I don't collect diecast, but you wouldn't know if by looking around my house. I do have some cars, particularly now that Mattel is doing a thousand and one versions of the Batmobile. Anyone that knows me knows I collect Batmobiles in extreme ways (although even I haven't broken down and bought the $100 RC 'bat ATV'), but that still doesn't account for the literally hundreds of Hot Wheels around our house.

They aren't mine, you see. My son, who is turning four very soon, loves cars. He's loved them since birth - his mom swears he popped out holding a Hot Wheel. And so I've been buying many for him, and actually have sets of the First Editions from each year since his birth, all put away for a time when he waxes nostalgic about how much he once loved his little cars, and how sad he is that his mom threw them all away...won't he be surprised!

So while I spend most of my shopping time in the action figure aisle, I do spend enough in the diecast aisle to notice the new and interesting cars. One set that really caught my eye is the Creepsters from Playing Mantis under their Johnny Lightening logo. It's geared toward kid collectors rather than adults, although I find them ten times more interesting than another version of a 68 Buick. Then again, I prefer toys to real cars.

Like any self respecting kid's line, the Creepsters have a back story. Dr. Creep is an insane scientist who has devoted his life to merging cars with living tissue, in what seems to me to be a completely reasonable way to reduce or dependency on fossil fuel. You see, then the cars can just eat food...

Anyway, like all insane experiments, something goes horribly wrong, and the Creepsters are born. Some are good, and some are evil, but all are as ugly as a monkey's butt. Which is the whole point of course, as they all look nice and creepy, just the kind of thing that little Billy can use to freak out his sister and her friends.

Retail runs around $1.50 each, and you can find them at most major retailers. I have four of them, but there are twelve altogether in the first series, six good and six evil.

There's also a playset/track I've only seen at Toys R Us, called the Jaw Jumper.  It comes with a variant paint version of Orb-It.

Packaging - ***
The small cardback/bubble packages look good, but aren't outstanding. The design is utilitarian first, pretty second, and that's fairly common for kid based lines. The graphics on the front are eye catching, but are the same across the line. I do like the 'rat fink' sort of feel to the appearance of the graphics though, and they stand out pretty well amongst the billion 64th scale product on the pegs.

Sculpting - ***1/2
Obviously for die cast cars, sculpt (design) and paint are the big issues. I really do like the designs here, and they take me back to the 60's/70's styles of Rat Fink or Nutty Mads. Of the four I have, I think Bonehead, the head honcho of the evil clan, is my favorite. The texture and details really make him appear skull like, and the half-head design works best for him.

Go Go Goblin is a half-head design as well, and I have to admit that this works well with the car concept. Maybe it's the upper teeth acting as a grill, or perhaps the slightly more svelte appearance, but the cars that went with this design are my preference in general.

Both Hyde and Seek and Sting Thing are more of a full head/body sort of design, and whether that works or not is more hit and miss. I like Hyde N Seek, but I think Sting Thing is my least favorite, with a design that just doesn't do it for me.

However, the overall sculpting on every car is top notch, and the flavor and style carries through the series nicely. Every kid may have his own preferences, but one of the most important aspects of this line is that every car is very much different from every other one, at least so far. That means kids are more likely to want to pick up the whole set, and it makes it easier for parents to remember what they have and what they don't.

In case you were wondering about scale, yes, these are 1/64th. I've included some shots with Hot Wheels for comparison.

Paint - **
The paint ops on these are pretty consistent with standard mass market kid's toy releases. There's a handful of very bright colors, but not a lot of small detail work. The colors are generally consistent, clean and even. There's some bleed and poor definition between colors, especially between the eyes or teeth and the face, and in some areas it's really obvious.  For example, the white of the hand coming up out of Hyde's hat is pretty much all over the place.  Some of the pupils are uneven, so pay particular attention when you are picking them out on the peg.

However, at this price point and with this target market, the quality of the paint ops doesn't particularly surprise me.

It's also well worth nothing that some aspect of each of the cars is glow in the dark. I'm a big fan of GITD stuff, and here the paint seems to absorb a pretty good amount of light, shining fairly well in a completely dark room.

Quality - ***
The undercarriage on the cars is a solid diecast metal, with metal axles and plastic wheels.  The body is an injection molded plastic, very heavy, and quite solid.  The back wheels are larger than the front, and they all have funky plastic side pipes, adding to the general hot rod feel.

These are nice, sturdy, built for play cars that will take a lot of abuse.  All four rolled well across the floor, and looked pretty cool doing it.

Accessories - **
Usually this category wouldn't make sense with diecast, but there really are accessories! Normally this category would be a bupkis, or not even included.  What you get depends on the package though - some of the single carded figures have the CD, and some don't.

The CD I speak of contains the shockwave presentation from the web site of the origin or story of the Creepsters.

The other accessory is a background card, that kids can also collect, and that gives some specs and background on each character.

Fun Factor - ***
These have a great nostalgic retro feel to them, yet they have just the right gross out factor to appeal to kids. The weight and bulk means they won't be doing any 360 loops, but what they lack in performance they make up for in style.

Value - **1/2
In general, the JL cars are more specialized, with lower production runs, and higher quality than the average Hot Wheel or Matchbox car. I'm grading these on the $1.50 each price, which seems about an average value. If you can manage to find the three packs, you'll get a better deal.

Overall - ***
I suspect a large reason why these caught my eye in the diecast aisle is the designs. They remind me of characters and toys from my youth, and not the ultra modern, super slick stuff of the current age. They tap into two big areas of interest for little boys - cars, and monsters. When you can get two for the price of one, how do you miss!

I doubt there will be too many adult collectors grabbing these up, since they'll think they're too 'kiddie'. Of course, these same people wait outside Target at 8am, racing each other to the Hot Wheels every morning. But if you've got a kid around, or your still a big enough kid to appreciate silly cars, these deserve a closer look.

Packaging - ***
Sculpt - ***1/2
Paint - **
Quality - ***
Accessories - **
Fun Factor - ***
Value - **1/2
Overall - ***

Where to Buy - 
I've seen these at Meijers, K-mart, and Toys R Us, and I've heard you can find them at 7-Eleven as well if you need a Big Gulp fix. You shouldn't have much trouble finding the line, but particular cars might take a little longer to find than others, since some of the designs are going to be more popular.

The single carded Creepsters are usually around 6 bits, but you can find three packs for four bucks at some stores.

Figure from the collection of Michael Crawford.

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