Anyone who listened to Custom Action Figure News a few weeks ago already know what this part of the list is going to look like, still it would be no fun without all the long winded explanations and a bunch of Photoshoping.
So this year we got treated to what is probably the best superhero movie EVER.
I know some will argue The Dark Knight Rises is the best, but I would argue Nolan's Batman movies are more along the dramatic lines with some Superhero themes. Avengers, in contrast, really captured many of the aspects of what makes superheroes a compelling genre of storytelling. Action, a villain with clear motives and a plan, powerful heroes strutting their stuff, even some good old fashioned laughs. Avengers had it all, even Samuel L. Jackson.
Jackson as Fury really makes him really the guy who got to live the geek's dreams. He was a Jedi and now he was the leader of SHIELD. Unfortunately, he's never been given a really good figure. There was an attempt with Iron Man 2 but the figure recycled too many parts from GI Joe. This one recycled parts from Winter Soldier from the Captain America Line of last year but the addition of the coat made it work a bit better and seem fresh. Fury looked ready for combat and practical at the same time. Point is he worked a ton better than the first try. Of course he had no wrist articulation which is a bummer, but at the same time he had a bit more than most of the rest of the Avengers line so it kind of balanced out. Unfortunately, I was never able to find Black Widow at a point where I had the cash for her so I can't comment for certain if she is better than Nick. Still, of the Avengers Figures I have been able to grab, Nick is the best of the Avengers Figures so far, not even a contest.
From the Avengers line to another Avenger, say hello to the Scarlet Witch. Wanda gets a special place because she completes my desire to have the Avengers in 1:18th scale (at least my version of the Avengers, as I am sure everyone has their own). In addition she has a GREAT mold that knocks the daylight out of previous female molds (I really wish they would repaint Ms. Marvel with this mold).
Granted, Wanda's popularity has waned in the past few years. This is partly due to the fact that it seems everyone and their brother has picked Wanda to go nuts and betray the Avengers over and over. The latest was Avengers Disassembled which she still hasn't recovered from. The storyline forced her to go nuts over a situation she had dealt with several years ago (her children). The tale started abruptly and with seemingly no build, it just sort of happened. At first the story was a kind of "Holy crap!" kind of moments (Although there are comparable stories in hindsight). Once the big revelation about Wanda got put in the story kind of feel flat. Re-reading it you kind of get a sense "OK, they just wanted to screw with the Avengers, but then bring things back to status quo so all the OMG's have no real impact." Well that is the way I viewed it.
Wanda went all nuts a couple of times before which also weakened the story. She had the spirit of Morgana take her body over and defeated the Avengers. There was also the time her kids "faded from existence" and she joined up with Magneto and the Brotherhood briefly (Yeah, that trauma she had dealt with already). Wanda seems to have been regulated to the "girl we can make a traitor for shock value." She later caused most of the mutants to fade from existence (then of course most of them came back too, so what was the point again?).
Wanda has been given a bad rep, but I tend to think old school with her, it just seems less convoluted in the end. That plus the fact she's kind of cool then makes her a must have character and cements her standing in my favorites list of the year.
He's big, green, mean and one of the most popular characters ever in Marvel. He's Hulk and FINALLY got a worthwhile 1:18th scale figure.
Hulk's 1:18th history has been pretty rough. He had a Mego one that was just ok, but all the Mego 1:18th's were kind of weak due to the fact that articulation had moved up and the superheroes were stuck in SW levels that had become way outdated by that point. Ironic considering Mego had been using the O-Ring design later used in GI Joe long before Hasbro did. Hulk did not receive a 1:18th figure until Toybiz's Superhero Showdown Line. Problem with that figure was he had some very questionable muscle tone in the chest. Next, came the Hasbro first attempt which was a disappointment on many levels. Sorry to those that love that figure but the fact he cannot move those legs effectively really kills what could have been a good mold.
Finally this year he got a figure based on his Iconic look that worked on all levels. The figure had some parts from the World War Hulk version (who was #10 on the list in 2010 for those keeping score). WWH is great figure but did not have that Iconic look of this figure which is the most desirable to me. There was a tolerable one in the Avengers Boxed Set, but again not quite the iconic look (no torn purple pants, just the shorts he wore in Avengers #1).
Now we get a cool, iconic, and fully poseible Hulk, what more can you ask for, right? OK maybe a better movie one, but it could be worse as history has shown us.
With Star Wars, there are certain versions of characters that seem like a must. There are about 3 versions of Han, around 3-4 versions of Princess Leia, and about 4 must haves of Luke. Hoth Luke was the last one not done for quite a while. Finally, Hasbro chose to give us one with the Vintage Collection. Not only was it a version of Hoth Lukebut it was a good one.
There are issues, I grant you that, but overall this figure works for who he is and it feels completing a necessity of Lukes through the trilogy.
I think it is funny that the Empire Strikes Back is the movie Hasbro has been slowest to fill versions of characters on. Just like Bespin Han (which took forever to finally get a version of), Hoth Luke was one of those figures that just seemed natural to have in the fold. Simply put, I really dig this figure and am glad to finally have it.
I think it was John Byrne who said that She-Hulk was the Wonder Woman of the Marvel Universe. She's beyond tough, she's sexy, she's smart and she has that usual factor that is hard to define. She managed to work beyond the "female hulk" status and become a character unto herself.
I have a certain fondness for Shulkie. Sure she fulfills that Star Trek Fantasy easily. But beyond that she shows a woman can be strong and smart and hot. Some have taken her outgoing nature to the point of sluttyness (Not something I am very agreeable with by the way). While an assertive and sexy woman is hard for many man to grasp I think it makes her more fun as a character.
But on top of everything she is a lawyer which catches most people off guard. I mean brawn, sexy and brains is often too much for some men (as shown with some slutty interpretations). I was shocked and happy when she was announced and it feels like it's been FOREVER since we first saw press pictures of her. Probably because it actually has been. But Jen has a knack for being fashionably late and why shouldn't her excellent figure have that aspect as well.
Now this figure wins the award for "special place" on the list this year. With this figure Hasbro took a character is despise and made a figure I just adore. That is no small feat and shows Hasbro does have some talent in the way of making action figures. Hear that appologists, I just paid Hasbro a complement, a HUGE complement when you think about it.
Road Pig, as a character, personified the worst character traits of any bad guy I can think of. He had a "split-personality" which meant you never knew what you were dealing with. With some characters this can work (Two Face comes to mind) but in this instance it doesn't. I know I said I like the chaotic element of the Drednoks, but I felt Road Pig pushed that chaos a bit in a direction I was unsure of and did not like.
This figure makes Road Pig look like a knight in the Road Warrior. They kept the elements clearly stolen from that film (another gripe I had with the first figure) and improved on them to a point they look like inspiration instead of theft. It's a great figure and has changed my opinion on RP. Yes, that was a monumental task.
From a least favorite to a line of favorite characters. Now I will tell that from here on out are some of my all time favorite characters from any media. To me this group was the saving grace of the entire year.
So as I said with Vos, I hate Episode I with a passion. To me it delivered a weak hope for what was to be the first Star Wars film since 1977. Granted I hated Episode II even more because I had convinced myself that Episode I was boring due to establishing this nice utopia. Little did I realize the story of how Luke and Liea's parents got together could make my retnieas wish they had not existed.
BUT, there was one thing I liked, and I mean REALLY liked about Episode I. It was Darth Maul. As a friend of mine once joked about in relation to Boba Fett "Lucas gave him so few lines he didn't get a chance to screw him up, that's why he's cool." Maul burst into the final battle with Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon appearing like liquid rage which was a very sharp contrast to Darth Vader. It worked, and it worked well in my mind. Maul was different and dynamic testing the Jedi as no foe had before and left a strong impression. Unfortunately he died at the end, but I sometimes think that just made him cooler because he was kind of like a shooting star that shined incredibly bright but only for a moment. Yeah, I can get poetic at times.
With Episdode I's figure line I felt that Maul never got a figure worthy of his character. A friend of mine ended up customizing a Maul from the various releases but even then he just didn't have that "UMPH" he deserved. The Vintage Collection finally gave us an excellent Maul, unfortunately he practically became a peg warmer later in the year due to an over abundance of a mostly weak wave of figures.
Adding to the issue was the fact that with this EXCELLENT Darth Maul two more crappy ones were delivered to store shelves at the same time. Now if kids asked for "Darht Maul" the parents went to the store and saw three different ones. Best case scenario they picked up the right one on accident. Worst case they left in frustration, way to alienate the market there Big H. Anyone who took a Marketing 101 (or just had bought toys for the past year) could have seen this issue. That was the infuriating part of the whole thing. Granted Maul had yet another release in the Clone Wars Target Exclusive 3-pack, but at least that was more distinct and easy to differentiate from the others and would have been even if he wasn't in a three pack. After my review of him this year I had long time fans asking which one of the three released versions he was. What does that tell you, guys who are hooked into the information on the web and see all the reports from Toyfair and Comic Con didn't have a clue which one was the cool one, what hope did the average kid have let alone their parents (AKA the source of the kid's money).
Way back in the day this guy just shocked me by picking up Thor's hammer and becoming Beta Ray Bill. Although others had lifted the hammer no one had ever tried to tap it's power until Bill (which was an accident but still cool). Bill became a on again/off again type character making some scant appearances for years until finally becoming more and more popular (slowly at that).
Anyway I have loved Bill for many years, one of my top 5 characters to add to Marvel Universe since the line began. I really hoped he would have hit in the second wave (yes, I know unrealistic but man I wanted this figure). Like Ultimates Thor, I was highly disappointed when he did not appear in the Thor line. Really he was in the "DUH!" category when I thought of who should be in the Thor line.
Why now does Bill finally get a figure in Marvel Universe. Who knows? There is so much craziness surrounding the rumors about MU and Hasbro in general it's hard to say what the reality is at this point for character selection and/or the future of the line.
At the minimum I can be so happy that I got a character I have wanted to hang with Vader and Snake Eyes for years and years.
So this year I broke two big collecting promises. First was no more Storm Shadows (as seen with #12) and the bigger one that I had kept for so long NO MORE VADERS!
Even though he is probably the most recognized character in the world, I haven't bought a Vader since Legacy, that was a while ago. Now I have to admit that the 30th Vader was darn near perfection. Since then Hasbro has been cursing Vader with all kinds of weird hands that do not allow him to fully grasp his lightsaber (but note the 30th had a pretty solid grasp) this figure looks as if it shouldn't have that kind of hold but in actuality it does. A major plus over most of the recent Darth Vader figures.
But add to that is the addition of hip articulation that is beyond T-crotch. While Vader probably shouldn't be side kicking this addition does allow for more dramatic poses.
But the major draw for this figure is the fact he looks like a PERFECT representation of Vader in Episode IV (which, Yes, there are huge differences, especially the color of the Shoulder pads). Most of the Vader figures ever released were based more upon the Empire Strikes Back or more often the Return of the Jedi designs. The brown eye lenses to detract a bit but if you pay close attention such colors are accurate.
I once saw a documentary that suggested some people thought Vader was a Robot until Empire Strikes Back but to my mind I seem to recall him as a person, possibly with robotic parts. Not sure if anyone really thought that or if it was the Lucas revision of history marching on but I remember him being a person. I suppose I felt he had too much personality to be anything but a person. Stormtroopers on the other hand I was convinced that they were not human and possibly Androids.
In some ways one can argue I waited a very long time for this figure, but there is one that I have waited even longer. I daresay I waited ALL my life for this figure which is the exact reason he ends up at the number 1 spot
Drum roll please:
This may be a controversial decision but please hear my explanation for my choice.
So as I said with Bilbo and Gollum, The Hobbit was the first book I ever read. I read it before Star Wars was released and before I knew anything about superheroes or super-villains. Basically, Gandalf is probably the first character I ever truly loved as a character. To be honest I often find every character I have ever created has some basis in Gandalf. Not exact but a quirk or mannerism that I pulled straight from Gandalf. I never went full blown and made a character fully based on Gandalf (although there is an idea I have for my Western/Horror Universe Badlands (shameless plug) but I wonder if that might be "jumping the shark" so to speak). I dare say he has been one of my favorite characters since I was a kid.
Once Star Wars toys hit my next wish was for a 1:18th version of Gandalf. While there was an action figure line for the animated version of the Hobbit it wasn't the same scale as the classic Star Wars toys. I trudged along through GI Joe and the 80's cementing my love of 1:18th scale. All the while I hoped for a 3 & 3/4 inch Gandalf. When Lord of the Rings finally reached the big screen I knew toys would follow. While I did like the 6 inch version of Gandalf (and the rest of the Fellowship) I was disappointed there was no 1:18th scale line.
Then, this year, with the release of the Hobbit came the announcement of toys. When the revelation of 1:18th figures came out I was in shock. Could it be that after all this 36 years of wanting I would finally get Gandalf in 3 & 3/4 scale? I mean think about that, 36 years I have wanted this figure thinking he would never be. I mean a Hobbit line HAD to have Gandalf, right.
Well it did and while Hasbro's disappointments all year had gotten me trained for letdowns I was treated to a really excellent figure. Some have complained about the ankles, but you know what, screw it. Ankles is probably the one place a toy company can skimp that I won't complain about (with the exceptions of some Ninja and Jedi Types who may need that level of articulation). The likeness of Sir Ian McKellen is pretty spot on. There is a big part of me that felt his likeness HAD to be Gandalf. Sure you could get away with not putting his face on Magneto (even though I do think he just as strongly identifies with both characters) but with Gandalf it's almost like he is that character.
So really how can you top a figure I have waited 36 years for.
And that puts to bed another (very tough) year of collecting. Will next year turn things around? I'll be honest I want to hope so but I am not seeing a great deal to hope for right now. Maybe I'm wrong as Toyfair is nearly hear (just days away as of this posting). Maybe we will finally have some good news, or maybe not. Either way my collection is still stronger despite a weak year. No matter what all I can see is better strengthening as I know I can just pass on those cheap figures and concentrate on the cool stuff.
Yeah, I am trying to end on a positive, not bad for a "hater" eh.
Don't forget to like Scale Wars on Facebook, Also like my upcoming horror western novel Badlands to get advance previews and info on characters, creatures and more.