I’ve had a theory for a while that modern adult action figure collectors of a certain age (i.e., the ones currently driving the market, between the ages of 30-50 mostly) have gone through a number of fads. I’m calling them…the Buzzlords.*
While there have been plenty of popular action figure lines throughout the years, these are the lines that seem to dominate an era.** Here’s what I see as the most important traits of these lines:
- The line appeals to fans of the property who perhaps aren’t toy collectors
- The line appeals to adults who were fans of the property as children
- The line draws in collectors who weren’t fans of the property at all
- At some point, the line becomes hot enough that the scalpers come in and start trying to make a quick buck.
- There are multiple instances of collectors going nuts trying to find or preorder particular figures, especially variants and exclusives (the monthly Top Ten lists in ToyFare were particularly instructive for this)
- And finally, and I’m sure most controversially, the lines have a certain “buzz” around them among collectors – they’re the line everyone is familiar with, the one you see at every booth at comic conventions, the one that gets the occasional mainstream news article written about it.
So, using these criteria, here is my list of the Buzzlords since the modern collecting era. The years are obviously a rough approximation, as lines waxed and waned and some overlapped in their popularity, and many of these lines kept going long after their initial burst of mega-popularity (such as Marvel Legends).
- 1994-1995 Spawn (McFarlane Toys)
- 1995-1997 Star Wars: Power of the Force 2 (Hasbro)
- 1997-2000 Movie Maniacs (McFarlane Toys)
- 2000-2002 The Simpsons: World of Springfield (Playmates)
- 2002-2006 Marvel Legends (ToyBiz)
- 2006-2010 DC Universe Classics (Mattel)
- 2010-2015 Masters of the Universe Classics (Mattel)
- 2015-2020 Star Wars Black (Hasbro)
- 2020-? G.I. Joe Classified (Hasbro)
Honorable Mentions: Masters of the Universe 200X (Mattel), G.I. Joe 25th Anniversary (Hasbro), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NECA)
But this is just my list. Perhaps it’s biased, or perhaps I’m just way off-base with this theory in general. I’d love to hear your thoughts! (No, really, I would! That’s not just comment-baiting. I mean it is, but it’s not just that.)
*Why the Buzzlords, you ask? Why not, say, the Zeitgeist Lines? 1.) I don’t think there’s anything about these lines that particularly embodies the spirit of their age (except maybe Movie Maniacs). 2.) “Buzzlord” is more fun and memorable than “zeitgeist” – and potentially marketable if the idea takes off. 3.) It kind of sounds like a forgotten Sectaurs character.
**I’m going to exclude sports-themed lines like Starting Lineup and McFarlane Sports. I mean no offense, but the collectors of those lines seem somewhat different from the sort of collector who would visit PGPoA. Their love of the lines comes as much from their love of the sports and their favorite teams and players as it does the toys themselves (which tend to be more like statues than action figures). That said, there’s no question those lines were very popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s. You might think I’m being unfair, and if so, click here for a rebuttal on my behalf from an expert witness.
Since putting this website on hiatus six(!) years ago, the big thing I’ve gotten into with my toy collecting is making dioramas. This doesn’t always mean a full-on structure like a castle or a building (though I do have and love those) – sometimes it’s more representational or abstract, like this one.
I’ve titled this diorama “Incoming.” I love to add dynamism and motion in my action figure displays, which is why I’ve amassed a large collection of effects pieces and various action figure stands (the industry has come a long way from Whippy Superpose).
While I made some of the purchases for this diorama earlier, this one began with the ATV Scarlett is driving. It’s the Suzuki Vinson 4×4 500 Quad Runner ATV Green 1/12 Diecast Motorcycle Model by New Ray, and I got it for a great price from Diecastmodelswholesale.com. It’s maybe a little small for G.I. Joe Classified, particularly the male figures, and that’s not unusual for a lot of today’s “six inch” lines – many of them, such as Marvel Legends (especially the comic ones), Mattel’s WWE, and G.I. Joe Classified – run closer to a 6.5″ scale (meaning six feet = six and a half inches). Diecast 1/12 toys tend to be a more accurate scale. That said, the ATV looks great here and wasn’t really an issue.
The ATV is intended to represent a hunter’s vehicle, so it comes with some great accessories: two 1/12 rifles, a case that can hold either rifle (which fits in a slot on the side of the vehicle itself) and a compound bow. All in all it’s a good deal for the retail price of $20 and a great deal for Diecastmodelswholesale.com’s current sale price of $13.
The next step was giving a sense of terrain. The ground under the ATV comes from the Beasts of the Mesozoic “Desert with Mononykus” accessory set. It’s hard to come by these days, but as of this writing it’s available for $50 here and here. I got it for cheaper (I think $35?) as a backer for the original Kickstarter for this toy line, and honestly I’ve probably had the accessory set on display with various dioramas more often that I’ve used it for the Velociraptor toys it was designed for.
Next I knew I wanted to have the ATV getting knocked by an explosion. The explosion comes from the Bandai Tamashii Nations Tamashii Effect Explosion Red Version. I got this for about $25 back in 2014, and finding an official one of these is fairly difficult now, although there are a lot of cheap bootlegs on eBay.
The ATV is held up in the crash position by a Tamashii Stage Act stand. There are a lot of different versions of these, and this particular one is the Act 5, which is designed for Gundam models and is a little heavier-duty than the Act 4, which is made for Figuarts figures (which tend to be a little lighter than most American 6″ action figures).
Next is Snake Eyes. For those wondering, the body of Snake Eyes is the retail version, but the head (with the silver visor) comes from the Hasbro Pulse Exclusive. The motorcycle he is riding is a Maisto Harley Davidson 2014 Sportster Iron 883. Like the ATV, it’s in a 1/12 scale and thus runs just a tad small for Snake Eyes, but it works.
The muzzle flash on his Uzi (which also comes from the Exclusive Snake Eyes) was purchased from eBay seller juicetinscustoms.
Finally there’s Duke. He’s flying the McFarlane Toys Fortnite Mako Glider Pack. It’s just a bit cartoonish compared to the aesthetic of G.I. Joe Classified, but only just, and it would fit perfectly in the old 1980s G.I. Joe cartoon. I wanted to fill the space to the left of Scarlett and offer a good contrast to the right-angle lean of Scarlett and Snake Eyes, so this worked out great. The Glider comes with its own stand, but it was way too big and cumbersome for the display, so I used a NECA Dynamic Action Figure Stand. (You can find these at Target sometimes in the NECA section.) It took a lot of fiddling to get the pose I wanted, and it’s a bit precarious.
All of it is placed inside the top shelf of the ever-popular Ikea Detolf display case.
So, I pulled from a lot of different parts of my collection to put this piece together. That’s pretty common for my dioramas, as I may showcase in later posts.
If you’re interested in more of these type of posts, let me know in the comments here or on Facebook or Twitter.
Toy companies seem to be shying away from real-life guns.
Diamond Select’s Rocketeer andWestworld figures either didn’t have guns or they were glued into their holsters (despite coming with hands with trigger fingers) and their John Wick figure has one dinky pistol (though the “Casual” version does have a shotgun).
The G.I. Joe public relations team refers to guns as “blasters” and the new Classified figures have sci-fi-style guns. Apparently the new movie Marvel Legends Deadpool comes with two removable sci-fi guns and has two real-life Desert Eagles glued into his holsters (which can be easily removed with some heat).
The only Hasbro figures that have had real-life guns recently have been online exclusives. (I’m really curious to see how the Punisher w/ motorcycle gets distributed – wouldn’t be at all surprised if he were a fan channel exclusive.)
(Hell, I even noticed the Youtube stars my kid watches, Lankybox, always refer to guns as blasters when they play Roblox.)
I assume this is a post-Parkland phenomenon; that particular mass shooting seemed to change the conversation around guns, moreso than other recent tragedies. It doesn’t appear to be a policy Hasbro or Diamond want to make a big deal out of, as they’re likely hoping to avoid a PR debacle on either side of the debate.
UPDATE: In assuming this was a Parkland-related issue, I thought the reason that exclusives could have real-life guns was because their online availability meant they were solely directed toward the adult market. However, after a user on our Facebook page pointed out that the Target exclusive Black Widow figure has fairly realistic guns, another possibility occurred to me: the international market. Gun culture overseas is not what it is in America, and I can imagine there being some complicated customs laws around representations of firearms in some countries. Why bother with it when you can just use your own patented NERF designs?
When is a gun not a gun? It reminds me a bit of the famous X-Men “nonhuman creatures” legal case.
Aside from mass shooting-related sensitivity and international customs compliance, I can think of at least two other explanations. It’s possible using real-life weapon designs require some sort of licensing from the manufacturers, which makes using original creations such as NERF designs cheaper. It’s also possible Hasbro has plans for some corporate synergy by repackaging their full-size NERF weapons under the G.I. Joe brand.
I would be very interested to hear from any industry types as to what’s going on here – feel free to email me at email@example.com if you have any insight to offer.
I purchased my very first item from eBay in 1998. The seller of that item (A First Contact Captain Picard figure, I believe) gave the following feedback: “Fast payment and a smooooth transaction!!!!”
I have used some variation of “Great item” or “Great buyer” and “& a smooooth transaction!” as feedback for almost every single eBay item I’ve bought over twenty-two years.
I came across this intriguing photo on a forum (it apparently originated at the Fwoosh, but since they recently some problems with their forums I’ve been unable locate the original post – so if this is your image, please feel free to contact me for credit/cease and desist/etc.)
Marvel Legends figures have had sci-fi-looking guns for years and no one has made much of a fuss, but many G.I. Joe fans were disappointed to see the same guns in the 6″ G.I. Joe Classified line.
One reason for this is that the 1980s Joe line was heavy on the real-life weapons, which were often listed by name right on the packaging. And the original G.I Joe of the 1960s was essentially just a U.S. soldier. On the other hand, the 1980s Joe cartoon is famous for its use of “laser guns” that never actually hurt anyone.
In any event, times have changed, and Hasbro is changing with them. Many fans have noted Hasbro’s careful use of the word “blaster” instead of “guns” in their marketing, with staff even correcting themselves during the Hasbro Pulse live presentations on Facebook. So far, only the Hasbro Pulse-exclusive Snake Eyes has included an actual real-life weapon (an Uzi submachine gun, his signature firearm from the 1980s toys and comics).
But it turns out there’s more than meets the eye (sorry, wrong brand) to the weapons these G.I. Joe Classified figures have. Many of them are apparently based directly on some of Hasbro’s NERF guns.
Now that is some corporate synergy!
And it turns out at least one Marvel Legend figure had already come with a couple of NERF guns – the Liefeld-style Cable:
In terms of the actual designs themselves, I think they look fine. But that’s not really the issue here.
The issue–for some collectors at least, particularly diehard Joe fans–is Hasbro’s move away from real-life weapons to laser guns and plasma railguns, plus the slightly Orwellian switch to “blasters” (a term that in my mind has always been associated with Star Wars).
My personal feelings on guns are a bit complicated. I find guns interesting and I often peruse the Internet Movie Firearm Database to see which specific guns are used in a given film. I love the names, reading about the history, and especially reading about which real-life weapons were used to make science fiction guns (such as the Mauser that became Han Solo’s DL-44).
But I don’t own a gun, don’t plan to own a gun, I favor strict gun control and I find the cult-like worship of guns in some quarters and the sheer number of guns in the country, to say nothing of the culture of mass shootings, to be one of the biggest societal problems in America. I don’t think this is as strange as it may initially seem; Japanese fans of anime, manga and videogames love guns, but basically no one there has one.
So here are my thoughts on what Hasbro is doing with G.I. Joe.
First off, as mentioned above, there’s already a long history of G.I. Joe (particularly the “Real American Hero” incarnation GIJC is based on) using sci-fi weaponry. Moreover, an Uzi submachine gun, while culturally iconic, is woefully out-of-date as an actual weapon, as are most of the real-life weapons used by the Joes back in the 1980s. Many modern guns, particularly the state-of-the-art ones, don’t look all that different from many of Hasbro’s NERF designs. Sure, Roadblock’s big gun is obviously some sort of railgun, but railguns are something the U.S. military has actually looked into.
It so happens I saw both the original The Fast and the Furious and last year’s Hobbes and Shaw in the theater. In the original, the characters were car enthusiasts who stole DVD players. In Hobbes and Shaw, Idris Elba was a cyborg with a transforming motorcycle. I feel like the current state of the Fast and the Furious franchise is a good model for what the modern G.I. Joe could be, but we’ll see where they go with it in Snake Eyes.
And then there’s the Winter Soldier’s modified FN Mk 13 that fires magnetic exploding discs.
So here’s what I think: I think the sci-fi/NERF guns are fine for retail, but for the sake of nostalgic fans, Hasbro should continue to try to find ways to create Web-exclusive versions that contain the classic weapons.
I also think Hasbro should just call them guns, because the blasters thing seems silly. People understand that G.I. Joe is a military/paramilitary organization and that guns are part of that.
Last fall, I visited the Boston Museum of Science. One of my favorite exhibits they have there is this little glass display filled with the odd collections of Massachusetts residents. There are porcelain dogs, dolls, Hot Wheels cars, coins, you name it.
I took down the contact info for the display and sent them an email asking if they’d be interested in displaying some of my Godzilla toys. I got an almost immediate response and within a few weeks, my Godzillas were being viewed by thousands of visitors every month.
I posted this on a local Facebook group for my town and the local town magazine got wind of it and decided to profile me. To my surprise, the interview went fairly in-depth, giving a good look at this one particular corner of my collector madness.
You can read the article here. If you’re reading this post sometime after summer 2020, then congratulations! The world didn’t end. But what I was going to say is you’ll have to click on “Editions” to find the May 2020 issue to read the article.