Tag Archives: Hasbro

Dear Mattel: Your New DC Figures are Super Ugly

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By Nick Saunders
9/12/13

I still can distinctly recall my glee while reading Toyfare Issue 68 back in 2003, and discovering that Mattel had chosen to leverage the DC license into a line of 6-inch figures to compete with (or in my eyes, complement) Toy Biz’s (now Hasbro’s) Marvel Legends line. I had been an avid collector of Marvel Legends since its inception, and had been dying for a comparable line to be released for DC. Sure, there were DC Direct (now DC Collectibles) figures available of many characters, but their wonky 6.75” scale, minimal articulation, and cherubic, china-doll paintjobs made them stick out like lepers on my otherwise immaculate (and disease-free) shelf of awesomeness.

Then came Mattel’s Batman line in 2003. Recently off their stint with the Masters of the Universe 200X line, the Four Horsemen came in ready to take names and chew bubblegum. This line, while a vast improvement over any major release Batman series to date, still had a way to go in competing with Toy Biz’s quality, articulation and detail.

This soon gave way to Mattel expanding the line into DC Super Heroes in 2005, which is where they truly began to shine. They debuted their S3 sculpt that remained the base template for this line into the following decade. Some of my favorite figures and molds came from this series, including S3 Batman, S3 Superman, Lex Luthor, Doomsday, and Mongul, amongst others.

The branding eventually shifted to DC Universe Classics in 2007, and 20 assortments of figures were released until the line ended at the end of 2012. Some great, some obscure, and some downright awful characters were given life, but the quality was always there, both in sculpt and in manufacture.

For 2013, the line has been re-branded once again as DC Unlimited. Some figures are re-paints of prior DCUC or DCSH figures. However others, namely the abominations being targeted in this article, are all-new molds. The primary catalyst for this catastrophic decline in aesthetic appeal is the cross-marketing with the Injustice: Gods Among Us game produced by Netherrealm Studios. I can barely put into words how abhorrent the figures based on this game look. Batman and Superman in particular are hideous, and nothing that even a paper bag could remedy. This type of cosmetic monstrosity couldn’t even be fixed on The Swan.

Even the New 52 sculpts weren’t immune to this rampant design travesty-in-progress. Please see New 52 Darkseid, aka one ugly duck. I think half of the plastic used on this figure went to the head and shoulders. Especially when compared with the amazingly-crafted DCSH S3 Darkseid, this new figure is nothing but a wet, laughable flatulation after a hearty meal of franks ‘n’ beans.

In case I haven’t quite made my point clear, I am saddened and disappointed that one of my favorite toy lines has deteriorated so badly. I truly do wish that the quality of designs reverts back to previous levels, because at this point I think I would rather display My Little Pony on my toyshelf than a DC Unlimited figure.

Tales of a Thrifty Nerd: How to build a sweet collection without starving your family to death

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By Nick Saunders
7/17/13

I had an interesting conversation with my wife yesterday evening after leaving the local comic book store. I was explaining why I liked the Monogram Direct superhero bust banks they were selling so much; they are well-sculpted and (usually) well-painted, and cost about $10-15 each. A similar-sized polystone bust from Diamond Select or Bowen Designs would cost at least $80. Considering I don’t foresee myself leaving the world of grossly underpaid middle management any time soon, I’m going to go with the one that doesn’t force my family to rely on ramen and styrofoam peanuts for sustenance. My wife replied, “that’s why I like you- you find ways to have cool looking stuff without spending tons of money on it.”

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That inspired me to write this article about how to build an envy-inducing empire of swag without incurring your own personal microcosm of the U.S. national debt.

1. Avoid MISB/MIB Figures

When collecting vintage action figures, collecting MISB (Mint in Sealed Box) toys will break your pockets quickly. For a vintage Generation 1 Transformer, this is the difference between spending $50 for loose and $500 for MISB.

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Even for contemporary figures, this will save you money in cases where you have to resort to eBay for an item you can’t find locally. For Marvel Legends or DC Universe Classics, many sellers exclusively sell loose figures. Typically you will pay half the price, and the shipping will be cheaper as the seller can ship in a much smaller box.

Also, check out your local comic shop for loose figures; people often trade their collections in to be re-sold. This is especially useful when collecting vintage. Some great places to look in Phoenix are GI Joe vs. Transformers and Pop Culture Paradise. If you are at a reputable store, you will typically avoid the exhorbitant prices of eBay vintage sellers, be able to examine the item in person, and possibly have room to negotiate the price.

2. Collect Incomplete Figures

Does it really matter if your G1 Optimus Prime comes with the hose and gas nozzle? Will people who view your collection (besides the uber-elitist collectors that this article is clearly not directed at) really think less of it? The answer is a resounding NO. You will save an immense amount of money if you are willing to settle for a figure that might be missing a thing or two. Sometimes one missing accessory can bring the price of an toy down immensely. You can get a c8-c9 condition G1 Targetmaster without the transformable gun for less than a third of what you will pay for it being complete, and you still have the gorgeous figure itself to display on your shelf.

Heck I just picked up a slightly-yellowed loose G1 Slugslinger this past weekend at GI Joe vs. Transformers for a cool $15. The one in the case with less wear and the Targetmaster gun was about $90 (still a good price but not in my budget anymore). If needed he can always borrow an extra gat from one of his homies if things get a little too real with the Autobots up on my toy shelf.
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3. Don’t Be Afraid to do Some Reconditioning

Personally, I have never been into collecting as if it was an investment. I want a collection that looks impressive and gives me enjoyment, but resale value is the least of my concerns. One way I have saved a great deal of money is by buying vintage items that need a little bit of TLC to get them back to presentable condition. For Transformers, eBay is littered with auctions of dirt-cheap loose G1 figures that have moderate cosmetic wear that is easily remedied. While not always the case, usually a thorough cleaning, replacement of some rusty screws, and some freshly applied Reprolabels (amazing reproductions of original G1 Transformer sticker sheets) gives you a toy that looks almost new.

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Of course, the older the Transformer is, the more loose accessories are missing, so don’t go buying that gnarly looking G1 Starscream fuselage with zero accessories and the nosecone chewed off and think you will make it look any more appealing than the polished turd that it is.

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The above methods (sans the Reprolabels of course) also can be applied to loose moderately worn MOTU (He-Man) figures, Thundercats, etc. Especially if you are not afraid to break out some model paint and do some touch-ups, you can bring that beat up old Skeletor back to life to wreak havoc on the peace-loving citizens of Eternia.

4. Re-issue is NOT a Dirty Word

In the early 2000’s, toy companies began to re-release vintage figures from the 1980’s. Mattel re-released several MOTU figures during this time, and Hasbro and Takara began re-releasing the original Generation 1 Transformers as well. They had uncovered the original molds from the 1980’s and put them back into production. All but the most discriminating collectors jumped at the chance to buy their favorite Autobot or Decepticon for half of what the original 1980’s editions were going for online. Not only were they brand new and completely immaculate, they came with all of their accessories and a fresh label sheet to apply to the toy. Call me weird, but one of my favorite things to do as a kid was to apply the labels to a new Transformer. Even on the secondary market, you will be able to purchase a re-issue version of a vintage toy for less than the original run. However, coversely you must be wary of vendors and eBay sellers marketing re-issue items as originals, as the differences are often only noticable to an expert eye.
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At the end of the day if you follow these tips, while you may not bankroll your future child’s college fund with the purchases you have made, what you will have is an awesome and unique collection to display proudly. And money for toilet paper.

Tossing up Bricks: My sick obsession with Kre-O Transformers

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By Nick Saunders
7/14/13
 
I never would have imagined that a toy line hybridization of Lego and Transformers would be as enjoyable to me as collecting actual Transformers themselves, but I’ve been hooked on these interlocking pieces of plastic crack for over two years. However, this year’s sparce tradeshow reveals and current lack of big-box retail engagement indicate the line is approaching its twilight. Not the porcelain-toned, histrionic vampire kind of Twilight, but equally dismaying and disturbing nonetheless.

Rival toy companies have been trying to integrate Lego’s designs into their product catalogues ever since the final Lego design patent expired in 1989. For those that have been collecting Transformers for awhile, you will recall that Kre-O is not Hasbro’s first attempt at translating the Lego concept to their toy properties. In 2003 Hasbro released a line called Built to Rule, which were building block sets based on Transformers: Armada and G.I. Joe. These grotesque abominations were utterly laughable in their heavy-handed disregard for design, and staggering ugliness proportionate to seeing Bea Arthur naked. As can be imagined, the line was a catastrophic failure and was cancelled within a year. Shaking in their boots Lego was not. It is unfortunate though, because the cancelled sets planned for 2004 were much nicer looking by comparison.

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Based on the misersble failure that was BTR, I was actually surprised that Hasbro released Kre-O at all.  Yet in the Fall of 2011 Hasbro released the line in retail stores nationwide. I was initially indifferent, but at the same time took immediate notice to how much better the build design was than the BTR line. I also found it intriguing that the larger sets blended design elements from the original Transformers toys and their live-action movie counterparts.

For Christmas in 2011, my wife bought me the large Bumblebee set as a surprise. The minute I sat down and built the robot mode (design constraints do not allow these to transform), I was completely hooked. I had not built a Lego set since I was 13 years old, and had completely forgotten how enjoyable it was. I immediately went out and bought more sets, twitching and scratching like an addict the whole way to the store.

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The best part of these building sets is the potential for customization. If I didn’t like an aspect of a build from the instruction book, I simply rebuilt it to fit my liking. For some sets, this involved some minor tweaks (Sentinel Prime, Starscream, Sideswipe, large Optimus), and others complete rebuilds (Megatron, Jazz, basic Optimus, Prowl). To me these sets were the most fun of all, the creative freedom of restructuring the robots was in some ways therapeutic for me. Of course a few sets were amazing without any tweaks at all. There were a couple of duds too, I’m looking straight at your ugly arse, Stealth Bumblebee. No amount of rebuilding made that turd tolerable.

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It would appear that based on the Botcon displays I browsed last month, no new Transformers Kre-O sets are forthcoming outside of a couple more Micro Changer combiner sets. Also, the current TF Kre-O assortment has all but disappeared outside of Toys R Us. Combine this with the impending release of the new Construct Bots line (think Bionicle for Transformers), and the writing is on the wall- finger painted by a rebellious toddler with authority issues. Kre-O is being put out to pasture.

So why is there such minimal retail support for the line? I have some theories. While the initial Kre-O assortments did go clearance at most major retailers, it wasn’t until almost a year after their initial release, which is not an abnormal occurence for any successful toy line. The full TF Battle for Energon assortment was released soon thereafter in all major retailers, indicating the demand was still strong and retail partners still engaged. I believe Kre-O cried its death knell after the horrendous performance of the Battleship line, which was released to cooincide with the equally horrendously performing film. Ironically, this film was also the death knell for the once promising career of Taylor Kitsch, but I digress. The sets themselves were appealing enough, but being tied to a dead movie concept kept sales down. They languished on shelves and were ultimately clearanced by Fall of 2012.

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My belief is that this dismal failure unjustly soured retailers on the Kre-O brand as a whole, as evidenced by the subsequent Transformers, G.I. Joe, and Star Trek assortments being picked up solely by Toys R Us. Time will tell whether the line is truly winding up, or possibly just going on hiatus.

In the meantime, bring on the Construct Bots!

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Oh Captain, My Captain: Some of the best Captain America toys ever made

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By Nick Saunders
7/4/13

I thought that a fitting way to celebrate our freedom from the crumpet-eating Brits would be to take a look back at some of my favorite Captain America toys that have been made in the last 30 years. He has always been one of my favorite superheroes, and I always love scoring a new Cap toy.

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Secret Wars Captain America, Mattel (1984)

In 1984, Mattel released an entire Secret Wars line to cooncide with the Marvel crossover comic being published at the time. These were also meant to be placed in direct competition with the DC Super Powers figures being made by Kenner.

This Cap was particularly cool because the figure was durable unlike the Kenner line, and featured the line’s signature shield gimmick with a lenticular insert that would alternate images.

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Marvel Super Heroes Captain America, Toy Biz (1990)

It took a few years to get another decent Cap figure again, but Marvel subsidiary Toy Biz hit a home run with their Marvel Super Heroes line in 1990. This figure is unique because he had a shield that was mounted on a spring-loaded launcher.

Also, no doubt due to my highly persuasive (read: irritating) begging and campaigning, my folks were generous enough to get me the accompanying Captain America Turbo Coupe. This was basically a Corvette ZR-1 on steroids with a working shield battering ram and detachable hidden glider. One of the greatest action figure vehicles ever made, I really wish I knew what I did with mine.

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Marvel Legends Series 1 Captain America, Toy Biz (2002)

The modern standard for action figure quality was established in 2002 when Toy Biz conceived and released the Marvel Legends toy line. These hyper detailed and articulated 6-inch figures redefined the superhero toy and further blurred the line between “toy” and “collectible.” This piece still remains one of the highlights of my action figure collection.

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Marvel Legends Ultimate WWII Captain America, Hasbro (2008)

Considered the primary influence for the costume of Cap in Captain America: The First Avenger, this Ultimates modeled figure came in a 2-pack with the first Marvel Legends iteration of Ultimate Nick Fury. This depicts Cap while fighting in World War II, prior his deep-freeze in the Arctic.

It comes to the party strapped with a pistol, shield, and machine gun, with removable ammo belt, helmet, and an interchangeable head. Steve Rogers definitely was smoking Nazis in style.

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Marvel Legends Heroic Age Captain America, Hasbro (2012)

This figure actually is a depiction of Bucky Barnes (aka the Winter Soldier), former sidekick of Captain America, who took up the shield while the original Cap was temporarily “dead.”

I really despised the design of this suit when it first debuted in the comics, but the first time I came across this figure my opinion of the revamped suit totally reversed. It has a tactical vibe to it with the black accents and gear, metallic paint, and the included pistol and Rambo shank give it beaucoup street cred. Yes, I just said an action figure has beaucoup street cred.

My brother gave this to me last year for my birthday, and it remains one of my favorites.

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Transformers Crossovers Captain America, Hasbro (2009)

Last, but not least, I feel the need to include the Transformers Crossovers Captain America. While some TF and Marvel fans alike very much disliked this toy line, this particular figure stands out as one of the better molds they made. I personally dig the rugged Humvee alternate mode and the robot is solid with a well-translated likeness of Cap. It comes with a detachable spare tire that expands into his signature shield.

Ironically, as often as I have heard people dog on this toy line, I frequently see in online forums examples of this particular toy being used as the base for custom Transformer kitbashes (custom figures made out of the parts of other toys).

So that’s what I’ve got for today. My thanks go out to the men and women who continue to protect our freedom so that men like me can blog about toys.

Thumbs up soldier!

Botcon Blues

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By Nick Saunders
7/2/13

Ever since I discovered the Internet and got back into collecting Transformers, I have heard about this magical event called BotCon, aka the Transformers Collectors Convention. This annual event happens every summer, and is filled with exclusive toys, dealers selling vintage and modern figures, discussion panels, and celebrity guests.

It’s been on my bucket list for years to make it to BotCon at least once, if only to sample the sweet nerd glory for a brief moment in time. Like a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Mecca, Santiago de Compostela, or White Castle, I would find my salvation within.

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This year I finally got to go while out west visiting friends in San Diego. The first thing I did was check out Hasbro’s displays of current and upcoming figures for 2013 and 2014. They always do an excellent job showcasing their new products, and this year’s reveals did not disappoint. The new Metroplex coming out this summer is absolutely dope; this 2-foot tall behemoth will be the new crowned jewel of my collection. I also netted a complementary orange Devastator Kreon (Transformers version of a Lego figure) from the nice Hasbro reps. Sweet.

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I wasn’t very interested in the guests this year, so I skipped that part completely. Now, had Peter Cullen or Frank Welker (original voices of Optimus and Megatron, respectively) been there it would have been a totally different story- one where I shamelessly would have used my adorable 3 year old son to sucker them into a free autograph.

Next for me was perusing the dealer tables (aka Christmas in July). Usually buying a vintage TF means rolling the dice on a shady eBay auction and praying to God almighty that the conspicuously grainy photo does not yield you a sun-bleached, rusty-screwed, sticker-barren, mouse turd-covered lemon from the 7th circle of toy hell. Here instead was my chance to get my mits on virtually any transformer ever made, to inspect them in person and walk out with my loot the same day. None of this Brady Bill-esque 7-10 day waiting period crap that online shopping forces me to suffer through.

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Funny thing happened though, I didn’t buy a dang thing. Nothing. Not the loose G1 Darkwing I’ve been clamoring to get for 25 years. Not the loose G1 Punch/Counterpunch I’ve been trying to reaquire since losing mine back in ’91. Definitely not the loose G1 Scorponok I have coveted since my friend David got one in ’87. Heck, not even the complete Darth Vader Death Star Transformer that Captured Prey had there for the killer price of 15 bones made it out the door with me.

It just didn’t feel like how I imagined it. Many of the smaller dealers were condescending malcontents whose prices were obsurd and typically unmarked. If you’re going to try and scalp me, at least tell me upfront so we can avoid the 20 questions. I felt like I was fighting through a crowded bazaar in Calcutta just to stick my head in and check out the overpriced merch in their booths.

Dejected, I rounded up my wife and boy and hit the bricks. My wife had to ask me three times to make sure I wasn’t passing up anything I would regret. She would later take me to Toys R Us and buy me some stuff instead, completely bypassing the ridiculous tariffs being levied at the convention. God bless her for being so awesome.

Overall I am glad I went to BotCon, but can’t help but feel a sense of demoralization akin to finding out that the mall Santa Claus is really just a smelly, out of shape man with a spiraling career trajectory and a predisposition to cirrhosis of the liver.

Oh well, there’s always next year. At least Cobra Commander’s minions were kind enough to hand me an epic butt whooping on my way out the door.

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