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30 Dec 2011 / mttlg

2011 Action Figure Recap

2008, 2009, 2010… Why I keep doing this is anyone’s guess. It’s been a frustrating year, with distribution (or lack thereof) making it difficult for grown men to spend money on toys. As the stores try to recover from yet another holiday shopping stampede, here’s a look back at 2011 in a meager 15,000 words (if you’re the TL;DR type, FO;DC).

Toy Lines | Year in Review
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
Final Thoughts

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. Actually, that’s a lie. With the way things have been going, I’m not terribly motivated to cover anything.

Captain America

The Captain America movie, along with Thor, follows the two Iron Man movies in setting up next year’s The Avengers. The line unfortunately barely acknowledges that there was a movie and is filled with comic-style figures…

G.I. Joe: Pursuit of Cobra

The second movie looms ever closer, but the Pursuit of Cobra line keeps chugging along and updating the classics with more realistic designs and random filler. The 30th Anniversary line takes over for the second half as basically the same line.

Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 turns 1 this year, but it’s mostly the same stuff that’s been hanging on the pegs this whole time. A follow-on Iron Man line was also released (nowhere but online), but this one won’t go away.

Marvel Universe

Can’t find the Marvel Universe section? Just look for the Iron Man section, then find the other Iron Man section, and finally go to the other other Iron Man section. That one is really Marvel Universe, but you wouldn’t know it from all of the Iron Man figures clogging the pegs. Make it stop Hasbro, make it stop.

Star Wars The Clone Wars

Supposedly there will be more Clone Wars figures this year. If it’s anything like last year, it could take a few months for the shipments to get out…

Star Wars: Vintage

New Star Wars figures on old-timey cards. Now with Expanded Universe! Lots of fan-favorite figures are coming out this year, but with thousands of possible new/updated figures out there (and loads of possible repacks), this will barely put a dent in anyone’s want lists.


The other Avengers prequel movie released this year, its accompanying toy line is filled with nothing but movie figures. Looking at the pegs though, you would think that it was composed of nothing but Thor figures.

Transformers: Generations / Reveal the Shield / Power Core Combiners / Dark of the Moon

More of the same, then another movie line, now with gigantic weapons! Oh, and there’s the new cartoon series figure line, plus some repaints of figures from the old new cartoon series at BotCon… With so much to choose from, why is nothing getting restocked?

2011 Year in Review

Do yourself a favor, skip ahead to The Awards. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

As usual, the year kicks off with the long-awaited post-holiday clearance. This time around things were a bit lean, which is to be expected after a year with little variety and many clearances. Target kicked things off immediately after Christmas by marking the recently released Star Wars 9-pack and several other unwanted items down by 30%, then increasing the discount to 50% less than a week into the year (at which point the 9-pack promptly sold out, after only about a month on shelves). Over at Wal-Mart, they finally started marking down the leftovers from 2009, including the AT-ST (to $30 from $45), their exclusive Ramjet and Skywarp repaints of the 2007 Starscream mold (to $11 from $22), Avatar figures (to $2 from $11), and G.I. Joe Rise of Cobra figures (to $10 from, um, $5?). I’m guessing that the RoC figures will be around for years to come, much like 2008’s terrible 25th Anniversary G1 Optimus Prime repaint, which was back again this year for $70 (in authentic battle-damaged boxes!). Among 2010 items, the remaining Transformers Deluxe packs (almost entirely puke Brawl) were marked down from $17 to $8 (and if you didn’t see that one coming, you haven’t been paying attention) and G.I. Joe mech suits were marked down from $20 to $9.50. Reports have indicated sightings of the Star Wars TIE Bomber for $19 and Jabba the Hutt for the insanely low price of $9, but around here they are $35 and out of stock, respectively. In other aisles, Wal-Mart marked down their version of the officially-licensed die-cast planes and 1:18 scale motorcycles that are sold under various names to $1.50 from $3 and stocked the same exact items in new packaging at the usual $3 price. What exactly was the point of this?

The other side of the new year is the price hike back to MSRP or beyond for current products. This meant Iron Man 2 figures (some of which have been sitting on the pegs for almost a full year) are up from $5 to $7-8, Star Wars Vintage figures up from $7 to $9-10, Transformers Deluxe figures are up from $9 to $12, and G.I. Joe figures are getting the boot from most Wal-Mart stores (and going up to $8 everywhere else). Of course, considering Hasbro’s track record when it comes to releasing new G.I. Joe items in the first half of the year, this might not be that big of a problem (other than a few endcap displays at Target, there has been no sign of the 2011 lineup).

Once again this year, Hasbro had a “please take the crap we can’t sell” Supercharge Your Gift Card special offer. This time around, spending $20 on “select” Hasbro products that won’t sell in January will get you $10-15 in other unwanted trash. You can even pick your top three categories of garbage to get! With a limit of five per household, you know Hasbro has a lot of unwanted stock just waiting for a tax write-off. Allow a few months to see just what you’ll end up with.

February was full of new product announcements online and not much of anything in stores. As strange as it sounds, there was more 2011 product released in December of 2010 than January of 2011 (if you were looking for Reveal the Shield Tracks or Jazz, you had a one-week window at the end of the year). Even the clearance aisles thinned out after January – Target was down to sporting goods, Wal-Mart was back to its usual disaster, the discount stores were picked bare (with the dregs marked down to $1), and Toys R Us actually put some old junk from 2009 on clearance. Oh yeah, and they had a wall of Animated Arcees marked down to $6. It took a year, but here she is, now that nobody wants her.

Toy Fair (New York) came and went once again, with the biggest news coming in the form of upcoming ComicCon (San Diego) exclusives. There were a bunch of retail lines shown too, but here’s what we know so far about SDCC: G.I. Joe Zarana (the first female G.I. Joe figure since the oddly-proportioned Resolute Scarlett) with repaint variant, a G.I. Joe Skystriker repainted as Transformers Starscream with Cobra Commander as the pilot and a tiny Megatron as his sidearm, and the lost wave of Indiana Jones figures (!!!) that was last seen at ComicCon in 2008. Being event exclusives, these actually stand a fair chance of making it out (though the chances of actually being able to purchase them is, as always, a crap shoot). On the retail side, G.I. Joe will have a few more classic-style figures ranging from the somewhat expected Crazylegs and Steel Brigade to the more interesting Sci-Fi and Techno Viper. There’s an all-new Skystriker in there too, plus some modernized favorites (Cobra Trooper and Viper), a bunch of less interesting new figures (two more each of Snake Eyes and Cobra Commander), some repainted vehicles (Crimson HISS and Vamp Mk. II), and some barely-repainted 25th Anniversary figures (Blowtorch and Croc Master) to take up space (Update – both figures will have variants in actual new colors) (Updated update: Or will they?). Transformers had a load of movie crap, some promising Leader Class non-transforming mock-ups, some not-Lego sets, and a little red Powerglide, which is the only really interesting one in the whole bunch. Star Wars had more stuff, no real surprises in there except that they seem to have dropped the articulation-challenged Clone Trooper sculpt from the Clone Wars line (all clones in the displays had real working ankles!) (Update: Nope, it still made it out on several figures). Elsewhere, Mattel’s Justice League Unlimited line has reached its limit, Green Lantern toys are everywhere, and Thundercats are back (courtesy of Bandai). With no third-rate manufacturers in the mix, will we have any movie lines to point and laugh at when they go on clearance before the movie even opens?

Hasbro, we need to talk. I’m saying this because I care about you and I don’t want to see you get hurt. I’m worried about you. I understand that Iron Man used to make you feel good and you don’t want to lose that feeling, but it’s getting out of hand. Your Iron Man obsession is starting to hurt the people around you. Everywhere we look, it’s pegwarming Iron Man figures – two figure lines, one more on the way, plus various other store exclusives. It’s too much. You may not have noticed, but people stopped buying these things about six months ago. Stores don’t get more, but the pegs never clear out. Even when the newer case assortments do get out, it only means more old figures and a few slightly less old figures that anyone who cared bought last year. Marvel Universe now has a higher percentage of figures of Iron Man than the Iron Man 2 line in many stores. You need to admit that you have a problem and take steps to address it. Maybe Robert Downey Jr. could give you some tips.

The Iron Man 2 line turned one on March 1, which is of note only if you ever wondered what a year’s worth of dust looked like. To celebrate, Hasbro launched the Thor movie line, now only 50% main character figures! Well, until a couple of weeks later when all of the non-Thor figures have sold out due to being packed one per case, leaving Thor, Thor, Thor, and Thor alone on the pegs. In other news, um, there was no other news. At a quarter of the way through the year, the total number of new 2011 figures that have made it to stores in any decent quantity stands at 8 Thor figures, 3 Transformers figures (Scourge, Kup, and Dark of the You Have to be Kidding Me, That’s the Title? Preview Optimus Prime), two TRU-exclusive Star Wars four-packs, two Target-exclusive Clone Wars two-packs, one K-Mart-exclusive Star Wars single figure, uh, and a new wave of Playmakers baseball and football player figures. Something about a couple of JLU 3-packs? Really crappy Pirates of the Are People Really Buying This Shit? figures? Canceled G.I. Joe Rise of Cobra Alpha Vehicles Wave 3 found at #%@^&! Ross? Even the 2011 product released last December has been almost impossible to find for three months. In other words, it’s spring at retail. To get things moving, Hasbro sent out a bunch of $1 off coupons for stores to slap on the Iron Man 2 figures they marked up by $3 a couple of months ago (back when the $5 off $20 coupon was still good). Does anyone in this industry understand basic math? Sample Problem: Which price is a product more likely to sell at, ([$5.00 x 4]-$5.00)/4 or $7.99 – $1.00? Don’t bother showing your work, the correct answer is “Kids love core characters!”

Remember that Supercharge Your Gift Card offer? April Fools! No, really, the free items started showing up around April 1, and the results weren’t too bad if you were among the lucky ones who got G.I. Joe Alpha vehicles (from the current line, not the 2009 line as was expected), Star Wars deluxe figure/vehicle packs (also surprisingly from the current line), or Transformers Power Core Combiners single figures (not as pricey as the others, especially after the Target clearance, but not too bad). All but the Star Wars items ran out quickly, leaving everyone else with, drum roll please… Iron Man 2 figures. Hasbro, it’s time to put an end to this. Look, I’ll make this easy. Just give me a night alone in a warehouse with all of the Iron Man 2 figures out in the wild and still in the pipeline, a modern assault rifle, and a few thousand rounds of ammunition (actually, it might take a few people to do this properly, so hold an auction for people to pay to assist me and we can split the proceeds 50-50). I guarantee a quick resolution to this plague.

Hey, I saw a G.I. Joe Shock Trooper for the first time since mid-January! You suck, retail. You suck.

With the Transformers: Dark of the Make it Stop movie line due out in mid-May, Target gave the Hunt for the Decepticons line the axe a month in advance (with the non-selling Power Core Combiners 2-packs thrown in for good measure). If you were hoping to see any Reveal the Shield figures beyond the first wave or so of Deluxes at retail, I have some bad news. Generations figures were spared, renewing false hope that the last three will ever make it to retail.

Not to be outdone, Wal-Mart put all of HftD and PCC on clearance two weeks after Target. More surprisingly, they even lowered the prices (”

For the most part, May was movie line month. While everyone was waiting for stores to break the street date for Transformers 3, stores started pushing out all the Green Lantern merchandise they could find, in the hopes of getting someone to buy it. With all the articulation of Star Wars figures from 35 years ago and Ryan Reynolds’s face on the title character, I can’t imagine there will be much demand once the rest of Hasbro’s gang hits stores. Which happened around here on May 15 (one day before the official street date). That’s when Transformers 3, Captain America, and a couple of X-Men: First Class comic packs (featuring characters that aren’t in the movie) joined GL, Thor, Pirates of the Rehashed Crap, and oldies-but-why-aren’t-these-on-clearance Tron: Legacy and Iron Man 2 in the aisle of misfit movie toys. Even more than Thor, Captain America’s toy line was dominated by the title character (3 to 1, plus 3 deluxes and a bunch of other crap), but unlike Thor, this line opened with no movie series figures. On top of that, the latest Marvel Universe waves to be stocked featured old figures that were essentially equivalent to the meager Cap offerings. And despite all of this, Cars 2 got all of the prominent display areas. It’s going to be a long summer…

So yeah, new Transformers line. On the plus side, most figures had new molds. On the minus side, they were mostly the same old characters in the usual forms – Optimus Prime, Ironhide, Ratchet, Starscream, Barricade, Jolt, Skids, HA Skids, Bumblebee, Bumblebee, Bumblebee, and Bumblebee, with a couple more Bumblebees here and there. Megatron finally got a decent alt mode, Shockwave got a movie update, Starscream (and the obligatory Thundercracker repaint) got a Deluxe version, the Wreckers got officially-licensed NASCAR alt modes, and everything got a little bit smaller (probably to keep the price points down to the usual $5-8-10-20-45 levels). As usual, everything had two or three waves available within a week of the launch, with all of the good figures choked out by Optimus Primes and Bumblebees. On the bright side, it has been confirmed that Skids and Mudflap will not appear in the upcoming movie. Sadly, this is not true for the toy line, which will likely feature them prominently for the next year or so.

Say what you will about movie style Transformers, but they still move product. The same can’t be said for the other guys; while Transformers 3 pushed out over 50 figures by the time the movie came out, Thor hasn’t gotten past the first wave and Green Lantern, despite getting two or three waves of basic figures out, was already starting to go on clearance by the end of June (it didn’t help that the movie was a dud); joining it on clearance were the long-overdue Tron: Legacy line and Transformers Power Core Combiners 5-packs (Update: In an unprecedented move, Target pulled Tron 2 back off clearance and gave everything slightly lower prices. The line will continue to take up space on into 2012, with no new figures of course). With its movie almost a month away, the Captain America line is already on Wave 2 of basic and deluxe figures, three of which are actually from the movie! Better still, three more of these are not Captain America, adding a bit of variety to the pegs (until all of the new characters quickly sell out). Back over in Transformers land, store exclusives were all the rage in June, with Wal-Mart adding three Deluxes (including a new Optimus Prime figure) to its stable of exclusives, TRU adding some transparent Deluxe and Legends class figures, Target getting Voyager Starscream and Ratchet repaints (because we couldn’t have a line without yet another pointless Ratchet repaint) plus some Cyberverse repaint two-packs (including a Target-logo mini Leadfoot), and K-Mart with a two-pack of repainted crap. There were some Green Lantern exclusives too, but they all used the same couple of crappy molds, so let’s just forget about those.

July wrapped up with ComicCon and some great (but hard to buy) exclusives. What about the world outside of San Diego? Unfortunately, it was the same story – a few new things, but nothing released in sufficient quantity to meet demand. That’s OK though, there’s still five months left in the year, that means plenty more to look forward to, right? Yeah, about that… The big ComicCon news was release delays across the board – Star Wars delayed until 2012 (with just one new wave and Revenge of the Jedi re-cards and exclusives in the fall), Transformers Prime figures delayed until December, and oh screw it, you know the drill, don’t even look at the release dates or prototypes anymore. It took two years to get a wave of Indiana Jones figures produced, why should anything else announced at this show be any different?

Most of what did make it out was in the Captain America line. With the movie opening the same weekend as ComicCon, it was time to get some figures into stores. Some figures of characters from the movie even! By July 31, we finally had some good Hydra soldiers, plus variants in comic colors (with a similarly-themed Red Skull thrown in the mix). There were also exclusives released on top of the first three waves of basic and deluxe figures – an uninspired three-pack at K-Mart, a nonsensical movie Cap and Red Skull repaint two-pack at Target, and a couple of repaint comic packs, also at Target. Elsewhere, G.I. Joe vehicles reached clearance hell in Target (carded figures are still a no-show), Star Wars figures were slightly restocked with recent waves, Transformers has lots of movie toys that have stopped selling, and Thor is dead in the water. Seriously, five months after its launch, I’ve seen two figures from anything outside of Wave 1, both the Wave 1 Thor in a helmet that should have been released in Wave 1 in the first place. For a line that actually has a lot of figures of characters from the movie (unlike, say, Captain America), it has been awfully slow to get said figures into stores. At this point, we might get Wave 2 for the DVD release before the line gets clearanced or frozen in time like Iron Man 2.

Hey, remember those weird alien video game figures Unimax released a while back with no fanfare? Well, for the second wave, it’s medieval assassins! And Leonardo (not the turtle or the actor). Unimax officially has better distribution than Hasbro’s flagship lines. Sorry Thor, better luck next month.

Also in August, the G.I. Joe 30th Anniversary line started showing up in force. The Skystrikers hit in July, but now it was on to carded figures and other vehicles. If any of the stores near you still carried G.I. Joe. With my local Wal-Mart getting Joes back in July only to clearance them out again a couple of weeks later (and Pursuit of Cobra Wave 5 still a no-show), I’m not terribly optimistic. Even the lone Wave 3 Duke that’s been hanging out at TRU for the last six months seems to have moved on.

It only took half a year, but the second wave of Thor figures finally made it out in perceptible quantities in September. Now you can own figures of all of Thor’s warrior buddies except for the girl, because we know that female figures don’t sell. Instead, here’s a few more Thors to fill out the pegs half-filled with Thors. Wave 3 is a long way off…

Now well into September, Hasbro felt the need, the need to get all of those damn Bumblebees off the pegs so the fall lineup could get out of the warehouse. That means special mail-in offer time! Purchase just $20 worth of Transformers movie toys and get a gift pack worth $20.98! A gift pack with a Kre-O figure (the usual Optimus Prime that’s been given out everywhere), a t-shirt (in sizes guaranteed to be either way too big or way too small to fit typical Transformers fans), and a $5 off coupon (editor’s note: they gave away $5 off coupons in the last couple of weeks of this promotion, presumably to encourage people to spend $20 to get another $5 off coupon). Limit 5 per household, good luck finding anything worth spending $20 on this time of year (it’s Bumblebees all the way down).

Target has Clone Wars figures! From last year. After several months of empty pegs at many stores, Target finally pushed aside enough Saga Legends figures to get a few cases of Clone Wars figures out in October. In fact, most stores have finally had fresh shipments of Clone Wars figures, making me wonder if we might actually see the 2011 lineup in quantity by the holidays. I know, I shouldn’t rush Hasbro, these things take time. I’m sure they’ll get more Aqua Droids out by the end of the decade.

Hey, does anyone remember that G.I. Joe Renegades cartoon that gave G.I. Joe a fresh start with reinvented characters, good writing, and plenty of callbacks that did justice to the 30 year history of the modern incarnation of the franchise? You know, the one that was unceremoniously put on “hiatus” a while back with no plans for another season? Well guess what, now you can own action figures of your favorite characters from this likely dead show! That’s Hasbro for you, always timely and relevant. The second wave of 30th Anniversary figures featured four Renegades characters (including the usual Snake Eyes, Duke, and Cobra Commander…) in the same kind of animated/realistic hybrid style as the Clone Wars line. Which of course was guaranteed to satisfy nobody… These Renegades figures were conspicuously light on accessories, as were the repacked figures in this wave. So of course these hot sellers were in the first wave of the year (and this is October) to be carried in every store. Way to go there Hasbro, you figured out distribution just in time for the figures that people don’t want…

The big news in October, other than the sudden appearance of actual new figures in stores, was New York ComicCon. You know, that other ComicCon that nobody really cares about. Well, this year Hasbro has a big showing, unveiling even more figures that we probably won’t see at retail until next fall, if ever. But, as with the other ComicCon, a Hasbro booth means convention exclusives and Hasbro did not disappoint. As an incentive to shop at the week after the event, Hasbro released an exclusive set of Transformers Prime toys with Bumblebee repainted as a taxi, Arcee in pink, and Jack and Raf in NYCC shirts. As far as exclusives go, it was a decent showing (especially in the New York street scene packaging). Hopefully the rest of the Prime toys will follow soon…

November’s big haul was… Power Core Combiners? Remember last year’s flawed attempt at bringing combiners back to Transformers in a way that incorporated Mini-Cons and drone limbs with vehicle modes but no robot modes? That were clearanced out at Target and Wal-Mart last spring and left to rot in TRU (because that’s where old toys go to die…)? Well, they were back with a vengeance in November, flooding TJ Maxx and Marshalls with most of what had already clogged shelves elsewhere and getting the last few two-packs into TRU before a Wal-Mart Black Friday special dumped the remainder of the line in the form of 5-pack/2-pack “Special Value!” combo packs for the discount price of just $10 each. Of course, with only one new 5-pack (which would inevitably be packaged with the worst of last year’s 2-packs), that meant the last few 2-packs would cost full retail price (plus a penny) and Toys For Tots gets a few 5-packs. What a deal!

Speaking of Black Friday, there were plenty of deals to be had, like Fringe Season 3 on Blu-Ray for $22 or Inception on Blu-Ray for $5. Concussions and pepper spray were free with attempted XBOX purchases. Toy deals were, as usual, few and underwhelming. If Wal-Mart’s Power Core Combiners deal didn’t do it for you, you could get Transformers Voyager class figures (well, really just Sentinel Prime by the time things slowed down) for $10 at Target or Ultimate Optimus Prime for $47.99 at TRU, continuing this figure’s death spiral to clearance (it’s down $5-10 every time I look). And that’s about it, unless you count Barnes & Noble’s 50% off one Kre-O set deal. If you were hoping to find the Transformers Prime figures that just made it out to TRU (Wave 1 Deluxe – Bumblebee, Arcee, and Starscream), you’re a week too late (or too early, another case hit in early December). And don’t even ask about anything non-Transformers.

So I was looking around in the Random Crap aisle in TRU one day, and I saw some 4″ Mortal Kombat figures. Well, one figure in different colors. The articulation looked decent, so I was going to pick one up if the price was right. $14.99. In the immortal words of Adam Sandler, “The price is wrong, bitch!” Seriously, $15 for a 4″ figure? I later realized that this was the Mortal Kombat Classics (shouldn’t it be Klassiks?) line and that the regular Mortal Kombat line (which was largely indistinguishable) was more reasonably overpriced at only $9.99. Meanwhile, the third wave of GameStars figures started trickling out at Target with figures from some game I’ve never heard of. There’s some humans and some bug-like alien things. At least those are only $7.99…

Remember that 13-figure subscription service that the G.I. Joe Collectors Club was hyping up a few months ago? No? Oh, right, I was waiting for more details before I bothered caring. Well, their newsletter has declared that the subscription plan is a hit! Not that the figures have started shipping. Or have gotten a lot of orders. Or are available for order. Or even have prices yet… It’s a hit because, now that the figures have been announced (except for the 13th “bonus” figure), people want to subscribe. If the price isn’t too high. And if the club can figure out how to sell things on the internet. But hey, check out these cardboard boxes! Seriously, the club is way too excited to have figured out cardboard box technology. This whole internet thing is probably a ways off…

As the toy aisles turn into a battle zone with Christmas looming ever-closer, the prospects of finding anything new are grim. The emptying shelves should, in theory, improve the chances of a restock, but entire sections have been empty for months on end this year without a restock in sight. It’s safer for the stores to just dump their old stock on the sales floor and wait out the chaos. Despite this, there have been some unexpected finds. Thor, last seen with scattered remnants of Wave 2 leaking out here and there over the last four months, has been restocked! With one case of Wave 4 (?) at one store, minus the highly sought-after Sif. It figures that they would skip over Wave 3, that’s the one with the good figures in it… Two days later, in the same store, new comic series Iron Man figures! Well, they’ve been available online for most of the year, but they’re new to retail. At this point, even finding movie series Wave 4 (released about 16 months ago) is cause for celebration. One female figure that can be found however is Star Wars Vintage Zam Wesell. Released at the start of the year, Wesell and much of the Attack of the Clones wave has been near-impossible to find. Nearly a full year later, the wave has finally made it out at discount stores for $3.99-4.99 per figure. This sort of thing just doesn’t surprise me anymore. Hasbro, have I told you that your distribution sucks lately?

When the dust settled, the winners and losers this holiday season were clear to see. Shoppers laid waste to the Transformers section, leaving almost nothing notable behind (even most of the Bumblebees were gone). Star Wars was similarly bare (except for Saga Legends and the usual Vintage and Clone Wars pegwarmers), but that’s been its usual look for most of the year, so I’m not sure there’s anything significant there. The Marvel movie lines remain fully stocked, with Iron Man 2 surprisingly moving the most units (it’s about time). G.I. Joe remains filled with the first wave of Renegades figures and Arctic Destro (top-selling holiday property, my ass). Target finally put Tron on clearance (and hopefully it will stick this time). And Green Lantern joins Pirates whatever on the ever-growing pile of clearance crap that won’t sell at any price. I’m starting to think that Target has been holding stock of GL from the sales floor to make it look popular (“Better buy it now before they’re sold out!”), because a whole lot of it came out of nowhere when the clearance hit. Every other store seems to have had the same idea, with GL at 50% or more off everywhere.

Looking forward, 2012 promises more fun in the form of a Star Wars packaging refresh with a street date of January 30 (a full month of nothing but clearanced pegwarmers, hooray…). Get a clue, Hasbro, street dates for action figures are idiotic. What’s that, Hasbro has lifted the street date? Well, um, that was very nice of them. Have they gotten a clue? Tune in next year for the answer (my money’s on no).

The Awards

Most Vaporous

G.I. Joe: Pursuit of Cobra variants

Among the welcome updates to figures like Steel Brigade and the basic Cobra Trooper in the later Pursuit of Cobra waves were two figures that seemed out of place: Blowtorch and Croc Master, both slight repaints of their 25th Anniversary figures with a few more accessories. Their inclusion seemed pointless when even real repaints would have been reasonable, which apparently was not lost on Hasbro. It turns out that there were plans for variants of both figures in new paint schemes: olive drab for Blowtorch and Python Patrol for Croc Master. In the end, even the regular versions of these figures proved to be difficult to find, so the status of the repaints (that people actually want) is unknown.

Iron Man 2: Black Widow and Final Battle Whiplash

Another year, another year without these figures. Announced in February 2010, there’s still no word on when or if these figures will be released.

Star Wars Vintage: Aayla Secura Wave

It’s been a rough year across the board for all of the non-movie lines, but the popular Star Wars Vintage line has been hit harder than most. Figures tend to fall into only two categories, either pegwarmers or impossible to find. At least there were more releases due in the fall though, right? Not quite. The presentation at SDCC revealed that the main fall wave, which featured the highly-anticipated (at least by anyone into scantily-clad blue ladies) Aayla Secura (who remains elusive in her Clone Wars form from last year), has been delayed to 2012. While a few releases were anticipated to make it out by the end of 2011 (most notably repacks on Revenge of the Jedi cards), the wait was extended on some fan favorites.

Transformers: Rumble

Coming up with updates to the G1 cassettes has proven to be difficult. Ravage has been a luxury car, Laserbeak and Ratbat have been guitars, and Frenzy was a, um, yeah, let’s forget about the whole live action thing… Rumble first got a tribute in the Cybertron line as Ramble in Japan, but the name was changed to Scrapheap in the US and the blue version never saw a release here. Rumble next appeared at the end of the Alternators line as a Wal-Mart exclusive alongside Ravage. Rumble once again appeared as an upcoming figure in the 2010-2011 Hunt for the Decepticons / Reveal the Shield / Let’s make this Hard for Anyone to Figure Out line as a small tank-like thing. While the figure saw a release in Japan in red and blue (for all you FRIBRIDON’TCAREWHICHISWHICH people), the US wave with Rumble got canned when, surprise, stores started clearing everything out to make room for the movie line. It would be funny if it didn’t happen every single year…

Tron: Legacy: Castor

Yeah, I know this one is probably from last year, but I ignored this line until it went on clearance (and probably should have continued ignoring it…). Even with a steady stream of new cases getting out (Seriously? THIS is what gets decent distribution this year?), one figure on the cardbacks was nowhere to be found – Castor. As one of the only figures that wasn’t black (in outfit color, not ethnicity, is there anyone non-white in this movie?), Castor looked like a refreshing change. And it never appeared. Rumor has it that likeness rights came into play, but I really don’t care enough to get the whole story. Aside from a few scattered sightings, this figure is a no-show.

Most Controversial

4 Inch Lines: Female Figures

Hasbro’s mantra over the last few years, when it hasn’t been “Kids love core characters!” has been “Female figures don’t sell.” This has been a self-fulfilling prophesy in most toy lines this year (not limited to Hasbro), as a total of one female figure has been released in any movie line (Thor’s Sif, which was pushed back to Wave 3, which will likely be impossible to find) and little else materialized anywhere outside of the big comic properties. While Marvel Universe has been running their crappy generic female mold into the ground, the rest of the lines have been treating girls like they have cooties. Even G.I. Joe, a property that has always prominently featured strong female characters, has kept the women down to just a pair of SDCC-exclusive Zaranas (which were in such high demand that the HasbroToyShop web site ground to a halt on exclusive day until the Zaranas sold out). Elsewhere, um… None in Captain America, none in the Iron Man waves that didn’t hit retail anyway, none in Green Lantern, none in GameStars, one in the SDCC-exclusive Indiana Jones Lost Wave pack, a couple of hard-to find ladies in the various Star Wars lines, maybe something in Young Justice? Oh, right, and that female Sith lord in a TRU multi-pack. And a decent Renegades Scarlett to finish off the year. Now, to be fair, there weren’t many prominent female characters in most of the related media properties, but even the female figures that were produced were made in limited qualities while their male equivalents flooded the pegs. The action figure aisle is a total sausagefest.

Transformers: Spastic

The figure that gave the Brits fits

There was a big international uproar when a Power Core Combiners figure named Spastic was announced. In some English-speaking parts of the world, “spastic” has come to be used as a derogatory term for people with neurological disorders. Elsewhere, it just means something along the lines of “of or pertaining to spasms.” As everyone knows, “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words are weapons sharper than knives,” so Spastic had to be renamed. For the children. Or something. Hasbro’s solution was to put stickers with the name Over-Run over every use of Spastic and call it a day. The upside is that anyone who wanted a box marked Spastic could have one with just a little bit of peeling, so nothing of value was gained or lost.

Most Surprising

ComicCon 2011: The Return of Indiana Jones

ComicCon 2009 revealed the second wave of Raiders of the Lost Ark figures in the recently launched (and soon to be canceled) Indiana Jones figure line. The wave included some fan favorites, including the ill-fated German Mechanic and the face-losing Toht. Faster than you can say “Squeeeee!” though, the line was canned and the prototypes were put under 24-hour armed guard to protect them from rabid fans. And so ended the Indiana Jones line, until/unless a fifth movie came to doom us all.

Two years later, The Lost Wave made another appearance at San Diego ComicCon, this time as an actual product available for sale (after waiting in line for hours with no guarantee that you would get anything). Even better, the set was also available on the following Tuesday (after waiting online for hours for the site to stop crashing, with no guarantee that your order would go through before the item went out of stock). More figures from this line would be nice, but now we can let the once-proud movie franchise rest in peace.

GameStars: Leonardo DaVinci

The second wave of Unimax’s GameStars line of video game characters went back to basics with some humans after a rather confusing wave of alien creatures. While the focus was on various assassins (the game was Assassin’s Creed after all), one of the figures released was of famed ninja turtle namesake Leonardo DaVinci in all his super-articulated glory. That’s right, in a year filled with barely-articulated figures from major movies and TV shows (Green Lantern and Young Justice, I’m lookin’ at you), a long-dead artist and inventor got the action hero treatment.

G.I. Joe: Zombie-Viper

I’m a big fan of crazy designs that practically dare some higher-up to step in and can the product. Quite often, these sort of projects take on “labor of love” status and end up with much higher quality than the usual main character figures. Star Wars does this all the time with its various aliens, but G.I. Joe is usually limited to boring humans. The 30th Anniversary line’s running story about Compound-Z from the cardbacks leads up to the latest fad, zombies! With intricate detailing on the new head and limbs, plus interchangeable tendril arms, these guys are a must have (and a customizer’s dream). Now if I could only find them…

Marvel Universe: Skaar

After getting World War Hulk in this line and the Gammorean Guard in Star Wars Vintage last year, the “green guy with edged weapons” market appeared to be saturated. The Hulk’s son Skaar added a third figure to this niche, which still seems to have some life in it. She-Hulk in 2012?

Star Wars Vintage: Target Tauntauns

Fans have been asking for more of that famous beast that smells even worse on the inside and Hasbro delivered with two Tauntaun packs exclusive to Target. Both priced at $25, one comes with a couple of figures and one comes in a vintage-style box. Those boxes must be expensive…

Transformers: Cyberverse

While I’m sure purists will insist that smaller figures and playsets have no business in a proper Transformers line, these people are idiots. Let’s face it, these are for kids and kids would be kind of pissed off if every figure were a $50 masterpiece. The Cyberverse line takes the smallest size classes ($5 Legends and $8 Scout, now Cyberverse Legion and Cyberverse Commander, respectively, plus a $15 figure/playset class) and uses them as a miniature version of the Transformers line. While the Legends/Cyberverse Legion figures are pretty simple (the addition of one or two 3mm clips for hands doesn’t help much), the Scout/Cyberverse Commander figures are some of the best ever produced in this class, with original figures and G1 homages taking over once the obligatory movie characters ran their course. The deluxe versions add playsets that, while not terribly practical, add quite a bit of play value and work well with the larger figures (the ones that come with Legion figures are an easy pass). On top of that, the Ark playset is a unique and affordable piece with plenty of play value (definitely a good choice for any kid’s Christmas list). These aren’t the most complex or movie-accurate figures, but they are a lot of fun (and they give us a proper mini Powerglide, so there’s that).

Most Disappointing

G.I. Joe: Distribution

I’ve already said way too much about Hasbro’s distribution problems, but this one deserves an award. Every case assortment of the Pursuit of Cobra line in 2011 was exclusive to a single store. How the hell do you manage that? While it isn’t uncommon for stores to skip waves of slow-moving product, the reason for G.I. Joe’s slow sales for most of the year was a lack of product in stores. I never did find out what store managed to land Wave 5… I just hope they eventually find the missing stock of this line and dump it off to the discount stores like they have for the last two G.I. Joe lines (still waiting on that Rise of Cobra Nano Viper, two years and counting…).

Marvel Universe: Absorbing Man

While this carded version of Absorbing Man isn’t really much different from his comic pack release (different color pants, all-flesh upper body), the cardback shows him in full metal form. Why bother releasing a figure that can’t even compete with the picture on the back of the card? With the number of variants in the Marvel Universe line, I can see this coming out next spring. I would probably know for sure if I bothered to keep up on Marvel news, but I have my limits. What’s that, this version is the variant? Some “variant,” I’ve seen dozens of this version and not a single regular version. Somebody screwed up with this one…

Star Wars The Clone Wars: Battle Packs

Star Wars battle packs have been getting downsized for several years now. Five years ago, they included five figures. This was later cut to four figures, plus a price increase. Recently, battle packs went repaint-only, with assurance from Hasbro that such packs wouldn’t include figures targeted at collectors (so no new characters). And this year battle packs returned at the original $20 pricepoint with just three figures. Including one new character and two repacks in every pack… If you want Cad Bane in Clone Trooper disguise, you have to take repacks of Space Suit Anakin and Ahsoka. Want a new clone deco? Hope you like Obi-Wans and Geonosians.

Transformers: Leader Ironhide

While I’m sure I would have been disappointed by Leader Bumblebee, that expected disappointment bumps it down on the list. Instead, the award goes to Leader Ironhide, a figure I had high hopes for as a match for Human Alliance Bumblebee. Sadly, the figure just doesn’t live up to expectations. There’s not much to it really, mainly a set of legs with some truck parts that wrap around them. At this price class, something a bit more complex is expected.

Least Necessary

Captain America: Wave 1

The most puzzling part of the Captain America movie line is the lack of connection to the movie. With Marvel Universe in its third year, comic-style figures from most major Marvel properties have been done to death. Captain America is no exception, with two retail release carded figures, two ComicCon exclusive carded figures, and two comic pack figures already available, plus Bucky and Winter Soldier. So what does Marvel start the Captain America line with? Three comic Caps and a Winter Soldier. It would be easy to blame their slow sales on indifference toward the line and a movie that hasn’t opened, but the second wave (which featured movie figures and a couple of new bad guys) sold through fairly quickly, with Red Skull and Crossbones being particularly hard to find (especially when Crossbones was dropped from the revision cases). Then Wave 3 came along with some more movie villains and even more repaints of the Wave 1 Caps… It never ends, does it?

Thor: Wave 1 Sword Spike Thor

The Thor line didn’t suffer from comic overload like Cap did, but they sure tried to get the same effect with unnecessary Thors. The basic figure line alone started with three Thors in the first wave and at least one “new” Thor in each following wave (the deluxe figures added at least one Thor repaint per wave, but nobody bought them and the deluxe line was brought to an untimely demise as a result). Now, I can see trying the somewhat misguided light-up feature, and an alternate wardrobe isn’t a bad idea (the execution on the other hand…), but what I don’t get is releasing so many different figures with negligible changes. All of the first Wave’s Thors were helmetless, but Wave 2 fixed that with a new version of Sword Spike Thor where the only change was a new helmeted head. Wave 3 takes the same figure and gives it a new stupid weapon and some blue highlights. It would be one thing if this were just a running change and the waves kept coming, but anything beyond Wave 1 was difficult to find and the older Thors kept coming back in each new wave. The last straw was when the 6″ Thor figures were unveiled and the comic version was made of pure awesome. I never thought I would be lobbying for comic figure filler, but it would be better than more of the same.

Transformers: Cyberverse Commander Optimus Prime

Hasbro showcased the new Cyberverse sub-line with the preview figure for the third movie line, a Cyberverse Commander (Scout class) Optimus Prime with flight pack. The figure itself is actually pretty good for its size, though the inclusion of cheap 3D glasses seemed a bit awkward (and hardly justified the additional $2 some stores charged over the standard Scout class price). All was well and good until the line debuted with the same exact figure (without glasses) released in the first Cyberverse Commander wave in large quantities. With the preview figure still readily available (and as a free with $25 purchase giveaway at Toys R Us on multiple occasions), the main line version seemed a bit redundant, and as such was a poor seller. On top of that, the mold (minus flight pack) would show up two more times in the next two months, once packaged with a trailer and once in a new color scheme with a new set of weapons. This put four versions of the same mold as the same character (three in the same color scheme) in stores at the same time, while new characters in the Cyberverse sub-line were hard to come by.

Most Essential

G.I. Joe: Zarana

The announcement of Zarana as this year’s SDCC exclusive brought a mixed reaction from the fan community. While the figure was quite welcome, the exclusive status and the sting of Sgt. Slaughter’s SDCC release in 2010 made many people at least a little bit upset. The prospect of spending big bucks to get a fan favorite female character didn’t go over well with the fanbase. Things only got worse when the figure (and its variant) went up on after SDCC; the site was almost impossible to use until Zarana sold out, at which time normal operation was restored almost instantly (coincidence?). On top of that, quantities were limited to one per person, which made things difficult if you wanted one to open and one to keep sealed. With the SDCC exclusive Starscream Skystriker and the variant Zarana selling out before most people could get an order to go through (curse you, multiple-step ordering process!), the lone pink-haired figure that most people who fought with the web site for two hours to get walked away with was a meager consolation.

But wait, isn’t this supposed to be a positive award? The figure may be essential (I would argue that just about any female figure that gets through the Hasbro development process these days is), but Hasbro’s methods are in need of adjustment. The announcement at NY ComicCon of an upcoming Dreadnoks 7-pack is certainly good news, but it still seems incomplete if you missed out on Zarana.

Marvel Universe: Savage Frost Giant with Loki

The Frost Giants ended up being the best and worst parts of the Thor movie line. They were the best in the sense of being interesting figures that didn’t depend on movie likenesses or the dreaded endless main character rehash. They were the worst because of their less-than-giant stature; on a scale from Andre the Giant to the Jolly Green Giant, these guys rated a mere Yao Ming. Sure, they could probably do well in the NBA, but that doesn’t cut it for gianthood. Marvel Universe came to the rescue by resurrecting its last-seen-in-2009 line of Wal-Mart “big guy vs. little guy” packs. One had a robot Thor and some big Goliath guy, but the other featured a pair of true essentials – a comic-style Loki (with helmet – suck it Wave 1 Loki) and an actual giant Frost Giant. Measuring in at 12″ tall, that translates into a scale 18 foot giant, which is quite respectable. Sadly, he has trouble standing (and has no foot peg holes, not that they would help unless they were 5mm) and he doesn’t show up in the included comic, but this is a must-have for any blue giant lineup.

Star Wars: Republic AV-7 Mobile Cannon

While I have been tempted by some Star Wars vehicles over the years (AT-STs, AT-ATs, Y-Wings of multiple varieties, etc.), I have always been able to resist them. The basic starfighter assortment was something that I didn’t even pay attention to until I saw an artillery piece on the shelf. Artillery? In Star Wars? Even G.I. Joe hasn’t had a proper artillery piece, why does Star Wars get one? It wasn’t long before I broke down and bought one, then promptly put an Iron Grenadier Destro at the controls. Something about that just feels right…

Transformers: Powerglide

The minibots have been steadily making their way out in updated forms across the various figure classes, but none stand out as much as Universe 2.0 Ultra class Powerglide. The size, while fairly realistic when compared to Deluxe cars, was just way too big for a minibot. The paint scheme was also completely different, and on top of that the figure sucked. A Wal-Mart exclusive mostly fixed the color issue (still a bit too pink), but nothing can fix the bigger problems with this figure (and that “heart” under his chest panel is a constant reminder of a terrible, terrible episode of the original cartoon). Now that Powerglide had been done, there was little hope of getting a proper version.

One of the pleasant surprises from Toy Fair 2011 was the reveal of a Scout class Powerglide (in proper colors) in the Dark of the Moon line. While that made little sense, nobody was about to complain (unless it went MIA like the Scout class Windcharger in the Reveal the Shield line). It only took about a month after the DotM launch for the wave with Powerglide to surface, and the result was very satisfying. While not overly complex, the detail and articulation still matched (or topped) that of the Ultra version. With all of the classes getting downsized in this year’s movie line, the new Scout class Powerglide fits in well with previous Legends scale minibot offerings (and the RtS line adds a Goldbug to the mix, if you can find it). It would be nice to get more than one minibot update per line (Gears is long overdue), but you can’t complain about the execution.

Most Mishandled Movie Line

Green Lantern

Even though I knew it was pointless, I really hoped that Mattel would get its act together for this line. After all, the last Hal Jordan figure they released in the smaller size had a decent amount of articulation and just needed some quality sculpting to bring it up to modern standards. While the sculpting seems to have improved for the movie, the articulation went in the crapper. As usual for a Mattel line, the 6″ versions had articulation and the 4″ versions sucked, now down to a maximum of six points of articulation (neck, waist, shoulders, and hips), with only the shoulders having anything more than a simple swivel. To Mattel’s credit, they did release a wide variety of characters (only 3 Hal Jordans and 9+ other characters in the first two waves), but the case ratios seemed to ensure that Hal Jordan and ugly blob-type aliens were constantly pegwarming. Somehow, they even managed to give the large item pack-in figures even less articulation (no waist swivel). While I’m no fan of Ryan Reynolds, I wouldn’t mind having some decent figures of core Green Lantern characters, and on top of that, I’m a sucker for translucent figures (one of the three Hals and the second version of fan-favorite Kilowog are completely translucent green, further showing off the lack of joints). Still, compared to, say, the translucent Vision released in the Marvel Universe line around the time this line launched, these things look like Happy Meal toys (actually, I think the Young Justice Burger King toys might have these guys beat). Top it off with endless figure repetition in store exclusives, multi-packs, two-packs, and other random crap and you have a line that is destined for the clearance rack at TJ Maxx next fall. No need to buy any of it now…

Best Mail-Away:

Star Wars Vintage Boba Fett

I know what you’re thinking: didn’t we do this last year? Well, yeah, but this is a different exclusive mail-away Boba Fett figure. This one is a modern-style concept Boba Fett. Yes, we got one of those a few years ago, but this one is different. Look, there just weren’t that many mail-away offers that didn’t send back random unsold inventory, so this is it. I suppose I could count the canceled Cobra Commander with HISS tank drone that was sold through the G.I. Joe Collector’s Club, but I don’t.

Worst Exclusive

Captain America: Target Comic Packs

While lots of good figures have made it to the end of Target’s 75% off clearance death march, the piles of Captain America comic packs certainly do not qualify as “good.” The problems started with these figures being repaints of comic series figures, mostly from the completely unnecessary Wave 1 (many of which were in turn repainted for Wave 3). Mix in packaging that is confusingly similar to the Marvel Universe comic packs (several of which also feature essentially equivalent Captain America figures) and you have the most pointless exclusive ever. With Captain America figures not exactly flying off the shelves, making more of the figures people don’t want isn’t exactly a smart move. Finding piles of them marked down to $3.74 wasn’t exactly a surprise.

Marvel Universe: TRU Avengers Movie Light-Up Stand Figures

As part of the build-up to next year’s Avengers movie, Hasbro released four figures with interlocking bases similar to last year’s Iron Man figures at Target. The figures included repaints of Marvel Universe figures of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and The Hulk. This time, the figures were exclusive to Toys R Us, which means that we could count on insane prices. TRU did not disappoint, pricing these figures at a whopping $20 each. For an old figure and a light-up base. Don’t get me wrong, I like the bases in these figures (these plus the ones from another four “mystery” figures (the main characters missing from this batch) form a big circle, which is somewhat interesting. But $20 each? In typical TRU fashion, these were frequently on sale, but it’s still not enough to justify purchasing them.

Star Wars The Clone Wars: Wal-Mart Ultimate Gift Set

Don’t let the name fool you, there’s nothing “ultimate” about this pack. for $30, you get a fully-articulated Count Dooku and a bunch of extras they had lying around in the packing plant – space suit Anakin, Captain Rex (you knew there had to be one of those in there, he’s in EVERYTHING), a Battle Droid, and a Super Battle Droid (the boring one from the Retail Droid battle pack, not that any of them are particularly interesting). It’s a tossup as to whether this Star Wars pack is better or worse than the corresponding Transformwers release; on the plus side, there’s more product in this one (three of the five in the Transformers pack are from the $5 price point), but this pack is just a bunch of repacks (all of the figures in the Transformers pack are repaints, though they are all of the inessential variety). In any case, even on clearance (which most of them stuck around for), you’re basically paying $15 for a decent Dooku and some filler. If they truly wanted to make an Ultimate Gift Set, this should have been Dooku, Savage Opress (Armored), Asajj Ventress, and appropriate Anakin and Obi-Wan figures. Of course, this isn’t about making a decent product, it’s about getting the most use out of the old molds.

Star Wars Vintage: Target Three-Packs

I have nothing against this concept in theory; take three thematically-connected figures, package them in a vintage-style box, and price it at a slight discount. This should be perfectly acceptable if done right, but there were too many flaws in the execution to ignore. First, mixing figures from the Vintage line with figures from many years ago is just a bad idea. Luckily, there were few instances of that. The one I don’t get is the figure selection for the two Imperial Forces sets. One features two Imperials and a bounty hunter, the other features two bounty hunters and an Imperial. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to split them three and three?

Transformers: Pick a Bumblebee, Any Bumblebee…

Another Transformers movie, another bumper crop of Bumblebees. You know, back in my day, Bumblebee was this tiny little car that turned into a crappy little robot. Sure, he was fairly prominent in the cartoon, but that was secondary to the toys. Now though, we get a new Bumblebee every week to clog the pegs. In addition to the various wide-release figures in the movie line, every store got their share of exclusive Bumblebees. It’s not worth going through the entire list, suffice it to say that Bumblebee accounted for no less than 20% of all Transformers store exclusives and just about all of them used molds from previous years that we really don’t need to see again.

Best Exclusive

G.I. Joe: (Starscream Skystriker with Cobra Commander)

This is one of those exclusives that just makes too much sense to pass up. Fans have wanted Transformers / G.I. Joe crossovers for a while, but Hasbro has no plans to open that can of worms. Instead, they repainted the new Skystriker as Starscream, added a Cobra Commander pilot figure, and threw in a tiny Megatron as an added bonus. Fans know that Starscream and Cobra Commander shared a voice actor in the ’80s, so the pairing works perfectly. Add in some nice packaging and you’ve got a great collector’s piece, if you were lucky enough to get one.

Star Wars Vintage: Trench Run Battle Pack

It was a great year if you are a fan of vintage vehicles. K-Mart got the B-Wing fighter, TRU got the Y-WIng, and Target got the Landspeeder (plus a couple of Tauntauns). TRU got the best display piece of all though in the Trench Run Battle Pack, featuring Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing and Darth Vader’s TIE Advanced. These vehicles have been released plenty of times, but the huge window box showing off the contents works wonders. TRU’s regular price of $100 is a bit insane, but it has been perpetually on sale for $80, so you have to wonder why they bother with the regular price.

Thor: 6″ Comic Thor

I don’t collect 6″ figures, but I was put to the test when I saw the Wal-Mart exclusive 6″ comic Thor. Unlike every other Thor figure ever produced, this Thor looked like a guy who would kick your ass in ways that would make a Viking blush. The sculpt, colors, and weapons (the usual hammer and a big-ass axe) took this figure to the next level. And I put it back and walked away. But I will never forget. Oh Thor, I wish I knew how to quit you…

Transformers: San Diego and New York ComicCon Transformers Prime Exclusives

With the Transformers Prime toy line pushed back until well after the first season finished airing, the first glimpse of the toys came with two exclusive sets. First, San Diego ComicCon had a Deluxe class Optimus Prime in wearable Matrix of Leadership packaging. Not to be outdone, New York ComicCon had repainted Bumblebee (as a taxi) and Arcee (in G1 pink) figures with non-articulated Jack and Raf figures in NYCC shirts, all packaged in a city street scene. The combination of great packaging with figures in the style of the new cartoon (and a nice G1 Arcee homage) made for some interesting exclusives that, while not for everyone, had plenty of appeal (and were still available online well after their respective events).

Worst Repaint

Captain America: Target Pajama Cap

I can’t fault Target for the concept of this exclusive pack. Released at about the same time as the first wave of feature movie figures, Target’s fire and ice two-pack featuring repaints of movie Cap and Red Skull was a good way to take advantage of the relative scarcity of the carded Red Skull. If the Captain America figure was distinctive but still generic enough (like the figures in the somewhat pointless comic packs), these figures could obviate the need to purchase the carded versions. While the Red Skull executed this well (many people preferred this version to the carded version), Cap looked like he hit the streets in baggy pajamas. The mostly-white pants just don’t work with the rest of his outfit and seem custom-made to invite derision. Maybe if they had included the snowboard from the carded Winter Combat Cap it could have been upgraded to ill-advised, but this figure bottomed out at disaster.

G.I. Joe: Croc Master

This one is essentially serving as Least Necessary in addition to Worst Repaint. This barely-repainted 25th Anniversary Croc Master appeared in the final wave of the Pursuit of Cobra line, which only saw limited distribution at retail. That’s probably for the best. Not only is this a previously-released figure of a goofy Cobra villain, but it is reproduced with only minor color variations. A Python Patrol version with a much different color scheme was announced as a variant, but that variant (along with the similar variant of the similarly unnecessary repaint of Blowtorch in the previous wave) has yet to materialize.

Transformers: K-Mart Human Alliance Sideswipe

Human Alliance Sideswipe is, without a doubt, the worst figure released in the Human Alliance line (not counting the smaller versions). The black and purple repaint in the Hunt for the Decepticons line at least had a cool paint job going for it (though it really should have been made a different character, preferably a Decepticon). The Dark of the Moon K-Mart exclusive repaint doesn’t even have that going for it; black and white on gray with green windows just looks terrible, but for some reason K-Mart got that color scheme for all of its exclusives. As pointless as the Skids and Bumblebee inverted color repaints are (black as the primary color and the previous primary color as the secondary), this Sideswipe is just an all-around failure.

Best Repaint

Captain America: Desert Cap

Ordinarily, I would be against more repaints in this line. After three waves, we had gotten more pointless Caps than anyone would ever need. Two points save this figure though: one, it’s a repaint of the movie Cap and two, it’s in a military desert tan color scheme. (And three, the holster on this one actually works, unlike my regular movie Cap.) I have nothing against a repaint if it is something different and looks good. Olive drab, digital camo (preferably the USMC pattern), and bright pink would have also been acceptable.

Iron Man 2: Stark Racing Armor

You know how I said that nothing more from this line made it out this year? No? Oh, right, scroll down, I’ll wait. Got it? Yeah, well I lied. I did manage to find remnants of Wave 5 once, and among the debris was a repaint of Iron Man Mark VI in Stark Racing colors. While a heavy armor suit is a bit impractical for auto racing, it’s kind of necessary for Tony Stark. After all, you never know who is going to attack you during the race, and it’s not like you need to be concerned about winning when odds are your car will be cut in half before you finish the first lap. Munitions Armor War Machine looks sharp in red (with a new giant rocket launcher), but I give the sleek blue Mk. VI the edge here.

Marvel Universe: Translucent Vision

One of the nice touches of the Marvel Universe line is the frequent inclusion of variant figures with different costume colors and sometimes different heads. While this is often a frustrating practice in other lines, Marvel Universe does the unthinkable by releasing more if something is too hard to find (in fact, everything from the line’s launch in 2009 is still available for inclusion in current case assortments). A great example of this is the release of 2010’s Vision in case assortments that hit retail in spring/summer 2011. This time around, the entire figure (except for the nylon joint pins) was translucent. This isn’t the first translucent figure in the Marvel Universe line (The Human Torch got the same treatment in 2009), but this version stood out with its color scheme that accurately matched the original’s mix of green and yellow with a touch of red. This elevated the figure from just another generic figure in a cape to a true work of art.

Star Wars The Clone Wars: Riot Control Trooper

Clones are bound to be repainted countless times, so they stand the best chance to show up in the repaint categories. In this case, the original (properly articulated) Clone Trooper sculpt combined with some simple but unique accessories result in a great figure despite being just another clone.

Star Wars Vintage: Captain Fordo

A fan-favorite from the Clone Wars microseries, Fordo has been in demand for several years. Hasbro has been reluctant to make figures from the microseries, especially now that there’s a new animated show with a completely different visual style. Being a clone, Fordo was a good candidate to make the jump to realistic style and finally did so in this year’s Vintage lineup. While an acceptable release could have been cobbled together with basic parts, Hasbro went all-out on this figure, starting with the best clone sculpt and including two sets of gear to finish it off with. While Fordo’s name didn’t appear on the card, we all know who this “ARC Trooper Commander (Red)” is supposed to be.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon Thundercracker

It took four years, but we finally got a Deluxe movie Starscream. After two unspectacular Voyager class figures and a great Leader class figure, Starscream’s fourth version finally scaled him down, but could the little guy outperform the larger versions? Well, the results are in and there’s clearly no need for those crappy Voyagers. The Deluxe Starscream mold is everything you could want in a movie Starscream in a convenient package. The only thing I have a problem with are the Cybertronian markings, but the Thundercracker repaint fixes that. Released at about the same time as Generations Thundercracker, the movie version is a thing of beauty. More G1-style repaints would be welcome, but so far only a Japanese-exclusive Skywarp has been released.

Most Elusive

G.I. Joe: Pursuit of Cobra Wave 5

The last four waves (out of six total…) of the Pursuit of Cobra line were astonishingly hard to find, with most case assortments only appearing at one store in a very narrow window of time. Wave 5 didn’t seem to show up anywhere except online, so most people never saw it. The updated Cobra Trooper and Steel Brigade from this wave were carried over to the 30th Anniversary line, but Blowtorch, Cobra Commander, Hawk, and the Jungle B.A.T. are nowhere to be found (but are hopefully destined for the discount stores).

Marvel Universe: Variant Dr. Strange

It’s hard to call much of anything in Marvel Universe elusive (it all comes around eventually), but the translucent white variant of Dr. Strange falls into the “seen once and never again” category (at least so far). Made more confusing by how I found the variant before I found the regular version (making the figure and cardback not match, a confusion that resurfaced when the Absorbing Man figure showed a much cooler version on the card), this figure has all of the coolness of Dr. Orpheus (or I suppose Dr. Strange if you’re familiar with the character) in a sparkly translucent white figure with more articulation than you would expect. It’s easily a must-have along with the translucent Vision.

Star Wars The Clone Wars: Savage Opress (Armored)

Savage Opress is probably one of the most interesting new characters The Clone Wars has produced. As a replacement apprentice to Dooku and a member of the same species as Darth Maul, Opress hits all the right buttons for fan appeal. With two versions showing up in the last waves of 2011 (which have been fairly effectively choked out by Saga Legends), this fan appeal has made both figures hard to come by, with the armored version the scarcest. While the somewhat limited articulation costs him points in my book, he’s probably still worth a try if you can find him.

Star Wars Vintage: Bastila Shan

As I’ve noted, well, everywhere, it’s been a bad year for female figures. Two worth noting in the Vintage line are Zam Wesell and Fan’s Choice winner Bastila Shan. Both were hits with fans and both have been almost impossible to find at retail. Released early in the year, Zam Wesell wasn’t sighted in any decent quantities until showing up at discount stores in the last days of the year. Bastila Shan was in the final wave to be released in 2011 (I’ve lost track of the wave numbering by this point), so good luck finding her anywhere (being a woman means you’re produced in the lowest quantities and are the first to leave the pegs). Now that Hasbro has stopped populating waves by movie, how about an all-female wave to get some of these hard-to-find figures out there?

Thor: Sif

I suppose I could just put all of the Wave 3 basic figures and Wave 2 deluxes in here, but Sif is a special case because, as a female, she will not sell and therefore will only be produced in limited quantities, ensuring that people won’t be able to buy her (and by extension ensuring that she won’t sell as expected). She may have been shown as an equal to Thor’s male buddies in the movie, but retail isn’t as accepting.

Transformers: The First Half of 2011

Have we ever had a situation where a large amount of product (multiple waves of multiple product classes) was released and made available online while remaining almost impossible to find in stores? That was the story for most products in the first half of 2011, but Transformers was hit especially hard because of the third movie line’s 16 May launch date pushing the old product out of the way. Making matters even more frustrating, one of the affected waves contained the long-promised Generations Thundercracker, while that wave and others included G1 updates of Windcharger, Wheeljack, Warpath, Perceptor, Wreck-Gar, and Grapple, plus the first non-Animated version of Lugnut. Add to this the G1 Legends figures (tiny versions of many G1 favorites, including a gun mode Megatron), and you’ve got practically an entire line of figures that failed to reach retail. Most of these (except Windcharger) eventually hit the discount stores, but even then only in small quantities. The miscalculation by Hasbro was made more striking when the Generations line finally picked back up in June, then had only two more figures (both repaints, which were announced a month later) for the second half of the year; the majority of the Reveal the Shield figures would have been a perfect fit for the Generations line and could have filled it out without requiring stock to be dumped off to discount stores. Planning anything new to be released in the six months before a movie is released is a huge mistake that Hasbro should be familiar with by now.

Best Figure

G.I. Joe: Low Light

With lots of great figures released at the tail end of the year (in very limited quantities of course, it seems strange to go back to the first new wave of the year for the best figure. Even more than Lifeline though, Low Light is loaded with detailed accessories that come together to make the figure both a fitting update of the original and a spectacular modern figure on its own. From the working rifle case to the ammo box with removable bullet, everything fits the theme of a sniper and builds a realistic world around the figure. I’m just glad this figure came out before Hasbro started cutting back on accessories, there’s really no filler here that could be cut without being missed.

Marvel Universe: Cable

With the various movie lines adding to Marvel Universe’s past offerings of most classic characters, the line has had to branch out into lesser-known and more eccentric characters to remain relevant. With characters like Apocalypse, Falcon, and X-23 mixed in with new versions of Cyclops, Wolverine, and Iceman plus filler repaints of comic pack figures (Doctor Doom, Ultron, Absorbing Man, etc.), the line seems to have figured out its place in the greater Marvel universe. Still, this mix isn’t the best formula for generating standout figures. I hadn’t really found anything truly notable in this line until I finally saw Cable for the first time toward the end of the year. Despite being released in the year’s first wave, Cable has never been particularly easy to find. I picked him up on a whim, then left him sealed for about a month. When I finally got around to opening him, I wondered why it took me so long.

At first glance, Cable is just a generic humanoid figure. To truly appreciate this figure, you need to get it out of the package. Despite the generic human shape, Cable is imposing compared to others in this line. Articulation is top-notch and the coloring looks great. Combined with a great headsculpt, some great futuristic weapons, and appropriate webgear for a mutant from the future with a robotic arm, the end result is a perfect example of the kind of execution that elevates a figure from generic to exceptional.

Star Wars The Clone Wars: Aqua Droid

You were probably expecting to see one of the versions of Savage Opress in here. While he sure looks good, I just can’t get past the lack of ankle articulation. So, once again, the top spot in the Clone Wars line goes to a droid. Featured prominently in the end of Season 3 and beginning of Season 4, Aqua Droids should have flooded (no pun intended) retail. Instead, the pegs were bare for most of the year and the wave with the Aqua Droid appeared only sporadically (and the figures themselves never lingered for long). Articulation suffered a bit (few figures in this line have all of the joints they need), but there’s lots to like about this sleek yet bulky design. Let’s face it, the humanoids are just getting boring in this line, we need more unique droid designs to keep things interesting.

Star Wars Vintage: Rebel Fleet Trooper

One thing that Star Wars manages to do that eludes many human-centric franchises is the generic human. Sure, the figures that scream “Hey, I’m from Star Wars!” can be fun, but I’m more interested in a figure that is versatile enough to fit in just about anywhere. Aside from some of the accessories, there’s nothing here that makes the Rebel Fleet Trooper look like anything but a random guy. With a few headswaps (the head joint is compatible with the various Hoth Rebel Trooper heads as well as some Indiana Jones heads) and some variation of the headgear (the included cap is pretty versatile), you can have a bunch of guys who could be anyone (though you can be sure that any group with Harrison Ford and Sean Connery is up to something).

Transformers: Leader Class Sentinel Prime

The Dark of the Moon line was a mixed bag of mediocrity that ranged from pointless to frustrating. Before getting to the winner, here’s a rundown of some of the best in each figure class.

Cyberverse Legion: Flak

I’m a sucker for tan and/or olive drab military vehicles, so this APC with cannon on top was an easy buy. The cannon being able to swivel and deploy over the shoulder in robot mode is a nice touch. Most of the figures in this class are nothing special, so that’s enough to make it stand out.

Cyberverse Commander: Guzzle

Guzzle is yet another green tank, but like Bludgeon and Brawl (the Leader class version at least) before him, Guzzle is a well-executed figure that looks great in both modes. The limitations of the size are apparent, but the same can be said for most of the figures in this class. To top it off, Guzzle is an update of a G1 Sparkbot, though without the sparking bit.

Power Core Combiners: Heavytread

Rounding out the trio of greenish Autobot military vehicles is Heavytread. Now, this is a perfect example of how badly this line was executed. Heavytread is a decent figure in all modes and is reminiscent of G1 Brawl in transformation and head blockiness. Everything is solid and looks clean in all modes, particularly the combined mode. With plenty of repaint potential, this should have been a no-brainer to feature prominently in the line. And it comes out at the tail end of the line, long after all sane stores have dumped their remaining stock. No repaints, no real retail presence. This was the story for most of the good figures in the line; instead of starting strong, the first Power Core Combiners figures were boring, awkward, and forgettable. These early figures are also the ones with guaranteed repaints, while the later figures that showed the possibilities of the line were never repainted and were difficult to find. I’m just glad I was able to find Heavytread, though some decent military drone limbs for him would have been nice…

Human Alliance Basic: Tailpipe and Pinpointer

Reverb could very well have taken this spot if his official alt mode came close to obeying the laws of physics (you can’t hover when all of your thrust is off to one side). While Reverb could be a good base for a custom Rideback (look it up), this spot instead goes to Tailpipe and Pinpointer. Tailpipe may only turn into a motorcycle, but at least it’s a motorcycle that could actually function in reality. His Mini-Con partner Pinpointer doubles as a Targetmaster, which is just too cool to overlook. There’s also a human in there, but I just use them as fodder for when the machines rise up to seize power for themselves (you know that’s how this human alliance has to end…).

Deluxe: Air Raid

This class was awash with repaints and rehashes, none of which stood a chance of being called the best (How many more Deluxe Bumblebee molds do we need?). While the two Wreckers we got were decent, the best of the bunch was Air Raid. Not only was the green color a welcome departure, but the AWACS-style airplane design was something new for a Transformer of this size. The ability to mount an arsenal of weapons (sadly, not included, but one of the Topspins will suffice) is a nice bonus.

Cyberverse Deluxe: Shockwave with Fusion Tank

The play value of these deluxe Cyberverse sets cannot be understated. With multiple modes, even a dud is bound to get something right. Shockwave combines a Commander-class figure that is not available separately with a playset that can combine with the base figure into a larger vehicle. Plus, it’s Shockwave.

Voyager: Shockwave

The movie line gave us not one, but two Shockwaves, with the Voyager class version ably filling the role of an updated G1 Shockwave. While previous attempts have been hampered by electronics (Energon) or mundane alt modes (Alternators), this version is a perfect combination of classic and movie styling.

Human Alliance: Roadbuster

There wasn’t really any competition here. Roadbuster and Leadfoot were the only two new Human Alliance figures released in the Dark of the Moon line and Leadfoot’s boring alt mode and unstable robot mode took him out of the running. Unlike his Deluxe class figure, this Roadbuster is loaded with weapons in both modes. This is everything a Human Alliance Wrecker should be and will hopefully be the guide for a Human Alliance Topspin.

Leader: Sentinel Prime

Finally, the overall winner, Sentinel Prime. While there’s plenty to nitpick about (complex transformation, visible head in vehicle mode, etc.), this figure looks great in both modes and has some great accessories and features. The complexity of the transformation is nowhere near as bad as the last Leader class Optimus Prime. If you want a figure that looks at home next to RiD Optimus Prime and Animated Ultra Magnus, this is it.

Most Wanted

Captain America: Red Skull in Trenchcoat

The Captain America movie line was surprisingly light on figures from the actual movie. In fact, only four movie figure sculpts were made: one Captain America, one Red Skull, a Hydra trooper, and the deluxe Hydra trooper. Various repaints brought the total number of movie figures to 11; the Thor line had more unique characters than that. While one Red Skull figure was produced, the one everyone wanted was the black trenchcoat version. Which of course is the one that wasn’t made… There’s probably no chance of getting it now.

G.I. Joe: Renegades Season 2

2011 was filled with new episodes of updated ’80s cartoons: Transformers Prime, G.I. Joe Renegades, Thundercats, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, etc. Of these, more episodes are certainly on the way for everything except G.I. Joe. With another movie on the way in 2012, the animated version has been sidelined indefinitely. This is a shame because it has built an all-new G.I. Joe universe that was just starting to come together, planting the seeds for the origins of many familiar characters with plenty of creative changes. The final episode set the stage for the formation of the Joe team and the fight against Cobra, but was it all a dream? Will we ever see the fight against Cobra taken to a new level? Hasbro isn’t saying.

If another season is too much to ask, I’ll take a Mindbender figure. Mindbender was the show’s breakout character, but has yet to receive a figure (several single-episode characters have been made instead). And if we do get another season, it MUST feature Mindbender working with Michael Emerson’s Dr. Venom.

Green Lantern: A Decent Manufacturer

I shudder at the thought of how much Green Lantern crap I would have bought if the articulation had been up to modern standards. With so many unique characters, it would have been hard to pass up some well-articulated plastic versions. Much like how Marvel Universe offerings like Skaar, Apocalypse, Iron Patriot, and others are so tempting even if you aren’t familiar with the source material, Sinestro, Kilowog, Abin Sur, and other members of the Lantern Corps (even that Ryan Reynolds / Hal Jordan hybrid of boredom) could have been must-haves if done right. Unfortunately, they got the standard Mattel treatment (and a crappy movie, which doesn’t help matters any). Sorry guys, I’m not paying $8 for Happy Meal toys, and from the looks of things ($5 on clearance at TRU, $3.50 on sale at Target), neither is anyone else.

Marvel Universe: Invisible Woman

Hasbro promised us an Invisible Woman figure, and we got three! In three packs and not in any particularly interesting versions (just light blue costume, partially translucent and light blue costume, and white costume), and on the tired old female sculpt to boot. It’s time to get a proper Invisible Woman on a decent sculpt and in proper fully translucent and/or the dark blue and white costume (to match the comic pack Mr. Fantastic and variant Human Torch and Thing figures). I’m not sure where she would fit in my G.I. Joe R.H.I.N.O. turned Mr. Fantastic mid-life crisismobile (staffed with headswapped G.I. Joe movie babes), but I’m sure I’ll figure something out.

Star Wars Vintage: Arena Padme

Padme/Queen Amidala/Senator Amidala had a lot of costumes during the prequel movies (or so I am told), but none were as action-oriented as her Arena Battle costume, which became more action-oriented as the battle intensified. A definitive figure of this costume has yet to be produced and would be a good example of a female figure that could actually sell (main character, action-oriented, iconic scene, etc.). While Hasbro has been working to get more Padmes out there, this is one that is more than just eye candy.

Thor: Natalie Portman

The Thor line has done a decent job of representing all of the non-humans (even if some of them are in later waves that could be hard to track down), but what of Earth? We have a perfectly good love interest in Natalie Portman, and while a figure of her character in Closer would be preferable (though not “child-friendly”), this would still be nice to have in plastic. Natalie is due for an update of her torn-shirt Arena Battle figure from that Star Wars prequel I wasn’t paying attention to the one time I watched some of it on TV (see above), but the action figure aisle needs women!

Transformers: Movie Accurate Wreckers

Mentioning the Wreckers and Michael Bay in the same sentence is likely to evoke the most mixed of feelings from Transformers fans. Still, the movie franchise did bring The Fallen to the masses, so getting the Wreckers some exposure couldn’t be that bad. Of course, then they were revealed as NASCAR stereotypes, so, um… Yeah, thank you Michael Bay. Focus on the positives… Yeah, at least they were pimped out Deathrace NASCAR cars. Except when they weren’t. The toy reveals before the movie release showed regular and weaponized car modes, further complicating the issue. Which would be featured in the movie? Would they hide as normal race cars and then convert to weapon mode? What’s with all the variation in the toys? The movie answered these questions with a question – Why do some of the toys have a regular car mode when the movie Wreckers are never shown that way? That question was never answered, but I’m guessing the folks at Hasbro didn’t know what was planned for the movie and just made a little of everything – across the three classes with Wreckers figures (Cyberverse Legion, Deluxe, and Human Alliance), one of the first two figures in each class had a normal car mode and the other had a weapon mode. Afterward, the movie-accurate style was the norm, but that still left one of each Wrecker in a misfit normal mode – Legion Topspin, Deluxe Roadbuster, and Human Alliance Leadfoot. No class has all three movie Wreckers in the same mode and no Wrecker has a movie-accurate mold in all three classes, but it doesn’t look like proper versions are planned.

Best Pegwarmer

Iron Man 2

That’s right, no individual line awards in this category this year. With no new figures released in 2011 (other than a couple of very scattered waves that were released just about nowhere and the follow-on Iron Man line that was blocked at retail by this line), lots of stock in stores, and no clearance sales, there is no way to justify anything other than Iron Man 2 getting recognition in this category.

Final Thoughts

To end this year, I’ll leave you with my usual thoughts upon entering each of the major stores.

K-Mart: “Did they ever catch the guy who did this?” K-mart is just a disaster. Between a selection straight out of five years ago, opened packages with stolen parts, and restocking that happens once or twice a year, there’s little reason to set foot in one. Those 50% off clearance price deals are pretty sweet though (if you can find anything).

Target: “Where’s the bathroom?” If there’s one thing Target does better than anyone else (aside from service, returns, checkouts, store layout, selection, etc.), it’s their bathrooms. The bathrooms are always bright and clean and tend to be conveniently located right by the entrance. Compare this to, say, Wal-Mart, which has a light brown motif in its bathrooms (what were they thinking?) and is frequently out of paper towels (that come out squeezed through a small hole, requiring you to uncrumple them before they are of any use).

Toys R Us: “Sale or clearance, sale or clearance.” TRU is not my first choice for regular-priced merchandise. Let’s face it, just about everything has the price jacked up to moderately insane levels. The consequence of this is frequent sales (Kre-O have been on sale Buy One Get One 50% Off since day 1) and even the occasional clearance (and then an additional amount off clearance prices). If it isn’t on sale or on clearance, I’m not interested (unless it’s an exclusive, but even then I’ll probably wait for the price to come down).

Wal-Mart: “I hope I don’t find anything to buy here.” Wal-Mart is just a terrible store if you don’t like waiting in line. No matter how many registers they have, no more than half of them are operational at any given time, and the number that are staffed (using the term loosely, cashiers tend to wander off with their lane open) is often inversely proportional to the number of people trying to check out. And then there’s the glacial return line…

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