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  1. #1

    The 80s really were the Golden Age of action figures.

    Seriously, think about it. Sculpts are better now, there's more articulation, and we're getting more lines, but are figures as a whole better? I don't think they are.

    Think of the big five action figure lines of the 80s: Star Wars, Masters of the Universe, GIJoe, the Transformers, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Also think of the Marvel and DC figures who were made in a few different lines (mostly Super Powers and Secret Wars). All of these lines are represented in new forms today, and all are still going strong.

    GIJoe and Transformers were both brainchildren of Hasbro. Both lines originated as toys with on-packaging character bios that are more extensive than the character development in most Hollywood blockbusters. (In the case of GIJoe, these were provided by comic scribe Larry Hama.) Cartoon series and comics, both with generally solid stories, followed. The comics for each were so successful that they continued for a couple of years after the toy lines eventually stagnated and died out in the 90s. And both cartoons inspired movies. The GIJoe movie is decent but nothing spectacular. The Transformers: The Movie, however, is easily one of the best animated films of the decade.

    And today, both the relaunches suffer from incurable "Power Rangers Syndrome": toylines scrapped after a year or two, to be replaced by another that bears little resemblance. While at one time, there seemed to be no real difficulty in finding any character, and characters were in production for at least two years (more in a few cases, like Bumblebee, Starscream, and the generic Cobra Trooper), now choice characters are tougher to find due to being shortpacked and produced for only a couple of months. Also, popular characters like Snake Eyes, Gung Ho, Bumblebee/GoldBug, and Optimus Prime were resculpted after earlier versions were unavailable because the characters were popular. And how many different Optimus Primes are on the shelf at any given time now? 47? 48? Both lines are pretty much excuses to reuse the same molds and names (though not always in conjunction) over and over again.

    And the new cartoons suck. Period. And, yes, IMHO, that goes for Beast Wars as well. Like Power Rangers and Pokemon and all that garbage, they're all nothing but blatant toy ads.

    He-Man figures were, IIRC, in constant production until the end of the line. If you didn't want the latest Super-Mega-Dragon-Punch He-Man, you had all the other versions still available. There weren't a whole lot of resculpts, considering the massive number of figures produced. But the new line has made it near impossible to find any character other than He-Man or Skeletor, who were in the first year resculpted more times than in the vintage line. I've given up any hope whatsoever of finding the Snake Men or Roboto, because I don't think anyone carries the line anymore. It's effectively dead, and (especially given the excitement we all had about the new sculpts) in record time.

    (Oddly enough, the cartoons based on He-Man have gone the opposite direction of the trend: from an old cartoon that is, in retrospect, absolutely horrible to a solid series that obviously takes some effort to produce.)

    These original characters were so strong that we're eagerly anticipated movies based on at least two of them now, not when they were produced. Who's dying for a new Power Rangers or even Pokemon movie? Anyone?

    Mattel is also hard at work killing off their Batman line. Not learning from the mistakes many toy companies have made in the past decade, they insist on reproducing Batman in every possible shade of the rainbow. (This morning, for the first time, I saw neon green and orange Batmen from the new line.) Villains and supporting characters (one or maybe two per wave) are so shortpacked and in such high demand that they are absolutely impossible to find. Spider-Man is in a similar state, though not as extreme. At least his resculpts make some sense, and the villains are shipped in decent proportions.

    But in the old Super Powers and Secret Wars lines, we had just about every character imaginable. We even had figures of freakin' Kang and Mantis! Who are Kang and Mantis? I've read comics for decades and I have no clue!! (Okay, so I know of Kang, but really have no idea about Mantis.) And there was onlyone--count him, one--Batman!! The Marvel Legends and Classics lines from Toybiz seem to have the right idea on this, and overall are probably the best managed properties today. And they'd be even better in my book if they'd hurry up and make the Marvel Legends Jubilee that's way overdue!

    The original Ninja Turtles line was plagued with resculpts from the beginning, but we still got tons of other characters. In the new line, in the time it took the original line to churn out probably around 50 or so figures, we have three (four?) each of the Turtles, one Splinter, two Shredders, one Hun, and four (five?) variations of Foot Soldiers. There may not be as many characters in the new cartoon, true, but would it kill them to make Baxter Stockman or the Garbageman?

    And now to Star Wars. I wouldn't argue that production-wise, even the gimmick-laden AOTC figures kick the tar out of most of the vintage line. And I'd have killed for something like the Power FX X-Wing or Naboo Royal Starship as a kid. But availability and selection are very serious problems for SW. Every figure in the old line (okay, not every figure, since I doubt any of us had Yak Face back in the day) was readily available, and produced for long periods of time. There were exclusives, but these often ended up on the open market shortly. Many desirable characters and vehicles are now exclusive or shortpacks, and some are produced but never released in many countries. And fans have to petition and beg constantly to get background characters over unneeded resculpts of Luke and Obi-Wan. You would at least think that, given the number of figures produced in both lines, all the characters deemed important or cool enough to be made 25 years ago would be updated, or at least all the characters who have speaking lines!

    As for other lines, there's a lot more available now, true. Who would've expected in the 80s that we'd have figures based on Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th? But if there had been an Elm Street toyline back then, it wouldn't have been just Freddy. I mean, I don't think McFarlane even bothered to make Newt, Dutch, or Ripley in the all-Aliens/Predator wave of Movie Maniacs.

    But why do some hot properties that obviously lend themselves to action figures, like Pirates of the Caribbean, never have any tie-ins, and others, like Hulk and X2, are so poorly done as to die lightning-fast deaths.

    It's not that I hate toys now, or would stop collecting. But I wish certain things were handled more like they were then.
    Last edited by El Chuxter; 01-09-2004 at 02:50 PM.
    That's my jacket!

  2. #2
    Although I don't often post here (as you can see), I just had to reply to this post because I think its one of the best I have seen. At least for me, you have really captured my feelings about action figures/toylines. I am a Star Wars collector, primarily 3 3/4" figs, vehicles, etc., but I also pay attention to a few other toy lines as well. Several of the lines from my youth have tempted me, since they have been brought back (GI Joe, MOTU, Marvel, Batman/DC). I was going to collect MOTU at one point, but the figure I wanted the most (Roboto) has not and probably will never be seen around here. I also collect some Marvel Legends (X-Men only), mostly due to the nostalgia of Secret Wars and comics from my youth. (Also, I will agree that this line is one of the better ones out there...and part of it might be that you can usually find everything, and it isn't so overwhelming with only 15-20 figures per year) There was a time I was considering GI Joe as well, but ended up only picking up the Snake Eyes/Cobra Commander 2-pack. I guess what I am saying is that I really feel the same way as you. I wish that things were more like they were in the 80s, when I was growing up. I remember being able to go to stores with my parents, and find the figures I was looking for (Trenchcoat Han, Jedi Luke were some favorites), instead of just constant pegs of, for example, Hammerhead. I also liked the fact that the Star Wars line seemed huge back then, even though the line was like 77-79 figures (not counting POTF)...numbers we almost reach in a year now. I kind of liked the fact the Vader, Chewie, and Stormtroopers were always the same figure, released throughout the three movies.

    I do realize that times have changed, and action figures and collecting in general is a whole different ballgame now...but I do wish it could be a little more like the past sometimes. Things have improved, I mean I don't think any of us can deny that the Saga figure (especially the more recent, non action feature ones), are sculpted quite well, and blow the vintage figures out of the water in that department. It is also harder to keep figures on the pegs with all the scalping that goes on, and also, Star Wars (as one example) just isn't as big as it was when we were kids I don't think. Maybe the prequels have hurt it, maybe its just that kids are different now. Still, it would be nice if things could be "simplified" a little, and follow the 80s trends in some ways. I guess I don't have anything real constructive to add to this thread, but I just wanted to say that I think El Chuxter's points are very good, and I agree whole heartedly. I don't know a whole lot about a lot of the other lines, but do follow them somewhat, but I do wish that Star Wars now was a little more similar to the vintage least as much as it could be. I am very excited for 2004 collecting, it looks to be a great year for SW collectors...and I hope it continues. Thanks for a great post El Chuxter, its nice to know someone else has noticed and feels this way too.

  3. #3
    Well You know what it is, the 80's is what started it all for most of us. I grew up with those lines that you mentioned. They are the lines we love and collect. Today, we are pretty much buying the same lines. The originals will always have a special place in our hearts making them better.
    "It can't rain all the time."

    "Quote the Raven, Nevermore."

  4. #4
    IMHO, the G1 Transformers line remains the best line of Transformers. The vehicles actually looked like what they were supposed to be, real everyday vehicles.

    Again, that's just my opinion.
    May the force be with you.

  5. #5
    Dude, Alternators and Masterpeice Optimus Prime kick the tar out of G1.

    And what was wrong with the Beast Wars toon, specificly? It did have it weird spots (Why would Rhinox fart??) but it was well written for the most part, and best of all, had ties to G1.

    I can't make a case for Robots in Disguise or Armada, because except for a few things, they do suck compared to a lot of shows. I still like them however.

  6. #6
    Yeah, why the hate towards Beast Wars?

    Mosnab, its good to see a fellow Nebraskan on the forum, i may be sending you a PM.

    I was born in 1983, the only carded vintage Star Wars figure i ever found at retail (my mother bought it for me) was a Crix Madine figure. All of my other vintage figures were from thrift shops. I was desperate to get my hands on them. I didnt know how many there were and didnt care, i just wanted Star Wars figures. The Ninja Turtles were my favorite toys for many years. On of my most fondest memories is of my mother taking me to a Target and buying my brother and i some figures because they were on sale 3 for $10. I remember taking figures off the pegs not even a second after an employee had put them on. Transformers were also a favorite of mine. But all i could find for many years were mangled up ones at thrift stores. It became depressing not finding the Dinobots in complete condition and at a cheap price so i stopped looking for them. With the release of these three lines again ive been able to get some of the figures i had wanted years ago. I guess i dont feel the attachment that you guys do with the vintage figures because i came in at a bad time with the exception of the Turtles. I am quite pleased with what i have today.
    Good Traders/Sellers: Cameo, Darth Cruel, Sith Killer 99, JJReason, icatch9, ChasingJediDogma, AT-AT Man, JediMasterGuyute, Brainiak76, JangoFett96, njscollectibles, Vulcantouch, AC Pin, TheDarthVader, msjedi, DarthQuack, Roojay

  7. #7
    Beast Wars remains to this day easily my favorite TF cartoon. It was fairly serious, took a lot of care to remain true to the toys while still staying true to the writing, and held strong to its story arc. And the CG animation looks pretty sharp even compared to today's CG toons.

    The '80s were certainly a boon for action figures though, the federal government relaxed the way cartoons were allowed to be merchandised and that created He-man out of the ashes of a failed Conan the Barbarian figure. In the '80s, new materials allowed for better sculpts, while toy companies realized that vehicles and playsets were good ways to get kids to buy more figures - where the real money is - so the playsets & vehicles were of a higher quality and there were more of them. Look at GI Joe:RAH, that line was basically built on vehicles, and the more vehicles you had, the more figures you bought to go with them - now look at Hasbro, they put out a handful of pitiful vehicles and there really aren't that many figures to go with them anyway.

    We also had great stuff like MASK back then, which Kenner-owned Hasbro even tried to restart about 5 years ago but without the same level of quality so it failed. MASK was based directly on vehicles, the figures were basically just accessories, but it was a great concept. And unlike the '80s, today's market is so "now now now" oriented that lines succeed AND fail all within one year, whereas 20 years ago lines got a good 2 or 3 years before they'd tank, and even then they'd still push a little for a last gasp like Silverhawks or Thundercats or even Bionic 6. (odd how all 3 mentioned there are LJN stuff. Maybe we need LJN to return from the dead, though that's all but impossible since they were sold into many fractured pieces.)

    However, things were far from perfect back then, as a line was starting to hit its 2nd generation of audience (a year and a half to 3 years in when the next group of kids would get interested), the stores would only have 3rd-string characters like Squidhead or lame main-character variations like Battle Armor He-man & Skeletor (the rotating chest armor figures). And the materials were generally not up to the quality we have today, toys broke more often and paint came off more easily, stands would break off leaving the peg inside the figure's foot, and sculpting & articulation weren't where they are now until the very end of the decade. I remember the '80s fondly, but their day has come and gone, and until the toy companies start taking more long-term, from-the-gut risks on unproven-yet-cool lines again rather than the playing-it-safe focus-group-created standard rehashes and rip-offs we get these days, the '80s toys will remain distant memories rather than markers for the road ahead.
    Darth Vader is becoming the Mickey Mouse of Star Wars.

    Kylo Ren - came from Space Brooklyn, although he moved to Space Williamsburg before it was trendy.

    The use of a lightsaber does not make one a Jedi, it is the ability to not use it.

  8. #8
    jjreason's Avatar
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    Apr 2002
    Lubing up the probe - it's business time.
    The 80's were a golden age for us. We were still innocent. None of us (I don't think) had experienced an online *****ing session over every aspect of every figure in every toy line produced. We weren't stuck waiting up to a year for a desired figure because we didn't know it was coming out until we saw the TV add - and that would often closely approximate the date of the retail release. Shortpacking hadn't yet been invented, there was no hitting 14 stores before 8am looking for Ripcord or Roadblock. A figure's popularity and scarcity was earned by being a wicked toy - not by being the only one in a case of cases.

    In the 80's a trip to the TRU action figure aisle WAS awesome. It was hard to figure out where to spend your money, I loved SW, Joe, MOTU, TF and Micronauts all at one time or another. Throw in Sectaurs, Battle Star, Buck Rogers, Secret Wars, etc and it was 10 years absolutely choc full of little plastic toys.

    I loved collecting back then, and I love it today. The game has grown up with us however, and our desire to have everything and have it first - no matter the cost - has skewed the hobby too greatly in favour of the producers. They can do whatever they want (chase, variant, shortpack - whatever), we'll still drive and line up for hours to consume. We'll burn 3 tank fulls of precious, earth-destroying, non-replenishable gas and oil to find 2 action figures - oddly enough created from that very same oil. The oil your cousins and brothers are off fighting for right now. Sorry if that gets close to political - I guess I've become a little more concerned about that issue in the recent past. Having kids will do that to a person. I'll be calling it quits as soon as the SW line dies it's death. Getting the figures is fine, but I'm sick of it being a full time job.

  9. #9
    I've recently traded spaces my room...and the hundreds of figs that clouded the walls are of course, gone... Now very few figs sit on the shelves, A set of 80's Thundercats, some newer MOTU, the originals are still boxed and actually have been for about 10yrs? A small clone wars display replaces the three tiered SW diorama.. sob sob. A few lotr on the book shelf and Bats(animated) and thats about it. So more than 1/2 the stuff in my room is from 80's or a fab remake (MOTU). The 80's "rocked" and so does 80's nostalgia, or at least the toys.
    Your signature here!

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by El Chuxter
    Seriously, think about it. Sculpts are better now, there's more articulation, and we're getting more lines, but are figures as a whole better? I don't think they are.
    You know, since I ended up spending a large part of the '80s as a troubled teen more concerned with skateboarding, scoring beer and hitting up the girlies, I have to say, I don't have the same sentimental attachment to the '80s that most of you might have. I agree that a lot of interesting stuff came out in the '80s, and as I watched my little brother trash his He-Man and Transformers figures I could appreciate the play value... but to me, the golden age of the action figure was the 1970s. Star Wars got its start then. Frankly, Transformers got their start then also, the Japanese had all/most of the G1 figures well before Hasbro took hold of them. We had great Mego figures of Marvel and DC heroes, as well as Star Trek, Planet of the Apes. Don't forget the other Japanese/American hit, The Micronauts... I spent a lot of my childhood playing with those. In my opinion, that's the coolest and most fun toy line that's ever been made. GI Joe, and not those little numbers, were super cool with fuzzy heads and Kung-Fu grips. Ideal made Evil Knievel and his wind-up action bike. Mattel licensed all sorts of great stuff from Japan that was made of die-cast, plastic or polyurethane and would actually shoot nice dangerous missiles. The Shogun Warriors line was again, one of the greatest lines ever, and in many ways was an introduction to Power Ranger and other "sentai" theme toys for us here in the US. Mattel put out the great Battlestar Galactica toys... you know, the one's that shot the little missile that "the kid" choked on.

    So again, to me, "golden age" = 1970s.
    Quote Originally Posted by El Chuxter
    GIJoe and Transformers were both brainchildren of Hasbro.
    Well, GI Joe was, but the line of smaller figures sure borrowed from the idea that got started with Star Wars figures. Transformers were the brainchild of Takara toys in Japan. Hasbro simply repackaged and re-marketed their idea, creating a cartoon to help sell the idea to western toy buying kids. At this point, Star Wars has fixed the idea that a toy line must have some kind of film or TV tie in to be a success. Hasbro simply borrowed from the Japanese and created their own show to help promote the toys. In the 70s, Takara and Bandai (Popy) had been using comics, cartoons and live action shows to sell toys. Even today, you can't sell toys in Japan without a TV show... same here really.
    Quote Originally Posted by El Chuxter
    And today, both the relaunches suffer from incurable "Power Rangers Syndrome"...
    Again, not a new idea. The Japanese have been making Power Rangers or "Go-Ranger" toys in Japan since the early 70's. The show changes and the toys changed every few seasons to keep the kids interest up.
    Quote Originally Posted by El Chuxter
    And the new cartoons suck. Period. And, yes, IMHO, that goes for Beast Wars as well. Like Power Rangers and Pokemon and all that garbage, they're all nothing but blatant toy ads.
    I liked Beast Wars. First original and well executed idea that I'd seen in ages. Other than that, I agree with you for the most part. But, I'm not sure how you see the old He-Man or GI-Joe cartoons as being more than simple toy commercials. I remember laughing at the whole He-Man thing back then, and still think that the GI-Joe stuff is garbage. Transformers existed ONLY as a means of selling toys then, and frankly I think the movie was terrible. How can anything that's basically one long character roll call be considered anything other than a moving toy catalog. So yeah, Pokemon is for sure all about selling the merchandise, but I can remember pretty clearly just how hard Mattel was pushing each and every new muscle bound He-Man figure on kids like my brother. I think the fact that any parent was tricked into buying "Stinkor" is proof of that.
    Quote Originally Posted by El Chuxter
    The Marvel Legends and Classics lines from Toybiz seem to have the right idea on this, and overall are probably the best managed properties today.
    I agree, and I think that Toy Biz handles their lines (Marvel Legends, Famous Covers) much like how Mego handled their hero lines in the 70's.
    Quote Originally Posted by El Chuxter
    As for other lines, there's a lot more available now, true. Who would've expected in the 80s that we'd have figures based on Nightmare on Elm Street...
    I refer you to this number from (I think) 1989 ... Maxx Fx Freddy Krueger by Matchbox. I had one of these a while ago that I sold. Cool idea, but it ended up offending parents, so the line died.
    Quote Originally Posted by El Chuxter
    But why do some hot properties that obviously lend themselves to action figures, like Pirates of the Caribbean, never have any tie-ins, and others, like Hulk and X2, are so poorly done as to die lightning-fast deaths.
    I blame McFarlane and the glut of poorly done licensed movie figures that they've put out in the past as the reason for a lot of hesitation to do things like "Pirates of the Caribbean." Look at the whole "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" thing and remember how much of that we saw hanging around long after the film had gone. Also, think of all of that "Planet of the Apes" junk that sat around after that mess of a movie vanished. How about Trendmasters (RIP) and their "Lost in Space" line (which I really liked and still have a tote full of it somewhere), that may have helped to kill off that company in part. If the film studio isn't willing to help support the merchandise, or if the film ends up bombing, then someone's gonna be stuck with a mess afterwards. So, we end up with toys that only relate to rock solid cartoons or have to do with long established TV shows (Pokemon, Power Rangers)... an idea that seemed to really come of age in the '70s, but became a rule in the 1980s.
    Last edited by plasticfetish; 01-15-2004 at 04:07 AM.


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