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Points of Articulation

Rustin
Rustin Parr
Cultural Bias

It's tough being a reviewer. Everybody's got their own expectations and opinions, and if you don't agree with them, then they're likely to disregard what you have to say. Sure, you could play it safe, reporting the simple facts about the figures - "it's this tall, it's got these accessories, it moves here and it's painted like this" - but that's not what we do here at OAFEnet. This is not the home of cookie-cutter reviews. We have opinions and we're not afraid to force them on you share them with you.

We're also not afraid to admit when we're biased. There's a reason we have four (and a half) staff reviewers: because we all like different things for different reasons. In this column, we'll lay out our thoughts on the biggest companies in the industry right now. Roundtable discussion in the hizzouse!

McFarlane Toys

Rustin:
McFarlane will always do business because, like it or not, they do provide the best sculpting in the business. Articulation/design issues aside, it's really hard to say any of their stuff doesn't look great in pure terms of sculpt... but sculpt isn't everything. As I've said time and time again, the management of that company seems hell bent on delivering some of the most lackluster, unimpressive product on the market, which is a real shame as they're pretty much the only company to get "in house" lines on the market with no problem.
Monkey Boy:
McFarlane, by and large, bores me lately. It's why I've stopped frequenting their message board and checking for their stuff. I bought the 12" Predator, which I liked, but where is it now? Leaning against my wall because it can't stand up. I have no interest in stuff like Hallmark-looking dragons, sports guys, "realistic" military figures that look like they're dancing, or Tortured Souls guys with guts hanging out.
yo go re:
I think McFarlane became a joke a long time ago, starting their descent into utter crap around the time of Series 17. Yes, every so often we get a bright spot, but the company's generally second-rate. All they have going for them is sculpt, and despite the hype, it's not that much better than anyone else's - more detail does not equal better sculpt. However, I love most of the dragons - I just wish they came out at a slower rate.
Shocka:
My old favourite is now someone I barely ever purchase from - if I wanted to buy statues, I'd collect statues. "Ultra action figures?" Piss off. Don't get me started on their sports trash. So while Todd is making his own terrible statues, when he gets a suitable licence, he can still make the goods work - case in point, the fantastic Corpse Bride toys. McToys sort of takes the novelty award for me - I hate the statues, but what I do like, I really like. The creative licences, like the Monsters figures, are great fun, even without superarticulation - they ooze the sex/fetish/violence that makes for an interesting, fun collectible - not necessarily a toy, but a collectible. They've also made a lot of great toys in the past, and will hopefully revive some of their better stuff shortly, like a nicely sculpted/articulated series of Spawns, though I wouldn't hold my breath. In the meantime, they make some interesting exclusives, like the recent Hanging Spawn and the alt Clown, holding the dismembered arms of the corpse on whom he stands on. Disgusting, yes, but also awesome, a piece of art worthy of my desk.
Poe Ghostal:
Haven't bought a thing from them in years. They seem to be firmly in the "plastic statue" business these days, and as someone who believes the DCSH Superman may be the greatest action figure ever made, I can't say McFarlane's stuff holds any appeal for me anymore. As a Christmas freak, I'm cautiously interested in the Christmas monster line - A Christmas Carol is ripe for some creepy interpretations - but if there's a figure of the Nutcracker sexually assaulting Clara, count me out.

NECA

Rustin:
There is a lot of bad blood on a personal level between McFarlane and many of their ex-pats, and Randy Falk of NECA is probably the biggest thorn in their side. The main problem I see with NECA is that Randy seems to suffer immense "penis envy" of Todd and runs NECA in an "in your face" manner which doesn't work. He, and many others out there, need to realize that they are not McFarlane Toys and will never be McFarlane Toys. As such, they should attempt to really appeals to fans on a level that McFarlane repeatedly and publicly siad he will not - articulation. NECA's early offerings really had this going for them. The figures had really well articulated arms (the most crucial area in terms of poseability) but they've moved away from that, often making very bizarre choices. Sin City and Pirates of the Caribbean are great examples. My personal wish is for Randy to understand that McFarlane has already cornered the market on pre-posed, limited-articulation, high-detail figures. NECA's place in the market is taking that McF sensibilty of detail and applying more mainstream articulation: balljointed heads, balljointed shoulders, hinge or peg elbows and wrist articulation should be de facto for each of their products. While many do have most of those points, certain figures, like Sin City and PotC have arms that are too preposed in design to really "work" in any other than the "recommended" pose. Other figures, like Cult Classic 2's New Nightmare Freddy, suffer from a bad elbow joint that's cut at such a moot angle that alternate, natural poses are difficult.
Monkey Boy:
The truth is that most of the legions of people that hate NECA do so out of some twisted form of toy "brand loyalty." They're pissed off that McFarlane has any competition at all. They get mad when a company tackles what McFarlane never did, even though they never question why McFarlane never did it. That said, NECA is hit or miss. The entire Hitchhikers Guide line sucked, Sin City was hit or miss, Cult Classics has been fairly good (although now it's starting to show some weakness) but overall I have to give them credit for doing things McFarlane won't. The Spawn board mods used to love to blather on about how NECA "overpays for licenses," probably in an effort to formulate an excuse for why McFarlane never got around to making figures fans have wanted forever. Personally, I don't understand why any fan would have brand loyalty over a toy. I literally have seen people who are fans of a certain character or movie, and won't buy the line because NECA made it, or more likely because McFarlane didn't make it. Still, NECA doesn't understand that if you're going to have your figure lack any useful articulation, the pose he's stuck in better be interesting. It better be iconic. Time and time again, NECA puts out figures that just stand there, and can't really do anything or look dynamic at all.
yo go re:
There's no question that NECA is copying McFarlane, but what's wrong with that? They really put too much product out, but it does seem to be working for them right now. And they may be overpaying for licenses, but what does that matter if people buy them? Plus, by branching out beyond just toys and doing all that sideline crap that people dig, they get more out of licenses than McToys would. Their biggest weakness is that they're not consistent - but the truth is their weakest figures are no worse than McFarlane's weakest, and their strongest are much stronger.
Shocka:
McFarlane Version 2. They have little articulation and a mix of the good and the bad when it comes to sculpting, and in general I dislike the hell out of them. Aside from their novelty figures - Frank the Bunny, Balrog - everything is just a McFarlane figure with a little extra, be it height or accessories or whatever. The exceptions to the rule are their inspired movie lines - The Nightmare Before Christmas, Hellraiser, Kill Bill, Pirates of the Caribbean - they're lots of fun and make good use of the licences. That's the stuff to grab, whereas their other lines are just tacky and tryhard, like Sin City, Cult Classics, yadda yadda yadda.
Poe Ghostal:
Their NBX stuff is generally excellent, though I bought two Santa Jacks and the leg broke off on both. Irritating. Regular Jack is a treasure, though. As for their other stuff, Cult Classics is getting increasingly MM-like, and as such, I haven't really been too interested. Rustin is right - NECA should differentiate itself from McFarlane by offering more articulation, a la the PotC line. Bully for them, however, for getting the Balrog out (well, assuming it does come out).

ToyBiz

Rustin:
ToyBiz is just, well... I've never been in love with Marvel Legends; there is such a thing as too much articulation and a lot of times the articualtion got in the way of the sculpt, resulting in awkward-looking figures. Lord of the Rings they did pretty well with, and I'd like to see them start doing more movie lines.
Monkey Boy:
ToyBiz is, if nothing else, consistent. You know what you're getting. A decent sculpt with lots of articulation (and probably 3 or 4 loose joints). When they make something I like, I buy it.
yo go re:
I agree with Rustin that too much articulation can ruin a figure, but where we differ is that I have yet to see a single figure with too much. ToyBiz has it right - 30 should be an average, not an upper limit, and the secret is balljoints, balljoints, balljoints. And there's no reason for any figure not to have double-jointed elbows and knees now. I don't know what other people are doing to their toys, but in 12 series of Marvel Legends, I've had 1 loose joint and probably 5 that were legitimately stuck to the point that they broke. If the problems are as widespread as people would have you believe, me having so few problems would be the equivalent of flipping a coin and having it come up heads 78 times in a row - not impossible, but almost comically improbable. Add in Spider-Man, X-Men, FF and LotR figures, and that number would probably be up around 200. Oh, and anybody that says ToyBiz's sculpting isn't as good as McToys? LotR started proving that wrong at about wave three.
Shocka:
The stuff I buy most nowadays is ToyBiz, who have cranked out line after great line of Marvel Legends and other Marvel toys that are just must-buys. I don't agree with everything they do - yes, a touch of over-articulation sometimes and not always perfect paint plus the over-variant-stuff - but there's no denying how cool their shindig is, and how they've followed on from McToys in reshaping the industry. Their super-articulated Spidey figures changed everything - even McFarlane followed suit briefly before they doomed themselves to making ass-statues. It'll be sad to see ToyBiz lose the Marvel licence, especially since it seems that Jesse guy actually cares and listens to the fans. I still remember my initial "meh" reaction to the first series of Marvel Legends - who'd have thunk it, years later, I have almost every character, including a bunch of the impossible-to-get variants.
Poe Ghostal:
They've had a good run. I don't have much hope for Hasbro, but seeing as how ToyBiz had reached the point of making figures of Deathlok, Power Man and Iron Fist, I don't think fans have too much to complain about. I fall on the side of those who say ML has too much articulation - double-jointed knees and elbows make a figure seem weak to me. But overall I think ToyBiz has done Marvel justice.

Mezco

Rustin:
Mez seem to suffer from the same thinking that ultimately killed Palisades: the idea that price doesn't really matter too much. Thats why Goon figures, as awesome as they are, can still be found on pegs - same with Lobster Johnson. $15 a figure (read: $60 a set) is just too high a price to ask in a market as widespread and near-death as action figures. The cartoony look I like, I just hate their "half-way" figures, like Miami Vice, Scarface and, in my opinion, some of the Hellboy movie product. Stuff too realistic to be cartoony but too cartoony to be realistic. Mezco... well, Mezco is just a wild card. I'm honestly surprised they've managed to stay in business this long with as many flops as they've apparently had, but who knows? And the "one series of Hellboy a year" thing is just bad business. As if the price point didn't alienate casual fans/buyers enough, now the odds will be the last series will be unfindable when the new series is out. There is just no synergy.
yo go re:
I love the stuff Mezco does - the fact that they're not slavishly devoted to getting a photo-accurate sculpt is their strength, I think. More important to capture the feel of a character, and it helps them stand out. I really like their Mez-Itz, and wish the current market would still support them in stores. I applaud them for not rushing product out. One Hellboy a year is enough for me; I just hope that they don't repeat the Kreigraffe screwup in future waves.
Shocka:
Mezco go in a different direction and their uniqueness is inspired, with their excellent Hellboy movie and comic toys, Goon, Family Guy and personal favourite South Park, are done with such excellent style and ingenuity that it totally fits the property and the collector. Using the rotocast figures for South Park and Family Guy adds to the style and their look is fantastic; the same can be said of all of their figures. Plus great accessories and suitable articulation, they make fabulous toys.
Poe Ghostal:
I find it interesting Rustin complains about the price of the Hellboy figures, which offer, in my opinion, sculpting as good as DCD's - with much better articulation and more accessories. Also, I never saw a Hellboy figure for more than $15, and I saw a few for about $13. I had to cough up $18 for Hush Batman with one alternate forearm and less articulation (and thus less tooling). And, given that Hush had two production runs, I'd like to hear whether the Hellboy figures had a significantly larger run than any of DCD's high-profile lines. I know for instance that only 1000 MezDirect Hellboy exclusives and 1000 Figures.com Hellboy exclusives were made. As for Mezco's other stuff - they have had a lot of flops. Cryptozoology, Popeye, Tikimon, Underworld - the list goes on. They've survived through Family Guy and - more than anything else - Living Dead Dolls. When wondering how Mezco stays in business, never forget LDD, which are very popular and, I suspect, profitable. But the Hellboy figures are also great (though the year-long wait for Series 2 is really irritating, and probably not the best business move) and they seem to be garnering kudos for their South Park figures. I like the look of Afterlife, though I'll probably only get Earl.

SOTA

Rustin:
I really repect and understand Jerry's reasoning for why SOTA has sort of reformatted itself in view of the industry and his life. I mean, he was doing movies first - that's his real passion and interest, so I can't really fault him with any choices there. Their sculpting, at least on Now Playing, is still a little too un-texturized for me and I do think that they have picked up some bad licenses for the way they've formatted the line, but overall I don't really have much to complain about this company.
yo go re:
Jerry wants to focus on movies? Good! Best idea I've heard in ages. Make sure the company is secure and will be able to weather the toy industry's current storm. They know the Now Playing line isn't really casual-buyer friendly, so why push push push to get the product out in huge numbers? Think about it, what is a store more likely to buy: Movie Figyurz Series 18, when series 16 and 17 are still lingering on shelves, or Now Playing 3, when NP2 was gone months ago? Even if the figures reach clearance, there's enough of a gap between releases that buyers won't have that fresh in their minds. With their Street Fighter, SOTA took the suddenly popular route of copying Marvel Legends, and it's working wonderfully for them. They're also doing their best to space the line out, making sure that there are enough popular characters in each set to keep the line alive, while not leaving it empty at the end.
Shocka:
I love SOTA's Street Fighter figures and what they've done with the Now Playing line, which not only have superior sculpts to NECA's awful Cult Classics, but better articulation and poseability, so they're a lot of fun. Even articulation-haters can't disagree with how good the Now Playing line looks. They're presentable even MOC, and rule. Street Fighter speaks for itself as one of the best and most collectible lines in a while.
Poe Ghostal:
Again, I don't buy Street Fighter or Now Playing (though E. Honda and Dhalsim will be mine), but I do think SF is one of the finest action figure lines I've ever seen. It appears that Charmed tanked, judging from the fact that I still see it everywhere I go, but that didn't seem like the best license in the first place.

Sideshow

Rustin:
It's hard to really comment on this company since they don't market to me. They only care about the high-end crowd with a lot of expendable money. Their 12" stuff is pretty expensive, but I do think you do kind of get your money's worth on some of the figures, especially the new Star Wars and LotR product... as long as you don't like good likeness or realistic proportions. They have serious issues with heads. I haven't seen a single one that has looked totally proportionate to the body and they seem to loose a lot of detail in painting. A lot of photography of the unpainted head sculpts makes the likeness look dead on (like Legolas, for instance) but painted, it somehow looks nothing like the actor.
Monkey Boy:
I don't own a Sideshow product and probably never will, just because they're too expensive and too much of a hassle to get ahold of with everything having a limited exclusive and pre-orders and etc., etc. If the Star Wars line ever gets away from visually boring Jedi, I might change my views, however.
yo go re:
Never bought anything from Sideshow, because it's too big and too expensive. Maybe if I was willing to do nothing but praise them so I could get free review samples, I'd have an opinion - of course, then you know what that opinion would be.

DC Direct

Rustin:
DCD is a company I love becuase they still produce really good quality figures. They're pretty expensive, but I'm a sucker for them, I'll admit. Some stuff is better than others, but to be perfectly honest, I'm getting really tired of artist series and constant retreads of Superman, Batman and the core JLA. I truly long for the days of produced-to-order figures of characters nobody could produce except for a direct to market company - stuff like the Golden Age figures, the Legion, and so on. I really, really hope that the upcoming heavy-hitterless JSA line marks the beginning of a shift back to DCD's roots - fan favorite characters for fans. DC Direct (Market) is now more like DC Specialty (Market).
Monkey Boy:
DCD surprises me every time they get more of my business. They are overpriced, underarticulated, underaccessorized, and often poorly painted and tend to be weak in the knees. I don't buy that their figures need to cost upwards of $15 for a toy with crappy, minimalist packaging, no accessories and a universal base. While I can find NECA figures (with more accessories, mind you) for $12.99, I can rarely find a DCD figure for under $17... and usually, the same retailer who's charging $13 for NECA product is charging $17 for DCD product. Why is that? From major retail chains to independent comicbook stores, every place I visit that carries both lines is selling NECA for $13, DCD for $17. And let me tell you, $17 is a lot to spend on a figure with spotty paint apps and no accessories that will likely be very weak in certain joints to the point it will have trouble standing up. That being the case, I will only buy a DCD figure if it really speaks to me.
yo go re:
DC Direct is only overpriced when you judge it by the high standards ML created. Judge it by McFarlane's example and suddenly it makes sense - if a high quality sculpt costs $10-11, then why shouldn't a high quality sculpt with decent articulation cost $4 more? Yes, I'd like more movement, and I'd like better bases, but at least we get movement and bases. They need to get their scale nailed down, though.
Shocka:
I hate DC Direct. What? Oh. It's very simple - they're like an inferior ToyBiz with higher prices. And much less interesting characters. Clearly, I'm not a huge fan of DC, but I was never a big fan of Marvel and now they've sold me, with shelves and shelves full of their fantastic toys and characters.
Poe Ghostal:
I've always felt that DC Direct's product feels very... prosaic. You get your (admittedly well-sculpted) superhero in a basic stance, a ball-jointed neck and ball shoulders for a little poseability, few-to-no-accessories, and a $15 price tag. I was excited by the extra articulation on their basic Superman a few years back, but that figure has been blown away by the DCSH Supes. Rustin's right that the real appeal of DC Direct lies in their more esoteric offerings. It's great that we're getting a Gotham by Gaslight Batman - probably the only DCD figure I'll buy this year. That said, I'm beginning to wonder how much profit DCD really makes, and how much it's a vanity operation surviving through its ties to Time Warner.

Mattel

Rustin:
Mattel is actually getting good. First Justice League gets rebranded into JLU and really takes off, now the new DC Superheroes line is starting off really well. Neither are "perfect," but considering Mattel's past and their huge overhead, I'm quite impressed.
Monkey Boy:
DC Superheroes really surprised me, and it seems like Mattel's got their head on straight. I really just need to see the next wave though. Now.
yo go re:
Mattel is suddenly looking very good. Like everyone else, they're trying to copy ToyBiz, and so far it seems to be working for them. They've always made fairly good toys (for a large corporate entity), but now they're improving. Their new case packs are better than any company of their sort has ever done before, and the fact that they're doing so much to credit the Four Horsemen is very exciting - it's like in the late Golden/early Silver Age, when comicbook companies realized they could get more readers and create buzz and loyalty by crediting their artists. A big company that actually celebrates the people who make it work? That's astounding.
Shocka:
Mattel's DC Superheroes or whatever it's called is how DC should have done their toys in the first place. You know, with good sculpts, actual articulation, and toys that don't look like ass. Aside from this, however, Mattel is the tool of the devil and can bite me.
Poe Ghostal:
There's been a lot of ragging on Mattel on this site, and I've been part of it, but I think they do a decent job these days. They screwed up a lot of stuff with MOTU, but in the end I think that line had a good run. It didn't catch on, but I don't think I ever really thought it would; it's doing fine as a collector's line now, though I wish those things were toys and not statues. And DCSH is something else. If they can manage not to ruin it with lame variants and bad case-packs, they have a chance to make both collectors and kids really happy.

Hasbro

Rustin:
The only thing I buy from them is Star Wars and their constant price shifting pisses me off. 3 3/4" figures should not cost more than $5, which we know is possible - most stores carried the RotS figures for that price. For as good as the figures are, they're just still not worth $7.
Monkey Boy:
Hasbro has been getting most of my money lately. The reason Star Wars toys cost so much at times is because they're a niche market. When they've got a movie in theaters to back them, they can be priced lower because Hasbro counts on more kids impulse-buying them. When they don't have movie support, the price raises because the market isn't as secure. They no longer have the assurance that children will beg their moms and dads for the characters they just saw yesterday in the movie. And the Star Wars license is not cheap. My main problem with Hasbro is that they aren't meeting demand. Certain desirable figures are becoming impossible to find, since Commander Cody (who everybody wants) is packed in equal numbers with Lushros Dophine (Who? Exactly). The pack-ins are more to justify the high price than the actual reason for the high price. It really seems that Hasbro's reasoning is "well, we're gonna raise the price either way, let's give them some incentive" so they pack in a slide or a holo figure or a Force File. Many people think "if it weren't for those stupid holos, the figures would only cost $5" but the thing is, the figures don't cost $6 or $7 because of the holos, the holos are there because the figures cost that much. Does that make sense? Basically, if there were no useless pack-in, Hasbro wouldn't lower the price.
yo go re:
Hasbro still has a way to go, but they're a very solid company. Yes, their SW prices are generally too high, but then I'm not buying every character, and the ones I do buy are done very well. The fact that they get such good sculpts on such a small surface is continually impressive. Plus, when there's no dumb action feature, we're getting really good articulation. They have the best overall packaging designers working in the industry: other people tend to win the ToY packaging award, but Hasbro is always nominated, and is often running against themselves. The migration of GIJoe into Sigma 6 was a risky move, but it's paid off. Reminds me, in fact, of the change from six years' worth of 5" ToyBiz figures to the larger Marvel Legends. I'm looking forward to what Hasbro will do with the Marvel license, and I'm not really scared by the transition, as a lot of folks seem to be. Hasbro has taken over lines before, without drastically changing things. How different is the current SW stuff from Kenner's originals (other than changes created by the general advancement of technology)?
Shocka:
On the Star Wars front, I hate everytthing that Hasbro does. Ever. The 3 3/4" pieces of crap are awful, charging the same price for tiny typically poorly-sculpted, poorly articulated pieces of shit without any/many accessories at all while successfully avoiding making a good 6" line of Star Wars figures with great articulation, sculpts and accessories. While we can complain all we want about McFarlane Toys being shite, they do things their own way. The Shrek toys that they did were perfect, in price and everything else - put them side by side with Hasbro's crappy Shrek 2 toys, they stomp all over them.
So there you go, now you know where we're coming from. Some things we agree upon, but a lot is different. And Shocka's insane. We freely admit that we have opinions - the fact that we have so many differing and even conflicting opinions, that OAFEnet isn't the product of one voice (or even a hundred homogenized ones), is what makes us great.

Or makes us suck.

Or makes us hit-or-miss.

Or makes us great.

And I think we can all agree on that.


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