Poe Ghostal here. I’ve been assigned the daunting task of choosing the top ten toys of 2012. Whole teams of toy reviewers (yes, they exist) work together to create such lists, but apparently Luke trusts me enough to come up with such a list myself…or maybe he just wants me to bear the brunt of reader outrage in the comments. Either way, I’m up for it!
There was actually quite a lot of cool geek-oriented toy product last year, making this a tricky list to put together. Many toy companies have upped their game in recent years as they begin to target older, nostalgic collectors (from my observation, most kids prefer their parents’ Ipads to physical toys these days). The result is a significant rise in the quality and coolness of the toys out there. Here are ten of the best that came out in 2012.
10.) Henrietta (Evil Dead II, NECA).
I first discovered Evil Dead II back in the early nineties. I became completely obsessed with all three Evil Dead films (Evil Dead, Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness), but especially EDII. I rented them constantly from the local video store, since they weren’t available at retail. Ten years later, the secret was out – all three films had been released on special edition DVDs, Bruce Campbell had a successful memoir and there were McFarlane Toys action figures based on Army of Darkness. But there were never any figures from Evil Dead II…until now.
In 2012, NECA made the figures I’d been waiting for. The entire line was great, but the highlight was Henrietta, the disgusting zombified hausfrau (played in the film by Sam Raimi’s little brother Ted). Fully articulated and featuring an alternate monster head with a bendy neck, NECA pulled out all the stops on this figure and gave us Evil Dead fans the Henrietta figure we’d always (for some reason) wanted. By the company’s own admission, this was a labor of love – NECA barely broke even with the line. But it was something they had always wanted to do, and thanks to them, Henrietta now stalks collectors’ shelves instead of just the fruit cellar.
Since the 1980s, Bandai has churned out tons of vinyl toys of Godzilla and his assorted monster pals. These figures have always featured just a few points of articulation – the arms, the legs, maybe the tail and neck. But in late 2011, Bandai’s adult collector arm, Tamashii Nations, unveiled S.H.MonsterArts, a line of high-end, super-articulated monster toys.
Most collectors agree that the best figure in the line so far is Spacegodzilla – which is a bit odd, since most people have never heard of him. An alien clone of Godzilla with a thing for giant crystals, Spacegodzilla’s design was loosely based on the “Super Godzilla” design from the Super Nintendo game of the same name. The 1994 movie he starred in, well, pretty much sucked (in addition to the two main monsters, it also featured a giant robot mole).
But the character design is interesting, and the figure is very well-executed. Featuring a detailed sculpt by popular monster sculptor Yuji Sakai and well-engineered articulation, the S.H.MonsterArts Spacegodzilla is actually much more flexible than the movie suit ever was. Best of all, he comes with his signature “corona blast” energy effect. It’s the sort of accessory that makes many Japanese toys so cool.
8.) Armorvor (Glyos, Onell Design).
Glyos is an independent toy line – the brainchild of Matt Doughty and his Onell Design studio – which has quietly been gaining an increasingly large and loyal following since Onell’s inception in the mid-2000s. Fans were drawn to the both the independent spirit of the venture, the interchangeability of the toys (each figure can be taken entirely apart and mixed and match with other figures via the Glyos “Fit Function” joint) and most of all, Doughty’s distinct style. Much of Glyos is inspired by early 1980s videogames and the videogame cabinet and box art of the era.
Glyos jumped to another level this past year, when Doughty and several collaborators (including sculptor Jason Frailey, who also sculpted the Evil Dead II Henrietta) created the Armorvor. Inspired by both 1980s videogames and the popular ’80s toyline Battle Beasts, the Armorvor was a bit more intricate and detailed than previous releases, and the design proved to be an immediate hit. Every colorway (color variant) of the Armorvor sells out within minutes, and it has drawn a number of new fans to the world of Glyos.
7.) Castle Grayskullman (Masters of the Universe Classics, Mattel).
2012 was the thirtieth anniversary of Masters of the Universe. To celebrate, Mattel offered a line of six “new” characters in their subscription-based Masters of the Universe Classics toy line. Even better, one of the figures would be designed by a fan as part of a Create-a-Character contest.
(The first figure in the anniversary line was actually the winner of the first Create-a-Character contest Mattel held in the mid-’80s. The character’s name was Fearless Photog, and the kid who designed it was one Nathan Bitner, who would later work at Bungie in the early stages of what would become Halo: Combat Evolved. Seriously.)
The winner of the 2012 contest was Daniel Benedict, who created Castle Grayskullman. He’s sort of the living embodiment of Castle Grayskull, only with swords and Hulk Hogan’s hair. As sculpted by the Four Horsemen, the character perfectly embodies everything great and everything goofy about He-Man and the Masters of the Universe in the 1980s. You can easily imagine this character popping up in the old cartoon – voiced by Lou Scheimer and hanging around just long enough for kids to know there was a new toy they could buy.
6.) Derpy (My Little Pony SDCC Exclusive, Hasbro).
If we evaluate a top toy by its value on the secondary market, then we simply can’t refuse a spot to Derpy. Derpy started life as an artistic error in the first episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Accidentally drawn with a googly-eyed “derp” stare, fans(?) of the show at 4chan dubbed the character “Derpy Hooves.” She soon acquired a strong following among the brony community and was eventually given a part in the show. So Derpy is kind of the Boba Fett of the MLP universe, only she’s not the clone-child of some dude who gets their head cut off (though who knows what future episodes will reveal).
As often happens with fan-favorite characters, Derpy was not produced as a standard retail figure, but as a San Diego Comic Con exclusive. The results were predictable: fast sell-outs and a huge aftermarket demand. The figure sells for hundreds online and is more popular than some of the exclusives for brands like Transformers or Masters of the Universe. Derpy, people. Derpy.
5.) Portal Gun Prop Replica (Portal, NECA).
Prop replicas were once the provenance of a small groups of diehard collectors, relegated to tiny production runs by small manufacturers and commanding sky-high prices. For the casual fan of, say, Ghostbusters, your only choices for a PKE meter were the toy version made by Kenner (which young Poe thought was awesome) or to make one yourself. But that’s changed in recent years as prop replicas have gone increasingly mainstream, with companies like Mattel, QMX and NECA producing items such as the aforementioned PKE Meter, the hoverboard from Back to the Future II, the Farnsworth communicator from Warehouse 13, the Lancer rifle from Gears of War, and NECA’s latest item, the iconic Portal Gun from Portal and Portal 2. (In 2013, they’re bringing us the Gravity Gun from Half-Life.)
The Portal Gun features a game-accurate design, lights, and sounds. So if your Portal fan film doesn’t blow up on Youtube, you can’t blame the lackluster props. More likely it’s because you had your main character – played by you – and GLaDOS fall in love.
It’s hard to believe that an independent comic primarily conceived as a parody of Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil could spawn such a successful franchise, but here we are. As you may have noticed if you visited a toy store recently, the action figures based on the latest iteration of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are selling like crazy. Part of it is due to the success of the new Nickelodeon show, but it’s also thanks to the excellent product from Playmates Toys.
Playmates hasn’t had a whole lot of success recently (their Star Trek and Simpsons lines ended ten years ago, and the less said about their J.J. Abrams Star Trek and Terminator: Salvation lines, the better), but they sure know how to do the Turtles right. The new toy line is a huge hit among both kids and adult collectors, thanks to the simple equation of having great sculpts, good articulation, and tons of play value. It’s the best (or at least most sane) thing Frank Miller has been responsible for, directly or indirectly, in years.
3.) Lego Monster Fighters Haunted House.
Lego has come a long way from its early days when a set just came with a bunch of colored rectangular blocks and a green platform. While they’ve achieved great success with licenses such as Star Wars, Batman, The Avengers and even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, in 2012 one of its most popular lines was an in-house creation called Monster Fighters. The line pit adventurers against classic monsters such as Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Mummy, the Wolf Man, the Creature from the Black Lagoon (as the Swamp Creature).
The crown jewel of the brand was the massive Haunted House, home of the Monsters, which featured six minifigures (2 glow-in-the-dark ghosts, Vampyre, Vampyre’s Bride, Zombie chef and butler), a unique ‘crooked’ design featuring boarded up windows and working front gate, three floors, and tons of accessories and features. Victims sold separately. (They are monsters, after all.)
2.) Masterpiece Optimus Prime (Transformers Toys R Us Exclusive, Hasbro).
About ten years ago, Hasbro and its Japanese partner in Transformers, Takara, started the “Masterpiece” line of Transformers. The idea was to create Transformers that closely resembled their cartoon counterparts from the 1980s, but could still transform into their respective vehicles (or, in Grimlock’s case, respective robot dinosaur). This resulted in large, expensive toys with incredibly complicated transformations – but there was no question they were awesome.
Optimus Prime was the first Masterpiece out of the gate, but the scale of the figures has changed over the years and he’s rather oversized compared to today’s Masterpiece figures. So this year, Hasbro created a brand-new Masterpiece Optimus as a Toys R Us exclusive, scaled-down but still amazing. What’s more, this time they included his tractor trailer, allowing nostalgic fans to buy an upgraded version of the same Optimus Prime they found under the tree on Christmas morn back in 1984.
1.) Iron Monger (Iron Man, Hot Toys).
Sometimes you get what you pay for. And when you drop $500, you’re paying for a lot. Fortunately, in the case of Hot Toys Iron Monger, you’re getting a lot.
We’ve covered Hot Toys frequently enough here on TR that you should know who they are: a Hong Kong-based toy company that creates eerily lifelike 12″ action figures based on movie characters. Here’s my theory on how Hot Toys does it: I think they obtained the magic movie ticket from The Last Action Hero, hired a local theater to play Bride of Frankenstein, went in and pulled the crazy-but-fabulous Dr. Pretorius out of the film, and then forced him to create tiny homunculi of your favorite superhero characters. So there you have it – Last Action Hero was responsible for more good in the world than just giving Ian McKellen a paycheck.
With that cleared up, we can say that Hot Toys’ best offering in 2012 was almost certainly Iron Monger, the giant, clunky version of the Iron Man suit created by the villainous Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges). This insanely detailed toy is fully articulated, with all sorts of LED lights and working pistons and cylinders and plates that open and close to reveal various weapons. The chest opens just like it does in the movie, and you can pop on the included Jeff Bridges head so that he can taunt your Hot Toys Iron Man for being a weak-kneed pacifist or whatever.
If you’re willing to spend the money, this is one of the most incredible action figures ever made.