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The Space Shuttle Columbia Lands at Kelly Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas, March 1979

Or, what the Space Shuttle means to me. On Thursday, July 21 2011,  US Space Shuttle Atlantis touched down for the final time, returning from the last mission that the shuttle program will fly for the United States.  The program and the shuttles themselves have been retired, cast aside due to a national lack of enthusiasm and a casualty of the ludicrous economic battles that pass for governance these days. But none of that matters to me when I think of the Space Shuttle.

First and foremost, to me it remains the last exciting moment of the US Space program that really touched people when I was growing up. Sure, the Mars rover and the various interstellar missions of the past 20 years have been interesting, but the Space Shuttle program was a continuance of that bright, shining age when it really looked as if the science fiction was being coming the science reality. It was totally conceivable that by the year 2000 we might have (small) colonies on the moon, or a floating city in space to replace Skylab.

In 1979 my dad was in the Air Force, working at Kelly AFB in San Antonio when it was announced that the newly christened Shuttle Columbia, the first shuttle to go into space, would be stopping at Kelly overnight to refuel on it’s way to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. I was already excited about the shuttle, having seen the promos for the new James Bond movie, Moonraker, that was coming out that summer, so when dad woke me at 6am so we could drive across town to Kelly Field and watch it take off the news morning (on the back of a 747) I was beyond excited. I, of course loved Star Wars, and Buck Rogers, but this was REAL. I remember there were a lot of people who showed up to watch what was basically a big plane sit on a runaway, it an event that was closed to the public.

Afterwards, we went to a hobby shop where he bought me a small toy Space Shuttle. I remember keeping it sitting on my desk for quite some time, enamored by it’s unique shape and markings. Unlike previous spacecraft, the shuttle was a sleek, cool looking vehicle. I think it’s no coincidence that so many movies worked in the actual shuttle design instead of aping Star Wars when dealing with “non-fighter” craft. Unfortunately, we know how the rest of the story goes: I saw the Challenger disaster happen live on tv in my 11th grade art class. I remember how horrified and distraught my teachers were that one of their own was on that ship. And the Columbia herself came to rest back in Texas in 2003 in another horrific accident, although I was in California by then.

But with all that, when I think of the Space Shuttle my mind always goes back to that little toy one my dad bought me, and the long gone hobby shop where it was purchased. You can still find hobby shops, where you can buy model planes and trains, but they are becoming few and far between. Like Borders bookstores that are closing for good this month, and Circuit City, And Linen’s & Things, and all the mom & pop bookstores and variety stores before them, we are left with just one or two big box stores for each category now. The era of stores that catered to specialty items exist online, but it’s not the same. There is something to be said for riding your bike to the hobby shop for a model, then to the variety store (Winns? TG&Y?) for some action figures, then on to the drugstore for trading cards and a soda, ending up at the neighborhood used bookstore where the owner has a little side room filled with old comics and pulp paperbacks to leaf through. But those days are gone, and they’re not coming back. And now I fear the days of excitement over space exploration are joining them on the shelf marked “nostalgia”.


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I’m going to be taking a hiatus from writing about toys to concentrate on a few outside projects that need my full attention, so this is going to be my last blog post for what might be quite awhile. And although I have a lot of great blogs sitting around in various stages of completion, one article in particular demands to be finished before I take my leave.

Five years ago, shortly before I left California for Texas, Julius Marx and I paid a visit to the studio of a truly fantastic artist, sculptor, and all-around great guy: Rubén Procopio. If you don’t recognize the name you surely will recognize his work (and if you don’t recognize the name, shame on you!).

First, Rubén  has recently written an awesome book (with Tim Bruckner and Zach Oat), Pop Sculpture, that anyone who is interested in sculpture should read. If you want to be a sculptor, I would even say stop reading this blog right now and go buy a copy. It’s a really, really informative look at the whole process of creating action figures and statues based on popular media properties.

Second, Rubén has been involved in so many areas that are near and dear to my heart that I alternate being in awe of him and being bitterly jealous. ;) Just kidding! But seriously, he started at the Disney Studios in the 1970s, following in the footsteps of his father, Adolfo Procopio (and if you’ve ever been to Disneyland or Disneyworld, you’ve seen a lot of Adolfo spectacular sculpts), and was mentored by the fabled Nine Old Men (Eric Larson in particular) as he rose through the ranks of Disney Animation.

In the 1980s, he was a key figure in bringing back the art of using animation maquettes to guide the artists, creating some of the first ones for The Great Mouse Detective, Oliver & Company, and The Little Mermaid. While at Disney, Rubén was also being mentored by Alex Toth, whose comic art style can be seen influencing Rubén’s take on The Phantom and Zorro. Since leaving Disney as an animation supervisor, Rubén has created sculptures for Walt Disney Consumer Products, Walt Disney Classics Collection, Bowen Designs, Sideshow Collectibles, and DC Direct through his Masked Avengers Studio.  Most notably, he’s produced a wide array of items for his former Disney colleague Tracy Mark Lee at Electric Tiki. Rubén was further able to honor his long time love for pulp heroes by spearheading the Classic Heroes Collection, featuring everyone from Dick Tracy and Doc Savage to The Rocketeer and Hellboy. Even Lassie got some love! I can’t tell you how much I love this series; the only thing that would have made me happier is if they were able to make a figure line that looked just like these sculpts, only articulated.

He also oversaw a lot of product for the Disney Store through Disney Consumer Products in the 2000s, notably the new take on “Disney Heroes” as detailed, articulated action figures. We see some of the original sculpts in the pics below, but you really should go check out the second series that was never made. Just stunning stuff. The Beast would have made a terrific figure. A compatible line of Disney Princesses was also on the drawing board, but alas.

Rubén was gracious enough to let me take pictures of his workspace and some of his past projects to share. The artistry on display here just blows my mind, especially considering his medium of choice is Super Sculpey! So check out the pics below (click on a picture to enlarge and get commentary below each shot) and then leave some comments! And go check out his own blog for lots more gems! Sorry this article is less than timely, but hopefully it was worth the wait.  And I’ll see you kids on the other side!


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Toy Fair 2011 has come and gone and while this year seemed a bit more sedate for what new items were shown, one group of action figures stood out above all others: DC Universe Classics Wave 18. Why are these toys special, you ask? Because for the first time ever, not only do we get a mass market assortment of Super Friends specific toys, but it’s centered around four figures that you would be justified in thinking no one would ever think to make figures of, let alone all four in one wave! Yes, I’m talking about the controversial "ethnic" heroes: Samurai, Black Vulcan, El Dorado, and C&C Apache Chief.

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I know some people think these characters are superfluous, or not "comic based" and therefore not worthy of a figure, but I don’t agree with that logic. First and foremost, there is a big section of fans who do want these figures and have waited for them for 20 years.  And on top of that, this is a toy line, not the comics. And these guys make GREAT toys! And they do give a selection of diversity to an all too-white toy aisle (with the occasional black character thrown in). How many Native Americans are on shelves? Asians? Hispanics? Is it going to kill collectors to add one more? And Mattel made it super easy to skip this wave if you don’t like it by tying in the C&C to the theme, so if you just want Bronze Tiger, then by all means just get Bronze Tiger.

 

Plus, with the addition of Toyman the Legion of Doom is now complete as well!

 

But the big "completion piece" is Samurai, who wraps up Mattel’s recreation of the fabled Super Powers lineup. With the further additions of Dick Grayson Robin from Wave 16 (out now!) and the upcoming SP Mr. Freeze repaint in the Batman: Legacy line I’ve updated the DCUC/SP picture below. Sure, we could still use repaints of Superman, Batman, and Penguin in more Bronze-Age accurate colors. And Kalibak and Orion would need resculpts to be perfect recreations (although it’s been hinted that the new Lex Luthor armor will be repainted and rereleased down the road to be more SP accurate as well).  But if the line ended with these guys I would be content that we have a complete SP lineup in the greater DCUC line. And with Creeper, El Dorado, and Black Vulcan we’re three more characters closer to finishing off all the unmade SP figures as well!  Now all we need is for the Four Horsemen to make some awesome figures of the sculpted-but-never-produced  Quadrex, Silicon, Rocketman and a C&C Shockwave and I’ll be happy. All of these guys have form factors or special treatments that would make them really neat toys. I’d probably buy Howitzer and Executioner, too, but even I don’t think they’re necessary as figures…

 


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OK, so I’ve been pretty lax on introducing my millions of readers to much needed Bollywood glory. But maybe the long wait for a new clip has been worth it.

I’m not exactly sure how they did it, but I think Bollywood (Russia? Azerbaijan) somehow was able to film Michael Bay’s actual dreams. This is everything he wishes he could do in real life, but just can’t muster that much awesome in one container. Be prepared for your mind to explode! (And they even throw in a Wilhelm Scream!)


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So I’m going through some old AFi files while working on a new project for the site (more on that later) and I stumbled across our gallery of concepts that Toy Biz never got to make before getting out of the toy business. Of course, one concept in particular is painful every time I see it, and I know many other fans feel the same way:

It’s just a shame that this never got to see the light of day in all of its super poseable glory. Not that it really ever had much of a chance, even had Toy Biz kept producing toys. As Jesse Falcon explains in the video below, Disney holds the rights to this guy, and they wanted waaaaaay to much money to make a figure. Go listen to the man himself:

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Man. You know, since Marvel was recently sold, maybe the new buyer would give it a shot to see if Disney would work with them and maybe do some Rocketeer projects, maybe even some new comics. Now who was the new owner of Marvel again? Ohhhh yeah….DISNEY. With all the noise that has been made over the past couple of years about Marvel dancing around the Marvelman license, you would think that SOMEONE would be talking up the Rocketeer. Wouldn’t that be something, to fold the ol’ Rocketeer into the Marvel Universe. And maybe into the Hasbro deal as well. Maybe even give us one nice Cliff Secord figure in the 3 3/4" scale to fit right in alongside all those great 30s era Indiana Jones toys as well.

Still, looking over the slides of all that unproduced artwork, I did notice that we have recently been given two of those concepts at least: check out the Paul Komoda concept art next to these recent releases from Hasbro. Looks like someone in Rhode Island has been raiding the Toy Biz archives…


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So Hot Toys unveiled its new Indiana Jones figure at their 10th Anniversary showcase last week and it got me thinking: who would have thought 10 years ago that we would have so many Indiana Jones toys to choose from? Back then all you could find were the old Kenner figures and the extremely hard to find Toys McCoy versions. Now we have an embarrassment of riches, with figures and accessories in all scales, the ability to recreate Jones’ actual wardrobe, and more paraphernalia than you could crack a whip at.

But one piece of Indiana Jones lore has remained relatively hard to find: The Secret of the Incas!

What exactly *is* The Secret of the Incas, you ask? Well, while Raiders of the Lost Ark had many influences in its development, the one most often cited as the key film is this 1954 movie starring Charleton Heston as Harry Steele, a rogue Soldier of Fortune searching for a lost artifact that will bring him “fortune and glory”. While TheRaider.net can detail all the similarities far better than I can, suffice it to say that Steele dresses and acts more than a bit like our favorite archaeologist.

In recent years this lost gem has become easier to view with poor copies on youtube and ebay, but for some reason Paramount has kept it pretty well hidden from tv showings or any home video/dvd releases. So imagine my surprise to stumble across it ready for instant viewing on Netflix’s streaming service in pretty good quality! Now, is this a great film? No. Not even close. But it is fairly interesting, if only for two reasons: one, it introduced the world to the Peruvian Soprano, Yma Sumac (whose voice should be familiar to fans of the Big Lebowski), and it was surprisingly filmed almost entirely on location! If you’ve ever been interested in Cuzco, Peru or the fabled Machu Picchu ruins, you get to see them in lingering detail in this movie. And it sure feels a lot more exotic than the sets in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull…

So go check it out if you’ve got Netflix, because they shift what’s available in their Instant Viewing section frequently, so there’s no telling how long before this curiosity will be put back into its crate in that endless warehouse.

 

 

 


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So the other night, just before Thanksgiving, I decided to hit Walmart around midnight. It’s been many years since I made a late night toy run, for a variety of reasons. But mostly because I usually have much better things to do with my time than to make a special trip just to turn up empty-handed at the usual dearth of new toys on the North Texas shelves. But for some reason, I felt like this would be a good time to take a break from working and drive the 10 miles to the nearest Walmart. Plus, I needed a few groceries and things, so the trip wouldn’t be a total waste.

And lo and behold, they had new pallets of merchandise on the floor, waiting to be stocked. And right on top of the toy pallet in front was one box of DCUC Classics. And when the very nice stocker opened the box for me I found one complete set of DCUC Wave 14. Which is the first time I’ve found any of an exclusive Walmart wave in Dallas at all, let alone in the first week or so of shipping! FYI, the box had doubles of Zatanna, Alan Scott, and Hourman. And it was lucky for me, since I haven’t seen any of them since.

What was unlucky for me was that I didn’t realize until I got home that my Tyr was all jacked up. Of course, at first I was too busy being mad that my Obsidian had two right biceps, until I realized that he actually did have a left bicep, it was just bent so badly it looked like the wrong one. A little hot water and rubber bands holding it down fixed that one overnight. But Tyr is a different story: his chest piece thing is completely malformed. And by the time I figured it out (at first I thought they had changed it from the package images for some reason, since it looks like a new chest piece, not necessarily a deformed one)  I had thrown away the receipt and package. And have I mentioned that I’m kind of a big Super Powers fan, so this was a figure I’ve been looking forward to more than most? So my choices are to try and find a new one, switch packages and try to return the bad one, live with this one and forget about it, or just eat the cost, buy a new one, and go to my blog to rant about Mattel’s consistently crappy Quality Control.

Guess which one I’m choosing?


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by Jason "ToyOtter" Geyer and James "Sallah" Sawyer.

So there was that thing back a few years ago where we found out all about the plans for the final years of the Super Powers Collection including concept art for many possible figures. And that other thing, where some extension plans for the original Kenner Star Wars line showed up in a found presentation. Or the ill-fated Mattel Wonder Woman and the Star Riders? And how about when it was revealed that there was another Raiders of the Lost Ark assortment to be made in Hasbro’s Indiana Jones line (OK, that one still hurts).

You’d think we would have heard all about toys that never made it into production by now. You’d think that with so many collectors and so much time having passed, there are no surprises left any more from the golden days of action figures (1970s & 1980s).

Well, partner, you’d be wrong.

What if we told you that there were more gems out there? Gems that might Dazzle and Annihilate your senses with their Fantastic concepts? Can you keep a secret?

That’s right, true believer! Mattel’s toy line of Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars lives again! And it’s a crazy tale that will Thunderball you over with its twists and turns. But first, let me lay down a little background on you for those not already in the know:


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Here’s the thing: San Diego Comic Con is no longer about comics. Yes, I know this is not news. Many, many, many people have pointed out what a shame it is that movie, tv, and toys have taken over the con in the past decade. I am not necessarily one of those people: I enjoy the con more for the broader scope and the inclusion of hollywood. I especially like that SDCC has replaced Toy Fair as the place to celebrate collectors and unveil new toys for the year (although I really wish companies could figure out how to keep a lid on news better so there were more genuine surprises). 

But at its core, SDCC was and is about comics and comic culture. That’s what drives the train. So when huge news breaks, it is a tad disappointing that the major outlets like USA Today, Entertainment Weekly,  and CNN that are covering the con do not highlight it in an appropriate manner (kudos to TIME for recognizing the significance of the news, though). What news is this, you ask? Well the biggest news of the con is this: Fantagraphics will be publishing the Complete Floyd Gottfredson run of Mickey Mouse comic strips, starting in May 2011. This is huge.

Fantagraphics has spent over two years negotiating with Disney over these reprints. And while Carl Barks’ and his Ducks comics are well-known and revered, a much smaller group of people is aware of the seminal work done by Gottfredson on Mickey Mouse. These strips are pretty much the last of the "greats" to be reprinted, in what is now the Golden Age for classic comic strip reprints. What is big about this news is that these strips have NEVER been reprinted uncut before, and many of them not at all. Think about that: for 70 years, Disney has let some of the best work featuring their flagship character go unseen. Can you imagine if Marvel had never reprinted the Ditko Spider-Man issues, except in compilations? Sure, many individual stories have been chopped up into comics over the years, but these stories were heavily edited, rewritten, and relettered. 

While it remains to be seen if Disney can bring themselves to go through with a hands-off policy, Fantagraphics has the best shot ever to not only show these strips as they were originally seen (and from all accounts, Disney keeps excellent copies of everything in their morgue, so they’ll look better than anyone has seen them) but do so in a great presentation, judging by their treatment of Peanuts and Popeye among others. I’m just hoping that Disney sees that these are of historical value and let’s Fantagraphics reprint EVERYTHING, warts and all.

Now where are those Gottfredson Mouse & Friends toys?!?


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OK, it’s been a bit of a roadblock lately with me trying to get back to my series of blogs looking back to earlier blog entries, but I think I’m finally over the hump at work. With that said, I’ll be trying to catch up and post a few more "sequels" over the next week or so. So for this post I’m once again revisiting our look at how DC Universe Classics is reviving the 1980s touchstone toy line Kenner Super Powers Collection

Of course, I’ll first need to update that iconic pic of the 33 basic Super Powers characters again:

 

Wow.  We’re only one figure away from having the whole line announced. I don’t think anyone saw this coming in their wildest dreams a couple of years ago when the line started, nor that it would happen this quickly. Sure, Scott and the Four Horsemen are big Super Powers fans, but the red tape involved has held back revisiting this line for quite some time. Not to mention DC Direct and Hasbro not having the confidence to look at it when they’ve had the chance. So for all the crap I and others give Mattel, my hat is off to them BIG TIME. No matter how flawed some of the execution might be, I still will take it over not getting these figures. Same goes for the hassle of getting con exclusives.  I’m going to guess we’ll see Samurai in either Wave 16 or 17. And then…the circle will be complete. Or will it?

After all, Kenner did plan on making a whole bunch more Super Powers figures before the line was axed. And they even sculpted a nice set of prototypes for the 4th wave, including Man-Bat, Silcon, Shockwave, Rocketman, El Dorado and Quadrex. While we only have Man-Bat out of that line-up (so far) in DC Universe Classics, we have gotten a lot of the characters that were presented in concept art. In fact, we have enough to complete a whole "imaginary wave", from a certain point of view. As shown below, Mattel has made nice versions of Man-Bat, John Stewart, Kid Flash, Blue Devil, The Wonder Twins, Clark Kent, Bizarro, Vigilante, Deathstroke, and Obsidian. I don’t doubt that Creeper and 70s Supergirl are too far behind. What I really would love to see are new versions of the other Kenner created characters, like Quadrex and Executioner. And now that we have Cyclotron and Golden Pharaoh, that goal doesn’t seem too far out of reach. More to come on this topic…

Would that wrap up the line then? Almost. While it’s true we do have versions of some of the same characters in DCUC, we do not have the Super Powers versions. I don’t think we’ll necessarily get new sculpts for Orion or Kalibak, but we could get repaints that would put them much closer to their earlier counterparts. And of course, we still do need a Dick Grayson college age Robin! How great would it be to get a new 5-pack of these guys below (minus Kalibak) with the new figure being that Robin? I put the pic below together using some customs from other places online and some photoshop tweaking. And I have to say that the idea of a SP colored Mr. Freeze didn’t really appeal to me until I saw Adventurevault’s awesome custom repaint. I want this figure NOW. Custom Robin is by Lesternessman (just incredible work), Penguin is by Rich (check out his other DCUC repaints), and Kalibak is by Tyke. I highly recommend checking out all the links above. Batman and Superman are just more color accurate, with brighter grays and blues than the production figures. In general, ALL of the DCUC figures have duller, less vibrant paint jobs than SP did, even when the paint masters have them. I don’t know how these get so dull in production, because when you see the prototypes at conventions they look fantastic. I really wish they’d ditch the darker oversprays so it didn’t look like Mr. Miracle has been mud wrestling.

 So that’s about it. Once I actually have all of these in hand I’ll probably shoot that pic one more time with all of the figures at once, and put it on here poster sized. And now to work on getting all of these made in 4" scale…

 

 


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