Like many contemporary collectors, the action figures that got me into this glorious hobby were the late-90’s McFarlane Toys offerings: Movie Maniacs, Sleepy Hollow, Austin Powers and everything in-between. With the combination of amazing sculpting and detailed paint, Todd McFarlane’s company had upped the game for everyone. But for me, the best thing McFarlane Toys offered was the chance to have my own miniature world of characters I knew and loved, in my own little universe, doing whatever I want.
Along with sculpt, paint and (occasionally) articulation, the other thing that McFarlane upped was the scale of their action figures. In the 1980s and ’90s the vast majority of action figures were either the 3¾”-5″ tall. McFarlane Toys bumped the scale up to 6″, with its appealing proportion of one real-world foot=one toy inch, separating themselves from products aimed at children while allowing for more realistic sculpting.
Long before Ronny Yu could match the pair I could have my very own Freddy vs. Jason melee battle. Michael Myers and the Headless Horseman could hang with Marv from Sin City, while the Fembot looked on. Leatherface could carve up Austin Powers, and so on so on. With McFarlane starting the trend, other companies followed suit, and the market flourished. When McFarlane lost interest in articulated pop culture properties to focus on sports statues, NECA picked up the pieces and launched their own Cult Classics and Player Select lines to cover movies and video games. What McFarlane started was phenomenal for collectors, leading into a golden age for action figures that still thrives.
NECA has moved that scale up to about 7″, while Mattel’s DCUC and MOTUC lines hover around 6″ and 7″, respectively. Then there’s the high end market, the 12″ figures designed by the likes of Sideshow and Hot Toys, often featuring rooted hair and clothe clothing instead of the smaller-scale sculpted alternatives. Design and scale aside, the major thing separating the 6-7″ scale from the 12″ scale is the price – whereas the average 6-7″ action figure is about $15, the 12″ figures are in the hundreds.
Most collectors have a preference for scale, and I’m no different: in my own personal universe where I am God, I like having most all of my figures in the 6-7″ scale, so I can have all those characters I love together, approximately in scale with each other to take part in various hijinks. For me, 1/12 scale is the sweet spot: 6″ figures can feature exceptionally accurate sculpting as well as having lots of articulation and playability whilst being affordable enough not to break the bank.
(Scale comparison pic by Newton Gimmick)
Until recently, I’d never been a fan of 3¾” action figures. I always found 3¾” toys lacking in both sculpting and articulation–prior to the Hasbro Star Wars lines of the past decade. A few notable exceptions aside, the vast majority of 3¾” action figures look nothing like the characters they’re supposed to be, especially human characters; it’s only been recently that better sculpters have applied their skills to make Han Solo look like Han Solo, and even then your mileage may vary.
Throw in the ever-growing prices – often equal to the price of a much bigger much better 6″ figure – and there’s no competition. The lack of 1/12″ Star Wars toys frustrated me to no end, and I swore upon Lucas’s grave I would never buy one of his tiny overpriced toys.
That is, until Hasbro came along with their “scale” Millenium Falcon to make me eat my hat.
When I saw the ludicrous table-sized monster in the flesh I knew it had to be mine. Although I’m dubious about the Falcon being 100% scale-accurate, the sheer size and joy of having, holding and playing with the massive thing, moving Chewie around inside it, it’s just wonderful. From there, I had to have a Luke, Obi-Wan, R2D2 and gay robot to hang out inside it. Later, I encountered the poorly-received 3¾” scale Star Trek toys from the JJ Abrams reboot,* marked down to a $1. And I found myself with the crew of the Enterprise bumming around in the Millenium Falcon. As I had Captain James T. Kirk punch Han Solo in the face in his own spacecraft, I could feel nerds the world over suddenly raising their heads and crying in unison. They did not know why they were crying. But they were.
After that, I found the Hunter-Killer on sale from the awful Terminator Salvation. Screw the crappy film, a Hunter-Killer is awesome. Next, the Star Trek bridge for pennies, so the crew could hang out when they weren’t wrecking the time-space continuum beating up characters from another franchise – at least not while I had my DC Infinite Universe Batman ($1.50 on sale) doing the deed! And then I had to get Jabba’s Rancor, the amazing gigantic Target exclusive. And the Lars Homestead Diorama. And the hilarious vagina dentata Rancor Pit. Yes, I was addicted.
I was addicted to 3¾” scale.
And for good reason, I realized: there are definite benefits to the smaller scale. The fact that the toys are nearly half the size of 1/12 scale toys means that in addition to the characters themselves, there is the opportunity for larger dioramas and sets that don’t take up entire bookshelves or leave you with an enormous debt. So, while I might still cry late at night about the lack of 1/12 Star Wars toys, I still rest comfortably in the skin of my enemies knowing I own my own portion of the Star Wars world – one where Batman can sucker-punch Luke Skywalker in his whiny face after dispatching his family at the homestead.
There are also a select group of action figures that frustratingly fall just outside of both the 6-7″ scale and the 3¾” scale, including McFarlane Toys otherwise-superb Halo action figures, and the recent Doctor Who figures by Character Options. If you’re as anal as I am, you might find it hard to wrap your head around owning these, despite their great sculpting and articulation, simply because they don’t fit in with your other toys (or barely, anyway). But, if you’re like me, you might also get the chance to buy them dirt cheap by the caseload, and thus get them anyway.
Whatever scale you collect, embrace it. Delight in the fact that you can own well-sculpted, lovingly-detailed plastic versions of the characters you love, and have them in your own house, like a captive hitchhiker forced to do your bidding. This is a great hobby to have. Or, at least better than dropping tons of money on crack cocaine.
* Collectors were broadly disappointed with these figures, and mostly because of the sculpting, but are they that much worse than the majority of Hasbro’s Star Wars figures? Really? Let’s be honest with ourselves here.