Saturday, 30 April 2016

Nerdversity Reviews: Captain America (1990)

Poster artwork by Neil Ryder.

We finally get to this infamous movie. In 1990, 21st Century Films released a Captain America movie. However, it's production is kind of murky. In 1984, Golan and Globus bought the rights to produce a Captain America movie. British actor, critic and director, Michael Winner was attached to direct with James Silke writing. In 1986, Winner was taken off the director's chair and moved to writing alongside Stan Lee. In 1987, Winner left the project all together. John Stockwell took over as director and Stephen Tolkin was bought in as director. However, in 1989, Golan left Canon to start his own production company, 21st Century Films, taking the Captain America license with him, Albert Pyun was bought on as director using the Stephen Tolkin script as a base. Filming began in 1989 and was released to a limited audience in December of 1990 and then as direct to video and cable in 1992 for the United States,

The movie takes a few liberal changes with the Cap status quo. The movie begins in 1936. The Fascist Italian government kidnap a boy by the name of Tadzio de Santis and kill his family. They aim to experiment on him and turn him into a Fascist super soldier. However, one of the doctors, Maria Vaselli objects to experimenting on children and escapes, defecting to the United States. Several years later, the US Government is planning it's own super soldier program and finds it's candidate in Steve Rogers, who was excluded from the draft due to polio. The government injects him with the serum and turns him into a super soldier. However, a Nazi spy interrupts and murders Dr. Vaselli. Meanwhile, Tadzio has been turned into the Red Skull and plans to launch a missile at the White House,

Steve becomes Captain America and is sent by the army to go stop the launch. After getting into a fight with Red Skull, he's defeated and tied to the rocket. As the rocket launches, Cap grabs Red Skull, forcing him to cut off his own hand to survive. The missile makes it's way to Washington, but Cap damages the missile, causing it to crash in Alaska, where he was frozen for 50 years, recovered in 1993.

In 1993, we find out that Kimball, a boy who saw Cap in 1943 has become president and is planning on passing a new environmental law that angers the Military Industrial complex. We also find out that Red Skull is alive, had plastic surgery and has a daughter, Valentina. We also learn that since the war, The Red Skull has been working for the Military-Industrial complex and has been assassinating people who went against it, like Martin Luther King, JFK and Robert Kennedy. 

Cap is thawed out by a research team. Confused and thinking it's 1943, he escapes into the wilderness. He makes his way to California to meet his then girlfriend Bernice, who had married in the time since. She helps Steve acclimatise himself to the present day with the help of her daughter, Sharon, however Valentina murders Bernice and attacks her husband, giving him a heart attack. Steve and Sharon go the secret underground lab where he was created to find Vaselli's diary. They get everything they need on the Red Skull, but they lose Vaselli's Diary to Red Skull's thugs.

Cap and Sharon go to Italy to not only defeat the Red Skull, but also rescue President Kimball, who's been kidnapped by Red Skull and is scheduled for execution. Steve dons the costume and makes his assault on Red Skull's castle. During the battle, Red Skull plays his trump card, a Dirty Bomb that will kill everyone. However, Sharon plays back the almost 60 year recording of the murder of his parents. With the Red Skull distracted, Cap knocks him off the castle to his death. Valentina vows revenge, but is decapitated by the return throw from the shield. Kimball arrives on the castle battlements as the United States Marines flood in to clean up. The movie ends with a plea to support the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

Matt Salinger definitely looked the part as Steve Rogers. The costume, while authentic seems to be made of rubber or latex, rather than spandex or cloth. The movie is bad overall, not horrible like the 1979 movie, but it definitely has that Canon Films cheese and cheapness that they're notorious for. The movie has been released on DVD. 

Nerdversity Reviews: Captain America II - Death Too Soon (1979)

In November 1979, CBS aired a sequel to Captain America, called Captain America II - Death Too Soon. It was directed by Ivan Nagy and brings back Reb Brown in the role of Steve Rogers. It was broken into two 45 minute movies when it first aired on TV.

Steve is now making a living working as an artist on a SoCal beach, He's sketching an elderly woman by the name of Mrs. Shaw. He learns from her that there's a street gang that mugs old ladies of the Social Security checks, leaving them terrified to leave the house and to go shopping. Steve concocts a plan to put a stop to this gang once and for all. With the help of Mrs. Shaw, he takes down one thug in an alley with his shield and then chases another thug down the beach. 

Back at the NSL Research Lab, Steve is informed that a famous microbiologist has been captured by a notorious terrorist by the name of General Miguel (played by Christopher Lee). Ilson. the microbiologist that was kidnapped, has created a formula that increases aging. Posing as the warden of a prison in Oregon, Miguel plans to use the formula to hold the US to ransom in exchange for a billion dollars. 

Cap goes on the hunt for the missing piece of the puzzle, which is a chemical needed to make the formula work. The first part of this task takes him to the docks, where the chemical needed is being smuggled in from Ecuador. He fights a bunch of dockworkers in the employ of Miguel, finding out he's too late and the chemical has already been offloaded. This leads him to the town of Belleville, where he's attacked by Miguel's thugs and arrested on trumped up charges. Steve makes his escape from Belleville. He evades Migue's thugs by jumping off the side of a dam.

The US president states that they won't be dealing with terrorists. In retaliation, Miguel hires one of his henchmen to skywrite "SMILE". Meanwhile, Steve has located Miguel's hidden base inside the prison in Oregon and launches his assault. Realising Miguel has escaped, Cap gives chase and catches up to Miguel. Miguel tries to throw the aging formula on Cap, who blocks it with his shield, showering Miguel in the formula, aging him to death rapidly. Mills has already obtained the antidote to the formula and sprays the city as the movie ends.

Even though it takes a more comic themed approach and has a more accurate costume, it actually is slightly better than the first one. This has more of that 1970s cheese and campness to it and we actually see Cap in a more accurate costume and actually fighting criminals. The movie is available on DVD in both Europe and the US.

Nerdversity Reviews: Captain America (1979)

It would be 35 years after the Republic Serial until we got a new Captain America movie. In 1979, CBS created a TV Movie of Captain America. It starred one of the biggest action heroes of the time, Reb Brown as Steve Rogers. The 100 minute movie aired January 19th 1979. It came out at a time when Superheroes were making their way onto the small screen. At the time, Amazing Spider-Man. Incredible Hulk and Dr. Strange had aired. These were born out of the previous successes of Richard Donner's Superman and The Six Million Dollar Man.

In this incarnation, Steve Rogers is more contemporary. He's a member of the Marine Corps, presumably fresh out of serving in Vietnam. His service is over and he's now wanting to make his living being an artist. During a visit to his friends, his panel van is run off the road. He finally meets with his friend, Dr. Len Mills, who informs him that his father was a 1940s agent, working for the government, where he created a steroid called FLAG, Full Latent Abilit Gain. It only works with the genes of the Rogers Family.

He leaves after refusing to become a test subject for FLAG. However, when the villain of the piece Brackett and his thugs kill Rogers, they have no choice when Mills revives him with the FLAG steroid, giving him new abilities. Brackett has also killed Rogers' friend Jeff, who holds a microfilm explaining how to build a neutron bomb. Steve takes up the mantle of Captain America to get revenge on Brackett for killing Jeff and get back the microfilm. Mills upgrades Steve's panel van to fit a motorcycle in the back and a hang glider. Brackett's plan is to nuke the city of Phoenix with the Neutron Bomb and then rob a gold depository for $1 billion in gold bullion. 

Steve is dropped onto the truck containing the bomb. There's no climactic battle with Brackett or stopping the truck. Instead, he simply bends one of the exhaust pipes and floods the trailer with fumes, rendering Brackett unconscious. The truck is stopped, Brackett is defeated and that's it, movie over.

Overall, this is one of the worst TV movies to come out in the 1970s superhero boom. It takes 45 minutes of a 100 minute movie to see Steve in the Cap suit, which is a motorcycle helmet and blue spandex suit. The shield is clear plastic as well. The Mike Carpenter soundtrack is very 70s and cliche. It has been released on DVD recently in both US and Europe, if anyone is interested in watching it.

Nerdversity Reviews: Captain America (1944 Serial)

As Captain America: Civil War has been released and has so far achieved a $40 million worldwide box office, I thought we'd take a look at Captain America's on screen exploits, starting with his earliest incarnation, Captain America: The Purple Death, released by Republic in 1944.

Produced in 1943, it cost $222 thousand to make, though originally slated to only cost $182, 623. This is by far the most expensive serial Republic ever made. The costume was changed significantly to film and photograph easier. The costume itself was primarily grey. The wings on the cowl were removed. The pirate boots were changed to regular boots. The chainmail armour was changed to a regular cloth suit. There were flags sewn into the gloves and the belt buckle was turned into a shield. In this, Captain America is NOT private Steve Rogers, he is a District Attorney under the name of Grant Gardner. He doesn't have the shield as Cap does, instead he carries a revolver, naturally, this upset the comics owner, Timely. Republic replied that the sample pages Timely had sent didn't include any information like that. They also stated that adding all this stuff would cost too much in time and money to film new scenes and redub lines, something that Republic were actually under no obligation to do. Now, many film historians actually believe this serial was intended for another pulp hero, possible Scarlet Shroud (Fawcett), Spy Smasher or The Copperhead and was changed to Captain America at the last minute.

The plot revolves around a rash of suicides happening to scientists and businessmen and all under suspicious circumstances. They were all found dead holding a small golden scarab. These come to the attention of Mayor Randolph (Russell Hicks). He enlists Police Commissioner Dryden and District Attorney Grant Gardner to investigate these suicides. However, Gardner's secretary, Gail Richards investigates and finds out that someone knows of The Purple Death, a hypnotic chemical that was responsible for the suicides. Grant Gardner rescues her and flees.

The suicides are linked to a recent Mayan Archaeological Expedition. One of the last remaining few scientists, Professor Lyman goes to Dr. Maldor for help. Maldor reveals he's responsible for the Purple Death and is the villain The Scarab. He orchestrated the murders as punishment for the others claiming the fame and fortune, despite Maldor finding the ruins and organising the expedition. He used the Purple Death to get the location of a new device that Lyman built, the "Dynamic Vibrator", a device used for mining, but could be turned into a powerful sonic weapon.

The Scarab uses the new information to raid Lyman's lab and acquire a working version of the "Dynamic Vibrator". Gardner learns of the Scarabs plans and tries to stop him. In true serial fashion, the Scarab dies in pitch battle with Captain America. 

Dick Purcell, who played Captain America in this film, sadly passed away not long after the movie was made. He was slightly overweight for being Cap and was found dead of a heart attack in a country club. 

If anyone is interested, this movie is now officially in the public domain and can be found on eBay, Amazon or even YouTube for free. I'd say it's worth a look at, simply for the 1940s serial nostalgia and the fact it's Republic's last ever superhero movie.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Nerdversity Reviews: Power of the Jedi Chewbacca (Dejarik Champion)

This is one of those Star Wars figures that makes you wonder just what Hasbro were thinking back in the year 2000. What we have here is Power of the Jedi Chewbacca (Dejarik Champion), released in the second wave of figures in 2000. The front of the card features all new artwork for the series, which as Episode 1 Obi-Wan jumping infront of Darth Vader. The card is green and has 2 windows for the new Jedi Force File and the figure itself. We'll get to that pose in a short while.

The back of the card features a checklist of figures in this wave and the previous one. The figures are mainly from the prequels as episode 1 was still being promoted. The blurb talks about bringing everyone's favourite characters out as action figures and on the bottom of the card is all the copyright and trademarking information.

This is why the figure is quite derided by fans as being stupid and goofy. It's clearly based on the scene in A New Hope when Chewie and R2 are playing Dejarik and Han warns them about not upsetting the wookie, However, taking the figure out of the packaging, we have Chewie posed in either a dance move or doing his best sexy pose. He has 5 points of articulation. He can bend slightly in the shoulders. He can twist at the waist. He be put in a sitting position. 

His main accessory is the Dejarik Table. He can sit in the seat and you could put an R2 figure infront of it. The table is nicely molded with a control panel on the front. It has black and white play field and translucent orange plastic figures on the table engaged in combat. 

Sat at his table, he actually looks better and more the part compared to the movie. It strikes me as odd that Hasbro actually made the decision to make this particular scene as an action figure. Aside from the really strange pose he makes while stood up, the new sculpting process actually makes him look rather scrawny and not as large and as imposing as Chewie should be.

All of the figures in the POTJ line came with a little collectors booklet called Jedi Force File. It was a fold out sheet that contained some information about the character, the movie and the scenes they're based off. On the cover here, we can see Chewie playing a game of Dejarik and planning his next move.

The booklet folds out and is double sided. In this instance, it's a run down of Mos Eisley scenes in ANH. A look at characters he allied with, with his enemies being Greedo and Stormtroopers. There's also a little bio for him and stats we already know.

The other side of the page has information about his skills, similar to a Transformers tech spech card. His skills in Dejarik, use of a bowcaster and his muscles. A look at his bandolier, a hydrospanner and his bowcaster. The final piece is a brief rundown of the Falcon and Dejarik itself. The final page is a cut out application form for the Jedi Quest Kid's Club.

This figure is definitely an interesting oddity in the world of Star Wars toys. It's strange Hasbro would pick this scene to base a figure on. The off proportions and the strange standing pose make this one a difficult one for fans to put in their collection. Other than being sat at the table, he can't really work outside it. He sells for 12-20 on the secondary market. 

Nerdversity Reviews: Battleborn Character Cards

Battleborn is an upcoming release by Gearbox and 2K games, made by the same people who made Borderlands. The main object of the game is a first person shooter MOBA style game, where players can pick a variety of characters with different skills and abilities and battle against each other. It's due for release on May 3rd on PC, XBox One and PlayStation 4.

As part of the promotion for the game, many retailers in the UK gave away promotional packets of trading cards. Each pack contains 4 cards. The pack is a standard foil packet not unlike any Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh card pack. The front showcases artwork of the characters in the game.

The back of the package is plain silver. The upper half has all the copyright information regarding the cards and the video game. The lower half explains there are 31 cards in the collection and it tells people to go visit 2K games on social media to learn more.

So this is what we get in each packet. 3 cards showing all the characters in the game, their classes and a brief bio of each character. Then we get an art card that when put together, has a large image of all the Battleborn characters in action. 

The cards all have this, which features an in game graphic of the character in question, their class, race and name. On the back of the card, we get a graphic if rhe character in action and run down of their profile. We see there are 25 character cards. The remaining ones being taken up by the art cards.

Each art card features a piece of the final picture, meaning collectors need all 6 cards to finish it. The artwork is nice on the front and on the back, all the cards feature the same blurb about the game, it's features and what we can expect.

Here's an almost finished piece on what the artwork looks like. Sadly, I am missing the final piece. If anyone out there is interested in getting these cards, they are readily and easily available to find on the secondary market, so chances are you can track them down and if you live outside the UK, then importing them will be your only option.

Nerdversity Reviews: Marvel Action Hour

Before we get into the review, a little background. In 1994, Marvel put it's new Fantastic 4 and Iron Man cartoons in a block called Marvel Action Hour. In the US, these featured introductions by Stan Lee and had commercial breaks. However, in the UK, they had the Iron Man and Fantastic 4 cartoons, but the BBC had cut out the Stan Lee introductions, replacing them with episodes from the 1982 Incredible Hulk cartoon. So, in order to cash in on this success, Marvel UK released a comic book in the UK format. Enter: Marvel Action Hour!

The comic was first released to the UK public on October 9th 1996. It was published fortnightly and in order to keep the stories going, they cut the full size reprints down from 60 pages, down to 25. The comics were reprints of 1970s Fantastic 4 strips and 1980s Iron Man strips. 

To compensate the idea that 60 pages from 2 full comics needing to be split over 25 pages, they would often split the comics up into thirds, each fortnight, swapping over. For example, Issue 1 featured a full Fantastic 4 story, while reprinting a 3rd of the Iron Man story. Issue 2 picked up the rest of the Iron Man story and then the next 9 pages of the follow up Fantastic 4 story. They would also swap who would be the lead story per comic. 

Not only did the comics feature adverts for other big name comics being printed at the time, like Spectacular Spider-Man Adventures, but it also featured some great full colour reprints of the artwork by John Buscema and Joe Sinnot. However, some of the covers actually featured redrawn artwork by Marvel UK's artists at the time, Jon Rushby and inked by Bambos Georgiou, which lead the comic in with the traditional Marvel UK flair.

So what happened? well, noone's really sure. It lasted 4 issues and then promised and promoted a 5th issue, which never materialised. It was cancelled rather quickly and silently, with no word from Marvel UK as to why. Many fans have theorised that sales were too low to continue. Marvel Action Hour was no longer being aired on the BBC might have had somethign to do with it too. The other major theory is that it was reprinting Fantastic 4 material and well, Fantastic 4 has never been truly popular here in the UK, so it would have been a hard sell. 

As short lived as it was, it has it's place in comic history. Maybe Marvel UK could have done their own thing with it rather than reprint obscure storylines from the 1970s and 1980s Maybe they should have had more than 25 pages. You can find these comics on eBay for about £20 for a full set.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Nerdversity Reviews: Captain America Civil War Sticker Album

Released earlier this month via Panini, the Captain America Civil War Sticker Album is the latest promotional tool in the UK's arsenal for the movie. The sticker album usually costs £1.80 from newsagents and stores, however, as this was part of the Official Movie Souvenir Magazine bundle, it was given away for free.

The front of the album contains artwork for the movie. In this case, team Cap vs. Team Iron Man facing off against each other. I believe this is one of the posters for the movie. 

If any of you out there ever collected sticker albums in the past, you'll know what you're getting. If not, well, the first half of the album is a condensed retelling of the movie with the stickers being the pictures from the movie. I haven't put any up as they would be considered spoilers for what happens in the movie and it isn't even out yet. The rest of the album is made up of promotional material for the movie, showing the cast and villains.

Stickers come in these packs. Each packet is 50p and contains six stickers to put inside your album. Once you get to a certain state, you can send off for up to 40 of the remaining stickers you need to finish your collection at a price of 14p per sticker. 

I'd personally recommend this collection for any fans of stickers and collecting. It's a popular franchise. It's also a great way for geeky parents and kids to connect over collecting these stickers and finishing a collection, especially one based on Marvel comics. It's affordable for the album itself and it comes with a set of six stickers inside to start you off on your journey.  Packs only cost 50p, so for most children, it's within their pocket money range

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Nerdversity Reviews: 1992 Kenner Aliens Toyline/Operation: Aliens

As it's Aliens Day (4/26), I thought we'd take a look at the slightly more obscure end of the Aliens spectrum. In 1991, Fox pitched an idea for a new Saturday morning cartoon series based around Aliens that would also lead into Alien 3 by the name of Operation: Aliens. It would have featured the cast of the Aliens movie, including those who had died, going around various planets and killing Xenomorphs. An unknown Korean studio was bought in to animate it, but sadly the project was already cancelled by the time the 1992 Kenner toyline had been bought into production and released. Many of the early toys in the line still featured the Operation: Aliens name before subsequent released changed the name back to Aliens.

The line was spread out over 4 waves. The above picture lists most of the toys that came out during the line. The human figures were 5 inches tall and featured standard articulation for a 1990s toy. They also came with large weapons and accessories not seen in the movies, as well as looks. They also feature generic likenesses of the cast. as they had refused to sign off their likenesses to Kenner. 

Series 1 contained:
  • Ripley
  • Hicks
  • Bishop
  • Apone
  • Drake
  • Bull Alien (with Facehugger)
  • Scorpion Alien (with Facehugger)
  • Gorilla Alien (with Facehugger)
  • Alien Queen
  • Power Loader

Series 2 contained:
  • ATAX (with Queen Costume)
  • Rhino Alien
  • Snake Alien
  • Mantis Alien
  • Queen Facehugger
  • Flying Queen
  • Alien Vs Predator set
  • Evac Fighter
  • Stinger XT-37
  • Electronic Hovertread

Series 3 was 3 figures of Vasquez, O'Malley and Hudson. Their retail experience was UK only, as the other waves hadn't sold that well in the United States. The pegs were full of human marine figures. Kids were more interested in the new and exciting Aliens. So in all, 36 cases were shipped back to Kenner's China division. 24 cases were known to have been destroyed, leaving the other 12 cases's existence and whereabouts a mystery. Now because of these figures being UK only, they are more collectable and rarer. New Alien figures included Wild Boar Alien, King Alien, Killer Crab Alien, Panther Alien and Night Cougar Alien.

Series 4 was the final wave to be released. They dropped the concept of the marine figure as they weren't selling. They focused solely on new Xenomorphs. These included an Arachnid Alien and a Hive playset with ooze. With declining sales, they canned the line in 1996

In 1998, 2 years after the demise of the Kenner toyline, they relaunched it with a series called Aliens: Hive Wars. It was sold only at Kay-Bee stores in the United States. It featured a number of figures which included:
  • Hicks
  • Integer 3
  • Hive Warrior Alien
  • Acid Alien
  • Night Recon Predator
  • Warrior Predator
The blurb on the back of the card reads: The Aliens Hive Planet- a new Predator hunting ground for deadly alien xenopods! The heroic Marines, a team of Cyborg-tech warriors, have volunteered to destroy the Alien menace before the entire universe is demolished. It's the galaxy's last chance for survival as the vicious Aliens, ferocious Predators and fearless Marines clash in the ultimate battle of domination!

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Aliens movie, Kenner released another line that was sold exclusively at Kay-Bee stores, this time called Aliens vs. Marines. The line consisted of:
  • Hicks vs. King Alien
  • Drake vs. Arachnid Alien
  • Hudson vs. Scorpion Alien
  • Vasquez vs. Night Cougar Alien
  • O'Malley vs. Queen Facehugger.
So there we have it, there's our look at the 6 waves of figures released for the 1992-1996 toy line. If anyone out there is interested in collecting any of these figures, they do start at around £5 per carded figure for the Aliens and going further up for the playsets, rarer and larger figures, especially carded and complete.