New contributor Nick Saunders takes a look at the recent trend of declining articulation in Hasbro’s action figures.
Welcome to the first edition of my new column: Maximum Articulation! From week to week I will be exploring various topics related to toy collecting, the toy industry, and the source material that inspires these delectable morsels of plastic crack to be brought into existence. For this week’s tirade, let’s talk about how way too many of Hasbro’s recent action figures seem to have more in common with stick men than the dynamic heroes they are modeled after.
Most collectors expect a certain level of articulation in the toys they choose to add to their shelves. What good is owning an action figure if it can’t emulate the dexterous movements of the subject character? During the 2000’s there was a boom in action figure quality, with detailed sculpting and extensive articulation becoming the industry standard. However, as of 2013 it appears that the honeymoon may be over, as the sophistication of certain lines of Hasbro action figures appears to be headed back to the Stone Age. Granted, this trend of simplification could prove to remain constrained to specific lines and/or assortments, but being the pessimistic fear-monger that I am I feel it is an issue worth exploring. So, grab your bludgeon, your shards of flint, and your loincloth of choice, and let’s go bag us a mammoth.
Creating highly articulated action figures is not a new concept. The 1982 launch of Hasbro’s G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero set the market ablaze with their 11-point body type, which in retrospect was a marvel of engineering and manufacturing prowess far ahead of its time. Most, if not all, competing lines in this size class and larger remained at 5 points well into the following decade. G.I. Joe has remained relatively consistent in this quality up to this day (G.I. Joe Extreme notwithstanding), with even their 2013 “Basic” assortment maintaining this standard. However I would like to note that I have seen nicer and more abundant paint applications on Happy Meal toys, and not just the exquisite transforming hamburgers of decades past. I’m talking last week, when I bought my son a Chicken McNugget meal just so I could gank the Power Rangers Megazord from right under his nose.
Collectors’ expectations for advanced articulation increased exponentially after the 2001 release of Toy-Biz’s Spider-Man Classics line, and the subsequent 2002 release of Marvel Legends. Now, instead of a paltry five or seven points of articulation, these 6-inch main-line figures were being released with 20–30. Soon thereafter, Mattel released the DC Superheroes line, which would evolve into DC Universe Classics, also employing detailed sculpts and several points of articulation at the 6-inch scale. The fully-articulated goodness even trickled its way back into 3.75-inch territory via the Star Wars, DC Universe Infinite Heroes, and Marvel Universe lines. The action figure gods were mightily pleased, all was right in the world, and no live animals had to be sacrificed to make it happen.
Now let’s return to 2013, a year in which the beer flows like wine, and beautiful women instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano. Let’s take a quick tally of the toy lines Hasbro has taken back to a 5-point body type, and whether there really is legitimate need for concern. Excluding the new Black series, Star Wars has gone entirely back to days of Kenner articulation, leisure suits, disco, 8-tracks, and veritable forests of body hair. Other Hasbro 3.75-inch lines now sporting the same rigor mortis include Wolverine, Avengers Assemble, Iron Man 3, and Ultimate Spider-Man. Even the 12-inch Marvel Titan Hero series figures feature a 5-point body type. Granted, they only cost 10 bones, but damn—at least a Ken doll would come with an interchangeable outfit (and a featureless crotch). This is a particularly alarming trend for me, since Hasbro is the current manufacturer of the grandfather of modern articulation, Marvel Legends. My worst fear is that this new articulation trend is being financially driven by a nefarious cabal of cannibalistic Six Sigma black-belts and eventually will permeate this line and others.
Yet I am also cognizant that Hasbro does not design their action figures solely to appease the tastes of 30-something man-children, and that there is some practical logic behind this design shift. Especially at the smaller 3.75-inch scale, highly-articulated figures tend to be more delicate and easily warped due to the multitude of cuts in the sculpt. As an adult collectible whose sole purpose is striking poses of epic win on a bookshelf, this presents little to no issue. As a plaything for a 5 year-old with a bloodlust for rending limbs from toys like some sort of diminutive Rancor beast, this is a recipe for thousands of returned figures and potential angry parental diatribes directed to the corporate office.
Regardless of the underlying reasoning for this shift towards uninspired action figure design, I truly do hope it remains limited in scope and motivated solely by children’s play value concerns. Otherwise, I’m probably going to throw in the towel and start getting all my toys from my kid’s Happy Meals.