Friday, September 17, 2021

Rant Review: Masters of the Universe Ninjor figure

As one of the vintage MOTU line's final releases, Ninjor was a bit of an oddball that stuck out even in a sea of oddballs. Even among cybernetic elephant men and reptilian speed freaks with tires wedged into their torsos, a straight-up ninja transplanted to Eternia seemed a little weird. Ninjas were very popular fare in the late '80s, however, so it was perhaps inevitable that the team behind MOTU would slip one into the line in one form or another. Something that is particularly amusing to me is that, given the vintage figure's resemblance to Lee Van Cleef under his mask, the character seems to have been partly inspired by the TV series The Master, which really only remembered today for the good-natured mocking it received on Mystery Science Theater 3000! As with most of the line's late releases, Ninjor made few media appearances, and lacked much character development as a result. He continues to be one of the more obscure and maligned MOTU characters. Is his debut in the Origins line cool enough to overcome that? Read on...

From the neck down, Ninjor shares all his parts with Skeletor. Many have expressed puzzlement that an apparently human character would have the clawed hands and feet shared by many of the line's villains, but this always made perfect sense to me. I always assumed these were simply boots and gloves he was wearing to aid him in combat and climbing, no doubt inspired by my having seen ninjas use clawed devices for climbing in various movies. Of course, given that he does live on Eternia, there's always the possibility that he's not entirely human. However you rationalize it, the parts are accurate to the vintage figure, so they definitely belong here. The head is new, and while the mask is not removable on this figure, the part of the face that we can see certainly carries the same likeness. The shirt piece is not cloth, as it was on the vintage figure, but it is sculpted with a nice clothlike texture that works very well, as we saw previously with Scare Glow

The few paint apps the figure requires are applied very neatly, and despite some color combinations that are often problematic, the underlying color never bleeds through. Caucasian fleshtone over black plastic is a recipe for bleed-through, but non is present here. Ninjor has the articulation model we've become familiar with, with swivel & hinge shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, and ankles, swivels at the boot tops and waist, and a ball-jointed head. He's a very fun figure to pose, and none of the joints on mine are overly tight or loose. The pieces pop apart at the usual spots for easy swapping, but as always, I recommend heating the elbows, hips, knees, and ankles before popping them apart.

Ninjor has a nice assortment of accessories, with a katana, nunchaku, and a bow. The weapons fit easily into his hands, and so far have not shown a tendency to fall out. The nunchaku have a chain with actual individual links, which is a nice touch. With the two weapon slots on his back, you can have him hold one while storing the other two. I always appreciate when a figure's accessories can be stored on the figure itself, so this was a very nice surprise! All weapons are molded in silver, and while some additional paint apps would have been nice, their lack is not surprising. The wave four minicomic is also included, and while the tiny page count severely limits the kinds of stories that can be told, I'm still gleeful about getting actual minicomics with these figures!

The announcement of this figure's inclusion so early in the Origins line was a big head-scratcher for many collectors, but I was happy to see Mattel mix things up a bit. For most collectors, Ninjor is far from an essential character, but he has an interesting look, some cool accessories, and let's face it: Ninjas are still cool. A ninja with red demon boots, even more so! I doubt he'll be cracking any top ten lists, but if you tend to like the oddballs, as I do, Ninjor is a figure you definitely want to add to your collection. That's it for today, but infiltrate the blog again in three days for more! Until then, stay safe out there, and happy hunting!

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Rant Review: Masters of the Universe Origins Zodac figure

Quite possibly the most enigmatic of all MOTU characters, Zodac has been portrayed as a hero, a villain, and something in between. In at least one early document, he was explicitly described as a bounty hunter. Ultimately, he was deemed neutral. For many children of the '80s, this was how we learned what the word meant! As a cosmic enforcer, Zodac has generally been portrayed as immensely powerful, seeking to ensure that the balance of power between good and evil is never tipped too far in favor of one or the other. Often depicted flying around in a cosmic chair a la Metron of the New Gods, he never wears pants, despite the vast coldness of space. 

The sculpt is the same rather odd hodgepodge of parts from other figures, as with the vintage toy. The level of sculpted detail remains good, with some particularly nice detailing on the scaly boots and the hairy torso. The head is new, and follows the line's M.O. of replicating the vintage design with slightly sharper details, for the most part. There are a couple of spots where things are a bit soft, such as the notch or "buckle" on the right jaw. The back of the head has some different design elements, notably a small hole near the top of the helmet that I've certainly never noticed on any Zodac figure before. I have no idea what purpose it's meant to serve; it just seems to be there for no apparent reason.

What few paint apps there are have been applied neatly, particularly the exposed area of the face. The black eyes have a gloss sheen, lending them a goggle-like appearance, which is a nice touch. Zodac has the usual articulation, with swivel & hinge shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, and ankles, swivels at the waist and boot tops, and a ball-jointed head. This remains a very nice articulation scheme that is loads of fun to mess around with and pose, and the joints move easily and hold poses well. They still pop apart at the usual spots for easy swapping, though as always, I recommend heating the elbows, hips, knees, and ankles, before popping them apart. 

Zodac's accessories are his usual pistol and armor. Both are pretty close to the vintage designs, with a few slight differences. The armor deviates more than the pistol, most notably with the size of the cosmic enforcer emblem on the chest. It's much thinner than we've seen on other Zodac figures. The sculpting is also noticeably softer in a couple of areas, most notably on the straps that run on either side of the waist. Where the vintage figure had some large bullets sculpted here, the Origins version simply has a featureless line. This was one of those cool little details that enabled you to use your imagination and come up with your own explanation, thus broadening the mythology of the character and the world. It's a shame to see that the design team didn't see fit to include it here. It also would have been nice to get some gun blast effects or something, as this is another figure with heavy parts re-use that feels mighty light on accessories. The wave four minicomic is also included.

With his relatively bland design and color scheme, Zodac isn't the most exciting figure. The air of mystery that still surrounds him lends him a certain cool factor, though, and for fans of the original 8-back, he's absolutely essential. As someone who's always gravitated toward the early MOTU mythology and cast, I'm happy to have him show up in the line so early on. He's not the most amazing figure in the line, but he's solid, and having this armor and head offers ample opportunity for customizers eager to create their own army of cosmic enforcers, so there's that! Whether you plan to make him a member of Skeletor's army, induct him into the ranks of the heroic warriors, or just have him hang out with the Sorceress in Castle Grayskull, Zodac is a worthy addition to the MOTU Origins lineup. That's it for today, but ride your cosmic armchair back over here in three days for more! Until then, stay safe out there, and happy hunting! 

Friday, September 10, 2021

Rant Review: Masters of the Universe Origins Hordak figure

Hordak has often been a somewhat controversial figure among MOTU fans over the years. One of the biggest debates that frequently pops up concerning him is whether or not he is considered a MOTU or She-Ra villain. Proponents of either point of view have a strong case, as he featured as the main antagonist in the Filmation POP cartoon, but the Horde were only released as actual toys as part of the MOTU line, and featured heavily in the various comics that followed their creation. Even his backstory was controversial when he first introduced. Putting aside the clumsy retcon of employing him to steal an infant princess that had never before been mentioned, the very idea of making him Skeletor's mentor rubbed many young MOTU fans the wrong way. Personally, even as a child, I rejected that backstory, as it diminished Skeletor. But despite that, I found Hordak, and the Horde itself, to be pretty cool and interesting. It was a great idea to introduce a third faction that was after the destruction of both Skeletor and He-Man, and the figures themselves boasted some very cool and creepy designs. Thus, while he was never Skeletor's mentor in my mind, Hordak was a worthy villain who featured pretty heavily in my MOTU adventures after I received the figure as an Xmas gift. We've gotten some truly great figures of the Horde's supreme leader (none of that "Horde Prime" stuff for me!) over the decades, so how does this new version stack up? Read on...

Following the Origins template, Hordak replicates the vintage toy's design, with some minor differences. The most noticeable deviations are the eyes, which are significantly smaller. The chitinous rim of his headpiece and the warts on his head are also more clearly defined, and the points on his forehead ridge are a bit more pronounced. The bulk of the figure uses the standard humanoid body, though his gloves and boots are new. The Horde armband is a separate piece, rather than a sculpted element on the arm. His facial expression seems slightly different, coming off a bit more annoyed or grouchy than the vintage figure's barely contained malevolence. On close examination, however, I think this is more due to the paint apps than the actual sculpt.
Speaking of those paint apps, what's here is applied pretty neatly. Even somewhat tricky apps, such as the red bats over black boots and armor, are thick enough that the black does not bleed through. There are more differences from the vintage toy in this category, especially with the eyes and the surrounding area. Whether or not this is a bad thing is a matter of personal opinion, but there are quite a few variants out there, so you can probably find a Hordak head to suit your tastes. The Origins line's tendency to brighten up the color scheme is only partially in effect here. The shades of white and red used on the head, armor, and cape are indeed much brighter, but the shade of gray used for Hordak's skin is far darker than what we've seen before. The "jowls," gray on the vintage toy, are black here. 

Hordak has the standard articulation, with swivel & hinge shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, and ankles, swivels at the calves and waist, and a ball-jointed head. The head's range of motion is limited a bit by its design, but it's better than I expected. Hordak's accessories include the aforementioned armor and armband, his bat shield/sidekick, and his crossbow. The bat clips snugly into place on either of his forearms, and the plastic used is a more rubbery kind that seems less likely to cause the band to snap off, an issue that plagued many vintage Hordak figures. The crossbow is a bit trickier to get into proper position, and is prone to fall off the figure's arm. The cape attached to the armor is actual sculpted plastic, rather than the thin sheet of plastic used for the vintage version. It's a soft, rubbery plastic, and that, combined with its short length, prevents it from interfering with posing in any major way. The wave four minicomic is also included. With so many of the figures in this line coming up short on accessories, it's nice to get a figure like this that has a good assortment. A version of the staff from the 2002 and MOTU Classics iterations of the character would have been nice, but there's enough here that I don't feel cheated without it.

As the leader of one of the main factions, it was vital that Hordak be done properly, and I'm pleased to say that the design team has done it. Hordak's interesting design makes him stand out on the shelf, even all by himself. It'll be even better when we have enough of his cronies in figure form that the Horde can have their own corner of the Origins display! Whatever your feelings about where the Horde belongs on the toy shelf or in MOTU lore, Hordak is a well-made figure, and worthy addition to the collection. Now bring on the rest of the Horde, and some Snake Men! That's it for today, but keep scrolling for more photos, and open a portal back here in three days for more! Until then, stay safe out there, and happy hunting!

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Rant Review: Masterverse Moss Man figure (Revelation series)

We come to the end of the road for Masterverse reviews, for now anyway, with Moss Man! Following a leaked prototype photo last year, Moss Man was the the first glimpse we had of how an actual figure in the Masterverse line might look. (As well as for the Revelation series itself, for that matter.) While the final figure has some obvious differences-- the prototype seemed to have used a Classics figure as its base-- the general design has carried over. The redesign spurred the usual debate among fans and collectors, with some opining that Moss Man without flocking simply isn't Moss Man. While I feel that's excessive, the loss of flocking is a shame, and it remains a sticking point for many. Is this figure cool enough to merit a spot in your collection without a reliance on his traditional gimmick? Read on...
The sculpt on this figure is fantastic, easily the most detailed and eye-catching of the figures released so far. I haven't seen this confirmed anywhere, but it's rumored that the Four Horsemen had a hand in this figure's design. Given the level of detail on display here, I can certainly believe it. Various wood-like, leafy, and mossy textures are lovingly rendered, with nary an inch of the figure lacking in detail. Moss Man has a rather angry facial expression, evoking the vintage figure's ferocious face without simply giving him a repainted Beast Man head again. (I would have liked an alternate head with a more serene expression, but apparently that just wasn't in the cards.) Excellent work here, though it does make me wish the other figures had the same level of detail in their sculpts. 
The paint apps on this figure are kinda all over the place. The eyes and teeth are neat, but many of the brown vines and wooden portions are extremely sloppy. There are numerous examples of the paint either not filling the appropriate area, or glopping over onto another. You'll find other areas where the paint has been applied very neatly, making these messy areas stand out all the more. Thankfully, with such a busy sculpt, full of overlapping textures, it doesn't hurt the figure nearly as much as it would have on one of the other less detailed figures. It all sort of fades into the overall design, and manages to work pretty well despite the messiness. Unfortunately, there is still plenty of areas that have been left unpainted, and are crying out for a wash or some drybrushing. The figure looks good as it is, but once I spend some time doing some detail painting, it should look even more impressive! 
Moss Man sports the line's standard articulation for the most part, with swivel & hinge shoulders, wrists, hips, and ankles, double elbows and knees, swivels at the thighs, waist, and biceps, and a ball-jointed head and torso. Nearly all of these points of articulation move smoothly and hold poses well, though he has the same odd hip construction as Skeletor and He-Man. Everything works as you'd expect until you hinge the legs outward, at which point the barbell piece inside the crotch drops down. This allows a greater range of outward motion for the legs, but the problem is that the barbell doesn't always want to pop back up when you move the legs inward. As with Skeletor, this piece moves back into place with considerably more ease than it does on He-Man. He lacks the side-to-side tilting in the feet, and the cut at the calves, which is a shame. Moss Man has two pairs of swappable hands and a large wood/vine piece that can pop onto either wrist. The vine piece is long, unwieldy, and rather heavy, so the figure is prone to tipping over when it's attached. It takes a bit of work to find a pose in which he can remain standing while using it; thankfully, he has those huge feet to help keep him balanced. Personally, I would have preferred the swappable head I mentioned above, or a new version of his traditional mace, but this is a cool accessory, nevertheless.
Despite coming up a bit short in articulation and accessories, Moss Man is a very cool figure. He's neck and neck with Evil-Lyn for my favorite of the figures released so far. The lack of flocking may be a deal breaker for some, but I feel the fantastic level of detail in the sculpt helps make up for that. This version of Moss Man makes is an imposing presence on the shelf, and truly feels like a powerful, godlike entity for the first time. Don't sleep on this one. He seems to be lingering on store shelves a bit longer than his wave one brethren, but as a fan-favorite character, he's sure to sell eventually. If you're on the fence about getting him, I definitely wouldn't wait too long! Although I have every previous figure of Moss Man, I'm very glad to have added this one to my collection. He's different enough, and cool enough, to be compelling even among that illustrious company. That's it for today, but head back this way Friday for the next Origins review! Until then, stay safe out there, and happy hunting!

Monday, September 6, 2021

The 007 Re-Read Project: James Bond and Moonraker by Christopher Wood

Much like the book we looked at last week, James Bond and Moonraker was written by Christopher Wood based on his screenplay for the film. Unlike The Spy Who Loved Me, however, Moonraker actually has some ties to the original Fleming novel, tenuous though they may be. This results in a rather odd situation, as the book is written as if it is canonical to the previous novels, but features specific characters and concepts Bond has already encountered. It's not a big deal, of course, just a bit of weirdness you have to handwave away. I was particularly interested to read this novelization, as the movie is one of the most derided of all the Bonds. With the alterations Wood made to James Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me to make it more in the vein of the literary 007, I was curious about whether or not a similar approach here would make it more serious and grounded than the movie. There are quite a few differences between novelization and film, but as with Wood's previous book, there's no way of knowing which are due to the book being based on an early draft of the screenplay, and which are due to changes made with the intention of making this book mesh better with the others. Whatever the case, it makes for an interesting reading experience. As ever, I do my best not to blow the entire plot, but there are SPOILERS AHEAD

Things kick off with the mid-air hijacking of the Moonraker, a space shuttle that can travel into space and back to earth, landing like a normal airplane. It was created for NASA by Hugo Drax, an ultra wealthy businessman who doesn't want to cede control of space to the Russians. As the Moonraker was being loaned to the English government in exchange for sharing of some top-secret tech of their own, the secret service is now involved. Bond heads to Drax's estate to begin his investigation, and quickly develops suspicions about Drax himself. Bond's eventual ally in his investigation is the hilariously-named (even by James Bond standards) NASA pilot and CIA agent Holly Goodhead. Once Bond becomes a big enough concern, Drax enlists the aid of none other than the indomitable Jaws to snuff him out. 

Wood again writes Bond far closer to Fleming's version than what audiences were currently seeing onscreen, and that is to the book's advantage. Many of the more controversial aspects of the film-- the gondola hovercraft, the double-taking pigeon, Jaws's girlfriend, to name a few-- are absent, and the overall tone is more serious. There are several sequences that are downright intense, some of which are played for laughs in the movie. A couple of the movie's strongest scenes are absent, such as the fate of poor Corinne (named Trudi in the novel) and the shooting scene with Drax and Bond. Drax himself is virtually identical physically to the character in Fleming's novel, and there's a nice reference to his predilection for playing bridge, which featured heavily in the Fleming novel. Bond wonders to himself what side he fought on back in the war. Surprisingly, we never get any background information on Drax, so we're left wonder along with him. It could be that Wood's intent was for the character to share the same history as the Fleming version, but his overall demeanor and Ra's al Ghul-esque motivations are incongruous with that. In any case, he's an effective villain, and I find him more interesting than the previous book's Stromberg. Drax's first henchman, Chang, seems an attempt to create an Oddjob sort of villain, but he receives no development, and falls far short of that standard. His battle with Bond in Venice is a highlight, however, and far more violent that anything we'd see in any of Moore's Bond movies. 

Holly fares much better as a heroine than Anya did in Wood's previous book, getting the better of Bond on a couple of occasions, and her skillset proves absolutely vital in the book's final act. Jaws is, if anything, even more formidable than before, and seems to be virtually indestructible. (His survival of the destruction of Atlantis in the previous book, by the way, is not explained. Where he is shown to clearly have survived in the movie, the novelization saw him in a situation seemingly guaranteed to result in his doom. I wondered how Wood would address it, if at all, and it turns out that he didn't. Not a big problem, just worth pointing out.) Without the addition of his girlfriend-- though he does save a female astronaut from Drax's space station during the climax, she's clearly not the same character-- his turn hinges entirely on Bond pointing out how he himself will ultimately be disposed of once Drax no longer has need of him, as he clearly will not fit into his idea of genetic perfection. His scenes following his face turn are far stronger than in the movie, and one gets the sense that his selflessness in saving Bond, Holly, and the unnamed astronaut are an attempt to condone for all the horrible things we've seen him do prior to this. It's a strong (possible) end for "the man with murder in his mouth."

Notable quotes:

There may have been something slightly vulgar about the display of so much wealth, but it was a very genuine vulgarity.

"I want you to look after Mr. Bond, Chang," [Drax] said slowly. "See that some harm comes to him."

The voice was as cold as that of a mid-western Baptist schoolmistress making her first trip east of the Great Lakes.

Poor Q. He produced equipment for every contingency and yet was furious whenever one arose.

"Mr. Bond--" the voice echoed down from above, and conveyed a note of genuine regret "-- you defy all my attempts to plan an amusing death for you."

His smile was like a crack on a gravestone.

"At least I will have the pleasure of putting you out of my misery."

Whatever your feelings about the film version-- personally, while I find all of the common criticisms of it valid, I still like it and enjoy watching it for some damn reason-- James Bond and Moonraker is a damn entertaining book. The plot meanders a bit, as does the movie, but Wood keeps a quick pace, and his wit and clever turns of phrase keep things enjoyable. It's a bold, sprawling adventure, exciting and ridiculous in equal measure, much like the movie itself. I find myself wishing that Wood had written more Bond novels, particularly some not based on the movies. Recommended. 

That's it for today, and I'll be skipping next Monday, but fly back here in two weeks, as we move into the John Gardner era! 

Friday, September 3, 2021

Rant Review: Masters of the Universe Origins Ram Man figure

One of the most exciting announcements from last year's Power Con was the debut of the MOTU Origins deluxe line, featuring Ram Man. A mainstay in the MOTU mythos from early in its life, Ram Man's figures have typically been largely defined by their action feature. If ever there was a figure who suited the deluxe line, it was Rammy! The vintage figure really stood out among his plastic brethren, with a unique design, and even a different sculpting style, that made him look almost like a refugee from another toyline. His articulation was further compromised by the toy's action feature, but what an action feature it was! By retracting the feet into the body and pressing the switch on his foot, the figure would ram forward, a function that we '80s kids found a wide variety of uses for! This feature was intact in the 2002 version of the figure, but absent in the action feature-free MOTU Classics version, which gave us our first ever fully articulated Ram Man. This new Origins version looks to split the difference between the two approaches. How does it fare? Read on...

The sculpt is emblematic of the approach of the Origins line in general, as it virtually replicates the vintage design, while slightly improving the level of detail. The sculpt is 100% new, another aspect of the figure's design that undoubtedly earmarked him for inclusion in the higher-priced deluxe line. Every aspect of the burly fan-favorite is here, from his kilt, his beefy arms, big armor with the chains, and his helmeted head, slightly befuddled expression and all. There are some nice dents and dings sculpted into the helmet, a fun detail that was totally absent on the vintage toy. There does seem to be a bit more of a style cohesion in relation to the rest of the line, however, making the figure look less like he wandered in from another toyline. This is some of the strongest work we've seen from the Origins team so far.

Ram Man's paint apps are bit less neat overall than what I've seen on most of the line so far, with a pretty wide variation in the quality of the paint apps on the face and belt buckle. One of my figures has an open-face helmeted head with a very neat face, while the extra I got for my little niece to play with has very sloppy paint apps on that head, about half of which are barely even filled in. The silver belt buckles suffer from slop and overspray on every example of this figure I've seen. If you're fortunate enough to run across more than one of these at once, I definitely recommend that you take a minute to look over the paint apps and choose the best example.

As Rammy has a unique sculpt, so he also has a unique articulation model. He has the swivel & hinge shoulders, elbows, and wrists and the ball-jointed head that is standard for the line, but it's a different story below the waist. There is no waist swivel, and the only leg articulation present are swivel & hinge knees. This was a necessary compromise due to the action feature, so I doubt anyone is overly surprised about it. Frankly, the knee articulation on its own is so useless that they might as well have not bothered. The action feature itself works a bit differently. After pressing the figure down, you have to press him down again to make him spring up slightly. This is a bit harder to activate than the traditional implementation, and it doesn't work as well in general. I really would have preferred the vintage-style feature instead. It really feels like the design team tried to fix something that wasn't broken.

Rammy is fully loaded with accessories, as we've come to expect from the deluxe line. He has a swappable head, an alternate right hand, and two axes that can fit together. The deluxe wave one minicomic is also included. The alternate head has a face guard that seems to be inspired by the 2002 animated show, which is a nice touch. I've actually found myself keeping that head on the figure more often than not. This is definitely a better option than the unhelmeted head we got with the Classics figure, particularly with the clumsy implementation that version had. I'm glad they went this route instead. The axes can attach at the handles, and while it looks odd and unwieldy, I can't deny that it also looks plenty dangerous! (Though it may be far more dangerous for the wielder than any of his enemies!) This is a pretty robust suite of accessories, especially for a fully tooled figure with an action feature, so I definitely feel that we're getting our money's worth here. 

As an essential supporting cast member, Ram Man is one of those figures pretty much everyone wants in their collection. Mattel did him up right, despite a few issues. The ramming feature isn't implemented as well as it could have been, but let's face it: Most of us who are buying these are just going to have him standing on a shelf, so it's not that big a deal. For those of us with children in the family who will be actually playing with them, well, most of them won't know what the alternative is, so they likely wont be bothered by it. My little niece certainly isn't, and she has loads of fun ramming him into things! Ram Man is one of those iconic MOTU figures and characters who has entered the public consciousness, and this is bound to be one of the more popular figures from a very popular line. Thankfully, he's been done justice, and I'm glad to have him in my collection. That's it for today, but smash your way back Tuesday for the next Masterverse review, or stop by Monday for the next entry in the 007 Re-Read Project! Until then, stay safe out there, and happy hunting!

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Rant Review: Masterverse Evil-Lyn figure (Revelation series)

Today we're veering back into Masterverse territory with Skeletor's right-hand witch! Thanks to some timely listings on Amazon, I received Evil-Lyn shortly after coming across a single pair of He-Man and Skeletor at Walmart. (No prizes for guessing who the subject will be for my next Masterverse review!) The recipient of one of the show's more drastic redesigns, Evil-Lyn's look has spurred much debate among collectors. Is this new iteration worth getting for fans of the character, or should it be cast into Despondos? Read on...

As the only female in the first wave, Evil-Lyn has a totally unique sculpt. Her look from the show is faithfully recreated, with a nice level of detail on most of the figure. There's some particularly nice texture work on the fur, robe, and boots. The upper torso's fabric texture continues onto her chest, which is a bit weird. Her face has a nice, determined expression that nails the calculating persona for which she is known. Evil-Lyn looks intelligent and ruthless, just as she should. The alternate head shares this expression, with the addition of hair that is much longer than she is usually seen with. 

The paint apps are very neatly applied, and the printing on the face is flawless. Her upper lip is a much darker shade of red than the lower one, something I hadn't noticed while watching the show. After checking, the upper lip is darker on the show, not just for Evil-Lyn, but for all the females. It looks like it may simply be an effect of the lighting, but maybe not. It'll be interesting to see if Teela has the same sort of coloration on her figure once wave two hits. Maybe that's just the fashion on Eternia? Two of the hands have some minor slop, but nothing major. It's also notable that someone made the decision to make her caucasian for some reason, which is a new thing for the character in animation. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though it is a bit odd. I'd definitely be interested in seeing this figure with the classic yellow skin, or 2002-style deathly pale. Anyway, this is a very neat paint job, particularly by the standards of a mass-produced toyline. Just don't expect any paint washes.

Evil-Lyn shares the standard articulation for the Masterverse line with swivel & hinge shoulders, wrists, hips, and ankles, double elbows and knees, swivels at the boot tops, thighs, waist, and biceps, and a ball-jointed head and torso. Nearly all of these points of articulation have excellent range, move smoothly and hold poses well. Notably, she does not have the weirdness with her hip articulation that I previously pointed out on Skeletor and He-Man. 

Evil-Lyn has a nice assortment of accessories, including the aforementioned swappable head, her staff in two different lengths, a satchel, and two extra sets of hands. The head and hands swap easily enough, and the hands allow for a wider variety of poses and gestures. The hair on the extra head is stiffer than I would like, which interferes with posing to some degree. The satchel is a nice option to have, though I find it more cumbersome than it's worth. There is a strap on the figure's right hip with a ring to hold the small staff, but it's very prone to falling out no matter how you put it in there. It's a nice idea, but the staff is just too top-heavy. Whereas the Classics figure had two staffs into which the orb could be plugged, here we just have two full staves. It's nice to have the choice, however they chose to implement it. 

While I'm enjoying the Masterverse line as a whole, Evil-Lyn may be my favorite so far, at least from the basic figures. Both He-Man and Skeletor had a few issues that, while not major, were annoying. Evil-Lyn really doesn't have anything detracting from her good points, and she seems like a more fully realized figure as a result. This is an excellent rendition of an interesting new look for a classic character, and you can hardly go wrong with that! If you only get one figure from the first wave of this line, she is a great choice. That's it for today, but scheme your way back on Friday for the next Origins review! Until then, stay safe out there, and happy hunting!

Monday, August 30, 2021

The 007 Re-Read Project: James Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me by Christopher Wood

James Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me
occupies a rather odd position in the Bond bibliography. Despite sharing the title with one of Fleming's original Bond novels, the film version of The Spy Who Loved Me bears absolutely no resemblance to its contents. This was apparently a condition that Fleming himself insisted upon when he sold the film rights to the Bond books, as he was dissatisfied with the novel. (He wasn't the only one!) Rather than release a tie-in edition of the book that bore no relation to the movie, it was decided to have screenwriter Christopher Wood write a novelization with a slightly modified title to differentiate it from the Fleming original. This was one of the only books that I was unable to find during my Bond book binge of the mid-to-late '90s. Well, that's not exactly true; while I was able to find copies for sale online, they all commanded prices that were well out of my comfort zone, particularly for an old paperback. (There was a rather nice hardcover edition published in the U.K, but I was unaware of that at the time, and given that it went for far higher prices, it wouldn't have mattered anyway!) Thankfully, it was made available as an ebook back in 2013, and I was finally able to acquire a copy. (Oddly, it was delisted at some point, and a quick web search didn't turn up any explanation.) As always, I won't blow the whole plot, but there are SPOILERS AHEAD

It will come as no surprise to those who have made a habit of reading novelizations that there are a number of differences between this book and what you see in the movie. This is undoubtedly due to its being based on an earlier version of the script, but it may also be due in part to a desire to make it more congruous with the previous Bond novels. Aside from some of the dialogue, it's quite difficult to picture Roger Moore as the Bond of this book. There's a level of violence and gore that we have yet to see in any Bond films, let alone those starring Moore. There's a torture scene that particularly stands out in this regard that is certain to make male readers squirm as much as the infamous carpet beater scene from Casino Royale. Many of the outlandish setpieces from the film are here, but Bond himself is clearly modeled on Fleming's Bond. 

M's characterization is much closer to the film version than the literary, however, and his conversations with Bond are about the most casual you're likely to come across. Anya Amasova is given a great deal more background, though she remains a character defined more by her sexuality than her personality. Most of her scenes seem to pivot around how greatly she is desired by the men in her life, chiefly Bond and her boss. Speaking of her boss, he is explicitly called out as the head of SMERSH in the novel. It seems a rather odd choice, as SMERSH had been disbanded in the world of the novels by the time Thunderball was published. Whereas Walter Gotell's General Gogol is a relatively benign presence in the film, his counterpart in the novel, General Nikitin, is an utterly loathsome creature, so duplicitous and lecherous in nature that it stretches belief that M would behave so affably toward him even under direct orders. 

We also get quite a bit more background on Stromberg, here given the forename Sigmund, and the steel-toothed giant Jaws. Jaws himself is nearly as memorable as in the film, and serves as Stromberg's one and only henchman. (Lesser underlings Sandor and Naomi are not present in the novel.) Jaws is dispatched with quite a bit more finality than in the film, and it'll be interesting to see how Wood explains his presence in the Moonraker novelization, if it's addressed at all. The Stromberg of the novel differs massively from his film counterpart, though his goals remain the same. With his bald head and fashion sense, he almost seems to have been cast in the mold of Doctor No physically, but he has his own rather unique characteristics to set him apart. His ritual when something upsets him is more comical than intimidating, however, and it's probably for the best that the filmmakers didn't include it in the film version! He doesn't reach the upper echelon of Bond's nemeses, but he is a memorable villain nevertheless.

Wood makes a valiant effort to replicate the Fleming Sweep, though he doesn't achieve this consistently. The novel is a quick and easy read, however, and retains a feeling of density despite its brevity due to the sheer number of events. Not all of these receive proper fleshing out. Anya's sudden turn during the climax comes literally from nowhere, and without the slightest peek at her mental or emotional state to rationalize any of it. The actor's performances just barely manage to make the moment work in the film, but the novel doesn't have Roger Moore's charisma going for it, so the scene falls completely flat, and is immediately glossed over with no explanation. The book ends differently than the film, though they still escape from Stromberg's stronghold in the same manner. There's an epilogue that shows the pair reuniting after their adventure, but it sadly doesn't amount to much. There's a hint that Anya has defected, but we're left with no details about that, either. 

Notable quotes:

Women you pick up in casinos are either straightforward whores or have run out of money playing some ridiculous system. Either way they are going to be very expensive and probably very neurotic. (Yikes!)

Bond felt a sense of unreality. He had been dropped onto the roof of the world and he had done nothing to earn these spirit-enriching vistas, the reward of those who had bravely scaled the face of a mountain. Bond preferred his pleasures hard-won.

(As Bond is relentlessly accosted by merchants in the Cairo marketplace.) Bond felt like a man swimming against the tide. If anyone tried to sell him dirty postcards, he might go under.

Stromberg turned slowly like a man in a trance and Bond found himself staring into eyes that were two long corridors leading nowhere. He realized that Stromberg was completely and utterly mad. "You do not understand, Commander Bond. I want to destroy the world."

The two departing submarines were now framed in the gaping bows of the Lepadus. It was like a painting. A painting of the end of the world.

The tight, cruel line of Bond's mouth divided like a trap being sprung. 

While the novel ends rather weakly, the climactic scenes carry much of the bombast of the film version, and that helps make up for the small disappointments of the final chapters. Its memorable action sequences, (mostly) interesting characters, and the novelty of contrasting it with the film version make it well worth the read. I wouldn't call this a great book, but it's a good one, and definitely in the upper tier of non-Fleming Bond novels. I'm looking forward to tackling Wood's other Bond novelization. Recommended.

That's all for this time, but infiltrate your way here again next Monday for more! 

Friday, August 27, 2021

Rant Review: Masters of the Universe Origins Keldor & Kronis Rise of Evil figure set

Hoo boy, was that ever a debacle! If you were trying to score one of these sets earlier in the year, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Thankfully, Target re-ordered more of this exclusive set, and there is now a supply that is more than ample, with many stores piling dozens on the shelves. (Though there are none here, oddly enough.) As with the Scare Glow situation last fall, the drama surrounding the acquisition of this set has largely distracted from its merits. The 2002 revamp and its designs remain beloved among a large contingent of collectors, myself among them. Though Origins hasn't yet been around long enough to give us the breadth of the MOTU Classics line, it has already shown itself to be widely inclusive of various incarnations of the property. Getting a 2002-themed set like this is a huge deal, especially so early in the line's life. Does it live up to the hype, or will you want to condemn it to Despondos? Read on...

As per usual, the packaging art is beautiful. It even makes someone like me, who opens every damn thing, reluctant to rip into it. The sculpts are a bit of a mixed bag. Keldor is very well done, making use of existing body parts and adding a new head. I've seen many people claiming that this is the head from the Classics figure, but while it does look very similar, an in-hand examination of the two quickly makes it clear that it is a new sculpt. It's a great head sculpt all the same, with an expression that manages to seem both charmingly roguish or downright sinister depending on the angle from which it is viewed. His cape and boots are also new, adding some very useful pieces to the parts bank. The Skeletor head, touted as an Alcala version, is a fantastic addition to the line. It doesn't look explicitly Alcala-style to me, but it remains a very cool and creepy rendition of the arch villain, with a great pair of jewel eyes, to boot! As with the MOTU Classics Alcala head, the shadowed portions around the eye sockets are purple, but some quick paint detailing can fix that. It's easily the best Skeletor head sculpt we've gotten in the Origins line, and I hope they make it available again down the line so we have options other than dropping $30 on a figure set to get an extra. 

Kronis fares... less well. Like Keldor, he is made up mostly of reused parts, all of which are appropriate. His head is new, and it's, well, it's not great. Where Keldor's head sculpt looks as if they closely modeled it on the excellent MOTU Classics version, Kronis has a head sculpt that looks as if someone with very poor vision described the Classics version to the sculptor. There may have been a major earthquake during the sculpting, but they kept it anyway. Also, somebody peed on it. There was also probably-- well, you get the idea. It's a very odd sculpt, and it looks far more like someone's bad cosplay of the character than the character himself. I've mostly been happy with the sculpting work we've gotten with the Origins line, but this is easily the worst thing released to date. 

Both figures have the sparse but neatly-applied paint apps we've come to expect from this line. There is a spot on the Skeletor head's teeth on the right side where it looks as if paint has chipped away, but every one of these I've seen has this, so I'm guessing it's a widespread production error. Not a major deal, easily fixed, but worth noting. Both figures have the line's standard articulation, with swivel & hinge shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, and ankles, swivels at the calves and waists, and ball-jointed heads. This remains a great articulation model that is tons of fun to play with and pose!

The set has a decent amount of accessories, with armor and a gun for Kronis, and two pieces of armor, a cape, Havoc Staff, sword, and alternate head for Keldor. I've already covered the head and cape, but it;s worth mentioning that the armor Keldor is wearing is the standard Skeletor armor. This is inaccurate to the character's design, and it's too bad the design team repeated the cost-cutting measure that was employed with the MOTU Classics version. Like Evil-Lyn's 2002 design, it seems we're doomed to never get an accurate version in figure form! The armor has the bat painted in green, likely inspired by the character's original B-sheet design, so that's a nice easter egg for the old school fans. The staff and sword are molded in translucent green with the purple bits painted on, giving them a very cool "powered up" look. Kronis has his armor, a nice design that differs from the Classics version, and a black version of the Grayskull rifle. The figure lacks the green skull & crossbones belt that he is normally shown wearing. 

Despite the months-long drama and turmoil that surrounded this set-- you just know the people who paid hundreds of dollars for it earlier in the year are really kicking themselves-- this is a pretty awesome set, and I'm damn happy to have it in my collection. The odd head sculpt that Kronis got saddled with is definitely a major negative, but this set brings so damn much coolness to the table that it's a net win, even with that strike against it. With the Lords of Power re-releases, the Evil-Lyn repaint, and the upcoming minicomic Tri-Klops, Mattel is gradually building a pre-Adam version of MOTU's main antagonists, and that is a very cool thing indeed. It all starts with this set, and even if you only want it for the custom potential of the new parts that are utilized, it's one of the best $30 purchases you can make. Of course, clearance seems to be inevitable, what with the vast numbers now littering Target shelves, so that's always an option, too. Personally, while I'll score a couple of extras for parts at a reduced price if I can, I'm very glad I secured a set when I did. It's one of the standout releases in the Origins line, and easily one of my favorites. That's it for today, but lead your invading forces back over Tuesday for more! Until then, stay safe out there, and happy hunting! 

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Rant Review: Masterverse Skeletor figure (Revelation series)

With the shockwaves created by the first half of the new Revelation series still resonating, the accompanying Masterverse toyline continues to roll out. Distribution of the line is extremely spotty in my area (what else is new?), but I did happen upon a single pair of the big two last week. With He-Man already covered, today we'll be tackling the Lord of Destruction himself! Is this newest incarnation of the skull-faced archfiend worthy of standing alongside his predecessors on the shelf, or is he bound for the "extras" bin? Read on...
Unsurprisingly, much of the sculpt is shared with He-Man, so most of what I said their applies here: It's a slightly different rendering of the core MOTU buck, with a slightly leaner physique that still looks quite powerful. New parts include the forearms, hands, shin guards, feet, loincloth, and the head, of course. The head sculpt has drawn quite a few complaints online, and I wasn't crazy about it myself, judging from photos. It also appeared far too small. In-hand, thankfully, it comes off far better. The size still seems a bit small, but it's perfectly serviceable. Its sculpt also looks better in person, accurate to the animated design, with a touch of added detail. 

There are some nice ridges on the forearms, reminiscent of the vintage cross sell art. The feet are massive, easily the largest we've ever gotten on a Skeletor figure. Their size and giant claws make them look almost like shaved werewolf feet. It's taking me awhile to get used to them, but their size does lend the figure greater stability on the shelf, so that's a plus. Skeletor fares better than He-Man with overall detail, with some nice texture work on the hood, and the armor straps and baltea have a nice leathery texture. The shin guards and belt have very little in the way of detail, only a few studs and ridges. The birdlike ornament that has long been a feature of the belt has been omitted, owing to the animated design.
I'll point out here that, as with He-Man, heads from the Classics and Origins line are compatible with this figure. Origins heads require a bit of heat to fit easily, while Origins heads pop right into place. The shades of purple don't match, but that's an easy thing to fix if one is so inclined. I'm glad to see Mattel allowing for this kind of compatibility between MOTU lines! (It would be pretty shortsighted if they didn't, but that doesn't mean it was assured, given their track record!)  
As is typical for Mattel, there aren't many paint apps on this figure, but what we have has been neatly applied. The skull is a nice light gray with white teeth, and all the hollow areas are neatly filled in with black. The armor has a nice dark purple framing the bat emblem. The only bit of slop on my figure can be found on the crossbones area of the armor, and it's nothing major. I only noticed it once I was actively looking for it. There are plenty of details that have gone unpainted, and the lack of paint washes is again noticeable. I'm also curious why they painted the skull in these colors, rather than a cartoon-accurate yellow. 
Skeletor shares He-Man's articulation model, which comes as no surprise. Old Bonehead has swivel & hinge shoulders, wrists, hips, and ankles, double elbows and knees, swivels at the boot tops, thighs, waist, and biceps, and a ball-jointed head and torso. Nearly all of these points of articulation move smoothly and hold poses well, though he has the same odd hip construction. Eveything works as you'd expect until you hinge the legs outward, at which point the barbell piece inside the crotch drops down. This allows a greater range of outward motion for the legs, but the problem is that the barbell doesn't always want to pop back up when you move the legs inward. My Skeletor has more of an issue popping this piece back into position than my He-Man does. Even with that bit of weirdness, this is a strong articulation model, and it's a few tweaks away from being on par with what we see on most of Hasbro's collector lines. That is a very good thing indeed!
Skeletor's accessories include the requisite Havoc Staff, his cape and armor, the Shaping Staff, and two extra sets of hands. The Havoc Staff is cast in lighter shades than we're accustomed to, and has a nice wash over the ram skull. It looks appropriately cool and sinister. The Shaping Staff is cast in gold and almost devoid of detail, but that's true to its design. Both staves pop easily into the grasping hands, though the Havoc Staff's top-heaviness makes it prone to fall out at times. The armor has a multi-piece construction, with the cape slipped in between the two sections. Without anything to secure the front of the top piece in place, it can slip back while posing, but stays put most of the time. This is an interesting approach to Skeletor's armor, and I find that it works pretty well. I'm always glad to see Mattel's design team thinking outside the box and trying new things! The cape itself is a thin piece of fabric, but it does have a nice thin layer of flocking on the back. Thankfully, owing to the design of the armor, it'll be very easy for anyone who wishes to replace the cape to do so. 
With any new iteration of MOTU on toy shelves, Skeletor is bound to be one of the most heavily scrutinized figures, and that has definitely been the case with Masterverse. I was unsure about the execution of this figure based solely on photos, but I'm happy to see that most of my apprehension was unfounded. At this point, I'm thinking that Mattel really needs to get someone else to do their product photos, as whomever is currently taking them really does the product no favors! That aside, this is not a perfect figure, but it is a very good one, and I'm very interested to see what Mattel has in store for us with this line as it continues to evolve. That's it for today, but keep scrolling down for plenty more photos, and head back this way Friday for the next Origins review! Until then, stay safe out there, and happy hunting!