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Legends of the fall: Mattel’s Rockers to arrive in November…but only online

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Rock on(line): Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty…not coming to a store near you. (Those mullets…so lifelike.)

A little more than 12 months ago, Mattel made a Supefly splash with old-school fans at the 2010 Comic-Con with the arrivals of their long-awaited Legends line, including prototypes of a nearly flawless Rockers set of Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty (whose Jakks set immediately sold out years back) as well as Ricky Steamboat and Kevin and Kerry Von Erich (whom Jakks was never able to sign).

My fascination with action figures started with the Six-Million Dollar Man (which I documented here) and peaked with Kenner’s “Star Wars” line. The best birthday memory of my life (except for my 20th, but that’s a wonderfully sordid story for another time) was receiving the entire line of George Lucas figures complete with a Star Wares cake on my 7th birthday on April 30, 1978. Make no mistake-my sister played with Barbie Dolls; I played with action figures.

Though when I was a teen in the late ’80s, I initially scoffed at the “Midnight Rockers,” (their pre-WWF name), as being rip-offs of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express (who in turn were “inspired by the Fabs in the eyes of Memphis fans), Michaels and Jannetty earned my respect with their classic bloody brawls with Doug Sommers and a lean, mean Buddy Rose over the AWA tag straps on ESPN. As PWI and Bill Apter declared, “From Imitators to Innovators!” The duo were also tremendous heels in Memphis-getting heat with the fans and boys alike with their arrogance and prima-donna attitudes. (And why not, with heat heel manager Mark Golleen in their corner?)

Unfortunately, Mattel decided to release three less-than-inspiring sets of tag-teams for its initial Legends two-packs at a price of mark $30, about $5 too high: The Bushwackers (Sheepherders), Roddy Piper (with a bad facial scan) and Bob Orton Jr., and the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff. The sets warmed Toys R Us shelves for months until they eventually were sold as part of buy-one-get free deals.

Entrance Greats, which featured some perfect likenesses of Piper, HBK, Rey Mysterio, The Million Dollar Man and The Undertaker, were eventually eliminated by Mattel as a cost-cutting measure. (The EG line featured stands that played barely audible snippets of each wrestler’s entrance music-a cute concept but again too costly most collectors at around $22.99. Meanwhile, sales of its regular Legends line underperformed, in part because of the economy and also because of some questionable choices (Rick “the Model” Martel, Hillbilly Jim, Jimmy Snuka in tights and boots, and an outdated, 1980-era-attired Sgt. Slaughter). I applaud Mattel for giving us longtime marks quality figures of stars/attires we thought we’d never see produced, but I have to question if they really thought Dusty Rhodes in polka dots from his ridiculous WWF run in the late ’80s was going to be must-get.

In hindsight, Mattel probably should have debuted with the big guns early: The Rock, Bret Hart and Randy Savage, although all of those eventually hit retail or are scheduled too. Personally, I loved the Road Warriors in their NWA attire that was part of Legends Series 1, but Mattel probably would have sold more had Hawk and Animal appeared in their red ’90s-era Legion of Doom garb. Mattel also dragged their feet on title belts, with the exception of its oversized collector straps that looked more a chest plate like the North American title Bill Watts had made in the mid-80s for Magnum. Eventually, Mattel delivered with exceptionally well done, painted title belts (unlike Jakks), including one included with a brilliant Mr. Perfect figure that’s absolutely…well…y’know.

World-class quality figures: Mattel's Kerry Von Erich in his NWA/WWF glory.

This year at Comic-Con, Mattel announced that while the Legends line wasn’t canceled, it was moving exclusively to www.mattycollector.com, with the Rockers available to order in November, followed by Andre the Giant in January. Taking no chances, the site also has a poll in which the fans can decide the following five Legends figures of 2012, which choices including Magnum TA, Barry Windham, Miss Elizabeth and Arn Anderson. Instead, “Flashback” superstars like Papa Shango and Kane in his debut attire will be incorporated into the Elite line, with the majority of these figures likely to be based on stars of the ’90s. Personally, if anything, I hope this allows for the occasional niche figure in the Legends line, as I’d love to have a Nick Bockwinkel w/turkey-platter-sized AWA World title (the so-called “inmate” belt).

O Canada. O Canada!: Hart's "doll" is sure to be a hit, man. (Just don't pick your nose with the flag a la HBK or you're sure to catch heat.)

It’s a shame as the last line to hit stores (probably around September/October) include some of Mattel’s best work, including the Ultimate Warrior, Eddie Guerrero and the aforementioned Von Erichs. In another questionable claw, er, call, Kerry gets two figures: one from his 1985 peak and another when he was a shell of his former self as the Texas Tornado in the WWF.

In some good news for old-school fans, the high-end Defining Moments line will likely include one Legends/Flashback star per set, including an excellent ’97-era Bret “the Hitman” Hart figure, complete with Canadian flag and the Former Fed’s Winged-Eagle championship belt. (It’s pricey, but you can pre-order the Hart figure by clicking here.) Bret Hart was on hand at Comic-Con, trying to be enthusiastic as possible about his “new doll.” Doll? Action figure, please. We are grown men after all-though, admittedly, my wife often takes a look at my ever-expanding collection and shakes her head in dismay.

Then again, Bret was around the WWF in the mid-’80s, when Vince McMahon routinely referred to them as dolls, even attempting to sway the Midnight Express to jump from hot feuds, less travel, and big money in Jim Crockett Promotions so he could make “dolls” in their likenesses. Incidentally, I wonder if Bret is aware that CM Punk raids his wardrobe? I mean, this cap/black shirt/jorts/fanny pack combo look is great, but….)

The Defining Moments line, aimed at older collectors or those younger fans with disposable income, has been amazing, including spot-on Randy Savage and Ultimate Warrior figures from WrestleMania VII and an outstanding Rock figure, complete with Rock ‘n’ Sock Connection jacket from one of the highest-righted skits in RAW history.

Mattel also done a great job of delivering online limited-number exclusives at Ringside Collectibles, including a bald, mask-wearing CM Punk w/removable hood. I expect more will be on the way, instead of producing these at mass retail. Reportedly, the Randy “Macho King” Savage figure, which I posted pictures of earlier, will be available this fall through Ringside Collectibles as a limited-edition production.

Check out at the poll at mattycollector.com. And vote Miss Elizabeth-Macho Man looks lonely on my shelf and Sensational Sherri is currently paired with HBK. (Though, admittedly, that will never last. Hmmm…maybe I do need to grow up and stop being such a mark. Nah-never happen.)

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