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Costume Contumely – The Devolution of Action Figures or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Marvel Universe Figures

Saluton, Fwoosh.

Before I get to my latest editoral, I’d like to share this picture with you. Now, I’m not much of a “custom figure” fan myself. I feel like if it’s not factory made, it’s not really a canon figure. That said, when Feralwolf sent me this pic of his custom Dan Garret in response to my last column I admit I was impressed.

Blue Beetle by Feralwolf

There’s some great detail in there, and I think he really nailed it. It cannot have been to decide between yellow and red for the costume details. I think he chose wisely with yellow, making it disticntly a Fox Features version of The Beetle. So dankon for sharing, Feralwolf! See-there’s one guy who gets it.

Now on with the article.

Over the last year, there has been great debate over Hasbro’s approach to Marvel action figures.  The Marvel Universe 3 ¾” line has become the flagship while the grand old Marvel Legends line has been relegated to an afterthought.  Most of you probably thought I had no opinion on the matter.  “Old Cliff,” you thought, “he’s a DC guy. He doesn’t care about Marvel stuff.”  Negative, Gold Leader.

It should be noted that I was/am a major critic of the Marvel Legends line.  Despite the Nerdosphere’s collective love affair with Jesse Falcon (wipe off your chin Mr. Silverback), that line had some serious problems.  But however over-rated Marvel Legends were, there’s still plenty to knock about Marvel Universe.  “But Cliff,” I hear you say, “they’re great for what they are.”  Really?  Well so are Osama Bin Laden, Aluminum Christmas trees, Ghost Hunters, and Detroit.  “Great for what they are” is a left-handed compliment at best.

Still- let’s examine what these “are”.  First off, let’s stop calling them 3 ¾” figures.  They are closer to 4” figures.  By my measurements, they are 4 3/16”.  So that’s how I will refer to them.  I have nothing against this smaller scale per se.  My problem is that they represent a step backwards in the evolution of the action figure.  Ever since the vintage Star Wars line, boys’ action figures have gotten finer sculpting and more articulation, culminating in the six inch, highly articulated figures that we are familiar with today.  The Marvel Universe line represents a step backward.  It’s nothing less than the devolution of action figures.  I mean, I love Mike Sekowsky but can you imagine the revolt among comic readers if artists started drawing like him today?  Or if we abandoned computer coloring?  So why should we walk back our action figures?


What are the two things figure collectors clamor for today?  Beautiful sculpts and insane amounts of articulation.  Often these two qualities are at odds, and there is an ongoing rift between collectors that value one over the other.  But whether you prefer form or function, the 4 3/16” size caters to neither. At this size BOTH sculpt and articulation are sacrificed.  Oh sure, they try and split the difference with a balance of decent sculpts and pretty good articulation.  But they still can’t achieve the poseablility of say, 18″ Movie Spidey or the sculpt of a Tim Bruckner Joker.

Secret Wars

So what is the attraction?  If you ask a Hasbro rep, they might tell you it’s about character selection.  At this size and price point they can put out a larger number of new characters more quickly, allowing fans to build their “universes” more quickly and completely.  I have to take issue with that.  It’s true that in the first year we’re seeing such fan demanded, never before seen figures such as Sunfire, Ultron, The Enchantress, Firestar, Klaw, The Wrecking Crew, Thunderbird, Modern versions of Luke Cage and Iron Fist, Classic Ms. Marvel, Jim Lee era Jean Grey, and three versions of James Barnes (as Bucky, Winter Soldier, and Captain America).   However, where are the other 3000+ characters that we’ve all been demanding for years?  At a rate of less than two fan demanded characters a month, Hasbro hardly seems serious about building a “universe”.

There is a fanboy that I see a lot at my local comic shop.  His name is Eric.  Eric loves the Marvel Universe line.  He told me that he just thinks they are fun toys, that the lower price point makes him feel more relaxed about collecting them and that the scale was easier for him to both display and store.  So, basically he was making an argument for how convenient they are.  Seriously?  That’s how we’re going to evaluate superhero toys now; how “easy” they are to collect?  And how much “fun” they are?  I’m sorry but I have no time for people that want to half ass toy collecting.  If you’re not willing to make the sacrifices necessary to collect toys properly, then in my opinion, you don’t derserve to collect toys.  I’m sorry, I really am but that’s how I feel and nobody is going to make me say otherwise.  That sort of collecting disrespects the properties themselves.  If you want to gripe about figures aimed at kids, like scuba Spidey, then you can’t turn around and say, “I bought this because it’s fun to play with”.  That’s a double standard I can’t abide.  Collect with respect or get the F outta the way.


I’ve heard other fans of the MU line say that they love the 4 3/16” scale because that’s the size of action figures that they’ve been collecting for many years with Star Wars, G.I. Joe, etc.  So you’re telling me that because you want Hawkeye to fly the Millennium Falcon or Deadpool to make out with Lady Jaye, real collectors like myself must be subjected to substandard, reduced size super heroes?  I need hardly say how utterly selfish that type of thinking is.

At the end of our conversation Eric said to me, “Cliff, what do you care?  If they make people happy, then great.  You don’t have to buy them.”

You don’t have to buy them.

How many times have I read that on message forums throughout the internet?  It’s a red herring, people.  Think about it.  What happens if we don’t buy comic book action figures?  They won’t get made, is what.  Toy companies have our nuts in a vice and they know it.  They know we’re forced to buy whatever they put out.  But I’m not going to sit here and be all Kum-bay-fracking-yah about what they’re forcing down my throat.  I’ll buy them, but I won’t buy them without a fight.

Iron Men

So here I sit.  One year into this fiasc-bro with about 60 new Marvel figures that I can’t use or display with any other toys I own.  I’m basically left to use and display them with each other as if they were their own collection, completely apart from Legends or anything else.  Which means in the end, I’m forced to look on these 4 3/16″ figures not as substandard Legends, but as an entirely new line of Marvel action figures.  Taken in that light, I suppose they’re not all that much worse than every other Marvel figure line that has existed.  They’ve all had grave faults.  But it sure would be nice if the powers-that-be could stop trying to move forward with new toys and start looking back to their old toys for inspiration.  Is that so much to ask?

Until next time,

(If the Turtle van’s a rockin’, don’t come a knockin’)

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25 thoughts on “Costume Contumely – The Devolution of Action Figures or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Marvel Universe Figures

  1. Over at CBR’s Comics Should Be Good blog we’re trying to decide if you guys are doing satire or not. Either way, you’re providing epic lolz for us.

  2. Is this for real?

    Are you seriously suggesting that it’s wrong to collect action figures unless you take it totally seriously and have no fun with it at all?

    Are you really so addicted to your lifestyle of treating children’s toys like an investment portfolio that you’ll buy figures you don’t like or want just because buying figures is what you do, but it’s okay because you can fight the power by complaining in your blog when you get home?

    Do you even begin to realize how insane you sound?

  3. In the words of Adrian Cronauer: You are in more dire need of a blowjob than any man in history.

  4. Instead of buying the Marvel Universe figures here are a few suggestions of things you can do.

    1. learn another language…other cultures should be able to be tortured by you entitled ranting..

    2. Get a date…both male and female reproductive organs come in different sizes as well. You can pick and choice to your heart’s consent. It is a worthy endeavor and will help you relax a bit so you don’t rant and rave and folks that just kinda think it’s cool to have a GI Joe size Union Jack.

    3. read a book. Again they come in different sizes and I would like to hear you attack folks that like paper back editions over hardcovers.

    4. Meditate…why anyone that collects something different than you should drive you to distraction shows you have to clear your mind and get over yourself.

  5. WOW.

    For a moment I thought I was reading an Op/Ed piece in The Onion.

    You truly are one of America’s new great satirists!

  6. You tell ’em! They just are not serious about collecting. They don’t deserve to buy these toys. And they are very selfish wanting stuff in their prefered smaller scale. Unlike us, the better people that are completely not selfish for wanting things in our favorite scale. Because we have the force of good behind us!

    Seriously though, knowing you are out there scares me a bit, knowing that some day when my child wants a toy he sees in a toy store he may have to deal with a real-life troll who just might attack him because he doesn’t realize the significance of a toy, a plaything made for children. You sir, are a monster.

  7. “If you’re not willing to make the sacrifices necessary to collect toys properly, then in my opinion, you don’t derserve to collect toys.”

    Mister, you need help. Counseling. Badly.


    This is mentally unbalanced.

  8. I’m not sure if you’re one the Dooshbaggy Board pigs, or one of the Critical Wuss Board pigs, but why don’t you get your fat a$$ back there where you can whine for no reason under the auspices of your cowardly drunk “leader”? Come back when someone has beaten you into some semblance of manhood, you laughingstock.

  9. Did this guy seriously tell us how to collect? Wow, man. Love the site, but wow. Who are you to tell me that because I like a certain scale/figure, I am a half-@$$ collector. I buy what I like. Let’s be 100% honest, here. We are all REAL BIG geeks. Let’s stick together, not segregate. Power in numbers. 😛

  10. I can understand the majority of the complaints, which are not simply limited to MU/ML fans, but also fans of Transformers, Lego, etc. I do, however, wish to point out the common denominator of all of these complaints, though, which stems from a complete lack of basic economic knowledge.

    In the year 2006, there was a massive supply shock to hydrocarbon production. You might know this as crude oil. Hurricane Katrina decided it didn’t much like the Gulf of Mexico, and thus wiped out somewhere in the vicinity of 90% of the US refinery system.

    “But 3! That was in 2006 and toys were still cheap until 2008!”

    True, but its a necessary rule of economics that large changes are never instantaneous following large economic shocks. And it definitely doesn’t help that in late 2008 the global economy decided to turn itself inside out.

    Smaller toys for more money is a necessary sacrifice in the face of such economic shocks. You may assume the toy companies are making off like bandits with your hard-earned money, but within the last two years, almost every single major manufacturer has had to cut costs by shutting down factories and laying off workers. There must eventually come a point where those costs must be passed on to the consumer. It’s simply the nature of the beast.

  11. That’s a pretty sweet article, Mr. Francis. First I’ve read from you. It was sweet enough for me to read your other articles too. I like your style, kid. You got spunk. However, your research on real-people leaves something to be desired. I was never all that into Falcon and his flock of followers. It’s no secret I hold ML figures sacred, but Falcon? Hardly.
    The funniest thing about your comment above, is when, back in the day (around the time Long Road called him a dick?), I actually asked that Falcon fellow what country my Marvel Legends were in. That punkass responded, “In Blowjobistan”.
    I made it clear under no uncertain terms that no matter how badly I desired my Legends, fellatio was (and is) out of the question.
    I also swore that day that if ever he and I ever met face-to-face, I would engage him in a battle-to-the-death with weapons of his choosing.

  12. I have to agree with you. I’m not a fan of DC characters other than Superman & Batman along with a very few of their enemies, but I have to give them credit that they know how to work an action figure line. The DC figures are great and it makes me sick that we Marvel fans get this crap. I bought the first few MU figures and when I got home and opened them I immediately asked my son if he wanted them. He eagerly said yes and after about 5 minutes he was complaining about them. Paint apps suck. Sculpting sucks. Articulation sucks. The MU line sucks. Bottom line.

    This is just my honest opinion and is not meant to start an argument or flame.

  13. I love the Marvel Universe series. The sculpts range from ug (first Punisher) to great (every Iron Man), and there’s just enough articulation to make me happy. And the size is excellent, since it means my Iron Man CAN interact with an AT-ST or even drive my BTTF DeLorean.

  14. Also in response to this in said article:

    “So you’re telling me that because you want Hawkeye to fly the Millennium Falcon or Deadpool to make out with Lady Jaye, real collectors like myself must be subjected to substandard, reduced size super heroes?”

    Yes, because we’re NEVER GOING TO GET a Marvel Legend style Lady Jaye, let alone the fact that when Hasbro DID put out a non 3-3/4ths GI Joe line in Sigma Six, it was a fuckinhg abomination of a toy line with very few figures worth buying and ZERO female toys save for a prototype Scarlett figure Hasbro deep-sixed because of they didn’t think she’d sell.

  15. I dont mind them,but I’m not paying more for them than I used to pay for Marvel Legends! Hasbro are insane, they sell these things here at $17 australian each and they sit on the shelf. No kid or collector wants to pay that much for a piddly little figure with bad paint apps!

  16. Some good and some not necessarily good points here, props for the post nonetheless. You don’t need to buy anything you don’t feel like it, and if anything, it’ll be a sign to the executives that the line isn’t that well thought of if it isn’t selling. If it is, why do you think they would change any of it? However I do agree in a sense with the overall feeling behind what you wrote.

  17. “Some of us do take it seriously. Very seriously.”

    “My only hope is that eventually your attention will be pulled away from superheroes by some other bright, shiny object”

    comics are for children, toys are for children.
    actually your name calling is appropriate since you like other childish things.

    “I’ll buy them, but I won’t buy them without a fight.”

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