NECA 1/4 scale Gipsy Danger

Finally got the 18 inch NECA Gipsy Danger. And I gotta say, this thing is way better in functionality than the NECA Iron Man Mk 7. It's got great articulation and actually holds pretty complex poses without any fuss. This was the biggest problem with the Iron Man figure. The feet are ratcheted, come in two separate sections, and feel solid and reliable. Even with a pose leaning backwards like in the last photo, there's no danger of tipping over. Joints on limbs aren't overly loose or super tight, they're just about right.

The swords that you can attach to the arms are made out of flexible vinyl and don't hold a straight shape, so you'll see some curvature. I don't mind it too much, but I suspect over time gravity will make them droop even more. The hands are molded into fists, so you don't actually have the ability to give him open hand poses. A second set of switchable hands would've been appreciated, but it's no big deal.

The sculpt obviously looks great, since NECA probably just went and used the CGI model files straight from the movie. All the exposed hydraulic and shiny metallic sections on the robot actually do look metallic, which is a great feat, considering they're primarily vinyl.

The most problematic aspect of the figure is probably the weathered look they gave it. NECA did not go and make a clean, fresh-from-the-factory representation of Gipsy Danger. Instead, they wanted to make it look mildly weathered and dirtied up, from years of fighting Kaiju. While that's admirable, the result is not exactly all that convincing when you lean in and pay close attention. A lot of the scuffs and scrap marks look like some careless Chinese factory worker just haphazardly slapped them on with a paint pen, which is probably exactly what happened. It's not something noticeably lackluster at a distance, but the effect just doesn't hold up under scrutiny.

Overall, I'm pretty pleased, considering I picked it up on clearance for about 70 bucks. This is absolutely the best version of Gipsy Danger to get and the articulation is excellent considering the sheer size of the thing. I can't wait to see how many different battle poses this thing can put on.

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Diamond Select's Enterprise-D Refit

The Enterprise D refit from the TNG episode "All Good Things..." on top of my rotating display stand. This is pretty much Diamond Select taking their regular Ent D and gluing a bunch of crap onto it. And it looks awesome, I gotta say. They're all really accurate to the attachments on the show version. The big ass phaser cannon on the bottom of the saucer is partitioned, so you can still perform the saucer separation like you could with the regular version. The only real issue I've found is that there is a very annoying seam at the bottom of the strut for the third nacelle, where the two pieces of the strut meet together. You can actually see it in the photo, it's a big gap. Seems like they just didn't bother screwing or gluing the two sections together. This can easily be fixed with some krazy glue though. The additions that look the best and fit most organically with the original hull are the three phaser strip attachments on top of the warp nacelles. They fit quite seamlessly and look natural.

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NECA 1/4 scale Iron Man Mk 7

Picked up NECA's 1/4 scale Iron Man Mark 7.

For the price (80-90 bucks), it's not bad. The paint is nice and glossy, as you'd want for Iron Man. I believe the shoulder pads are actually a bit further out from the torso then on the actual suit, but I think NECA sacrificed accuracy for the added articulation.

The articulation in general is okay, but my favorite pieces are the air brakes/flaps on his back. You can actually get 3 individual flaps on each side. There's a large lower flap, an upper flap, and then a smaller gray flap on the upper flap that you can flip out. You can have them all fully opened, or even pose them in mid-deployment, like a lotus opening up.

The figure comes with two sets of hands, open repulsor-ready, or closed fists. I switched them to the fists cause that's what I prefer. But a warning, those hands really require some strength to fit all the way into the sockets. I tried my hardest and you can still see some gap between the hands and the rest of the arm. As for the hand covers, those are actually made out of flexible vinyl, so no need to worry about those getting damaged.

There's also light-up features for the eyes, chest reactor, and hands. The lit up eyes look really good in the dark:

Personally, I prefer to have just the eyes lit up, because the chest light is actually pretty damn bright and a bit overpowering.

Now, are there problems? Well, yeah... the quality control on this figure is pretty shocking. The two main problems I found on my figure are shown here:

1) The back of the helmet has chipped off and exposed the plastic. It's not just some paint that's gone either, there's some chunk of the actual helmet missing. Obviously not that noticeable when you're displaying the figure from the front, but still.

2) Look at the lower torso. Why are there three yellow strips on one side, but only two on the other side? Because the entire torso assembly is crooked. My Iron Man figure arrived with scoliosis of the spine. I've tried to straighten it out but nope, it doesn't seem to be an articulation. The torso's stuck in this curved position. Now, that doesn't mean it's that bad of a pose, as my pics show, but it would be nice to be able to have him in some other poses. As it is, my Iron Man is stuck as more of a statue.

Outside of those glaring quality control problems, the figure is hard to keep from falling. The legs and feet aren't weighted at all, so the whole thing is just top heavy and inevitably leads to the falling. The joints in the feet aren't very strong or ratcheted so they can give out and cause the torso to gradually lean forward, where the weight brings it falling down. It's already fallen down twice since I've gotten it and scraped some gold paint off of the top of the helmet. NECA probably would've been wise to have included a stand in the box.

It's a nice shiny display figure for the price you're paying, but with all the issues I've noticed... probably not one of NECA's better 1/4 scale figures.

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Masterpiece Soundwave

Finally got a used Masterpiece Soundwave for a semi-decent price on ebay. Didn't come with all the cassettes or accessories but that's okay.

Laserbeak is definitely the best of the cassette designs. The way it snaps together and forms into the exact same Laserbeak from the cartoon is incredibly satisfying. I've got him perched up on Soundwave's shoulder right now but he'll probably end up on his arm soon. There's a little transparent tab on the arms that Laserbeak's feet can stick on to hold firm. Ravage on the other hand feels very delicate and his feet are super loose. And really, probably the least accurate translation from the cartoon.

Soundwave himself is really blocky and weighty, with diecast feet giving good stability for poses. My biggest gripe is probably just the fact that Hasbro went and gave him a yellow visor. G1 cartoon Soundwave is supposed to have red eyes and that's what the Japanese release had, but when it made it over here to American toy stores, they needlessly changed the eyes so now it's not accurate to the cartoon. A real shame.

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Update: Burning Godzilla 95 with the tail attached

Finally cleared out some room to display Burning Godzilla 1995 with the tail attached. While he's about 18 inches wide and 18.5 inches tall, the tail actually makes it 34 inches long. That's... a lot of room taken up.

Here I've got him positioned right in front of the poster for the movie he's from, Godzilla vs Destroyah.

This is his final resting spot, right next to the smaller 12 inch Godzilla 1989.

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Review: American Sniper

"It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived." -George S. Patton

"Unfocused" is the best word I'd choose to describe American Sniper. The movie just really lacks the singular vision and tight cohesion of something like The Hurt Locker or Zero Dark Thirty. As a character study of a man, we don't get any great insight that I can tell. Who Chris Kyle is at the beginning of the film is basically the same man that we see at the end of the film. Eastwood's movie Kyle has almost no character arc or progression, which is perfectly fine for a real person, but problematic in a storytelling narrative.

At the beginning, we see Kyle's father instill in him a guiding ethos: "There are 3 kinds of people in this world. Wolves. Sheep. And sheepdogs. Be the sheepdog." Basically his Uncle Ben moment, if you will. And that's pretty much what Kyle does for the remainder of the film. He's the sheepdog, protecting the sheep from the wolves. He does it as a child, protecting his brother from schoolyard bullies. And he does it throughout his tours in Iraq. Throughout the film, Kyle is the stalwart, patriotic, God-fearing, terrorist-hating American sniper. And that's great if that's how Chris Kyle really was in real life, to have that kind of devotion and principled life. But it's not terribly compelling to watch this unchanging, perfected hero for two hours.

I'm not one of those critics demanding that the movie give me a Chris Kyle who turns out to be some bleeding-heart liberal, but there should've been some real wrinkles to dig into. As it is, the movie matter of factly rolls along on a very standard chain of tours of duty in Iraq, periodically punctuated by brief half-hearted scenes at home that leave very little impression. These breaks from the dramatic war sequences should have been great opportunities to deliver some emotion and add dimension to the movie. Unfortunately, it ends up feeling rather flat. And we know Eastwood is a director who can give a very distinct and powerful vision to his films. "Letters from Iwo Jima" is a fantastic war film that shows off some real truths about war. Here, I get the sense that Eastwood might have wanted to go in some direction like that, but felt constrained by the duty to honor Kyle's memory. And we end up with a film that's just unfocused and doesn't have anything to say.

Bradley Cooper does a great performance as Kyle, but that's to be expected of him these days. He first blew me away with Silver Linings Playbook and has never stopped honing his craft. Sienna Miller is a good actor, but here she's given the thankless role of the cliched war-weary military spouse. She does the best she can but there's not much there for her talents. There's the tired predictable scene of her demanding that he either quit the military or she's leaving. It's just a well-worn, cliched role that we've seen countless times. She's about the only real person in Kyle's home life as well. The movie strangely drops subplots left and right that I thought were actually leading somewhere. After all, the first person Kyle protects is his brother, and we do see him later on in life joining the Marines. Later, there's a scene where he meets his brother coming back from Iraq clearly suffering from PTSD. And... that's the last we see of him. Nothing afterwards about him. That entire plotline is dropped and forgotten about. I suppose we're to assume Kyle just shrugged and dismissed him from his life. It's bizarre and feels like scenes were cut out.

Now, I do think Eastwood does a good job of portraying the Iraq combat scenes. They're about on par with those of The Hurt Locker and that's what I was most reminded of while watching. Like Bigelow, Eastwood doesn't shy away from showing the dirty, horrific, unspoken atrocities of war that mainstream audiences are often shielded from. There's one especially cringeworthy scene involving a boy with a screwdriver that still makes me wince just from memory. You really feel the horror of the moment and it just goes to show that barbaric acts in Iraq didn't just start with the rise of ISIS. Kudos to Eastwood for having an unblinking eye and daring to go there. It also does then make sense to the audience why Kyle calls the insurgents savages and animals. It's not because Kyle was some racist redneck... it's because that's how any rational human being would react to such acts.

Now, with that being said, I have to say that I didn't care for the final battle scene of the film, which takes place during a tremendous sand storm. Everything becomes a sea of yellow sand and haze and you can't really see anything. I guess Clint was going for a very chaotic and disorienting look for the battle, but it was so hard to see anything that I just felt frustrated and gave up. It may someday be possible to shoot a war scene in an intense sand storm and look beautiful and coherent, but that day has not yet arrived.

Throughout the film, Kyle keeps going back to Iraq. He says he feels the impulse to protect his fellow soldiers and SEALs. It's this compulsion, almost. But then we get to the final battle and Kyle finally kills Mufasa, the elite insurgent sniper who's been haunting his unit deployments. And after killing him, Kyle finally phones home to his wife and says he's ready to come home. Now, this fell completely flat for me. And obviously, I don't think it was supposed to. I suspect it was meant to be an emotional and cathartic moment. After all, he's been compelled to go back time and time again. Now he kills this one sniper and it all changes? It doesn't make sense to me. The death of the sniper is... I mean, from a simplistic revenge standpoint, that's good. He avenged the deaths of his friends. But this drive to be in Iraq, that seemed like it was meant to represent something deeper within Kyle's character, and I never felt that the death of the sniper satisfactorily resolved that. And so that phone home to his wife just felt strange and bewildering. It's meant to signify something huge, that the past two hours have been leading up to, but the enemy sniper never seemed like he represented all that much.

Also, I get the sense that Eastwood was a great admirer of the HBO miniseries Generation Kill, cause he used at least three of the main cast in this film, including Godfather. It gets to the point where it's slightly distracting having those familiar faces show up.

Chris Kyle accumulated over 160 kills over four tours of duty in Iraq. He achieved this through a great deal of skill, patience, and focus. I just wish this film had that same amount of focus.


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Review: Justice League Throne of Atlantis

Yeah... this was kinda bullshit.

It's great that they gave Mera more of an active role, whereas I've mostly known her as Aquaman's gf for most of my life. But it's fucking hard to root for her and their budding relationship when she's suddenly switched on into a bloodthirsty mass murderer, decapitating people left and right or shooting icicles into their skulls. That's just way too far. And these are HER people! Holy shit.

I don't care for Superman's new outfit. The high collar and weird armor look and black S symbol on the cape are incredibly off-putting. They also gave him a neck thicker then his head, which looks ridiculous. Wonder Woman's outfit is also pretty damn bad. I'm not even sure why they're going with this look, when she has a very different outfit in the New 52 comics.

Overall, I'm alright with the art style, though in some shots and angles the noses appear huge. Not a fan of that big nose look, they could tone that down quite a bit.

Green Lantern... my god, I can't fucking stand this interpretation of Green Lantern. What were they smoking when they came up with this? Since when is Hal Jordan a fratboy douchebag? Uttering cringeworthy lines like "Bro, I caught them!" This is Hal Jordan? That's not any Hal Jordan I'm familiar with. I mean, even Kyle Raynor at his most derpy noobish self never sank this low. Horrible, horrid character.

The opening scene with Arthur has him causing a huge bar brawl. Which wouldn't be terrible, except... it seems to go on for ten minutes, with waves of big burly men repeatedly throwing themselves at Arthur, when it's been demonstrated repeatedly that he's some kind of superpowered freak. Why do they keep fighting him? It makes zero sense. Now, you look at Arnold's intro in Terminator 2, and that's what a scene like that should've been like. Realistic people reacting to an inhuman intruder. They get scared, and back off. Not just continuing to fight like idiots when the guy keeps effortlessly beating your skulls in. Just awful nonsense.

So... they capture a Virginia class attack submarine for its missiles? But a Virginia's Tomahawk cruise missiles fly in the air. That's odd, when they then clearly shoot torpedoes underwater at Atlanteans. Why did they mention the missiles, when they used the torpedoes? Were they really too afraid to say "torpedoes" in case it'd confuse the audience? This is perplexing. Of course, I was also completely thunderstruck at the image of poor Atlanteans being burned to death in huge fires... while UNDERWATER. Seriously, how do you have these torpedoes causing raging fires while at the bottom of the ocean?

The production value in certain sequences of this animated film are simply atrocious. The initial intro with Batman chasing some of Crane's henchmen is probably the most glaring example of this. What do we get? Crane's henchmen in a getaway car, driving down completely empty, deserted streets while Batman chases in his plane, flying past sterile, CGI buildings. This is the sort of low rent bullshit that got Beware the Batman canceled. Here, see for yourself:

Look at that. Just embarrassing.

Why would the US army rush to face... a tsunami? This made no sense. Was there a scene missing or cut out? There's clearly a tremendous tsunami heading for the East Coast, but the response is to send out M1 Abrams main battle tanks and soldiers with M-16s? Pointing their rifles at a giant wall of water? Huh?

Arthur finally learns he can communicate with animals in the ocean. Which is his trademark ability, so sure... they had to stick it in. And it's fine, except that... well, you've gotta wonder why he didn't use it to communicate with the Cthulhu monster that Superman's beating up. Why does it only seem to work on sharks and whales and fish? You're expecting Arthur to bring Cthulhu over to his side and fight for the JLA, but nope... Superman's just gotta pound it. It's never explained.

What does this do well? Well... it does work as an origin story for Aquaman, sure. As an introduction to Aquaman's world and resuscitating his image in the mainstream, yeah this worked. But it doesn't do nearly as well as the Wonder Woman animated film, which really hit all the right notes and made you fall in love with the character. That's still the finest animated movie WB has put out, in my humble opinion. I can tell they're trying for the same endgoal with this film, but the execution's lacking. You're kinda maybe rooting for Arthur and him getting the girl (Mera) but you're also a little traumatized after seeing her bisect multiple people with ice daggers. There are plenty of bizarre choices made in the production of this film.


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X-Plus's Godzilla 1989 30cm Figure

Well, with my previous blog I showed off the 18 inch Gigantic Burning Godzilla 1995 from X-Plus. But in addition to that huge hulking vinyl figure, I also went ahead and made the decision to get a 30 cm (or 12 inch) X-Plus figure of the 1989 Godzilla from "Godzilla vs. Biollante." My reason was just that I wanted a "normal" Godzilla figure without the burning patches. The 30cm figures are also extremely suit accurate, which would be a nice difference from the very stylized and exaggerated design of the 1995 Gigantic figure.

The figure finally arrived, and uh... well, I can only say that I'm quite let down by X-Plus. After the tremendous quality control and overall perfection of the 1995 Burning figure, I was expecting more of the same from the 1989 Godzilla, and sadly that just isn't the case. It's definitely a disappointment in several ways. For a 160 dollar collector's figure, the quality control just isn't up to snuff. Read on as I explain.

Well, at first glance, it looks fine doesn't it? The big muscled chest and thighs of the '89 Heisei design are well represented on the sculpt. The tail curves off to the side to allow a little space savings on the desk, and the claws and toes are all finely painted with yellowish tints to convey a realistic animal look. The mouth is open with good looking multiple rows of teeth, all individually painted. It's a nice first impression. However, it doesn't take long to notice the first problem, which starts at the feet:

The feet don't actually lay flat with the desk. While the undersides of the feet are actually sculpted, the feet themselves are completely off the ground at the heels. It's like Godzilla is simply walking around on his tip-toes. That's just not a good look. Now, I have heard that vinyl tends to droop and sag as it ages and gravity eventually takes a toil, so perhaps in a year or two this problem will go away. This is the first 30cm vinyl figure I've bought from X-Plus, so I have no real experience with the phenomenon. I sure hope that happens, because having Godzilla perpetually tip-toeing is quite embarrassing.

The next problem is found on the head:

Now, the head sculpt itself looks quite good. It's a good feline-looking design and definitely resembles the movie suit's head. The teeth are all sharp and individually painted so they look fantastic. The eye itself is painted with a yellowish pupil and then a darker brown on the outside. Looks fine. However, turn the head and you see:

No, that's not a shadow over the other eye. What you're seeing is a very different looking eye. The brown paint of the outer part of the eyeball has spilled over and covered up most of the pupil's yellow. This is a bad paint mistake that completely changes the look of his right eye. I have no idea why this wasn't caught in quality control but it should've been. As it is, if you're simply looking at the figure from a profile view, it isn't so bad as you only see one eye... but if you ever look straight on at the figure from the front, the two different-looking eyes definitely stand out, in a negative way. *sigh*

Now, let's look at Godzilla's back and dorsal plates.

While it's mostly good and uniform, you can see that the red arrow is pointing to a centerline dorsal plate that is clearly crooked. I'm not sure what happened there. While sticking the tail piece onto the main body, I certainly didn't hold onto the dorsal plates, so it wasn't my clumsy doing.

Now, one unique gimmick of this 30cm figure is that it has an articulated mouth. Unlike the other vinyl figures made by X-Plus that are solely meant to be statues, you can move Godzilla's lower jaw so his mouth is either wide open or somewhat closed. I say somewhat closed, because you certainly aren't able to close it. The range is quite limited, as the picture shows:

That's about the extent that my figure will close. Now, while it seems like a neat feature... I have absolutely no idea why anyone would choose to do this, as the closing of the jaw opens up a huge seam right underneath the jaw, where it meets the neck.

This big ugly gap under the jaw looks horrible and guarantees that I will never be closing his mouth. On super articulated figures like those made by S.H. MonsterArts, these seams are alright since they're necessary for the articulation, but for a finely detailed display piece like this, that gap is simply intolerable.

Finally, I have to explain the biggest flaw with the figure I've found, which is only somewhat noticeable in the above photo. And that is simply that the figure does not stand up straight, at least on mine. The figure is very obviously leaning somewhat to the left side. All the ads and promo pics of the figure showed it standing proudly straight up, at a normal 90 degree angle. Here's an example:

Yet my figure can't help but lean to the left. I'm not sure if it's connected to the problem with his heels not touching the ground. Another photo makes the lean even more obvious:

As you can see, he's definitely leaning toward something on the left. I wouldn't be much bothered by this, if I thought that this was how the figure was supposed to be posed. However, everything I've seen has shown the figure standing straight, so the leaning tower of Pis--I mean Godzilla just feels incredibly disappointing. If it ends up bothering me too much, I suppose I could maybe even stack something under Godzilla's right foot to correct the lean, but that feels like a shoddy, makeshift solution for what's supposed to be a high quality display piece.

At the end of the day, it's not quite a dealbreaker and I won't be returning the figure and demanding a refund. It's simply not what I expected from X-Plus, given their great quality control and attention to detail on the 95 Burning Godzilla. Anybody paying 160 bucks or more for a rubber monster figure probably has a pretty high standard of quality they're expecting for their money, and I really don't think that standard's been met, just judging by my experience. Hey, maybe I'm an extreme outlier, and 99% of the production run is absent most of these flaws. I certainly hope so, because if not I can see X-Plus's reputation being tarnished by these issues. And well... I'd still like to see 30cm releases of the other major Heisei monsters: King Ghidorah/Mecha-King Ghidorah, Super MechaGodzilla, and Destoroyah.

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X-Plus's Gigantic Burning Godzilla 1995

When I was just a wee little boy, growing up on the streets of San Francisco, I'd occasionally venture inside this local anime and hobby shop called Hero Club (what a dull name, btw). It was full of the usual sci-fi anime models and action figures and whatnot that you'd expect. Ya know, it's probably when I first noticed that, hey... all these damn Gundam robot models looked almost identical to each other... what was the point? Anyways, back to the main reason for this... the shop was also damn full of Godzilla figures. Just tons of them cramming the shelves, looking incredible to my young impressionable eyes. But among the teeming figures of Big G and various other Toho kaiju was their immense centerpiece: a two foot tall model that towered over everything. Of course, being a little kid, I certainly didn't have any money and couldn't buy any of these amazing looking figures. Well, and I think most of what they sold were model kits, and I certainly wasn't dexterous and skilled enough to put those together and painstakingly paint them.

So yeah, that was that. I never really ended up getting any figures to adorn my room. My interests turned towards video games and they ended up filling up my hard drive, not my shelves. But I never completely forgot that impressive two foot tall Godzilla. It stayed just in the back recesses of my mind, one of those impossible gifts from childhood. When I grew up and thought to look it up, I found out through the power of Google that it was the Super Premium Godzilla 1994 by Bandai for the release of Godzilla vs SpaceGodzilla. Bandai never ended up making a larger Godzilla figure after that, given the rather limited space of your average Japanese home, which makes sense. Of course, such a limited product from 1994 would command rather extreme prices on Ebay. Right around 600-700 dollars on average.

Then Google turned up an interesting find. Apparently, a rather new Japanese company by the name of X-Plus had started producing high quality, very detailed vinyl figures of Godzilla and other Toho monsters. And their new Gigantic series was going to release an 18 inch vinyl figure of Burning Godzilla (or DesuGoji as he's known in Japan) from the final Heisei Godzilla film "Godzilla vs. Destoroyah." (Yes, they really did go and name a monster Destoroyah instead of Destroyer, for trademark reasons. Apparently you can't trademark Destroyer as a name.) You see, Japanese Godzilla films, there have been close to 30 made now, are split up into three distinct series. The first 1954 movie up until the last one made in the 1970s is called the Showa series, after that Japanese emperor. From 1984 to 1995 was the Heisei series, where they tried to go back to Godzilla's darker roots as a primal force of nature and discarding his Hero of the Earth role from some of the goofier Showa films. And 1999 to 2004 was the Millennium series, which started as a response to the godawful Roland Emmerich Godzilla film of 1998.

Of those three distinct series, Heisei is undoubtedly my favorite. It's the one I grew up with as a kid, and the one that featured my favorite Godzilla suit design. From 1989 to 1995, the Heisei series used suits patterned pretty much the same, with some slight variations. The main characteristics that defined the Heisei suits from 1989's Godzilla vs. Biollante onwards were a fierce feline-looking face with multiple rows of teeth to evoke Godzilla's aquatic nature, rounded dorsal plates, and thick legs with four toed feet. Within that subset, they made some small differences for each movie. Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah 91 featured an immensely muscular chest and was probably the most in shape of the Heisei suits. 1993's Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla was probably Godzilla at his fattest, with a lot of mass that helped add to his threat in that film as an antagonist of G-Force and humanity.

Godzilla vs. Destoroyah held a lot of meaning for Godzilla fans in 1995 since it was meant to be Godzilla's final swan song and farewell to audiences. Remember, at that point, nobody knew that Toho would eventually restart the franchise with the Millennium series in 1999. Expectations were that the US films would take off and there'd be no more Japanese versions. So to cap things off, the film had Godzilla reaching meltdown as a result of his uh... nuclear "condition." Godzilla had always been portrayed as feeding off of radiation and having essentially a nuclear reactor for a heart, so it made sense that he could end up melting down in a tremendous radioactive explosion. To visually represent his impending end, Toho modified the SpaceGodzilla suit and added hundreds of lights to certain parts under the skin to make him look like his body was on fire. Thus the suit is called Burning Godzilla.

So this idea of a huge 18 inch vinyl figure of Burning Godzilla seemed pretty attractive. Sure, it wasn't quite as large as Bandai's 2 foot 1994 Godzilla vinyl figure, but the promo pics from X-Plus showed a ton of detail, which was notably lacking on Bandai's more primitive sculpt. Given that that figure was made in 1994, 20 years ago... that's to be expected I suppose. Ultimately, I decided that the 18 incher with the increased amount of surface detail was worth the price, which was around 580 dollars (ouch). Which is generally not the sort of money I'd throw at a toy. I mean, that's more than a PS4, for something that's just going to sit there on a shelf and look pretty. You can't even do anything with it like you can with a PS4. But I figured... hey, I'm an adult now, I have a few thousand bucks saved up in my bank account doing absolutely nothing... why not splurge a bit on fulfilling this childhood dream? Might as well make myself happy. And hey, if it's a limited collectible and ends up appreciating in value in 30 years, well all the better.

So... the box arrived from Japan and as you can see, it's rather simple. Being that it's a huge cardboard box for a huge vinyl figure, there's not much flashy packaging. You just paid over 500 bucks for this thing, you know what you're getting. Just the black and white image of the figure on the side.

Cut the top open and huh... well, I can see the plug for the tail right away. Looks like everything's packed away very securely in the styrofoam.

After pulling the whole bigass styrofoam block out of the cardboard box, I get my first look at the entire tail appendage, which will need to be shoved up into Godzilla's main body. That's the entirety of the assembly required for this figure, and most X-Plus figures. Like I said, I never did have the skills for putting together and painting model kits. Turn the styrofoam block around, and I'm presented with:

Huh, looks like instructions maybe. I cut through the tape and...

Yup, instructions for the one step of assembly required. Well, I can't fuckin read Japanese, so these papers just go into the trash bin.

After cutting through the tape keeping the two halves of the styrofoam block together, we get to finally look upon the bulk of Godzilla's body. A rather undignified position right now, but I'll soon correct that. But you can see the attention that they took in packing the figure, with plastic sheeting over the whole thing acting as a barrier against the styrofoam.

A few tugs and the main plastic sheeting falls away, giving us a fantastic look up Godzilla's ass. Um, maybe this is what it looks like after Big G takes a nuclear dump?

Finally, he's upright and in a delightfully ferocious pose, befitting the King of the Monsters. You can see now that he has additional plastic baggies protecting his individual appendages and head. Gotta give credit to X-Plus for their care and caution. Of course, for 580 bucks... that's probably to be expected.

The small individual baggies are actually not that hard to take off, so you don't have to fuss with them too much and accidentally pull too hard on a limb in the process. Good job by X-Plus. And with him fully unveiled... I gotta say, it's fucking beautiful. That's a bit strange to say about a giant monster that destroys cities and stomps on people, but the feeling I get is simply one of appreciating beauty. The figure is awe-inspiring.

Of course, the thing you'll notice is that I don't have the tail plugged in. Unfortunately, right now... I don't really have the room to display him with his long ass tail attached. Which is in a curled pose, thank god. I can't even imagine how big of a headache he'd be if the tail was in a straight line. The white behind the desk is the wall... I'd need roughly about two feet of clearance for the tail, I figure. The figure is 18 inches tall and about 18 inches wide, so he takes up a lot of desk space just with the main body.

The face is immediately eye-catching for being superbly, finely detailed:

As you can tell, the teeth are all individually sculpted and actually super sharp. Not to where you'd cut yourself, since they are made out of some sort of vinyl, so there is some give, but they certainly would if they'd been made of hard material. The eyes are just right for his burning form and stare straight in front, seemingly with a singular focus. The tongue is also incredibly detailed with a rough texture, reminding me of the tongues of lions and other big cats. If you're not aware, lions have rough tongues specially designed for stripping meat from bone. The More You Know.

Just perfect. They nailed the feline-like face that made the Heisei Godzilla stand out from all the rest of the Godzillas. You'll note that the ears are also well represented.

Here's a bit more of a profile view of the figure. You can see that it faithfully keeps the long neck that Godzilla has traditionally had. One of the big problems I had with Gareth Edwards' Godzilla 2014 design was the fact that it didn't look like it had a long neck anymore. While still miles above the 1998 Emmerich Godzilla design, I felt letdown by that omission. Godzilla's long neck was always one of those big distinguishing features for me. It made him different from just a Tyrannosaurus Rex, which was of course one of the big influences for the original design.

Now, I do want to pay special attention to the dorsal plates. These, like everything else on the figure, are meticulously detailed and textured. You can see the charcoal black of Godzilla slowly transitioning to the fiery red of the spikes, which look almost translucent. It's a fantastic paint job and really brings out the dorsal pattern. Now, I did find it interesting that the largest dorsal plate was the second one, right at about Godzilla's shoulder. That was something I hadn't expected, so I went back to the movies to see if they actually did have the largest plate that high up.

Now, this above is a screen grab from Godzilla 1984, the first Heisei Godzilla film. Here, you can clearly see that the largest dorsal plate is planted at around Godzilla's waist, or the top of his thigh. This is pretty low, and follows the general plate arrangement of a Stegosaurus, with the largest plate positioned at the largest part of the body. Godzilla was originally designed as a chimera, the design being a hybrid of a Tyrannosaurus Rex and a Stegosaurus.

Here, we have the suit from King Ghidorah 91, and we can see that the largest plate is the second one, but it seems to be positioned slightly lower than the shoulder.

And here, we have the actual Burning Godzilla suit from the 1995 movie. It does look like the largest dorsal plate has moved up a bit and is positioned right at the top of Godzilla's shoulder. So the X-Plus figure is completely 100% accurate with regards to the dorsal plate position.

Now, with that said, it should be noted that the figure itself is not meant to be a faithful 1:1 representation of the suit from the movie. X-Plus's Gigantic series presents itself as a stylized interpretation of the Godzillas from those movies, with exaggerated and powerful proportions to convey the immense nature of these kaiju. In other words, they are not trying to recreate the suits worn in the movie, but the actual monsters as if they leapt out of your imagination after watching the movie. And this is definitely something that's noticeable, because the bulk of the figure is just overwhelming and much more than what we saw in the 1995 movie. I mean, the figure is 18 inches tall and 18 inches wide, so the pyramidal body structure is much more evident. The lower body and legs in particular are really hulked out in comparison to the suit, and the head looks somewhat smaller in comparison to the rest of the body. I think the stylized look works and makes Godzilla appear that much more fearsome.

Now, with the burning changes to the Godzilla figure, you might be wondering if it's actually a light-up figure with batteries and whatnot. Well... no, it's not one of those figures that lights up. However, there is a great sense of luminescence, because X-Plus went and added a second layer of resin behind the outer layer. The outer layer seems to be made out of a clear vinyl material, which was spraypainted charcoal black for most of the body. But it seems like they added a second layer of yellow-orange resin beneath this, to add dimension to the burning sections. Thus, when you turn and look at the figure from different angles, you get a changing sense of depth, which is really cool. That's hard to convey with these photos, but in person you can certainly see and admire it. So no, no light up in the dark, but when you have something that looks this good, it doesn't really need any extra gimmicks.

Anything else to add? Hmmm... I guess there were a few spots on the figure that actually still had dabs of sticky glue. That felt very bizarre the first time I touched the sculpt, since I wondered if perhaps the figure was partially melting? But no, just random spots where the glue still hadn't dried. Not what I was expecting, but it's a minor annoyance.

In conclusion, I'm still pretty stunned by the amazing level of detail and texture on this 18 inch figure. They say you get what you pay for, and that's certainly true in this case. 580 bucks is a pretty big chunk of change, but I think it's well worth it for what I've got on my desk now. And that's even without me having attached the damn tail, which'll really bring the figure to a new level... I can't wait. It's a great feeling to finally bring to fruition that dream I had as a kid, walking into that neighborhood anime store way back when, and that's something that I feel everyone should strive for. Life is precious and fleeting, and you might as well make the most of it. For me, that was the big impetus for this acquisition and it's a hell of an itch that got scratched.

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Praising the achievement that is Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns

The Dark Knight Returns is great because it provides a grand and epic finale to a character that had never had one, never even countenanced one before.

A lot of people will say that Batman was already pretty dark in the 70s and early 80s with Denny O'Neil's work, but still... Miller's Batman was just so completely different from anything else you'd find on shelves. That by itself was groundbreaking. The comic felt adult in a way that was completely alien to a lot of readers and you could argue helped the medium mature. Of course, you could also see it as an impetus for all the terrible grimdark comics we got in the 90s. There were a lot of unfortunate consequences of the success of DKR and Watchmen. But the works themselves endure.

The story is about a world that has gone out of control, sinking into a cesspool that Miller colorfully illustrates with his TV talking heads. Miller goes after both the right and the left, gleefully skewering Reagan while at the same time mocking the decadent and lily-livered liberals (Dr Wolper, the guy who goes "We must patiently realign their--excuse me? No, I'd never live in the city."). The richness and vivid landscape he crafts is wholly encapsulating and gives a dimension to the comic that other Batman comics never went near. It's not some faraway pretend land named Gotham, but a slice of life in 1985. You're living and breathing it, and bringing Batman into this reality makes his presence that much more fascinating and impactful.

With Batman, Miller shows his outrage at this new and disturbing environment. You have to remember, back in 85... New York was a horrible shitshow rife with crime. This was all before Giuliani came and cleaned it up. Miller himself was robbed a couple of times, if I recall. So he certainly had a specific perspective on the issues in the city. This obviously got transferred to the comic, where people are murdered with bombs placed in their purses by young street punks with their own alien lingo, and news anchors report on it with complete apathy. It was a sense of... we have to fight back, we have to retake the city for decent people. That's the message, and it's all very well conveyed in the comic. It's very much the same sentiment that made the original "Dirty Harry" such a success when it was released. I mean... the appalling conditions in NYC made a vigilante like Bernhard Goetz a hero of everyday folk. Batman becomes the perfect harbinger of this, since he himself was the victim of a senseless urban crime. Like Goetz, Batman took matters into his own hands and imposed his will to create change ("they showed me that the world only makes sense when you force it to").

And inevitably, it all goes back to Batman. Did Batman's disappearance, his tragic retirement after Jason Todd's death, bring about this slow and gradual decay and lack of morality? We're never explicitly told, but perhaps his shining symbol of justice, now gone, did have something to do with it. The heroes leave as well, except for Superman. Where did it all go wrong? It sketches out a history of Batman that's tantalizing but yet always just out of reach. He modifies his Batmobile sometime in the past, alluding to some riot that we'll never see. How did that happen? What other changes took place? It's the same reason why people love the reference to the "Tannhauser Gate" in Bladerunner. It's a larger world, a larger history that lives on in our imagination.

Most importantly, DKR gives us one of those fitting endings that you would sometimes see in Westerns. The old legendary cowboy putting on his old worn out boots, his spurs for one last showdown. One last adventure. One final stand to save the townspeople. I mean hell, Miller even puts Batman on horseback in one part of the book. That's not just a random coincidence. He's actively portraying Batman as that tired, faded Western hero. Ragnarok was more fully realized in Ross and Waid's Kingdom Come, but there is some of the same notion here. When Batman finally returns, that first night, the very thunder in the angry night ("Like the wrath of God it's headed for Gotham...") announces his presence. It's the stuff of myth and tall tales, brought to the pages of an American comic. The old man, showing the new kids how it's supposed to be done. Invoking the glories of the past and all the nostalgia that accompanies that. It's terrifically satisfying for any fan of Batman.

Of course, his reappearance brings back his villains as well. This is now a common theme in Batman lore, the notion that he himself creates and encourages the insanity of his Arkham rogues gallery. Well, where did that come from? I think it's mainly from DKR. You see the connection between Batman's return and how Two Face and The Joker react and it's obvious... they need each other. Two-Face can't stay away from his darker inner self. The Joker is nothing without Batman to play with. Frank Miller even goes so far as to imply a deep-seated homosexual obsession in the Joker which other writers have mostly dropped.

The final showdown with the Joker is... utterly magnificent. If Miller had dropped the ball here, it would've been a huge disappointment. He's been building it up for the last two issues, after all. But it doesn't... it gives just the right mix of anger, grim determination, and understanding that you would expect from two foes that have fought a lifetime of comic issues. Batman still can't break his vow, because then the Joker would win. The Joker goes and does it for him, just to spite him. One final joke.

Superman is a symbol of the authoritarian regime that has taken over in this future. Frank Miller obviously saw the decadence and general apathy of the 80s as a sign that people just didn't care anymore. They were willing to throw away their ideals and rebellious spirit of the 60s in order to gain more wealth and stability in the 80s. The status quo was what was now valued. And what could be more of a symbol of the status quo than Superman? Obviously, Superman had not always been that, as he had in fact gone after corrupt politicians and exploitative businessmen in the Depression era. But that had gone away by the time of TDKR, and Superman was projected as standing for The American Way. In 85, that American Way was Reagan, and so... yeah, Superman was the willing puppet of that presidency.

So why the fight? Well, beyond Superman acting on behalf of a government now run by polls... it's the truth that there's always been tension between the two. They're very much opposites in ideals. Superman stands for bright, shiny optimism and trust. Batman stands for dark angry justice and punishment. One is a God blessed with limitless power. The other is a man at the peak of human achievement. There's always been that imbalance. And Miller was the first to see that this would make for a dramatic battle. The man against the superman. Brawn versus intelligence. You couldn't have a greater contrast.

Another key aspect that was groundbreaking was Miller's composition. It's very cinematic and feels more like what you'd see in a movie than most other comics at the time. That flashback shot of Mrs. Wayne's pearl necklace breaking apart, for example... that slow dreamlike sequence was also captured in Burton's 1989 movie, but Miller did it first here. It's very, very effective comic book language that modern comics use all the time, but they all got it from Miller.

It's all there in the work, rich and bountiful, and well worth the effort.

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