference. For whatever reason, the abdominal joint on my figure will not bend forward at all. It bends backward just fine, but once you move it forward into a default standing position, it refuses to go any further. It's not a huge deal, but it is annoying, and worth noting. All other points of articulation work very well, and I had no loose joints on my figure.

The standard He-Man sculpt is more than eight years old at this point, and it still looks great. The 4H really nailed the design their first time out. I do wish Mattel had included the Alcala-style He-Man head along with the standard one so we would be able to use the He-Man head sculpt of our choice. As 100% He-Man repaints go, I have to say this is my favorite. As much as I like the MOTUC Faker, AE He-Man looks far more sinister and intimidating. The red and black color scheme is very eye-catching, and the figure really stands out on the shelf. I went with a red and black color scheme for the weapons and armor with my custom Faker in the 2002 MOTU line, so it's cool to see that officially adopted here. The paint apps are all very clean, thankfully, as any slop would have been very obvious, given the color choice.

AE He-Man is loaded with accessories, even without an extra swappable head. He has his armor, of course, if you count that, along with repaints of the standard He-Man sword, axe, and shield. However, he has a bonus sword using the Alcala-style sculpt, as well as the shield from Castle Grayskull Man, all in his signature color scheme. These extra weapons let you personalized your AE He-Man a bit, which is very handy since he's 100% repaint of an often-seen figure.

Overall, this is a fantastic figure, though that price does sting a bit. With not a single new part, the profit margin on this figure has got to be even higher than normal for this reuse-heavy line. The lack of new pieces may hurt the figure's standing in the minds of some, but for me, AE He-Man shows how a well thought out repaint can breathe new life into an old figure, and make it well worth a (slightly overpriced) purchase.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Rant Review: Masters of the Universe Classics The Faceless One figure

As longtime friends and Rant readers are no doubt aware, since I was three years old, Masters of the Universe has been pretty much my favorite thing ever. (Yes, even more than Batman, LEGO, Universal monsters, and The Simpsons. Welllll... maybe it's tied with those last two.) My lifelong love of MOTU has had plenty of ups and downs over the years, though that's a story for another time. Next year's MOTU Day, perhaps?

Anyway, many readers have surely noticed an odd lack of MOTU articles here, despite my love for it. There are a couple of reasons for that. When I started this blog seven years ago, it was specifically devoted to the classic horror movies I cherish so much. As it gradually expanded to cover most anything that interested me, I began to feature the occasional toy review. By that time, however, I'd had to stop buying the MOTU Classics line due to losing my job, as I simply couldn't afford it any longer. Once I was back on more stable footing, I resisted getting back into the line because I still didn't have a lot of disposable income, and so much had been produced in the meantime, and so much of it was so expensive on the secondary market, that it was rather overwhelming. Last week, however, I finally decided to just go for it, and try to get the MOTUC stuff I want the most when I'm able to find it at a price I can live with. The first figure I wanted that I saw for a good price was Evil-Lyn's pop, the Faceless One.

Created for the 2002 animated series by Mike Young Productions, the Faceless One has connections to several established characters, most notably Evil-Lyn, as noted, and as the source of Skeletor's Havoc Staff. I immediately wanted a figure of the character when I saw him on the show, but unfortunately, it would take nearly a decade for one to be produced, and even longer for me to get one of them! Thankfully, he was well worth the wait. Scultors the Four Horsemen have captured the character's detailed design in the MOTUC style perfectly, and he looks quite imposing on the shelf among other figures. (It should be noted, however, that he has at least 30% more face than anyone calling themselves "The Faceless One" should really have.) His color scheme is evocative of the 2002 design for Evil-Lyn, so he will pair well with the MOTUC repaint of her figure in those colors. His accessories include his Havoc Staff-- note that my figure did not come with this, but I didn't have a problem with that since I got him so cheaply-- and the Ram Stone, which his left hand is sculpted to hold perfectly. There is also his large cloak, if you wish to count it as an accessory.

The figure has the usual MOTUC articulation, with ball-jointed head, hips, and shoulders, cuts at the waist, wrists, biceps, upper thighs, and boot tops, hinges at the elbows, knees, ankles, and torso. The cloak may look as if it hinders the head's range of motion, but it really doesn't interfere at all. The figure also stands very easily, despite the cloak's weight.

All in all, this is a great figure, and while he may not be an essential part of every MOTU collection, he is an essential figure for mine. Anyone who enjoyed the 2002 series will likely want him as well, and thankfully, he's one of the cheaper figures on the secondary market. Now that I'm back to collecting the MOTUC line, expect to see much more of them here! In fact, there's a figure arriving today that I'm very excited about; you can expect to see it featured here very soon.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Free Comic Book Day 2017 Guide

Tomorrow is Free Comic Book Day, so here I am with this year's edition of the FCBD guide! For those of you who have never participated, it may be helpful to have a few of the details clarified. Generally, FCBD goes something like this: You enter your local comic shop-- if you're unsure where the nearest one is, you can find out right here-- and the FCBD comics are displayed on a table or shelf, usually separate from the rest of the merchandise. Some shops place a limit on how many free books you can choose, while some let you grab as many as you like; it's all up to the owners of each store. Whatever the case, make sure to buy something while you're there, because while the comics are free to customers, the stores have to pay for them. They pay much less than they do for a normal comic, but it's still money out of their pockets.

FCBD grows each year, and so does the selection of free comics. It can be a little overwhelming, particularly with all the extra traffic most shops experience during the event. It helps to have a few key comics in mind that you're interested in. Lucky thing you happened across this, eh? (Of course, keep in mind that not every comic shop will have ordered every single comic. Generally, the majority will be offered, however.)

The owners of Hattiesburg's own Southern Fried Comics graciously allowed me to come by a few days early and read through this year's comics. Thanks to their generosity, I'm able to bring you a much more thorough look at this year's FCBD offerings! Let's start by taking a look at my top picks. 

Bongo Comics Free-For-All: Bongo's Simpsons comics are always great fun appropriate for all-ages, and this year's FCBD offering is no exception.

Secret Empire: This tie-in to Marvel's big summer event includes a twist I can't believe still hasn't been spoiled. It also includes a preview of the upcoming Spectacular Spider-Man series.

Wonder Woman: This is a reprint of last year's Wonder Woman #2, part one of the Year One story. It's not only a damn good comic, but a great introduction to the character for anyone interested in reading about her. If you're excited about the upcoming movie, definitely pick this up!

X-O Manowar: Valiant has been publishing some of the most consistently good comics available since their return several years ago, and this continues that tradition. Previews of several other Valiant series are also included.

World's Greatest Cartoonists: Fantagraphics has compiled a thick issue packed with short stories from a variety of creators, spanning several genres. If you're feeling like somethinf off the beaten path, pick this up!

Tex- Patagonia: Westerns used to be one of the most prominent genres in comics, but they have become increasingly rare over the years, so it's always nice to see more.

Keyser Soze- Scorched Earth: This prequel to the classic The Usual Suspects promises to be very interesting indeed! 

Betty & Veronica: Archie has completely revitalized their comics in the past few years, and this issue is a great sampler for anyone curious about what they're doing.

2000 A.D: The long-running British anthology is always interesting, and this year's FCBD offering is as great as ever.

The Incal: A thirty-page excerpt from the classic graphic novel by Moebius, one of the all-time greats. 

The Tick: It's the Tick! What more needs to be said?

Rick and Morty: The comic delivers the same subversive, biting sci-fi humor and adventure as the animated series. A must for fans of the show!

Star Trek: The Next Generation- Mirror Broken: I've never been a huge Star Trek fan, but even I found this interesting. A story set in the mirror universe, with evil versions of the ST:TNG protagonists, is a Trekkie's wet dream. Plus, it has Patrick Stewart in a tank top with a rockin' beard. What's not to love?

Catalyst Prime- The Event: a threat from space gives rise to a wave of superhumans in this story by Christopher Priest. It's an intriguing setup for a new universe of superhero adventures.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: I haven't had much interest in the TMNT since I was 10 or 11, but this is an engaging issue that made me interested in checking out the ongoing series. 

KID-FRIENDLY COMICS

Spongebob Freestyle Funnies
DC Superhero Girls
Fresh Off the Boat
Loud House
Bad Machinery (more appropriate for older kids)
Colorful Monsters
Barbie
Monster High
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund: Explains what the CBLDF is, and why freedom of expression in print is important in a kid-friendly format.
Boom Studios' Summer Blast

Those are the comics that jumped out at me for one reason or another, but there are still more! You can peruse the full list of FCBD comics here. No slight is intended to the comics I didn't mention here; these are just the ones that stood out a bit more. Whatever you're interested in, the important thing is to support your local comic book shop tomorrow, and have fun! 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Rant Review: The Lego Batman Movie- Clayface Splat Attack

It's been about six months since my last post; that's easily the longest I've gone without updating the blog. It's due to various things, including some health issues which, unfortunately, are ongoing. I'll be making an effort to post more regularly, though, so the few dozen regular readers who are still here can rest easy. ;)

Today, we're taking a look at one of the sets from The Lego Batman Movie theme, Clayface Splat Attack. Unlike most sets, which tend to be focused around a building or vehicle, Clayface is the set. It's a great design, clearly influenced by the BTAS design, and the build is fun and well thought out. Clayface has an extra arm, so you're free to switch one out if you prefer two of the stud launchers
instead of the hammer arm. You'll also have plenty of small brown pieces left over that you can use to customize your Clayface a bit, which is a nice touch. (You'll have even more if you disassemble the arm you're not using! My Clayface, seen here, has quite a few bits added on. As always, click on the photo to embiggen.) With ball joints at all key connection points, Clayface is well-articulated, and he can hold a variety of poses. He is top-heavy, however, so you'll have to use a bit of finesse to find that sweet spot that will allow him to remain upright with some poses. The only issue I have with the final build is that some of the gray parts are clearly visible, which doesn't fit with the character's usual aesthetic. It would have been nice if these pieces had been cast in a shade of brown so that they didn't stand out so much, but that is a relatively minor gripe.

Batman and Mayor McCaskill minifigures are included, along with a small clay trap to ensnare a minifig of your choice. (This, of course, can also be disassembled if you want more little brown bits to add on to your Clayface.) McCaskill goes well with the GCPD minifigs in a display, and be aware that the small mark on her face isn't a defect, but a "beauty mark" that is supposed to be there. Aside from some slightly different facial expressions, Batman is no different than the numerous other Batman minifigs you already have if you've been buying the TLBM sets. It's a damn good minifg, and I like having some extras to pop into various displays, so I definitely don't mind getting another. Plus, you can hardly fault TLg for including Batman minifigs in their Batman sets!

Clayface Splat Attack is easily one of my favorite sets from the TLBM series to date, a standout in a fantastic lineup. Recommended.

Monday, September 12, 2016

A look at Structures, an architecture series by Blocktech



I came across these at the DG a few days ago. Blocktech is one of the numerous LEGO-ish off-brands. They largely produce sets that revolve around fireman and law enforcement themes, as well as subject matter LEGO won't touch, such as military. These arhitecture-themed sets are a new foray for them, to my knowledge. They also had a Big Ben set, but I figured I'd try these out for now and grab that one later if these stack up pretty well. Obviously, these are not going to be as good as the official LEGO Architecture sets; they're smaller, far less expensive, and they simply don't have the range of pieces or level of quality control that LEGO does. (Which is one of the main reasons they're so much cheaper, of course.) All that said, it doesn't mean these are automatically crap, and for $5 each, it's well worth giving them a shot to see if they're worthwhile builds when taken on their own merits.

Here's the completed Empire State Building. (Banana Man [as well as Marshmallow Man] shown for scale.) It looks pretty good, honestly. It's actually quite similar to the LEGO Architecture ESB. Very similar, in fact. There are a couple of pieces that are present in the LEGO version that are lacking in the Blocktech one, but it appears as if those may be the only differences. Mind you, I'm not implying anything here; it's just an observation. There are only so many ways to render a box-shaped building with square plastic bricks, after all. Moving on...

This is the completed Eiffel Tower. Frankly, it's a bit of a mess. Several aspects of the build seem to be poorly thought out, and the entire thing lacks stability. The central tower tends to topple if you breathe near it, look at it too hard, or think about it. (Yep, there it goes again!) See those "arms" that drape down the sides? They don't even attach to the central tower! Designs like this would never fly in a genuine LEGO set. The LEGO version is a good bit more expensive, but it lacks these issues. So, if you want a brick-built model of the Eiffel tower, it's definitely worth it to splurge for the LEGO version.

It's also worth noting that these sets lack the name plates, as well as the booklets that detail the history of the buildings. In general, the pieces don't snap together perfectly like genuine LEGO pieces, but I didn't have any big issues. There were a few times I had to exert more force than usual to get two pieces to snap together, but nothing I didn't expect for this price. I recommend the Empire State Building, but you should definitely skip the Eiffel Tower. I reiterate: it's a mess. I'm inclined to pick up Big Ben based on my experience with these sets, particularly since it looks far more similar to the Empire State Building than the Eiffel Tower as far as design and stability are concerned. I'll be sure to let you all know how that goes if I do! In the meantime, check your Dollar General stores for these, or check out the official site if you're interested in the LEGO Architecture sets. Until next time...

Monday, July 25, 2016

Rant Review: Batman- The Killing Joke animated movie

Virtually everyone has been clamoring for an animated adaptation of the classic Alan Moore/Brian Bolland tale Batman: The Killing Joke for years now, ideally with the iconic voices of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as Batman and the Joker. At long last, it has come to pass. The Killing Joke has been well-acquainted with controversy since its publication due to its content, and Bruce Timm, Brian Azzarello, Sam Liu & company have not shied away from it here. Indeed, the prologue they've added to the story includes a scene that doubles down on the controversy; more on that in the spoiler section later in this review. (Don't worry if you're avoiding spoilers, you'll have plenty of warning.) All of this results in DC's first animated movie to be stamped with an R rating.


Brushing all the controversy aside and judging the movie on its own merits, I enjoyed it quite a bit. The art style used differs from the source story, as Bolland's exquisitely detailed art is obviously too complex and labor-intensive to realistically be used in an animated film, but there are little details here and there that are evocative of his work. Despite its different look, the movie's visuals have the same sort of feel. The animation is often not as smooth as one would hope, however. This is an issue common among the newer DC animated movies, but one can't help being disappointed to see it here. Surely such a hotly anticipated project, a surefire hit, warranted a budget increase to deliver higher quality animation than we normally see with these releases? Alas, it is what it is, and while the animation is not as good as hoped, it still is far from bad, and it gets the job done.

Kevin Conroy simply IS Batman at this point, and it's always wonderful to have him back in the role. Even mediocre efforts such as Public Enemies are buoyed by his presence, so having him work with such well-written material is a pure pleasure. Tara Strong is quite good as Batgirl, as usual, having similarly made that role her own over the years. Veteran actor Ray Wise is a disappointment as Commisioner Gordon, however. His flat delivery of most of his lines mars the few key scenes Gordon has, and one of the story's most powerful moments is deflated due to the lackluster performance. Wise is a good actor, so this could simply be due to miscasting.

Mark Hamill has long been celebrated for his various performances as the Joker, and rightly so. His incredible performance in last year's Arkham Knight video game was his magnum opus, and while I can't say his performance in The Killing Joke surpasses that, it is definitely on the same level. His performance of the "Go Loony" song alone is worth the price of admission. Honestly, that is one of the most surreal parts of the original story, and everyone has been wondering how they would pull it off. While Hamill  croons it out beautifully, everyone involved deserves much appreciation for putting that scene together.

Now we're about to dive into the story, and this will involve some spoilers. Highlight the following paragraphs with your mouse to read, or skip down below if you'd rather avoid spoilers.

The prologue focuses on Batgirl and her working relationship with Batman. It's clear that she has some romantic feelings toward Bruce, and this culminates with the two having sex on a rooftop one night while working a case. The entire internet has exploded since this was made known, and I myself was a bit apprehensive about it. While there is a precedent in the animated Batman projects for a Bruce/Babs relationship-- see Mystery of the Batwoman-- it's never felt right. Putting the age difference aside, since it's honestly not as large a gap as many people seem to believe, Bruce is a mentor to Barbara. This position of authority he has over her lends a rather skeevy air to the whole idea of them pursuing any kind of romantic relationship. Not to mention that he's also her father's BFF, adding another layer of weirdness to the whole thing. However, as always, I resolved to wait and actually watch the movie before passing judgment on it. I'm happy to be able to say that the entire thing is handled well in the movie. Both characters immediately recognize it as a mistake, and it even leads to a scene where Bruce apologizes and behaves like an actual human for a damn minute. Barbara decides that she really doesn't need this whole thing in her life anymore, and decides to move on, returning her gear to Batman, and retiring as Batgirl. 

There's also an epilogue that shows Barbara back at home, and makes it very clear that she has begun her career as Oracle. This lends an air of hope to the movie, particularly to comic readers with some familiarity with the character. It's a nice coda that brings the story back to focusing on her, and helps a bit to mitigate her use as little more than a prop during the main story of TKJ. 

As for the main part of the story, it's exactly as readers remember, with a bit of additional dialogue and action here and there to flesh things out a bit.There are moments that are absolutely chilling, with many of the graphic novel's scenes beautifully realized. The minimal use of music is eerily effective for the most part, and the whole production is lifted by the (mostly) amazing performances. It's actually been quite a while since I've really enjoyed any of the DC animated movies-- right offhand, I think The Flashpoint Paradox was the last one-- but The Killing Joke is a return to the quality we used to get from these projects. It's one of the best animated movies carrying the DC logo, and I highly recommend watching it.

As a little aside, I can't help hoping that the movie is such a success that they'll see fit to release an alternate version with the coloring done in the style of the original version of the graphic novel, as demonstrated here. I like the realistic tones of the recolored version, which the movie emulates, but the surreal, garish colors of the original version have a macabre appeal of their own.