Captain Toy/Michael's Review of the Week

Captain Toy Picks...
The Top Ten Action Figure Bad Ideas

Date Published: 2017-03-08
Written By: Michael Crawford

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Twisted Fairy Tales Muffet action figure

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All of these lists are highly subjective - there is no such thing as a 'top ten' anything involving art or design that isn't personal. But this one is going to be particularly subjective, because even the subject is subjective.

This is my top ten of 'bad ideas'. I think we can all understand what an idea is, but what about 'bad'? Is it bad because the company lost money? Is it bad because it was highly unpopular? Is it bad because it produced awful quality? Is it bad because I just happen to be in a particularly cranky mood? The answer to all of that is 'yes'.

Some of the things on this list were ugly, ugly toys. Some were unpopular for one reason or another. Some were poorly timed, some were just weird. None were all of these things. In fact, some of these got a great review from me, and my number one choice on this list was a four star release. It was still a bad idea.

I think this is a particularly interesting concept for a list, because it's an example where the selections say a lot more about the selector than they do about themselves. What makes your list? And why?

Let's get on to my list...

10 - Titan Heroes, Hasbro, 2013
Regular readers know I LOATHE these figures. There isn't anything I can say about them that is in the slightest way redeeming. That does not mean they aren't successful, and you can see this success reflected in the sheer volume of product produced. Hasbro started this mess, but everyone else has picked up on the concept. Cheap, 12" figures with almost no articulation, terrible paint, and as low a price point as possible. This is not the way sixth scale should be represented, and I'm saddened to think that in 10 years some college kid will see a Hot Toys figure and say "Hey, I had a figure like that when I was a kid", and he'll be talking about one of these monstrosities.

Anakin Skywalker action figure

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9 - Jaws, Sideshow, 2006
While I'm singling out the Sideshow release, almost every Bruce that's been done falls into this category. Why? Because it's a shark. To the trained eye, the resemblance may be apparent, but to the average person, it's a big shark. A tremendously expensive big shark, but still a big shark.

What really gets me is that the Jaws license isn't a bad idea. But paying the bucks to get that license and then squandering it on a big shark? Yea, that's a bad idea.  McFarlane did it right with their diorama, and Funko did their convention exclusive just right, but this release was a waste.

Jaws shark statue

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8 - Ultimate Quarter Scale, Diamond Select Toys, 2008
Sometimes, it's more a matter of timing than anything else. Case in point, the Ultimate Quarter Scale figures from DST. In the early aughts, quarter scale figures were quite popular. From NECA, to McFarlane to Mezco to SOTA, there were plenty of companies working in the format.  There were also the higher end Premium Format statues from Sideshow, which incorporated clothing. But by the back half of that decade, the scale was on a down turn, with fewer being produced and less market demand.

It was into this down period that DST introduced their UQS line.  Using a newly designed body that included a talking feature and wearing clothes rather than sculpted outfits, it was an idea before its time.  Of course, it didn't help that the underlying body was weirdly proportioned, with a very long torso (due in part to the talking feature), but people weren't ready for cloth figures in this scale. That eventually changed of course, and Enterbay and Hot Toys have had success since, but these pioneers have been largely forgotten.

Diamond Select Ultimate Quarter Scale Han Solo Hoth action figure

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7 - Lord of the Rings Intelliblox, Playmates, 2001
During the late nineties, Playmates had a winner with the Simpsons World of Springfield. A big part of this success was due to the 'intellitronix' feature, where each figure could be plugged into each play set. Push a button and you would hear their various character (and sometimes play set) specific lines. This worked great for one big reason - the Simpsons is one of the most quoted shows of all time.

Playmates wanted to reproduced that success with another license, so they got creative. They went after a very hot property that would hit in 2001, the Lord of the Rings. They developed Lego-like sets, both large and small, that you could construct. And they added in their Intelligronix feature, calling them 'Intelliblox'. And it crashed and burned.

Part of this was the design of the sets. The talking feature only worked with the largest sets, so it was a waste with the basic versions. The figures required a clunky, permanent base to work, making them less fun in regular situations. And they certainly weren't cheap.

But like UQS, another big problem was timing. Lego, a company many people think of as bullet proof, was posting record losses at the start of the century, and their turn around didn't really begin until 2005. It was the wrong time for building sets, and the 'hook' was ill suited to the property.

Lord of the Rings Intellibox set

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6 - Gotham City 4 Pack, Mattel, 2003
I'm picking on this particular four pack, released by Mattel for the animated line of Batman figures, because it's a particularly egregious example of a larger 'bad idea'. I've always hated stupid, meaningless repaints, and this silver quartet is the perfect example. All four of these figures were available in normal colors and in more than one ridiculous repaint when this set was released. Slapping them in silver was merely a money grab, with no other purpose. The concept is simple enough - little Johnny is walking down the toy aisle, demanding a new Batman figure. Mom, being a normal parent, says no way, you already have a Batman figure.  Poor Johnny is out of luck...unless there's a Batman there that is so obviously NOT the one he already has, that Mom falls for the ruse. And Batman, Batgirl, Nightwing, and Robin all looking like the bumper of a 57 Chevy is definitely an obvious enough look that Mom won't recognize it as one that Johnny already has. But I still hate it.

Mattel Gotham City 4 pack action figures

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5 - Ms. Claus, Twisted Xmas, McFarlane, 2007
Ten to fifteen years ago, McFarlane was at their peak, producing a tremendous number of different figures under different licenses, as well as a multitude of their own unique creations. These bizarre lines covered killers and psychos of all sorts, from historical characters to twisted takes on beloved properties (think Wizard of Oz). Let's not forget their S&M design for Little Miss Muffet shown at the start of this article. At first it was edgy, unique, and hip...but at some point, it started to feel gratuitous and desperate. This is a pretty common evolution for such things, as people become accustomed to them and they lose their original purpose.

For me, the jump-the-shark moment came in the Twisted Xmas line. There were some great figures here, including their evil Snowman and bizarre Santa. But it seemed awfully desperate (or just plain lazy) to throw a sexy, pole dancing Ms. Claus into this gang of gruesome ghouls. Had they stuck with the overall theme and given us an evil, demented version of a kindly old woman, I would have been down with it, but this seemed a break from the other characters, as though the only potential a female figure had was if it sold sex.

Twisted Xmas Ms. Claus action figure

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4 - Artist Signature Series: Batman Hush, DC Direct, 2004
I've paid too much for things a few times. More times than I'd like. Okay, fine, a lot of times. But this one really stands out in my mind.

DC Direct noticed that collectors were buying crappy test shots from Asia. These are figures cast in various colors of plastic (whatever happens to be on hand at the plant) to test out the molds. This is very late in the process, there's lots of them, and they aren't particularly valuable on the pre-production market, but 20 years ago, collectors were bigger suckers than they are now.

They got a bright idea - let's take a couple of our very popular figures (the Hush Batman and Superman), and do a three pack with a repainted production figure, a 'test shot' done in gray plastic, and an non-articulated resin version. Think of it as a history of production, from early resin sculpt to final figure. Of course it isn't, since they are all 'final' figures, but they figured pretend would be good enough. Throw in a Tim Bruckner autograph and an edition size of 1500, all wrapped up in a fancy box, and you have an 'instant collectible'.

Except, not so much. The price tag on this super collectible set was a mere $250 - remember, this is 13 years ago, when a Hot Toys figure cost $120 tops, and the Batman Hush in this set cost $13. They did a Superman and a Batman version, and thankfully I only bought the Batman. The reason is simple enough - when it comes to Batman, I have 'sucker' tattooed on my forehead. I still have this set too, as a reminder of what an idiot I can be...and because, well, you know, it's Batman.

And because I'm sure you're wondering, if I were to put this amazing collectible, sure to be worth a fortune 13 years after buying it, up on ebay today, I'd be lucky - very lucky - to get $100 for it.

Hush Batman Artist Series action figures

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3 - Gangsta Babies, Mezco, 2008
Mezco has had some great ideas over the years. While others struggled, they survived with innovation and smarts. Obviously, Living Dead Dolls was the right concept at the right time, and their recent success with the One:12 Collective proves they've still got it. But not every idea they've had was a home run.

Case in point: Gangsta Babies. What was intended to be a smash similar to LDD wasn't, and I believe they only ended up producing the first four. They were very high quality - all that bling is real metal. They were cute, no doubt about that. But there was just something about the combination that creeped people out, and not in a good way.

Rick and Morty McFarlane sets

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2 - Jessica Chobot, Symbiote Studios, 2007
Occasionally companies pick the wrong license. They bank on something to be a hit and it's not, or they jump behind a property when the timing just isn't right. This was definitely a license choice I never quite understood. If there was an Island of Misfit Statues, Jessica Chobot would be a permanent resident.

Some of you might be saying 'who'? Don't feel bad. Ms. Chobot rose to fame thanks to the early days of viral madness - a photo of her licking a PSP controller was published online in 2005, and she shot to stardom. Unlike the Star Wars Kid, she was smart enough to parlay this into a real life career, working for many years first at IGN and then Nerdist.

But was she really famous enough to garner her own statue? No. And unlike someone like the aforementioned Star Wars Kid, there isn't even a very good story behind it. It didn't help that it wasn't a particularly good statue.

Jessica Chobot statue

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1 - Adolf Hitler, Drastic Plastic, 2002
During the first phase of the sixth scale boom, Drastic Plastic was working with various historical figures. They did some nice western characters, including General Custer. And they came up with an interesting idea - create all the heads of state involved in WWII. Obviously, that would be Roosevelt, and Churchill, but you couldn't leave out Hirohito, Mussolini...and Hitler.

They called the line "Leaders of WWII", and they started with FDR and Hitler. The quality was excellent, especially for 2002, and both of these were four star figures. But that doesn't mean Hitler was a good idea.  I get it, and I'm sure you get it - he's a historical figure, and if you're going to have a WWII display with German and Nazi soldiers, it's a big disingenuous to leave out their commander.

But non collectors don't see things quite the same way.  One of the issues that action figure and statue makers have always faced is the misconception that these are idols. This is a deeply entrenched concept going back thousands of years.  Long before there were action figures and collectible statues, there were icons of religious figures.  These idols were worshiped by their owners - that was the point. This has created the misconception carried forward into today's society: if you have a figure of Hitler, you must be a fan of Hitler.

We never saw the second series, which was intended to include Churchill and Hirohito. I was bummed, since both would have been great additions.

Drastic Plastic Hitler action figure

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Bad ideas in the collectibles market come in all shapes and sizes. These 10 stand out for me, but I'm betting you have some excellent suggestions that I completely forgot.

If you're enjoying this top ten concept of Captain Toy Picks or have a suggestion for a future list, drop me a line and let me know! I've added a section below with links to all the past Captain Toy Picks... features:

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Photos and text by Michael Crawford.

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