Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Star Wars Black (6 Inch): Series 2

When the first series of Hasbro's new Star Wars Black line of six inch figures came out, I dusted off my first toy review site, The Clearance Bin, and put together a full review. Seeing as that took about four hours, I'm disinclined to do the same for the second wave, particularly since my overall impression of the line hasn't changed much.

However, I have a handful of thoughts I'd like to share, starting with....

Leia. I understand why Mattel had to release a Slave Leia toy (a little something called "economics"), but I'm disappointed they made it the first version of the Princess (not to mention the first female character) in the line.

The "Slave Leia" costume is polarizing. It's popular to a lot of men, of course. Personally, I generally dislike "fan service," particularly when it feels out of place or detrimental to the property. The scenes around Leia being put in this suit are at best problematic and debatably misogynistic.

I'm almost happy to see the figure didn't come out quite right. The paint ops on her face are either a bit off or they're trying to make her look irritated. It's more or less the right expression for when she was held prisoner, but not after she's escaped. And since the chain she's wearing doesn't connect to Jabba, I'm assuming this is after she's killed the big slug and gotten away.

They didn't give Lei much in the way of accessories, at least compared to others in this line. She comes with a couple of the weapons/tools she picked up during her escape. In addition, the chain is removable if you pop her head off, so I suppose that kind of counts, too. Maybe I'm spoiled from series one, but that seems a little light to me. Come on, Hasbro: throw in a Salacious B. Crumb.

Like it or not, the outfit is probably her second most iconic in the trilogy after the white dress she wore in A New Hope, so there's certainly justification for producing it. But, like I said before... did it have to be the first version of Leia they made?

Next up, Han Solo is produced in his classic space-cowboy outfit. It's a good figure, but - once again - they could have done better with the face. In addition, his neck articulation makes his head look like it's connected wrong in most poses. At times, he can almost look like a bobble-head.

Nevertheless, the overall toy is awesome, and from a few feet back, the flaws disappear.

Han comes with a better assortment of extras: a second set of gloved hands, two blasters, and a belt/holster. All of these look great, and while I have some lingering reservations about the figure, I definitely got my money's worth.

Hey, Luke! Buddy! You drop this?

Greedo is next, and - setting aside his accessories - he's my second favorite in the series. His head is absolutely perfect: this is as good a representation of the character as we're ever likely to get in this scale.

Where he fares less well is the extras. He's got his tiny blaster and.... uh... I still like the packaging, if that counts for anything (it doesn't).

I do feel like we're getting cheated here, though it's hard to think of things they could have included. His chair would have been awesome, of course.

The special edition Lucas doesn't want you to see.
Last is Boba Fett. This is the same figure Hasbro released as a SDCC exclusive, minus the (amazing) Han-in-carbonite accessory. I won't lie - I wish I'd been able to get that version, but this is a damn good consolation prize.

The figure is as close to perfect as any action figure I've seen in this scale. The sculpt is flawless, the paint is fantastic, and his cape looks awesome. Even without Han in a block of Carbonite, he's got a fair number of accessories. He comes with two guns and a jet pack, all of which look... yeah, you guessed it. Amazing.

The only complaints I can find are that his pouches (which look great) limit his articulation, and he has a little trouble holding the larger of his guns.

If you're only buying one figure from this series, this is the one to get.

I was surprised to see some collectors dislike the packaging. Personally, I think these are the best looking toy boxes I've ever seen at mass market. They're simple, elegant, and attractive to look at.

The text on the back is also pretty simple, and at a glance, the artwork blends together. I appreciate how understated these are. Hasbro knows they don't need bright colors to sell these: people will find and buy them regardless.

These ran me $20 each, plush shipping. It's not cheap, but it's close enough to average these days. So far, the aliens and figures wearing helmets have been near-perfect, but they're still not as good as Mattel at human faces. Hopefully, they'll get better as they go. I'm loving this line, and eagerly awaiting the next series.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Huntress (Helena Bertinelli)

I'm going to be brief, because once you've reviewed one Mattel DC Universe Classics figure, you've reviewed them all. And I've reviewed dozens over the years.

Technically, this isn't a DC Universe Classics figure, but rather part of the "Signature Collection," which is just the name Mattel slapped onto the box when they moved the line from stores to their website. They have a few other lines in stores now, mainly focusing on Batman figures and characters from video games.

I generally try to stay away from Matty Collector. It's not so much the horror stories about Digital River (I've actually had good luck with my purchases) - it's the price. Sure, this is just $20, the same I'd pay at most toy stores, but that's before shipping. When all was said and done, I dropped more than thirty bucks getting this figure. Ouch.

The package is pretty standard for this line. The design is fine, though the art is a bit too fan-servicey for my tastes. 

The figure is pretty standard for the line. They've moved the leg articulation around - there's a cut just above the knee that's concealed by her costume, and the standard cuts on the upper leg and boot are gone. The belt also restricts her cut waist and legs a bit. For what it's worth, I got more range out of the neck joint than I expected.

The only accessory she comes with is a crossbow, which feels a little light at this price point. It doesn't even fit that well in her hand. I can work it into her grip, but it falls out with the slightest nudge. Plus, it seems like Mattel could have sprung for some paint. The purple is a decent color for the weapon, but I'd rather something more realistic looking.

I'd also have appreciated a stand - even the crappy ones Mattel made for DCUC (pictured above) - but they didn't see fit to include one.

I'm not crazy about the head sculpt. It's not awful, but I expect better. Compare this to some of the older sculpts and you'll see what I mean - this just doesn't hold up.

The outfit tooling is good, especially the detail work on the boots and gloves. The cape looks good, too.

Overall, this is a pretty mediocre figure. However, it's almost certainly the last Helena Bertinelli figure anyone will be making in the near future, seeing as the character has been retconned out of existence in the New 52.

Hopefully, Mattel will give us a decent Oracle someday, so we can assemble the Birds of Prey. I don't know how likely that is, but there's always hope.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Batman Classic TV Series: Batman & Robin

I guess Mattel realized that when you wait nearly fifty years to produce action figures for a show, expectations are going to be awfully high, and they'd better step up. Fortunately, they appear to be taking this property extremely seriously: the first set of Adam West Batman figures has been released, and I'm extremely pleased with how they came out.

First, let's take a minute to appreciate the packaging. These are packaged standing on their side, which shows Mattel trusted in the premise of this set - a gag likely lost on anyone not familiar with the show. In addition, they went out of their way to deliver some great box art.

Let's move on to the figures. The sculpt and paint are stellar for mass market. These definitely look like their onscreen counterparts.

I can't overstate how happy I am that Mattel didn't impose their normal hero bodies on these. Adam West and Burt Ward were in fine shape, but they weren't bodybuilders. These figures are realistic, and it's appreciated.

The figures sport fabric capes, which I have mixed feelings about. On one hand, they certainly seem more appropriate here than on more modern interpretations of the characters. In addition, there are wires embedded in the fabric, providing some extra articulation.

The wires are ostensibly present to allow the figures to pose upright with the capes extended behind them, but this doesn't quite work. There's a separate wire running down each side of the cape, which limits the posing (but of course looks better than the alternative).

You'll want to cut the tags off the fabric, obviously: they're extremely obtrusive.

Still, you can get some good flare effects, so it's not all bad. Nevertheless, I can't help but think this particular set would have been better with sculpted, outstretched capes.

Let's talk accessories. This set comes with Batman, Robin, the base, and a batarang. I'm not counting the "rope", since it's just made of paper. Odd they didn't include a piece of actual string or a sculpted version.

The base is a lot of fun. It recreates the famous wall scaling scenes from the show. In theory, it can be displayed hanging on a wall or on a flat surface, depending on whether you want it to look like it did on screen or when it was filmed. It's always great to see a decent sized base. In addition, the windows open: nice touch.

The problem with hanging it is that there's not enough holding the figures up. I was able to get them to remain in place for a few pictures, but I wouldn't expect them to remain that way indefinitely. You'll probably have to get creative with rope or wire if you want to display these vertically.

On the table's probably a better option, but you will run into issues getting the capes to look right. I think I prefer the figures better on their own, though the base is a great extra.

The batarang isn't much, though it's one of the better ones. It's made from relatively stiff plastic, it's a good shape and color (at least for this Batman), and it fits into Batman's hand. I'm a little irritated they didn't give us a second one for Robin, but I'll let that slide.

The figure's in scale with the Movie Masters line, in case you want to build a display where Christian Bale is beating up Adam West. That does mean he's quite a bit smaller than the 7 inch DC Universe Classics and related lines, but that actually seems right to me.

Finally, if you bought one of the Hotwheels 1:12th scale Batcycles a few years ago, now is the time to pull it out: it works great with West.

I picked up this set from Big Bad Toy Store for $33, plus shipping. That seems surprisingly reasonable for a starting price: I half expected these would be going for $40 or more.

I'm extremely happy with how this figure came out. It's great to finally have action figures from this show. I guess Mattel's designers agreed, since they put some effort into this set. I just hope the other figures in this line turn out as good.

Friday, July 12, 2013

"Real" Barbie

I saw this on a few news sites, and it caught my attention. The short version is that an artist, Nickolay Lamm, has made a prototype of what Barbie would look like with proportions matching an average woman's.

By and large, I'm generally a defender of Mattel's when it comes to Barbie's design (more on that in a minute), but that doesn't mean I don't love what Lamm's created here. His doll is awesome - I'd love to see this (or something like it) appear in toy stores. It'd be great to have a realistic option along with the more stylized Barbie.

In addition, as many will no doubt notice, the doll looks far more realistic in a bikini than her official counterpart. But therein lies the defense for Mattel's doll: Lamm's version wouldn't work as well in most other outfits.

Mattel takes a lot of heat for making Barbie in unrealistic proportions. It's important to keep in mind that the clothes Barbie wears are also in unrealistic proportions. Namely, the fabric is about six times thicker than what humans wear - it has to be, since it's generally real fabric tailored to fit a twelve inch figure.

If you want a fashion doll to look normal (or at least close to normal) in a flowing ball gown, you actually want to skew the doll's proportions and make her inhumanly skinny. If you put a 1:12 scale dress on Lamm's doll, it wouldn't look right (unless the dress was carefully tailored using extremely thin fabric, but that would introduce several issues in a production run).

Of course, Barbies aren't solely packaged wearing dresses: they're also produced wearing swimsuits like the ones above. In those cases, I think the above image makes it perfectly clear a realistic proportioned doll would result in a far better product. Speaking as a toy collector, I'd far rather have the one on the right standing on a shelve than Mattel's.

I understand that Mattel has a lot a factors to consider when designing dolls (including trying to maintain a small number of body molds to keep costs down), but there are a lot of people out there who boycott Barbies due to the body shape who might be interested in another option. In addition, there are quite a few collectors - young and old - who'd like some diversity in their collection.

I sincerely hope Mattel - or one of its competitors - takes a good long look at Lamm's mock-up. It's extremely cool, and I'd love to see something like it available for purchase.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Disney Store: Phineas and Ferb Figurine Playset

Hey, I know what I'm going to review today.

Six months ago, I had no idea what Phineas and Ferb was. Now, I can't stop watching it on Netflix. Phineas and Ferb is difficult to describe to the uninitiated. It's an animated show about two brothers who spend their summer vacation constructing and inventing impossibly elaborate contraptions while their sister attempts to expose their dangerous behavior to their mother. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to any of them, their pet platypus is a secret agent battling Dr. Doofenshmirtz, a mad scientist obsessed with ruling the entire world tri-state area.

On the surface, it sounds incredibly derivative of Dexter's Laboratory... and it probably is. But I'm willing to let that slide, because this is actually better.

The stuff above isn't the plot to one episode: it's the plot of pretty much every episode. Almost every story follows the same basic pattern: the boys build something, their sister tries to bust them, Perry the Platypus confronts Doofenshmirtz, who captures him and explains that he's invented an evil device to resolve some bizarre element of his back story, then Perry breaks free, battles Doofenshmirtz, and destroys the device in a manner that incidentally destroys the boys' invention before their mother can see it. Perry gets home, and everyone is invited in for snacks while Candace laments not being believed.

There are two such stories told in most half-hour episodes.

Sounds like it should get old fast, doesn't it? I'm sure it would if the writing was anything less than exceptional. But the writers work within this format and explore it in ways I've never seen before. The characters quickly become conscious of the rules governing their world and - in some cases - begin to explore the philosophical ramifications of this. Meanwhile, despite the episodic nature of the series, there's a stunning complexity to the continuity of relationships.

Most importantly, several key characters are incredibly well-developed, starting with Candace. It would have been easy to use her as a generic antagonist, but that's not her role (at least not after the first few installments). Instead, the show delves into her psychological reaction to her predicament. Her brothers' inventions are impossibly complex, and her mother won't believe her. It's a maddening predicament, and the writers explore that angle. She's not a villain, nor is Doofenshmirtz ultimately: they're cogs in the formula's clockwork fulfilling necessary roles and ultimately leading to positive ends. Including for them: Candace's relationship with her boyfriend and Doofenshmirtz's relationship with his daughter progress as the show develops.

Ultimately, the show winds up feeling like some sort of science-fiction fable in the vein of Stanislaw Lem. It's incredibly good, and - as I often do in such situations - I found myself wanting collectibles. Toys R Us has a handful of toys, but none that really spoke to me. The last time I was in the Disney Store, I came across this figurine playset, which I found much more intriguing. Disney sells a lot of these, mostly tied to their movies, for $12.50 each. Technically, this was on sale for 2 for $20, but I couldn't find another I wanted, so I wound up paying the full $12.50.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about these figures. I love the colors and this is a good selection of core characters, but as a fan of the show, there's a lot to nitpick. While I appreciate it's difficult to transition from two to three dimensions, most of these characters are a least a little off model. The exceptions are Dr. Doofenshmirtz and Agent P.

This is a fantastic likeness for Doof, though the pose makes him look a tad more menacing than he usually comes off. Still, it's a good representation.

Agent P (posed beside Papa Smurf for scale) is likewise extremely accurate to his on-screen appearance, though his feet are a little small.

There's something wrong with the shape of Phineas's smile, and it throws him off. He almost looks maniacal here, which is about as far from the character as you can get. It's shame, because, with the exception of that one detail, the character's pretty well represented.

In Ferb's case, they got the mouth right but made the nose a little too square. There's an argument to be made that this is how it appears in the show (it depends on the angle, of course), but I think the overall look of the character would be better represented if his nose was less pig-like. Either way, It's nowhere near as big of a deal as Phineas's freakish grin.

Whatchadoin? Getting ready to discuss my favorite character on the show, Isabella. She's Phineas's next neighbor, and she has a crush on him. Also, she leads a group of scouts called "Fireside Girls." She's probably the most competent character on the show. Plus, she's really good in a fight against an inter-dimensional army of invading robots.

Once again, they came close but messed up a crucial detail. This time it's the eyes: they're too small, not the right shape, and her eyelashes are awful. It throws off the look of the character, which is a shame.

With Candace, it's the cheekbones. Again, it's not the end of the world, but it's certainly noticeable. The rest of the character is spot-on. Like Ferb, there's an argument to be made that this is actually accurate from certain angles, but I don't think it really captures her look.

Finally, we have undercover Perry. This is a pretty good approximation of how he looks on the show, so no complaints.

I feel bad putting these under a magnifying glass and picking apart the imperfections: I'm sure it gives the impression I don't like them, when that couldn't be farther from the truth. These are really neat little figurines, and at this price point, I'm thrilled with the quality. I just wish the sculptor had taken a little more time getting the details right.

These are figurines, so there's no articulation or accessories. That said, the bubble covering the toy pops off cleanly, leaving you with a handsome looking display if you've got the space:

Disney markets this as a playset, which it isn't. It's actually more like a set of PVC figures, like the ones that used to go for $50. I, for one, appreciate the markdown. Like I said, there are numerous other sets out there, but most aren't this good. Hopefully, this means Disney is upping their game: I'd certainly like more like this. There's plenty here to nitpick over, but the bright colors, great poses, and low price-point make up for the details.

If you're a fan of the show, head into the Disney Store the next time you're around. And, if you're not, you owe it to yourself to check it out: the whole thing is streaming on Netflix.

There you are, Perry.