Wednesday, September 30, 2009

REVIEW: Hasbro Secret Wars 25th Anniversary 2-Pack Wolverine & Human Torch!

If you're an old school fan of the Secret Wars or just collect the Hasbro Marvel Universe line, this is for you!

My review on Examiner.com

Thursday, September 24, 2009

TOY REVIEW: NECA Gears of War Series 4 Parts 1, 2 and 3

The new three part Gears of War Series 4 review is available at Examiner.com for your viewing pleasure!

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Please comment, subscribe and repost with reckless abandon! Thank you very much!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

NEWNESS!!!

My toys reviews will still be posted here but will now link to examiner.com. All other reviews will continue in here for anyone who actually reads them.

check it: http://www.examiner.com/x-22615-LA-Toy-Collecting-Examiner READ, SUBSCRIBE, COMMENT, FOLLOW, LINK, REPOST! thanks y'all!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

TOY REVIEW: NECA GEARS OF WAR SERIES 4 Part 1

This August brings yet another amazing entry into NECA's Gears of War line. This will be Part 1 since it will only be covering Marcus Fenix and Dominique Santiago in Theron Disguise and one of my new favorites, the Tickers. As soon as I get my hands on the Grenadier Locust and Flamethrower Grenadier, I'll be posting my review for them as Part 2.

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First up are Marcus and Dom in Theron disguise. Xbox Live recently released a deleted mission from Gears of War 2 in which they don Theron armor while attempting to infiltrate Locust territory. When preview photos of the figures were released, I pretty much figured I would skip them. Once I actually saw the figures on the rack however, I just couldn't leave them. I'll admit having a weak spot for disguised characters (or characters that break away from their standard duds) and these two are pretty hilarious and carry more details that I'd have thought.

for comparison: original Theron (post my repainting)
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DISGUISED!
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Usually when a company makes a character dressed in a disguise, especially a helmeted one, they simply take the body of the outfit and plop an old head on its neck, pack in a removable helmet that just never sits right and calls it a day.

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NECA here has reused the Theron torso and legs as well as the unhelmeted heads of Dom and Marcus. The neck line of the torso is retooled appropriately considering its a human in bulky Theron armor pulled over their own COG armor. The effect is much more obvious on the arms. As Theron have only shoulder plates and arm bracers, that leaves the entire bicep area exposed. It is this exposed area that allows you to see Marcus' armor showing through and Dom's tattoo of his recently proven to be deceased wife, Maria. Let me just add that that tattoo is just as impressive the second time around.

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Also packed in with each of them are secondary heads with the Theron Sentinel helmet. Sentinels are sort of like Theron supervisors and are only discernable because of the helmets. That's surely better than running around with a clearly exposed human head when infiltrating a bunch of hulking gray Locusts, but its still not much of a disguise and that's why I ultimately love them. The disguise is clearly only meant to work at a distance. Its pretty hilarious and I'm glad I grabbed them.

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Accessories include the alternate heads and lancer rifles with all of their usual little weapon details like the perfectly stamped COG skull on the side.

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The paints and sculpts are just as solid as they were the first time around with body/leg articulation being consistent with the previous released Theron guard. Neck and arm articulation is consistent with the current version of Marcus and Dom. They're great figures that really exceeded my expectations, especially for a mere $13.99 each if you can find them at Toys R Us (which isn't that hard, go mid week early and you should be able to find them).

THE TICKERS!
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The little Tickers I must say I probably love TOO much. In the game they are nasty canine sized bug creatures that run up to enemies and detonate. Living bombs essentially.

Sculpting on these is absolutely amazing. Tons of bits of muscle connective tissue, textures, detailed sinewy arms and vicious teeth. The tops of their flat, fluke like heads has a bumpy feel to them while much of the body is a maze of wrinkles.

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The metal tank on/in their backs is especially detailed. The paint on these back packs are outstanding and I have to say the best weathering and metal fatigue NECA has yet released. Even the backs of them are incredibly intricate. The tank canister itself is slightly clear which adds an interesting touch.

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The Tickers possess an impressive amount of articulation for what's basically a big bug. All four of its stubby back legs are ball jointed at their sockets allowing for a variety of stances. I have one crouched as if to pounce and one rearing up. The upper arms are ball jointed as well with swivel cuts just above the elbow and at the wrists. Their jaws are also hinged for various degrees of biting.

NECA attempted to recreate the fast manner in which these little beasties attack by including small wheels under the body that feature a pull back and let go race car like ability. The legs, if not positioned out far enough, will catch and slow the Ticker down. The feature in general does not work as well as it should. I'll admit, as dumb as it may sound, I was looking forward to having Ticker races across my pho-wood floors (sounds like good party game to me) so I'm kind of bummed it doesn't. I also figured they would make the jaw/teeth chatter as it raced along since they're called "Tickers" for a reason, in the game they click their teeth rapidly before attacking. Also, the fact that the canister of the back piece is slightly opaque makes me wonder why they didn't make it spark (they are bombs) as it raced across the floor like a lot of toy ray guns did back in the day. Its kind of odd that that part is clear at all so perhaps it was a consideration at some point.

If the feature doesn't catch your fancy at all however, NECA was nice enough to make the main stabilizing leg/wheel (think Artoo Detoo's spare leg) retractable into the body via small hatch. I think that was a very nice consideration for those who despised the action feature (I'm sure their were some, I wasn't one of them... TICKER RACES!!!).

Examples with it retracted and out:
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At $13.99, NECA should have either nailed the action feature (with chattery teeth/sparks) or scrapped it and released these in a two pack format. Two packs would have suited me just fine, especially because I do love the figure and would like an army of them. Seeing as these are clearly for adults, action features will only be appreciated for a few minutes of amusement before the Ticker ends up on its rightful shelf space. Perhaps they'll release one of their $40 boxed sets with 5 featureless Tickers. I'm certainly down for that and I'd hope other fans would be as well. Its a very well done figure and I've already bought two.

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That being said, NECA is going to release a Boomer in their next wave that will apparently be as big as it should be and they're not charging more for it (as far as I know as of writing this). The Ticker situation is a very small gripe for some very good value they've given Gears fans since this line started (which wasn't THAT long ago in toy years, spring of last year I believe). Especially the $40 Delta Squad box with tons of weapons and an exclusive Hammer of Dawn weapon or the Locust Hive box with seven heads (two of which are exclusive and one that was almost impossible to get the first chance)*. The Ticker is a gorgeous figure and I highly recommend getting at least one. If the value doesn't cut it for you, hope for a box set later on. I for one want around five and I'll just grab them off the peg "in case". If they release a box set later, I may grab that too. Seriously, Ticker Army! I'm all about it!

Check them out and let me know what you think. And be on the lookout for Series 5 in October with a new COG Trooper, Col. Hoffman, a Bloodmount rider AND my favorite Locust, the BOOMER!


*I'll be reviewing the Locust Hive box set hopefully by the weekend. Great set.

THE STACK 08.26.09

Well this was one HELL of a week from Marvel. The Dark Reign story arc running through Marvel, headed up by the seemingly limitless brilliance of Brian Michael Bendis, is reaching Dark Knight level intensity and moments that got my blood boiling, arm hairs standing and reactions I actually had to spout out loud.

From comics.

And I got one DC book this week (and one from last week), sadly no stand out indies for me this week (if I missed something good, let me know!). Marvel dominated this Wednesday's Stack.

Lets' get to it.

MARVEL:

The New Avengers #56
Currently this title seems to be handling some back burner action with all that's going on with more eventful conflicts between Mutant kind and Osborne but we're still getting a solid book. Several "ten time loser" villains have secured, built or bought one hardcore peace of equipment that drops powers like an EMP does electric devices. The tool is used as a bargaining chip with Norman Osborne. Osborne doesn't bite and pays a heavy price. While this title is not currently rocking the front lines of the DKR arc, this is a fun and well written read with some fantastic art right now. And I'm sure the New Avengers will be on the front lines with Osborne, if not in the next issue, very soon. They're still mighty pissed at his little team of impostors smearing their good names.

Dark Avengers #8 (Utopia Chapter 5)
On to one of Osborne's little puppet empire's more pressing problems: Mutants. We're finally treated to some answers as to just what Ms. Emma Frost is doing heading up an Osborne overseen mutant team claiming to be "X-Men". The mutant riots are squashed and the end of the issue, which I will not spoil, had me honestly laughing out loud for the sheer brilliance of what Scott "Cyclops" Summers has done to Osborne's ego and public image. I was never the biggest Cyclops fan and I'm sure I've flat out said I hate the guy over the years, but ever since Grant Morrison built the foundations of a bad ass in Summers way back in New X-Men, writers seem to be jumping at the chance to keep the trend up and growing. What Summers achieves by the end of this issue might infuriate Xavier but thrill Magneto. Mutants got a brand new bag. If you haven't picked up Utopia (running through alternating issues of Uncanny X-Men and Dark Avengers) its time to get caught up before the big finale issue X-Men/Dark Avengers Exodus coming out soon.

Secret Warriors #7
Johnathan Hickman (read Nightly News to figure out why he's one of the best writers of comics possibly ever) continues to give Nick Fury his greatest portrayal yet. Fury has gone so far rogue as to be taking on HAMMER (formerly SHIELD, basically Marvel's version of a CIA type group) with an army of former SHIELD agents and his own personally trained team of young superhumans. Normally, I hate the grizzled old guys trains smart mouth recruits plot lines because they tend to land in god awful cliche territory in no time. Hickman is not that kind of writer. Hickman is capable of managing multiple plot threads, characterizations, his own additions to the Marvel U and established canon like its a walk in the park. The new issue gives readers a glimpse at just how exactly Fury plans to fund such an outrageous endeavor. Osborne also appears, shortly, in the current issue and I eagerly awate the moment Fury gets to stare down a barrel pressed firmly against Osborne's wrinkled forehead. Despite how slighted the Avengers currently feel, or the Mutants or even the Fantastic Four, its Fury who has ultimately had it the worst: watching the organization he built since WW2 be warped and twisted into what it was designed to stop. And Fury, militant idealist that he is, is going to have some serious fun reclaiming his property... and I'm going to have some serious fun reading it. I have not been thrilled by or emotionally invested in too many titles like I am in this one.

Wolverine #77 (Dark Wolverine arc)
Wolverine continues to cover the current schemes of Wolverine's son Daken, a character I once figured would end up a throw away plot devise. Not in the hands of Daniel Way. Way introduced Daken in his Wolverine Origins title that I'm certainly going to have to pick up trades for. Daken, posing as his own father for Osborne's nasty little "Avengers" continues to push his plans to thwart Osborne (which seems to be motivated simply by Daken's desire to show Osborne he ain't the smartest man alive). Despite Daken's extreme hatred for his father and rather dumb brute portrayal in most Marvel books, Way writes him as incredibly intelligent. He's a fun character to read. He possesses the thug like capabilities of his father BUT ALSO the sort of political maneuvering usually given to characters in the realm of super villains/heroes... not newly established characters without much pull or page time. Daken is proving himself to be quite the likable anit-hero. The current issue depicts how he almost managed to stop Osborne altogether, in between genius mind fucking amongst his fellow "Avengers" and establishing an interesting partnership with the Fantastic Four, Daken is one busy boy. All of this AND the art is spectacular in its complex simplicity.

X-Force #18
Following their trip through time and space, the team is dropped back almost to the second they left, allowing them to finish the job they were forced (literally) to leave behind. Those events lead to the capture of Laura (X-23) and Wolverine is not happy to find that his daughter is missing. Logan's reaction is downright awww, what a good father... except its in perfect Wolverine fashion. Marvel's new trend of hiring hard hitting, unflinching writers continues in X-Force where we see a captured X-23 tortured by her own creators with a chainsaw. We're talking Scarface level torture here... only in X-Force they actually show it. Its damn brutal. As the team tries to figure out just where Laura is as they reel from their return to their own time, some action ensues and most of the team ends up covered in blood. This is not a book for the Silver Age fan sipping on cream soda under a Norman Rockwell. This is a team of good guys that make a lot of the baddest bad guys piss themselves. The book has been and continues to be a favorite and highly anticipated book for me every single month.

DC COMICS

Yes, despite DC's refusal to attempt the levels of quality their own films possess (see current Nolan Batman films... like you haven't...pfff), I still read a few titles monthly. All Bat titles of course.

BATGIRL #1
The identity of Batgirl, both inside the comics and out, has been something DC seems perpetually lost in figuring out. Obviously the original Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, has been out of the game for a long time having been paralyzed by the Joker in the late 80's. Then DC cooked up Cassandra Cain, a very well written and loved character who just happened to be the daughter of two of Bruce Wayne's own trainers, David Cain and Lady Shiva. Now since Bruce had trouble defeating Shiva at times and Cassandra nearly beat her once, many believed it would be Cassandra who would be groomed to be the best replacement for Bruce. If not on her own, than at least in teaming with Tim Drake (Robin III and currently Red Robin). She was certainly one of my favorites. However she was essentially and unceremoniously dropped for quite a while. Then she was a villain. Now she's back for a couple pages to hand the suit to yet another lost in DC continuity nightmare character: Spoiler. Spoiler was a teen girl who decided to become a costumed vigilante and was on again/off again with Tim Drake throughout his title and Bruce, after Tim once quit, even hired her as Robin for a whole two weeks, at which point Bruce fired her for incompetence. She was then killed in a very important scene following a massive gang war in Gotham that she herself inadvertently started trying to win back Bruce's favor. T'was fitting for her to die in the end of it I thought. Good epic tragedy. Then she was back, no real explanation (or one buried in some throwaway side title I skipped). The NEW Batgirl title is funny, well written and well drawn. However, when rebooting a character identity, especially Batgirl, perhaps it would have been wiser to NOT have it involve two (now) c list characters with confusing and horribly explained continuities? Way to open the market up to new readers DC. Such is the genius planning they seem fit to give us lately. Its still a good book, and with all that I've just covered, one should be able to follow it. If you want a far better version of a Batgirl character however, check out Rucka's Batwoman... that's how you take a nearly c-list character and make her just as fascinating as your big guns. But its hard to compete with Rucka.

BATMAN AND ROBIN #3
My favorite book right now because its the only really good REAL Bat-book currently ongoing. Most of the Batbooks (with the exception of Batman and Batwoman strangely enough) are throw away filler that will not take their characters into anything we have not seen before over and over and over. In Batman and Robin however, we get the more in depth look at just what its like for Dick Grayson (OG Robin) to have to become Batman. He's spent his whole life trying to do the opposite. And worse, he's faced with training an apprentice, Damian (Robin IV... V if you count Spoiler's two week stint) who happens to behave worse than Bruce ever did at his most solemn/pissed/stand offish. Morrison creates genius characters and takes established ones into new territory. Here we continue to follow Batman and Robin on their hunt for the gang leader known as Pyg. Pyg is one of the most terrifying baddies I've seen (and in a Batbook where crazy is always today's special, that's saying something). He puts these horrible masks on to the faces of his kidnapping victims. And of course, he can't just use some Krazy Glue... he uses acid. Its horrible and creepy. The victims are then drugged and end up serving him in a henchmen capacity. They look like that old Outer Limits episode where everyone has hideous pig faces and the hot blonde is considered ugly. Morrison is very up on his classic sci-fi and I'm sure that's the gag. His Batman and Robin, according to an IGN interview I read, is sort of his take on the 50's series if that series was given the Dark Knight treatment. Its brighter than you expect, but the subject matter is far darker than you can imagine. And, as of issue 3, its beginning to show signs of tying back in to Morrison's last arc on Batman, "RIP" (the one where Batman either died or took off aka DC's excuse for all of these crappy filler books polluting the Batman racks). When all is said and done, Morrison's run on Batman/Batman and Robin will no doubt be remembered as one epic and redefining ride. Which is great, that's what the man does. What I'm terrified of however, is that DC will (almost guaranteed) do to him what Marvel did following the New X-Men arc: practically negate everything he started in the guise of yet ANOTHER reboot. Marvel has clearly corrected their behavior but DC is a slow learner (like... retarded slow) so we shall see. Its only on issue 3 and there are reprints of one and two galore out there. Catch up and keep reading! Its a great book (and I didn't even get into how crazy good Frank Quitely's pencils are!).

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

TOY REVIEW: SDCC EXCLUSIVE LAMBENT LOCUST GRENADER

Yep, another NECA figure. What can I say... they have a LOT of my favorite licenses. Of those, there is not one I love more than Gears of War. A lot of people know at least a little: a last holdout of humanity battles a subterranean race known as the Locust Horde. And there are chainsaws.

For their Gears of War exclusive this year (last year being the fan favorite Anthony Carmine) they did an interesting little remodel of their just released Locust Grenader. Part of the war between human and Locust in Gears deals with an underground fuel source known as Imulsion. Apparently it can cause quite a few health problems and, as seen in the latter scenes of Gears of War 2, some strange mutated Locust known as Lambents.

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The Lambent Locust here is, as I mentioned, a retooled Locust Grenader. The Grenader uses the standard Locust legs NECA has been re-using since the second series Theron Guards and Sentinels. Re-using sculpts is nothing new. Back when I was a kid, the Superpowers line of DC heroes featured the same general body for all the characters with slight detail alterations and different heads. Marvel was doing something similar with their Secret Wars figures and this practice is still in effect today. The Four Horsemen have been making a lot of money for a few companies utilizing this very concept. Re-using parts in a video game however makes even MORE sense. Game developers often re-use parts where they can in order to speed development along. Many of the locust have alterations to a few set main bodies, they are soldiers in uniform after all. On the Lambent Locust/Grenader body, we get a whole new upper torso, arms, and head. Every set of Gears figures has blown away the last. And considering they're releasing nearly three sets a year, that's damn impressive. The body has intricate musculature with tiny, fibrous connective tissue sculpted in for a nice effect. The anatomy has a very solid, yet realistically organic look to it in addition to some nicely used veins. The heads their Locust also feature a lot of little skin folds and stretches.

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What makes this Lambent edition sculpt especially worth while is his translucent plastic "veins" running throughout the body. Lambent Locust in the game are very easy to tell apart from their uninfected cousins because they glow. A lot. NECA has recreated this effect by (my theory that I'm pretty damn sure of) sculpting the figure in a translucent plastic and then painting him, leaving areas open so that when light is shown through his back, the clear plastic illuminates. It's an impressive effect and I'm very happy with the results.

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Why didn't the Lambent Locust get the LED treatment that Isaac Clarke of Dead Space did? Apparently they looked into it but putting an LED light into a figure requires certain sculpting considerations and, since they needed to use this same body for the standard Locust Grenader and Flame thrower Grenader figures, it was simply not cost effective to do do. While an LED would have been obviously welcomed, their explanation makes sense. The re-using of certain parts throughout the Gears line has allowed them to release a lot of game accurate figures for fans at very reasonable prices. Especially when you actually get one in front of you and can see the intricate sculpting, innovative articulation, and detailed paint (most of the time and always improving). Not to mention the weapons selection.

The Lambent Locust features the same articulation as the standard Series 4 Locust Grenader and I'll get more into that when I obtain the standard figure this month. Suffice to say, there's plenty. He comes with a Gnasher shotgun, weapon of choice to Locust Grenaders.

His weapon features the new peg system NECA has been implementing on their Gears figures in much the same fashion as McFarlane's Halo line: a peg mounted on weapons that can be plugged into a spot on the figure's back to sit in the same fashion as secondary weapons do in game. On the Grenader I actually wish they'd have skipped it. Grenaders, not wearing shirts, have an exposed torso. A weapon hanging from nothing just looks weird, I don't plan to use it, and now there's a hole in his back for it. The standard version wears a couple of straps and I'm hoping his weapon snaps into that and not the figure. Its very possible the standard version will have a strap overlapping the hole so that the peg can slip through the strap, into the body, and appear to be attached to the strap. Here's hoping at any rate. we shall see after I get my hands on them.

All in all, a very cool exclusive. He's a solid representation of his in game counterpart and I really enjoy the illuminating feature. He's very well painted all around and he only cost me $20. Average con price and easily fair for the figure. I'm hoping NECA does more Lambent versions of the Locust Horde, maybe in the form of one of their very popular boxed sets, because I was only able to grab one. If the Lambent are more heavily featured in Gears 3, I'm sure they will. I highly recommend it to any fan of Gears of War or figures with amazing sculpts and fun extra features.

TOY REVIEW: SDCC NECA EXCLUSIVE DEAD SPACE ISAAC CLARKE

I first read about the PS3/XBOX/PC game, Dead Space quite a while ago and, regretfully, I've yet to play it. What struck me about what I'd read was that you play an entire action shooter, set in a very 1979 Alien film-like setting, as a mechanic, Isaac Clarke, with mainly tools with which to fight. Not being a well trained super soldier is always a more engaging premise.

This year, when I heard NECA secured the license to produce Dead Space figures, I knew they'd do the fans of Dead Space proud after seeing their outstanding work on several games including Gears of War and Street Fighter IV. What I didn't know, is that thanks to their San Diego Comic Con exclusive debut of Isaac Clarke, that I'd be drooling over their creation. It was only a few weeks before the Con when I read that the average, 8" scale Isaac Clarke, in keeping with the game's aesthetic, would feature LED lights in his head and torso.

I've never seen that before in an 8" figure. Needless to say, I made sure I got one.

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Issac Clarke is made out of a dense plastic that carries some good weight without being clunky. Its one of my most common praises of NECA, they do not use weak, rubbery plastic like most mainstream companies. The sculpt is impressive as always. Clarke's suit is very simple in its very utilitarian style design. NECA has given it some good texture to keep him from looking like he's in a one piece body suit. The areas that are clearly meant to be fabric LOOK like fabric and the parts that are clearly meant to be metal (or whatever super plastics we may use in a space travel filled future) have a good solidarity to them.

Let's talk little details. There are all sorts of things happening all over Clarke's suit. I've since looked at quite a bit of material from Dead Space and this suit seems very game accurate. His left wrist and hand have a bit of tech looking equipment bits that are intricately sculpted and cleanly painted. Even the boots received some little extras.

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My favorite detail, and its one most companies would have skipped or not really paid much attention to, is his little chest plate heads up display. The plate protrudes from his chest presumably so he can quickly look down at whatever data he needs while still having both hands free to fix what needs fixin'. Its astounding. The plate has a clear greenish tint plastic with some sort of text on it to simulate the holographic projection look of most of the computer interfaces of Dead Space. Its the sort of clever little detail you find and think, 'wow, they could have totally skipped this and no one would have complained, and yet they made sure it was there in perfect detail'. It truly is a commitment to detail I wish a certain company producing movie "accurate" figures from one of my favorite films ::cough::ghostbusters::cough:: would take a cue from. This level of caring about delivering the best representation of a fan's beloved property creates brand loyalty you can't buy.

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Clarke features numerous points of articulation including a ball jointed head and shoulders, cut biceps, cut/hinge elbows and knees, cut wrists, waist, double hinge hips (for forward, back and out to side movement), and hinged ankles. I love that we live in an era of toys where that is only slightly above standard. The standard for articulation is in a fantastic place all over the wonderful world of action figures.

The paint, as you can clearly see from the photos already, is equally noteworthy. Some companies would have just painted him all black. Some companies would have allowed that black to have far too much sheen and negate the feeling that Clarke jumped right off the screen. Here NECA has multiple tones of black and dark grays to make their sculpting really pop and enhance all of the little details. The standard version of Clarke, available this fall, will feature a more bronze/brown paint scheme representing the suit he starts the game in. Apparently he upgrades suits when needed, sort of like all those mainstream rollerblade in lava lazers ninja Batman figures we've seen over the years. Only Clarke's are actually functional in the context of the game.

Here we have Clarke in his Unitology suit. In the game, Unitology is an obvious reference to Scientology and is appropriately portrayed as a cult. Clarke's suit is covered in symbols from this cult. I'm not sure how NECA did these, I'm assuming its some sort of stamp. However they did it, each character is as clear and crisp as if they were typed onto him. I've found that there is actually a translator for this code (a is this, b is this) and will someday, when I'm really bored, actually see if the symbols spell out anything or are just really awesome looking gibberish. Being NECA, I wouldn't be surprised if it said something.

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Clarke uses a bunch of different tools in the game but here only comes with one. I'm assuming that was to keep the cost down to make room for his best feature, which I'll get to in a moment and then it's price tag. I'm unsure of what it's called but when I read about it on the game's Wikia page, it is apparently a super advanced sort of nail gun which can shoot three bolts in a vertical line or, if you were to switch to its secondary mode, a horizontal line. The plastic version that Clarke comes with doesn't switch to this horizontal mode. That would have been cool, but honestly, no big deal. You'd have to ask a die hard Dead Space fan whether or not that hick up would be enough to make them not want this figure. I'm sure they'd let it slide. The gun is also covered in the Unitology symbols and fits into his hand quite well. It has a mean look and really ads to Clarke's menacing appearance (which... is odd for a mechanic, but I like it so I'm not gonna get into an art versus total functionality debate with myself about it). I'm sure they will make many of Clarke's suits and each will come with his various tools so that by the end of the run, you'd have all of his better suits and tools to swap around.

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I recently ripped into, just a little, another company for not providing ENOUGH accessories for their price tag. It might appear that I'm going easy on Clarke. Well that other figure did not feature an LED light (and it would have been one awesome figure if it did!). Most of the gameplay of Dead Space happens throughout a powered down and very dark star ship (borrowing from Alien for its excellent use of the combo claustrophobia/darkness threat). Within that dark, the main light source just happens to be, well, you. NECA obviously realizing what an important character this minimal lighting was on its own, Clarke features not only a light up face plate but back tubing as well. Apparently the developers wanted as little stat related text on their screen as possible so your health meter is the light up tube down Clarke's back. The fuller the tube, the better his health. Ingenious little idea. And NECA nails it here.

As you can see, the light is bright and full in any condition, as only an LED can truly deliver. The left side photos were taken in an all white kitchen heavily saturated in day light. The photos on the right feature him in the much more game appropriate lighting of... my darkened bathroom. NECA even made an already raised section of his spine plates the switch for the LED's so that it does not show up upon inspection. It also has two modes: push it straight in to turn it on and release to turn it off OR push the switch in and slightly up to have the LED stay on.

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And the most amazing thing about all this... I'm going to sound like an infomercial... oh well... You get the amazing sculpt, the dense plastic, the high level of articulation, the crisp, well thought out and painted details AND a couple of LED lights for a whopping... twenty dollars. $20!!!

Standard mainstream Con figure prices. NECA has maintained a $20 price tag on, I believe, all of their comic con figures and, in this tough economy where even a company with NECA's big name licenses is forced to keep costs down, they maintain a commitment to making affordable exclusives. Even when they light the hell up.

I'm looking forward to getting some other versions of Clarke. The fall release figure is pretty nice looking and will feature a bloody variant with a different weapon. Oh yeah, those will light up too.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW: District 9

After seeing all the trailers, a few clips and the countless "humans only" banners all over L.A. I went into this film expecting that, for once, a film might stick to its guns and maintain an atypical structure.

District 9 is directed by Neill Blomkamp and is based on his short film "Alive in Joburg" (which I've embedded at the end of this blog). The film opens with a documentary style bit of background on the aliens with footage of their arrival, current living conditions and all manner of human reactions to them. Its very very well done. All of it had a stripped down realism to it. Often times films that boast a documentary style end up looking far too treated. District 9 maintained a nice air of grimy realism. It portrayed the ugliness of humanity, our fear of foreigners, our treatment of anyone not like "us" and was appropriately brutal at times. The entire movie I feared for the safety of the main characters more so than I have in a long while. Nobody's safety is guaranteed.

The special effects where fantastic. District 9 was made on a budget of just $30 million and it looks far more expensive. The aliens are most often depicted in full on mid day and afternoon light without protecting or burying matte lines/textures in filters (ala LOTR) or quick cuts (ala Transformers). All of these effects shots are handled in the manner of news footage, the camera man WANTS to stare at the aliens as much as you do. And so they linger on them... and they hold up in just about any light. The alien language was also fascinating and borrowed quite a bit from Attack of the Clones' Geonosians who were also insectoid and spoke in a series of clicks. It also may have been there intent to borrow from earlier languages of some African tribes. Either way it was interesting to listen to.

What ultimately did bother me about District 9 however was that it opens and maintains the documentary structure as you watch footage of a member of the alien affairs agency being put in charge of evicting the population of District 9 to a new location further away from the human population (it was sort of a modernization of the "relocating" that continually happened with the Native Americans or a lighter version of Nazi's relocating citizens during WW2). However, a plot line soon begins to develop within this documentary structure and so it's very suddenly dropped. Essentially what is happening here is that the narrative goes from a first person structure (an unseen 'always behind the camera' camera person and the people he/she is immediately following who speak into the camera) to an omnipotent third person narrative (where we are shown characters at different locations, characters working against each other and general happenings that the documentary crew is clearly not privy to or actually filming). The camera work however stays with a generally news footage like, over the shoulder shooting approach so visually, its relatively unchanged. The jarring shift in point of view was something that took me out of the movie for a time though. If they'd just said 'the following footage is a re-inactment of theorized events that followed our footage' it would have been covered. Or they could have stopped the footage, faded to black and put up a title card saying "no one knows what happened to... after that" and then fade into what is clearly no longer documentary footage. It was an easy fix and a glaringly odd decision from both a writing and editing stand point and I would love to know why, under the watchful eye of Peter Jackson's producing, this was not handled better.

The other complaint many reviewers have had was that the final act does get a bit video game. I personally feel that events were already at a boiling point with the alien refugees of District 9 (and by that, I mean the level of abuse perpetrated by humans) so the violence was both inevitable and logically brought forth. It did not feel as video game as it could have (it does not go Starship Troopers or anything and was hardly what one would even label battle... skirmish is more the word I'd use). I believe the only reason many reviewers are pointing this out is that they've seen footage of Halo (who in the mainstream hasn't by now?) and any usage of alien looking weaponry in a military like setting is labeled video game violence. This was much more of an 'it was bound to happen' scenario.

The film also delivered something I desperately feared it wouldn't: aliens treated as real characters, interacting with the main character and becoming main characters themselves. Most film makers seem to steer clear of treating their non human (and often cg) characters with the same care and respect they do their human cast (aside from George Lucas, Peter Jackson and Guillermo Del Toro). One of the biggest complaints about Transformers from fans is why do we need so many human chaperones when the source material consisted of a 98% robot cast? District 9 treats it alien cast with easily as much sympathy (at times more so) as its human cast. I cannot praise them enough for that.

Overall I really enjoyed District 9. It did what true science fiction was meant to do: take very real social/political/philosophical issues and translate them into an alternate setting in order to explore possibilities and pose its audience questions to ponder after completion. This is definitely a work of art other story tellers should look to as a positive role model.

It is a bit funny that reviewers mentioned video game violence since apparenty Blomkamp was slated to direct Halo for Peter Jackson but that project seems to have fallen off the radar after several budgeting issues. If you'd like, you can see some demo footage from Blomkamp and WETA here that was used as promotional advertising for Halo 3. I personally would rather see a more polished style for Halo as the game is more in the cleaner, polished, filtered looking science fiction of an Iron Man or the Star Trek relaunch. However I would LOVE to see director Neill Blomkamp tackle Gears of War (as it's gameplay is presented in a very CNN war coverage style and needs a director who gets sci-fi, gets "gritty", does not sensationalize violence but does not shy from it either). He would also be very good for World War Robot (which I've written two previous blogs about). Either way, I'm sure he'll be getting plenty of calls for work by monday.

The original "Alive in Joburg"

Saturday, August 15, 2009

TOY REVIEW: SDCC EXCLUSIVE IDW SECURITY BRAMBLE from 3A TOYS

So since the last entry introduced the uninitiated to the wonderful universe that is Ashley Wood's World War Robot, what better way to kick off a few San Diego Comic Con Exclusive reviews than with 3A Toys IDW Security Bramble!

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IDW is, of course, the distributor of the World War Robot books and most of Wood's print work. To celebrate IDW's Ten Year Anniversary, Wood's toy company, 3A Toys, produced an exclusive 1/12th scale Bramble unit with an "IDW Security" paint scheme including the IDW logo and a large roman numeral 10 on his stomach plate in celebration of the company's well earned bench mark.

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3A Toys (one year old this passed July!) is a direct to collector toy company that produces high end vinyl figures based on Wood's work. This year has seen some radical expansion including various collaborations and the recent announcement of a Kojima team up (as in Metal Gear Solid Kojima, which made my head explode with excitement). 3A began by producing 1/6th scale figures and have, as of this year, started the WWRP (World War Robot Portable) line of 1/12th bots to further flesh out the world with more paint schemes and variations that would be ridiculous for a 1/6th scale figure. Obviously the smaller scale WWRP line is also in a more affordable price range and a welcomed space saver.

What's most amazing, the figures lose absolutely NO detail in this 1/12th scale!

So let's get to it!

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The Bramble's basic sculpt is the spitting image of the World War Robot Bramble unit. He's made out of a sturdy vinyl and sports far more articulation than one would ever expect in this scale. He has a ball jointed head, shoulders, cut bicep, hinged elbow, cut wrists, cut waist, ball hips, hinge knees and ball ankles. But here's the part that is insane: EVERY (and I mean EVERY) digit of his fingers are articulated. He can throw the horns (see above!), flip off my Transformers. solute and oh yeah, hold his gatling gun too.

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Let's talk paint: in one word, 'whuuuuuuuuuooooooaaaaah...'. Weathering in your average figures looks good, it works. You see a lot of dry brushing and washes (all effects I gladly employ in my own work). Here you also get texture (as in bumpy realistic rust damage), spray effects, soft tonal shifts and best of all, its incredibly clean. I know that might sound odd to anyone who doesn't customize or paint such things but realistic weathering is a very subtle art and one of the easiest effects to screw up or over do when attempting it. Too little and your piece looks flat, too much and you've buried a sculptor's hard work. I can't even imagine how long each one of these must take.

Let's just take a gander shall we?

PERFECT example of the weathering:
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Brambles headshot:
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And some full body shots to see the overall effectiveness:
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I spent many of my first few hours with this figure just staring at it. Even once the paint has been gushed over good and plenty, we have Bramble's accessories which include four pouches, a gatling gun and a bandolier of bullets that connect from the gatling gun to the ammo drum on his back.

The pouches are art unto themselves. They have functioning clips, extra pouches, adjustable straps and do in fact open. I stuffed mine with a couple cotton balls each to give them a plump and loaded appearance. Perfect replications of realistic military equipment packs. The texture on them really sells the realism (if the functioning clips weren't enough!)

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The gatling gun is black with a good bit of scrape and scratch style weathering. The bullets have all the appropriate details and connect to the gatling gun and ammo drum via peg.

The bullets:
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The ammo drum itself boasts the 3A Toys logo. While normally I wouldn't like a company's logo conspicuously displayed on a figure, the 3A logo happens to be a very effective graphic which maintains perfect harmony with their products aesthetic. I'd honestly miss it if it weren't on there. Its also on the back so, its not like some Mike Tyson facial tattoo or something. The little danger warning label on the back is also a great example of 3A's commitment to detail. Even on the back of a figure, we're given unique and expertly executed details.

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This figure ended up costing me $50 and considering it was limited to 100 units, that's ASTOUNDING. Other companies would have taken this as an easy opportunity to price gouge like there was no tomorrow. 3A kept it in close range with their WWRP singles (sold out at 3A'a Bambastore but available now at Sideshow Collectibles, links at the end). These were all sold out (via IDW publishing site pre-sale) within 24 hours and probably 90% of them went to members of the 3A forums. To boot, Ashley Wood himself took time out of his very busy schedule to be at the con and sign and sketch the boxes for fans picking up their Brambles! Regretfully I was unable to personally attend SDCC this year because I thought my work schedule wouldn't permit the time off but my friend Jamie was nice enough to pick up mine (and 4 more for fellow forum members) and get them all signed.

My prized piece now:
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If you weren't lucky enough to catch one of these, they do show up on Ebay but get very costly very fast. I happened to really want this figure, not just as a 3A/Ashley Wood fan, but as a fan of IDW Publishing as well since I've been reading their titles since year one. I highly recommend grabbing yourself any of the 3A Bramble singles and be on the look out for the next wave (and my most anticipated) Bertie, which will most likely be sometime in mid to late fall.

They're more than worth it.

3A is one of the most fan friendly companies out there. Check out the 3A forums if you get a chance, Mr. Wood himself hops on now and then to talk about what he's up to, what's coming and banter with his fans. The forums also keep fans up to date and offer plenty of artist friendly threads and just a generally great community.

Related links:
World War Robot Official Site
3A Toys store
3A Toys blog
3A Forums

To grab those singles:
Sideshow Collectibles (regular 3A retail prices!)
BigBadToyStore.com

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Friday, August 14, 2009

BOOK/COMIC BOOK REVIEW: WORLD WAR ROBOT VOL's 1 & 2

IDW publishing, for anyone yet to hear of the number 3 comic book publisher, has been around for ten years. I've been such a huge fan of their products for their entire run. They've introduced me to several of my (now) favorite creators. Most people have heard of 30 Days of Night (which introduced me to Steve Niles) thanks to the film they made of it which brought IDW a lot of (well deserved) mainstream attention.

Of all of the creators whose work is distributed through IDW, none has been more entertaining or influential to me than the very very talented Ashley Wood. For anyone who has known me, especially in my days running the shop, I've been talking about Wood's work since I first discovered Hellspawn (a Spawn spinoff from Image in the late 90's). I was also collecting his comic with Joe Casey "Automatic Kafka" at about this time. His style is diverse and his range simultaneously inspiring and downright dizzying. He's gone on to illustrate several projects at IDW including the Metal Gear Solid adaptations (so far "Solid" and "Sons of Liberty"), countless covers and eventually his own titles. Among those titles is one of the most unique works in modern comics, though calling it a comic is somewhat misleading.

World War Robot is the tale of a great war going on between the religious zealot populated planet Earth and the atheist inhabited planet Mars. In between those two planets sits Earth's Moon, upon which a brilliant inventor and scientist, Darwin Rothchild, creates military tech which he sells indiscriminately to both sides. This tech happens to be several different classes, shapes and sizes of robot. These robots are given a variety of names to help their human troop allies see them in a more anthropomorphic light. Brambles, Berties, Harolds, Large Martins, Squares (and more) all help the war effort in any way in which they're programed.

The brilliance of World War Robot comes not only in its stunning, oil painted visuals by Wood, but the words that accompany his images written by his wife, T.P. Louise. Louise writes all manner of correspondence to and from soldiers, citizens, scientists, mechanics, mercenaries and even a pseudo hooker. Each one of these entries is presented in prose form amongst pages of imagery from the WWR universe. Each entry is written as a slice of life glimpse of the war from a wide variety of perspectives. Within those entries, snippets of the overall big picture are delivered to the reader. Each entry is a stand alone piece unto itself, but certain characters are referenced throughout including Rothchild, NOM (one of the baddest sons of bitches ever to do... whatever it is he's always up to) and obviously, the robots.

Its not all battle and in fact, the battle imagery is very much balanced with moments of piece. Definitely a perfect example of how much waiting around there is in any war. Some of the robots are given specific names by their handlers and one or two even have possible personalities (from their handler's perspective). One of my favorite entries in either volume comes in volume 2 where it is implied that a Bramble unit might enjoy the sunset (or at least his handler seems to think so). I won't bring up my thoughts on where the series is going and just what exactly Rothchild might be planning in selling so much hardware to two opposing enemies because doing so might ruin a very fun and original experience.

Finding World War Robot is its own problem. Volume 1 is technically out of print but can be found through various online retailers and occasionally a used copy will show up on Amazon (though not for very long usually). Volume 2 however has just come out this summer and is available both through Amazon, the IDW Publishing site and through your local comic vendor.

They will also no doubt be getting a huge reprint to coincide with the release of the Jerry Bruckheimer produced World War Robot film (only just recently announced).

There are apparently alternate covers as well, though I've only seen (and own) the covers labled "B"

Volume 1:
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Volume 1B:
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Volume 2:
vol 2a

Volume 2B:
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I cannot stress enough how much you should read this or any of Ashley Wood's work. You will not find anything else like it, I promise you that. He has lots of art books in addition to his comics that contain countless paintings, sketches and doodles. You can even purchase originals though his rep (whose site I will put in here as soon as I can find it again).

Other Ashley Wood work you should get your mitts on (all from IDW):
Complete Zombies vs Robots vs Amazons
Popbot (vol 1-7 are in a complete edition, vol 8 is the only vol past the Complete Ed)
Tank Girl: The Gifting (with some other very talented people)
Metal Gear Solid
Metal Gear Solid: Sons of Liberty

Related Links:
Ashley Wood's blog
Three A toys blog (Wood's toy company who will blow your mind)
Three A Toys Forum (to discuss how your mind is blown and talk/meet other fans and a lot of very talented artists)
Ashley Wood's gallery site

Thursday, August 13, 2009

COMIC OPINION: The Current State of the Bat Universe

The Batman universe has been a giant clusterfuck of a place lately. Depending on what you've been reading (or not), Bruce either took off after an explosion and some serious psychological wear and tear perpetrated by a man claiming to be Thomas Wayne. He might be dead. He might've taken off. No body was ever found so we can guess where he is: taking some well deserved personal journey time. I like that one.

Or you read Final Crisis and Batman was hit by some weird ray gun thing of Darkseid's and is now adrift in time. This sounds like a 70's plot line and I could honestly take it or leave it. I'm completely unmoved by that story. Every "Crisis" is an even less impacting publicity fueled move than the last.

The odd thing is that both of these solutions were written by Grant Morrison. Now personally, I love Grant Morrison. His run on the X-men entitled "New X-Men" was nothing short of amazing... until Chris Claremont and that Buffy guy had to come and shit all over it (essentially negating Morrison's work). Morrison is known for his mind bending plot lines. He likes to play with his audience and blow your mind as often as he can without ruining his credibility (read: he's not M. Night Shyamalan). He's done this many times and I've eaten it up most of the time.

In the case of Batman, I have no idea what DC is doing and I'm pretty sure they don't either. First off, we have two completely different explanations as to where Bruce may be. One the result of Morrison's building up a huge, year long emotional breakdown for Bruce, which was nicely done. Sometimes brilliant, sometimes eh, sometimes over the top in all the right ways, but it offered captivating new situations and characters that kept me glued to it. And then there's the one where Bats is just hit by some time ray gun and sent off because DC can't figure out how to handle real drama lately. I've always considered myself more of a DC guy until recently when I realized its pretty much just Batman that keeps me there. I have no problem with DC characters and, when written well, they're all fascinating mythologies.

Lately, however, with Marvel's fantastically well oiled Brian Michael Bendis helmed machine, DC has picked the worst time to mishandle their biggest property. A year after the "Dark Knight" almost becomes the number one film ever and they decide to pull their core character out of his mask and replace him with a former side kick. That's ballsy and could have really paid off for them. IF they'd handled it well.

DC must be getting trampled in sales. Marvel decided they wanted massive character/universe altering material, they let Bendis unleash this multi-year story arc maelstrom in the form of Civil War (turn the heroes against each other) to Secret Invasion (Skrulls exploiting this weakened state and causing large scale damage to the Marvel U) and finally the current Dark Reign (in which former Green Goblin, Norman Osborne exploits the Secret Invasion to become a national hero and take Nick Fury's old job in the process). That whole wave from Marvel has just astounded me. They continue to up the stakes on situations that I'm already shocked they can top in the first place. And EVERY one of these arcs have had lasting effects that not only last, they SET UP the next major event. That's brilliant and I can't remember a time in mainstream comics where the huge universe changing cross over has ever been so masterfully handled and, most surprising of all, sustained for as long as they have (with no signs of stopping).

DC has some of the most epic mythologies in comics backing up and defining their characters but they don't own it. They keep trying to modernize them at the expense of who they really are. If you want the squeaky clean heroes who don't kill, OWN IT. Bringing them into the modern age can only happen if DC stops being so damn self conscious. Or stuck. Seriously, the only way I can even begin to explain it is that they seem to be stuck in some horrible nostalgia for themselves. They create these cartoon quality story arcs that have a lasting effect for maybe six months, the fans don't bite, they let their writer's off the leash and they all do their own thing. A lot of great stories have come out of these periods. But inevitably, DC decides they need to circle the wagons with their characters again and create a "Crisis" to bring them all together and (supposedly) re define continuity for a renewed and singular voice.

Well its not working DC. Maybe no one will say it to you directly so I will. Its not working. Stop it. I say that without joy. I love many characters in your lexicon so how bout you start doing the Justice League some damn justice?

So now we have the Bat Universe in its current state. Dick Grayson has replaced Bruce Wayne as Batman. I'm not opposed to this, it was always a possibility in the Bat world so its kind of fun to get to explore that finally. Morrison is doing a fine job of this in the core title right now Batman & Robin. That title is great. Its different, we're getting a taste of how Dick Grayson learns to become Batman while being shadowed by Batman's own son and new Robin, Damien, who is himself an even more intense mini-Bruce than you'd think Bruce himself capable. Damien, for the uninitiated, is a son created from the DNA of Bruce Wayne and Ra's Al Ghul's daughter (one time Batman lover... biblically) Talia. I was opposed to the character at first, but he's grown on me (which was no doubt Morrison's intention, like I said, the man knows how to play with the reader).

Then we have the slew of other books DC has built up to surround Batman & Robin, supposedly to further explore and delve into this fascinating concept. At least in theory anyway (there are two exceptions, however). We have Streets of Gotham and Gotham City Sirens both written by Batman Animated Series scribe and Harley Quinn creator Paul Dini. He's done some great work in the past but neither of these books has even a fraction of impact on this totally re-invented Batgame. In Streets we get random adventures of the new Dynamic Duo doing (and acting) almost exactly as Bruce Wayne and Tim Drake (most recent Robin) did. It has throw away dialogue that is on par with what the mainstream THINKS comics read like. Gotham City Sirens should have been great, the team up of Catwoman, Harley and Poison Ivy. Only it too reads like a re-run offering us little more than Spice Girls movie quality GIRL POWER! that's clearly written by a man.

Then we have Red Robin. Red Robin is the new identity of pre-all this shit Robin, Tim Drake. Drake is convinced Bruce is still very much alive and travels the world in search of his former mentor, trainer and adoptive father. And again, could have been fascinating. So far Red Robin has done very little investigating and instead spends time getting into "adventures" with locals where ever he goes for mere sentences of info that won't ultimately matter because we all know that when Bruce does come back (please DC, sooner rather than later!) it will be in Morrison's book as this is ultimately his baby.

What perplexes me most is that it seems like the only real meat we're getting from this story arc is IN Morrison's title. We have to wait for his book monthly before we can feel we've taken a step forward. I honestly believe this is precisely what the other writers are being forced to do. None of the writers on the current Batbooks are by any means bad writers. What I think is happening is that DC won't let them delve into the action too hard because it IS Morrison's baby and Morrison is not Brian Michale Bendis. And that is in no way a pro or con directed at either. Bendis is clearly a planner type artist and Morrison a more organic "do it on the night" sort of artist. I love their work precisely for these individual traits. But surely DC knows this... so why give us such filler crap? Why not something new? Marvel has their "filler books" too. The current Dark Wolverine arc about Wolverine's son and current Dark Avenger, Daken or Sinister Spider-man which is actually a title about Dark Avenger Venom, who is posing a Spider-man. Are these books required reading of Dark Reign as a hole? No. Do they add character development and different dimensions from which to view the bigger picture? That's a big enthusiastic YES.

Why can't DC achieve this?

Their filler feels (insultingly) like filler. I've already dropped all of these side books after their second issues. I usually go 3 with any series to be respectful and acknowledge that there's always the possibility I'm just not getting it. I've seen EVERYTHING DC is doing in the Bat titles right now so many times I just can't read them. They're white noise to my ears.

There are the two exceptions I spoke of. The first being Judd Winick's Batman. Its the actual comic title Batman and here we have all of the 'Dick Grayson has big Bat boots to fill" related struggles for him as a character replacing a respected mentor who is also his polar opposite. So how do you become what you set out to purposely avoid becoming? That's a solid book concept there and its being handled with competence and respect for the current impact of such a big change as removing Bruce Wayne from every current Bat title.

The other is Batwoman, which is the one I most lauged at initially. Batwoman is the new lesbian Bat side character. Before a gay and lesbian group gets on me allow me to clarify my reasons for laughing: I'm all for diversifying characters and their worlds. Marvel has that in droves and always has. But somehow, when DC does it, it always feels so forced and cheap because they tend to invent some third string side character to just dump into their comics every time they catch some bad press for not having modern enough heroes who live in a modern and diverse world. Luckily, this character was created and is being written by Greg Rucka. Greg Rucka writes some of the best modern noir you will ever get your hands on. And Batwoman, I must say, feels the most like a real Bat book out of this whole mess. Batman and Robin being exempt from that comparison as Morrison has said its not meant to be what we're all used to. And the best part, Rucka does not treat this new "minority" addition to the DCU as if that were her only purpose for existing. She is a well thought out character with realistic motivations and problems without just being a well thought out (PR move) lesbian character.

So there you have it. Your head spinning? Mine too. I wait patiently every month for Morrison to drop more awesome onto the local comic racks while DC tries desperately to give it some marketing support in the form of very lost and forced side stories/re-runs despite being surrounded by what could (and should) have been the biggest Batman upset story arc ever. Luckily we have Judd Winick and Greg Rucka involved in two of those titles or I would literally be buying only one DC book right now, instead of three.

Comic Stack 8/13/09

So this week's stack... not a huge one.

Still waiting on my shop to get Veil #2... not sure if this is because they didn't order it or they just missed it. Diamond said LAST Wednesday it should have come out so who knows. Got an order in for it now at any rate.


DARK HORSE:

BPRD 1947 #2
It got weirder. Its hard to explain a Mignola comic past issue one without completely ruining it for people. And I just talked about it in a recent post. Good story, good characters, great art... if you are into Hellboy, jump on it. Its good stuff.


DC:
BATMAN #689 (The Bat Universe in general has its own piece this week cuz my review got long and detailed. Read it here.)
Review of the new issue itself: Batman (the title) has at least remained interesting. Two-Face is damn sure the new Batman roaming Gotham is NOT the one he's used to dealing with and is doing his best to study him for... probably some plot to take him on directly and see who this punk thinks he is. Its a good read. Its dealing mainly with how Dick Grayson actually BECOMES Batman. Sure he fits into the suit, but does he suit Batman? Modifications to both tech and demeanor reflecting the new Not So Dark Knight are brought up and implemented. Its a great companion piece to Grant Morrison's Batman & Robin which seems to be the book we the audience (and I'm starting to wonder if not the other Bat writers as well) must wait for to get any meat around here. But as far as the new Bat direction, this book is still on a well done and interesting course. Good time to jump in for anyone looking to get their Dark Knight reading on.


MARVEL:

DEADPOOL #13
Still written by Daniel Way (thank you very much) but a new artist that makes me scared Marvel isn't going to take this book as seriously. Or the other guy was so awesome (and he was) that he got a great offer he couldn't pass up and this current artist was a last minute replacement. Filler art I guess I'd call it. We left Deadpool rich as HELL after his pseudo stalemate with Bullseye (a stalemate it was obvious Bullseye would have to lose being mortal and all). And what would Deadpool do with so much money? Start his own gig as a pirate! Sounds dumb? You haven't been reading or you'd be on board. Trust me. Its funny. If you haven't jumped on Deadpool yet, perfect time as this new arc has JUST started with issue 13. And you can get by without knowing continuity to get onto Deadpool unlike...

UNCANNY X-MEN #514 (Utopia Chapter #4)
Here, you need your background. It's X-Men! The greatest long running soap ever, of course you need your background! So Osborne exploits volatile situations to gain power and start his own franchises of various factions of super teams. We know this. But now he's exploited the X-Men, even started his own team led by Emma Frost... who's been dating Scott Summers for many years now and just accepts this position? And wait, Scott's not even pissed at her? I read this and I'm screaming 'what the hell writers? I want some s'plainin'!' I'm sure they will. Its all a part of Brian Michael Bendis' (once again) opus, Marvel Universe wide storylines: Dark Reign. Osborne has missed a very important detail in the mutant news feeds as of late however: Cyclops became a bad ass a few years ago after the Mutant population was nearly wiped out (as in under 200 known mutants at this point, the rest are either dead or depowered). Scott Summers does not take shit anymore. Neither do any fellow mutants in his X-men. In this issue, Cyke makes moves to take these "X-Men" head on. A young mutant asks 'but what about Osborne's Avengers?" Cyke says don't worry about it, they're not our concern. Who's concern are they? Enter the new Wolverine led X-Force! (Which has its own ongoing title right now and I HIGHLY recommend it; its a whole team of the most dangerous mutant assassins doing Cyclop's black ops dirty work, its amazing). A throw down between X-Force and the Avengers? Trust me, its gonna be hard to get better than this.

The writing in this book is handled by Matt Fraction who isn't Brian Michael Bendis and he leaves a lot skimmed over in my opinion, but he writes a solid, entertaining book. He hasn't been around that long (to my knowledge) and seeing how this book is a cross-over series with Dark Avengers (which is Bendis helmed), the juggling of such a ridiculous amount of characters must be insane. I can't be too harsh when taking that into account. So far it reads a lot like Secret Invasion did (in the sense that it moved in broad strokes you had to keep up with and ask questions later on certain details). The art is handled by the very welcomed Terry Dobson. The man has a talent and I've enjoyed his work for quite a while. I was glad so see his pencils on this book.

Overall this is a very exciting plot, even if little details are getting clipped a bit more than they should. If you haven't been following Dark Reign at all, you'd probably be ok...? Definitely get your local shop to help you grab Utopia Chapters 1-3 though.

So that's the stack this week. Don't forget to check out my piece on the current state of the Bat Universe.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

COMIC REVIEWS: My Two Deadpools

So Marvel, in its usual cross promoting and slightly whore-ish fashion, has seen fit to bestow upon the comic racks not one but TWO ongoing monthly Deadpool series (aside from his hilariously weird, even for him, guest spot in X-Force Messiah War). Marvel does this all the time. Character has a film, is featured in a film or even mentioned in a film and they get an ongoing series for as long as they can sell issues. If its an established character with a new film out, count on 30 new mini-series and one-shots coming out the month of the film's release.

In the case of Deadpool however, there really can't BE enough (so long as its written well). To see two ongoing series of what basically amounts to a C, maybe B, string character is kind of weird but with the mainstream media suddenly asking who the hell Deadpool even is, thanks to his seriously subdued and altered appearance in the Wolverine flick this year, they really do need to show him off right about now. Prep the buzz for Deadpool's solo flick staring Ryan (I'm also in Green Lantern and Blade 3) Reynolds.

DEADPOOL:

The first series has actually been going on for a little over a year and is simply titled 'Deadpool'. The book is written by Daniel Way who is very very quickly becoming one of my favorite writers. The man knows how to write humor and bad ass, together and apart, at the drop of a hat (check out his recent issues of Wolverine titled Dark Wolverine for some truly great character development of Wolverine's son). He maintains Deadpool's own dialogue and two separate thought train boxes (one yellow and one white, representing Deadpool's rather fractured psyche) with total ease and punchy pop culture ripping quips that probably make even Kevin Smith jealous. And come to think of it, Marvel, if you want to start a third Deadpool book, there really would be no one better than Kevin Smith to write it. I honestly think Smith should be handed the movie's writing duties straight away, but that's neither here nor there.

Three story arcs have passed in this series so far. The book opened during the Skrull Invasion with Nick Fury having hired Deadpool to infiltrate the Skrulls (DP's ability to not die being the only reason Fury put up with him on this job). Deadpool did what he was hired for and left a good mess of confusion and devastation in his wake before gathering the data Fury request retrieved. In sending the data to Fury, the transmission is interrupted and stolen by former Green Goblin gone Thunderbolts Team Leader for the government, Norman Osborne.

Outside of the Deadpool books, Osborne uses this information to kill the Skrull queen and essentially usurp, dethrone and replace Nick Fury. Which is where the Marvel Universe currently is: Dark Reign. And if you'd like to see what Fury thinks of that situation and more importantly, what he's gonna do about it, check out Secret Warriors by Johnathan Hickman. GREAT book.

Back in the Deadpool, the second story arc begins with Deadpool unpaid by Fury, who perceives the failure as somehow Deadpool's fault. Deadpool goes to war against Osborne and his Thunderbolts team. By the end of this, Deadpool has stolen Osborne's credit cards and bested the Thunderbolts more than once. Osborne doesn't appreciate Deadpool's little shopping spree and goes after him.

By the end, Deadpool is broke yet again and the third arc begins with Deadpool taking hits for $500 a head he gets from his craigslist posting. Osborne, still a little bitter, sends Bullseye out to give Deadpool as much hell as possible. Obviously, that doesn't go as planned and now you're up to speed. Jump on this book. Its hilarious. And grab anything else you see Daniel Way's name on right now.

DEADPOOL: MERC WITH A MOUTH

This series is only on issue 2 and revolves around Deadpool's severed head from the Marvel Zombies universe somehow being brought into the normal Marvel Universe and now Deadpool is traveling around with his own severed zombie head through the Savage Land with a hot researcher who has no interest in Deadpool whatsoever. This book is damn funny too, but somehow not quite as hard hitting as Daniel Way's series which went so far as to depict Deadpool and Bullseye in elementary school together where they kill their teacher and burn the school to the ground.

If you like Coke or Pepsi or both, grab these books if you want some good sadistic humor littered with pop culture references and one seriously fractured psyche belonging to the man who cannot die (or shut up) himself: DEADPOOL!

New Comic Reccomendations

So I've been completely failing at writing one of these every Thursday but I'll fix that. Promise. Basically what I want to do is get a comic review post up every thursday covering what I've read from that Wednesday... sort of a "if you missed it, you should be reading this (or not)" post.

For right now, I'll just cover what's been really standing out for me lately:



From Wildstorm: NORTH 40 #'s 1 & 2

Issue #2 just came out and I simply cannot praise this comic enough. It even has an endorsement by one of my favorite horror writers of all time, Steve Niles (30 Days of Night from IDW & the Cal McDonald mysteries over at Dark Horse). The comic is above and beyond from start to finish.

It's written by Aaron Williams with OUTSTANDING art by Fiona Staple. The story (which has some great Lovecraftian elements without being obnoxious about it) centers on a group of people in a small town who seem either immune or empowered after an incantation is read from a very creepy looking book that was previously buried in some archive. Most of the town is very very negatively affected by this incantation and the exact purpose of these changes has yet to be explained or even alluded to. Safe to say, its bad news all around for the town. I can't and won't get into just how weird these changes are because I'd hate to deprive you the "OMFG!" moments I've had at least twice per issue so far. It also has a good sense of humor without being campy.

The characters' dialogue is fantastic, splattered with bits of local country slang and phrasings. There are more modern folk, complete bumpkins and everything in between. I'm sure this will get optioned for a film sooner or later, work this good (and work far LESS good) usually does. But honestly, do not wait for the film. Go grab this right now. If you're shop doesn't have it, order it. Its so very very worth it.



From Darkhorse: BPRD 1947 #1

I'll admit I've fallen off the BPRD/Hellboy train the last couple years and I'll also admit I view this as a mistake. The last BPRD series I read involved the return of the "frogs" from the original Hellboy story arc and the "death" of Roger. I'll be remedying this as soon as I can get the extra paper for it.

So I was lucky enough to find that a new story arc has just started called BPRD 1947. Just like the title implies, the book is about the BPRD back in... 1947. Which allows Mignola the opportunity to flesh out the origins of the organization, get Broom some more page time and have little cameos of a young Hellboy. Only the first issue has come out so far but its off to a very promising start. Broom has just recruited some new military operatives fresh out of WW2, there's a train car full of brutally murdered Nazi troops, a creepy Russian paranormal being who chooses to appear as a little girl and mention of an ancient Count that escaped Broom in the first 40's era BPRD story arc (which I'll also be grabbing the trade of).

Mignola's writing is always a worthwhile read. Its full of classic horror elements, well thought out and maintained characters, and more mythology history than an entire college course. The man knows his mythology. He loves it, he clearly gets it and most importantly, he knows how to turn it into a great story that doesn't ever resort to the cheesy elements most horror films end up being these days (even the Hellboy films, though still enjoyable as their own entity, suffered a bit from that sadly). The art in the book is split between Gabriel Ba (Umbrella Academy) and Fabio Moon (who is new to me, but I like him already). I find it kind of funny that Gabriel Ba is working on a Hellboy book after Tess showed me Umbrella Academy (which she picked up through her My Chemical Romance fandom of Gerard Way) and my main comment was, that guy wants to be Mike Mignola BAD. So Ba's probably pretty happy to be working on BPRD. Now that Mignola is so busy writing nearly four books a month, he only has time to do covers so I totally welcome Ba's Mignola inspired aesthetic. Pick it up if you want some interesting and quirky horror along with some crisp art and Mignola's great writing. And you know you do!



from BOOM! Studios: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Yes, a comic adaptation of THE 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?' novel by prolific (to say the least) science fiction author Phillip K. Dick. Just to get some background for anyone new to the work, 'Electric Sheep' is the inspiration for the film Blade Runner. Blade Runner is an amazing film on so many levels, arguably the greatest science fiction film of all time, but at the same time, its only a scratch on the surface of the book. To faithfully adapt the book, you'd need three films just to cover it all. Phillip K. Dick was an interesting man... getting into just how interesting would require an entire entry unto itself. I hate to just skim over his life and do him a disservice in not fully articulating who the man really was.

The comic luckily has a great background piece at the end of the first issue written by the most perfect choice from the world of comics I could ever name to write such a piece: Warren Ellis. That alone is worth buying the issue. Each issue is WORD FOR WORD from the book. All the narration, dialogue, EVERYTHING. It will be 24 monthly issues and each issue will have some interesting background pieces in the back written by important creators commentating on Phillip K. Dick's work and the man himself.

So obviously, the book is written well. The art... I hate to rip on it because its clearly functional art. Its not gonna blow you away or alter the comic medium forever like a Jim Lee, Ashley Wood or Frank Quietly. Normally I'd be a little dismissive towards art of this nature but honestly, for a work as dense as 'Electric Sheep', its fitting. It tells the story, its capable art with nothing inherently wrong with it. Some of the spreads really do look quite good. For anyone who's read Vertigo, its a bit in that realm. Not good, not bad, it gets the story told without being distracting at either end of the spectrum. The fact that it doesn't take from the text but rather helps to clarify it is a perfect fit honestly.

For anyone who's never read 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?' I can't tell you enough times how much you should read this. The comic pages will help to clarify and keep the reader up to speed without so much, "wait...what?" that can happen when reading Dick's work. If you have read the book, this is such a fun way to re-experience it.

Phillip K. Dick is probably my favorite science fiction author of all time (along with Robert Heinlein, William Gibson and Jack Williamson). The man's vision is seriously unparalleled. And for someone with such an... outsider's perspective, Dick's work seems more and more grounded in reality with each passing year. So please read this. Seriously. I said please. Read it already!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

TOY REVIEW: GHOSTBUSTERS EGON SPENGLER (Mattel Movies Masters) Review

When I found out Mattel had secured the rights to produce figures from the original Ghostbusters (and apparently the animated series as well) I was ecstatic. NECA made those great ghost figures a few years back of Gozer, it's dogs and Stay Puft but they were never able to secure likeness rights to the actors so, sadly, no actual Ghostbusters were ever released. I'll be honest, I'd much rather NECA be the company to produce the figures, but at this point, I'm just glad some are being made.

Mattel's new line will be distributed through their online collector oriented site MattyCollector.com. They'll be released one every two months and retail for $20. Mattycollector.com also distributes their Masters of the Universe retro line and will, starting in January, distribute the remaining Dark Knight Movie Master figures that apparently weren't doing well enough in stores but will at least be accessible to hungry Batfans (like myself).

The first figure in Mattel's Ghostbusters line is Egon Spengler with a packed in Slimer figure.

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Upon initial inspection I was very impressed. The over all sculpt is handled well. His likeness is very good for an 8" mass market figure (though distributed from a "collector" site, this is still Mattel and retains mass market aesthetic). It looks a lot like Harold Ramis especially from the side. They have a nice bit of airbrushed grey around the chin, but not enough to be five o'clock shadow which is a nice touch.

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The figure also has tons of articulation: ball jointed head, shoulders, a hinge/ball elbow, cut wrists, waist, hinge knees and ankles. The hips also have that great swing forward and back as well as out to the sides so he's easily put into a slightly bent crouch (much like the original poster art). My one major beef with Mattel's Movie Master figures in general though is that they are made with a very pliable plastic and the peg joints (especially ankles) have a tendency to be placed a bit too far to either side and boom, you get a screwy joint (think axle of a car being too far into one wheel and not enough into the other). I wish they'd use a slightly more dense plastic, especially for the price, which I'll get into later.

Slimer!

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Slimer is awesome. He has a fairly accurate sculpt, though I believe in the films his eyes were buried in his thick body a bit more, so having them so out there here looks a bit more animated (perhaps a decision made so that it could be reused for that line?). Still its an impressive little figure!

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Slimer has ball jointed shoulders, hinged elbows and cut wrist joints. For a pack in figure, that's a decent enough amount of articulation; especially when you figure it is in fact Slimer and he needs no other articulation. The clear green plastic catches light well without being too straight forward see through (to the point where all the joint pieces are visible through the body like most invisible character figures over the years). He sits atop a clear stand that allows him to hover at about Egon's eye level. Its definitely a great addition to the figure.

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Meanwhile, back at Egon... The little details around the sculpt (handled by the Four Horsemen, responsible for Mattel's Masters of the Universe line, DC line and, I believe, the Movie Master Dark Knight figs as well) really make the figure what it is. The proton pack has wires all over it that are not just sculpted as part of the pack itself but are actually their own pieces glued on. Its a very nice touch and really captures the whole home made look that worked so well in the film. It has the appropriate colors and details with little silver scratches and wear around it. In addition, the blaster has a hole cut into it that fits perfectly over a hook on the proton pack for holstered poses. The glasses of my Egon were in pretty bad shape when he arrived, but I've since contacted Mattel and they're reasonably good about getting you a new figure pronto, though YOU have to pay the shipping back to them... even though they were the one's who supplied an injured product. I want my Egon, so I'll jump through a hoop or two.

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The Ghostbusters logo on the right shoulder and the name patch across the left breast pocket are very clean and well executed. There is some good weathering on the boots and slime stains on the jumpsuit (I might have preferred a clean jumpsuit, but its not overly done or distracting so I don't mind it at all). The belt has several nice bits hanging from it, various equipment pieces and some gloves... but they are all permanently affixed to the belt itself.

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And its that belt that brings me into accessories. Now, the Proton Pack is excellent. The blaster movie accurate. I'll never ever turn down a Slimer figure in any form. But at the same time, this figure is sold directly to customers by Mattel for $20 (then with shipping and all that bringing the total to around $28 and change). Them's Ebay prices as far as mass market figures go. Now, for that price, I see no reason there could not have been a PKE Meter thrown in considering Egon is pretty much always the one using it. And it should be able to clip onto the belt with all the other, non detachable equipment. For a $20, mass market quality figure that should be around $13-$15 even with the Slimer, it is severely lacking in accessories. A film as dense as Ghostbusters offered so many things that could have been thrown in for laughs. Tobin's Spirit Guide anyone? This is a collector site, they know who they're selling these to: Fans and collectors of an 80's property. We know the source material and we know it well. We also understand value.

Take into account the Invader Zim figures. Those came with so many accessories I didn't know what to do with them all and each one was very character appropriate and inspired by classic scenes. Those were around $15. Then there are the NECA Gears of War boxed sets where you get 4 characters, a slew of weapons, sometimes extra heads and they end up at around $40 retail. NECA, in general, is very good about accessories. Their Beetlejuice came with snakes and the Handbook for the Recently Deceased. Perfect.

Mattel has a serious problem with this department. I felt a little robbed paying $11.99 for their Dark Knight Movie Masters figures because they came with absolutely nothing. Oh wait, there was the "crime scene evidence" and the little ziploc it came with to put it in. Because the collector targeted audience craves random out of scale Crackerjack Prizes (which is essentially what they were). Their hands are sculpted to hold things... why don't I get anything to put in there? Especially the Clown Thug who was clearly aching for a hand gun with that poised and ready trigger finger.

Movie Masters is aimed at the higher end collector market. It's Mattel trying to be in the realm of a NECA or McFarlane or Mezco. If they want to hit that level, they need to get on the accessories. It shows a respect and shared love of the source material and its fans to go the extra effort to make sure a figure, especially from such a beloved iconic film as Ghostbusters, comes with character specific accessories that fit the figure. When I go into Toys R Us and pick up the latest Gears of War figure, I'm blown away by sculpt, paint, accuracy and accessories... and they cost me $13.99.

I'm not trying to tear Mattel apart, though I'm sure it sounds like it, what I want is for Mattel to hear this from fans so they can correct it. Egon and Slimer are great figures on their own. But in the end, you'll have to decide if that $20 (plus shipping and tax) price is worth it for a mass market quality figure with little to no accessories. Personally I think Mattel knows what they're doing and are trying to make as much as they can. They've figured out the internet direct to fan system several big collector oriented companies are doing and they're trying to get a piece. They're a business, that's their job. Honstly, I feel $20 is pretty steep for these. At SDCC this year, NECA sold an Isaac Clarke figure from the game Dead Space that featured not only heavy plastic, plenty of articulation and amazing sculpting/paint, but an LED light in his head AND back to recreate the game's aesthetic and THAT was a mere $20. I don't think each Ghostbuster will be coming with a Slimer sized ghost either, so I'm not sure what they'll use to justify the $20 price tag on these for future figures. I need PKE meters, those goggles, maybe some ectoplasm, a monitor of the Rick Moranis brain scan revealing him to be a ghost... ANYTHING extra to show Mattel really cares about the property as much as it's fans.

I'm happy I purchased the Egon, but my loyalty to the line isn't concrete yet. Mattel has a lot to learn about the collector market before they'll bring in the kind of loyalty that makes companies in that market thrive.