?Perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of being an action figure collector is the dreaded “variant”–a version of a figure that’s somehow different from the “regular” version. Sometimes these variants are intentional, like a Batman figure with an unmasked Bruce Wayne head. Other times it’s a factory error, like a Batman figure with a Superman head. In either case, most of the time the variant is relatively rare or virtually impossible to find, which can drive the price up to ridiculous proportions.
When this happens with official variants — where the company limits the figure to drive up hype — it’s annoying enough. But when it’s a factory error, and collectors start coughing up hundreds of dollars because an assembly line worker wandered away from his paint station for 10 minutes, then you’ve reached another whole plateau of geek ludicrousness. This type of collecting largely died out when the action figure market tanked in the mid-’00s, but as our one example from 2010 shows, it still does happen from time to time. Here’s Topless Robot‘s list of 10 infamous action figure variants.
10) Black Jimmy Hart
?Jimmy Hart is a professional wrestling manager with a storied career, having worked for the WWE, WCW and, currently, TNA Wrestling. He’s been the manager of such high-profile wrestlers as Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, Jerry Lawler and Ted DiBiase.
He is not, as it happens, black.
This 1994 figure was only one of countless factory errors on Original San Francisco Toy Makers’ short-lived WCW line; for example, the figures were so often on the wrong cards that some wrestlers were reportedly never packaged under their own name.
9) Iron Cross He-Man
?When Mattel attempted to bring back He-Man for today’s kids in 2002, they hired the Four Horsemen, former sculptors for McFarlane Toys, to create the figures. Using the original designs as inspiration, the Horsemen created brand-new, heavily-detailed sculpts of all the classic MOTU characters. He-Man himself got quite a makeover: he was given anime-style hair, a sporran (pouch) was added to his familiar furry underwear, and his harness straps were changed to a more realistic-looking leather instead of the plain gray of the vintage figure.
The first run of He-Man figures featured the familiar iron cross symbol of the vintage He-Man. However, later on Mattel decided to change it to a stylized “H” (often referred to by fans as the “asterisk” symbol). It was rumored that Mattel’s brass were worried about the potential Nazi connotations of the iron cross, but what’s far more likely is that Mattel simply wanted a unique symbol they could trademark.
8) “Mickey Mouse” Cobra Commander
?What do Mickey Mouse and Cobra Commander have in common? Aside from the fact they’re both figureheads for ruthless organizations with designs on world domination, of course.
After witnessing the success of Kenner’s Star Wars line, with its many vehicles, huge character selection and smaller size, Hasbro decided to revamp their G.I. Joe line by shrinking it from 12-inch to 3.75-inch in 1982 and introducing a slew of characters. The villains were led by Cobra Commander, whose distinctive blue suit was emblazoned with a red Cobra logo. Well, the logo on the earliest figures was poorly painted and lacked detail, and the head of the cobra looked less like a fearsome reptile and more like a certain corporate mascot. Soon Hasbro began producing Cobra Commanders with more accurate, detailed logos, and CC’s bizarre cross-promotion came to an end.
7) Flocked Ears Moss Man
?When Mattel unveiled their updated Masters of the Universe Classics (MOTUC) version of Moss Man in 2010, fans were quick to point out that while his face wasn’t flocked, his ears were, creating a rather odd look. Mattel agreed with the fan assessment and asked the factory not to flock the ears, but not before a few thousand flocked-ear Moss Men had been made. Mattel sold these figures separately on their Mattycollector website, and once again, fans bought right into it, with many picking up both a flocked-ears and unflocked-ears Moss Man.
6) Vinyl-Caped Jawa
?If you owned any Star Wars figures as a kid, chances are you owned at least one Jawa. While most of the Jawas produced by Kenner in the late ’70s came with brown cloth cloaks, the one people seem to remember is the one with the vinyl cape, which came with only the earliest Jawa figures.
Silly, cheap-looking, and easily outclassed by the material cloak, the vinyl cape is still so coveted that diehard collectors will pay top dollar for them (and are often hosed by fakes).
5) Short Stacks Optimus Prime
?Toy fans the world over were astounded by 2004’s Masterpiece Optimus Prime, who truly was a masterpiece of toy engineering. In robot mode, he looked just like the cartoon version of the character, yet he could still transform into a perfectly normal-looking truck. The only problem? Initially he was only available as an expensive import from Japan.
Fortunately, Hasbro imported him to the U.S. at a cheaper price point. Unfortunately, the U.S.’s more stringent safety regulations meant that ol’ Op had to have a… procedure done. The smokestacks on his shoulders were shortened to little stubs, just in case a kid tried to impale his eyes on them. Collectors generally prefer the more accurate, longer smokestacks. Never has a variant had so much double entendre potential.
4) Blue Winged Stratos
?Ah, Stratos — one of the first and goofiest of the Masters of the Universe figures. Let’s see: gray fur, simian features, a blue/red color scheme — it seems pretty clear he’s basically an oversized flying monkey from The Wizard of Oz. While most fans will remember Stratos as having red wings and a blue jetpack, there was actually an early variant with blue wings and a red jetpack (it’s even been claimed that the very first release had the blue wings, and the red wings came later). The blue wings were common enough that many fans came to think of them as Stratos’s proper colors, and Mattel is even honoring the variant this year with a re-release of the Classics Stratos in that color scheme in one of their MOTU vs. DC Universe 2-packs.
3) Party Angela
?People sometimes forget just how much of an influence Todd McFarlane has had on modern geekdom. Aside from his role in promoting independent comics as one of the founders of Image, McFarlane also revolutionized the action figure market in the mid-1990s by emphasizing sculpt over play features or articulation. It’s arguable that without McFarlane Toys, the modern adult action figure collectors’ market might not exist. NECA, DC Direct, Mezco, Resaurus, Palisades – -they all followed in McFarlane’s footsteps.
There were a number of figures with variants and factory errors among the early Spawn lines, but none were more famous than Angela. Angela’s character was a — wait for it — angel who was tasked with hunting down Hellspawn. But when her action figure was produced in ’95, the factory didn’t paint the panties on a certain amount of the production run (whether by accident, or because she was designed that way and McFarlane later asked the factory to add the panties, is unclear). Dubbed “Party” Angela by collectors, she was a much-prized item in many a Spawn collection during those early years. Side note: the same thing happened again years later with a Stephanie McMahon WWE figure.
2) Half-Circle Boba Fett
In 1995, Kenner (by then a subsidiary of Hasbro) relaunched their Star Wars action figure line. Fans who had spent hours playing with Hammerhead, IG-88 and Dengar as kids were now adults with large amounts of disposable income. Initially, Hasbro didn’t realize just how popular the figures would prove with older collectors; the early figures were heavily muscled to reflect what the marketing department thought kids wanted (check out this laughably hulking Luke). But it was the adult collectors who went crazy for the toys — in a big, BIG way.
In the mid-to-late 1990s, there was no Star Wars variant too stupid for collectors to go nuts over. Probably the most famous — and ridiculous — is Half-Circle Boba Fett. See, the first Boba Fett figure made for the POTF line was supposed to have black circles on the back of his gloves. But a factory error caused a number of these figures to have two half-circles on each hand, rather than the full circles, as in the pic above. This is inaccurate to the character — Fett wore a few different types of gloves in the movies, but the brown ones had full circles. And yet, collectors were paying upwards of $50 for what was arguably a defective product. Nowadays, a half-circle Boba Fett can be bought for less than $10 on eBay, but he remains a testament to the incredibly popularity of Star Wars — and the rampant scalping in the action figure market of the late 1990s.
1) Blue Snaggletooth
?Okay, let’s get some stuff out of the way first. Snaggletooth is part of a race in the Star Wars universe called “Snivvians.” There’s a Snivvian in the cantina scene in A New Hope; there’s also one in the Star Wars Holiday Special, which used a refined version of the ANH mask. The vintage Snaggletooth figure was supposed to be based on the Holiday Special version, but was released in movie packaging. Confused yet? It gets worse.
As part of their quest to get kids to beg their parents for every single freak in that space bar, Kenner allegedly created their first Snaggletooth figure in 1978 based on a single black-and-white photo of the character that showed only part of the character’s body. Extrapolating his appearance, Kenner made Snaggletooth the same height as the other human figures and gave him a blue uniform and boots. This version of the figure was released as part of a special, Sears-exclusive Cantina Adventure Set.
After the figure was released, Lucasfilm sent better references to Kenner. It turned out Snaggletooth was about half the height of a human, was wearing a red outfit and with bare feet. Kenner quickly produced the accurate figure, but not before thousands of kids owned the inaccurate blue Snaggletooth. And let’s not even get started on what his name is; do a web search for “Takeel” “Zutton” “Zutmore” and “Rachalt Hyst” if you really want to know.