Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Collector Problems

I seem to be becoming a bit of a toy snob.

I like to think of myself as a guy that can appreciate all things. An Everyman that can find a perspective from which to admire any kind of toys. From gimmicky kid-oriented stuff to insanely expensive Hot Toys to the simplest Imaginext action figures and playsets. I feel like there’s a toy for everyone and that standards and expectations – what people want out of a toy or action figure – are rightfully different from person to person.

Some people value realistic sculpting over articulation. Some need tons of accessories and customization options. Some collectors don’t care what a figure looks like as long as it has 68 points of articulation. Some people just want assurance that all of their favorite characters will be represented, no matter the aesthetic. Some folks require vehicles and playsets for their collection to feel complete (to them I say – buy Imaginext – it’s the most comprehensive and easy to collect toy line out there).

My toy and action figure preferences have changed over time, in part guided by what the industry offered.

My first action figures had fourteen points of articulation and fabric costumes. Mego’s World’s Greatest Superheroes remains one of the all-time best toy lines not only because of those features but because of the overwhelming number of characters that Mego was able to license.

I don’t remember the transition from World’s Greatest Superheroes to star Wars. I know that there was some overlap because I have memories of playing with Mego Batman and whatnot, but I was only three or four when I got my first star Wars toys. If I had been older, the change from the wonderful Mego format to the much simpler and smaller Kenner figures might have bothered me. But I’m sure I was dazzled by the amazing range of vehicles from Star Wars. Having action figures is one thing, but having dynamic spaceships to put them in that made would light up and make buzzing noises was amazing.

To this day I feel that vehicles are an essential part of a Star Wars line. Without them, there’s not much point unless you’re just picking up a random character here and there. But if you’re collecting they’re mandatory.

I suppose I should take a break here to define what I think of as a collector. To me, a collector is anyone that gets caught up in buying a certain (needless) thing. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re a completist, it just means that a person finds a certain thing that they dig and feel compelled to spend money on to obtain more of. This can be records, toys, books, movies, whatever. But obviously there are different levels of collector.

Some people are very disciplined and stick to exactly one thing, like my pal Beau with Masters of the Universe. I admire that a lot.

Some people collect many different kinds of things devoted to a single character, like Brad Ladner.

Some people collect one type of thing like records or books, but vary far and wide as to what they purchase within that format.

And then there are people like me, who just love collecting things.

Without getting too deep into self-analysis, I think at least part of my enjoyment of collecting comes from having somewhat easily obtainable goals. My upbringing clashed very directly with my desires and beliefs, so I spent years with zero plans and no goals for the future. Except for toy goals. I hear a thing is coming out and I put whatever amount of effort it takes into tracking it down and I fool my brain into believing I’ve accomplished something.

A such, I have amassed a very diverse collection of toys and action figures because over the years my tastes have evolved along with the marketplace. Because I always want to have toy goals. Also, I am what’s called a “cherry picker” I don’t buy every figure from a line unless I have to in order to buy any figures (see Classics, Masters of the Universe). I only stick to characters and toys that I like. I feel no obligation to “keep a line going”. If they’re not making enough of what I want to get my money, the line doesn’t deserve my full support.
Unfortunately, the height of mass market collecting has come and gone. Due to the rising costs of labor in China and of petroleum, toy aisles are no packed with products that do not appeal to me as a collector. I’m not dismissing their value as toys because the current generation of kids – my son included – like what’s available for them just fine and will likely never know much different. There’s some great product out there; it just doesn’t appeal to me.

Gone are the days of a huge variety of different licenses and properties. We’re down to Mattel, Hasbro, and Playmates (who are only included here because of the MASSIVE resurgence of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, their sole viable property) and whatever smaller companies can manage to cram a few things in between the giants. NECA, Mezco, and Funko all do well, but none of them have penetrated the big retailers in the way that Mattel and Hasbro have. Not do they have the same kind of brand recognition.
We’re also in a much faster product cycle. We get new tentpole movies seemingly every couple of months, which means that toy lines get stale quick. Especially specific waves. Think about the figures you think of as peg warmers right now. They haven’t even been out a year, have they? Most probably haven’t been in stores for six months (except Constable Zuvio).

I seem to have gotten off on a bit of a tangent. Let me refocus.

My point there is that they days of affordable toys that appeal to me being widely available are gone. Aside from NECA’s display at Toys R Us, the only things left for me in stores are Marvel Legends.

Side Note: I am officially done with Mattel’s DC figures.

So let’s talk about Marvel Legends and why I feel like a toy snob.

I haven’t been happy with Hasbro’s 6” Marvel Legends since they hit $14.99 (and now the smaller ones are almost there). I know this makes me an idiot for continuing to buy them, but every time I think I’m ready to quit, they offer something I “have” to have, even though I don’t feel the figures come close to providing a good value. The current twenty dollars per figure is outrageous.

To give you an idea of how they keep reeling me back in, here are the past few years of events:

I stopped in 2008 when the Fin Fang Foom series were released at fifteen bucks apiece. I didn’t care enough about Hulk and fifteen dollars was simply ridiculous for these figures that had been seven bucks just a few years prior.

I bought a couple of figures on clearance at Walmart in 2009, but the line was essentially done at that point. As far as we knew, Hasbro had called it quits. I was, quite frankly, relieved. It meant I wouldn’t be tempted by the overpriced figures anymore. Sure, there were characters that were sorely missed from my shelves, but if that was the end, I was fine with it.

In 2012 Marvel Legends returned. I feel like the price point was still fifteen, but after four years the toy aisles had changed and that didn’t seem as outrageous. Still too much, but not, “I’m quitting this line” too much. I ended up buying every figure that year because there were some I wanted and some that ended up on clearance. And I had to build that Arnim Zola.

If you don’t know, Marvel Legends have a gimmick called build-a-figures. Each character in a wave will come with a part of a figure so that you have to buy the entire wave to have the build-a-figure. This is why I have spent money on characters I don’t care about like Baron Zemo, Falcon, Maestro, Klaw, Daken, Sentry, Blizzard, Thundra, Valkyrie, and older figures that I might like now but bought out of necessity back then.

I bought a couple of figures in 2013 because they were on clearance and I happened to be able to put together the Rocket Raccoon build-a-figure easily. But in 2014, they got me back.

They released movie versions of Cap, Winter Soldier, and Black Widow. The rest of the wave was comic characters that I obviously was familiar with but cared less about, but I already was going to have half of the Mandroid build-a-figure, so I might as well get them. And that’s basically how things have gone since then, give or take a build-a-figure that I “had” to have.

Despite the ridiculous amount of money that I’ve spent on Marvel Legends, I am not totally satisfied with them. The proliferation of shared parts is too high. The paint is shoddy. The plastic Hasbro is using is cheap. Some of the joints don’t work very well and if they do they tend to be unsightly (not Toy Biz unsightly, but poorly aligned with hip sockets or whatnot). The scaling is terribly inconsistent. Even the proportions within a single figure aren’t always great. And they just cost too much for what they are. I don’t feel like I’m getting a good value for my money. I will give them credit for doing a fair job with accessories, though.

Side Note: While the paint and plastic quality still isn’t great, the movie figures tend to be much better than the comic book figures because they mostly have to do new sculpts for them. Hasbro has been able to reuse some sculpts lately, which isn’t good, but for the most part the MCU figure line has been very good.

At this point you’re wondering why I keep buying them. It’s because I want some of the characters they make, I like the twelfth scale format, and I already own a ton.

That last one is key. As long as I still have something, it is very hard for me to call it quits. On the same note, once I have bought something – broken the seal, as it were – chances are very good I am going to buy more.

All of my dissatisfaction with Marvel Legends (and Mattel’s 6” DC figures) came to a head when I bought my first One:12 Collective figure from Mezco.

As I said in my review it is the best action figure I have ever bought. It was expensive, but I felt like I absolutely got my money’s worth, a feeling that Marvel Legends hasn’t given me in years. As a matter of fact, I always felt just a little bit of shame for buying something I knew was sub-par. Knowing that NECA was producing vastly superior figures for a lower price made it worse, but once I experienced the immense satisfaction that came from that Mezco Batman I started to really have problems with buying more Legends.

I’m feeling a hunger for these Mezco figures like I haven’t felt since the days of McFarlane’s Movie Maniacs. I see them and I cannot wait to get the next one. Characters I love are filling me with crazy anticipation and even the characters that I don’t care as much about are exciting because the designs are so amazing. Unless Mezco makes a character I absolutely hate – and they haven’t shown one yet – I want every single one of these.

The point that I’ve gotten to now is that I look at every toy or figure I buy and think, “Would I rather have this or put the money towards a One:12 figure?” and I’ve been putting a lot of toys back.

As an example, the new Civil War wave of Marvel Legends is hitting. The build-a-figure is a movie version of ***SPOILER***, which is a character that I was really hoping for. But the scale is off, so there’s already a mark against that one. The figures in the wave are movie versions of Cap, Iron Man, and Black Panther with comic versions of Nick Fury, Nuke, and Red Guardian. Black Panther is a must-have. A year ago I would’ve bought Cap and Iron Man, but now I wonder if I need slightly different versions of those characters more than I want half of what that One:12 Shazam is going to cost. I wouldn’t mind having Nuke, but the money I’d spend on him would get me closer to Shazam. And I’d rather have a perfect Shazam than an okay Nuke.

As for the rest of the wave, given that ***SPOILER*** is so underwhelming I don’t need them. I don’t even know or care who Red Guardian is. If I’d bought this whole wave for ***SPOILER***, I’d still feel stupid for buying that one.

My Marvel Legends shame got so bad recently that I was a frog’s hair away from selling the whole lot of them. I put together a list of what I have and had started pricing everything. But when I got home and looked at them I realized that, even as unsatisfying as some of them are, we’ll never get better versions of many of those characters in this style. The supply of Spider-Man, Captain America, and Iron Man figures is never going to end, but I will never, ever see a Forge better than my Marvel Legends Forge.

And that made me realize that I was being way too hard on them. The current figures are certainly overpriced. Way overpriced. But I’ve got a long history with this toy line and it’s brought me a lot of joy over the years. As ugly as some of those Toy Biz sculpts are, they’re the best versions of those characters I’m likely to get. So while I’m cutting back – way back – on my Legends buying, I’m happy to keep what I have on my shelves. I’m just going to give it a lot of thought before I buy any more.

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