Thursday, April 30, 2015

Rant Review: LEGO The Simpsons Collectible Minifigures Series 1

With series 2 right around the corner-- it releases Friday, in fact-- it occurred to me that I never got around to reviewing the first series! Since I've seen quite a few people who missed the first series express interest in series 2, I decided to go ahead and review them despite being a year out of date. As remnants of series 1 can still be found in some stores, I'll also include the groping guide to assist anyone who is lucky enough to come across some. I'll be doing the entire series in one post, so this will be a long one. Grab a snack and a drink, and get comfortable!

First, a word about the heads. There continues to be a lot of debate regarding whether or not The LEGO Group made the right decision in going with unique sculpted heads, rather than using standard LEGO minifigure heads as seen in the Brick Like Me episode of the show. Each approach has its pros and cons; standard minifig heads have the benefit of using universal headpieces, which grant full compatibility with existing minifigs, as well as fitting in better, but it's tougher to capture the unique look of each character with the faces merely painted on. (The Blocko line from a decade or so back demonstrated this very well.) Sculpted heads allow the essence of each character to be captured far more faithfully, but this means that head accessories cannot be shared, and it also makes the minifigs stick out a bit when mixed in with normal LEGO minifigs. Personally, while part of me wishes they had gone with the standard head approach, I like the sculpted heads just fine. With that out of the way, on with the reviews!

The ever-patient former police officer Marge Simpson is represented quite well in minifig form, with her towering blue mane dwarfing nearly every other minfig there is. The bottom half of her dress is a separate cloth piece, unlike the painted-on apron on the version that comes with the Simpson House set. Marge appears oddly barefoot, as no shoes are painted onto her legs. she does have back printing for her dress and pearls, however. She comes with a pink purse, and a Donut Enthusiast magazine that is destined for Homer's hands. Marge is one of the few absolutely essential characters in any Simpsons collection, and it's good to see that TLG did her justice.
Groping guide: With her colossal coif, Marge is the easiest minfig in this series to identify in the bag. Just feel for that hair, and you've got her.

Homer Simpson, voice of the beloved Poochie, fares just as well as his bride, with all his features captured very well on the head sculpt. Unlike the stoned version with the Simpsons House set, this version of Homer is bright-eyed and bushy tailed. The paint apps on his face are impressively neat for this scale. It's worth noting that, while the hair that wraps around the back of his head is only painted on, the pair of hairs on top of his head are actually sculpted. some may feel that the rather hefty Homer looks a bit off using a normal minifig torso, but I think that the painted-on belly serves to indicate his girth pretty well. Homer has no back printing, but he does sport the short sleeves that TLG introduced with this series. His accessories are perfectly chosen: a TV remote control, and a donut that features some fantastic printing.
Groping guide: As with most of the minifigs in this series, his head is pretty easy to feel for. For confirmation, find the tiny donut and the 1x2 remote piece.

Little Miss Springfield runner-up Lisa Simpson comes with her saxophone, previously seen in series 10's Jake Blues-- er, Sax Player. Lisa has another excellent head sculpt, with a perky expression that manages to look bright and inquisitive, rather than a blank zombie stare. Her hair is particularly impressive, as the starfish hairstyle has proven to be difficult to render in three dimensions. Like her mother, Lisa has a separate skirt piece, and features back printing for her dress and pearls. Unlike her mother, Lisa has shoes. Her torso has the unfortunate issue of yellow paint being applied on top of red plastic, so there is some discoloration, as the red tends to show through. It's not a huge problem, but it is noticeable. As child, Lisa has the short, immobile legs. It's a bit annoying that TLG won't give the short legs any articulation when even companies that manufacture LEGO knockoffs do, but it is what it is.
Groping guide: Lisa and Maggie are nearly impossible to distinguish from their heads in the package, so feel for the sax and the legs to verify you've got a Lisa.

Former factory owner Bart Simpson looks a bit bland from the front, but his design is accurate to the show, so we can hardly hold that against TLG. Flip him around, however, and you get a great detail: his slingshot is tucked into his back pocket! Bart's head sculpt is almost eerily accurate, to the point that he has what I call "trumpet mouth" when viewed head-on. He has a bit of the zombie stare, and I can't help thinking that a sly looking to the side expression would have suited him better. Bart has short sleeves and shoes, and shorts painted onto what I believe are a new set of legs with the line for the shorts actually sculpted on. Bart only comes with one accessory, but it's the biggest in the set: his skateboard. Overall, Bart is not as visually interesting as most of the other minifigs in this series, but that's a reflection of his design, not the execution of the minifig itself.
Groping guide: The skateboard is a dead giveaway. It's in three pieces in the bag, so if you feel a large unidentifiable hunk and something that feels like a barbell, you've got yourself a Bart, man!

Would-be assassin Maggie Simpson is cute as a button, just like her animated counterpart. She has a slightly worried expression, which is entirely sensible, given the people she lives with. She had a very nice head sculpt, and her pacifier is not a separate piece, in case anyone was wondering. Her bow is painted onto her head. Maggie has a new baby body that I hope to see used in more LEGO sets down the line. Her sole accessory is one of the best in the series: Mr. Burns' tattered teddy bear Bobo. Bobo has some excellent detailing, and is very accurate to his appearance on the show. Maggie is one of the toughest characters to capture in three dimensional form, but TLG did a fantastic job. Sure, she's too large, but LEGO minifigs have never been to scale, so that is to be expected. At least they didn't go Duplo with Maggie like they did in the show! Also, note that she does not include a gun, unfortunately, so you'll have to supply one of your own.
Groping guide: As noted above, her head feels exactly like Lisa's, so look for the bear or the unique baby body. (Jeez, that word combination is sure to make this article come up in some weird web searches...)

Former Gay & Lesbian Alliance president Abe "Grampa" Simpson is captured in all his wrinkled glory with a wonderful head sculpt that rivals some that I've seen on much larger-scale figures in its detail and accuracy.  His collar and bolo tie are printed onto his torso, though he does not have his slippers painted onto his feet. Grampa has one of the best accessories in the series, a folded newspaper with the "Old Man Yells at Cloud" headline! (Hopefully, we won't have to wait too long for Grampa to be joined by his buddy Jasper.)
Groping guide: Grampa's head is pretty distinctive, and he's the only non-Marge minifig who includes both a 2x2 tile and normal minifig legs. So, find the head, then locate the tile and check that the legs are not the immobile child legs to verify.

One-time child actor Milhouse Van Houten looks somewhat bland, as Bart does. Again, this is owing to the character's design, and is not a shortcoming of the figure. Like Bart, he has the "shorts" legs and short sleeves. His hair "swoop" looks a bit odd from some angles, but that's only because it's always drawn swept to the side no matter what angle we see him from on the show. It's just one of those odd little things that sometimes pops up when rendering animated characters in three dimensions. Milhouse has an awesome accessory in the form of a Biclops comic! Unfortunately, it's too small for TLG to have included the word balloon, "That's for making me cry!"
Groping guide: Milhouse is one of the toughest minfigs to identify in this series because his only accessory is a 2x2 tile, just like Ralph. They also share the immobile child legs and a big, round head. Your best bet is to loacate the tile and immobile legs to narrow it down to those two, then spend a little extra time on the head trying to identify Milhouse's schnoz.

Former presidential candidate Ralph Wiggum definitely has the zombie stare, but no character is better suited to that blank expression than he. Ralph looks mindlessly pleasant, exactly as he should. His hair is printed with meticulous precision, giving him a sort of OCD appearance that suits the character. He has no shoe printing, but he does have his collar and belt neatly printed. Ralph comes with one of the best accessories in the series-- I feel like I'm saying that a lot, but damn, this series has a ton of great accessories-- the iconic "I choo-choo-choose you" Valentine card that Lisa pity-gifted him in one of the show's greatest episodes.
Groping guide: Everything I said above about Milhouse applies here as well. Once you have ti narrowed down to those two, feel the head very carefully for Ralph's little ears. they're a bit more distinctive through the bag that Milhouse's are.

Springfield police chief Clancy Wiggum is looking more svelte than he has since, well, ever. Homer can slide by with the suggestion of his gut printed on the minifig torso, but that just doesn't cut it for Wiggum. C'mon, the guy has his underwear specially made by a village in the Ukraine! (They call him "Daddy Round Round." ) They really needed an overlay to reproduce his bulk, as the standard minifig torso just doesn't work. It's a shame, as this is a standout minifig otherwise. The head sculpt is flawless, and he has plenty of detail, including patches on both arms, his badge, collar, and tie & clip on his torso, and a belt with handcuffs hanging from it. His megaphone and baton are very good accessories, though it is surprising that Clancy is bereft of donuts. (Perhaps he had some, but devoured them before being freed from the package?) Wiggum is an essential character, so he'll wind up in many collections, but it's a shame that an otherwise excellent minifigure is held back by use of the standard torso.
Groping guide: Wiggum's hat is pretty easy to identify, and the megaphone and baton can be used as verification.

Homer's favorite neighborino Ned Flanders is another essential character, so much so that he is even included in the Simpsons House set. whereas that version is decked out in a grill-ready apron, this is the standard version of the character. As is the standard in this series, TLG absolutely nailed Ned's head sculpt. He has the ever-present pleasant expression that is essential to the character, with just the right amount of detail on his hair and mustache. His torso has printing for his sweater and the collar of the shirt underneath, and his accessories include a coffee mug straight from the Leftorium, and a tool box labeled "property of Ned Flanders." Hopefully we'll get a stupid sexy Flanders variant in a future series!
Groping guide: The mug and tool box are unique in this series, so feel for those.

Professional price gouger Apu Nahasapeemapetilon falls a bit short of the standard set by most of the minifigs in this series. His head sculpt is accurate, but the completely blank expression makes him a lot more bland than he should be. They also colored his hair gray, and while the coloring is a bit inconsistent both on the show and in merchandising, the shade they chose to use here is a good deal lighter than any I recall seeing before. That color choice also hurts the figure. apart from that, Apu has some nice detailing on his torso, with the open coat, exposed chest hair, and pants pulled above his navel all nicely printed. There is an issue with color mismatching, however, as these details are printed on top of the green torso. the skin tone match is pretty close, but the mismatch with the pants makes it look like Apu is wearing a cummerbund. Even his Squishee cup suffers, as it is a generic coffee cup, rather than the cup with the bubble and straw on top, as we see on the show. (In the newly-release Kwik-E-Mart set, the correct style of cups are used.) Still, such details will not bother most people, and they're not a big deal for me, either. They do hold this figure back from being one of the best in the series, however.
Groping guide: The Squishee cup is unique in this series, so if you find that, you've got yourself an Apu!

Former street mime Hershel Krustofsky, better known as Krusty the Klown, fares quite a bit better. His head sculpt has a manic expression that suits the character quite well. The only printing he has is his collar, bow tie, and indication of his belly on the torso, but that's all he needs. His lone accessory is a nicely molded pie. With any luck, he'll be joined by Sideshows Bob and Mel before too long.
Groping guide: Krusty's head is a dead giveaway, as is the pie.

Huckleberry enthusiast Nelson Muntz is another standout, with a head sculpt that looks like it stepped right out of the TV screen. His bigger-than-usual overbite, jagged teeth, and unruly hair are all perfectly captured, and he has the contemptuous expression that we see so often on the show. His torso has printing for his vest, and he has the short sleeves and "shorts" legs seen on Bart and Milhouse. His accessory is a bat with tape wrapped around the handle. (Interestingly, this is the exact same accessory his World of Springfield figure came with, even though he's not associated with baseball or bats at all. I can only hazard a guess that he;s seen holding such a bat in the licensing material.)
Groping guide: Feel for the bat. It's easy to find, and no one in this series has anything that can be mistaken for it.

Former Miss Teen America winner Charles Montgomery Burns is one of the greatest characters on television, so it was essential that TLG do him justice. Thankfully, they pulled it off. Burns has a tough head design to get just right, but the sculpt is dead-on perfect. the sculpt seems to have captured Monty in one of his more benevolent moods, which means he still looks pretty sinister. Do note that the liver spots are only printed on, not sculpted, and the head is made of a softer rubbery plastic. This is an odd decision, but it doesn't seem to have harmed the figure's durability at all. In bright light, the different material will be noticeable when he is placed alongside the other minifigs in this series. Monty's suit jacket is printed on his torso, and it should be noted that they opted for a dark green suit instead of the usual dark blue. (If I recall correctly, this was also the color used for his first World of Springfield figure. Probably the licensing guide rearing its head again.) Some will be bothered by this, some will not. It's not an issue for me, personally, as the color is still fairly close. It's not like they dressed him in bright red, or something like that. Burns has two great accessories: an inanimate carbon rod and a small fishbowl containing Blinky the three-eyed fish! The bowl is a clear minifig head, put to wonderful use here. Might this be the greatest LEGO minifigure accessory ever?
Groping guide: burns has a very distinctive head, and it also feels different through the bag because of the rubbery material used. The normal minifig head and rod are also dead giveaways. Overall, Burns is one of the easiest to identify.

This brings us to the oddballs of this series: Itchy & Scratchy. there's been a good deal of complaining about their inclusion, and while I'd prefer to have gotten, say Lenny & Carl, or Willie and Jeff Albertson, I don't see an issue with these two being included. They're iconic characters on the show, and that's really the only prerequisite for being made into figures, as far as I'm concerned. Both of these have the soft rubbery- heads that we saw with Burns. Both sculpts are excellent, Scratchy's in particular. Itchy has torso printing for his tummy and vest, while Scratchy has his just tummy coloration printed on his. Itchy has the immobile child legs, while Scratchy has normal legs and a tail! With their axe and club accessories, the pair are ready for the blood-soaked mayhem Springfield's kids love to watch.
Groping guide: The heads are pretty easy to identify due to the rubbery texture. To figure out which one you have, look for Scratchy's axe and tail piece, and feel for Itchy's club. It's easy to get their heads mixed up in the package, but not their accessories.

Whew, are ya still with me? Now that I've finally gotten this done, I'm all set for series two! Look for my review of that series in the next couple of weeks, whenever I'm able to assemble a full set. I'll also have a feature about the Simpson House soon. Stay tuned for news about that!

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