Friday, 31 January 2014

Book review: The Gosford Files

It has occurred to me that in spite of this site being called the Lupine Book Club, I’ve yet to post a book review on here. So without further ado, here is the inaugural book review for the Lupine Book Club – The Gosford Files!

Update March 2015: Moira McGhee herself commented on this review and noted that the book is NOT out of print and can still be purchased by visiting

Authors: Moira McGhee and Bryan Dickeson
Published: 1996

Publisher: INUFOR
Availability: In print

Most people are familiar with the NSW Central Coast as a retirement spot, or as a beach holiday area, where you might spend a few days visiting for a family vacation. But this relatively quiet part of NSW, only an hour and a half north of Sydney, is also something of a UFO hotspot. For those of you not familiar with ufology jargon, this basically means it’s a good place to go if you’re interested in seeing UFOs. Hotspots for UFOs are dotted in various locations all over the planet, though the exact reasons why certain spots become hotspots are unknown.

The Central Coast, while home to a number of small urban centres, is quite geographically diverse – there’s plenty of bush, mountains, large bodies of water and farmland throughout the area, all located relatively close to one another. Whether or not this geographic diversity contributes to its hotspot status is entirely speculation, of course.  But still, it’s a potential tourism outlet that someone should look into more closely, I think.  
I lived on the Central Coast between 1989 and 2010, spending my early childhood through to my early twenties there. I still visit regularly to see friends and family, and I’m very attached to the place. But in spite of its reputation, I will say that you probably won’t see a UFO on a casual weekend visit there – in my years living there, I saw two, or perhaps three (I may post on that another time).

But in late 1996, Sydney-based UFO researchers Moira McGhee and Bryan Dickeson published The Gosford Files, in the wake of a large number of UFO sightings that had taken place earlier in the year. I first encountered the book not long after publication. I was in late primary school and someone had brought a copy in to school. I was already somewhat familiar with UFOs and the idea of alien abduction at the time – in fact, I had even seen a UFO in 1994, while at a family friend’s party. The whole thing intrigued me immensely, and I ploughed through it as soon as I could lay my hands on a copy (probably from the local library).
Since then, I have read scores, if not hundreds of books on UFOs, the unexplained, the paranormal etc. Few have made the same sort of impression on me as The Gosford Files, probably due to my personal attachment to the area.  

As might be suspected by the title, The Gosford Files covers UFO sightings that took place on and around the NSW Central Coast. Most are from the early- to mid-1990s, but there are a number that span previous decades, with the earliest from the 1950s. McGhee and Dickeson are good writers, and while the relatively short nature of each entry can leave you curious to know more at times, it does mean that you’re unlikely to get bored. 

Other, more general “unexplained” phenomena is covered as well, such as the famed “Kariong Hieroglyphics” (though the book describes them as located in Woy Woy). These rock carvings have attracted national attention at various times, and periodically get wheeled out as examples of questionable theories such as ancient aliens, unrecorded contact between the Egyptians and the Aborigines etc. *
Reading about all of this was particularly exciting as a child, when the book was first released. “Whoa! Someone saw a UFO there?”  All of a sudden, the Central Coast seemed like a place where things could happen, as opposed to the relatively quiet place that I had previously known it to be.
This book was published just on the cusp of internet access becoming mainstream, so there’s plenty of stuff I’d like to follow up on now – of course, the passing years and heavy use of pseudonyms for witness names makes this increasingly difficult.

As it’s rapidly approaching 20 years since the original book was published, I would love to see some kind of follow-up on the cases featured, whether online or as a Gosford Files 2-style publication. A short time after I first moved to Sydney, I began a bit of research into UFO sightings that had occurred post-publication of The Gosford Files. The project never really got off the ground, though I would like to return to it one day. 

As with any book like this, a lot of your final opinion is going to rest on whether or not you ascribe any reality to the UFO phenomenon at all. While I once would have considered myself a thorough believer in alien visitation, these days I am much more agnostic on the issue. It may sound a little wishy-washy to the more hardened UFO sceptic, I suppose – but I have definitely seen UFOs. But only in the sense that I have seen unidentified objects in the sky; I cannot claim anything at all along the lines of them being the result of aliens travelling across space/dimensions/time to visit the earth.
Taken as a book on the UFO phenomenon, The Gosford Files is an interesting read, and a good catalogue of a diverse variety of sightings and experiences within a fairly small geographical area. However, even for the non-believer, it’s still an interesting curio of Central Coast history. If you come across a copy (see note below) I’d definitely recommend picking it up. Even if you have no personal interest, odds are strong that you will know someone who is keen for a copy.

*I have never visited them myself, as their exact location is deliberately kept secret, to discourage visitors and vandals. But I have seen photos and I will happily throw my hat into the ring and say that these are 100% fake. Anyone who has ever looked through a children’s book on ancient Egypt can see that they are ridiculously crude (though whoever did them has gone to a lot of effort), and are hardly the work of highly trained scribes.

 Postscript: The Extraordinary
For those who are interested, one of the cases featured in the book was also featured in a segment on The Extraordinary ­­– which, for my overseas readers, was an Australian equivalent of Unsolved Mysteries in the early to mid-90s, covering subjects like UFOs, ghosts and other paranormal phenomena. You can view the segment  here on YouTube.

Post-postscript: A word on availability and pricing
This is a slightly edited version of the original section of the review, retained only for archival purposes now that I have been made aware of the book's availability. 

Though I have read the book numerous times since it was first published, I didn’t actually own my own copy until 2012! On and off, I spent a few years trying to find one, without much luck. Though I had numerous friends interested in similar subject matter, it’s quite sought-after in certain circles and it’s now been out of print for some years. I don’t know what sort of print run it had on initial release, but I suspect it was no more than a few thousand.  

Eventually, though, my father came across a copy in a Gosford book exchange for $5.50, which he snapped up for me. I have seen it selling online for more than $100! As might be imagined, I guard my copy quite dearly.

For Central Coast locals, Gosford Library has a copy, but it was moved to the reference section years ago – so no borrowing! It may also be worthwhile checking with the Wyong Shire libraries too.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Arkham Origins Batman

Series: Arkham Origins
Company: DC Collectibles

Scale: 7”

Year: 2013

The Background
Batman: Arkham Origins was probably my most anticipated game of 2013. When it finally landed, I had a lot of fun playing it, but I was very disappointed with the storyline, and I traded it in right after I finished the main game.

Still, in anticipation of the game – and having admired, but never picked up any of the Arkham Asylum or Arkham City figures – I requested this figure several months ago as a Christmas present. After my disappointment with the game, I was a little more concerned. This was heightened after I ran across all of the figures except Batman in London’s Forbidden Planet store. They had good sculpts, but their articulation didn’t look great. That’s not such an issue with characters like Black Mask, but it’s a big problem for Batman. Combined with my disappointment with DC Unlimited Hawkman, I had some real reservations about going ahead with this figure. But he was already in the mail, so it was too late to cancel. Were my concerns justified?  

The new packaging for Arkham Origins deviates significantly from the cowl-shaped clamshell that marked Asylum and City.  Now it’s more like a rectangular NECA clamshell, but with the Arkham Origins logo flaring out at the top. But clamshell haters need not panic – some of the back has been pre-perforated, allowing you to tear it open with relative ease (just keep a pair of scissors handy).  

The fairly plain insert unfolds into a flyer for both the Arkham Origins and City ranges, both of which seem to have been reappearing at retail lately – a clever touch.
Overall, I don’t dislike the packaging, but I think it’s a little bland in colouring and will probably present storage problems for MOCers, just because of the unusual shape.  


I was never quite satisfied with the sculpts on the Asylum or City figures of Batman. Though mostly great, his head always looked just slightly too small for his body, giving a weird effect. In fact, the whole series was a real mix of fantastic (Harley Quinn) and ordinary (Poison Ivy), which I think may be why I never actually pulled the trigger on buying any of them.

This Batman resolves those issues, and presents us with one of the best Batman toys I think I have yet come across. The sculpting is by Gentle Giant studios, who I understand generally base their work from digital scans of the character model.
I couldn’t say for certain whether it’s 100% screen accurate, but it definitely looks right – the armour plating is all there, the belt’s present and the head is the correct size. The biggest issue that I noticed was that his left bat-ear was slightly larger than his right one, and some of the spikes on his glove are slightly warped. Fussier folk than I may choose to break out the customising tools, but I’m happy to leave him be – I don’t really notice unless I’m looking for it.    

The cape is really cool. It’s made out a soft rubber which manages the delicate balancing act of being neither too stiff nor too soft. It restricts his shoulder movement slightly, but not massively. My only real concern is that it feels quite oily, and I’m hoping it doesn’t fall to pieces quickly.
As for his articulation, he features:

*ball-jointed neck
*swivel-hinge shoulders

*swivel-hinge forearms

*ball-jointed wrists
*ab crunch

*swivel waist
*hinged hips

*swivel thighs
*double-hinged knees

*ball-jointed ankles

"This isn't what I had in mind when I was thinking about 'Predator Encounters'."
One of his ankles was at a bit of a funny angle in the box, but I was able to twist it back into its correct shape easily enough – no boiling required.
All of the joints work well and move smoothly – of all of my “collector” figures, Batman is far and away the most mobile, particularly compared to say, my NECA Predators. There are no complaints here, which is possibly a first for one of my reviews!

In the comics Batman typically has a very plain colour scheme – black (or blue) and grey. Accordingly, the figure reflects this, and the accompanying paint job is pretty basic, though it doesn’t need to be any more complex. The exposed half of his face is painted a flesh tone (slightly darker for the lip) then given a black wash for stubble. Up close he just looks kind of dirty, but it’s pretty effective from a distance – and it still works either way.

I could see DC Collectibles giving us a “Battle-damage” repaint at some point – those of you who have played any of the Arkham games know that the Batsuit takes quite a beating over the course of the game, and a banged-up version could look pretty good. If it doesn’t get a release, of course, all it would take is a steady hand and some Citadel paints… 
The only real issue I have is that the paint is already showing some wear marks at a couple of points. Both the cape and cowl appear to have been cast in grey, and then painted black. As a result, there’s already a wear mark on his cape (possibly from the packaging) and the tips of his ears are starting to wear too.

Batman comes with no accessories. I was hoping he’d come with a batarang, but no such luck. Considering his hands are balled into fists, ideally I think the best way to go would have been to would have liked some interchangeable hands, a batarang and/or a weapon – along the lines of the old SOTA Street Fighter II toys.  

If the range goes for more than two waves, I won’t be surprised if we end up with a variety of different Batmans – perhaps unmasked as Bruce Wayne, Batman in a slightly different costume, or Batman incorporating more accessories. But I hope that they avoid this, as there have already been far too many Batman lines already that simply consist of variants of Batman.
Instead, I think it would be better to incorporate more accessories into a base figure – interchangeable hands, maybe a head and some accessories. It might cost a little more at retail, but I suspect that you’d probably sell more figures too – rather than annoying fans by releasing a bunch of largely unwanted variants. 


"Rookie mistake, Jason."
Despite Batman being my favourite superhero from a very young age, I’ve never really owned a good figure of him. I had an Animated Series Bruce Wayne-to-Batman figure in the 1990s – which was okay – and a Batman Begins basic Batman when the movie was out – which was also okay. But I’ve never really seen one that grabbed me and was within my budget (I’m looking at you, Hot Toys DX 12 Dark Knight Rises Batman). 
The lack of accessories is disappointing, but Arkham Origins Batman is definitely one of my favourite figures that I’ve bought this year, despite my disappointment with the game. The sculpt looks good, the articulation is great and he looks good fighting Lava Planet Predator – I would recommend him thoroughly to any Batman fan. He’s a great addition to the collection. 

Side note: At this stage, the only other figure I’m planning to pick up is Deathstroke, assuming he has similar articulation and a good paint job – he’s scheduled for release in April. However, future waves beyond wave 2 may well hold more characters that I’m interested in. The other figures look fine, but they’re just not up my alley.

"I don't use guns," said Batman, loudly and pointedly.
"Well, how about you shut up let the real cops do their job?" said RoboCop.
The bust that followed was a success, but it was awkward for everyone.


Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Marvel Select Silver Surfer

Series: Marvel Select

Scale: 7”

Company: Diamond Toys

Year: 2013

The Silver Surfer is one of my favourite Marvel characters. He is quite well known in comic fandom, but has never been able to break through to A-list status, and his presence is usually confined to guest appearances or infrequent miniseries – though word around the campfire is that he will be returning to a monthly series in April this year.

But I digress – I found myself with a gift voucher for my local comics store after Christmas (thatnks to my brother-in-law), and the Marvel Select line has been intriguing me for a while now. It’s slightly larger in scale than Marvel Legends – if not as heavily articulated – and the diorama bases it includes can be quite impressive.  So after eyeing this figure off for some time, I decided it was time to get the purchase happening.


The Marvel Select packaging is definitely designed with collectors in mind. It’s ridiculously large compared to the average retail figure, it’s covered in cool graphics and the figure is clearly displayed, for those who like to keep things MoC.
Unfortunately for MoCers, they’re also somewhat easy to ding – the Silver Surfer I picked up was the last one in the store, and it was in “good” rather than “mint” condition. Not a problem for me, since I’m a chucker anyway, but something to watch out for if you are a little fussier about your packaging.

The Surfer looks to be something of a hybrid of his 1960s and 1990s versions. He still seems to be wearing trunks as in his early appearances, but he also has the ludicrously ripped physique of a post-MacFarlane comic character, before things went back to being a little more restrained in the noughties.  

I purchased the DC Unlimited Hawkman a couple of months ago, and found very quickly that his legs – seemingly cast in metallic plastic – had a very disappointing range of movement. I had concerns that the Surfer would be similar, and that most of him would be rendered immobile.
Articulation-wise, this is what he offers:

*ball-jointed neck
*ball-jointed shoulders

*swivel biceps
*hinged elbows

*pegged wrists
*cut waist

*peg and swivel hips
*double-hinged knees
*swivel ankles

His posture is somewhat slouched – good for when he’s in surfing poses, but it might have been nice to have an adjustable neck for when he’s standing up straight.
The combination of swivel hips with hinged knees meant it was initially kind of difficult to get him into a good-looking surfing pose – which is a bit of a bummer for the Silver Surfer. I think a better approach would have been cuts on the thigh for a greater range of motion and/or ball-jointed ankles – though cut thighs may have left me complaining about a spoiled look on the figure.

However, these issues are more to do with the style of articulation chosen, rather than plastic QC issues. His range of motion is actually really good! All of the joints move smoothly, and he’s easy to set up for a good looking photo. His wrists were initially quite stiff, but I didn’t have any worries about breaking any of his other joints – something that I sadly can’t say about many other collector’s figures that I’ve bought.
Combatting evil wherever in the galaxy...or Detroit...they may go.
The other thing I did like is that while the range is on the exaggerated side of 7”, Silver Surfer still fits in quite well next to Arkham Origins Batman. Though his proportions are slightly larger, this can easily be explained by the fact that he’s an alien, not a human. Additionally, he’s not so “realistic” that he looks silly placed next to my TMNT. Those who follow me on Instagram (lupinefunclub) will have seen a few photos already – more should follow soon.                                      

Surfer comes with eight accessories – a staggering amount in this day and age, particularly when you consider that other figures costing only a few dollars less (or more) often come with one or none.

*diorama base
*Silver Surfboard

*two energy blasts
*three alternate hands

*the Infinity Gauntlet

Two of the alternate hands look virtually identical to one another – just the hand held flat, presumably for surfing poses. The other is in a kind of grasping position – probably for holding the board when it’s standing upright. The energy blasts are cool, but they can be a little tricky to fit over the hands. However, I can see it being put to use for a number of other effects, too -- gunshot explosions, bullet wounds, etc.
The Infinity Gauntlet can fit over the Surfer’s left arm once his hand has been removed. You’ll need to wedge it on a little to make it stay, but it does look great once it’s on. I’m curious to know how many other Marvel Select characters it will fit onto, as well…Deadpool, perhaps? 

Sadly not many of my other figures have easily removable hands – otherwise I could definitely see potential for a few zany crossovers (Lava Planet Predator gets hold of the Infinity Gauntlet – sounds pretty 90s to me!).
The diorama base is quite simple. It’s some kind of lunar-looking landscape with an energy “swoosh” attached for the surfboard. There have been more complex bases in this series, but this one is nice because it’s relatively understated – I can’t stand the ones that come with big unarticulated figures. They almost invariably look terrible. The only real downside is that the Surfer’s feet don’t quite fit in the footprints. I think there should definitely have been a flat area with a peg for the foot on the base, but I don’t like the footprints themselves being embedded permanently in the sculpt. Still, I have paid similar amounts for figures that came with far, far less, so it seems churlish to complain about such minor quibbles. 

As might be expected, there’s not actually a lot to say about paint for the Surfer (and his board). He seems to be primarily moulded in a silver colour, with his joints apparently cast in clear plastic and then painted silver. You’ll see the unpainted areas show in certain poses, but it’s no biggie – after Hawkman, I’m just happy that he can move!

The only real detail area is his eyes – these have been cleanly done, with no trace of slop.
Accessories-wise, the Infinity Gauntlet is okay, but unspectacular. It colours all of the gems, and gives it a wash to add a bit of depth to the glove itself, but it just feels a little flat for such an important artefact. Perhaps a slightly glossier finish might have been the right approach? 

The energy blasts are unpainted, but I think they should have been given a drybrush highlight so they don’t look so obviously plastic-y. This is something I may fix myself in future.
The diorama base is simply painted too. The energy swoosh is moulded in the appropriate colour, and the landscape is seemingly just a basecoat and some drybrushing. Still, that’s all that’s needed to provide the appropriate effect.

In spite of the Silver Surfer being one of the more visually striking characters in comics, this has not traditionally translated into paint jobs that stand out as particularly striking. Metal is hard to make look good at this scale, and very few companies succeed. I’d rate the paintwork on the figure as “pretty good”. There’s nothing obviously wrong with it, but it doesn’t quite go that extra mile in the same way as the NECA RoboCop’s multi-toned silver did. The accessories are also perfectly acceptable.  

Though the current range of Marvel Select characters at my local store aren’t my cup of tea, I could definitely see myself picking up a couple more in future. I particularly like the look of Deadpool, though I suspect I’ll have a mission tracking him down. Or perhaps Thanos, to continue the spacefaring, cosmic theme of this toy – and to provide a worthy adversary for Norrin Radd. 
Silver Surfer was not my favourite figure of 2013, but he hit all of the right notes – good sculpting, good paint and lots of accessories (particularly for a character who’s mainly noted for having one). All of these things should be standard for a figure of this cost, and Marvel Select definitely gets props from me for doing it. Other companies should take note!
"Dammit MIkey! Bring it back - NOW!"

Monday, 27 January 2014

Star Wars: The Black Series -- Darth Vader (3.75")

A word before we begin -- unfortunately my photo set-up is quite limited at home at the moment, so I had a very difficult time getting any good photos of Vader, due to his heavily black colour scheme. The one above was the only really usable one.

Company: Hasbro
Series: Star Wars – The Black Series

Wave: Wave 1
Scale: 3.75”

Price: $15.75 – $20.95

There have been roughly 291371294715390 different Star Wars toy lines since A New Hope first hit cinemas. Some excellent toys have been produced over these years, both for play and for collectors (mid-90s Power of the Force was my own first encounter) but the announcement of a new line must be regarded with a raised eyebrow of scepticism. I get fatigued just looking at the sheer amount of them on the shelves in stores – if you were looking to start collecting now, or were just a kid looking for a toy, where would you even begin? With multiple series running concurrently, it all seems a little daunting.
Still, 2013 has brought the release of Star Wars: The Black Series, a line which is being released in both 6” and 3.75” scales. I’ve been checking out a few reviews online, and have seen plenty of positive buzz around the 6” series, but encountered very little information on the 3 ¾” series. So after spotting some in the shops, I decided I’d pick up Darth Vader and see how he stacked up.

Keeping in tone with the name of the series, the packaging is primarily black, with an orange pattern that kind of looks like it could be from the lights on the lifts in the Emperor’s chambers in Return of the Jedi (I’ve watched Star Wars a lot over the years). It’s very minimalistic, but looks good. My only real thought is that maybe it’s a little too plain – but I am a product of the 80s and 90s, when toy packaging was either exceedingly bright, bordering on garish (e.g. Ninja Turtles, G.I. Joe) or dark and edgy (e.g. Spawn). So adjust your own assessment accordingly. 

The copy on the back of the box makes reference to Vader capturing the rebels in Cloud City, which` makes me wonder if we will see future releases of Vader in the Black Series – perhaps one with a removable hand and mask from Return of the Jedi? But if not, it’s no matter – this figure comes with all the accessories I ever remember Vader having in the movies (bar one, which I’ll touch on below), so an additional release would almost be redundant.  
The figure sits in a clear blister which displays the toy and its accessories quite nicely, so MOC collectors should have no real complaints – though the tape holding down the accessories is a little ugly. The backing card is quite sturdy, but I would suggest examining it for dings before purchase. As with most blister packs, it’s not collector-friendly – open this and the box will be destroyed. Mine has long since gone into the recycling bin.

There have been a lot of Darth Vader toys over the years, so it takes a lot for one to stand out over another. This one is pretty good, really – there seems to have been a lot of attention paid to all the appropriate little bells and whistles (such as his chestplate) and the texturing on his gloves, boots, pants, etc. Many other figures have gotten away with far less detail and still been pretty good!

The main point of contention will probably be the inclusion of a fabric cape. Fabric on action figures is a pretty mixed bag. Some people don’t like it because it’s easy to damage or deteriorates, others love it because it’s more poseable than a plastic equivalent, and doesn’t typically interfere with the figure’s articulation. I’m a fence sitter, myself. I tend to get annoyed by how “big” the weave seems to be in comparison to the tinyness of the figure, and how easily they pick up dust. With that said, plastic is often unnecessarily restrictive. In this case, I think the fabric was a better option than plastic would have been, but it wasn’t perfect – see more in the “Issues” section.
This figure has a pretty good range of articulation, particularly for a figure so small. A cut waist might have been nice, but you probably won’t miss it. The elbows are swivel hinges, and they’re cut at the gloves, so you can get a good range of arm positions. However, in a move that seems somewhat strange, the shoulder itself is only a basic hinge and doesn’t swivel at all. The legs are similar – swivel hinges at the knees and cut ankles (they look hinged, but they don’t seem to work that way). But like the shoulders, the hip joint is just a basic hinge and doesn’t swivel at all.

The legs make sense, as Darth Vader doesn’t really hop, skip, jump or frolic much in the films. However, the lack of swivel on the shoulders does bother me, particularly when they appear to have put a lot of effort into the articulation elsewhere.  


As might be expected, there’s very little paint, as the figure is mostly moulded in black. The major paint work is limited to his chest piece and belt – on that basis, no complaints. There’s a tiny bit of “painting outside the lines” but nothing that’s a deal breaker. The other one I saw in the shop had some slop from the silver bits on his mask, so I’d just watch out for that.  A few details – like his boots – have also been picked up in what appears to be a glossy black paint, and these all seem fine too.
One thing I was happy about was the lack of paint on the eyes. Many Darth Vader figures give him either reddish or metallic-looking eyes. While this may technically be more screen-accurate, it always looks a little weird to me, and I’m glad that they’ve kept this one’s eyes plain black.


Vader comes with three accessories – his extended lightsaber, Han Solo’s blaster and an alternate hand, which is deflecting a blaster bolt. The latter two accessories tie in with a scene from The Empire Strikes Back, which is some of the only screen time Vader and Han Solo actually share in the trilogy. 
As you can see in the photo, the blaster bolt is a little bent, but the other Vader I saw on the pegs didn’t seem to have this problem. It’s sculpted in soft plastic, so I think it may just be one of those soft plastic issues. I think it’s a little big overall, but I like having the option. The hand plugged into the bolt also detaches from the blast; I wouldn’t describe it as a full-blown alternate hand, but it does mean you can make him look like he’s Force-choking someone.

The blaster is moulded from soft plastic, and doesn’t quite fit into either of Vader’s hands. It’s a little unnecessary, but it’s a nice nod to the scene it appears in. 
The lightsaber is like most other lightsabers you’ve seen in this scale – moulded in translucent plastic, with the handle detailed in silver and black. It fits in Vader’s left hand nicely and looks good. I suspect it’s a reuse from other Vader figures, but I haven’t collected Star Wars figures since the mid-90s, so I couldn’t give much more detail than that.  

The only other accessory (and I feel a bit churlish asking for it) that I would have liked is a switched-off lightsaber hilt. But that could be a choking hazard for kids, I suppose.    

My main issue with this figure lies with the fabric. The silver thread which serves as his neck chain chain pokes up at an odd angle – possibly due to being cut a little long – and there is some awkward bunching on the left shoulder. The shoulder is mostly concealed by the cape though, and might have even been fixable if the chestplate wasn’t glued down.

Also, the omission of swivel joints on the shoulders has me puzzled, particularly given the good articulation elsewhere.
Still, these issues are pretty minor, and don’t spoil my enjoyment of the figure. Pricing is what concerns me the most, partially because it varies so much. I picked mine up for $15.75, but have seen other retailers selling them for as much as $20.95. I think it’s worth looking for the cheaper options, if you can – I think $20.95 is just too much to pay for a 3.75” figure, unless it was something particularly rare.  Personally, I’d prefer if they were around the $12 mark, but maybe I’m just living in the past, price-wise.      

I don't really collect 3.75" figures anymore (unless you count TMNT), but I could see myself picking up a couple of other figures from this series, if/when they’re released – Boba Fett, Return of the Jedi Luke and Han Solo, among a couple of others. But this figure mostly just makes me keen for Star Wars: Black Series 6” Darth Vader. It hasn’t been announced as yet, but I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t come sometime in 2014.     

Still, this version of Darth Vader is a well-constructed action figure, with a great level of detail for such a small scale. His suitability of as a toy for kids is a little open to question, due to the small size of some of the parts and the pricing – but I think older collectors will find plenty to enjoy here.  



Sunday, 26 January 2014

Lava Planet Predator

Company: NECA
Series: Predators Series 10
Scale: 7”

RRP: $29.95-34.95

Sometimes, toy manufacturers often think it’s a great idea to make kid’s toys from properties that were originally intended for adults. Films like Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy and last year’s Man of Steel are recent examples, but in the 1980s and 1990s, it was much more pronounced. Admittedly some were based on more child-friendly cartoon versions (RoboCop, Rambo, Toxic Crusaders), but on viewing the original source material, you do have to wonder who was making some of these decisions…

Predator was one of these adult properties which scored itself a kid’s toyline in the mid-90s, alongside Aliens. I first became familiar with the Lava Planet Predator (and the Kenner line in general) only recently, via Dinosaur Dracula’sarticle on this unusual beast. So when I found out NECA was doing a series based on the Kenner Predators, I went into “must-have” mode, making very specific arrangements with my sisters to receive one of these bad boys for Christmas, some months in advance. Was he worth the wait? Read on to find out.


As mentioned in my previous review of the Nightstorm Predator, the box art on these guys is a tribute to the Kenner line – nice painted artwork, in a very 1990s style.

The bio is good fun too, suggesting that this Predator is one of a rare tribe who live in Yautja Prime’s volcanic area. So even as Predators go, this dude is pretty hardcore.  

(As a side note: As a kid who was into Star Wars, I used to ponder about canon and continuity, but these days I’m much more relaxed. Was it in the movie? Then it’s “real”. If it’s from something like a comic or novelisation, feel free to enjoy it, but don’t put a lot of stock in it – odds are high that it will be ignored or contradicted in future films. Your own thoughts on this are welcome in the comments below.)

Lava Planet Predator looks to be primarily based on the Jungle Hunter from series 8, with bits like the hands and feet presumably taken from various other Preds in the NECA line. Series 11 is about to drop, so they’ve got plenty of resources to draw from at this point. This isn’t a bad thing, as the fact that it’s moulded in translucent red plastic is enough to distinguish it from all of its forebears. Rarely has a Predator shone so brightly, as seen in this photo below:

Articulation-wise, this is what he’s got:
*ball-jointed neck

*peg and hinge shoulders

*peg and hinge elbows
*swivel waist

*ball-jointed hips
*double-hinged knees

*ball-jointed ankles
And you know what? All of it works! I had some concerns about this new Predator, as the other two NECA Preds I’ve bought have been awesome to look at, but definitely had their issues when it came to poseability. Still, so far the only issue is that his hips don’t move quite as well as I’d like, largely due to his loincloth getting in the way. I’d also watch how long you have him standing for, as NECA Preds are well-known for not being great at standing upright for extended periods.

As a side note, I don’t think his feet quite match. His right one looks a bit wider than the other, though it doesn’t seem to have caused him any standing difficulties.  

Lava Planet Predator comes with one detachable accessory – his machete. It’s a little tricky to get it in and out of his clenched hand, but it will stay put once it’s there.

Attached, he’s got two others – his extendable blade, and his shoulder cannon. The cannon is mounted on a balljoint and can be easily popped on and off. Unlike many of his Predator forebears, this one isn’t actually attached to a backpack. You’ll notice in some of these pictures that’s it’s not actually attached – it had popped off and I didn’t even notice until later, so be careful with it.
As for the claw, it’s very reminiscent of the original toy, which is quite different to the “standard” Predator dual blade. It’s more crescent-shaped, and can be slightly extended. However, the extended area isn’t painted, so it looks a little strange – this bad boy is going to stay shut for most of the time.  
Though it appears to be a separate piece of plastic, the mask is (unfortunately) not actually removable. The upside is that his eyes will glimmer if you shine a torch or other light source behind his head! Clever photographers will be able to milk this figure for a lot of cool effects.


There’s not a whole lot of paint to talk about here – there’s a camo/heat haze effect painted in a few spots on his body, and his weapons and mask are picked out in a reddish/pink metallic colour. Pretty much everything else is cast in translucent red plastic, which means it somewhat resembles a giant red lolly.
Fortunately, the stuff that is there is nicely detailed. Not a lot of slop, which is nice on a figure that probably could have got away with it pretty easily. The main issue (if it is one) is that the paint on the front half of the figure abruptly stops halfway around the shoulderpads, gauntlets etc (see photo below). Whether or not this is intentional is open to debate, but it does seem a little strange. One other review I read speculated that this may be representative of a camo effect, which is possible – but as that review also mentioned, it would have looked better if just fully painted. Fortunately, the helmet doesn’t seem to be affected by this issue – I suppose it was probably painted as a separate piece. 
I’ve been really happy with  the Kenner Predators, and I particularly like the Lava Planet Predator. He’s a well-crafted tribute to the original figure, while not looking like a terrible embarrassment to more modern sensibilities.

But I still haven’t picked up the Hive Wars Predator, and don’t plan to. I’m just not quite sold on him, possibly because he’s the least outlandish of the three that were released.  However, I could definitely see myself picking up some future Kenner-themed releases, if they arrive – as I mentioned in my Nightstorm Predator review, I’m still hanging for a glow in the dark Predator, who could duke it out with Nightfighter RoboCop. In the meantime, enjoy some 90s-style crossover madness with this shot of Lava Planet Predator duking it out with Batman, in the sewers below Gotham.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

DC Unlimited Hawkman

Company: Mattel

Series: DC Unlimited

Scale: 7”

Year: 2013

I’ll freely admit that I know very little about Hawkman. A quick scan of his Wikipedia page doesn’t do a lot to clarify his history either. In terms of fame, he’s a second or third stringer, which may explain why his continuity has been allowed to go all over the place since the 1980s. But these issues aside, he’s a very visually striking, cool-looking character, so I keep an eye out for him whenever he pops up in a JLA or crossover book.

A couple of months ago, I was away on holiday in the UK with my wife, and I had the pleasure of visiting Forbidden Planet – which, combined with a hectic time at work and Christmas/New Year is why the blog has been a little quiet the last couple of months – and I spotted this figure in the stores. I’ve seen very few of the DC and Batman Unlimited range in Australia, so I decided I’d pick him up. I’d had my eye on the figure since earlier this year, but hadn’t been able to justify the purchase at the time. So how did he stack up? Read on to find out!


The DC/Batman Unlimited boxes look great, with the figure displayed clearly, cool box art and some nice copy on the back. They’re a little larger than your average action figure box, clearly designed with MOC collectors in mind. However, opening it will destroy it completely – and MOC collectors should be aware that the packages seem quite easy to damage. All the figures I saw in the shop seemed to have quite a bit of shelf wear – not an issue for me, but irritating for those who keep it in the box.
This particular figure is based on Hawkman’s New 52 appearance. I’m yet to read any of the (now cancelled) Savage Hawkman, but I think it’s a pretty good redesign of the older costume. The older design sometimes looked like taxidermy gone wrong, so the more helmet-like approach is a good one. It’s a nice mix of realistic and comic book exaggeration.

This is my first DC Unlimited fig, so I’m pretty vague on what’s new and what’s reused from other figures in the line. His chest and arms look like they could have come straight from the Masters of the Universe Classics line, and apparently his wings are reused from an older DC Universe Classics Hawkman. Speaking of which, his wings look great – definitely the best I’ve come across on an action figure.

Hawkman’s articulation isn’t quite at Marvel Legends level, but it’s still quite good on paper. Here’s what’s featured:
*ball-jointed head

*ball-jointed shoulders
*swivel biceps

*hinged elbows
*cut wrists

*ab crunch
*cut waist


*T-thighs (mimicking a ball joint)
*cut thighs (near the boot tops)

*hinged knees

*rocker ankles

*hinged and foldable wings

An impressive selection on paper, but somewhat lacking in execution. The helmet means he can look down and straight ahead, but can’t really look up. The lower halves of the legs are coloured gold and appear to be moulded in a softer plastic than upper halves. Possibly because of this, the rocker ankles appear to be stuck and the left knee has a very limited range of motion. Additionally, the harness across his chest restricts the cut waist and the ab crunch. The ab crunch is neither here nor there to me, but not being able to move the waist is quite irritating. I stuck him in a freezer for an hour or so, but that doesn’t appear to have fixed any of the articulation issues.

EDIT: Hawkman's ankles now work, and his left knee works much better than it previously did, though it's still not perfect. The ab crunch is still stuck, but it wouldn't be much use under the harness anyway.
Hawkman comes with two accessories – his axe and his shield/claw thing. The detailing on both is nice, but they’re cast in a very soft plastic. My axe was a little warped in the box, but seems to have sprung back into shape after being removed from its packaging.

The paint job could probably best be described as solid but unspectacular. The dominant colour is gold, which looks pretty good – but after seeing it next to the Nightstorm Predator’s gold paint (review to come!), it doesn’t hold up quite as well. Still, this is more a comic-based than “realistic” figure, so flatter colours aren’t a major issue.

There’s a bit of gold slop on his face, around the lines of the mask. The upper thigh hinge has also chipped some green paint off the paints – it seems a little strange that the piece wasn’t just cast in green.
The best part of the paint comes on the wings, though. It’s essentially a simple drybrush that picks out the sculpted detail, but the effect is quite impressive – as I mentioned above, these are definitely the best wings I’ve seen on a figure.

I’m satisfied with Hawkman as a souvenir from a holiday, but I would be much less pleased if I’d bought him on home turf, if that makes sense. Though he’s not a bad figure, he is definitely overpriced.

 At nearly $35 AUD, Hawkman is not offering enough to be an “adult collectable” but is clearly not intended as a toy for children, “Age 4+” labelling notwithstanding. Nor would it stand up to childhood play, with its articulation issues. The average NECA figure costs around $30-35AUD – and I’ve had various articulation issues with them too. But the level of detail in sculpting, paint and overall quality is (generally, though not always) streets ahead of this figure.  I appreciate that a lower production keeps the costs up, but for what is on offer, I don’t think this should be selling for much more than the average Ninja Turtles figure. Get the price point to around $20 and I’d probably buy the whole range – but for the current pricing, I don’t see myself picking up any more of the DC Unlimited figures.
But to finish on a more positive note, his own Egyptian backstory does make him a cool accompaniment for the Nightstorm Predator.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Nightstorm Predator Review

Company: NECA
Series: Predators  – Series 10
RRP: approx. $34.95 AUD

Scale: 7”
The Background

In the 1990s, Kenner was a ubiquitous brand in the world of action figures. Though they’re probably best remembered for their Star Wars toys, they also produced figures based on child-friendly movies (or their cartoon spin-offs) such as Aliens, Predator, RoboCop and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
I had quite a few Kenner figures as a youth in the 1990s (mostly Star Wars: The Power of the Force), and though many were pretty ordinary but today’s standards, they were fantastic at the time. Sadly, Kenner is no more – bought out by Hasbro some years ago, the brand has long since been absorbed into its parent company, the licenses it once held divvied up among other companies. But its legacy still lives on today, in some small part, every time an adult movie like The Dark Knight Rises or Van Helsing gets a toyline intended for children. But it’s rarely as off the wall as it was back then…I don’t think so many people see ultra-violent movies as potential kid’s cartoons, and that’s probably for the best.

So, why mention Kenner in a NECA review detail? Well, series 10 of NECA’s Predator line is a tribute to those often wild and wacky days of toy manufacturing – specifically, a modern update of some of Kenner’s Predator range.  This is territory we’ve seen NECA dip their toes into before, with Nightfighter RoboCop – how does it carry over to the Predators?  Read on and find out.
The Packaging

I’m a child of the 1980s and 1990s. Toy packaging in this era tended to be either RIDICULOUSLY BRIGHT AND GARISH (Ninja Turtles and GI Joe) or DARK AND EDGY (particularly after the rise of McFarlane Toys). All of it was intended to grab your attention, each package competing with many others on the crowded shelf. The artwork on this box is quite a deliberate throwback to that era, and one that I very much enjoy. The focal point is the illustration of the masked Predator face, which has been coloured in a style that definitely uses what professionals call “artistic license”. It’s very similar to the original Kenner cardback, though different enough to look quite cool on its own merits.

MOCers should be pleased, but they’ll want to be careful – with the card backing, it’s obviously more prone to damage than a NECA clamshell. The other downside is that the helmet is concealed behind the bottom paper strip, so you won’t be able to see that properly.    


The first thing you’ll probably notice is that this guy is big. He towers over my Jungle Hunter, and is massive next to Dutch. Apparently he uses the old “Super Predator” body – which to the layman, basically means that it’s taller and its legs aren’t as articulated as more recent Predator series have been (V-cut hips instead of balljoints). So you’ll have a little more trouble getting it to stand, but once it does you shouldn’t have many issues with it falling over, as the V-cuts tend to be stronger than balljoints.

In practice, it was quite tricky to get him to stand, as his leg armour, points of articulation and a seemingly sensible way for him to stand didn’t all line up very well. I would still advise that you don’t stand him anywhere he can fall too far. The trade-off is that his legs do actually seem far more poseable than my Jungle Hunter, which in spite of having “superior” articulation, is fairly immobile around the hips.    
In terms of the rest of the articulation, let’s see:

*ball-jointed head (more on that under “ISSUES”)
*swivel hinge shoulders

*swivel hinge elbows
*ball-jointed left wrist (right wrist seems to be intentionally immobile, beneath the gauntlet)

*cut waist  
*cut thighs

*swivel hinge knees

All of it works well enough, and it’s nicely placed on the sculpt – none of the joints distract from the overall look of the figure.  
Once the mask is on, the effect of the figure is not dissimilar to an animal-headed Egyptian idol.- specifically Khepri. I was (and am) a big fan of ancient Egypt, so the overall aesthetic is one I find quite pleasing. Stargate fans could perhaps even pretend that he’s some kind of villainous species within that universe, and despite the more realistic sculpt, I still think he’s cartoony enough to make a good enemy for the new range of TMNT figures.

As for the claws, they’re ridiculously huge and actually extend out a little further. I’m torn as to whether I like how big they are, or whether it would have been good to scale them back a little. As a tribute to 90s action figure style, it’s spot-on though.

NECA know how to do a great paint job, and this one is particularly good. The Predator’s base colour is a midnight blue, highlighted with a lighter blue. Lots of little details (is it meant to be chest hair, or just spots? I’m never sure) are picked out across the body, and he’s sans-netting, so no issues with paint slop there.

The face is of particular note, with the purply-pink colour on the mandibles complimenting the dark blue hues quite well.  Gold is the other dominant colour, and the work here is also quite good. A grey wash has been applied over the gold to give it more depth and (I assume) a somewhat aged appearance. Pretty good in theory, but in practice the wash is a bit uneven and will probably vary quite a bit from figure to figure. I didn’t have any major issues with mine – but it’s something to watch out for.
As a minus, taking the mask on and off will slightly wear the paint down around the mouth -- just something to be mindful of. You'll probably want to stick with a mask on or mask off look, for the most part.

Nightstorm Predator comes with three accessories – a mask, a staff and a shoulder cannon.

This is the apparently the first Predator to have a removable mask in the whole NECA range. I think the removable mask is a good thing, and I might even say it’s long overdue. Getting the various masked and unmasked versions of the same Predators across multiple series might not bother some people, but I tend to think that it would be better to just include some removable masks and/or interchangeable heads. Hopefully we see a lot more of this in future.  

The mask is concealed behind the paper insert in the box, so it will be a little bit of a gamble as to the paint job on it – mine was fine, though. The sculpting is intentionally reminiscent of a scarab beetle’s pincers, which further ties in with the pseudo-Egyptian theme. Scarabs were quite important to the ancient Egyptians, so it’s not too much of a stretch.    

The inside of the mask is also filled with sculpted detail – this is a great touch, when you consider that they could have easily left it blank, and no one would have complained. Overall, I think it looks great. The only real downside is that the mask does seem to cause a bit of paint wear around different parts of the face. I keep mine more or less permanently masked, but your mileage may vary.

The staff is similarly cool – incorporating a skull and what one other reviewer described as a Xenomorph tail, it fits the pseudo-Egyptian vibe quite well. It’s moulded in a sturdy plastic, and didn’t seem to have any issues with warping. His grip is a little tight, but once it’s in it should hold nice and steady.

The shoulder cannon is on a simple balljoint post that clicks into the armour – it’s not a full backpack like some other figures. The supporting post does pop out of its socket a little more easily than I’d like, but on the upside, the barrel actually rotates, which is nifty.

I don’t know if it’s something I did wrong, it’s unique to my figure or if it’s a problem across the range, but as soon as I took Mr Nightstorm out of the package, his head fell off.

No biggie – it’s a balljoint, it should pop back in pretty easily, shouldn’t it? Not so simple. From what I can tell, the shoulder armour flares up in an area very close to the neck – and when the dreadlocks come into contact with it, it doesn’t quite come together as it should.

With this said, I can turn him upside down and his head won’t fall off – I just need to be careful with how it’s posed.  I’ve read a couple of other reviews and they haven’t mentioned this issue, so it may just be mine. As it’s theoretically repairable, it’s not a dealbreaker, but it’s highly irritating nonetheless.

To be quite honest, I probably would have hated this figure when I was actually a child. Though I thought some of the many variations of Batman that did the rounds were quite cool, the Kenner Aliens and Predator lines typified some of the worst trends in 1990s action figures – namely, a thin basis in source material, little to no resemblance to the character/s and ultimately quite gimmicky.
I generally tend to prefer figures that look more or less as they do in the source material – extra accessories are nice, but they should be removable. Kenner’s Combat Belt Batman from 1993 is a great example of this kind of figure, as are the basic TMNT figures currently doing the rounds. 

But every now and then I’ll see something a little more unusual that just grabs me, and this was one of those figures. The reception of the Kenner-style figures seems to have been quite good, so it’s likely that there will be more – I’m hoping for a glow in the dark one, to be best buds with Night Fighter RoboCop.