Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Evolution of the Superhero Action Figure

I remember my first action figures, the 12” tall,
cheaply-made Marvel super heroes from Mego. I had
Spider-Man, Captain America, the Hulk, and Iron Man.
For those who have never seen them, they had
individualized plastic heads, but on identical bodies
with only a cloth costume (even Iron Man!)
distinguishing them from each other. Compared to
these, Kenner’s Star Wars figures from later in the
‘70s actually seemed good!

Things have changed a lot. MacFarlane Toys has made a
name for itself with high production values that do
not make it easy to play with their toys, but makes
them great collectables (I had to pack away my Conan
figure after my young son played with it and parts
started breaking). Toy Biz and Hasbro have lagged
behind with their Marvel action figures. They are
currently too obsessed with points of articulation,
putting them in strange places that detract from the
figures. Kudos to them for daring to release a Baron
Zemo action figure (see any kids flocking to play with
Zemo, one of the few villains left dead for over 20
years?), but there is a round bending joint in their
stomach that makes all characters appear to be

DC Direct has been leading the pack for awhile now.
Directly affiliated with DC Comics, DC Direct produced
a fantastic First Appearance line of action figures (I
have Captain Marvel and Green Lantern) and a line
based on Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier mini-series that
may possibly look even better (though I sadly don’t
own any yet).

What really excited me and led to my writing this,
though, is that I now have two figures from DC
Direct’s Classics line – Orion and the Devil. These
figures look great – perhaps not as authentically
Kirby-esque as they would be in the First Appearance
line (is it even possible to translate Jack Kirby’s
art into action figures?), but they look fantastic and
are the epitome of articulation. The heads don’t just
turn side-to-side – they are on ball joints that
swivel! Better still, the arm articulation looks more
natural than on most action figures and the ankle
joints – usually the doom of a figure’s stability, if
they bend their at all – appear sturdy. Such
innovation! Sigh, we have come so far from the toys
of my youth. I wish I’d had these back then!

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