Tag Archives: Mattel

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.

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I Have the Power, but not the Money: A tribute to He-Man

imageBy Nick Saunders
7/22/13

I am sure you can recall the moment when you first fell in love. Maybe it was sharing a snack pack with that cute little girl at the lunch table in 1st grade, or possibly that seemingly eternal slow dance to Keith Sweat’s “Twisted” at your high school prom. It could have even been the star-crossed glance you shared with that special someone in line at the beer keg in college.

For me, it was the Christmas when I received my first He-Man figure. I distinctly recall the exultation I felt when I separated the plastic bubble from the cardboard backing and inhaled that oh-so-sweet aroma of cured plastic and paint. Now this was a freaking action figure; like none before, and none since. Many toys have come and gone since that fateful day, but this is unquestionably the moment my torrid affair with these plastic indulgences began.

imageHe-Man has gone through a few interpretations over the last 32 years, some amazing, some terrible, and some ridiculously expensive. Here is a quick overview and my thoughts on each.

imageThe original Masters of the Universe (MOTU) line was released by Mattel in 1981, and lasted until 1987. It was partially conceived as the result of an abandoned licensing agreement to create a toy line for the movie Conan the Barbarian. For some odd reason Mattel decided that a movie featuring graphic violence and sexuality wasn’t the most appropriate theme for children’s toys. Either that, or they were unable to design a figure that could accurately replicate James Earl Jones turning into an anthropomorphic snake, and threw in the towel.

imageDue to some loosened regulations related to television programming for children, MOTU was the first toy line to have its own accompanying cartoon series. This was probably the most significant contribution of the Reagan administration to American society, second only to its invention and proliferation of crack cocaine. The figures themselves were innovative in both concept and design, with action features of increasing complexity, and characterization unheard of by prior toy properties due to the synergistic effect of the accompanying cartoon. They also came with mini-comics, which had no continuity relation to the cartoon show but were great for a laugh.

imageUnlike most of the toys I owned as a child, I still have quite a few original MOTU in my possession. Most are missing weapons and have wear and tear, but I still don’t ever see myself parting with them. They are worth far more to me than the pittance I would get from selling them.

imageI would be remiss to not include a summary of the spin-off series She-Ra: Princess of Power. It was wack; consider it summarized.

imageTwo years after Mattel cancelled the original MOTU line, they released a follow-up line called simply He-Man. Mattel conceived this as a futuristic continuation of the original series, upping the ante by making this conflict an epic intergalactic space opera rivaling that of Star Wars. I’m kidding about the latter comparison; it was awful. He-Man and Skeletor devolved into anemic milquetoast shells of their former selves, who surrounded themselves with a motley stable of generic nobodies as a supporting cast. The toys were horribly designed and featured atrocious build quality- my brother’s “He-Man” broke the first day he had it. If you are unfamiliar with this abysmal series consider yourself fortunate, as I can sum it up with one statement- He-Man had a ponytail.

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imageFast-forward to the year 2000. Shortly after I recovered from 3 months of cave dwelling due to my fears of a Y2K catastrophe, Mattel released the MOTU Commemorative Series. Many of the original figures were re-issued in limited release, which was an amazing way to recapture those long-lost treasures of childhood. I myself scored a Clawful and Stratos from this series, and regret not purchasing more when I had the chance.

imageBased on the interest and success of the Commemorative Series, from 2002-2004 Mattel produced an all-new MOTU series sculpted by the Four Horsemen (master sculptors who had defected from McFarlane Toys). These toys (typically referred to as MOTU Modern, MOTU 2002, or MOTU 200X) were dramatically stylized updates of their 1980’s predecessors, and once again had an accompanying television series to support it.

imageimageAlthough carried by all major retailers, the distribution tended to be inconsistent which resulted in poor sales and many ridiculously hard to find figures. I am pretty sure I ended up dropping $30 on eBay for Roboto because I was so sick of searching for him in stores.

imageRegardless of some of the frustration I encountered, I have a special love for this line and still have the entire collection I acquired. On a recent outing I happened to luck out and obtain the Holy Grail of my MOTU collection, the super-rare Toyfare Exclusive Faker. I nabbed this handsome SOB for an unbelievable $30 MISB (Mint in Sealed Box) at Pop Culture Paradise, as opposed to the $100 average it sells for on eBay.

imageAfter another 4 year hiatus, Mattel released the currently ongoing MOTU toy line, called MOTU Classics, which are sold exclusively online through their website. These figures, also sculpted by the Four Horsemen, feature more extensive articulation (think DC Universe Classics), and simplified sculpts more evocative of the aesthetic of their 1980’s precursors. I personally do not collect this line, primarily due to the fact that I find it exorbitantly expensive. A single figure costs around $25-30 if bought directly from Mattel, and upwards of $50 from a secondary retailer (I’m looking at you, BigBadToyStore). I gots a kid to feed now people, so my days of buying $30 He-Man figures are long gone, besides the above-mentioned once-in-a-lifetime Faker acquisition of course.
imageAll criticism and bemoaning aside, I am very excited to see MOTU still alive and kicking, and hope that Mattel someday produces another mass release line that those of us who aren’t trust fund babies can still afford to collect.

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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.

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!