Sunday, December 8, 2019

Some Canadian Plastic Goodness Eh

Despite debuting in the pages of the X-Men, having a strong connection to Wolverine and an original comic run of over 100 issues, Alpha Flight isn’t really considered by many as a premier superhero team in the Marvel Universe. Which is a tough break for us few but very loyal Alpha Flight fans, especially toy collectors like myself. For the longest time, having a perfect plastic representation of my Canadian heroes has been nothing but a pipe dream.

In 1999, Toybiz released a series of Alpha Flight 2 packs. There were three all in all; Sasquatch/Vindicator, Northstar/Aurora and Snowbird/Puck. They also released a separate Guardian figure as an exclusive or mailaway. All together these gave us a pretty good representation of the team and for their time they were pretty decent toys. Compared to today’s standards though, their sculpt, detailing and articulation were definitely lacking.

I don’t think these guys did very well considering I came across all of them on clearance a few months later. I was really tempted to scoop them all up but I wasn’t really collecting superhero action figures at the time so I passed on them.

My first foray into collecting superhero action figures started with the 3.75” Marvel Universe line. Over a span of 7 years, the line managed to release a total of four Alpha Flight members...well if you want to be technical about it, they did five if you count the white bird accessory that came with Puck who was supposed to be Snowbird.

Aside from the two aforementioned characters, we also got Guardian, Northstar and Aurora. While they all look great individually, they were far from a complete team and still left many Alpha fans wanting more. Unfortunately the line kinda fizzled out before any more characters could be produced.

Anyway, I think it’s worth mentioning that toy company Diamond Select also released quite a lot of Alpha Flight Minimates sometime around 2012-13. These were very stylized figures though. But they managed to give us all the important Alpha Flight members and then some in Minimate form. They get plus points for making my favorite Alphan, Madison Jeffries/Box II Minimate. So for the longest time, this was my only decent representation of Alpha Flight on my shelf.

After the Marvel Universe line died, I made my transition to the “big leagues” with Hasbro’s Marvel Legends 6” line. When I first started collecting Legends, the only Alpha Flight member out was Puck who was released as a build a figure for a mini Wolverine themed wave of figures. That wave came out when I was still “dipping my toes” in the line and not full fledged collecting so I passed on it.

Now a few years prior to that, before losing the Marvel license to Hasbro, Toybiz did manage to release a couple more Alpha figures, another Guardian and Sasquatch. Now while they were both major improvements over their previous 2 pack releases, they still didn’t match up right in my opinion with the current aesthetics of the Marvel Legends being produced by Hasbro. Admittedly, I was tempted to get myself a Sasquatch since loose second hand versions were readily available everywhere for cheap, I managed a little self control, which ultimately turned out to be the right call.

In 2017, Hasbro finally announced that they would be releasing an updated version of Sasquatch as the build-a-figure for their first X-Men wave of the following year. While many casual fans probably just shrugged and wondered who the hell that big hairy orange ape was, Alpha Flight fans around the world rejoiced! Sure the wave was packed with a lot of mutant goodness, most notably 90’s versions of Cable and Deadpool, but for me, Sasquatch was the real highlight of the wave.

I managed to snag my X-men wave fairly early during a trip to Hong Kong over Chinese New year 2018. And while I waited til I got home to open everyone else, I eagerly removed all the build a figure pieces from the individual boxes and built my Sasquatch on the spot in my hotel room…..and I hand carried him home.

So while I was basking in the joy of having a proper Sasquatch in my collection, it didn’t take long for Hasbro to announce yet another Alpha Flight member to be released in 2019 in the form of Guardian. Now at this point, Hasbro had been sneakily building up various superhero teams, releasing individual members over a multiple waves of releases. And while the more popular teams like the X-men were shaping up nicely, I never allowed myself to dream of seeing a complete Alpha Flight team anytime soon. I mean it would probably take 2-3 years minimum assuming the line managed to last that long. I just figured that Alpha Flight was just too obscure of a team to prioritize over other characters.

And then it happened. On the morning of Aug 24, 2019, as I sat down to eat breakfast, I checked my phone and my jaw dropped. There they were in all their Canadian glory; Northstar, Aurora, Shaman, Snowbird, and Vindicator standing along previously released characters Puck, Sasquatch and Guardian. I had to do a double take to make sure I was not seeing things.

As the highlight of their Canada Fan Expo for 2019 reveals, Hasbro announced the release of an Alpha Flight Marvel Legends BOX SET! And just like that I was in heaven.

After gathering myself, I started to read up on all the details I could find regarding the set. First of all, it turned out that it was a SIX figure set. They were re-releasing Puck with a newly sculpted head which in itself was a huge plus. Ever since it’s release, the original Puck BAF had become quite an expensive and hard to find piece so this was a godsend for all the collectors who missed out on him like myself.

Secondly, this would be an Amazon exclusive which would be released on December 1. This was another plus for me because of all the online retailers, Amazon was by far the friendliest to overseas buyers like myself.

And finally, there was NO WOLVERINE included in the set. THANK YOU HASBRO.

So I immediately went over to Amazon and pre ordered my set. But even with my set pre ordered I still went off to weigh my purchase options. Here was my thinking, I could go with a local preorder from one of the stores in Manila which meant that I would probably get it around late December to early January. The advantage though with getting it locally was that I would get to inspect and choose from a number of sets before buying one to make sure there were no painting quality control issues (yes we collectors really do that).

The advantage with Amazon would be that I would definitely get the set faster. The online price with expedited shipping to the Philippines was even slightly cheaper or at least comparable to the local pre order prices. However, I wouldn’t be able to choose my set and ran the risk of getting one with a lot of paint issues.

So as you can see, I was in quite a pickle of a decision. Get it faster but risk receiving an inferior product or exercise patience and insure getting a good set. Now I know this would be a no brainer most people...duh, just wait. But unfortunately, many collectors aren’t very rational when it comes to items they are extremely excited about, and I personally have very low EQ.

In the end, it didn’t take long to come to a decision, or to be more precise, the decision was made for me as before I knew it, my local go to store sold out on their pre orders….so Amazon it was. And all that was left to do was wait.

Anyway, sometime in early November, I logged into my Amazon account to gaze longingly at my Alpha Flight preorder (sue me I was excited ok?) and to my surprise when I clicked on the product link, it led to a “sorry that page doesn’t exist” page...which obviously got me worried. Was the box set cancelled? Anyway after letting my mind race for a bit, I decided to chill. Despite the missing product page, the item was still listed on my preorder page and I had not received any order cancellation notice from Amazon….so as far as I was concerned all was good. (of course I would re-check to see if the product page came back from day to didn’t.)

Then on Nov 14 I received a surprise shipping notice from Amazon! To my delight Amazon ended up releasing the box set over 2 weeks earlier than expected and my box set was on its way to me. According to the notice it would get to me on the 19th so I readied myself for some Canadian goodness to arrive on my doorstep. Then the online reviews started popping up and a lot of paint QC issues with the set were were being reported and my heart started to sink….but well, there was nothing I could do but wait and just hope for the best.

So a couple days later, while I was out for the day, I decided to randomly track the progress of my shipment to see if it had either left the US already or better yet reached my local shores. To my surprise the shipping status read DELIVERED. I quickly called my house to check and our household help confirmed that a package had indeed arrived and had been delivered by a “big black van”. I found this extra detail quite amusing as it must have been an unusual vehicle for her to bother mentioning it.

Finally, later that night, after a long day capped off with dinner out with the family that seemed to last forever, we finally arrived home and waiting right there for me by the door was a pristine white shipping box. I quickly grabbed it and rushed upstairs to open it and pulled out the most magnificently designed box. I swear you could hear angels singing in the background.

Now when I was younger, my dad would always say, when you get married and your first baby is born, immediately check for 10 fingers and 10 toes as well as any unique distinguishing marks the baby may have to properly identify them later on.

So I flipped open the front cover and immediately started carefully examining each figure one by one through the plastic display window as meticulously as I would a newborn baby.….and they were all…...pretty well painted! I breathed out a sigh of relief. My Alpha Flight was home. And all this time, my wife and daughters were completely oblivious to the extreme state of euphoria I was going through at that very moment ha ha.

And so that in a nutshell is how I finally got a fairly complete representation of Alpha Flight for my shelf. Of course, it’s not REAAAALLLLLLY complete as I would really love Hasbro to give me a Marina, Talisman, Box, a yellow costume Aurora, Purple Girl and of course Madison Jeffries. Perhaps in a second box set? Dare I dream? I also wouldn’t mind a Manikin 4 pack or even a Laura Dean/Goblyn 2 pack he he…well you know how it goes, a collector’s appetite is never satiated.

But I’ll give credit where credit is due. Hasbro took a big risk throwing us Alpha Flight fans this huge bone and for that I will be forever grateful.