Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Top 5 80's Action Figure Lines

What is the best action figure line of the 80's? I know I have my favorites, but as far as quality goes, what line ranks numero uno? Scoring will be based on a condensed form of my 5 Ps, (See earlier, Captain Rex post), and the figures themselves carry about 80 percent of the weight. This includes everything that comes with or within a carded or boxed figure. Other items, separate from a figure's original packaging, such as vehicles and playsets, make up the remaining 20 percent.

There was a lot of elbowing to get into the the coveted Top 5. Transformers were pulled over and impounded for not having the proper paperwork. The Transformers of the 80's were vehicles first and figures second. Mobile Armored Strike Kommand or M.A.S.K. also didn't qualify as their figures took a back seat to vehicle designs. LJN's Advanced Dungeons and Dragons almost broke the Top 5, they fit the requirements, but didn't have the hit points to complete the campaign. I warn you now, this is not a popularity contest. Throw out all your childhood and pop culture biases and let's take an honest look at our most deserving plastic people.

Number 5

Luckily for most of the 80's toys, they came with 30 minute commercials in the form of cartoons. A shrewd move, but it was successful in pushing the Masters of the Universe into many households. There wasn't anything special about the package, a splash of color and the name of the figure. Take the figure out, (there goes the value), and the figure can be better appreciated. The arms had a swivel joint at the shoulder meaning they could be raised and lowered only. The legs had more of a ball joint held together by a rubber band or something. This was a double edged power sword as it allowed for a wider range of motion, but this joint loosened over time. Soon, He-man couldn't stand on his own and would crumble under the weight of his upper body. And who wouldn't? Could anyone support that frame? The design of the overly muscular body and short, bent legs always bothered me. That, and the swapping of body parts to make another "new" figure. "Sure, color Beast Man's hairy body gray and replace the head. We'll call him Stratos. Nobody will notice. He has a backpack and clip on wings, he's a totally different figure!" Just to be clear, using the same mold with different color plastic is only acceptable with weapons found in a weapons packs. Leaving Eternia on a high note, Castle Grayskull was a masterpiece and every playset, as a rule, should have a trap door.

Number 4

The Indy figure line was a little light with only 9 figures total. Indy is, by far the best of the bunch with his gun slinging or whip whipping (?) action features. Plus, the whip can be looped around the hook on his belt and the gun fits into a holster on his leg. Indiana also had some added articulation in his legs. Indiana's knees bent and the thigh joints were designed with a bit of an angle to help Indy straddle his Arabian Horse or hang off the grill of the Desert Convoy Truck, which were only vehicles of the line. I sill wish the Raiders line would have lasted long enough to make a Cairo Indy. That's an Indiana Jones without the leather jacket. I figured I can pry off Indy's head and swap it with the Map Room Playset Indy body. The Map Room figure Indy even came with a satchel! Salah, the Cario Swordsman, and the German Mechanic were nice enough figures, but the Toht figure with his little Luger, black trench coat, and my favorite addition, the tiny burn inside his right palm, always freaked me out, but in a cool way. It's all in the details. Honorable mention goes out to the Well of the Souls playset. It needed more than 12 snakes and 1 mummy, but the R2-D2 and C-3PO markings on the Ark cover help me forget about that.

Number 3

If you are a fan of the DC heroes, how awesome were the Super Powers? I still think Kenner's Super Powers action figures are the best representation of DC figures to date. Thanks to the 3 and 3/4th inch figure trend started by Lucas, we got a scale of figure that allowed for vehicles and playsets present day DC Universe characters can only dream of. With this super hero line we not only got cloth capes, but an added feature of movement in the form of the "Power Action" features. These features added to the enjoyment of the figures and (mostly) made sense; Hawkman's wings flapped, Red Tornado spun, and Brainiac...kicked? Yes, they got a little carried away, but for the most part the gimmick worked. I can also appreciate the unique molds of each character. None of that using-Iron-Man's-arms-and legs-for-Dr.-Doom's bologna like the Secret Wars line. I was always impressed by the small details. The Super Powers had clean paint jobs with accurate colors. Superman's cape had the yellow "S" identical to the comics, Green Lantern's ring hand had an actual ring in the mold and wasn't just a dab of green paint, and The Clark Kent mail-away had the same blue eyes as Superman. Thanks to the artwork of José Luis García-López I could even appreciate the packaging. I thought the cut out power cards and mini-comics were unnecessary, but I have to admit, the cards taught me about gold Kryptonite and the comics kept me busy one night after I saw A Nightmare on Elm Street and couldn't sleep.

Number 2

I know, that came out of left field, right? I just re-discovered this figure line recently. As a kid, I remember the episodic commercials, but that was it. Now I see how how ahead of their time these figures were. Not only did you have a knee joint, but a ball joint at the shoulders. Sure, I would have liked an elbow joint, but the bad guys had fangs, metallic paint schemes made the Sectaurs' armor, look, well, look like armor, and then throw in the creepy factor of each figure having pupil-less bug eyes then ask yourself, what's not to like? I haven't even mentioned the finger puppet accessory. Some figures came with a giant insect type steed the figures could ride on. How ingenious is that. The Hive playset was just the icing on the cake, but you'll need 6 additional bug eyes to spot one.

Number 1

Not only did Joes have elbow joints, but Hasbro even threw in a bicep swivel joint. All of this poseability in a 3 and 3/4 figure! The paint jobs were well done, colorful, and detailed. With at tiny cobra emblem on every cobra shoulder or chest, they had to be. Guns, backpacks, helmets, swords, and even animals were just some of the numerous accessories you would find accompanying your figure in his blister. The card has some painted artwork and the file-cards gave you a bio and skill set specifics. Drifting beyond the figures you had your choice of an endless amount of additional accessories or vehicles. Maybe you wanted something small, like jet pack or maybe a new bed frame in the form of a 6 foot aircraft carrier! The figure line got a little weak there in the late 80s, but you can't take away from the sheer volume of great figures this line had to offer.

Welcome to the top of the 80's heap, GI Joe. You earned it.


Maybe the biggest disappointment was the absence of the Citizen Kane of action figures; Star Wars. I agree, I was disappointed too. These figures were the pioneers and we wouldn't be where we are today without them. That said, the line actually hit in the late 70s which could squeeze them out of the ranking on a technicality. But, the truth is, I don't need to hide behind that. Two words: Waist Joint. He-man had a waist joint that didn't really work for posing, but opened a door for movement. I got another two words for you: Paint Job. He-man had better paint jobs. To be honest, the paint applications on the hands of the vintage Star Wars figures are sloppy at best. Luke, Han, Obi-wan, Leia all look like their hands were painted with the exactness of a Dairy Queen worker dipping a soft serve cone into a hard shell topping. If we were grading vehicles only; Star Wars wins hands down. But, as far as figures go, He-man has the power.

R. Ticulation

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