Monday, April 11, 2022

The Best Of 2022: First Quarter

And here we go again! New year means more new toys. We’re just three months in and there already is quite a lot to write about. So let's get the ball rolling with my favorite picks for the first quarter of 2022.

As always let's start with some honorable mentions.

Marvel Legends Eternals

OK so The Eternals wasn’t the major hit that Marvel Studios were hoping for. And maybe it was due to lowered expectations but for the most part I ended up enjoying the movie quite a bit. So much so that it made me look forward to getting the action figures. While most of them are currently warming pegs and going on clearance, I appreciate the fact that Hasbro gave us the complete team. Individually, each Eternal may not be much to write home about but as a group they make for quite a nice display. And I’ll add the Deviant Kro to this group as well. While initial online pictures made him look rather bland, in hand he is quite detailed with very subtle but effective paint apps. And his unique design is a welcome addition to my MCU villains display.

Marvel Legends X-Force

When Hasbro released the mutant Shatterstar in the Marvel Legends line way back in 2017, he felt like a random one off inclusion in a X-Men themed wave. Fast forward five years later and we are now on the verge of completing the entire 90’s X-Force team! Who ever saw that coming! While the initial release of Cannonball was a complete cop-out with him not including any legs, this 3 pack fixes that with a complete Sam Guthrie as well as a much awaited proper 90’s Domino and Rictor. We already have Siryn scheduled for release in a few months and then all we’ll need after that is a Feral to call this team complete!

Marvel Legends Excalibur

With both X-Force and X-Factor teams practically done, the only other 90’s X-Men offshoot team needing some Marvel Legends representation is Excalibur. And this 3 pack nearly gives us the original team in one fell swoop. While I would’ve preferred Megan in her orange costume, I think this green one visually balances the group out better on the shelf. And I have been waiting forever for a proper blue Shadowcat for ages! So now all we need is Rachel Summer’s Phoenix. And for that I’d happily take a deluxe release with some nice phoenix fire effects and a Widget robot thrown in for good measure.

Studio Series 86 Junkheap & Transformers Legacy Deluxes

First up is Studio Series Junkheap. He’s a retool of Studio Series Wreck Gar who was easily one of my favorite main line Transformers releases of 2021. So it's not much of a surprise that Junkheap is just as fun as his Junkion leader. And now he’s got me hoping that Hasbro gives us even more Junkions.

As for the first wave of Legacy Deluxes, while the character selection seems rather random, all of them are solidly built and are welcome additions to the collection. Skids completes the 1985 lineup of Autobot cars that was started in the previous War for Cybertron trilogy. Kickback and Dragstrip have us looking forward to updated Insecticons and a much improved Stunticons/Menasor release, which we sorely need after the terrible Combiner Wars version we got a few years back. And then we have Arcee. While some collectors don’t like it, I personally love the idea of Legacy reimagining characters from other Transformers iterations and “G1-ifying” them. I’m definitely looking forward to the possibility of seeing a Transformers Animated Prowl or a Prime Smokescreen. Hell, I'd even love to see some G1 Rescue Bots!

Marvel Legends Misty Knight & Colleen Wing

Misty Knight is one of those characters I have little attachment to so I easily passed on her 2016 release. Since then, prices on Misty have gone up to around 30-40 USD. So when the opportunity came to get her AND a simple but effective custom of her partner Colleen Wing for around 30 USD, it was too good of a deal to pass up. And to make the deal even sweeter, the previous owner had even touched up and fixed Misty’s eyes as her being wall eyed was a common complaint with the figure. So yeah, finally getting the Daughters of the Dragon to add to my growing street level Marvel heroes is definitely a highlight for this first quarter.

And now we get to the main list of my top ten for 2022….so far.

10) Kingdom Terrorsaur

While Hasbro did a really great job giving us all the main Maximals last year, the Predacons side was left sorely lacking. Which is why I was really looking forward to the release of Terrorsaur. While some die hard Beast War fans cried foul for not getting a completely unique mold for this guy, this major retool of the Maximal Airazor is perfectly fine with me. Airazor was a pleasant surprise for me as she turned out to be one of the best Maximal toys released last year. And I think Hasbro did an excellent job with this retool, sculpting enough unique parts to make this feel like something completely new. Terrorsaur is like an amped up Airazor with more personality in both robot and pterodactyl modes. With Tarantulas and Inferno heavily rumored for this year, I’m definitely looking forward to completing my Predacons sooner rather than later.

9) Black Series Bodhi Rook

Well….that didn’t take long at all! Ever since the release of Rogue One SIX YEARS ago, Black Series collectors have been waiting to finally be able to complete the Rebel team featured in the movie. To be fair, while we got most of them, there was one glaring exception; the Imperial defector, Bodhi Rook. It would seem mind boggling how Hasbro could leave off possibly the most important character from this movie. My memory is a bit fuzzy since it has been SIX YEARS, but I believe that it was Bodhi’s defection that actually sparked off the events of the movie. Every year fans hoped that we would get a Bodhi, and every year we were left disappointed. That is until 2021 when he was finally announced. By this point, I had grown tired of waiting and my Rogue One figures had been overshadowed by more recent releases and had been relegated to the back of my shelf.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am very happy to finally get a Bodhi Rook. But it’s been SIX YEARS. At this point, it feels like just lazily checking off a box. His arrival a mere SIX YEARS after the movie’s release feels very anticlimactic. It also doesn’t help that his character design is rather plain. But he finally completes my Rogue One team and that counts for something. So for that alone, he gets a place in my top ten…. for now.

8) Kingdom Blaster

While I wouldn’t consider Blaster to be a 1st tier Autobot character, I think he comes pretty close. At the very least, he’s one of the more likable Autobots who has had his share of prominent features in both comics and animation. Which is why I find it odd how it took this long to finally get a modern and appropriately sized update for the Autobot Communicator.

Anyway, since the original vintage toy, we’ve had Blaster as a non transformable Action Master, a chunky Alternator, a stealth bomber jet that was basically a lazy recolor of Soundwave and even a Headmaster! Now while the Headmaster version came closest to his vintage self, I found it gimmicky and too big to properly fit in a modern CHUG display. So this is why this new Kingdom version of Blaster is such a….blast. Like I said, he’s a straightforward unique mold that transforms into a stereo boombox and that’s it. No unnecessary base mode or headmaster gimmick. And he fits in perfectly with my Studio Series 86 display. The only knock on this guy is that he only comes with one minion, the Autobot Eject. Who is in itself is a vast improvement over the previously released Rumble and Frenzy for Blaster’s Decepticon counterpart Soundwave. Hopefully we will be getting Rewind, Ramhorn and Steel Jaw soon, but in the meantime Titans Return have given us a fairly decent Ramhorn and Steeljaw (Sawback) as stand-ins.

7) SH Figuarts Boba Fett

When Boba Fett made his long awaited return in season 2 of the Mandalorian, I was one of the many Star Wars fans chomping at the bit waiting for a new Boba Fett action figure. Unfortunately, his own show that followed a year later, The Book of Boba Fett turned out to be quite a big letdown. In my opinion, it ended up doing more bad to the Boba Fett character than good. Regardless, I was still excited to get an updated Boba Fett for the collection. The recently announced Hasbro Black Series one didn’t look quite right to me, so I opted to splurge on the much pricier SH Figuarts version. And while for the most part I think it fits in rather seamlessly with my Black Series collection, I found his helmeted head a little too small for my taste. Fortunately I had an extra helmet that came with Cobb Vanth that he didn’t need so it went back to its rightful owner. It fits fairly well over the unhelmeted head of the SH Figuarts version so problem solved!

6) Robot Paradise Cassetticons

One of the top releases of 2021 was Robot Paradise’s Acoustic Wave which came with only one cassette minion, Rumble….or Frenzy. I had to wait a little over a month to get his other minions that conveniently came together in one standard release. So we got the other robot Frenzy…or Rumble, Ravage and Laserbeak. I know they’re not perfect but in my opinion all of them are vast improvements over the official MP versions from Takara. And they almost complete the perfect display with Acoustic Wave. I just wish they could have included Buzzsaw in order to complete the original minion team. Hopefully he will be coming in another set with even more minions and not a repainted Soundblaster release.

5) Studio Series 86 Sludge

One of the highlights of the Studio Series 86 line is that we are finally getting properly sized Leader class Dinobots. We got Grimlock and Slag last year and for this year we have Sludge. While Sludge is not my favorite Dinobot, he is possibly the best toy of the three current releases. I just love how unique and creative his transformation is. While Snarl and Swoop haven’t been announced, I am hoping that we will see at least one of them before the year ends. But until then, at the very least we have the first three Dinobots that were constructed by the Autobots. And they look fantastic together.

4) Thunder Model La Hire (MPM Hot Rod)

OK so stick with me here. This is a knock off most likely done by Black Mamba of a toy originally released by the company DX9 who is widely believed to be linked to another name, Unique Toys, a company that has found its niche producing some of the best originally designed movie masterpiece Transformers to date. And so given this toy’s lineage, it’s really no surprise that La Hire is yet another close to perfect toy. Based off Hot Rod ( or is it Hut Hrrrrrrud?) from the 2017 live action movie The Last Knight, this guy possesses the trifecta of what makes up a perfect Transformer toy: realistic alt mode, kibble free robot mode, and an involved but fun and intuitive transformation between the two.

3) Fans Toys Rig (MP Huffer)

As far as the original 1984 Ark Crew is concerned, Huffer is probably my least favorite of the bunch. Even as a kid I was turned off by his incessant whining and dopey design. Which is why I was perfectly content with my Bad Cube Huff on my shelf. But then Fans Toys announced their Huffer aka Rig, I decided to give him a try and I’m glad that I did. This toy breaks the typical “Huffer” transformation mold which is basically laying the bot down on his face with his upper half becoming the cab of the truck and his legs becoming the rear. Instead, Rig does the opposite with his legs forming the cab and his upper body forming the rear. You would think that given this unconventional design that it would be a nightmare to transform, but surprisingly, it isn’t. In fact I’d go so far as to say it’s quite fun! I'm still not a big fan of Huffer, but I am a big fan of Rig.

2) Deformation Space Thundercracker & Skywarp

So I know this may seem as a bit of a cheat since Deformation Starscream was part of last year's list at number one no less. But if you want to get technical about it, both Thundercracker and Skywarp did arrive in 2022 and are two distinct and unique characters. Plus it’s my list so what I say goes. What can I say? I love seekers. And I LOVE these seekers by Deformation Space. I may be extremely biased but there is almost nothing wrong with these guys. I even love their transformation, as it takes me quite a lot of self control to not just pick one up to transform whenever I see them. Everytime I see all three of these guys on my display, it brings a smile to my face. And this is exactly what collecting should be all about right?

1) Cybertron Cavaliers (MPM Optimus Prime)

And here we are with my number one. So as the live action movies got progressively worse with each installment, one element which I thought improved with each release was the general designs of the robots themselves. Case in point, Optimus Prime. While I didn’t mind his look in the first three movies, I really liked his cleaner and more “knightly” design in the later two movies. And I especially liked the upgraded sleeker truck design that he transformed into. Unfortunately after peaking with the toy line for the second movie, Revenge of the Fallen, Hasbro shifted gears and started producing simpler and more kid friendly toys for the succeeding movies. So as a result, we never got a decent toy of (lets just call him) “Knight Prime”. All that we got were basically shell formers, with almost the entirety of the truck awkwardly folding up into an oversized backpack on the robot.

Fortunately, a number of third party companies came in with more screen accurate Knight Primes to make up for what Hasbro didn’t give us. Unfortunately, based on online reviews, most of them were poorly designed and were nightmares to transform. Except one that is. Unique Toys took up the challenge and gave us….”Challenger”, their take on Knight Prime. And as expected, it was a winner. You know the drill. Accurate vehicle mode, practically kibble free robot mode, and a transformation sequence that will not make your fingers bleed. But guess what? I passed on it! Instead, I opted for the slightly upsized KO of Challenger called Cybertron Cavaliers by 4th party company Black Mamba. It’s basically Challenger, with a slightly modded chest, additional accessories and even better paint applications as compared to the original. From pictures he already looked quite impressive, but after actually messing around with it for just a few minutes, I instantly knew that I already had a very strong contender for “toy of the year” in my hands. He’s that good.

Even this early in the year, I find it hard to imagine anything unseating this guy from the top spot on my list. But stranger things have happened. So I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what the next 9 months will bring us.