I couldn’t have been stoked to see Marvel’s The Avengers. I might not be the biggest fan of the comics, but I’m a geek for anything to do with superheroes. Plus it was a Joss Whedon movie and he’s no stranger to comics. He wrote the Astonishing X-Men stories in the Astonishing X-Men Ombibus, which are some of my favorite. He was also the one responsible for bringing Firefly to life. Have you seen Serenity? Mal Reynolds would kick Tony Stark’s ass and steal a Quinjet to sell to the Alliance.
The release of the movie was preceded by the release of an Avenger toy line in the Philippines, featuring movie, comic, and “concept” designs of the characters. It was supposed to have different versions for every conceivable market niche: 4”, 6”, 8”, and 12” figures, vehicles, play sets, and role play toys.
The problem is, most of them that were released to retail locally, suck.
Aside from the Wal-Mart exclusive 6” collector’s figures (which were released only in small quantities locally and at very high prices), the various figures that we found on shelves were universally sub-par. The only line that seemed remotely geared towards collectors was the 4” line. For the most part, this included re-tooled, re-colored figures from the Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America toy series. Need another Mark VI that’s been painted blue? Here you go. What about a USAgent in a flak jacket. No problem. Hasbro has recycled heavily with this batch of toys.
Quality control is still as crappy as it was with the other lines, so paint is a real issue with these. Some are also packed with more of the oversized rocket launchers that have been included in most Hasbro 4” product since the GI Joe: Rise of Cobra line. These may have or may have not been ganked from the previous lines, but it hardly matters. They’re still just as useless as they always were.
There are a few new figures. There’s a comic series Hawkeye, in the costume the character had on an alternate Earth. It’s a short-packed figure, so it disappeared pretty quickly from shelves. Ok with me since I’m not a fan of the design of either the costume or the toy. The Hulk character seems to have been given the most attention (since he’s gone the longest without his own line). None of the previous figures have been reused here, probably because Mark Ruffalo’s look is entirely different from either Eric Bana’s or Ed Norton’s. . Sadly, all of the new Hulk figures are abysmally, horrendously, ugly. There is not a word strong enough to describe my hate for them.
Maybe “repugappalltesquestrously” would work…
The ONLY figure that I even bothered to pick up in the entire line was the Battle Hammer Thor (not to be mistaken with last year’s Thor: The Mighty Avenger’s Battle Hammer Thor) because it’s a version of Thor that I still don’t have in 4” form: his look in the “Ultimate” universe.
What I know of Ultimate Thor comes mainly from Wikipedia. I really just picked this up because I’ve got most of the Mighty Avenger line and many of the Marvel Universe Thor figures. Having a Thor in another costume feels nice and you don’t get as many chances as you do with Iron Man or Spider-Man.
At first blush, the Avengers Battle Hammer Thor (from here on out referred to as “Ultimate Thor”) is a good looking figure which closely resembles the comic model. It’s less awesome than the classic Marvel Thor look however: superheroes need capes. The sculpting looks top notch, and not having been tied down to an existing actor’s face, Thor’s mug looks appropriately Nordic and downright ornery. His beak of a nose seems to mirror the blade on his axe/hammer thing. The rest of him looks pretty cut, too. The muscles are appropriately muscle-y and he’s got some rather fine proportions. The figure looks perfect standing up, looking down his schnozzle at his enemy.
But that’s where the snow turns yellow.
To paraphrase Joey Tribbiani, If there were an Olympic Standing There team, this guy would win the gold, but it’s an action figure without any action in it.
About a decade ago, McFarlane Toys and their contemporaries started making toys for big kids, creating great looking statues that were more realistic than anything you could find back then. Toy collectors started realizing the possibilities as toy manufacturers cashed in on a burgeoning collector market. Then Toybiz’ Marvel Legends line showed that articulation was what collectors wanted more of. We started seeing toys that you could be proud to display, but ones that you could play with, too.
After a few years, though, we hit a ceiling. The economy tanked and the focus of most kids shifted to video games and the Internet. Toys became a luxury most people could do without. Dropping sales meant dropping orders, and Hasbro (which now held the Marvel license) could no longer sustain the same huge product runs. That meant fewer toys and higher prices.
It also meant a de-evolution of the once vaunted super-articulation. Manufacturers reverted to the bare minimum of joints on their figures since figures with fewer joints didn’t need as many molds. We saw more and more sub-lines, especially those geared for younger audiences, going back to the bad days of basic 5-points. Even Hasbro started fielding Spider-Man, Captain America, and Iron Man figures that could only move at shoulders, hips, and neck.
The Avengers movie line is a result of that downgrading. In order to save money, Hasbro has manufactured toys with far fewer points of articulation than any collectors’ line before it. Ultimate Thor has a balljointed head, swivel-hinge shoulders, swivel-hinge elbows, double swivel-hinge hips, and swivel-hinge knees. That’s it: a measly 7 points of articulation.
If that doesn’t bother you, look at it this way: in order to pose him in any usefully realistic pose, you will need ankle joints (preferably the ones they’ve added to the newer Marvel Universe figures like Cyclops), wrist swivels, and a waist joint. Without these essential joints, the figure can’t be made to stand on its own without some kind of aid (and these figures don’t come with the figure stands which used to be standard). Even if you were to get him to balance, he’d still look completely awkward due to his lack of that waist joint.
You might ask why this bothers me when I collect the Star Wars: Clone Wars line, which also features a lot of figures with fewer points of articulation. I’d answer that yes, some do have fewer joints, but many are coming out with better articulation, like Mace Windu or the Mandalorian Warriors. Plus, fans of Star Wars toys have always been familiar with the basic 5-point structure, having bought them since the 70’s. Marvel toy fans, however, are more recent and are somewhat spoiled. Just like GI Joe fans, we’ve discovered the beauty of the super-articulated figure. This regression is like a slap in the face.
In addition, Star Wars figures come with stands that greatly improve their play value. Having something to help with balance and allow you to place the figure in an action pose, makes the simpler articulation less of an issue.
Star Wars figures also come with a variety of accessories. Sometimes it’s just the Jedis’ lightsabers, but these are usually nicely detailed pieces made of sturdy materials with a few paint applications. Battle Hammer Thor doesn’t even get that much.
He does come with the figure’s action feature throwaway accessory: some kind of red and gold staff that “converts” to a hammer (that really looks like an axe). It feels vaguely oriental and not at all in keeping with the aesthetic of the figure itself. He also comes with the Ultimate universe’s version of Mjölnir, Thor’s hammer. Only it also looks like an axe. But that’s how it looks like in the book, so I guess it’s alright.
The real problem with Mjölnir is that it’s made of a much softer plastic than either the figure or the red and gold staff. The haft is very thin and doesn’t have any support: it’s prone to bending. To make matters worse, the figure is packed with the hammer/axe in hand, so you’re going to be disappointed to find that all the figures you come across will have warped hammers in them. I easily went through 20 examples and the best one I could find is one that still had a noticeable limp lean to it.
He also doesn’t hold it very well. His fists aren’t tooled to grip the haft of Mjölnir fully, so it tends to swing down. Since the axe blade is far heavier than the hammer head, the ONLY way that you can display him is standing straight, with the axe blade ready for action. It’s very boring.
Would I still buy this knowing what I know now? Probably not.
It’s not so much the missing articulation. I’ve got a few toys with less (The Thor: Mighty Avenger Destroyer comes to mind). It’s the missed opportunity to have a great figure that bothers me. The design work is all there, the sculpting is gorgeous, the spots for the extra joints are obvious. But Hasbro decided that this figure wasn’t worth that extra few cents that it would have cost to make it a great toy and that pisses me off.