Sunday, 24 July 2016

POP! Television – Green Ranger (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers)

Tommy Oliver - Green RangerSeries: POP! Television
Year: 2016
Company: Funko

I loved Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers as a kid. Or more accurately, I loved the concept and the toys – prehistoric creatures, martial arts and transforming robots made for a heady brew. And Tommy Oliver, aka the Green Ranger, was unquestionably the best element of the show.

Initially introduced as a villain, he pretty quickly became one of the good guys, bringing with him a sweet green outfit, the amazing Dragonzord, and a much better attitude than Jason the Red Ranger. And of course, Tommy went on to date Kimberley the Pink Ranger (cue joke: something something Twilight something better love story something). Poor Jason – ostensibly the team leader, he was demoted from fan-favourite overnight, and was never really able to reclaim his status.

These days, the actor who played him – Jason David Frank – is still a pretty cool guy. He’s still a martial artist (even having a brief foray into professional MMA), and covered in tattoos – though the long hair is long gone. He’s also got his own MMA clothing line (Jesus Didn’t Tap). I think he still does the odd bit of acting, but he seems to mostly be working the convention circuit and doing Power Rangers-related projects. You can find him on Facebook and Instagram, and man does he show a lot of love for his fans – it’s quite admirable.

Now three Power Rangers POPs were originally released back in 2013 – White, Red and Pink – and it’s only just now that we’re seeing the rest of the team make their debut. Those original three now sell for an outrageous amount of money online, and when this new wave was announced, Funko’s Facebook post went berserk with commenters demanding either that the originals be un-vaulted so that newer collectors could complete the team, and older hands demanding that they stay vaulted, so the value of their figures would be protected.

I’m kind of ambivalent myself; I would like a White Ranger without having to pay hundreds of dollars for one, but I was always a Green Ranger guy anyway – and I don’t plan to complete the team, this is likely to be my only purchase from the line. But I would like to see a 6” Dragonzord. It could battle with my Godzilla. Or Thanos, I guess.

The sculpt is quite good, capturing all of the essential details the figure should have – the dragon helmet and golden chestplate – even the Dragon dagger has made an appearance, stashed safely on his belt.  

But now, to the bad – Funko’s paint jobs are rarely stellar, and plenty of them were terrible back in 2013. This is a real throwback to that era – an annoying one, but oddly appropriate given when the original Power Ranger POPS were released. He was the best of the four they had at the store, and if you click to embiggen the picture, I think you’ll see that he’s adequate…but certainly not outstanding. Some of the other examples in the store were so bad I seriously considered skipping the character altogether.

In spite of the paint-based shortcomings, I am very happy to add this figure to the shelf. Though I am not typically an MIB collector, I think this is one POP who will be staying in his box for display purposes. Well done on finally getting him out Funko, even if it is a few years later than ideal.   

Monday, 18 July 2016

POP! Marvel – Doctor Strange

Series: POP! Marvel
Year: 2016
Company: Funko

I’ll confess – I have only a passing familiarity with the good Doctor here, primarily through The Infinity Gauntlet. He played an important role in that story, after discovering the Silver Surfer near-powerless in his attic (as one does). But he actually debuted back in 1963, one of Marvel’s first supernaturally themed superheroes. Though never as controversial as say, Ghost Rider or Son Of Satan, he still managed to find himself in a bit of hot water back in the early 1990s, when the cover of one of his issues used the unauthorised likeness of then-prominent Christian singer Amy Grant. Marvel eventually had to come to an out-of-court settlement on that one, though I doubt the whole situation would raise the same kind of ire these days.    

The first thing you’ll probably notice is that this POP is quite heavy, due to the cape attachments on both his shoulders and head. It’s quite a clever solution, actually – attaching part of the cape to the head means that the bobble is retained without massively disrupting the look.

Doctor Strange has had a few costumes over the years, but this is his best-known look. And boy is it a product of its time! It’s a great martial artist meets wizard combo – and though definitely dated, it offers a nice contrast to the usual superhero spandex garb. Benedict Cumberbatch looks to be wearing very similar garb in the upcoming film, though the colours are a little more muted. Speaking of which, the colours all contrast nicely with one another, with the exception of the orange gloves. Online research seems to indicate that his gloves are usually yellow – maybe he’s meant to be casting a spell here or something? Or perhaps it’s a Marvel style guide thing. The control art on the box renders the gloves a slightly different shade to his sash and cape trim, but the difference isn’t this extreme. Hopefully a running change fixes it later.  

On the upside, his hands have been sculpted in his signature spellcasting/heavy metal/webslinging poses. Which makes me think wishfully – we’ve had an Ozzy POP, could we get a Dio one sometime soon? Also, intentionally or not, his arms sort of mimic the traditional Baphomet pose from Eliphas Levi’s famous illustration, though his hands are held quite differently. Sinister hidden symbolism? I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but I’m sure there will be at least one parent out there that stops their kid from buying it for exactly that reason.   

The Eye of Agamotto holds the cape on at his neck, though it probably could have been picked out a little more with paint – for all its importance to the character, it’s barely noticeable here. The rest of the paint is fine; the hairlines could be a bit neater. The only odd choice is that the lower half of the cape is actually cast in blue, and then painted red. It seems an odd choice – I can only assume it was a costing thing at the factory; there’s no other reason it makes sense. 

Doctor Strange is a character I’d like to read more of, particularly in light of his upcoming debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m mostly planning to check out his 1970s adventures, as I suspect the film will draw most heavily from that era; but if anyone has any suggestions, I’m more than happy to hear them – list them in the comments below. 

Saturday, 16 July 2016

POP! Marvel – She-Hulk

Series: POP! Marvel
Company: Funko
Year: 2016

Well, it’s an awkward time for She-Hulk to debut as a POP because *SPOILER ALERT* it seems that she’s just been killed off in Issue 1 of Civil War II. Whether this is a real death or simply a cliffhanger remains to be seen, of course – and let’s not forget that death is rarely permanent in comics.

Debuting in 1980 as Hulk’s angry female cousin, She-Hulk has been an Avenger, a member of the Fantastic Four and quite successful in her own right, too. She’s never attained A-lister status, but she’s carved out her own little niche in the Marvel Universe -- and to be honest, I find her a lot more endearing than the Incredible Hulk. Marvel’s female characters have been gaining an increased prominence over the last few years, thanks to reinventions (like Ms Marvel becoming Captain Marvel) and new additions (such as Spider-Gwen), so it’s good to see some of that goodwill overflow to She-Hulk too.   

It’s a while since Marvel released any non-movie related POPs – I think Daredevil might have been the last one, actually – and this wave is a good one: She-Hulk, Spider-Gwen, Captain Marvel, Dr Strange, Dr Octopus and (comics) Falcon. I’m not partial to all of these characters, but the designs look pretty great on all of them. With the imminent arrival of the Dr Strange movie, I’ll probably end up picking that one up too.  

This particular costume isn't her first one, but it is probably her best-known. She first adopted it after leaving the Fantastic Four and rejoining the Avengers, so it's not a huge coincidence that the two costumes look quite similar, save for their colour. 

But… as much as I like the design, buying a She-Hulk POP will leave you with a trade-off – how visible the mould line on the chin is, vs how sloppily the costume is painted. I went with a slightly more prominent mould line than I would have liked -- it's not very obvious in the picture, but it's very noticeable in person -- and a relatively neat costume. There were 8 to pick from when I bought her, and this was really the best overall option. Custom painters will no doubt be capable of addressing these issues, but it’s a pain nonetheless.

We could see a few variants further down the line – a Fantastic Four She-Hulk and/or a Gamma Glow-in-the-dark She-Hulk. I’ve got my fingers crossed for a glow version, as aside from being awesome, it would make the mould line much less prominent. But we’ll just have to wait and see.

She-Hulk is a good purchase for fans of the character. For more casual fans like myself, she’s got a great colour scheme that stands out nicely on the superheroes shelf.

Monday, 11 July 2016

POP! Heroes – Armoured Batman (The Dark Knight Rises)

Series: POP! Heroes
Company: Funko
Year: 2016

The Cold War cast an ugly shadow over the collective unconscious of the world for decades, but few decades showcased it as much as the 1980s. In the dying days of the conflict, the threat of nuclear annihilation was at an all-time high as America and Russia strove to outdo one another in an arms race. The mood of paranoia inspired artists across all manner of media. Amebix channelled it into a raging blend of punk and metal, John Carpenter made Escape From New York and Frank Miller funnelled it into a radical reinvention of the Dark Knight. 

The resulting book, The Dark Knight Returns was fantastic. But it’s also become a bit of an albatross around the neck of the Batman mythos; it was revolutionary when it came out in 1986, restoring Batman to a menacing, dark figure in the public eye, and showcasing some decidedly subversive takes on numerous other DC stalwarts. Naturally, it spawned a bunch of imitators – and as often happens, the imitations were far inferior to the original. They made everything as DARK AND EDGY as possible, without actually paying attention to the many other elements that had gone into making the book so readable. Perhaps the most extreme example of this is the recent Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. If you’ve read the comic and seen the movie, you know exactly what I’m talking about.     

But this year marks the comic’s 30th anniversary, and so now we’re getting a bunch of merchandise based on it – as well as a second sequel to the comic. Mattel has already pumped out some action figures, DC Direct have re-released some of the figures they put out earlier in the century (feels weird to be saying that) and now Funko has seemingly out of the blue released a series of POPs. So today we look at the (masked) version of the Armored Batman POP. 

Frank Miller’s art always had stylised elements, but by the time he drew The Dark Knight Returns, he had really sort of come into his own. I don’t love his art style – especially in more recent years – but it was unlike most other stuff out there at the time. Much as I love George Perez and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, their style probably wouldn’t have worked for this story. The advantage of this is that it mostly lends itself to Funko’s stylised look rather well.

The relatively simple helmet is certainly accurate to the comics, but the contrast with the highly detailed body is maybe just a little too extreme; it works in the comic, due to the proportionate size of the head, but here it’s accentuated. Batman’s older, wrinkled face can be seen beneath the mask – Superman eventually breaks off the mask during the fight, and so there’s also an unmasked version available, if you’d prefer. It’s cool and all, but even with the slightly odd look of the helmet, I’m happier with this version.

Batman doesn’t traditionally use guns, but every now and then he makes an exception. On this occasion, he’s got some kind of sonic weapon – I don’t remember all the details, but I think it gives Supes a splitting headache or something. We’d see a very similar design in The Dark Knight Rises, when Bats carried around that EMP gun.    

Lastly, the body is covered with body armour that would have looked quite futuristic in the 1980s. It’s not how the future has turned out, of course, but it’s still cool. Lots of Michelin Man-esque padding, rather than straight-up metal sheets like the BvS redesign.  

Ultimately, since there’s already been around 12,000 Batman POPs previously released, it’s great to see that this wave doesn’t just consist of simple repaints. While I don’t think it’s as good as the Armored Batman from the Legion of Collector’s box, it’s a good tribute to a classic comic series, and a solid addition to any DC-oriented POP collection.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

POP! Movies -- Pinhead

Pinhead Funko POPCompany: Funko
Series: POP! Movies
Year: 2015

The first Hellraiser movie brings an oddly… classy tone to subject matter and visuals that would not be out of place in some kind of sketchy grindhouse flick. It’s not a film for everyone, by any means, but it stands head and shoulders above plenty of its 80s horror contemporaries, even if it never reached the heights of fame that series like Friday The 13th and Nightmare On Elm Street did. Perhaps it’s because it was just too visually unsettling to have the same audience reach, or perhaps because the whole slasher craze was dying down by the time it came out. Who knows? But either way, central antagonist Pinhead has become a true horror icon, despite the increasingly poor quality of the films he’s starred in.

And as with all true horror icons, it’s time for cutesy merchandise that is totally at odds with the creation that spawned it! There’s already been a Living Dead Doll and Fluffy Lament Configuration Dice from Mezco – but now Funko has come to the table with an addition to its POP! Movie range.

Pinhead and Ghost Rider
Actually, who would win in this fight? They're both from Hell,
love chains and black leather. and have monged heads. 
Funko have been smart here – officially, this figurine is licensed from the (dreadful but entertaining) Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth*. The costume differences between this and the first film are pretty minor to a layman like me, and I’m sure the costs involved were a fraction of those for licensing the original film. To my understanding, it’s also the film where Pinhead really transitions from antagonist – he’s certainly evil, but in the first film he’s more handing out punishment to the actual villain – to full-blown monster.   
I can’t imagine that leather outfit is comfortable to wear – but it’s been incredibly influential. Just as The Crow launched a thousand goths**, so too did Hellraiser. The influence of the film’s art design and costuming has reared its head across goth, extreme metal, and countless other – usually lesser – horror films. Hey, Ozzy even wrote a song about it – which Motörhead then recorded for the soundtrack of the third film, which as previously mentioned, this POP is based on. Funny how things come full circle, isn’t it?      

But even more than the outfit, Pinhead’s signature facial piercings that have cemented him in the public’s consciousness. It looks great rendered in Funko style, though as I mentioned earlier – it is kind of weird seeing him in such a cutesy style. We’ve been seeing these Freddy, Jason and even Leatherface for decades, but Pinhead…there’s something that just feels wrong about it on a subconscious level.   

There’s actually a lot of other gross detail going on too; it’s more obvious on the other Cenobites, so some of Pinhead’s particular features can escape your attention. Parts of his chest and ribcage have been flayed, and his fingertips are bloody. The tools hanging about his waist are also bloodied, though I don’t think you ever actually see him use them in any of the films. Good attention to disgusting detail, Funko!

Naturally, he’s also holding Lermachand's box, aka the Lament Configuration. Open it and bad things will happen, but fortunately it appears to be closed here. There was some explanation for how Pinhead got hold of it in the film, but last time I watched it was approximately ten years ago in a busy sharehouse and so some of the *ahem* subtleties have been lost to time.   

As for paint… well, if Funko had done this POP a few years ago, it would have been a disaster. The little details all over the sculpt would have been a sloppy mess. Things could be a little bit tighter, particularly on the pins, and the bloodied implements, but it’s adequate.

Tobias and Pinhead
"I'm looking for something that says 'Dad likes leather' ".
On the whole, this is another fine addition to my expanding horror POP collection. I think I’ve picked up all the characters I want from the range, but we’ll see what the future brings. As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m still hoping for Zombie Flesh Eaters ones, but I might just have to make a custom one day.   

*Side note: for whatever reason, here in Australia the third film has always been the easiest to find on home media. I could never find a copy of the second film in my more avid horror-watching days, and the first one was similarly tricky to find – frequently outrageously expensive when you did, too. So the third film was the first one I saw. Pinhead is much more prominent than he is in the original film, but I would strongly suggest watching the first one instead.

**Actual number may be much higher