Points of Articulation
10 20 Toys of the OAFEnet Era
Back in 2010, everybody did their "Top 10 ______ of the Decade" lists - Top 10 films, Top 10 Sandwiches, Top 10 Years, everything. And people asked us if we were going to have a "Top 10 Toys of the Decade" list. Well, no, because we already name a top toy every year, so there's your list: Space Ghost, Monev the Gale, Sauron, Muppet Kitchen, Masterpiece Optimus Prime, Sandman, Xetheus, Blue Beetle, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the Pit Commando. Actually, that's a pretty solid list. Moving on.
Part of the reason everyone decided to skip the 2010 wrap-up was because we knew our anniversary was coming up. Why not wait and pretend we're more important than we really are? This site began on August 20, 2002, and now it's our tenth birthday. So we got everybody together to vote on the top 10 toys that have come out since we started writing about them.
But because there were too many awesome choices, we're doing the Top 20 toys, not just 10!
- #20: Special Forces
- Plan B Toys was one of the companies founded
in the wake of ReSaurus's collapse. Rather than chase some license that would be forgotten in a year, they went with an original property that focused on real heroes: Special Forces featured detailed, 6" toys of modern soldiers, with realistically detailed uniforms and weapons. They even featured interchangeable heads so you could double the number of troops without having a bunch of identical twins. The line expanded to "Emergency Forces" (bringing the same level of detail to police and firefighters) and then went back to the '40s for "World War II Forces." The toys were all terrific, but Plan B had trouble getting them into stores - because buyers claimed the toys were "too violent." They really got into trouble when they released toys under the Call of Duty brand, and a Holocaust survivor complained that there were Nazis in the line. And that, sadly, was the end of Special Forces.
- #19: GI Joe Sigma 6
- This was a new and daring concept in GI Joe, which
of course caused hardcore fanboys to dump on it and proclaim that GI Joe was dead forever. All that negativity undoubtedly led to the relatively quick demise of the line, but it really ignored the fact that the line was pretty innovative for its time. Everyone hated the scale and the "anime style," but you only have to look at one of the very first figures to see just how versatile and awesome these figures are. It was the first toyline in a long time that actually made us want to play with toys again. Also, the figures retailed for $10-$15, which even at that time was an amazing deal. The scale and style might not be for everybody, but don't count that as a negative. These are just awesome figures that are designed to be fun. It's obvious that the people who created these figures cared about the toys they were making, and the negativity that they were met with is really unfortunate.
- #18: DC Superheroes
- DCSH kept it short and sweet: Batman and Superman
families only. And yet the line still gave us Mattel's best versions of both heroes. Also, since they had a bit more freedom with sculpts, we got great figures of characters people actually gave a damn about, like Two-Face, Catwoman, Bane, Scarecrow, Bizarro, Darkseid, Clayface, Batgirl (Barbara and Cassandra) and many of them were mostly (if not entirely) unique sculpts. The line suffered from an overabundance of hero variants and distribution problems, but this is Mattel we're talking about, so that's almost as much of a given as the toys being made of plastic. DCSH wasn't perfect, however. The goal was to alternate series, but that scheme failed quickly: Batman, Superman, Batman, Superman, Superman, Superman, Superman... and Superman isn't a character who fits the kinds of repaints Mattel wanted to do. Distribution was this line's major shortcoming.
- #17: GI Joe Generation 3
- The 25th Anniverary Collection was made specifically
to cater to collectors: the designs were taken from the '80s, and the articulation was more than a Joe figure had ever seen. TFAC was intended to feature 25 figures released over the summer of 2007, but the style proved so popular that the line became "Generation 3" and kept running until 2009 (though the style it birthed became the new standard for GI Joe). G3 didn't just influence GI Joe, either - the work done there was also the basis for the excellent 4" Marvel Universe line. There were definite flaws with Generation 3. The articulation on the earliest figures was poorly thought out, requiring retooling before long. Hasbro had trouble getting shelf space for the toys, so distribution was always a problem, with stock selling out fast and many fans were unable to find the stuff they wanted. And just when that was being corrected? Here came the movie line to screw things up for everybody!
- #16: Predators
- NECA has a ridiculous dedication to accuracy. Their Preds
are more accurate than Hot Toys' expensive 12"ers. The fact that NECA has committed to releasing every single Lost Predator and is now only one series away from succeeding is awesome. The line has produced some true classics - and the fact that the line is now going to give us multiple versions of Dutch (a character that was impossible to do when the line started) not to mention the Batman: Dead End Predator, it's really a dream come true. The articulation is great, and it's given us the best Preds yet. Little extras like the trophy skulls (and hopefully an upcoming trophy display) also make this line something special. Of course it's not all gravy. The earlier figures had broken joints issues, and the paint has been hit or miss, but ultimately the good far outweighs the bad in this line. NECA communicates with and listens to its fans, and knows what to do to make them happy.
- #15: Masters of the Universe Classics
- Mattel brought He-Man back in 2002, but the characters
were all redesigned to one extent or another. The line was nice, but action features, flat paint and minimal articulation held it back. Similar to GI Joe Generation 3, the MOTU Classics take things back to the beginning, updating the original sculpts rather than trying to reinvent them, and adding all the articulation that fans crave. The bios on the back of the packaging are slowly piecing together a story that draws on all the fiction that's come before. Problems have arisen in several areas, however: there have been endemic assembly problems, with arms on the wrong sides of the body; the figures are done in a 7" scale, rather than the 6" that would allow them to play well with other toys; and with no competition, Mattel has been free to charge whatever they wish. Plus, most fans were forced into blind subscriptions, which saddled them with characters no one would want.
- #14: Invader Zim
- If anyone could turn Jhonen Vasquez's disturbing and unsculptable
characters into action figures, it would have to be the late-and-great Palisades, whose amazing work on other lines paved the way for exceptional toys like the entire Invader Zim set. Perfectly capturing the bizarre creatures with their thin, spindly limbs, the Zim action figures were beautifully detailed and amazingly articulated, going so far to even include little dioramas with which to display them, alongside vast quantities of perfectly suited accessories. Now, there was some trouble with the plastic breaking (some of the thin balljoints, annoyingly, and the clear stands that let some figures "float"), and the Hot Topic exclusives were both overly expensive and highly difficult to find. There are still several characters that would have been nice to get that we didn't, but the line comprised nearly every figure we needed to have, and that's good.
- #13: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
- Playmates Toys has had a death grip on the TMNT license
ever since the first toys came out in 1988. And they've made a lot of decent toys, but in 2008 NECA put every single one of them to shame when they released toys based not on a cartoon or movie, but on the original Eastman and Laird comics. The sculpts - by the Four Horsemen! - were highly detailed, with every bit of shading and crosshatching that was drawn into the comic art reproduced in hard plastic. There was then a black paint app put on to outline the different sections, creating a "cel shaded" look in 3D. They were fully articulated, came with plenty of appropriate accessories, and were available either single-packed or in a box set. Unfortunately, Playmates caused a bit of a stink, so NECA only got the boys, April O'Neil and a three-pack of Mousers before the line ended; they'd designed a Shredder (with Krang!) and two Foot Soldiers that would never become real.
- #12: DC Universe Classics
- One of the most heated debates we had when finalizing
this list was DC Superheroes vs. DC Universe Classics. It's a question of focus vs. longevity, mass appeal vs. niche appeal... a logical name vs. a stupid name. DCSH may have had a few great figures, but terrible casepacks kept most fans from ever finding them. And while DCUC had some shitty-ass distribution, when those cases did eventually reach shelves, at least the figures were packed evenly - if something peggwarmed, it was just because no one wanted it, not because they already had it. The line has a reputation for heavy re-use, but it's really not as extensive as we thought it was. The character selection is at once amazing and baffling - this is a line that put the Demon Etrigan on the shelves of Walmart, but also forced everybody to buy Forager. The line never lived up to its full potential as a DC version of Marvel Legends, but they certainly tried.
- #11: Marvel Minimates
- When the first Marvel Minimates came out in 2003,
no one could have predicted that they would have been one of the most successful licensed toys ever. The line has been running uninterrupted for nearly 10 years - that's 50 regular series, 15 TЯU exclusive series, and dozens of boxed sets available through various outlets. The character choices are varied, even though there's a sizeable dose of Spider-Men and Wolverines, with many characters getting their first or only toys as a Minimate. Plus, they're easy to find, and collecting them won't overflow your shelves after only a month or so. Add to that the fact that being built on a standardized body type means not only are the pieces are 100% interchangeable, but any property that becomes "Minimatized" is instantly compatible with your collection. Marvel, DC, movies, firemen, it all blends perfectly. The aesthetic has shifted considerable since the beginning, but over the course of a decade, what toy doesn't?
- #10: FANtastic Exclusive
- These days lots of people turn to Kickstarter to fund
their projects, but the Four Horsemen basically invented the "by the fans" business model for toys. By allowing their customers to vote on every aspect of the toys (from the property the toy would represent to the accessories it would come with), they Kickstarted before there was a Kickstarter. The final product is objectively great: the toys have superbly detailed sculpts, incredible paint apps, plentiful articulation and well-designed accessories. Both the worlds that have so far been brought to life - the Seventh Kingdom and Gothitropolis - have interesting fictional stories behind them, meaning that these aren't just pretty lumps of plastic like most "designer" toys, but are representations of a larger world. And when the second-largest toy company in the world can charge $30 for a toy built of reused parts, the FANtastic Exclusive toys have a suprisingly fair price.
- #9: Hellboy
- In the early 2000s, Mezco Toyz was a relatively obscure
toy company that grew out of the defunct Aztech Toyz (which produced the well-received Silent Screamers line). But in 2004, Mezco's amazing line of 7" action figures based on the Hellboy movie adaptation put the company on the map. While the movie figures were superb, it was Mezco's comic-based Hellboy figures (sculpted by Dave Cortes in the distinctive style of Mike Mignola's art) that earned them a lasting place in many collectors' hearts. Alas, while popular with fans, the line's sales struggled and it ended before a third series of figures could be produced - though to their credit, Mezco made sure to release the missing Abe Sapien as an exclusive. Despite the line's premature end, the comicbook Hellboy figures are among some of the finest examples of comic-based action figures ever made.
- #8: Star Wars
- Yes, this line predates us by a few years - by seven years,
in fact. But the quality of the toys has been a perpetually rising line, bringing better product every year. Everything about the Star Wars toys keeps improving: the sculpting was good to begin with, but it got better; the paint has gotten more complex; the accessories are plentiful and accurate to a fault; and every time you think they've topped out what articulation is possible on a 4" figure, Hasbro comes out with something new. Yes, the line relies a lot on releasing simple repaints and minor updates of existing characters to bulk out the case packs (often to the detriment of new, much-wanted toys), but there's no ignoring the breadth of characters that have actually been immortalized in plastic against all reason. Between the kid-friendly Clone Wars line and the fanboy favorite Vintage Collection, Star Wars offers something for everyone.
- #7: Player Select
- Yes, this is kind of a cheat, in that it's not so much a
single line of toys as it is a common label shared by several lines: Assassin's Creed, BioShock, Dead Space, Gears of War... you know them all. We combined them all into one entry, because in the early voting it was clear that they were just competing against each other, drawing away votes that would otherwise have placed them very high. While NECA's movie toys tend to favor (heavily) re-used bodies and (fairly) static poses, the Player Select banner is where they push their boundaries. The first highly articulated figure they made was Kratos, and it's only improved from there. Even the random one-off figures they make, like Bulletstorm or Dante's Inferno, are still done with the highest level of detail and articulation, and it's gotten to the point where NECA making a toy of a game you've never played of is as much of an endorsement as any review.
- #6: GI Joe: Pursuit of Cobra
- There was a lot of excitement when the GI Joe 25th
Anniversary Collection was announced, and fans just ate up those first figures. But after we stopped flipping out over the nostalgia-update aspect of it, the toys had a lot of flaws. It took a while to iron out the kinks in articulation and sculpting before settling on the Pursuit of Cobra aesthetic (after some "realism injection" indirectly due to the movie). PoC obviously knocked it out of the park with accessories, but it gave us realer, cooler Joes than we ever thought possible. Compare PoC Snake-Eyes to 25th Anniversary Snake-Eyes, and you'd think there was a much bigger time gap between them. PoC gave us awesome new characters (Shadow Tracker, Jungle-Viper) and updated new spins on old characters (Destro, Storm Shadow). There were missteps (figures with action features) and pegwarmers (Arctic Destro), but even with those, Pursuit of Cobra was excellent!
- #5: Xevoz
- Just as Hollywood tends to favor reboots and sequels over
new properties, toy companies are often unwilling to take a chance on a toy that does not have some sort of tie-in, such as a movie, tv show, comicbook or videogame. But Hasbro did just that in 2002, when they brought the Stikfas toy system to North America - and then they did it again in 2003, when they took the basic style of Stikfas, enlarged it, and specialized the designs to create Xevoz. Rather than action figure blanks, Xevoz were fully detailed, fully stylized characters with no prefab backstory, so you could make up your own. The toys were completely assembled with balljoints, allowing for not only a ton of poseability, but also complete interchangeability among different sets. Accessories plugged into standard-sized holes, so those could also be traded, and the inclusion of multiple stickers and extra bodyparts gave you lots of options. Xevoz attracted hardcore fans, but not enough general interest to last beyond the (scarce) third and fourth series.
- #4: Street Fighter
- SOTA had a few successful toylines under their belts
when they announced Street Fighter, but fans still couldn't have predicted just how well the toys would turn out. The figures had a terrific level of detail - while the anatomy was exaggerated, they didn't skimp on the textures. Like every company that came before them, SOTA offered "Player 2" colorschemes of its figures as a way to crank out easy variants, but unlike every company that came before them, they gave the toys a ton of articulation so the characters could actually fight. Plus, the toys were done in the 6" scale, meaning they could integrate with the hugely popular Marvel Legends. SOTA only managed four series, but when it became clear the line was in danger of ending without completing the main cast, they squeezed those last few out to make sure we had a full collection. SOTA did such a good job that another company licensed the toy designs, stripped out most of the articulation, and still managed to sell well.
- #3: Lord of the Rings
- ToyBiz was not exactly known for handling licenesed
properties before the Lord of the Rings line, but they brought their best to bear. The earliest releases relied on action features and had somewhat "soft" sculpts, but things improved quickly. The packaging the figures came in was large and eye-catching, and tied thematically into each of the three films and into the series as a whole; then the style shifted, bringing us smaller, more ecologically friendly packs that still maintained the design work begun before. The detailing in the costumes was true to the film, and the accessories were smart. Figures were released multiple ways, with multiple looks, single-carded and in multipacks... there was plenty of opportunity to get the ones you wanted. The toyline began in 2001, like the movies, but managed to run for three years after Return of the King had come and gone. In that time they released almost everyone you'd ever want.
- #2: Marvel Legends
- As fans, we're resistant to change, so ToyBiz took a very
big gamble when they upped the size of their Marvel toys from 5" to 6". It may not seem like much, but remember: ToyBiz started making Marvel figures in 1990, which means they'd had a full decade at 5", and they'd released quite literally hundreds of figures. The size had been trending upward already, but it became official with the release of Spider-Man Classics - eight figures over two series that led directly to Marvel Legends. And Marvel Legends changed the direction of the entire industry. Before 2002, action figures delivered either sculpt OR articulation; once ML came out, it was expected to be both, and anyone that either didn't or couldn't deliver withered and died. The way those toys were made was copied by Mattel for DCSH, and even copied directly by Hasbro... when they became the Marvel licensee. It's just that important.
- #1: Muppets
- Palisades' first toys were nothing special, but their
learning curve was incredibly steep. In 2000 they were making non-poseable Mortal Kombat PVCs - two years later, they put out the Muppets. Due to the the licensing fees and the amount of detail, the figures consistently cost $2-$3 more than they should have, but you never felt cheated when buying them because the sculpts were outstanding, the articulation was well-integrated, and the paint was nearly flawless. Plus, they included some of the most impressive accessories ever crafted, including lots of "extras" thrown in just to bring the value up to the level they were asking us to pay. Add to that the yearly releases of large, ornate playsets, the fun exclusives, and the unprecedented level of interaction and feedback between the company and the fans, and you have the recipe for the best toyline of the 2000s, and a line that ended far too soon.
Note: we opted to do toylines instead of specific figures, because otherwise it would end up being, like, seven different GI Joes, two Transformers and He-Man. We wanted a better variety than that, so lines are being judged as a whole.
We each nominated our favorites, then assembled the whole list and all the OAFEs were invited to rank the toys in order. Each toy was then assigned a point value based on the rankings: one point for being #1, two points for being #2, etc., all the way down to #35. We then averaged the numbers, and got the final order that way.
The only tie was position 16/17 - Predators and GI Joe G3. We gave the edge to Predators because they had the highest individual vote.
To see how each of us voted, visit the blog: Monkey Boy, Poe, Rustin, Shocka and yo. If you wonder why we voted the way we did, just ask - we'll be happy to tell you.