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!