And now, Scary-Crayon presents... The Madballs Wolf Breath Update

We've had quite a few Madballs and Madballs-related pieces on Scary-Crayon, ranging from looks at official products like the retro Madballs and Carebears crossover comic and more recent sticker assortment to reviews of knockoff wares like dollar store Madballs wannabes and the amazing Scary Faces coloring book. One of my most cherished features on the site, though, is last year's advance review of Basic Fun's Madballs Series 2 offerings -- not necessarily because of the content, but because it is one of very few times that a company or its spokespeople have taken notice of SC and deigned to send us review samples. In addition to giving me a bunch of free Madballs before they even hit the stores (and which, admittedly, I probably would have purchased anyway), the gesture just made me feel warm and fuzzy inside... as if my pointless writings about the products and media I love actually matter to someone involved in their production.

Of course, I didn't let Basic Fun's generosity and my melting heart color my opinions of the toys themselves, and -- in keeping with the site's modus operandi -- I proceeded to scrutinize and criticize them far more closely than any child ever would. Some of the balls fared better than others, but I positively hated the new Wolf Breath. With a drastically different color scheme from the original and an overall earthy red color that made him look more like a skinless decapitated dog than a howlin' werewolf head, it just didn't do anything to evoke the cool factor of the original toy. Again, that might not have mattered to a child today, but for someone who had followed Wolf Breath's villainous exploits in Escape from Orb! and more heroic activities in the Star comics, it was like Basic Fun had skinned the beloved character and offered up his raw carcass for sale. Okay, it wasn't that bad -- we're talking about fictional characters and toys here -- but still. I wasn't a fan of the new look. It didn't even match the character and sticker artwork, which hewed more closely to the color scheme of the original toy.

It hardly seemed to matter, though; time passed and, aside from a few scattered offerings from the second Sick Series in novelty stores, I never found the Series 2 Madballs in stores. In every correspondence e-mail, I found myself noting that the toys were still not out in my area and apologizing for repeatedly asking my contact for any further information pertaining to their release. When my correspondence fell through and Madballs Central seemed to stop updating, I began to wonder if the Madballs revival had come to an end.

Now, that may in fact be the case, but -- if it is -- at least we're getting one last hurrah! Towards the middle of last month I received a shock during a visit to the local Five Below: Madballs Series 2 on the pegs! I'm not sure whether they just never sold at the retail stores that did receive them (as evidenced by the old store tags that occasionally remain on the merchandise, Five Below gets a lot of backstock from other stores) or whether FB got them directly from Basic Fun, but at long last Series 2 Madballs were available to the public. The price was pretty nice, too -- whereas the 'balls originally retailed for $4.99 and up, depending upon the retailer, Five Below was letting them go for $2 apiece. With Power Rangers RPM figures coming in at $6.99 each and other kids' lines hovering around that price, you can legitimately debate whether an unarticulated foam ball is a comparable value at $4.99... but at $2 there's no denying it. And then during Halloween weekend I actually encountered them again at one of the new Toys 'R' Us Express stores. The Madballs are the normal $4.99 there, but -- according to the posted notice, anyway -- are buy one, get one free until November 21. That makes them $2.50 apiece, which is also a pretty great price for a Madball. So if you've been wanting one of the Series 2 offerings ever since our February 2008 review, now you know where to look!

It's amazing how much difference a single paint application can make!

The 'balls look mostly unchanged from the review samples -- so if you're interested in reading about them, check the 2008 review -- but Wolf Breath in particular seemed different to me. I couldn't put my finger on it, but I didn't hate the release version nearly as much as the version I had seen over a year ago! So I bought him (along with a Dust Brain for custom purposes), brought him home, and broke out the preview Wolf Breath for a comparison. The release version is on the left; the advance version is on the right. And you know what? It's amazing how much difference a single paint application can make! While I still prefer the brown-and-black fur of the original Wolf Breath, the addition of flesh-colored paint to the mouth makes this toy look all the more palatable. Now he actually seems like he's got fur around the remainder of his face instead of raw flesh!

Look, green stitches!The new Wolf Breath sure has a dirty backside.

The paint applications differ in a few other areas as well. Whereas the stitching details were left unpainted on the prerelease version, the final release Wolf Breath's stitches are painted in the same color as his slime. Speaking of which, whether because of the black wash and speckling or because of less vibrant paint, the slime and other outstanding details also look more muted on the release toy. I'm not sure either really looks better than the other, but the result that the new Wolf Breath's slime looks more like phlegm does make him seem a bit grosser. Slime is something they dump on you during delightful Nickelodeon gameshows; phlegm is that impossibly nasty stuff you cough up after you've spent an especially unpleasant afternoon snorting your own viscous boogers down your sore and scratchy throat. Ick.

Fido can has bone back?

And while both Wolf Breaths were given a black wash, the wash is much more thoroughly and evenly distributed on the final ball. This too helps to make the fur look more like fur -- as less detail is lost amidst large areas of untouched red -- and diminishes the potentially distracting contrast between the colors of the red fur and the slime phlegm, shaved backside, and bone in Wolf Breath's mouth. The wash also helps to highlight the letter "f" on the bone, though I'm not sure whether it's intended to be a letter or simply an oddly-shaped toothmark. Finally, because it's more cleanly done, the wash doesn't unnecessarily mar Wolf Breath's eyes. In fact, without the big black splotch in it, his larger left eye looks almost like a monocle! If only the stitching running from his right eye were on the other side... then those elements and the bone would combine to give this wolf a truly aristocratic appearance. On the other hand, maybe this look is intended to emulate spectacles fixed on one side... and suddenly I'm seeing a Theodore Roosevelt likeness in there. I guess Wolf Breath is a member of the Ruff Riders? Assuming that the sculptors and artists actually meant for Wolf Breath to resemble the 26th President of the United States, I'm highly impressed!

Anyway, this new Wolf Breath is a lot cooler than last year's advance version -- so if my original review made you less interested in him, you should give the toy a second glance before ignoring it on the peg... especially if the Teddy Roosevelt likeness appeals to you. Hopefully you'll be able to find Wolf Breath before he's history!

-- Wes --

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