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Hulk Hogan

Classic Superstars
by yo go re

Forget Stone Cold spewing beers between beating his wife; forget the Rock, with a repertoire of more catchphrases than moves; you want a popular wrestler, you look to Hulk Hogan.

Hulk Hogan is arguably the most famous WWE Superstar of all time. The World Wrestling Federation was never the same after Hogan defeated the Iron Sheik for the WWF Championship on January 23, 1984, at Madison Square Garden. A phenomenon was born. Hogan's success brought unprecedented mainstream attention to wrestling, even landing Hogan in television and movie roles. His historic championship run would last nearly four years, a reign nobody has even come close to matching in the last two decades.

Ah, Hulk Hogan. If you were a child in the '80s, Hulk Hogan this guy was your Jesus. He was huge, even beyond the fact that he was 6'7". If Hulk Hogan said it, you believed it. If he endorsed it, you bought it. Hulk Hogan was somebody that kids believed in, abiding by his "Three Demandments" (train, say your prayers and take your vitamins), and it's not much of an exaggeration to say that the popularity of wrestling today is built entirely on his back. It's no surprise that Hulk Hogan made it into the Classic Superstars line - the surprise is that it took so long.

Jakks Pacific's Classic Superstars line is intended to offer "high-end sculpts of Superstars of yesterday and today." What that means in plain English is "recycled generic bodies with new heads," but that's just fine. There are a lot of people who may not care about John Cena, the Strongest Whigger in the World, but offer them Nikolai Volkov and they'll happily lay out the money.

Terry Bollea was playing minor league baseball and bass guitar before being drawn into the world of professional wrestling. He grappled under the names Terry Boulder and Sterling Golden, but was soon recast as an Irish thug named "Hulk" Hogan. When they realized that the fans were cheering this villain more than the good guys he was facing, Hulk Hogan was quickly turned "face" and his popularity continued to soar, setting the stage for his status as a cultural icon.

There are two versions of Hogan in Classic Superstars Series 8: the late-90s Hollywood Hogan and this figure, his classic '80s persona. Hulk Hogan never really wore any ornate costumes, and his fashion sense is reflected well here, with the bright yellow trunks and boots offset by a removable red "Hulkamania" shirt and red kneepads. He's got a Hulkster sweatband painted on his brow (a change from the prototype photos), but shouldn't that go over his hair and not under it?

Considering Hogan's iconic status, the temptation would have been to give him a big, impressively muscular body, but Jakks resisted: the truth is, even before he stopped using the steroids Vince McMahon gave him, Hogan was never terribly buff. Sure, he had muscle, but he was more "thick" than "ripped." The figure follows suit, looking positively doughy as far as wrestling toys go. His arms probably don't translate to the "24-inch pythons" he always boasted about back in the day, either. The figure stands 7" tall and moves at the ankles, knees, hips, waist, hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders and neck. Why, you can almost get his hand up to his ear - you know the pose we mean.

Though they were one of the first companies to make extensive use of Gentle Giant's RealScan technology, Jakks has proven their sculptors are capable of capturing a good likeness. For this figure, they looked to Hogan's cover appearance on the April 19, 1985 issue of Sports Illustrated. It's a good selection, but their choice of source material shows - since they were mostly trying to capture the look of a head-on pose, he doesn't look quite right in profile. Particularly his cheeks, which ride too far forward on his face. The figure does, however, have what has to be the most lovingly crafted combover ever. Despite the nit-picking, this is a very good likeness.

The Hulkster has one real accessory, but it's the one he needed to have: the WWF Championship belt created for him in 1985. Considering that the title belt is just a bit of gold-plated metal on a black strap, the variety of these things is impressive. How many different belts have there been over the years, anyway? There's a variant available for this figure, as well: he's packaged with the "Winged Eagle" belt that debuted in the February 5, 1988 episode of Saturday Night's Main Event, and was held that night by not only Hogan, but also Andre the Giant and the Million Dollar Man. Now, a lot of places seem to have the two confused - the variant belt has a big eagle as its background, while the standard belt has a lot of tinier details. What that means is, if you're going to pay a scalper, you might luck out and get a better deal on the rarer version, so shh, don't tell!

Like we said, Hulk's shirt is removable, thanks to velcro on the front. The spacing of the letters is a bit weird, so it looks like the shirt says "Hu Lkamania." The back is ripped, like Hulk's shirts always were, and the fact that he's so articulated means you can recreate his pre-match ritual of tearing off his own shirt. Yes, Hulk, you can tear cloth: that makes you just as virile and manly as the countergirl in Wal*Mart's craft department. It's still cool.

So, why did it take eight series before Hogan showed up in Classic Superstars? It's all about the rights.

Much like today, Vince McMahon was more interested in riding the coat tails of a popular trend than actually coming up with interesting angles, which is why he billed his newest acquisition as "The Incredible" Hulk Hogan: the "Hulk" name had come from an observation that Bollea was bigger than Lou Ferigno, who was playing the Incredible Hulk on tv, so it really wasn't much of a stretch to go one step further and just steal the whole name. It probably would have been fine, if Hulk hadn't hit the big time. Marvel noticed something was up, and unleashed the lawyers.

At the time, the WWF was expanding rapidly, so Vince had more important things he needed to focus on. He quickly signed a licensing agreement that allowed use of the Hulk name (with a whole slew of restrictions) for a period of 20 years - which should have covered things through the end of Hogan's career. And it might have, if not for the WWE's plan to launch a video-on-demand service utilizing its past matches - a whole ton of which feature Hulk Hogan. So McMahon wants to exploit the Hulk Hogan name for the forseeable future, but Marvel says the period of the contract has expired, so it's time to re-up.

The last time a situation like this came up was when Hogan moved to the WCW: until they struck a similar deal with Marvel, he could only wrestle as "Hollywood" Hogan; that worked out pretty well in the end, but does anyone really want to watch tapes of the classic match vs. Andre the Giant at WrestleMania III and hear a poorly dubbed annoucer saying some other name? To see some other -mania superimposed on his shirt? Hell no. It's bad enough they blur out the WWF logos on old footage, and this would be even worse. But Vince, being a complete tool, didn't want to pay, and tried to claim that Marvel's various changes in ownership in the mid-to-late '90s meant that the company with which WWE had an agreement no longer existed. Idiot.

In the end, WWE lost - judge decided that the agreement signed 20 years ago proved that McMahon knew, recognized and admitted the origins of the Hulk Hogan name, and that Marvel was dead right in saying whether or not WWE could use the name at any time, for any reason, after the expiration of the contract. Marvel chose not to renegotiate with WWE (and can you blame them?), so how is it that we've now got a Hulk Hogan figure in a Hulkamania shirt? Because in order to avoid having to sit down and write out a deal with every company wishing to work with Hogan, Marvel struck a deal with him directly - now anybody who wants Hulk Hogan licenses the name from the Hulkster himself. A smart move, and one in which everybody wins; everybody that matters, at least. Marvel gets its rights, Hogan gets his name, we get our toys and the WWE gets to pay. Hopefully, through the nose. Professional wrestling is Hulk Hogan's sport - everybody else is just participating in it.

-- 02/18/06

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