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31 Dec 2010 / mttlg

2010 Action Figure Recap

2008, 2009, and now 2010. This year marks my tenth year since getting back into toy collecting in one form or another, so screw the whole “when does the decade begin/end” argument, I’m going with 2001-2010 as my arbitrary decade boundaries. As such, I will throw in a bunch of decade awards, mostly having to do with Transformers, which has been the only real constant for me over the past ten years. Links are provided where appropriate; more links may be added at a later date.

Toy Lines | Year in Review | The Awards
Most Vaporous | Most Controversial | Most Surprising | Most Disappointing | Least Necessary | Best Mail-Away | Worst Exclusive | Best Exclusive | Worst Repaint | Best Repaint | Most Elusive | Best Figure | Most Wanted | Best Pegwarmer | The Moffy
Final Thoughts

2010 Action Figure Recap

The Toy Lines

This is not a comprehensive list of all toy lines that were out this year; I only cover what I feel like covering. Therefore, before you start complaining that your favorite toy line isn’t listed, you can just assume that I think your favorite toy line is total crap that only babies like, just like most of the stuff listed below. Seriously, they’re toys. Lighten up.

The A-Team

Despite the classic 80s mindless action appeal, this was doomed to be a failed movie line simply because of the source material. At best, it’s a B-list franchise, which is enough to doom it, but the toys are from a C-list manufacturer, which means terrible figures. But hey, cool van.

G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra / Pursuit of Cobra

As the G.I. Joe franchise got some distance from the movie, it started to really come into its own. The bad news is the first half, which was mostly canceled before the remainder from last year was clearanced. The second half’s Pursuit of Cobra line looks like a true new start to the G.I. Joe line, free of the constraints of both the old toy line and the movie. This is sure to piss everyone off; not only are these the best G.I. Joe figures ever, but they don’t look anything like the classic designs. And if you think you already have the definitive Snake Eyes, well, you should know better by now.

Iron Man 2

Not many people noticed the animated Iron Man line last year because, like the Wolverine and Spider-Man animated lines, it sucked. Sucked, sucked, sucked. Even if, as Hasbro insists, kids don’t care about articulation, it still sucked. But, with a new movie out in the spring, that means new movie toys. This time around, 6″ is out and 4″ is in, following suit with the other Marvel lines. The line contains figures from both movies, the comics, and whatever else Hasbro could throw together and slap the Iron Man name on, all while trying to avoid the movie line curse and get the later waves out before the line gets canned. Has Hasbro learned its lesson? (Yes, that was a rhetorical question.)

Marvel 1:18: Marvel Universe

Marvel Universe keeps going while the Wolverine lines have (thankfully) folded. After a great year with tremendous variety (and a few too many minor variants), this line continues as the only line with comic packs (some pretty good ones at the start of the year and mostly more of the same after that). And women! With, um, very prominent boobs. Because you wouldn’t know they were women otherwise. Or because Marvel sculptors are sad and lonely men.

Prince of Persia

Another mediocre movie line, this one is from MacFarlane and features really nice sculpts and very little variety. More will be produced if the first wave sells well (we all know how that will turn out…).

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

The Clone Wars just keeps on going; the show started its third season in the fall and the toy line actually gets restocked every once in a while (unlike most other lines these days). Articulation continues to be the line’s biggest problem, unless you’re a bounty hunter. This line loves its bounty hunters.

Star Wars: The Legacy Collection / Vintage

After a few Legacy waves that have yet to fully materialize, the Vintage line returned in the second half, now with some figures from the prequel trilogy (but not prequel-style cardbacks, to everyone’s relief). Most of the figures getting the Vintage treatment will be new or updated and even the companion Saga Legends line will be getting some variety (all of the bounty hunters should be available at the same time when these two lines launch, which is apparently a big deal to fans of bounty hunters).

Transformers Animated

OK, so the show is long gone, and most of the line has been clearanced, but new product is still coming out? I’m confused. Will this line keep sputtering along now that there’s a new animated Transformers show? Whatever happened to Hasbro’s fear of confusing kids with multiple versions of the same character (or does that only apply to G.I. Joe characters who are no longer white males)?

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen / Generations / Hunt for the Decepticons / Autobot Alliance / Reveal the Shield / Power Core Combiners / blah / blah / blah

Line G.I. Joe and Star Wars, the main Transformers line had a packaging refresh mid-year and transitioned the movie line into the Generations, Hunt for the Decepticons, Power Core Combiners, Autobot Alliance, and/or Reveal the Shield lines, which appears to be a combination Classics/Universe/Movie/Comic/Whatever line split out into several overlapping and/or sequential sub-lines. Combiners and Mini-cons are back, but with drone combiner limbs without robot modes. The Generations line is the most promising, though it is Deluxe-only (which, after the filler Voyagers in the Universe 2.0 line, is probably for the best) and ends after five waves, with additional Classics-style figures showing up in the Reveal the Shield line that is 2011’s continuation of the mostly non-Classics Hunt for the Decepticons line. Did anyone follow that?

2010 Year in Review

I apologize in advance. Take my advice, just skip ahead to The Awards. What follows is largely a glacially-paced stream of consciousness recap of a very boring year. In short, nothing happened until halfway through the year, then everything that came out mid-year clogged the pegs for the rest of the year.

Woo-hoo, it’s clearance time! Um, except stores didn’t bother restocking in December, so there isn’t much to clearance out except store exclusives, which is pretty much all the stores did restock with for the three months before December. Wow, last year sucked. Good luck finding anything worth buying though, most of that either went on clearance in December and is out of stock or is still at full price (or more). The real surprise was the missing Phantom Menace wave of Star Wars Legacy figures; after barely showing up anywhere, they came out in large quantities as two-for-one bonus packs (the Return of the Jedi wave was also common in these packs). Not a bad deal, except they aren’t packed conveniently enough to be able to make an entire build-a-droid without leftover parts (and unwanted figures). Still, it’s something. Anybody want some skiff guards?

The discount stores also did pretty well in January, with quantities of fairly recent products from G.I. Joe, Transformers, and Star Wars showing up. The most surprising finds were the exclusive Transformers Classics repaints and the impossible-to-find-at-retail G.I. Joe clear Wraith variant (along with the rest of that wave, plus vehicle packs and the last three 5-packs). The Transformers exclusives are a good sign that online exclusives can make their way to local discount stores, but the clear Wraith is just puzzling. These were supposed to be limited to the first case revision of the wave, so these should have all been pushed out to shelves before the revision cases that were instead all that showed up in many places. Someone was apparently sitting on massive quantities of this wave, which drove up prices on the variant Wraith. This wave also contained B.A.T.s, which were never available in sufficient quantities to meet demand. Whenever things like this show up at discount outlets without being from the tail end of a line (which often suffers from retailers cutting off orders early), it points to supply chain problems at a retailer or the manufacturer. This is just one more reason why assortment-limited variants are a very bad idea.

In somewhat more positive news, Fun Publications announced that its collector’s club magazines would no longer come stapled inside issues of Master Collector magazine and would instead be shipped by themselves. This is a welcome change, since Master Collector magazine is a horrific waste of paper to begin with. In this case, less is definitely more. I am still amazed that they actually charged money for that trash, or just that anyone would want it in the first place – it is nothing more than classified ads. This news plus the 25th Anniversary style Adventure Team exclusives (with Dr. Venom) pushed me over the edge. I guess I’m getting an o-ring Big Lob [Editor’s note – crap, next year is a modern-style Dial-Tone, why didn’t I wait?].

New stuff came out in February. Or so I am told. I was away for the month, and when I got back, anything new that had come out was already sold out. The long-awaited Animated Arcee was first sighted in late January, but if the pattern of past TRU exclusives holds true, it was just one or two per store, with larger quantities showing up in a month or two. Hopefully… Wal-Mart got a couple Transformers exclusives of its own, the Legends-class Devastator (the only version that fully transforms) and some Scout-class repaint two-packs (which were only priced $2 more than two single-pack Scout figures would cost…). Target got some Legends-class two-packs, priced at a more reasonable $6.99 per pack. In the clearance section, both the Wal-Mart Masterpiece Skywarp (originally $60) and the Target G.I. Joe RHINO (originally $50) were marked down to half price, with significant quantities still available in March (the RHINO continued down to 75% off and took a couple of weeks to sell out even at that price). In a shocking indication of a massive failure, the $40 G.I. Joe RoC Night Raven was available at all major retailers with a discount of 50% or more and still wouldn’t sell. Toys R Us started its clearance sale by marking down some underperforming exclusives to their most recent sale price (or slightly more). Yes, TRU truly is run by morons.

The other big February news was Toy Fair, one of the year’s major Hasbro Delay Tactics (“We’ll have more to tell you about at Toy Fair/SDCC/in your dreams/hahahahaha.”). Stuff was shown. I hesitate to get too excited because of all the past Toy Fair reveals that never materialized. One of the more confusing announcements was that the mail-away Cobra Commander is no longer a mail-away and will no longer come with a mini HISS tank. Hopefully we won’t have to wait until next year to find him at discount stores… Just about everything new is coming out late in the year, leaving a lot of questions about the next few months, especially with current lines not being restocked or going on clearance. Oh, and the G.I. Joe figures coming out in the fall will be priced at $5.99. Has Hasbro actually figured out that high prices don’t help to sell product? [Editor’s note – actual retail price: $6.99]

March 1 marked the official release date for the Iron Man 2 toy line, and for once the stores around me did not release anything early (which I only know because I got back on February 28 and couldn’t find jack shit of anything new in stores). The line mainly consists of Iron Man, Iron Man, Iron Man, Iron Man’s buddy, Iron Man, Iron Man, a slightly different Iron Man, Iron Man, Iron Man’s Russian counterpart, Iron Man, Iron Man, and a few more of Iron Man, with an additional Iron Man here and there. Luckily, there are enough distinct Iron Man suits between the comics and movies to pull this off, with more variation (including Scarlett Johansen, Samuel L. Jackson, and helmetless suited Robert Downey Jr. and Don Cheadle figures) to come. Maybe. [Editor’s note – One out of four ain’t bad. Oh wait, it is.] Hasbro is handling this as a major franchise release, the first of this magnitude since Indiana Jones. Aside from a few disappointing Marvel Universe releases, this is the first 3-3/4″ line for Iron Man (the first movie line was 6″), so they are free to just go nuts with it. Hopefully the experience (failure) with Indiana Jones and X-Men Origins: Wolverine has taught Hasbro how to do a proper limited-time movie toy line (but probably not). Still, the figures look great, have full (somewhat limited) articulation, and aren’t too overpriced (except at K-Mart). This is the ultimate impulse buy line. Oh, and there’s a new 3-3/4″ Spider-Man line, but I think that came out a couple of months ago. I only just noticed because the stores have shuffled everything around to make comic book lines a priority, but I don’t like the look of that line anyway.

Hey, remember last year when just about all of the pre-Rise of Cobra G.I. Joe product was canceled because stores stopped ordering more in anticipation of the changeover? Yeah, that. Some Wave 3 Alpha vehicles managed to escape from the warehouse before the lot was fed into a wood chipper, but not much else will be making its way into stores before the start of the Pursuit of Cobra line in the fall. Still no word on Wave 4 single figures… [Editor’s note – Wave 4 did show up at TJ Maxx/Marshalls in the fall in very limited quantities.] In other nostalgic cancellation news, K-Mart got its version of the infamous Target coupon and discontinued it in just a few days. And nobody noticed. Sure, it was $10 off $20 instead of $5 off $25, but at K-Mart that just gets you back to retail price. I guess K-Mart still hasn’t figured out that you can print multiple copies of web coupons and send out links to the entire world. Welcome to 2008.

April happened. Some new Marvel Universe trickled out in very small quantities. Um… Transformers Animated toys were released in Japan. Ooh, shiny. Target got some Iron Man exclusive repacked figures with glowing Hall of Armor display bases between Tax Day and Patriot’s Day. TRU got an exclusive Iron Man 2 6″ figure 3-pack and Wal-Mart got some single 6″ figures. Many stores used the downtime to execute massive renovation projects.

It looks like this year’s Playmates is Macfarlane; not only are they making the little seen and lesser cared about Playmakers line of baseball and football (American only) players, but they are also making the toy line for the soon-to-be underperforming movie version of Prince of Persia. The latter started hitting stores in May and looks decidedly underwhelming. The line includes both 4″ and 6″ figures plus a replica dagger (Stabby-stabby fun, kids!). The 4″ line starts out with a wave of 4 figures, a deluxe figure and horse set, and a gate of some sort that comes with a figure. Just two of these figures are not of the main character. Hey, at least they have likeness rights… Also released in May was the cursed Wave 13 of Star Wars Legacy, a TRU/online exclusive. Somehow, this wave was made available at TRU’s fire sale price of $4.99 per figure, if you were lucky enough to find it. Elsewhere, stores reconfigured to put Toy Story 3 front and center. I have no comment. Wasn’t there supposed to be a new wave of Iron Man 2 figures released this month? One more notch for the curse of the movie line…

The award for least ambitious toy line of the year looks like it will go to The A-Team, which debuted in late May/early June with five mediocre figures, a van, and some 12″ talking statues. So far, only Target has bothered to display the line. This puts The A-Team ahead of G.I. Joe, Star Wars Legacy, and Marvel Universe (and possibly all three combined) in terms of new single carded figures put out in the last six months at Target. I only wish this was an exaggeration.

June was also a big month for mail order, with the Clone Wars fan-favorite Nahdar Vebb figure and Transformers Recon Ravage both arriving via their respective mail-away offers (a special note of thanks to Figure Redemption, Inc., which ignored the late postmark on my Recon Ravage form). Fun Publications got in on the action with its G.I. Joe 1:18 Adventure Team exclusives, which included the first-ever Dr. Venom figure, Transformers Punch/Counterpunch and Shattered Glass Cyclonus, and, after a delay of several months, the 2010 Transformers member figure Dion (a repaint of the Japanese version of Universe 2.0 Hot Shot, which included the guns omitted in the US release). Then there was BotCon at the end of the month with even more repainted figures with mostly new heads. Between the club exclusives and the convention figures, most of the good Universe 2.0 figures were used: Onslaught, Inferno, Sunstreaker/Sideswipe, Prowl, Hound, Cyclonus, and even Hot Shot. Looks like Fun Pubs got it right this time. Man, there’s something I never thought I would say.

Hey, new product! The new wave of Iron Man comic series figures finally hit a random store or two. Don’t count on too many cases getting stocked though, the (typical stupid Hasbro) case assortment is half generic comic Iron Man figures (two repacks of the first one, two with a new head, and two strange figures that, while new, aren’t interesting enough to care about). At least they aren’t pulling an Indiana Jones and dropping the new figures from the revision cases. Well, except they are doing just that with the movie series, which has one Whiplash figure per 12-figure case in only two of the Wave 4 case assortments. These have been showing up at CVS somehow, so expect major retailers to get the case assortments without new figures.

Things took a bizarre twist at the end of June; barely more than a week into summer, the new fall lines of Transformers, Star Wars, and G.I. Joe were all out at Toys R Us. Many of these had a street date in August, so the June release was a bit unexpected. Well, not so much considering that there’s been six months of barely anything new in stores, so ignoring the street date only makes sense for retailers who want to stay in business (Who would have guessed that TRU would fall into that category?). I guess the last bits of the old lines (that Hasbro has said should be in stores now but haven’t been seen anywhere) won’t be coming after all (discount stores, have at it). Gee, Hasbro has no idea what’s in stores. Big shock there. Oh, hey, as predicted (sort of), Animated Arcee finally landed in a decent quantity and stayed in stock for about a week. [Editor’s note: Arcee and the rest of the TRU TF Animated exclusives (plus many more figures from Animated) filled dozens of pegs just in time for Christmas. It only took THE ENTIRE YEAR for TRU to get this figure out.]

July was clearance time. Again. It feels like we’ve had more clearances this year than restocks. Probably because we HAVE had more clearances than restocks… TRU took 25% off clearance items, which, when combined with the various buy one get one half off deals and $5 off coupons actually brought prices down to clearance levels. K-Mart got serious by taking 50% off clearance prices, dropping their half-decent G.I. Joe 4-pack to $2.49. And Target continued its usual clearance death march on the old lines, though there wasn’t much left other than the second wave of G.I. Joe deluxe exclusives. Wal-Mart didn’t have much of anything left in stock to clearance, so they rearranged the deck chairs.

Of course, the big news in July is ComicCon, the event that formerly had something to do with comics. Toys from all of the fall lines were on display, and, this close to the release, there’s actually a good chance that they will make it to retail (especially since many of them already have). Notable new lines include movie lines for Thor and Captain America (which have already been done to death in Marvel Universe), while the displays for Marvel Universe and Iron Man 2 had an unbelievable number of new figures on display (too bad there’s nothing new in stores…). The exclusives were plentiful across the board, with Marvel alone having four: one each for non-movie versions of the subjects of their next two movies (Captain America and Thor), a movie version of Spider-Man, and a 19″ Galactus. Even Mattel had an interesting exclusive: Mo-Larr, Eternian Dentist (from Robot Chicken). And speaking of Robot Chicken, there was even a Robot Chicken nerd action figure with ComicCon t-shirt and swag bag (plus a top hat and a jar of unicorn “mayonnaise”). For the masochists, there were a couple of Sergeant Slaughter G.I. Joe exclusives that were produced in such limited quantities that you basically had to BE Sergeant Slaughter to fight your way through the line. There was plenty more on display for Transformers, Star Wars, and G.I. Joe, but this ridiculous street date fiasco has me not caring about what’s coming up for any of them. Suck it, Hasbro. And then take my money when the new stuff gets released…

On 31 July 2010, Target finally got new products in stock from Transformers, G.I. Joe, and Star Wars, plus some new Marvel Universe! Most of these had already been found at TRU in June, but there were a few truly new items, mostly Star Wars Battle Packs (I’m still confused about this Retail Droid, is it a store employee or a figure not found in hobby store case assortments?) and Marvel Universe 2-packs (featuring a masked Wolverine in classic yellow costume, finally).

Hasbro’s street date passed in early August and nobody cared since most of the “new” items had been available for over a month. The next waves of just about everything showed up by the end of the month at different places – G.I. Joe single carded figures at Target, Clone Wars figures at Wal-Mart, and the occasional Star Wars Vintage figure or Scout Class Transformer at TRU. There were even a couple of things that were intentionally released as store exclusives: Masterpiece Grimlock and Transformers Animated Rodimus Minor and Cybertron Mode Ironhide at TRU, Transformers Deluxe crappy repaint two-packs at Target, and Transformers Deluxe/Legends crappy repaint two-packs at Wal-Mart. So much new stuff, so little excitement. The announcement of a Masterpiece Hot Rod/Rodimus Prime in Japan was better than any of the tangible items available for purchase (though Grimlock, Animated Rodimus Minor, and the Pursuit of Cobra Jungle Viper get honorable mentions).

Remember that Iron Man 2 movie that came out way back in May (with a toy line that came out in March)? With lots of cool drones and stuff? Well, only five months later, they finally arrived in toy form! Not that anybody really cares at this point. Two of the drones made it out single carded (or they would if they could fight their way through the clogged pegs), but the other two were available in store-exclusive multipacks only (3-packs with a single Sea Assault Drone at Target and 4-packs with two Land Assault Drones at TRU). That means to get a movie-accurate 32-drone army you’ll also need to purchase 8 Whiplashes, 8 Iron Man Mk. Vs, 4 Iron Man Mk. VIs, and 4 Nuck Furys. Good luck with that. K-Mart also got into the action with another 3-pack of bizarre repaints (no drones included). And Wal-Mart got nothing. Or did they? [Editor’s note – One Wal-Mart actually did get four cases of the drone wave, though I bought all of the drones. Sorry rest of New England.]

It almost went unnoticed, but TRU put out a handy $5 off $25 one-per-person (wink, wink) web coupon at the end of September. Also mostly unnoticed were a couple of cases of Transformers Generations Waves 2 and 3 that made it out to retail (while Wave 4 was already in stock at online stores).

By October, we were well into the fall dead zone for new products. Promo images of the 2011 lineup were distributed, but the rest of the 2010 lineup? Iron Man 2 began its descent to clearance with a price cut to $5 at Wal-Mart, or $3.75 after a $5 off $20 coupon (found in many of the figures in stock at Wal-Mart). Wake me up when it’s post-holiday clearance time. What’s that? Tron Legacy movie toys? Um, let’s see, where’s that failed movie line checklist… Multiple incompatible scales/sizes of figures and vehicles, all in identical packaging? Check. Action figures where “action” is meant as “can assume one of two poses?” Check. Media franchise that was last relevant before the target audience was born? Check. Pricing structure that makes Star Wars toys look cheap? Check ($10 for a single carded figure?). Welcome to Failtown, population: Tron (and lame jokes).

Oh, hey, store exclusives. Well, Star Wars store exclusives at least… By the end of October, Target, Wal-Mart, and TRU all got in a bunch of exclusives, some of which had leaked out back in August. Wal-Mart got the long-awaited Jabba the Hutt on rolling dais with naked (well, naked-capable) dancing girl, Target got a whole bunch of Clone Wars multi-packs (two four-figure battle packs and two two-packs, with only one Captain Rex taking up space in the bunch!), two Hoth-themed sets, each with three figures (including the variant Hoth Rebel Trooper that never made it out last year), and vintage-boxed TIE Fighters and Snowspeeders. And TRU got a vintage-boxed AT-AT and a Slave-1 with a Jedi starfighter and a bunch of figures. As for everything else, Iron Man 2 cooled off after the DVD/Blue-Ray release and new releases of everything else slowly trickled out. Wave 1 of everything continued to clog the pegs.

While this year’s fall releases have been slow to materialize, last year’s are coming out in droves at the discount stores. The lost Star Wars Titanium wave had already shown up earlier in the year, but in October they were joined by G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra single carded Wave 4 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine Wave 4, along with more G.I. Joe 25th Anniversary figures from 2008 and Hall of Heroes figures from 2009. Speaking of blasts from the past, Hasbro offered up three free deluxe figures for every $25 Transformers movie figure purchase (select figure classes only) back in June and July (allow up to three months for delivery). The offer ended on July 31 and, sure enough, a box arrived on October 29 with three deluxe figures – from Transformers Animated. It’s not exactly what was expected, but at least it explains why the discount stores have been getting movie deluxes but only voyager-class figures from Animated. If nothing else, it means more Toys For Tots donations.

Black Friday usually means amazing deals that look fairly ordinary in retrospect, and this year didn’t disappoint (by which I mean it was disappointing). TRU had a bunch of “please take our crap” deals that moved a lot of the old Transformers and G.I. Joe inventory, but there was little else worth mentioning (mostly just sales that match the current regular prices at other stores). Transformers Power Core Combiners look like the big failure of the season, having been marked down almost since day one without selling (and yet they get more new product released than any other Transformers product line). Speaking of new Transformers, the new Reveal the Shield line (a continuation of Hunt for the Decepticons) was found in November at, um, Walgreens? Seriously?

It’s down to the wire in December as the post-holiday clearance-or-be-forced-to-inventory-this-shit madness looms ever-closer. When did things change from filling the stores with new products to lure in shoppers to ending all restocks in the hopes of getting people to buy whatever won’t sell? With just a few days to go before Christmas, new waves of Transformers, Star Wars, and Marvel Universe finally started to arrive in quantity. One interesting new arrival was the Target exclusive Star Wars three-pack of three-packs. The actual contents weren’t very interesting (repacks/repaints of fairly recent figures), but the packaging was a bit over-the-top; the whole thing was as wide as an endcap. The three-packs inside were a normal size (and that format is expected to return as an exclusive next year), but putting them all together in a huge $50 box is a bit much (and in fact these went on clearance right after Christmas, a new Target record). Elsewhere, the only new G.I. Joe arrivals were the canceled Target exclusive deluxe figure/vehicle sets at Ross stores and 2009’s Wal-Mart two-packs at, um, Burlington Coat Factory? That’s it, I’m done for this year. I guess I’ll look forward to finding Star Wars Dark Trooper Build-a-Droid two-packs next month at PetSmart…

The Awards

Most Vaporous

G.I. Joe: Take Your Pick

Despite some promising announcements from Hasbro, the first half of 2010 was a total bust for this line, with nothing new other than some TRU exclusives before the line shut down. Alpha Vehicles Wave 3, Target Deluxes Wave 3 (which are reported to be just now showing up at Ross stores, for those of you lucky enough to live within 400 miles of a Ross store), plus anything else that had previously been announced but was not carried over to the fall’s Pursuit of Cobra line was dropped with little warning. Even hard-to-find figures from last year’s Wave 4 failed to appear, adding to the mystery of what happened to Hasbro’s October-November 2009 releases across all lines (and the new lines all came out around the same time that the new season of Warehouse 13 started, coincidence?). Many canceled figures surfaced on eBay, which places factory theft above Hasbro when it comes to effective distribution. Maybe they should hire these thieving employees to work stateside distribution…

Iron Man 2: Black Widow and Final Battle Whiplash

The Iron Man 2 announcements just keep on coming, but so far none of them include Black Widow (announced back in February) or the final version of Whiplash (which at this point looks like just a Weapon Assault Drone with a new head and a different paint job). Also missing are the helmetless Iron Man and War Machine figures. Word is that, like the Nick Fury figure that was announced with most of these way back when, these will be some kind of store exclusive. Hopefully these will materialize before Iron Man 3 opens…

Movie Lines: Wave 2

For the second year in a row, two big movie lines have been such dismal failures that plans for a second batch of figures were scrapped. Last year it was Star Trek and Terminator: Salvation, this year it was Prince of Persia and The A-Team. At least this time MacFarlane had the foresight to delay any firm plans for the content of a follow-on wave until after the sales figures for the first wave were in. But really, was there ever any question?

Star Wars: The Legacy Collection: Darker The Force Unleashed Shadow Stormtrooper Variant

When Hasbro announced that the last of the figures from The Force Unleashed would be released in TRU-exclusive multipacks, each pack had a unique Shadow Stormtrooper. When the packs were released, they both had the same Stormtrooper. While not an entirely bad idea (troop builders in multipacks tend to become high-demand figures), this turned out to be a case of a Lucas override. Your Lucas Tax dollars at work.

Star Wars: Vintage: Yoda

The Return of the Jedi wave was arguably the best wave in the realistic Star Wars lines in 2010, and that’s before factoring in the absence of two key figures. First was Wedge Antilles, originally intended to be a repack of last year’s X-Wing pack-in figure but later changed to a modified version, which delayed it until 2011. On top of that, the Yoda figure from this wave was shown on cardbacks but not released, presumably because the figure didn’t match Yoda’s RotJ incarnation and will instead be released on a RotS cardback. Or some such geeky nitpicky reason.

Transformers Animated: Thundercracker

We’ve finally gotten Arcee, Rodimus, and Cybertron mode Ratchet/Ironhide, but the long-awaited Thundercracker is still MIA. How long can Hasbro drag out the Animated line?

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: Evac

It’s always nice to hear Hasbro talk about toys that “should be in stores now,” because, A: they aren’t, and B: they may never be. It seems like the only time Hasbro knows when something is or is not in stores is when a store breaks a street date. Can’t have a store actually SELLING YOUR PRODUCTS. Human Alliance Mudflap, the red Rampage repaint, and the Evac repaint of Blazemaster got the “should be in stores now” treatment from Hasbro in June (see the June 2010 Q&A responses) but were nowhere to be found. Human Alliance Mudflap surfaced in November at TJ Maxx/Marshalls and a pinkish Rampage showed up in a TRU three-pack, but Evac is still MIA.

Most Controversial

All: Street Dates

We’ve gotten used to the concept of release dates for movies and music (and to a lesser extent books), but the effort to apply the street date system to toys just doesn’t work. People might get excited about the release of Iron Man 2 on blu-ray, but who really makes a big deal about the release of Iron Man 2 action figures (other than dorks like me)? If they’re out, great, buy what you want and move on. If not, whatever. Things got really stupid over the summer when, after having almost nothing new from Hasbro since 2009, stores started getting product from the new Star Wars, Transformers, and G.I. Joe lines. But they weren’t supposed to sell them. Yes, Hasbro expected retailers to sit on new product and leave the toy aisles bare for six weeks until Hasbro was happy. Never mind that eBay was filled with this stuff and internet retailers were shipping anything they could get their hands on, Hasbro had a plan! Well, not so much a plan as a date. Was it based on a movie release? DVD release? Major announcement? TV series debut? Television network launch? Convention? Psychic prediction? Anything at all? No, Hasbro just picked a date (August 6) and expected retailers to stick to it, threatening fines for noncompliance, all in the hopes of creating an event “feel.” Seriously? For the record, it didn’t feel like an event, partly because TRU completely ignored the street date and pushed everything they got straight to the sales floor in June and partly because THERE WAS NO EVENT. Street dates rarely hold even when there is an event, and this coming after Hasbro canceled or reduced most of the spring lineup was yet another slap in the face for anyone who just wants to buy and/or sell their products. I might be able to accept this situation if it applied to all waves of a line (and ensured that subsequent waves would make it out at regular intervals), but the strategy of holding back new lines until a specified date long after the previous lines have ended, overstocking the initial offering, and then letting them clog the pegs for months until going on clearance just isn’t working.

Most Surprising

G.I. Joe: 25th Anniversary Keeps Going and Going…

The 25th Anniversary line just might prove to be the most enduring G.I. Joe line in recent history, despite the line’s end almost two years ago. The last wave of carded figures (Wave 13) started to hit stores in December 2008, but they’re still coming in December 2010. TJ Maxx and Marshalls have such an overwhelming supply of Waves 4, 10, and 12 that it makes you wonder where they’re all coming from. Even B.A.T.s are pegwarming at this point and translucent Wraiths are somewhat common. Did someone invent a duplicator and get a few cases of figures stuck in it for a couple of years?

Iron Man 2: New Figures in 2011?

The Iron Man 2 movie line had a good run up until the home video release, but it was left for dead afterward. A quick clearance was inevitable, but wait, what’s this? There are more waves planned? Why? All of the important movie figures (except for Black Widow and the final battle Whiplash, which aren’t expected in the carded figure lineup anyway) have already been released and the comic series is really scraping the bottom of the barrel. Add in the fact that new Iron Man figures keep popping up in the Marvel Universe line and a continued Iron Man 2 line just seems unnecessary and redundant. I honestly can’t see stores ordering more of a product that hasn’t been relevant in more than half a year and is still taking up more space than G.I. Joe and Marvel Universe combined.

Marvel: SDCC Spider-Man

One of the biggest duds in Hasbro’s ComicCon exclusive lineup was, judging from the stock status on, the movie Spider-Man figure. This figure filled an important gap; all previous Spider-Man figures in this size were based on comics or animation and all movie versions were done in 6″ size. I didn’t have high hopes for this guy (he comes with a freaking suction cup for Christ’s sake), but I wanted a more modern Spidey to go with updated versions of his pals. When I finally got the figure, I was completely blown away. The amount of detail in the sculpt and paint apps was well beyond the standard Hasbro release, and the articulation is top notch, made all the more impressive by how slender the figure is (put that in your “you can’t have perfect articulation on small limbs” pipe and shut the hell up). This is truly a definitive movie Spider-Man, which is why its failure to sell out is a bit confusing. Even the packaging has a special feature (the contents can be rotated without opening it up).

Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Mandalorians

After the Clone Trooper redesign (see below), it looked like getting decent articulation on a Clone Wars figure was a lost cause. Sure, the occasional Speeder Bike release would give Hasbro an excuse to add a few more joints, but if a Clone Trooper couldn’t even get articulated ankles, what chance did anything else have? I had given up on this line remaining relevant past the packaging change when I noticed something strange about the new Pre Vizla figure – he had articulated ankles. And knees. And hinged wrists. And a ball-jointed torso. And ball-jointed hips. And working holsters. And soft goods. And a decent-looking removable helmet. The end result is a figure that tops even the original Clone Trooper in every way. It was no surprise that repaints were plentiful, but this is exactly the kind of figure you want to see more of.

Star Wars: Vintage: Updated Clone/Stormtrooper Sculpts

By 2005, Hasbro had released very good super-articulated versions of the white-armored troopers in both trilogies. Over the next five years, these figures would be almost endlessly repainted and repacked, rarely (if ever) improved. Things started looking up in 2009 when beast-riding versions of the Clone Trooper and Sandtrooper received hip upgrades. Of course, there were some troopers that, despite promises from Hasbro, couldn’t even get minor errors corrected in later releases… When these troopers came up in the Vintage line, not only did they have the upgraded articulation, but they also corrected minor details like the upside-down belts that had plagued Clone Troopers for five years. Better late than never I guess.

Various: New Figures at CVS and Walgreens, Old Figures at Burlington Coat Factory

If new figures showing up first at K-Mart is a sign of the apocalypse, what does it mean when it happens at Walgreens? The first wave in 2011’s Reveal the Shield line (the continuation of Hunt for the Decepticons) started showing up at Walgreens in late 2010 before it had been spotted at any store known for selling new name-brand toys. This actually wasn’t unprecedented, as CVS was the first to get the Iron Man 2 Whiplash figure. Still, Whiplash sucked and the first Reveal the Shield wave included Classics-style updates of Tracks and Jazz, making this a much more significant anomaly. Luckily, the rest of retail caught up by the end of December, saving you $6 off the Walgreens price of $15 per figure if you could wait a month.

And Burlington Coat Factory? When did they start selling toys? The world thought Wal-Mart had clearanced off their store exclusive G.I. Joe two-packs long ago, but apparently a few cases survived and were, um, traded for some snazzy winter coats?

Most Disappointing

G.I. Joe: Dr. Venom

New G.I. Joe figures were a rare novelty when Fun Publications sent out its club exclusive Adventure Team sets, featuring everyone’s favorite short-lived mad scientist. Dr. Venom had never been represented in plastic before, so it seemed like a perfect fit. This release should have been an automatic success, but the use of old parts and a shoddy paint job left Venom looking like a crappy custom with a nice custom head (recipe: Python Patrol Officer torso and arms, Shipwreck legs, Dr. Rex lab coat, new head, bucket of white paint). The painted-on tie that continues past the mid-torso joint is just icing on the shit cake that is this figure. On a positive note, the trooper arms can at least hold a rifle fairly well, which is more than I can say for the arms used on the Adventure Team figures (you know, the guys who come with rifles…).

Iron Man 2: Drones

I suppose it was inevitable. For five months, we eagerly awaited the arrival of the various drones. The reality could never live up to the expectations. Sure, it was great to finally have something other than Iron Man, Iron Man, and more Iron Man to choose from, but these were the best designs from the movie and should have been more amazing than anything the line had previously given us. Or at least that’s what you get when anticipation is allowed to grow unchecked. So what’s wrong with the figures themselves? Well, articulation for one. The basic non-air drone has very limited shoulder and elbow movement, plus no hand articulation (not that they need it). What joints it did have tended to be either very loose or almost completely frozen. This problem was even worse with the Air Assault Drone, which actually had decent articulation but required a herculean effort (and a soak in hot water) to unfreeze several key joints. The greatest insult however was saved for the Sea Assault Drone, which, in addition to being the most expensive drone to obtain, was also the most boring. Its only features are a removable backpack that doesn’t look any different than the part it covers and two missile pods that kind of sit on the shoulders and almost seem like they should clip on, but then fall off when you move the shoulder (which, as previously noted, doesn’t move that much). As the only real troop builders in the line, these should have been top-notch all around instead of just passable. Then again, they also should have been easier to build large numbers of…

Marvel Universe: Generic Female Sculpt

Marvel Universe is pretty much the only line with a variety of female figures, due to Hasbro’s insistence that female figures don’t sell (G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra proved them right, but that line in general didn’t sell…). The women in the Marvel universe are popular enough to justify their inclusion (though typically in limited production runs), but not popular to justify a decent sculpt unfortunately. Of the seven female figures released in 2010, six used the same under-articulated overly busty generic female sculpt that has been in use since the beginning of the line. Hasbro reps assure us that a new female sculpt (and possibly a new Amazon female scult) will be coming soon. After being used at least a dozen times, this mold is overdue for retirement.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars: New Clone Trooper Sculpt

The Clone Trooper was such a generic and repaintable figure that Hasbro didn’t cheap out on the articulation like it did with most other figures in this line. Everything was top-notch, lacking only ball-jointed hips (which were added for the ARF Trooper). The problems started early on though. First, the sculpting didn’t quite match the animation, due largely to the lack of finalized animation references when designing the figure. Next, the original dirty deco was dropped in favor of a clean deco to save money on paint apps. Later on, a new helmet sculpt was introduced to better match the animation (which it did, though it seemed a bit sloppy in some areas). Finally, a year and a half in, Hasbro unveiled its new, animation-accurate clone trooper sculpt. Lacking torso and ankle articulation. And downgraded to swivel wrists. The new sculpting is very nice, but the lack of articulation turns it into just another under-articulated Clone Wars figure.

Transformers: Generations: War For Cybertron Optimus Prime

For the most part, the Generations sub-line has delivered exactly what fans have wanted. Getting all-new designs based on the War For Cybertron video game sounded good (and was a nice gimmick to start a new line on), but the execution didn’t always work out. WFC Optimus Prime is the best example of a good idea falling way short of greatness. The main problem is that the robot mode needs to turn into a vehicle with lots of smooth curves, and lots of individual parts are combined to make this shell-like surface. All of this makes getting this guy into vehicle mode a Humpty Dumpty-esque effort reminiscent of last year’s Leader class Optimus Prime.

Least Necessary

G.I. Joe: Mech Suits

The Pursuit of Cobra line is a bit light on vehicles as it is, so using slots on mech suits just seems silly. Do we really need mech suits in G.I. Joe? Where do they even appear in the fiction? Does Hasbro have Avatar envy? I can see trying new things, but focusing on more traditional vehicles would seem to fit the style of the line better.

Iron Man 2: Pointy Mask Comic Iron Man

This line seriously lagged after the initial push of product, but the first post-movie wave of figures featured some great figures (Hulkbuster, Titanium Man, and Guardsman) and some bizarre ones (bulky red-orange Iron Man?). The biggest WTF came in the form of a classic comic Iron Man that was identical to the earlier release except for the addition of a pointy mask. Huh? It was bad enough that they repacked the original version in this wave (the initial release version was still plentiful), and that a similar version was released in the Marvel Universe line last year (single carded and in a comic pack), but what’s with the pointiness? The cardback offers no clues, which makes this figure pointless (no pun intended) to anyone other than comic book nerds and completists, the latter of which should really stay away from this line (due to it being largely composed of repacks, repaints, and minor variations).

Marvel Universe: Target Exclusive Iron Man vs. Punisher

I’m willing to give store exclusives a bit of leeway, so I can forgive the inevitability that these packs (like the entire Marvel product line) would be built around Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Wolverine. Still, there’s no need for such a poor effort, especially when the other two packs were fairly decent; the Wolverine vs. Hand Ninja pack is mentioned below and the Spider-Man vs. Green Goblin pack had a very sharp looking Green Goblin. The other pack unfortunately features an Extremis Armor Iron Man repack (the carded figure has been pegwarming all year) with the third attempt at The Punisher. After two attempts in the first three waves, haven’t we seen enough of this guy? And why is he packed with Iron Man?

Star Wars: Darth Vader (Two-Piece Helmet)

The problem with running multiple similar lines concurrently is that you often end up with some confusion when it comes to distinguishing between similar figures of the same character. Darth Vader is the usual problem here, previously having had this problem when the two-piece helmet version debuted in the Legacy Collection line alongside older versions in both the Legacy and Saga Legends lines. Two years later, we have the same problem with the new three-piece helmet version debuting in the Vintage line alongside the two-piece helmet version in the new Saga Legends line… At least this time around the packaging is significantly different and the older version is $1 less than the new one, but enough is enough.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars: DVD 2-Packs

It makes sense to include episodes of the TV show with toys in the Clone Wars line, but what’s the point of putting them in packs with figures that have been repacked endlessly since the line began? I understand trying to reach out to kids and grow the fanbase, but pack-in DVDs don’t generate interest and these exact figures are already available in several other formats (with the single packs usually being the best value). I could see using troop builders, color variants, or upgraded figures, but this method just invites the parental “Don’t you already have a …” kiss of death. Of course, these are Wal-Mart store exclusives, and Wal-Mart doesn’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to store exclusive two-packs.

Transformers: RotF: Defender Optimus Prime

Repaints and main characters are a dangerous combination with Hasbro, so a repaint of the 2007 Voyager movie Prime was inevitable when the second movie line came out, even considering that the original already had a few repaints under its belt. One wasn’t enough though, so we got yet another slight repaint of this figure in the 2010 lineup. Hopefully Hasbro will put this mold to rest now that there’s a new Voyager class version in the fall line…

Transformers: Hunt For the Decepticons: Night Ops Ratchet

Does anyone really like Movie Ratchet? I mean, he’s just so boring, as a character and a figure. On top of that, we’ve gotten one or more Voyager versions in three separate lines now plus a Deluxe version this spring and repainted in the fall. Was the latest Voyager Ratchet really necessary? Sure, you need something to go along with the Deluxe Ironhide, but isn’t that what the Deluxe Ratchet repaint is for? I just don’t get it, and that’s before the whole “let’s make it look like he just got a bucket of black paint poured over him” paint job.

Most Essential

The A-Team: A-Team Van

If nothing else, the A-Team movie gave us the TV show’s classic van in 1:18 scale (as opposed to the 1:15 close-but-no-cigar Back to the Future cars). Actually, it was pretty much that and nothing else. Even though the van is pretty flimsy and needs extensive modification to reach its full potential, it’s still a great piece of 80s nostalgia to go along with all of the 80s nostalgia toys out there.

G.I. Joe: SDCC Sergeant Slaughter

With all of the modern updates of classic characters in the last few years, there has been one glaring omission. No, not Low Light (coming in 2011). Or Cover Girl. Or Zandar. No, not Tan Clutch either. Definitely not Robo Joe. No, it was the Sarge, Sergeant Slaughter himself. How can you have a G.I. Joe line without a cartoon character based on a guy who was a real life cartoon? ComicCon fixed this problem with two versions (corresponding to the original two figures), both of which proved to be difficult to obtain. Oh well.

Iron Man 2: Hulkbuster (Comic Series)

The Iron Man 2 and Marvel Universe lines are so full of minor variations on the basic Iron Man that it’s hard to call any of them essential. The Hulkbuster Iron Man on the other hand is big and bulky like the various Iron Mongers, only in a more Iron Man color scheme. Considering all of the big figures released in the Marvel Universe line, it makes sense to have an Iron Man to match.

Marvel Universe: AIM Soldier

This one may seem out of left field, but trust me here. These guys are homicidal mad scientists who dress like Devo. How can you not love that? That’s like if Transformers had an evil botanist or something…

Star Wars: The Clone Wars: ARC Trooper Battle Pack

I know, ANOTHER Captain Rex… This one at least comes with a new head and some new weapons. Oh, and three ARC Troopers. It’s a shame that Rex keeps showing up in troop builder packs (a more boring version is in the Target-exclusive Hidden Enemy pack), but the ARC Troopers are worth it (and there’s no other way to get them). With articulated clones going out of style, you have to take the good ones wherever you can get them.

Star Wars Vintage: Luke Skywalker (Bespin Fatigues)

It isn’t often that I’m interested in a main character figure from this line, but Hasbro finally got a high-demand main character figure right (as opposed to last year’s “new” Luke Skywalker figure, which was bad enough to require an update this year). This figure featured top-notch articulation, an outfit from an iconic scene, and nothing from the neck down that was really specific to Star Wars, making this both a great figure of an iconic character and a great generic human figure. Like last year’s Logan figure from X-Men Origins: Wolverine, this guy can fit in just about anywhere.

Transformers: Generations: Thrust and Dirge

It took three years, but we finally got mass-release Classics Thrust and Dirge. After the Classics line ran its course in 2007, Hasbro gave the three unreleased Seekers (Thrust, Dirge, and Thundercracker) to Fun Publications as a BotCon exclusive figuring that it was better to get the figures out to a few people than never produce them at all. The outrage that followed proved that this attitude may not quite work in reality. The BotCon sets sold out in record time and sold for a fortune on the secondary market, infuriating fans along the way. When Takara Tomy released their version of Classics in 2009, they included these infamous Seekers as overpriced exclusives that were somewhat easier to get a hold of in the US than the BotCon versions. The Japanese versions of Thrust and Dirge used new wing molds, distinguishing them from their BotCon counterparts, which only used new wings on Thrust (Dirge was a repaint of Classics Ramjet). Fans were still upset, so Hasbro promised to remedy the situation in 2010 (but we know how much a Hasbro promise is worth…).

Fast forward to June of 2010, and there’s Thrust, as promised, with Dirge coming a few months later. These versions used the Japanese wings and closely approximated the colors and markings of the original G1 figures (similar color schemes had been used on the previous Thrust and Dirge releases in the Revenge of the Fallen line, though on vastly different jets). G1 accuracy was not a big part of the original Classics line, so getting the colors right really made these stand out from their predecessors. All that remains is Thundercracker, which is due in 2011.

Most Mishandled Movie Line: Prince of Persia

I know you were expecting to see The A-Team here, but that line got a couple of things right: one scale of basic figures (the 12″ electronic statues don’t count), a variety of characters (five different characters in the basic figure line), an iconic (if somewhat flimsy) vehicle, and no fluff (well, other than the aforementioned statues). It also had the advantage of reasonable prices, a limited release, and a quick exit, something more movie lines would be wise to imitate. The Prince of Persia line on the other hand couldn’t decide between 4″ and 6″ figures and produced only four characters total between the two lines (two in both lines and one unique to each line). Prices were high, though the sculpts were decent. The bulk of the line consisted of the main character, who only had two costume versions to work with in the first place. The 4″ line featured two different Prince Dastan single carded figures, a Target-exclusive variant of one, a different variant of that figure with a horse, and a straight repack of the other figure with a gate playset. For those of you keeping score, that’s five Prince Dastan figures in the 4″ line and two more in the 6″ line compared to two other figures in each line. That’s a main character ratio worthy of an Indiana Jones revision case. Needless to say, these were minimally stocked to begin with (only Target and TRU bothered with the line) and went on clearance at Target as soon as the movie’s weekend gross dropped below $1 million (which happened in its sixth week of release, at which point TRU had already been clearing out their stock for a few weeks). Despite the small release and clearance prices, Target still couldn’t dump these off fast enough. With decent sculpts from MacFarlane, the figures looked nice but offered little to kids or collectors; the articulation was decent but not spectacular, the parts were somewhat fragile, and the play value was minimal. There may not have been much of a chance to do any better with this line, but the effort put into it couldn’t have been much worse.

Best Mail-Away: Star Wars Vintage Boba Fett with Firing Missile

The competition this year was much better than last year, even with the Cobra Commander figure rescheduled as a limited retail release; Transformers got into the action with a repainted and chromed Ravage figure, The Clone Wars released a fan-favorite single-episode character and some random other guy, and the Star Wars Vintage line lived up to its name with a new old Boba Fett figure with the firing missile that was removed from the original for safety reasons. Even if you don’t care about Star Wars or Boba Fett, you have to appreciate a release that corrects a modification made 30 years ago. The figure itself is a fairly bland brick, which is always good for pointing out just how good kids today have it.

Worst Exclusive

What a difference a year makes… In 2009, the last few months were filled with almost nothing but store exclusives. In 2010, exclusives arrived with little fanfare and were spread across the entire year (aside from the usual spike at SDCC). While many were boring or unnecessary, few were worthy of the title “Worst” (other than those hideous Transformers repaints, which are mentioned later on). Stores seem to be more reluctant to take on the risk of exclusives that may not sell after the poor sales of many 2009 exclusives, some of which will be on shelves well into 2011 and beyond.

Best Exclusive

G.I. Joe: Resolute G.I. Joe and Cobra 7-Packs

2010 was a light year for G.I. Joe exclusives. In fact, until the start of the Pursuit of Cobra line in July, the only G.I. Joe releases were two carded TRU exclusives, a TRU exclusive Sting Raider repaint with two figures, and two internet exclusive Resolute 7-packs (the only other exclusives released in 2010 were two more carded figures at TRU). The Resolute packs showed up a year after the cartoon aired (and just a few months before the next G.I. Joe cartoon started), so saying that these were a bit late getting out is a bit of an understatement. Making matters worse, Snake Eyes and Cobra Commander had already been released, Roadblock had been mostly released, Scarlett’s head was just a bit oversized, Duke was an arctic variant that served no real purpose except to be a mandatory core character, and most of the Joes were made from the same parts. Even with those marks against them though, it was worth the wait to finally get what are likely to be the last figures done in this style. The abundance of accessories also took a bit of the sting out of the high price and redundant parts. The missile launcher even came with the character who fired it in the cartoon this time around. And one of my Scarlett’s hands fell off right after I opened the pack…

Iron Man 2: TRU Nick Fury

After last year’s fiasco with the mail-away Marvel Universe Nick Fury, the promise of getting a Samuel L. Jackson version in the Iron Man 2 line seemed too good to be true. Six months later, with no Nick Fury in sight, it looked like we’d been had. Fury finally arrived in a four-pack with two Ground Assault Drones and a completely unnecessary Iron Man Mk. VI at TRU, with a typical TRU price of $27. The figure itself was surprisingly made from G.I. Joe parts (and old ones at that – the body is from the 2007 Beachhead figure) with a new coat and head but was otherwise unremarkable. Yeah, the Iron Man 2 exclusives weren’t all that exciting, but this one was a bit more interesting than the rest.

Marvel: SDCC Carded Galactus

It seems absurd to fit a guy who eats planets on a card like any other Marvel Universe figure, but that’s exactly what Hasbro did for ComicCon with their 19″ Galactus. There were loads of Marvel exclusives at ComicCon, but how can you beat a giant carded figure? Sure, a boxed version came out later, but it’s just not the same.

Star Wars: TRU Vintage Boxed AT-AT

Hasbro had already released three new large Star Wars vehicles in the previous two years, so getting another one in 2010 was pretty much a given. Getting the AT-AT was also no real surprise considering that the anniversary of The Empire Strikes back was the main focus of the year. The return of the Vintage carded line brought the final twist – vintage-style boxes on store-exclusive vehicles. Toys R Us managed to get this one right after it bumped the price on AT-ATs to $10 above MSRP. Still, getting a new version of such an iconic vehicle in vintage-style packaging is a big treat to any Star Wars fan. I envy them.

Transformers: TRU Masterpiece Grimlock

The Masterpiece line hasn’t had much activity lately other than the Rodimus Prime announcement (and more Optimus Prime repaints) and things have been pretty quiet stateside as well. The only Masterpiece activity domestically in 2010 (other than the clearance of last year’s Masterpiece Skywarp, which is probably still available in some Wal-Marts) was the announcement, cancellation, re-announcement, and eventual delivery of Masterpiece Grimlock to Toys R Us. This version uses the standard color scheme of the first Japanese release with the extra accessories included with the second Japanese release, all in a big plastic box with Grimlock in dino mode. The price was a bit steep ($70), but it was worth it if you didn’t have one of the import versions.

Worst Repaint

G.I. Joe: Arctic Threat Doc (TRU Exclusive)

I can understand wanting to get Doc out there in some form, since the regular version was a mail-away exclusive, but does he need to look like he just took a trip through the Crayola Fun Factory? Just the orange would at least make some sense (he is a non-combatant after all), but bright blue and yellow too? And just why does he come with explosives in his pack? As one of the last new Rise of Cobra figures to be released (and one of the only 2010 releases), we are left with nothing but unanswered questions.

Iron Man 2: Hulkbuster Iron Man (K-Mart Exlcusive)

K-Mart always manages to find ways to make their exclusives suck… While everyone else was getting exclusives with weapon drones, K-Mart got another repaint 3-pack with one translucent figure (a Mk. VI instead of a Mk. V this time), one War Machine repaint (green camo instead of green, with movie-accurate weapon pods), and a Hulkbuster repaint of the movie Iron Monger figure with a Hulkbuster head. Huh? The War Machine repaint is good, the holographic Mk. VI is decent enough, but what point does this bastardized Hulkbuster serve (aside from making use of a one-off mold) when there’s already a perfectly good Hulkbuster in mass release?

Transformers: Store Exclusive Deluxes

In the past, the worst part about store exclusives was that most of them were minimally repainted, if at all. This all changed in the 2010 post-movie Hunt for the Decepticons line, which featured Target, Wal-Mart, and TRU exclusive multi-packs with some very terrible Deluxe repaints (Target had four two-packs, the first two Wal-Mart packs had just one Deluxe with a Legends figure, the second two Wal-Mart two-packs had a Deluxe with a Voyager, and TRU had one three-pack). Wal-Mart’s packs featured a normal yellow Bumblebee with green detailing and a Brawl that looks like he just crashed through a fake vomit factory (the Mudflap isn’t even worth a mention), while Target got winners like an even browner ice cream truck than the TRU exclusive version and a fluorescent yellow Bumblebee with bright blue details and TRU got a nice rusty Ravage with a pinkish Rampage and yet another Bumblebee. While the TRU Ravage was actually quite nice, more Bonecrushers are always welcome, Target’s Thrust repaint was decent, and the Evac repaint could be excused (mainly because Evac never made it out), everything else was either a terrible repaint or not terribly different from the original release.

Best Repaint

G.I. Joe: Pursuit of Cobra: Alley Viper

Like the Para-Viper in the Rise of Cobra line, the Alley Viper gets a slightly more realistic repaint in the Pursuit of Cobra line. The figure is the same as the 7-pack classic style release except for a tab on the backpack to hold the crossbow (which doesn’t work) and the addition of some accessories. It’s the same great figure, only now with black as the base color and details in a desaturated red. There’s not much to like about the Rise of Cobra line overall, but if it gave us the tradition of getting a great repaint of a good Cobra trooper in every line, it will have been somewhat worth it.

Iron Man 2: Arctic Armor Iron Man

The Iron Man 2 line is loaded with repaints, but most of them are fairly boring. It is also full of mostly identical designs with the same paint job, which is where the Advanced Armor Iron Man from the comic series comes in. This is yet another red/gold triangle chest Iron Man, though it has better neck articulation than others and lacks an upper arm swivel. It’s a decent enough figure, but it is also more of the same. The Arctic Armor version however managed to justify the existence of this mold. Resleased in the same wave as the Advanced Armor figure, the Arctic Armor version is the same figure in purple. Yes, purple. With some silver. It’s official, Iron Man comes in every color of the rainbow.

Marvel Universe: Wolverine and Hand Ninja (Target Exclusive)

Finally, after a year of Wolverine saturation, we get a simple, classic, yellow spandex-clad masked Wolverine. Was that really so hard? Of course, he was stuck in a store exclusive two-pack, which would ordinarily mean a crap pack-in that just doubles the price with no added value (see Transformers store exclusives). This time though, the repaint was a blackish repaint of the Hand ninja, previously released in red and white. The black version looks great and the figure itself is good enough to make me wish it was available by itself (not good enough to wade through extra Wolverines though). The combination of an essential figure and a good generic bad guy that I couldn’t bring myself to buy otherwise is a great way to justify mold re-use.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars: ARF Trooper (Camo Deco)

Last Year’s ARF Trooper was a mixed bag. On the plus side, it took the great Clone Trooper sculpt and added ball-hinged hips for even better articulation. On the minus side, it was a clean white deco instead of the camo pattern shown in the original Clone Wars movie. The 2010 line fixed that problem with a movie-accurate camo pattern on the older better-articulated clone sculpt.

Transformers: G2 Redux Breakdown

The seeker mold may have gotten a headstart, but the Universe 2.0 Sunstreaker mold is quickly catching up in repaints. So far, the mold has given us Sunstreaker, Sideswipe, Red Alert, Punch-Counterpunch, and G2 Breakdown (a G2 Sideswipe is being considered as a club exclusive after initially appearing at the BotCon customization class). Of all of these repaints, G2 Breakdown stands out as being outrageously flamboyant. The colors work though, which makes G2 seem a bit less hideous than it was, an impressive feat.

Most Elusive

G.I. Joe: Ross Stores

Let’s see… The highly sought-after Defense of Cobra Island internet-exclusive 7-pack (featuring classic versions of the Alley Viper, Range Viper, and Night Creeper), the highly anticipated canceled Wave 3 Target Deluxe packs (featuring a repainted Range Viper), and the just-released Pursuit of Cobra black HISS Tank and Cobra Fury (with Alley Viper repaint)… All at discount prices. And no stores in the Northeast. Fuck you Hasbro, fuck you.

Iron Man 2: Weapon Assault and Air Assault Drones

It looked like case assortment stupidity would doom Whiplash to oblivion, but low demand and his inclusion in a Target exclusive three-pack (with a Sea Assault Drone) seemed to keep him plentiful on the pegs. It was in fact the next wave that wasn’t heavily stocked, making the only two single carded drones impossible to find. I admit it, I’m to blame for their scarcity around here; I bought all four of each that were released in northeast MA / southeast NH in the fall. The good news is that more seem to be showing up. At K-Mart. Alongside new Transformers figures that have only been spotted previously at Walgreens. I don’t know what the hell is going on anymore.

Marvel Universe: Archangel

New Marvel Universe figures have been hard to come by in the first few months of release mainly because, as Hasbro reps have stated in interviews, they have been getting into stores well ahead of schedule (though when something proves especially difficult to find, they have been adding more to future waves, an anomaly in the action figure business). Unlike most other lines, new waves have been showing up fairly regularly with little overstocking of older waves, which, when combined with the fairly quick sell-through of anything that isn’t Iron Man or Spider-Man, makes some figures hard to come by. Women are the usual culprits here due to their low expected sales, but I seem to remember that Archangel was supposed to be released at some point. Did that ever happen?

Star Wars: the Clone Wars: Magnaguard

Retail was in complete disarray in the spring, so a few figures fell through the cracks. With the line continuing in the fall in new packaging, it would seem to be a no-brainer to reissue hard-to-find items from earlier in the line, but somehow the Magnaguard has yet to make the cut despite having been almost impossible to find back in the spring. The release of the Magnaguard in the Vintage line may have something to do with that, but having similar items in different lines hasn’t stopped Hasbro in the past (see: Darth Vader, General Grievous, Plo Koon, et. al.).

Star Wars Legacy: Phase I Darktrooper (TRU Exclusive)

The last wave of a figure line is usually the hardest to find because of retailers cutting back their orders when they can’t clear out enough pegwarmers, so it was no surprise when Hasbro announced that the last wave in the Legacy Collection line would be cut short and shifted to a retailer exclusive. Hell, it was a surprise that these figures were coming out at all given Hasbro’s track record. Past TRU exclusives have been so plentiful that they are usually still hanging around years later (some 30th Anniversary Collection battle packs from 2008 are still shelfwarming at several TRUs), so this was good news, right? Unfortunately, so little of this wave was allocated to TRU (about two cases per store for the select stores that got any) that these sold out fast. Even worse, previous waves proved difficult (if not impossible) to find at retail, making the true surprise not finding this wave but just finding any figures from this line at all (the repacks included in these cases sold just as quickly as the new figures). Still, the Phase I Darktrooper is the only one I saw only once, giving it the edge over its casemates.

Transformers: Highbrow

Voyager class toys always seem to have trouble selling, especially when the first two waves are filled with repaints and the obligatory Optimus Prime and Wave 3 featured more of the same with only one new figure in the entire case (compared to two Wave 2 Optimus Primes…). That one figure was Highbrow, a rather unique P-38ish plane. With a backlog on the shelves, it could take a while for these guys to get a decent retail presence.

Best Figure

G.I. Joe: Pursuit of Cobra: Jungle Viper

A sure sign that the G.I. Joe line is maturing is the tendency toward taking risks on new ideas AND executing them well. There are plenty of poorly executed good ideas in the 25th Anniversary line (mostly due to colors and articulation limited by short-sighted sculpting), and the Rise of Cobra line managed to partially redeem some bad ideas (mostly by using good colors and well-sculpted core figures), but Pursuit of Cobra finally brings it all together with some interesting results. The embodiment of this newfound quality is none other than the Jungle Viper, an idea that could have gone horribly wrong in so many ways. Initially referred to as the “Gundam Viper” due to its bladed ghillie suit (it actually does resemble a cross between the Gundam Dynames and the Wing Zero Custom), the final result is nothing short of outstanding. About the only way to make this figure look bad would be to pose it with the ghillie suit spread open as if to shout “Here I am!” while playing hide-and-go-seek with Shattered Glass Ravage during a performance with the Rockettes. Which is what the G.I. Joe Collector’s Club did for the cover of its newsletter (minus the SG Ravage at Radio City Music Hall bit, which is only implied)… Isn’t the point of a collector’s club to make you LESS embarrassed to be part of a hobby?

Iron Man 2: War Machine (Movie)

With the multitude of Iron Man variants in this line, it is a bit surprising that the best figure would actually be of War Machine, but that’s certainly how it turned out. The practical smooth military lines and more standard weapons translated well into a small figure, resulting in something that looked good and was well-articulated and well-armed. The only downside was the giant missile launcher, which really should have been supplemented with a second standard weapon to allow for a more realistic display figure without any empty weapon ports (the second K-Mart repaint fixed this problem with a movie-accurate weapon pod). Still, the quality and style of this figure combined with the initial accidental color variant and K-Mart repaints all make for a great figure that is hard to beat.

Marvel Universe: World War Hulk

The Hulk has got to be one of the most troubled Marvel characters. I don’t mean in terms of the fiction (in which he clearly has a ton of problems), but in terms of his handling in movies and merchandise. At this point, two separate attempts at Hulk movies have gone nowhere in the greater Marvel Avengers movie scheme and after each movie’s respective failed toy line, the Marvel Universe line churned out four barely different figures (one normal green, one comic green, one gray, and one red) at the line’s start and nothing new for well over a year (during which time they produced dozens of Iron Man and Spider-Man figures in MU, entire animated lines for Iron Man and Spider-Man, and an Iron Man movie line). Considering that Wolverine already got the separate toy line treatment (animated and movie) and Captain America and Thor are due up in 2011, that leaves The Hulk as the least-represented iconic Avenger by a wide margin.

Not that getting one figure will necessarily make up for all of the above, but the World War Hulk figure released at the end of 2010 is a big step in the right direction. This all-new Hulk gets a big upgrade in sculpting and articulation in addition to some great accessories – a sword (with sheath strapped to his back), axe, and shield, all clearly battle-worn. The only downside is that he can’t really hold the sword or axe very well (the opening in the hand is much larger than the handles). Still, it is very refreshing to see a unique take on an underused character done so well.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Magnaguard

It is no accident that all three of my picks for Best Figure from this line have been droids; Hasbro tends to go cheap on articulation with the non-clone humanoid figures, so the droids are the only truly good figures left (and now even the clones are getting cheaper). The Magnaguard saw a release in the early days of the Clone Wars line, but the substandard articulation had people looking forward to the next release before the first one even hit retail. The updated Magnaguard has full articulation and adds some well-designed soft goods (which are shared with the later Vintage release) to give a completely different look. If there is anything to complain about, it would be that the effect parts for the electrostaff don’t stay on securely, but otherwise, it is another of this line’s superb droids.

Star Wars Vintage: Wave 3

One of the nice things about the Star Wars line is that it has something for everyone. The downside is that it also has something for everyone to complain about… Hasbro went all-out on the Vintage line’s final wave of 2010 by giving everyone something that would get them to shut up about Hasbro not caring about their preferences. If you like humans, there’s a great Rebel Commando. If you like Skiff guards, there’s one of those (I won’t get into the name nitpicking). If you like Ewoks, there’s a new Wicket with two outfits. Droid fans only get a new R2-D2 with a ton of accessories and features (though sometimes less is more). Fans of Jedi finally get a good Luke in black after last year’s disappointment (though the cardback is now in need of correction and will get an update next year). And if you like aliens, you’ve got a top-notch Gamorrean Guard and an almost perfect (except for the ankles) Admiral “It’s a trap!” Ackbar. Now play nice kids.

Transformers: Hunt for the Decepticons: Leader Class Starscream

Movie Starscream has been an oasis of suck through both movie lines. The problem has always been that there’s just too much stuff to cram into such a small vehicle mode, so you end up with a jet on top and dangly crap underneath, all of which turns into a pathetic-looking robot. The 2009 version was an improvement, but it still didn’t do the character justice. A Leader class version was rumored even before the second movie line came out, but it took another year for it to finally appear. It was worth the wait though; in Japan, it is being released (without tattoos) in the Movie Masterpiece line, which tells you the level of quality in this figure (or at least the price point). Unlike other recent Leader class figures, it is possible to transform this guy without a PhD in mechanical design. That alone is reason to get excited, but the vehicle and robot modes both look great, minor flaws aside. Like Brawl before him, Starscream is a must-have in this class, making him the best of the bunch in the new line, as this figure will constantly remind you – “No one can defeat Starscream!”

Most Wanted

Star Wars: Knee and Ankle Articulation

Blame the Lucas tax, oil prices, or Hasbro’s short-sightedness, but for whatever reason, Hasbro does not want to deliver figures with full articulation (unless they can add it in later and sell the same figure to everyone who already has it). All of the one-off background aliens are fully articulated, but Jedi and main characters seem to do without the first time around (especially in the Clone Wars line, which has removed articulation in some cases). It’s bad enough that the standard hips are so limited (and the various attempts at ball-jointed hips have been somewhat flawed), but figures can have a hard time standing, even with a stand, without proper leg articulation. To see what a difference this makes, just compare the original Magnaguard with the updated version. In Hasbro’s eyes though, kids don’t care about articulation, so nothing aimed at kids is required to have the full treatment by default.

Transformers: Skids

Between the Autobot cars and Decepticon jets released from 1984-1986, here’s what has yet to get a modern update: Skids, Trailbreaker, and Hoist (Wheeljack, Grapple, Kup, Thundercracker, and Scourge are due out in early 2011, Legends Trailbreaker does not counted). That’s only three out of 29 total. Of those, Skids is the only one to suffer the indignity of being reimagined for the movies, bumping him to the top of the list.

Transformers Animated: Kup

Now that we’ve gotten Blurr, Hot Rod, and Arcee in Animated form, there’s one glaring omission – Kup. The character was prominently featured in the BotCon Wings of Honor set and is due up in 2011 as part of the Classics/Universe 2.0/Generations/Reveal the Shield/Just Pick a Fucking Name and Stick With it Already line, so it’s not like he’s been forgotten. Still, he’s the one new-school Autobot car missing from the lineup of a line with a style that fits these 1986 movie characters so perfectly that we really need all of them. Springer would be nice too…

Best Pegwarmer

G.I. Joe: Pursuit of Cobra: Arctic Destro

After the movie line’s success (or lack thereof) trimmed the G.I. Joe space allocation down to just a few pegs, the sell-through was quick enough to keep anything from hanging around for too long. Sales slowed down as the holidays approached, making most figures fairly plentiful. Out of all of them though, Arctic Destro was the hardest to miss. I guess it’s hard to figure out what to do with a tall guy in a metal mask. He only had two outfits in the original run, both of which were fairly unique. Once the modern run finished up with those (in classic, movie, and Resolute versions), he seems to have been doomed to overly specific red and blue outfits – first as Pilot Destro in a Resolute comic pack and now as Arctic Destro in Pursuit of Cobra. It’s a decent enough figure, but do we really need Destro as an endlessly repeated core character?

Marvel Universe: Iron Man

There are times when an emphasis on core characters works (in theory at least) and there are times when it seems a bit absurd. When one such core character has an entire toy line two pegs over with countless figures of this character and little else, it might be a good idea to give him a rest. Hasbro likes a challenge though, so when they released the Iron Man 2 toy line, they pledged to keep Iron Man coming on the Marvel Universe side, releasing two more Iron Man carded figures in 2010 on top of the 2009 figures released in 2010 case assortments and the Iron Man in the first 2011 wave, plus a new Iron Man comic pack and a Target exclusive two-pack. It was common to see nothing but Iron Man in the Marvel Universe section, though that could still mean a selection of half a dozen different figures. More likely though was that these Iron Man figures would be misplaced in the Iron Man 2 section, because what company would be stupid enough to flood two main properties with variations of the same character?

Star Wars Vintage: Cloud Car Pilot

In the search for new Vintage figures, nothing spells doom better than a pile of Cloud Car Pilots. While the troop builders in later waves are usually more plentiful, Cloud Car Pilots from Wave 1 tell you that not only is there nothing new, but there hasn’t been anything new in a long time. I know a lot of Star Wars fans have wanted this guy for a while, but he just doesn’t have much of a purpose except to sit in a Cloud Car (sold separately).

Transformers: Bumblebee

Let’s see: War For Cybertron Bumblebee, Battle Blades Bumblebee, Battle Ops Bumblebee, Human Alliance Bumblebee, Activators Bumblebee, Legends Bumblebee, store exclusive Bumblebees at Target, Wal-Mart, and TRU, and leftover Bumblebees from the Revenge of the Fallen line. All of that was available at or near the start of the new Transformers line and most of it was still there at the end of the year. Even when TRU sold out of just about everything new after Black Friday, there were still two WFC Bumblebees on the pegs. We have reached Bumblebee critical mass.

Transformers: RotF: Tuner Mudflap

Skids and Mudflap were the Jar Jar Binks of Return of the Fallen, only slightly less popular. Their figures weren’t hot sellers (possibly due to the fact that they looked like the unholy spawn of Swamp Thing and the Toxic Avenger), but at least Skids stopped showing up in new case assortments after his Human Alliance figure came out. Not so for Mudflap, which began piling up at the end of 2009 and was then joined by a slight repaint in 2010 case assortments. The very idea of this repaint was idiotic, but releasing it when the original couldn’t even sell was sheer stupidity (even if this was all planned out long before sales figures could be known). Worst of all, the Human Alliance version (which is the version that people actually wanted to buy) never showed up at retail.

Moff Jerjerrod Award for Excellence in Pegwarming (The Moffy)

Surprisingly, most of last year’s contenders have since departed from retail shelves. I remain skeptical about the disappearances at TRU (none of which have had corresponding sightings at discount outlets and therefore might just be locked in the back room), but the rest were scattered enough to have been disposed of in a dumpster without anyone noticing. That means we’ll need a new bunch of losers to honor the memory of one of the most ill-fated figures of all-time.

G.I. Joe: 25th Anniversary DVD Packs 1 and 2 (TRU)

It didn’t help that TRU was charging $25 for these when everyone else had them for $20 when they were released (in mid-2008), but when the discount stores had them for $7 a year later, TRU held firm. The TRU exclusive 5-packs from the same time period have at least been marked down to $15. Hell, even the DVD packs at K-Mart made it down to $14.

G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra (Everywhere)

One of the biggest retail flops in recent memory, the Rise of Cobra line had the misfortune to be massively overstocked, overpriced, and underappreciated. The figures, aside from a few in the first couple of waves, were quality figures that only suffered from the movie tie-in (which was the only reason for them to exist in the first place). Unfortunately, few figures from the latter waves made it to retail due to the logjam from the first two waves. The vehicles hardly fared better, with the poorly-received Night Raven vehicle failing to sell even when marked down to half price ($20) or less at all major retailers (now only $15 at Target for the 2010 holiday season!). Wal-Mart was swift to cut the price on its exclusives for the 2009 holiday shopping season, but even some of those continued to linger six months later.

Star Trek: See Above

Target knew when to cut its losses. Now it’s up to Wal-Mart, TRU, K-Mart, Big Lots, and Family Dollar to move the rest of them.

Star Wars: 30th Anniversary Collection TRU Exclusive Battle Packs (TRU)

Here’s a blast from the past. Originally released in 2008, these battle packs weren’t hot sellers at the time and certainly won’t sell now. These must have been misplaced in a warehouse somewhere based on their appearance at multiple stores in this area.

Star Wars: Legacy Collection Evolutions (TRU)

Despite frequent sales and the fact that these things have been around since mid-2008, it seems like the piles on the shelves are getting bigger. Something is wrong here.

Transformers: RotF: Masters of Metallikado (TRU)

TRU’s equivalent two-pack from the first movie mysteriously disappeared from stores shortly after the second movie line came out (there’s no way those things actually sold out), but TRU saw history repeat itself with this pack. While the figures were a slight upgrade (well, one of them anyway) and the paint jobs were new(ish), the higher price doomed these packs to shelfwarmer status. This was compounded when TRU released a second two-pack (that they occasionally put on sale) and a three-pack (that just won’t sell at any price) at the end of 2009, then another two-pack in early 2010. Finally, after a full year on the shelves, TRU marked these down from $35 to $25. Yeah, that’ll work.

And the Winner is… Toys R Us

That’s it, I’m done. This category only exists to showcase the crap that TRU won’t just clear out to make way for new product, so here TRU, have this crappy award for sucking at selling toys. Which I’m sure wouldn’t be that big a deal if you weren’t A FUCKING TOY STORE! Seriously, TJ Maxx/Marshalls has a more recent toy selection than TRU (and they know how to move stock, even TRU exclusives). Just admit that you only exist to sell baby clothes and plastic furniture and get out of the toy business.

Final Thoughts

Is anyone still reading this? I know I’ve already tuned out, and I’m writing this thing. It seems like the less there is to talk about, the more there is to say, so this year’s rather bland recap had way too much detail to be entertaining. Trust me, no matter how much it hurt you to read it, it hurt me more to write it. Let’s face it, the honeymoon is over, the thrill is gone, and every other cliche in Jim Steinman’s vocabulary. I’m not sure where I go from here; hell, I’m not sure how I got here in the first place. One thing I am sure of is that nobody is reading this, and that isn’t a very helpful piece of information.

Maybe it’s just the changing reality of retail, but it seems like it has never been more difficult to buy things. Products that are shown aren’t produced, products that are produced aren’t shipped, and products that are shipped aren’t put out for sale. How does this happen? What happened to all the efficiency that was supposed to come from automated inventory control and just-in-time delivery? Take the variant clear Wraith from the G.I. Joe 25th Anniversary line for instance. Originally released in the fall of 2008 in the first case assortment of Wave 10 (meaning that it should have gone out before any revision cases), I first spotted it at retail in October of 2010. After trouble with variants in that line, Hasbro pledged to make the variants in the Rise of Cobra line easier to find. I found the Wave 4 variants of Storm Shadow (unmasked head) and Doctor Rex (white lab coat), originally released in the fall of 2009, in, once more, October of 2010. Not long ago, if I couldn’t find something that had just been released, I would just wait until next month. Now, it’s more like wait until next year.

It is very telling when a manufacturer advises its customers to buy products online if they want to be sure of finding anything. It seems that Hasbro has lost faith in retail’s ability to move products, but are they just passing the blame? How much of the trouble at retail has to do with case assortments, release schedules, and production numbers (all things controlled by the manufacturer)? How much has to do with the manufacturer playing it safe and emphasizing core characters over anything new and different? How much is due to the economy or just bad luck? The reality is that online vendors really have only one advantage over retail stores – without a barrier between the warehouse and the sales floor, they can make all inventory available for sale instead of just however much will fit in the allotted shelf space. This allows online stores to counteract the manufacturer’s mistakes, at the expense of value; prices for in-demand items will inevitably be much higher than MSRP to account for all of the filler that will have to be clearanced at a deep discount. People like to blame the online vendors for high prices, but the blame deserves to be placed back at the manufacturers for creating a situation that makes it impossible for the online stores to stay in business with prices anywhere near MSRP. The bottom line is that you have a choice – pay more to be guaranteed to get something now, or take your chances on finding it at retail at some point over the next couple of years.

But does any of this really matter? After all, these are primarily intended for kids, and everyone knows that kids don’t have opinions about things they have an interest in, right? I’m beginning to suspect that all of this “kids only care about core characters” and “kids don’t care about articulation” is really just a way of justifying conclusions that came out of raw (and questionably valid) sales figures. Sure, there is an attachment to core characters that wasn’t well understood in the 80s, and articulation isn’t everything, but I know I sure hated poorly-articulated figures (I was shocked when I found out that the old Star Wars toys were so popular) and had no real connection to particular characters as a kid. I know I’m usually way off the mark when it comes to what’s hip and cool, but am I really that much of an outlier, or are the toy companies trying to tell kids what to like? It sure wouldn’t be out of character for them.

I think all of this is less about the kids and more about rising costs and prices that are already at the maximum that the market will bear. A good sale price for a deluxe-class Transformer in the mid 80s was about $10, if my memory isn’t failing me. These days, it is more like $6 to $9, and this is after a good amount of inflation and the weakening of the dollar against foreign currencies. Regular prices over the last decade have increased from $10 to about $12 ($15 at some stores), but they inevitably fall back to $10 or less when the pegs fill up (current regular price is $9 at stores that actually move product). Manufacturing isn’t likely to get any cheaper as China develops its industrial infrastructure and the products just won’t sell at higher prices. Something has got to give, right? The current plan seems to be to cut corners wherever possible and aggressively market the same stuff to kids over and over again while occasionally throwing a bone to the older fans to make sure the franchise remains relevant (and sometimes throwing millions of dollars at Michael Bay with dubious results). Or there’s the Mattel way of making it even harder for fans to purchase what they want, but I can’t see Hasbro doing that with its top properties, especially with a new television network, some great new children’s programming, and several of the most dominant toy properties in history.

Enough of looking forward, let’s take a look back at the last decade of toys.

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