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Doctor Who Countdown: Two!

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By figurefanzero

Transformers Classics: Ultra Magnus by Hasbro

Last week I happened to mention the Ultra Magnus/Skywarp 2-pack when doing my feature of Generations Thundercracker. I know that about three years ago I looked at that Skywarp when doing a feature on the Classics-style Seekers, but looking back through my Index I realized that Ultra Magnus never got the spotlight on FFZ, so let’s amend that today because despite being a rather uninspired repaint, he’s a rather interesting release to talk about.

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If there was any logic behind Hasbro pairing up Skywarp and Ultra Magnus in the Classics line, I have no idea what it was. I don’t recall ever reading about any great rivalry between the characters. Nonetheless, it sure did piss off a lot of fans. First off, it was a Target exclusive which meant that for some people it was difficult to get. Some people, but not for me. My Target had half an endcap full of these sets on clearance when I bought mine, and even at that point I don’t ever remember seeing them in the aisle for regular price. I tend to find Target exclusives a lot more often than Walmart releases, which I have no hope of finding at all. Nonetheless, the exclusivity of the release was a sticking point with fans who desperately wanted the next Decepticon Seeker Jet in the line. Of course, what also stuck in many a collectors’ craw was having to pay for a white repaint of Optimus Prime in order to get him. You see, a little something called Parallax City Commander didn’t even exist yet, and collectors couldn’t help but question why this wasn’t a Skywarp and Thundercracker 2-pack. And it’s still a good question. Even at a clearance price, I still felt like a sucker as I paid for the set for the sole purpose of getting Skywarp.

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Obviously there’s history and tradition behind painting Optimus white and calling him Ultra Magnus, but that’s only because the original G1 toy used Prime’s cab as a basis to build a very different figure. Did anyone actually play with Ultra Magnus as a white cab alone? I sure didn’t. As a result just releasing a white repaint of Prime with no extra parts always seemed like the height of laziness, and yet that hasn’t stopped Hasbro and Takara from doing it. Before Fansproject came along and unlocked the true potential of this figure, I don’t know anybody that actually wanted it… let alone me! But then again, I have a love-hate relationship with this mold to begin with. I’m not going to rehash a lot of that here, so feel free to jump back to my original feature of Classics Optimus Prime if you want the full poop.

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I can’t deny that Magnus looks good in his truck mode. The white, silver and blue motif looks particularly nice on the toy and he really is just begging for a car carrier trailer on the back to drive the homage home. What’s more the white plastic that Hasbro used here is just fantastic. It holds a vibrant color and doesn’t feel at all cheap like some of the stuff they’ve been using lately. He comes with the same removable cap that converts into a large gun and the same set of exhaust pipes that convert into his rifle. The only thing really missing here is an Autobot symbol. I like my Autobots to show their insignia when in vehicle mode and like Optimus, Magnus here only sports a rub sign.

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It’s the robot mode where this figure starts to bother me. It’s so damn close to being great, but I can never get past the huge plates hanging off his arms. Even the way the lower torso is faked out doesn’t bother me at all. But it’s a moot point here, because we’re still just talking about a white Optimus Prime and not Ultra Magnus. Once again, the coloring on the figure looks great, I like the Autobot insignia stamped on the shoulders, but it’s just not Ultra Magnus. Hasbro might as well have just called this Arctic Attack Optimus Prime. Or how about write a bio on the back about how after Prime died he came back as “Optimus the White.” Oh wait, that was Gandalf in Lord of the Rings. Screw it, it still would have been a better justification than just calling this Ultra Magnus.

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Nope, Hasbro didn’t even pony up for a new head. I can’t help but wonder if I would have received this figure a little better with a G1 style Magnus head and maybe a little tweaking to the cap on the top of the cab. Just something to show that they made an effort at passing the figure off as Ultra Magnus. Anything would have helped.

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Of course, the true irony is that this unwanted figure became the hottest commodity around once Fansproject released the Parallax kit that turned him into a proper Ultra Magnus. At that point a figure that you couldn’t give away started commanding crazy prices on The Ebays. I’m sure plenty of collectors took their Skywarps and dumped this guy only to regret it later.

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I should point out that Magnus here is the only Classics figure that I do not display. He is by no means an unattractive figure, but as a character he just has no place in my display. He sits in a drawer waiting for the day that I may be impulsive enough to buy the upgrade kit for him. Alas, with the crazy prices of that kit, that’s not likely to happen unless Fansproject ever does another run of it. And now with Takara announcing a new Masterpiece Ultra Magnus, one that won’t be a mere repaint, I’m more interest in saving my pennies to see what that’s going to look like. In the end, this guy is probably going to find himself up on the chopping block. Right now the only thing that’s saving him is that he doesn’t take up much room.

Avengers Assemble: “Inferno Cannon” Black Widow by Hasbro

What’s Hasbro doing with their 3 ¾” Marvel lines? Who the hell knows? I go to Target and they have four pegs that used to be Marvel Universe. Now you can find everything from MU to figures from the first Thor movie and even Iron Man 2 for God’s sake. You also have a bunch of shitty looking 5-points of articulation Avengers and Wolverine figures. And then there’s this Avenger’s Assemble line, the latest assortment of figures to be tossed into the confused mess. I assume these are being branded off the current Disney cartoon, which I still refuse to acknowledge because Earth’s Mightiest Heroes was cancelled. Oh yeah, baby, I hold grudges. Anyway, I would have ignored this line completely, but then I saw Black Widow on the card and I decided to open a small window in my boycott and make this one exception.

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The packaging doesn’t seem to tie it into the cartoon all that much. The character artwork is quite good and looks more comic booky than the stylized portraits I’ve seen in adverts for Avengers Assemble. It’s a very nice card back and it was able to draw in my eye amidst the sea of confusion that makes up Hasbro’s Marvel pegs these days. Note the “SHIELD GEAR” and “Inferno Cannon?” You guessed it, we get some more goofy oversized weapons with these figures, but we’ll get to that later. First, let’s check out the figure!

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Some of you may remember how impressed I was with Hasbro’s Black Widow from the Avengers movie line. Just kidding, that was over a year ago. If you remember that, you clearly have too much time on your hands. Anyway, this figure uses a tweaked version of that same body, which is obviously a good thing. The paintwork on the outfit’s piping is gone and this version has high gloss boots and full gloves. The SHIELD emblem is curiously gone from her shoulder and her bracers are painted gold. Last up, her gun belt is gone and in its place is a more comic accurate beaded gold belt with an hourglass emblem on the buckle. The result here is a very nice hybrid design that straddles the modern movie version and the traditional comic character and the black and gold really make this gal pop. I like it a lot!

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It’s only in the head sculpt where I will take issue with this figure. Don’t get me wrong, the new head sculpt is pretty fantastic, especially for a figure in this scale. It’s a little more generic than the movie figure and definitely not trying to be Scar-Jo and that’s all fine. My issue here is just the windblown direction of the hair. Again, straddling the modern and the classic, this Widow has long hair, which is cool, but having it perpetually blowing off to the side works for me in statues, but not so much in an action figure. It’s not a deal breaker, but it’s not an artistic choice that I would have made. Fortunately, you can swap the heads between movie Widow and this Widow and I do rather like the results.

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It’s been over a year since I looked at the movie Black Widow, so let me recap the articulation here. The arms are ball jointed at the shoulders, elbows, and wrists. The legs are ball jointed at the hips, double hinged at the knees, hinged at the ankles, and have swivels in the thighs. There’s no articulation in the torso, but the head is ball jointed. A ball joint in the torso would have really slammed the articulation home, but what we have here is still plenty good.

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So how about that “SHIELD gear?” Well, it’s just an excuse to give the figures some huge gimmicky weapon and in this case… hey, wait a second… I this inferno cannon looks familiar. Yup, it’s a repaint of the rocket launcher that was included with Red Skull from the Captain America movie. You may be fooling the kids with this Hasbro, but not me! Actually, I guess it makes sense since Nick Fury’s “Phase 2” was usurping a lot of Hydra’s weapon designs, so why not give Black Widow a repainted Hydra weapon? Ugh, I can’t believe I’m justifying this. It’s just another oversized missile launcher that is mandatory these days with every GI Joe and Marvel movie figure. I’d much rather just have a damn figure stand and a repacked assault rifle from the MU line. To the depths of my darkest accessory tote with you!

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I remember the movie Black Widow being a really tough figure to find. I eventually wound up paying a premium for her with another figure on Ebay. This figure fell right off the peg and set me back only ten bucks. Granted, it was the only one on the peg, but if I can find her with the horrible toy distribution in my neck of the woods, I’m guessing she’s got to be pretty common. She’s probably not a “must have” if you own the movie version, but I will say that after that simple head swap, I like this one the best out of the two because of the comic influences in her outfit. On the other hand, if you missed out on the movie version, you need to do yourself a favor and hunt this one down. She’s a solid addition to any 3 3/4″ Marvel collection.

Star Trek Enterprise: Lt. Malcolm Reed and Ensign Travis Mayweather by Art Asylum

My Toy Crawlspace truly is the Final Frontier of my collection. It’s a pseudo attic above the garage that has some of my last unorganized totes. I’m going through a lot of those totes this month to cull some things for Ebay and make room up there for a bunch of statue boxes and whatnot. As a result, you’ll start seeing a lot of stuff from out of left field that I like to feature here on FFZ from time to time. Today’s tote brings us to Art Asylum’s amazing line of figures from the TV series Enterprise. A lot of people didn’t like this series, but as a fan of this show I have a fairly persuasive response to the Enterprise haters… F’ck off!

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For the packaging, we’ll look to Reed because he was the figure I found in the tote, still carded, while Travis was already safely tucked away in one of my Star Trek figure drawers. The figures came in a huge bubble that take up the entire card with printed inserts to make it look like the interior of the ship…. or maybe the exterior of the ship… I’m not sure. I always thought it interesting that they chose to put “Star Trek” on the package while the producers of the TV series went out of their way to not include it in the branding of the show. I particularly enjoy the cutouts on the sides that give you a peek at some of the gear and accessories. It’s a great package that looks more like a window box than a card and bubble, and if you’re particularly deft with a razor, you might even be able to persuade it into being collector friendly. I, on the other hand, shredded mine like a dog trying to tear open a packet of pork rinds.

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A while back when I was doing Star Trek Saturdays, I looked at Captain Archer and Chief Tucker in their EVA Suits, but this pair comes donning their regular Starfleet jumpsuits. Some figures were available both in the EVA Suits and their bridge attire, but sadly neither Malcolm nor Travis got the EVA treatment.  I guess someone had to stay on the ship while the rest of the crew went walkabout. As a matter of fact, the biggst failing of this line was that you could never get a complete set of the crew in either space suits or jumpsuits. Boo! In any event, AA did a beautiful job recreating the jumpsuits by making them out of a soft, rubbery plastic that covered a figure buck underneath. It’s an amazing little feat that takes what is a fairly boring and unattractive uniform and makes it something special. While the jointing on the limbs are still visible, the hip joints are completely concealed. I was more than a little surprised that after being stored in a crawlspace for four or five years, the rubber jumpsuits didn’t degrade at all. What’s also cool is that the two figures do not share the same buck or uniform sculpt. In a world where companies like Mattel are happy to save a couple bucks (get it?) by reusing the same body over and over, it’s kind of refreshing to see some of the little guys get it right. There are subtle differences in the jumpsuits and Travis is appropriately just a smidge taller than Malcolm. The piping on the shoulders are colored differently for each of their departments and they each have the correct number of rank pips.

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The portraits on both figures are excellent. The head sculpts really convey the likenesses of Dominic Keating and Anthony Montgomery, but that comes as no surprise because this is Art Asylum and they rarely ever skimped on the likenesses. What’s more the skin tones and paint work are also beautifully done. Malcolm looks like he’s trying to decide whether or not to shoot something in the face and Travis has that look of innocent wonder appropriate for a character that was probably there for the audience to best relate to… or maybe that was Hoshi. Either way, these are great looking portraits.

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As for articulation, these guys make out pretty well. The arms are ball jointed at the shoulders, swivel at the biceps and wrists, and hinged at the elbows. The legs have universal movement, which feels like something similar to Mattel’s DCUC hips, there are swivels in the thighs, hinged knees, and ball joints in the ankles. They can both swivel at the waist and have very serviceable ball joints in the neck. Not bad!

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These figures also come loaded with extra bits. They each come with a phase pistol, a communicator, a tricorder, and an extra pair of hands. The gear is all Ok. My one gripe with Art Asylum/Diamond Select’s Trek figures is that sometimes the gear feels undersized. In this case the phase pistols seem about right, but I think the tricorder and communicators could have used a little upsizing. It’s also really tough to get them to hold the smaller things. In the case of the communicator, I almost think it might have been more useful to sculpt an extra hand already holding it.

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Malcolm also comes with a very cool Starfleet weapon case and an extra phase pistol. The case is patterned after the one used in the premier episode, “Broken Bow” to introduce these weapons and just like in the episode both phase pistols can be stowed in the cutouts inside the case. It’s hinged on one side and has a folding carry handle. I really applaud AA for including this piece as it’s more the type of accessory I expect to get with 1:6 scale figures.

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On the less useful side of things, you also get a plastic Enterprise coin and a translucent blue figure stand with the Enterprise patch logo. The stand is beautifully done and the figure looks great standing on it, too bad it doesn’t have a peg to hold the figures. D’oh! I’m still not sure the purpose of the coins. I guess it was just a little something extra. I tried plugging a couple of them into the snack machine at work to get a Snickers bar. To make a long story short, the snack machine doesn’t work any more.

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It’s worth pointing out here that the same Malcolm Reed figure was also available with his Tactical Station on the bridge. The idea was to collect all the Bridge sets and piece together the entire thing. Alas, the line was shit-canned before it could happen and I don’t recall Travis’ Helm Station ever being produced. Either way, I freaking love this line of figures and it made me very sad to see them linger for so long on the pegs at Toys R Us even at clearance prices. With the exception of Playmates’ lightning in a bottle success in the 90’s, Star Trek figures have never seem to fare well at retail and when you couple that with the general unpopularity of Enterprise, these figures were probably doomed to fail from the start. It is a shame because it’s so obvious that the guys at Art Asylum poured the love into them. They just went above and beyond with the sculpts and equipment. On a brighter note, there were quite a few more of these lingering up there in the Toy Crawlspace waiting to be opened and featured, so at least they’ll continue to live on here at FFZ.

Batman (Classic TV Series): Catwoman by Mattel

Oh, 1966 Batman line, we hardly knew you. After what seemed like an eternal build-up and celebrations over Mattel securing the rights to the franchise, it amounted to about one wave of figures, a two-pack, and a Batmobile that I never saw at retail. Reception of the line from collectors has been all over the place. It wasn’t perfect, NECA could have done it way better, but overall I was happy with what we got. I was, however, not happy that this is all there was, especially since Mattel seemed to be closing up shop on the line just as Yvonne Craig was signing away her likeness to merchandisers. What about Batgirl and King Tut and Egghead, and all the other awesome villains? Oh, well. While there was a “Surf’s Up” Joker slap in the face figure shown off recently, I’m going to count Catwoman here as the last entry in this flash-in-the-pan line. Let’s check her out.

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While a late comer to the party, Catwoman comes on the same cardback as the other figures. Its easily bent die-cut edges should serve to irk mint-on-card collectors. The fronts of the cards have been generic with only Robin’s dopey speech bubble changing. The back shows the character in an animated style, which is no doubt meant to emulate the opening credits, but doesn’t really do that for me.

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So, let’s deal with the elephant in the room first. Fans will remember that three lovely ladies played Catwoman in the Classic Batman series: You had Julie Newmar playing the role for the first two seasons and then being replaced in the third by Eartha Kitt, followed by Lee Meriweather in the movie. I have a feeling the younger crowd are most familiar with Meriweather in the role just because that movie has been more readily available. Personally, I think Eartha Kitt did the best job with the character, she absolutely nailed it and made it her own, but in terms of pure sex appeal, Ms. Newmar was clearly my favorite. I have no idea how likeness rights factored into the decision to go with Newmar, but I’m sure it did. In the end I’m fine with the choice they went with.

This is a tough figure for me to assess. There’s some stuff I like about it, and a couple things I don’t. The big sticking point for me is the arms, which are just too long, too thin, and rather angular at the elbows. She looks like a stick insect. The elbows are also way too far down on the arms.  How many people have elbows that start at their hips? She doesn’t look so bad with her arms at her sides, but bend them and you can’t deny that this kitty has a ridiculous amount of bicep. As a result, there are poses where I think she looks just fine, and others where she looks rather awkward. Also her feet look really small. They’re so small that she has a big problem standing up without being plugged into her stand. All this, plus her somewhat oversized noggin, conspires to make her look quite barbie-doll-ish. Nonetheless, all this gives the figure something of a stylized appearance, which kind of works for me.

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How about the portrait? The likeness isn’t a hundred percent, but I still think the portrait is Ok. The paintwork on the face is excellent, and I can see Newmar’s likeness in there… maybe… a little bit. I’d say this is definitely one of the better head sculpts in this line, and no I don’t mean that as a left-handed compliment. In terms of likenesses for a mass retail line of figures, I think Mattel has delivered adequately on these, and with Catwoman, a little bit moreso. But no mask? In fairness, Newmar seemed to spend as much time without it as she did with it. An extra masked head would have been nice, but by now we all know that unless it’s a surfboard or an umbrella, extra accessories were too much to ask for in this line. In the end, I’m fine with a mask-less head.

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The costume is pretty well represented here. There’s only so much you can do with a black leather catsuit in this scale and Mattel gets the job done with a little extra attention paid to the glossy paint and sculpt of the gloves and boots. Traditionally speaking, Mattel has saddled some of the poor ladies of the DC Universe with some serious granny shoes, so it’s nice to see them get the heels right. Catwoman also features a painted low hanging necklace and a belt slung low on her hips. Still… it’s hard not to keep staring at those spaghetti arms… WTF happened there, Mattel?

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The articulation has been pretty consistent throughout this line, but toss in the first female buck and you can’t be quite sure what you’re going to get. As it turns out, it’s mostly the same. The arms are ball jointed at the shoulders, hinged at the elbows, and have swivels at the biceps and wrists. The legs feature the usual DCUC style hip joints, swivels in the thighs, hinged knees, and hinged ankles. The head is ball jointed and she can swivel just under her chest. The articulation is serviceable enough, but I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t prefer my Catwoman to be a little more flexible and agile. Meow!

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In keeping with the rest of this line, you also get the figure stand and collector card. The card shows Catwoman having a little bondage fun with Batman and the flipside has another scene from the Batcave. I still like these cards a lot and the fact that they plug into the stand makes it easier for me to justify keeping them around and not sticking them into the back of a drawer. The stand reads, “CRRAACK!” otherwise it offers nothing that we haven’t seen before with the rest of the figures in the wave.

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If you aren’t willing to give this line a pass by now, Catwoman here probably isn’t going to sway you. I’ll confess nostalgia has compelled me to be pretty forgiving and I’m still delighted to have these figures. And that folks is Mattel’s 1966 Batman line in the bag. If you’re out to be a completest, you can still hold out for the “Surf’s Up” Joker, but I’m prepared to call this line done. There’s always a chance I may yet pick up the Batman & Robin 2-pack, especially if I find it on clearance. As much as I want the Batmobile, I’m trying to exercise some self-control because I have no room to display it and so many other things now vying for my collecting dollars. Still, willpower has never been one of my strong suits, so it is possible that it’ll turn up featured here on FFZ one of these days.