Captain Toy/Michael's Review of the Week

Captain Toy Picks...
The Top Ten Original Action Figure Lines

Date Published: 2017-06-21
Written By: Michael Crawford

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Legends of the Blade Hunter action figure

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Before we get started, let me define 'original'. It's pretty easy - I'm talking unlicensed. These are lines not tied to a parent property or big screen character, but are the original works of the manufacturer.

Once upon a time, all action figure lines were 'original'. This was the era of G.I. Joe (the original, not those dinky toys), Captain Action, Major Matt Mason, Johnny West, and many others. There was some licensing - Captain Action could dress up like Batman or Spider-man - but 90% of the toys kids played with were unique inventions from the companies themselves.

And then came a series of science fiction films that changed all that - Planet of the Apes. Yea, I know you thought I was going to say Star Wars, and while that juggernaut was the one to push licensed products to a whole new level, it was POTA that really started it all. They had everything from bed sheets to t-shirts to yes, action figures. In the mid 70's, the country was swept with Ape-mania, thanks to some brilliant marketing by 20th Century Fox. And the toy industry was never quite the same.

During the 80's there were still the occasional original line, but by the 90's they had all but died. For the next twenty years, if it wasn't licensed, it wasn't happening. With the arrival of Kickstarter and other crowd sourcing methods, smaller companies were able to get truly original ideas to market, and the concept has started to boom once again.

All that leads me to my personal rules for setting up this list of ten.  First, I left all vintage - pre-1990 - action figure lines out. That means two of the biggest and baddest of all original toy concepts won't be here: Transformers and Masters of the Universe. Remember, both of these started out as toys first, and turned into the cultural juggernauts they became later.

To narrow the field a bit more, I'm also leaving out 'designer' lines. I'm going to get around to a top ten for designer vinyl eventually, and there's about a million to choose from of course. If I tried to include them here, I'd simply not do the style and market justice. This means that one of my initial picks for this top ten - Smart Bombs - will have to wait.

I'm also only sticking with stuff that's actually been produced. I know there's a bunch of stuff in the pipeline, plenty of ideas on Kickstarter, but until they see the light of day, they aren't real. That means one of the best looking new lines with a tremendous amount of potential didn't make the list - Articulated Icons. The first wave should start shipping in quantity before the end of the month, but it's not officially out yet.

But those are the only 'rules'. That still leaves an awful lot to choose from, and my final ten are...

10 - Realm of the Rodent, Lazy Bonz, 2005
I'm starting out with an oddball, as if every original concept figure line isn't an oddball. I came across a booth back in 2005 at SDCC that was dedicated to the first two figures in what they hoped would be the next big thing - Realm of the Rodent. This was right about the same time that Mouse Guard debuted at the Motor City Comic-Con, and you can certainly see the similarities. When I reviewed these two - Otak and Criket - I lamented how I felt anthropomorphic taxidermy should make a comeback. It hasn't, but these are still mighty cool, and I wish the line had made it deeper into other characters.

They aren't particularly cheap on ebay, but you can grab them pretty easily for around $100 each.

Realm of the Rodent action figures

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9 - Realm of the Claw, Stan Winston, 2002
Stan Winston and Stan Winston Creations are best known for their truly ground breaking and amazing work in movie creatures and practical effects, but they dipped their toe into the collectible toy market about 15 years ago. The line was called the Realm of the Claw (I promise that's the end of any picks with the word 'realm' in them), and this anthropomorphic animal line was pretty special at the time. The sculpting was excellent, and the accessories included things like extra head sculpts. There was only one wave of six figures as I recall, but this cat themed series stood out at the time for its overall quality.

Realm of the Claw action figures

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8 - Freakables, Palisades, 2004
The first two picks were animal themed - now let's go for something REALLY original. Palisades was well known for amazing action figures, and their Muppets line remains one of the finest ever produced. They dabbled in original works as well, and my favorite of those was the Freakables. Long before the current craze with blind boxed collectible figures, Palisades came up with an idea to do small, unique characters with a twist - each had something covering its face, which could be opened to reveal the visage behind. They produced several waves and exclusives, although the harsh reality is they never really caught on with collectors. It's hard - and totally unpredictable - to get an original concept to take off, and while I still like these little guys, the mass consumers didn't go for it.

Freakables action figureFreakables action figure

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7 - Dark Carnival, Mezco, 2003
Another company that has experimented quite a bit with various original concepts is Mezco. In fact, their experiment in 1/12 scaled figures is a huge hit right now, called the One:12 Collective. They don't quality here, since it's a format for licensed characters and not original properties, but it's that same sort of creativity and innovation that fueled many of their unlicensed concepts, like Gangsters Inc.

Among the many, one of my favorites was the short lived (only four figures that I remember) Dark Carnival series. These Mezco lines weren't really intended to turn into major run monstrosities, but were well designed for a few figures in a single wave. Here, we got their unusual take on a few carnival or circus characters, including the very cool deluxe fortune teller figure.

Dark Carnival Stitches action figure

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6 - Weaponeers of Monkaa, Spy Monkey, 2012
Most of these really cool original concepts come from small companies - no surprise there. But Spy Monkey is small compared to just about anybody, yet they've produced some really cool stuff. From various weapon sets and accessory sets to the full blown line of Weaponeers, they focus on fun and playability. Parts are all interchangeable and swappable, adding to the enjoyment.  The designs are unique, but they speak to our innate love of robots, pirates, and other common themes.

Weaponeers of Monkaa action figure

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5 - Dragons, McFarlane Toys, 2005
While other companies dabbled with original concepts, McFarlane Toys made them a strategy. With lines like Infernal Parade, Faces of Evil, Legend of the Blade Hunters, Twisted Fairy Tales, Twisted Xmas and more, they pushed into the market in a major way. Certainly their most successful endeavor with an original concept was the Dragons line, with multiple waves and deluxe figures released over several years. Their take on the ancient myths spoke to collectors and fans alike, and the highly detailed sculpts set them above the usual dragon fare.

Dragons Hydra action figures

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4 - Living Dead Dolls, Mezco, 2001
I bet some of you will happily argue with me on this one. They aren't action figures, they're dolls!  Of course, some of you would also argue that Hot Toys figures aren't action figures, but dolls as well. It can be a difficult distinction to make.

This is also a little tricky because while the characters aren't licensed (that's changed in more recent years a bit, but I'm talking about the original concept), they were often based on pretty obvious and well known characters. For example, below is Deadbra, the prom queen, clearly a take off on Carrie.

I'm still calling them an original concept, because the overall idea was unique and unusual for the time frame, and while some of the older dolls were very *familiar*, they weren't actually licensed. Mezco getting in on this with the original creators of the concept was a match made in heaven, and gave both a big boost as well.

Mezco Living Dead Dolls action figure

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3 - The Dead, Sideeshow, 2006
Once upon a time, collectors of every scale and style complained that there simply were no zombie figures. None. It was a massively untapped market. And much like the zombie apocalypse, BAM, that germ of an idea spread until the collection was crawling with the undead.

The first major manufacturer to get into the zombie arena did so completely on their own, not tying their brand to any previously known license. Sideshow created 'The Dead', a terrific series of sixth scale zombies, each with their own backstory. The sculpting and paint work on them was well above some of Sideshow's other work during the same time period, and thanks to the line, you can create a mass of undead figures to face off against the likes of Rick Grimes or Michonne.

Sideshow The Dead Subject 5 sixth scale action figure

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2 - Stikfas, Stikfas/Hasbro, 2001
Part model kit, part action figure, all fun, Stikfas were a terrific toy of the early aughts, winning awards for creativity and innovation.  They were licensed by Hasbro for the American market, where they took off with toy collectors and fans of figures that were super poseable and highly customizable. You could turn Stikfas into just about anything, and collectors did. They came with vehicles, animals, and other goodies too, allowing you to create an entire Stikfas world. The fact that you built them appealed to the kit market as well, and they generated their own highly loyal following. Hasbro eventually created the offshoot Xevoz line, which took this concept even further.

Stikfas action figures

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1 - Mythic Legions, Four Horsemen, 2016
The most modern line on my list, but one of the best in recent years, the Mythic Legions from the Four Horsemen is perfect the culmination of their work over the last decade.  They started with in house designed (with the direct help of fans) lines of anthropomorphic figures, worked with updating various vintage lines (including the terrific Outer Space Men), graduating to what is potentially their best creation so far.

These guys are selling like hot cakes, and the first series is already mighty hard to get.  Those who got in early with the Kickstarter campaign were treated to some nice extras as well, and the general model of re-use with mods that has been so successful for them is a perfect fit for a series like this. I suspect it's going to be their hallmark, among many terrific milestones as a company.

Four Horsemen Mythic Legions action figure

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There's an awful lot of really creative ideas out there - I'm betting you've got your own favorites.  There's also a ton on the horizon, thanks to the various crowd sourcing models that make these unique endeavors less risky. I haven't seen them in hand yet, but I'm betting the first series of Articulated Icons will leap onto this list in the top 5 right from the get go, and there are several others currently in various stages of early production that I'm keeping my eye on.

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:

Captain Toy Picks...The Top 'Remakes Required' Sixth Scale Figures!
Captain Toy Picks...The Top Sideshow Sixth Scale Figures!
Captain Toy Picks...The Top Hot Toys Portraits - Male!
Captain Toy Picks...The Top Robot Action Figures!
Captain Toy Picks...The Top Animal Action Figures!
Captain Toy Picks...The Top Action Figure Vehicles!
Captain Toy Picks...The Top Television (Live Action) Action Figure Lines!
Captain Toy Picks...The Top Movie Based Action Figure Lines!
Captain Toy Picks...The Top Underrated Action Figure Lines!
Captain Toy Picks...The Top Action Figure Play Sets!
Captain Toy Picks...The Top Ten Smart Purchases!
Captain Toy Picks...The Top Ten McFarlane Lines!
Captain Toy Picks...The Top Ten Bad Action Figure Ideas!
Captain Toy Picks...The Top Ten Toy Fair 2017 Reveals!
Captain Toy Picks...The Top Ten Unproduced Action Figures!
Captain Toy Picks...The People's Picks for Best of 2016!
Captain Toy Picks...Best/Worst of 2016!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Poppies Winners of the Past Ten Years!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten DC Universe Classics Action Figures!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Christmas Action Figures!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Joker Action Figures!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Superman Action Figures!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Animated Action Figure Series!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Toy Things I'm Thankful For!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Premium Format Statues!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Horror Sixth Scale Figures!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Horror Action Figures!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Sixth Scale Disappointments Over $100!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Sixth Scale Disappointments Under $100!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Palisades Muppets!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Wanted Licenses in Sixth Scale!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Batman Black and White Statues!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Masters of the Universe Classics Action Figures!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Female Action Figures!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Prop Replicas!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Simpsons World of Springfield action figures!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Batman action figures!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Sixth Scale Grails!
Captain Toy Picks...Top Ten Sixth Scale Figures!

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Photos and text by Michael Crawford.

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