The Phantom, Batman, and a Star Wars Diorama (Mania.com)
Date: Thursday, June 14, 2001
To a great degree, I detest the proliferation of online toy collecting. It has robbed the hobby of a certain sense of nobility. There was a wonderful thrill to finding a rare collectible in some out-of-the-way comic store or grabbing the newest, short-packed action figure before somebody else beat you to it at Toys 'R' Us. I remember once finding an original Aurora 'Salem Witch' glow-in-the-dark model kit, still in the original shrink-wrapping, at a seaside rock'n'roll memorabilia store in the mid-'80s. While most collectors would have easily priced it at $75-$100 back then, the tag on it said twenty bucks! Today, that store is gone, driven off the boardwalk by trendy boutiques and e-commerce. Try finding the same kit online today, and you're sure to be maxing out your credit card!
Still, if you know where to look, you can sometimes discover similar little, off-the-beaten-track shops. In my town, there's an all-but-forgotten strip mall that houses a wonderful toy and hobby shop. There, rare, 'retired' Beanie Babies still sport a $5 price tag, because the owner feels it would be 'unethical' to mark them up when he couldn't sell them on their initial release. Just before Christmas, he marked much of his older stock down, just to make room for newer stock, despite the fact that much of what he was discounting would sell for three times the original price online.
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA: MODEL KIT 5027 (Polar Lights)
It was on a recent trip to this hobby shop that I spied PL's new kit based on 1925's The Phantom of the Opera. This all-new, injection-molded kit, authorized by both Universal pictures and Chaney Enterprises, features a beautiful new sculpt by Patrick Delaney of Lon Chaney as the horribly disfigured Erik. The kit recreates the moment of Erik's unmasking by Christine (Mary Philbin), with a great expression of shock on Chaney's skeletal features. Behind him is his beloved organ, and at his feet is his mask. This is a Skill Level 3 kit, and while the assembly is fairly straightforward, the painting requires most skill and patience. A great amount of detail work is necessary to make the organ look realistic. The sculpt and molding are very good, and the pieces fit nicely. However, if you just slop paint on it, it's going to look like Erik picked it up at a Parisian garage sale. Take your time with the basehell, consider it an entirely separate project from the figure of the Phantom! That way, you'll end up with a kit that blows the original, much-beloved Aurora version right out of the water.
BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIESARKHAM ASYLUM ESCAPE (Hasbro/Toys 'R' Us)
While the small, independent hobby shops are great, you've also got to hand it to the toy-giants! TRU's latest Batman exclusive 4-pack doesn't contain any new figures (as opposed to last year's Alfred Pennyworth figure), but it does re-issue four great figures from a few years ago. The main component is the 'Batman vs. Two-Face' 2-pack from a couple of years ago. This was part of the initial The New Batman Adventures line, which featured new sculpts of the Caped Crusader and the schizophrenic Two-Face, along with the front gate of Arkham Asylum, as well as a straightjacket for Two-Face, and assorted weapons. Both figures are included in this new set, although the Batman figure has been given the older, yellow-and-black oval bat symbol on his chest (the original had the newer, retro-symbol of a solid, black bat silhouette). Batman also comes with a Grappling Hook, and Two-Face has his straightjacket, a handgun and a machine gun.
The other two figures included are Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn, each with the original accessories from their first releases (Crossbow and 'capture weapon' for Ivy, boxing glove and trick pistol for Harley). Ivy, of course, was one of the rarest figures from the initial wave of Batman: The Animated Series, and the popular Harley was part of the later, The Adventures of Batman & Robin line. Although Ivy was given a bit of a redesign for The New Batman Adventures, sadly her figure doesn't reflect those changes. Of course, collectors who couldn't score the original the first time around now have a decent shot at her, so it's a double-edged sword. Perhaps TRU and Hasbro could work on a 4-pack of redesigned Batman femmes such as Batgirl, Poison Ivy, Catwoman, and the never-released Red Claw.
STAR WARS: THE POWER OF THE FORCE--3-D DISPLAY DIORAMA JABBA'S PALACE WITH HAN SOLO IN CARBONITE (Hasbro)
Another good bet for toys you might have missed on their initial releases is KayBee Toys. On a recent excursion, I managed to snag the almost-imposible to find 'Jabba's Palace' diorama. This part of Hasbro's 1998 line came out just after the 'Cantina at Mos Eisley with Sandtrooper and Patrol Droid' diorama that clogged stores for months! The original Mos Eisley Cantina cardboard diorama was a mail-order offer from Hasbro, which was then sold for awhile in the Star Wars Fan Club magazine. This second diorama, never offered before, recreates Jabba's throne room, and features an exclusive Han Solo figure. This version of Han has him just-freed from his carbonite block prison, his hair slicked back. He has eight points of articulation, including swiveling arms that allow him to be placed in the enclosed binders. Unfortunately, at the time this 25-inch wide diorama was released, stores were cutting back on Power of the Force orders in anticipation of Episode I toys. As a result, it wasn't widely distributed, and has remained a desirable collectible. Like the 'Jabba's Skiff Guards' and 'Rebel Pilots' Cinema Scene 3-packs, KayBee picked up much of Hasbro's back stock on the 'Jabba's Palace' dioramas and marked them down to just $4.99! My local KayBee store had about five of these at the time I made my purchase, but I'm sure these went quick. However, if you're very fortunate, you might still find them near you (and, no, they aren't in their online store!).