Thursday, August 23, 2007

[Review] Tetsujin He Ain't!

So, uh, what is this blog about again?

Oh right, toys. Cheap toys, expensive toys, rare toys and supermarket-shelf crap. Expensive toys for cheap prices are always good.

So this is one of the many subcategories within my collection: what I call, for lack of a better term, "Guys in Suits." And it doesn't really bring to mind toy-collecting- maybe more of a weekly event at a darkened club with thumping music and guys wearing ... never mind. But anyway, I've always been intrigued with the idea that ordinary people could transcend their human limits by donning a special suit, whether said suit is powered by technological mastery or by straight-up magic. Iron Man, Kamen Rider, Blue Beetle, Genesis Climber Mospeada. This is my tribute to my toys of these characters- not all at once, as I don't fancy breaking open every Kamen Rider and superhero toy in my collection. So here we go.

Ultimate Iron Man actually hails from an entirely different universe than the 'real' Iron Man; the "Ultimate" universe arose in one of Marvel's periodic fits of reinvention that occurs every few years (remember Marvel 2099?). In this universe, superheroes live in a darker, flawed world, much more like our own, where I suppose the writers try to rely less on mutants, magic and alien technology, and more on realistic... mutants and alien technology. I try to sound like I know what I'm talking about, but in reality, I've read like 4 comics from Ultimates and have talked extensively to my younger brother about it. So I think, on the Internet, that makes me something of an expert. Anyway, Ultimate Iron Man is the brainchild (if you will excuse the horrible pun) of Tony Stark, who was born in this world made up entirely of nerve cells, as a result of an accident prior to his birth. Being basically a giant brain and other sensory cells, the slightest touch caused Tony extreme pain until a spray-on armor was developed that would allow him to live a fairly normal life. Normal, that is, except for the fact that the armor devoured skin cells, which I assume, was a flaw that was fixed shortly thereafter. Anyway, fast forward a few years and Tony's developed a prototype armored suit because, well because he's friggin' Iron Man. He don't need no reason. He then met the Ultimate universe Jim Rhodes, a.k.a. the only minority at Starks' prep school, as well as Obadiah Stane, a.k.a. Iron Monger, a.k.a. Fatter Iron Man. And that's about all I can remember, and all that Wikipedia can tell me.

So while I don't remember the most about the comic that was Ultimate Iron Man, I did enjoy the design that is Ultimate Iron Man. Ulti-man definitely has a Syd Mead-Turn-A Gundam design aesthetic going on, with a lot of fluid, unbroken lines and a sort-of wonky head. And just as many fans have deemed the Turn-A "worse Gundam ever," Ulti-man's design took a while to grow on me. Overall though, I think I've come to like the new design for his armor- it keeps many of the characteristic elements from the original Iron Man's getup, while drastically streamlining the bulky bits into something that looks like it could have been cobbled together by a pre-teen braniac (hee hee). I just say that because I'm staring at the toy now, and the helmet kind of looks like a motorcycle helmet. Ah, beer. The essence of creative writing.

So Ultimate Iron Man is all kinds of nu-skool cool, but how is his toy? A lot better than I expected, honestly. You see, Ulti-man is one of the first set of Marvel Legends produce by Hasbro, after they took over the line from Toybiz. For some reason or other, as good toymakers inevitably seem to do, Toybiz folded up after producing something like 16 series of Marvel Legends. Amazingly enough, they even had like 2 more sets slated for production when the ship was going down. I say that it was that horrible Walmart exclusive series that did them- you know, the one that was sold only at Walmart and that you had to wait in line at like 5 a.m. to have any chance of getting anything short of that really crappy Age of Apocalypse Sabretooth that all the stores had but nobody wanted, and then you would see all of those figures showing up at the local comic book asshole's store for like $30 a pop, $50 if they were one of the variants like hamburger-face Wolverine or one of Wasp's ten different outfits, cause that girl was like Barbie with her wardrobe. Ok. Breath. Yeah, vengeful toy gods are a bitch. So now Hasbro has the rights to produce Marvel Legends, and they're doing a damn good job, if you ignore things like Really Happy Hercules and the incredibly not-hot White Queen (ironic because she was supposed to be this hot temptress in the comic, but her toy was probably the ugliest female figure ever produced. ever. even worse than the original Lady Jay. or should I say, Man-Jay.).

So things I like about Hasbro's Ultimate Iron Man. They brought back the chrome. Hell, yes. This was a great reference to the early 90s Toybiz Iron Man series, where all of the figures featured a standard figure and crazy chromed-out extension armor. I guess it didn't seem all that odd at the time, because it was the 90s and the Rob Liefeld-armor-everywhere look was in, but really, why would Iron Man have armor. Isn't that a bit redundant (and yes, I am completely aware that the Thorbuster Armor is an exo-armor for the standard suit)? They had Hydro-armor, Inferno-armor, Glacier-armor- I think they finally decided that it had gone too far when Iron Man started strapping on his Samurai armor before going off to fight Fin Fang Foom. Frankly, I thought those figures sucked when they first came out, but in a fit of late-night eBay nostalgia, I bought like 10 of them last year. So, uh, go me. Chrome rocks.

The paint on this figure is fairly good. Minimal slop, which is incredible for a mass production figure. I also appreciate the black wash on the mechanical details on his grey armor; I realize that kind of thing is pretty standard nowadays, but it looks good.

Articulation is kind of a mixed bag for me. The legs and arms are highly poseable, as would be expected for a Marvel Legends toy, but the joints feel gummy- I'm afraid to try for the full range of motion as it sometimes feels like some internal mechanism is on the brink of failure. Ankle movement is terrible; rather, the ankles don't move at all. I think the biggest killer for me, however, is that the hands are permanently fixed in an open palm position. This really limits the poses for the figure, unless, I suppose you want him to bitch-slap Mandarin. Or be incredibly fancy.

What I don't like: two things. First, something about the balance of this figure is off. The only way that he'll stand up is if I pose him in sort of a slouch with his hips pushed forward. He's stuck in a permanent crotch-thrust. Second- and this one is much worse- the helmet of the figure is removable. That in itself is not a fatal flaw; the true horror comes when you take off the helmet. What. The. Hell. That is NOT Tony Stark under there. No, my friend, that is Evil Spock wit da CRAZAY EYES. Hasbro, yer givin' kids nightmares.

So, while this toy has its share of flaws (and what toy doesn't?), overall, the throwback chrome on Ultimate Iron Man wins my heart. Whether intentional or not, he's a good mix of old toy styling and new toy innovations, and indicates bright things ahead as Hasbro carries the torch of the Marvel Legends.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

[OT] Trip to Kauai

Every so often when the overlords are distracted by a nearby prisoner scuffle, I'm able to wriggle free of my shackles and scramble through the darkened tunnels of the salt mine toward the surface. Sometimes if I'm lucky, I can reach the surface and feel the sunshine on my pallid skin and grab a few lungfuls of that sweet, fresh air before they find me with their electrified cattle prods and drag me, screaming, back down to my station. I kid, really. They prefer to use tranquilizer guns.

But I did manage to catch a break and take a few days away in June to have a vacation to Kauai with my significant other. These are some of the photos that I took with my camera phone on that trip. If you're wondering why we did not have a real camera with us, we did. Before we left on the plane, I made sure that one of us was carrying a portable digital camera. While I'm not blaming anyone for this, it did happen that when we stepped off of the rental car lot and turned on the camera, it immediately displayed a 'low battery' indicator. Cameras have a tendency to do that when they are not recharged for months at a time.

But midway through the first day, I did discover the camera function of my new phone, so I took a handful of pictures throughout the trip. We did buy a few disposable cameras, but I haven't gotten around to having those developed yet. I think it involves dropping them off somewhere, but I need to figure out where this place is...

Hm, so this first photo is from a secluded beach in Kauai. Secluded, that is, except for the other fifty tourists who had arrived before us. This beach, you see, was accessible only by a steep trail that wound its way up a mountainside through a rocky forest, over a barren and wind-swept mountain path, and finally down through a muddy dirt path, before depositing us on a riverbank across from the beach. Naturally, one of us fell in the water in crossing said river. Here's a hint: it wasn't me.

Another photo of the opposite side of the beach. This would have been a better photo without the half-naked guy running by.

The second photo was taken on our way back up the mountain. I took a photo of this plant, because I swore that it was a breadfruit tree (there were weird pineapplish fruits on another part of it). My girlfriend seemed to think that it was some sort of palm. Unfortunately, I couldn't get close enough to the fruits to validate my claim.

Another photo on our way back down the trail. This might just look like a muddy pile of rocks, but it was actually a very small stream. Unfortunately, I didn't take a photo of the much more impressive river (that one of us fell in), which had crystal clear water and was full of small gobies and other fish.

A picture of my reward after a hard day of climbing. That night we had dinner at the Hanamaulu Restaurant and Tea House, which serves local-style Japanese and Chinese food (famous, apparently, for its garlic fried chicken). The portions were generous and my tempura teishoku, combined with the remainder of my girlfriend's plate of garlic chicken and a large bottle of Sapporo Black, were collectively sufficient to ensure a food coma that night.

The next morning, we had an early wake-up to take a trip on Capt. Andy's catamaran, which would take us out past the Na Pali coast, and let us swim with the fishies in a hopefully shark-free reef. Now, as you might be able to guess if you know me at all, I hate waking up early on vacation. Thus, in exchange for waking up at 5:00 am for a wet drive down to the harbor to ride on a boat full of tourists, I was expecting the best goddamn boat ride of my life. Perhaps I should have lowered this threshold just a bit. This first photo of that experience was taken early in the morning- probably about 7:30 am or so. The day was quite pretty.

Midway into the trip, a pod of dolphins swam up to the boat and frolicked in the water. Ok, this was pretty damn cool. Another common sight on the trip was the schools of flying fish that would break out of the water and buzz through the air for amazing distances.

Now the photos stop. No, I did not run out of memory on my phone. I was too busy lying on my side in the back of the catamaran trying to keep myself from inadvertently feeding the fish. This activity continued for about the latter 60% of the trip. On a brighter note, I got an awesome sunburn on one side of my legs from lying out in the midday sun for a couple of hours. After the hurting stopped, it looked like I was dipped in chocolate like those dipped shortbread cookies. Cancerous chocolate.

Capt. Andy's bathrooms. I'm sure I had a witty comment for this photo at some point. Shit and pirates. Yeah. ARRRR! Swab me poop deck, laddie! No wait, that's not right.

The second of two great hamburger places that we visited on this trip. The first was Kalapaki Beach Hut (fairly delicious); this is Ono Char Burger. The burgers were ok, given that we ate them about an hour after purchasing (due to a bathroom emergency), but what really blew me away was this weird berry shake from Ono's. I can't remember the name of the berry unfortunately. Juwannaberry? Yeah, that's it.

There was a sign at the burger stand that said something to the effect of "THESE BURGERS ARE NOT MADE WITH FISH. ONO IS A NAME, NOT THE FISH." If there was ever a sign of a tourist town, that would be it.

Last photo is of the coastline along the single highway that circled the island. We stopped here for an impulse photo, and ran into a family from the infamous Capt. Andy's Barf-o-matron. Boat, what boat?

So maybe we'll see some of the disposable camera photos when I get around to developing those. As an added bonus, one of the cameras might not be ours! (We may have accidentally taken someone else's camera on the boat, because everyone had the same disposable camera).

Can't Beat the Real Thing

Caught some afternoon sun as I was moving things around my apartment, and decided on an impulse to take a shot of my Maverasu.

No matter how much I love my photo booth, you can't beat natural light for producing vibrant color in photos.