Michael's Picks for
Best/Worst of 2001
Once again, it’s the
end of the year.The older
I get, the faster the years flow by.
Seems like just yesterday I was searching for Space Madness Ren
This is the time of year
for egg nog, fat men in red suits, and annoying relatives.
It’s also the time of year for ‘best of’ lists.
Here’s my best and worst action figures list for 2001, and if
you’d like to share your opinion, just enter my latest giveaway.
I’ve combined it with a voting sheet for the Best/Worst of
2001, and I’ll tabulate all the results during the first week of
January and do a feature on what the readers think.
Best Overall Line
This was a tough category this year. When I put together my list, I started by listing out all kinds of
possible choices. Some of
those you can see on the Readers Poll. It’s always great when I can put together a list of 20 or
more possible choices for this award, although in reality there’s only
two or three contenders for me, personally.
Many people were
thrilled with the Spiderman Classics – great articulation, great
sculpting and cool display stands made this series a stand out. Tortured Souls was one of McFarlane’s better sculpted lines this
year, although the Samurai Spawn series was pretty sweet as well. McFarlane produced one of the best movie licensed lines this year
in Shrek, and the Living Dead Dolls from Mezco really took off.
For me, three lines
stood out. Second runner up is Spiderman Classics. It’s great to see Toybiz prove that they can produce an
outstanding line when they really set their minds to it.
First runner up is
Futurama from MAC. I’m not
a huge fan of MAC overall, but this line was well articulated, had great
sculpting, and some really terrific accessories.
The big winner this year
– the Simpsons from Playmates. They prove again that they have what it takes to handle a line with
dozens and dozens of characters. Sure,
some were hits and some were misses, but the World of Springfield was the
only line I consistently bought and always looked forward to every
Best Overall Company
Best company is always a toughie –
there’s so many to choose from! It
seems like there are fewer this year than in previous years, but once I
started to list them out I think that perception is mistaken.
New companies like Mezco
and Stan Winston Creations are shaking things up, while old players like
Hasbro and Playmates keep cranking them out. But to be the top company, it requires consistency in quality
across the board.
My top three all
produced many figures this year. They
all focused on collectors more than kids. And they all produced lines I really, really liked.
Second runner up is bbi. While I didn’t buy a lot of their releases this year, the one’s
I did were all excellent quality, with terrific accessories and detail. I’m looking to pick up the Pearl Harbor pilots right now…
First runner up is
McFarlane Toys. Sometimes they have lots of articulation, sometimes almost
none, but the quality of the sculpting and paint ops are always top notch. Todd also has a nack for picking cool licenses, and designing
interesting and unique new properties.
And the top honors go
to…Sideshow Toy. I’ll
be the first to admit that going with the ‘limited edition’
announcements caused me to question their future. But they’ve managed to produce over 15 figures this year that are
now on my shelf, and I’ve preordered a dozen more. They quality of the sculpting has been exceptional all year, and
they’ve improved the costumes and the packaging. I have high hopes for them in 2002.
As a special award, Mezco
gets the Company to Watch trophy. While
the licenses they did in 2001 did nothing for me, the style, quality and
cool accessories they produced speak volumes about their capabilities. I’m hoping the pick up a license I’ll really like, and the are
one of the few companies that I will watch closely at Toy Fair this year.
Best Male Action Figure
This is another category that had plenty
of great choices. I know some
folks will pick various 6” LOTR figures like Gandalf or Strider, while
others will mention Li Mu Bai from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Some figures like Alfred from Hasbro, have been on collector’s
lists for so long that they will get some votes. Others, like Spiderman or Daredevil from Spiderman Classics, have
been done many times before, but never with the quality these releases
Again, I have three
choices. Second runner up is the Comic Book Guy from Playmates. A great character in a great playset, and he’s one I’ve wanted
for a long time.
First runner up is the
F15 and F18 Pilots from bbi. The
level of detail and quality that bbi brought these figures at this price
point is simply amazing. Some
of their more recent releases haven’t been quite as good, and I hope
that won’t be the trend.
And the big winnah…Samurai
Spawn! Sure, I rag on McToys
now and then, but when the produce a winner, they produce a winner. No question about it, this figure has it all – articulation,
sculpting, accessories, and just plain style. All for about eight bucks…and how much were those Hasbro POTA
Best Female Action Figure
Unfortunately, we are getting fewer and
fewer female action figures these days. Gone are the days where every assortment had at least one female. Even worse, many of the females we got this year are more
likely to be on your list for Worst Female Figure. But there were a few stand outs.
DC Direct provided a few
nice examples of the female form, particularly in Cheetah and Artemis. The JLA Wonder Woman wasn’t bad, and Olive Oyl from Popeye was
nice. Princess Fiona from
Shrek wasn’t particularly poseable, but the sculpting was great. 21st Century gave us a couple villains in Matilda
and her twin, and there are a few of us who actually like the 12” Arwen
But my three top choices
aren’t any of those. Second
runner up is the Buffy from Sideshow Toy. While the design of their female body leaves something to be
desired, the head sculpt was excellent.
First runner up is Yu
Shu Lien from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I might have picked on a few of her failings in my review, but
overall she’s the nicest female figure produced this year in the
6”-8” range. Excellent
articulation, great sculpting, and cool accessories impress everyone who
So who could be the
winner? Ah, it’s Cy-girls Blaze. She’s a babe, she’s super articulated, and she can kick some
serious butt. The design of
the body is far superior to most female figures, and bbi has done a
Several companies have stepped up and
improved their packaging this year. Companies
like bbi and Dragon have always done a great job, and while other
companies don’t always make it the most collector friendly, they’ve
done some truly beautiful card art.
Second runner up honors
goes to McFarlane Toys. Nope,
the bubble/cardback system isn’t particularly collector friendly, but
the graphics and style of the art is always excellent.
First runner up is bbi.
All of the 12" figures I picked up this year had excellent packaging,
and you can't beat how collector friendly they are.
And winning in a second
category – Sideshow Toy. They
didn’t start out with the best packaging, but with their latest releases
they’ve shown the improvements that they need to make. Collectors talked to them about it, they listened, and they
changed. It’s refreshing to see a company paying real attention to
Lots of companies improved their
articulation this year, both in 12” and 6-8” formats, while others
like Stan Winston seem to feel it’s completely irrelevant.
Sideshow has one of the
best articulated 12” bodies, along with Dragon and 21st
Century. McFarlane and Art
Asylum produce the best articulation in one line, then completely
sacrifice it in the next. Mezco
did a great job on articulating the Popeye and Captain Nemo toys, but left
us high and dry with Scary Tales. I
tried to balance consistency with break throughs in picking my top three.
Second runner up is
Toybiz. With the Spiderman
Classics, they gave us amazing articulation at the 6-8” scale. And then when they did the new 12” LOTR, they gave us a new male
and female body with excellent articulation.
First runner up is Art
Asylum. They did a great job with several lines this year,
particularly Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Let's hope it stays
And the prize goes to…bbi. Their sixth scale body has had consistently excellent
quality, providing for great poseability and movement. Both the male and female bodies stand out in the industry, and I
always know I’ll get a great body on any figure I buy from them.
Sculpting is another area where we seem
to see improvements every year. McFarlane
set the bar, but other companies like Mezco, Art Asylum and Sideshow are
showing that they can produce as good or better quality.
And speaking of those
folks, they get my top awards for this category. Second runner up is Art Asylum. Right now their forte is sculpting and design, and they can do
everything from a human likeness to a cartoon character with equal ease.
First runner up is
Sideshow Toy. The work by Mat Falls in recent months has really been
But the winner once again
is the giant among toy companies, McFarlane. They didn’t do a lot of figures that interested me this year, but
I can still appreciate the superb sculpts that went into every line.
Best Vehicle or Playset
Vehicles and playsets is a category that
always has far fewer entries, but this year there’s some good choices. Hasbro re-released many of the Star Wars vehicles as exclusives,
and companies like 21st Century with their many vehicles, or
bbi with the F-15 Cockpit, really tested the strength of our wallets.
But there are three
stand outs for me. Second
runner up also comes from McFarlane. It’s the Outhouse playset from Shrek. Great details, and an really amusing idea make this set one of my
First runner up is from
the Simpsons line – it’s the Android’s Dungeon. I mentioned how great it was to get the Comic Book Guy earlier, but
you can’t overlook the playset as well. The details are superb, and the voice lines are some of the
funniest of all the WOS playsets.
The big winner is also
from the World of Springfield – it’s the Treehouse of Horror 2, the
Toys R Us exclusive set with Kang and Kodos. Put this one on your shelf and no one will be able to resist. The figures are great, the playset details and accessories are
excellent, and the voice lines are hilarious. I can’t wait to see the THOH3 set next year.
Best Idea or Innovation:
This year we've seen a number of innovative ideas, and it's great to see
that after all these years there's still some creative possibilities with
Ertl brought us a rather unique line this year in their Sportsman
figures. Highly detailed pheasant hunters, duck hunters and fisherman
in 12" scale surprised many, but did well on the market.
A new game called Z-G showed that you could successfully combine the
gaming craze with action figures. And Ultarama provided cool new
display systems for figures in the 4-8" range.
But my favorite new idea this year is one that's a major hit for Christmas -
Bionicles. Okay, they weren't the most innovative, as Lego had
similar figures earlier. But by putting together an excellent
marketing campaign, they managed to make a combination of building toys and
action figures that kids really took to.
Now it's time for the worst of the year. Too bad every line and
every figure can't be a winner, but there are some figures that just simply
never should have seen the light of day.
Worst Overall Company:
This was the easiest category for me to pick this year. There isn't
anyone even close enough to be runner up - N2 Toys consistently
If it wasn't Matrix, it was Mad Max and Hardened. Terrible figures,
and it's really disappointing to know they got the Tick tv license.
Worst Male Figure:
There's no shortage of nominees for this title. Just look at many of the
movie lines from the summer, and you'll get plenty of choices. Movies
like Mummy Returns, POTA, and Mad Max all had truly terrible male figures
But there was one figure that still stands out for me. The 12"
Morpheus from N2 is simply a terrible action figure. Generic
sculpting, awful articulation, and terrible value make this my pick for the
worst male action figure of 2002.
Worst Female Figure:
I had a really tough time with this one. Just like with the men, the
ladies had their fair share of ugly stick swinging their way.
So I narrowed it down. Second runner up is She Creature from Stan
Winston. Not because she's ugly, but because she is no where near as
scary or cool as she was in the film.
First runner up is Daena from POTA. Hasbro should be ashamed.
They took an attractive actress and turned her into an awful action figure.
But the winner is butt ugly above the rest of the competition. I'll
be doing a full review later this week, but trust me when I say the
Masterpiece Edition Wonder Woman is easily the worst female action
figure this year. She may be the worst in several years, and she's not
only ugly, but because she was in a popular size, she was even more
Worst Overall Line:
I don't remember a time when we got this many poor lines. Enter the
Dragon by Play Along, Tomb Raider, Mummy Returns, and those awful Spiderman
Adventure Heroes...I could go on and on.
But instead I'll jump to my second runner up. The 6" POTA line was
beyond awful. Even at $1.44, Target took weeks to clean them off the
shelves, and they'll be warming pegs at other, less clearance conscious
stores for years.
First runner up is from good old N2; Hardened. The first two
figures are hopefully the last, Steven Seagal and Rambo. Neither
looked anything like the actor, and were nothing more than cheaply done
N2 brings us the big winner this year as well in Road Warrior.
This is one of my favorite films, and that makes seeing the license so badly
abused even harder to take.
Lots of companies improved their packaging this year, as they became more
aware of collectors. Plenty of others learned the value of attractive,
well thought out graphics and text. But there were still a few who
haven't caught on.
First runner up is Hasbro. In
particular, the 12" Star Wars figures continue to be in easily damaged
boxes, that have to be completely destroyed, and ignoring that they are
utterly bland. Throw in more twisty ties than you need, and we're
talking about weak packaging.
Winning once again is N2 Toys.
Big surprise they ended up in another worst of category. All the
packages are weak, but the 12" line was truly awful. Cheap boxes
with little thought to the license or style.
With all the 12" figures on the market these days, articulation has
really improved. Companies like Art Asylum and Mezco are doing a good
job in smaller scales. But there are some other companies who don't
have a clue.
Second runner up is
Playmates. Okay, I love the Simpsons line, but even I have to admit
that Playmates needs to learn a little more about articulation. Look
at Tomb Raider! C'mon guys, the Star Trek line was better than this.
First runner up is Hasbro. Sure, we
can't hope for much more in the smaller Star Wars figures, but everything
they do in the 8"-12" range is still terrible. Yes, there's
a new SA body just hitting, but it's too late for this year.
Winston Creations is the winner though. It's not bad enough that
the figures have no real articulation, but he's came out in interviews
telling us why articulation is a bad thing. In that case, getting the
worst articulation award should come as no surprise.
Sculpting is another area that has really improved with most
companies. There's still a few stick in the muds, but most companies
understand the need for decent sculpting.
But there's still enough companies that
haven't caught on. Second runner up is Hasbro, for their awful
sculpting on lines like POTA, and even some of the Star Wars figures this
First runner up goes to N2 Toys.
Consistency is a good thing, except when you consistently suck. I'm
being nice here and not trying to pick on them for too many categories this
Instead the big winner is...Jakk's!
All I have to say is Mummy Returns, but keep in mind that this company uses
Real Scan. Technology ain't always what it's cracked up to be.
Worst Vehicle or Playset:
This category was a tough one, not because there were so many bad ones, but
because I think there were so few. Most of the playsets and vehicles
that I have seen this year have been at least decent.
But the re-issued Batcave from Batman
The Animated Series had several flaws. First, it's a basic
re-issue. Second, it's fifty bucks. Ouch. I bet I end up
buying one, being the ultimate Batman fool, but it's still going to hurt the
There were some ideas this year that I thought were just plain silly.
Sure, Popeye was a well done line, but the license didn't make sense.
And 'N' the Box makes no sense to me either...
But there was one stand out. What are companies thinking when it
comes to price? This year we saw the cost of figures skyrocket.
Lines like POTA, Jimmy Neutron, Monsters Inc, Tomb Raider, and Creature
Features all came in at $9 and more to start.
Now I know that McFarlane started this years ago, but they are still
producing quality figures for the $8-$10 range, not the crap that other
companies think they can pass off. Sorry, but most of these figures
weren't worth five bucks, and they'll hang on the pegs until the retailers
Most Anticipated for 2002:
Now here's my favorite category. What line or series coming up in 2002
really has me geeked?
There's lots of choices too. We now know that Art Asylum will be
doing the Star Trek license, and I have my fingers crossed that they'll do a
great job. And with Palisades doing the Muppets, and the continuation
of the terrific Simpsons line, my wallet will be feeling lots of cartoon
pain next year.
But easily my most anticipated new line right now is Peanuts, from
Playing Mantis. I was thrilled to hear about this, and although
Playing Mantis has been quiet this year, licking their action figure war
wounds, coming out with this license next year should give them another
As I mentioned earlier, there are several companies I'll be watching
closely next year. Palisades, Art Asylum and Playing Mantis all should
have very interesting news for us at Toy Fair this year, and I hope to see
them do well with the licenses they've picked up.
So what do you think? I have a poll running now, and if you send
in your picks you're entered in a giveaway of the terrific 12" Bela
Lugosi as Murder Legendre figure from Sideshow Toy. The poll will
run until December 31st, and I'll compile the results and let you know how
it turns out in January.
Figures from the collection of Michael Crawford
This page copyright 2001, Michael Crawford. All rights