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 Hoek.

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 release.

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 had.

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 figures?

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 from Toybiz.

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 see her.

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 terrific job.

Best Packaging
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 their customers.

Best Articulation
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 that way.

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.

Best Sculpting
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 outstanding.

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 favorites.

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 action figures.

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 produced garbage.

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 included.

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 disappointing.

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 plastic statues.

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.

Worst Packaging:
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.

Worst Articulation:
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.

Stan 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.

Worst Sculpting:
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 year.  

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 year.

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 wallet.

Worst Idea:
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 realize it.

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 winner.

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

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This page copyright 2001, Michael Crawford.  All rights reserved.