Tuesday, July 13, 2021

The Best Of 2021: Second Quarter Part 1

We’ve now hit the midpoint of 2021 and it's time once again to take stock of what new toys have been added to the shelf. Things haven’t really slowed down at all these past 3 months so it was quite the challenge trying to figure out how my running top ten list would evolve for the 2nd quarter. But that’s really what I think makes this exercise fun. So let’s get to it shall we?

As always, for the first part, let’s go through some of my favorite additions to the collection that didn’t quite crack the top ten.

Marvel Legends Death Dealer

The jury is still out on whether this character will be one worth remembering in the MCU universe. But basing it solely on the figure design itself, this for me was the highlight of the Shang-Chi wave. Granted his robe limits the mobility of the figure, it’s still workable. It’s all the sculpted detailing and those intense piercing eyes that really win me over.

Kingdom Airazor & Ultra Magnus

I decided to lump these two together because they fall in the same “pleasant surprise” category. Airazor was a character I wasn’t very familiar with as a casual Beast Wars fan. But I was quite impressed by her toy in hand. While her falcon mode is not perfect, it’s pretty damn good. And the transformation into robot mode and back is quite enjoyable.

As for Ultra Magnus, I already had the Siege toy which this Kingdom version was retooled from. And I was already lukewarm on that initial toy to begin with. So this was basically more of a box check to complete the 86 movie cast for me. But for whatever reason, I ended up really liking this more traditional and cleaner version of the Autobot City Commander. Like I said...it was a pleasant surprise. Definitely an Ultra Magnus that I can deal with right now.

Marvel Legends Crimson Dynamo

I initially passed on this BAF figure since I wasn’t familiar with this more modern take on the Crimson Dynamo. But I got so swept up by the excitement of the impending release of fellow Winter Guard members Darkstar and Ursa Major, that I decided to give this guy a shot in order to flesh out my Soviet Super team. And I’m glad I did since he ended up being a great figure. While I prefer the more traditional comic version, I can appreciate this more brutish design which admittedly I think looks more visually interesting. And he looks fantastic alongside my growing ranks of Super Soviets.

Marvel Legends US Agent

While most casual fans' first introduction to John F. Walker was through the Disney+ series Falcon and the Winter Soldier. I was very familiar with the character and his fairly tragic origin story in the pages of the Captain America comic book. While I still don’t have his “Captain America” figure, I did get this US Agent figure which was part of the first Disney+ Marvel Legends wave. In his own words, ”It’s the same...but black”. Personally I prefer this version since it will be Walker’s identity moving forward in the MCU. As a sculpt, this is hands down the best figure of the bunch in my opinion (sorry Falcon Cap but your wings kinda suck). Unfortunately, Habro basically scrimped on his accessories. They couldn’t even be bothered to give him a shield! And they even got the detailing of his costume wrong. I decided to go the extra mile to give this guy his just due. I had his stripes properly painted and the A-star removed from his forehead to give me a proper US Agent for my shelf.

Aoyi Mech Oversized Jetfire

While I agree that the live action Transformers movies were pretty bad and got progressively worse with each installment, I have generally always liked the overtly busy Bayverse robot designs. And this year I fell deep into the “movie masterpiece” rabbit hole. Jetfire’s depiction as an ancient and decrepit ex-seeker in “Revenge of the Fallen” was probably one of the movie’s “bright points” and so I was pretty stoked to add this guy to the collection. This is the oversized knock off of the Studio Series release which is a good thing. Being a knock off, (4th party?) this one is only slightly more expensive than the official version, but what you get for the extra spend is quite a lot. First of all, there are additional painted details and slight design modifications making even more screen accurate. You also get better materials including some diecast parts. And finally, being oversized, you get a bigger toy. This guy is pretty huge and the proper size in my opinion for an MPM collection.

Transcraft Mohican & Black Mamba Ares Nitrogen

By the fifth installment “The Last Knight”, the Transformers live action movies were pretty much unwatchable. Still, Bay managed to pepper in some “memorable” robot characters in the movie. Granted most of them were closer to lazy character stereotypes, I still found most of the members of Megatron’s crew fairly amusing, particularly Mohawk and Nitrogen Zeus. So much so that after being blown away by a certain purchase that I will cover later on, I felt compelled to try and flesh out as much of “The Crew” as was possible in “movie masterpiece” form.

Mohican was 3rd party company Transcraft’s take on the biker punk Mohawk. This dude may be tiny but he packs in a lot of personality and they didn’t scrimp on any of the paint and detailing. Ares Nitrogen on the other hand is an oversized version of the Studio Series version of Nitrogen Zeus by Black Mamba. And just like most “4th party” KOs, he checks off all the important boxes of better paint, materials, engineering, and super friendly price. Throw in an even cheaper knock off Barricade and I’m more than halfway to completing the Crew.

Studio Series 86 Scourge

Hasbro’s Studio Series 86 line continues to churn out more great toys, and this time around it’s the hunter seeker leader of the Sweeps, Scourge. I have always had a specific affinity for this character, because he is widely recognized by the fandom as the reformatted version of Thundercracker, who is my all time favorite Decepticon. So while I admit there may be a little bit of a bias here, I really do think that this version of Scourge FINALLY gets it right. While many detractors are basically calling this a shell-former, I don’t really take it against this guy since traditionally Scourge’s design has always been that of a shell-former. What I do love is that he’s got very nice articulate and shaped “bat wings” that neatly fold up to form the bulk of a generally clean and sleek surfboard ship alt mode. And while it may be an insignificant detail to most, I really appreciate that they sculpted his left hand in a slightly open palmed position rather than the typical closed fist with a 5mm hole in the middle. It's a little thing but it adds a little more character to the toy in my opinion.

Marvel Legends Arnim Zola & MODOK

I lumped these two Legends together under the “monstrosity/oddity” category :)

Arnim Zola was one of those classic villain characters that I held off getting when he was readily available. And you know where this is going, once I decided to go and get him (inspired by the impending release of a new Red Skull), he was nowhere to be found. Eventually, I finally found a decently priced one that was actually a variant version that had the Red Skull face on his chest. I figured this would probably be the best shot I would get of this guy so I bit the bullet. After doing a bit of online research I found out that it was fairly simple to switch the face on his chest and so I ended up placing in a classic Jack Kirby drawn Arnim Zola face which for me was the definitive version of this guy.

While MODOK's rather...unique look has often made him the butt of many jokes, I have always liked his design. MODOK is another classic Marvel villain that I didn’t hesitate to add to the collection. Hasbro really pulled out all the stops on this guy and I love the fact that you can store all his extra accessories inside his huge noggin. He definitely has an undeniable presence on the shelf. Every time one of my toy’s causes my wife to exclaim “What the hell is that???”, I know that I have a keeper.

Legendary Toys Wasp (MPM Bumblebee)

Before I completely fell into the Transformers “movie masterpiece” rabbit hole, I originally set out to *just* complete the 2007 movie Decepticon and Autobot lineups. Of all of these, Bumblebee was one of the lowest priorities for me since I figured the MPM figure and the ironically superior KO version would be readily available at any time. Then the solo Bumblebee movie happened and all of a sudden the focus for Hasbro and other 3rd party/KO companies was making the more traditional “Beetle” version of Bee. Add to that some notable Chinese KO companies being raided by the police and all of a sudden, the MPM Camaro Bee was one of the hardest to find and most sought after toys in the secondary market. After a few close calls, I finally managed to snag myself one (again another story for another post) and this finally completed my 2007 Autobot lineup. Like most of my MPMs, the version I got wasn’t the official one, but a 4th party KO which, you guessed it, trumps the official one in materials and painted details.

The challenge of finally being able to get this guy in my collection definitely earns him a spot as one of my more memorable purchases of the year.

And that pretty much caps off my honorable mentions. Stay tuned for part 2 where I’ll get to my updated top ten list of 2021.