Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Stranger Week Day 3 – POP! Television: Barb (Stranger Things)

Series 1 of Stranger Things was a show with many breakout elements, but Barb was arguably one of the biggest. Though she only appeared in a handful of episodes, she quickly became the Boba Fett of the series, inspiring a wide variety of tributes, including social media hashtags, fan art, cosplay, and even tattoos

Barb’s outfit was the most overtly 1980s-looking outfit of any of the main cast – big glasses, ruffled blouse, high waisted jeans and boots, accompanied by short but bouffant red hair. Not as gaudy as we tend to picture the 1980s, but definitely evoking an archetypal image of the terrible yearbook photo. The POP replicates it perfectly; whoever designed this put a lot of care into the look and feel of the figure.

Perhaps best of all, she’s decked out with a Trapper Keeper; though the reference is obscure to modern teens, Trapper Keepers were a somewhat higher-end take on the traditional book binder, and extremely popular in the 1980s, particularly in the USA. Produced in all manner of designs to appeal to guys and girls alike, the Trapper Keeper can be seen as a symbol of Barb’s relatively child-like nature – a stark contrast to friends like Nancy who are “maturing” at a rate that apparently leaves her intimidated and sometimes appalled.

At present, there's just one version of Barb available; the only other obvious version would feature exactly the same outfit but with a blue jacket over the top. But there's one on the way for Emerald City Comicon out next month -- an "Upside Down" two-pack which also features a different version of Eleven. The mold is the same, but the paintjob has the eerie green-grey look of the world of the Upside Down. My suggestion would be to get this one, and only get the exclusive if you're not paying aftermarket prices. I suspect it will be in very heavy demand. 

Barb is the first secondary character to be produced; though she has a fraction of the screen time, it’s fair to say that she’s far more popular than some of the more heavily-featured characters like Nancy or Jonathan. Some of these characters are likely to show up as POPs in future, but Barb’s inclusion really is indicative of how fandom can drive a franchise for good ends.  

But that popularity came at a price; in a (likely intentional) inversion of traditional horror film values, Barb gets killed off in spite of not participating in drinking, drugs or sex. But I suspect we’ll probably see her in Season 2 in form or another – maybe a flashback, or maybe as a resurrected Demogorgon-esque creature? The character’s popularity is probably too strong for her to be entirely gone.   

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Stranger Week Day 2 – POP! Television: Joyce (Stranger Things)

Here we are with Day 2 of Stranger Week, taking a look at Will’s mum – Joyce Byers.

Joyce is one of the series’ most depressing characters. She’s a single mother in precarious financial circumstances, and seemingly devoid of friends. Though the viewer is aware pretty early on that there are supernatural goings-on in the world of Stranger Things, the scenes with Joyce are still often ambiguous as to whether Will’s actually communicating with her or she’s just crazy. We believe Eleven can reach him, but it’s quite late in the piece that we get confirmation that Joyce could too.  
As with her son Will, Joyce’s design is a bit neither here nor there; this will be a recurring theme for most of the human characters, as they’re mostly meant to be ordinary people. However, when the figures are viewed as a whole, they work quite well together, creating a consistent world for the characters to inhabit.  

Joyce comes with the Christmas lights that she used to communicate with Will while he was trapped in the Upside Down – the only other accessory that would make much sense would be the burnt-out phone. The lights are all tangled up here though, and give no indication of which colours they’ll actually shine once they’re hung up on the wall. However, this is consistent with the scene Will makes them glow bright white – and if it bothers you, it’s an easy fix to customise.  

Winona Ryder has had her ups and downs over the years, which unfortunately has probably had a negative impact on her career trajectory. She was a huge star in the late 80s right up until around 2001 – and it’s only really been in the last few years that she’s started to re-emerge significantly into the public eye. But in some ways we should be grateful for this; were her profile a little higher, the producers behind Stranger Things might not have been able to get her for the role.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Stranger Week Day 1 – POP! Television: Will (Stranger Things)

Stranger Things was pretty much my favourite TV show last year. It was a great mix of 80s nostalgia, Stephen King and Steven Spielberg-esque influences and kid’s adventure stories, and for me it definitely rose above its influences to be its own thing.    

Despite being the kid that pretty much kicks off the events of Stranger Things, Will is actually more of a MacGuffin than a full-fledged character for most of Season One. Being trapped in the Upside Down for most of the series meant that he didn’t get a great deal of screentime, and there’s an awful lot we don’t know about him yet. Why was he able to survive in the Upside Down when everyone else seemed to get killed off? And what was with the things he was coughing up?    

Presumably these questions will be answered this October when Series 2 is released. But in the meantime, some of the first merchandise for the series has hit Australian stores, in the form of Funko POPs.  And given that Will’s disappearance kicks things off, I thought he’d be the best figure to look at first.

One of the things that Stranger Things did quite well was that it didn’t really parody the decade it was set in. Typically any show or movie set in the 80s is full of more neon and big hair than you can poke a Sony Walkman at. But Stranger Things painted a picture that’s probably more reflective of the truth of the era – the characters wear clothes that look dated to modern viewers, but not the garish outfits that have captivated popular imagination. This figure captures that vibe effectively, and special mention must go to its accurate rendition of the bowlcut – a haircut which has afflicted so many unfortunate kids over the decades, and continues to even to this day.

I can’t pretend that Will is the most visually interesting POP in my collection, but he works in the wider context of the series. There’s another version of available too – Upside Down Will, which is the same mold but painted in the gloomy, muted blue-grey shades of the mysterious dimension. It doesn’t seem to be out in Australia yet, but it’s been showing up in the US. I’ll probably pass on it myself, but it’s a good alternate version for diehards.  

I assume that there will be plenty more Stranger Things POPs in the works – with all the hype around the first series, and the second due on Halloween, Netflix is unlikely to let any potential merchandise sales slide. Will’s a solid figure, if not the most interesting design; it’ll be interesting to see what he looks like in Season 2.  

Thursday, 16 February 2017

POP! Movies: Conan the Barbarian -- Bloody and Warpaint Variants (PX Previews Exclusives)

Sigh…sometimes fandom can lead you down a foolish path.

I love Conan the Barbarian – both the original Robert E. Howard stories and the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. A friend showed me the film in late 2006 or early 2007 (the same friend who showed me The Beyond, actually) and it became an instant favourite. Shortly afterwards came the purchase of The Complete Conan Chronicles, a compilation of the original Robert E. Howard short stories from the 1930s. Rarely have I come across an author that I have enjoyed as much – I like to think he's influenced my own writing, though it may not be so evident on this blog. Howard died tragically young as the result of a self-inflicted gunshot, but his work left behind a legacy that has grown to encompass a multimedia empire – not to mention the many derivatives the character spawned in his wake.

So how has this fandom led me down a foolish path? Well, I have been hoping for a Conan POP since I started collecting back in 2013. And the basic figure was announced late last year as being available through Popcultcha – but the two you see in the pictures here were originally advertised as being exclusive to Entertainment Earth. Which in principle I didn’t mind, except that it meant they would cost me a whole bunch in postage…but I put in the order anyway, because I was worried that they wouldn't be released in Australia.

But to cut a long story short, these POPs did end up coming out in Australia (before they arrived from the US) and it was already too late to cancel the order. So these guys ended up costing me around double what they would have in Sydney, with the only distinction being the little “PX Previews Exclusive” sticker on each box. I'd understand if this was a convention exclusive or chase, but does anyone really care about this particular type of sticker? 

Overall, these figures are great. The sculpts are good, capturing the little details of the character nicely. But don’t be like me – learn from my experience and just buy them from your local retailer.  

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

POP! Movies – King Kong (Kong: Skull Island)

King Kong is one of the great cinematic monsters, arguably equal in stature to Godzilla. His appearances on film have tended to play it a lot straighter than his reptilian counterpart, but he’s still become a larger than life cliché unto himself.

Back in the bad old days of the early 90s, when we only had a handful of channels on free-to-air TV, the ABC would often play classic films late at night or early in the morning. And when I say “classic”, you should read “old and tedious” because most of them were obscure British period trash. Occasionally, though, they’d play a really good one – the original 1930s King Kong was one. As a kid who was fascinated by special effects, it was amazing viewing, and I became an instant fan of the character.  

But I’ve been a bad fan over the years. I’ve never watched the 1976 or 2004 film (though I’m told I’m doing myself a favour on both counts) and I probably haven’t seen the original since I was a little kid. Nonetheless, news of a King Kong Funko POP meant that I had another must-buy on my list, and my wife was kind enough to pick it up for Valentine’s Day* this year.   

This is based on Kong’s design from the new film, Kong: Skull Island, which I’m sure will be entertaining enough but probably take itself far too seriously and give us too much focus on the human characters. Still, the cast looks okay – and if nothing else it’s given us the tentative promise of a King Kong vs Godzilla movie in 2020, which should be tremendous fun.
As to the POP itself, given that Funko only recently made a giant gorilla, I’m surprised there isn’t a ton of reuse on display here. Molds aren’t cheap, after all. But the only thing that appears to be shared is the feet and even with them I’m not 100% certain.

Though only out for a few weeks, it seems to have been selling quite steadily. I’ll wager that very little of this has to do with the new movie coming out; rather, it’s probably just the fact that you can actually get a King Kong POP. I assume we’ll probably see it in a few different colourwaves, just as happened with Godzilla. As always, a glow in the dark one would be pretty fantastic, but I’m not even sure how they would try and justify that from an in-universe perspective. Maybe radiation made him grow, like Godzilla? Who knows -- I could see myself buying it anyway. 

At any rate, the final product looks pretty rad. Paint is fuzzy (shock!) but being able to have a giant gorilla crushing a helicopter in its hand makes this an essential purchase, even if you’ve never cared about King Kong in your life before. Overall? Fantastic addition to just about any POP collection, and a good jumping-on point if you don't have any.    

Rarr! RARR!

Sunday, 5 February 2017

POP! Movies – Ghostface (Scream)

Company: Funko
Year: 2014

Originally created as something of a tribute to a genre that had kind of gone out of vogue, Scream ended up being a big hit and spawned a franchise of its own. Directed by horror legend Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street), what the first Scream film got right was the balance of comedy and out-and-out horror. There’s plenty of knowing winks and nods (like Freddy the Janitor), but the film doesn’t skimp on the intensity or gore at any point. It’s not Cannibal Holocaust, but it’s more full-on than plenty of the films that inspired it. The film also owes a lot of its success to the smart screenplay from Kevin Williamson, who would go on to be quite a successful screenwriter…though he did pen another very successful slasher film that was arguably a Scream knockoff* in and of itself.

As a relatively modern horror icon, it’s no real surprise that Ghostface ended up getting released as one of the earlier horror movie figures under the POP! Movies banner. For whatever reason, the box lists the name as “Ghost Face” rather than “Ghostface”. Perhaps this is to do with trademarks surrounding Ghostface Killah, but that’s only a guess on my front.   

The sculpt is great fun; the mask is nicely rendered, and it does a good job of capturing the loose look of the costume. Ghostface has actually been portrayed by seven different actors (plus two others if you count the TV series), not to mention numerous stuntmen. However, the personality and actions remain reasonably consistent across the movies – and while the costume and mask do have some subtle differences across the films, it’s not as drastic as, say, Jason Voorhees. In POP format, one and done is fine on this occasion. 

There are some paint issues, but this is typical of the POP releases of the time. Most of him is cast in black, with some gloss areas -- these are fine. The issues come with the mask itself. Areas of white have been visibly touched up before it went into the box. I wouldn’t mind redoing this more cleanly in the future, but even when I was painting a lot of miniatures, I always struggled with painting white. It’s not ideal, but I’ll live.

Ghostface doesn’t seem to be vaulted, but he is increasingly unusual to spot out in the wild – if you’re a Scream fan and keen to get him, I’d pick him up soon. I’m hopeful that we also get a version of the Brandon James Ghostface from the TV series too; the first season was quite enjoyable, though it started to lose me in Season 2. He’s a fine addition to my ever-growing horror shelf, if not as well-executed (ha!) as some of his fellow horror-themed POPs.   

*I Know What You Did Last Summer

Monday, 30 January 2017

Predators Series 16: Ghost Predator

Company: NECA
Year: 2016

NB: This review was written BEFORE the Spiked Tail Predator that was published in December

Well, it’s been quite a while since I reviewed any NECA Predators here at the LBC. The last one I bought was the Elder Predator v2, which was released back as part of series 12. Cool as he was, I don’t think I ever got to reviewing him on here – which means the last one I looked at was the ¼-scale City Hunter, all the way back in early 2015!

Series 13-15 weren’t bad, by any means, but I didn’t buy any of them. Series 13 continued the Kenner-style Predators, while 14 and 15 focused on the first Aliens vs Predator film. The toys looked good (if a little too similar to one another) but my aversion to the movie itself really kind of put me off. I’m hanging out for an updated Wolf Predator from AvP: Requiem; nothing has been confirmed, but I think it’s a reasonably safe bet to show up sometime next year.  

So today we look at the Ghost Predator, who seems to be based on the Renegade Predator from the old Kenner series. Back then, he was probably the truest to the “real” look of the Predator from the movies in comparison to his gaudier companions. NECA has retained this comparative realism, which I enjoy, but they’ve really played up his pale look, giving him a nice semi-albino look.

Now, NECA’s Predator line has been built on the back of reuse. While that’s brought us some very creative action figures, it has also been a source of frustration for some – in series 16, Ghost Predator is clearly the one who’s had the least spent on him in terms of new tooling. But with the AvP Predators came newly sculpted base bodies for NECA to use, as well as increased articulation. Ghost Predator benefits from this immensely, with swivel biceps and double elbows now being incorporated into the design, as well as a balljointish thing in the chest – a proper ab-crunch would be good, but it would probably also ruin the aesthetics of the figure.

My main criticism of the design is that Ghost is a victim NECA’s current trick of simply not painting the netting to indicate that a character is not wearing netting – the sculpting is still present, but the paint is not. I feel somewhat churlish complaining about it, given the other positive features of the toy, but I think it should be noted nonetheless. The only bare body NECA seems to have for Predators is the old Super Predator body, which was pretty mediocre; perhaps we’ll see one eventually though.
Still, enough about the bad and onto the good. Netting aside, the paintwork is excellent. Check your sample in-store, but they look to have had a good run on this figure. The tiger-stripe lines and cheetah spots contrast nicely with the pale skin – they seem to have shifted back to a moulding process similar to the one they used to give Dutch his distinctive skin tones. This is very welcome, as it gives a more naturalistic look to the figure, in contrast to the heavily painted AvP figures which looked much more overtly toyish.  

Unlike his original figure, Ghost doesn’t get a gun. But he’s got some very cool accessories; a smart disc, a machete, a spear and a removeable mask. All accessories we’ve seen before, but rarely together. The spear won’t quite fit into the left, gripping hand, but it can be balanced in the more open right hand if you’re careful. 

The mask is very well sculpted, and could easily pass for something out of the films. It’s slightly too big in proportion to the head; for a long time NECA shied away from making removable masks for their Predator figures, and this is exactly why. But he still looks fantastic with the mask on or off anyway; it does tie in with the reality that a Predator is a mask in a mask, and there heads have always looked slightly large on-screen.  

Series 16 was heavily delayed. It was originally meant to come out around July, but it hit stores shelves in Sydney in December 2016 – a few weeks behind the US. Nonetheless, it looks to have been worth the wait. Ghost Predator is an excellent design, Spiked Tail Predator was flawed but still looks great….and the glow-in-the-dark Stalker Predator has now arrived too. So overall, I'd say it's been a very successful series.