It’s been almost a year since I made my initial entry talking about my affection for collecting things. In that entry, I mentioned how I used to collect action figures. I loved action figures as a kid, even more so than video games. Action figures were my go-to toy when I needed to entertain myself. I even separate my childhood into phases based on what line of action figures dominated my playtime. In chronological order, they are: Ghostbusters, TMNT, and X-Men/Spider-Man. That basically took me from age four to ten or eleven. Around that age playing with action figures and acting out climactic battles starts to feel childish, plus puberty kicks in which brings along a whole host of new interests and time-wasters. Most of those toys are gone now, either sold at yard sales or thrown away. I have most of my X-Men and Spider-Man ones, and I did save the original TMNT line and movie line, not because they’re worth anything, just because I’m sentimental.
Once I hit my late teens I started working a part-time job and soon found myself with disposable income for the first time in my life. Most kids my age probably spent their money on booze and drugs, I ended up buying toys. I’m not saying that makes me better than most of my peers, actually it kind of makes me a dork. New action figures were way better than anything I ever had and they impressed the Hell out of me. It didn’t make much sense to me, but I started buying more and more. At first it was a figure here or there, then it started to become whole lines. I’d buy what I thought looked cool, and then I’d just buy everything. It was a compulsion. This lasted probably from the time I was 16 until 22. At that point in time I was living on my own, I had no place to really put more toys, and the Marvel Legends line switched from Toy Biz to Hasbro and went down the crapper. Since then I’ve bought a few toys here and there, but by and large I’m done unless I have a kid who gets action figures.
To break up the monotony of all of these video game posts of late, I thought now would be a good time to go digging through some boxes and come up with my 10 favorite action figures. And by favorite, I mostly mean favorite looking with some addition of intrinsic value taking hold as well. If I were to make a list of my favorite and most played with toys it would have been an entirely different list. These are, for the most part, all modern action figures that I acquired in my teens and twenties. Most of them are from the world of comics, with some cartoon characters as well. Before I get to my list, let’s take some time out for one honorable mention:
There are some pretty cool gimmick action figures out there. Lego versions of popular characters come to mind as well as Lego-type toys like Mini Mates and Kubricks. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have had many such gimmicks that range from cool to embarrassing. This one such cross-over falls somewhere in between, though for many it might fall into the embarrassing category. Treasure Trolls were really popular in the early ’90s. They didn’t do anything and were cheaply made, but for some reason kids had to have them. Seeing an opportunity for a cross-over, Playmates and whoever made Treasure Trolls combined the TMNT brand with the trolls and the result was Turtle Trolls. These things are quite silly, but terribly cute. They still look mostly like turtles, just with big, colorful hair. The accessories they came with were mined from existing Turtles figures and really don’t make much sense (Leonardo has the stone katanas that came with Cave Turtle Leo, for instance) but I guess Playmates felt they couldn’t just go with normal weapons. For whatever reason, I liked this gimmick as a kid and still like it today which is why I still have a set of Turtle Trolls.
Honorable mention out of the way, time for the The Nostalgia Spot’s Top 10 Action Figures!
10. Marvel Legends Green Goblin/Spider-Man Classics Hobgoblin
I couldn’t separate these two, and since they’re so similar, they both get to share spot #10. Hobgoblin was treated quite well by Toy Biz in the aughts as he received two really sharp figures. The first Spider-Man Classics Hobgoblin was based on his demonic appearance. Creatively, the sculpt took some liberties in making him look quite fearsome and the sculpter opted for brown instead of orange for the costume which gave the character a certain gritty-ness not seen in the comics. As cool as it was, I prefer the more traditional take that came later. This Hobgoblin is picture perfect when compared with the comic book character. The colors are vibrant and clean and he wasn’t given some cheesy action feature that could detract from the sculpt. The pumpkin bomb is permanently affixed to his left hand, but that doesn’t really bother me. The Green Goblin is every bit as good. He’s from the Marvel Legends line from the Onslaught wave. The colors are a bit darker as the Legends line tried to appeal more to adults than the Spider-Man Classics line. Perhaps a more vibrant paint job would have been more comic accurate, but this works just fine. It’s not the worst thing in the world to downplay the purple and green color scheme. Like Hobgoblin, his pumpkin bomb is also permanently attached to his hand. His glider also has a nice stand for displaying instead of the more cartoonish smoke cloud that Hobgoblin has. I like the angle the glider’s wings are at too, as it makes the figure much easier to pose.
9. IF Labs Super Saiyan Vegeta
Dragon Ball Z was a big reason for my renewed interest in action figures. I got into the series as a teen which made the action figures suddenly appealing. For awhile, they were terrible as the US distributer, Irwin, just re-released the old Bandai and AB figures which had long since become outdated. Eventually, Irwin would start producing its own figures. There were some growing pains, and the normal five inch line was geared more towards kids than collectors, but they ended up putting out some worthwhile stuff. Their high grade collector line, IF Labs, had its share of misses but had some hits as well. IF Labs focused more on the DBZ films, and this version of Vegeta is from the The Return of Cooler OVA. Articulation wise, the figure leaves something to be desired as its pretty basic, but the sculpt and paint job is bad ass. Vegeta was one of my favorites from the show, and I was stoked to pick this one up. He’s around 7″ tall, making him short compared to the rest of the line but still larger than the standard line of action figures. Irwin/IF never made a better Vegeta than this one, and arguably never produced a better figure than this one.
8. Marvel Legends Apocalypse
Not to be confused with the series 7 Apocalypse action figure, this is the massive build-a-figure Apocalypse from series 12. At that point, Toy Biz had started releasing each figure in a wave with a piece of a larger figure. This particular wave of figures came with a piece of the world’s oldest mutant, Apocalypse. This was a welcomed figure as the series 7 Apocalypse was not well-received. He was short and fat and a rather poor representation of the figure. Most figures in the Legends line could trace their appearance to a certain point in time, but that Apocalypse really had no comic counterpart. This one was true to the likeness of Apocalypse from the ’80s, just huge. Yeah it would have been nice to have a 6″ scaled Apocalypse as this one is perhaps too big (even though one of Apocalypse’s many mutant powers was the ability to grow in size) but still pretty awesome. He’s hefty too and one solid figure. This Apocalypse was the last of the standard waves of figures to feature a build-a-figure of this size. Future ones were much smaller in scale, which really diminished their coolness (especially for the series 13 Onslaught). This Apocalypse is a mix of blue and black, though apparently some pieces were colored black where they should have been blue so there are a few more black Apocalypse’s floating around. The range of motion on his legs is a bit limited, and he’s so top-heavy that he can be hard to stand. The rest of the figure features typical Marvel Legends articulation. In the original batch of figures one of his cables was missing and collectors had to go to Toy Biz for a replacement. As you can see, I went through the effort to have a complete Apocalypse.
7. Unifive Ultimate Saiyan Vegeta
The only character to appear twice on my list, this Vegeta is of a much smaller scale than the previous one and attempts to capture the character in all of his forms from the anime. It doesn’t quite pull that trick off, but he’s pretty cool nonetheless. Unifive is a Japanese company and as such this is a Japanese figure that was never released in the US. He was pretty costly at the time, and has only become more costly since release. The figure is probably less than 5″ tall though I assume that’s so he can fit in with the other figures from the line (I don’t own any of the other ones). His coloring is also supposed to resemble the manga more than the anime which basically just means he’s a little darker than usual. The articulation is rather interesting as it’s mostly cut joints instead of ball joints. He’s capable of a variety of poses but the cut joints hide the articulation well and make him easy to display. He comes with a bunch of accessories that I didn’t feel like digging out. As such, only a couple are displayed in the picture. He came with four heads: regular, super saiyan, majin, and oozaru (great ape). The oozaru head includes damaged saiyan armor like what he wore in his first appearance. He has a display base that’s just some barren ground with little saibamen heads poking out. There’s an attachable mountain to cover-up the heads and a little tiny Goku clicks into it so you can display Vegeta in his ape form and he’s actually to scale with Goku! He also has a removable tail and scouter. It would have been nice if he had some shoulder pads to more accurately depict him in his Saiyan Saga attire. There’s also no top to pair with the Majin Vegeta head for an accurate portrayal of that character. The second set of figures from Unifive (featuring Trunks and Gohan) would do a much better job of accounting for the different looks of the characters. Short-comings aside, this is my favorite 5″ scale DBZ figure.
6. Marvel Legends Sentinel
Another build-a-figure, and this one really made use of the format. This is a more modern take on the Sentinel character from X-Men and he’s pretty bad ass. Pieces of this figure were distributed in wave 10 which had a very X-Men feel to it. The coloring is muted and gritty and great care was taken to sculpt the more mechanical parts of the figure making a giant red and purple robot seem almost believable. Like Apocalypse, there’s a tremendous heft to this figure that’s quite satisfying. Unlike Apocalypse, his feet are huge making him easy to stand and pose. He came with a couple of detachable cables (the same that were used for Omega Red from the same series) to coil around various mutants. Not surprisingly, this one was a real hit with collectors as this was one giant figure that was mostly in scale with the others. Many would buy multiples of the figures in wave 10 to create their own Sentinel army. I was satisfied to just have one.
5. Marvel Select Ultimate Venom
While Toy Biz was releasing highly articulated action figures to toy stores across the globe, Diamond was releasing high grade figures to specialty shops. Their Marvel Select line had its own scale and focused more on creating a dynamic scene as opposed to making an actual action figure. Most of the toys featured little articulation but usually came with a display base of some kind. They also weren’t afraid to tackle some of Marvel’s more obscure characters and embraced the Ultimate Universe that was fairly popular at the time. I was always a big Venom fan and I always bought the latest action figure to depict him. Perhaps my standards were set too high considering he was my favorite character, but I often wasn’t completely happy with Venom figures. This one though is the first I can ever recall being truly satisfied with. He’s based on his appearance in Ultimate Spider-Man, but Diamond put out two versions of him and this one featured the iconic white spider logo that wasn’t present on the character in the pages of Ultimate Spider-Man. Like most Venom figures, he’s black but with some purple accents. He’s a solid and heavy figure and has many sculpted pseudopods protruding from his costume. I especially like the work done on the head and claws. He also came with a frightened Peter Parker to torment eternally. This is easily my favorite Venom action figure and there really isn’t a close runner-up.
4. Masterpiece Optimus Prime and Megatron
I’ve never been anything more than a casual fan of Transformers. The cartoon never grabbed me like the TMNT cartoon, and I just wasn’t that interested in cars that transformed into robots, as cool a concept as that is. That concept was cool enough for me to acquire a few Transformers here and there. As a little guy, I had a couple that I only vaguely remember. When Hasbro released the Generation 2 wave I bought a couple including the Generation 2 Grimlock and Optimus Prime. When Takara/Hasbro unveiled the Masterpiece Optimus Prime a few years ago the collector in me had to have it. Here was the perfect Transformer. Not only does Optimus look like he was pulled from the cartoon, he also transforms into a perfect rendition of his truck form. No sacrifices had to be made for one form or the other. The one pictured is the US version which had smaller smoke stacks (apparently we can’t handle longer ones) but he’s still just as cool. He came with several accessories, and is actually fairly easy to transform. My favorite touch is the little button on the back of his head that makes his mouth-piece move like he’s talking. It kind of makes me want to play with him right now. And after Optimus was released, it was only a matter of time before a Megatron came out as well. Like Optimus, Megatron is designed to resemble his cartoon form. Here the designers weren’t as successful which isn’t surprising considering Megatron’s transformation is the most absurd one in the cartoon. Still, they did a good job with what they had to work with. His legs did come out skinny making him hard to stand. Adding the tremendous weight of his arm cannon just makes posing him even more difficult. When transformed, he makes for a pretty convincing replica of a Walther P38. Gun enthusiasts won’t be fooled, but others might. As a result, the US forced Hasbro to put a bright orange cap on the end which is why I got the Japanese version. Unlike Prime though, transforming Megatron is a total bitch and is something I’ve only done a couple of times. He has less die-cast than Prime too, making him more fragile. He’s definitely the lesser of the two, and other Masterpiece figures like Starscream and Grimlock are probably better, but what’s Optimus Prime without his arch nemesis? I had to include him.
3. Marvel Legends Deadpool
A piece of advice for any toy manufacturers trying to win me over; I love accessories! When an action figure comes with everything it’s supposed to I get excited. Marvel Legends Deadpool is a great example of a character coming with just the right amount of accessories. He’s got a 9mm, two AK’s, two katanas, and a pair of sai. He even comes with a second, mask-less head that’s totally creepy and an action stand for cool poses. All of the details are in place including the goofy Deadpool mask-logo on his belt. This figure reused probably the most popular sculpt Toy Biz would produce, the Daredevil sculpt, and even left Daredevil’s leg pouch on the right leg. Reusing sculpts kind of sucks, but if it’s done well I can forgive it and this one is. The only negative I can say about it are that the shoulders are a bit too bulky. In that case, appearance was sacrificed some for articulation and Deadpool is loaded with articulation. He can be posed in just about any position one can dream up and I love that all of his accessories have a place they can be stored on his belt. The paint scheme is very clean and the costume is spot-on. He is a perfect action figure. Toy Biz either underestimated the character’s popularity or just plain had distribution issues because he was a bitch to find in stores. Not long after Marvel Legends Series 6 was released, Deadpool was showing up on eBay for big bucks. Really, that whole series was botched as Juggernaut and Phoenix were a colossal pain in the ass to find which is a shame because that was one of the better waves of figures Toy Biz ever put out. Deadpool also came with Doop from X-Force, the slimer wannabe. I don’t like Doop, so he’s not pictured.
2. Hot Toys Dark Knight Batman
You may have noticed that some of these toys appeared in my original post about collections. That’s not a coincidence because most of my favorite toys are still on display in my home, while the rest are sealed away in the basement. This one was featured in that post and represents one of the last figures I ever bought. Normally movie themed lines are terrible. Action figures seem to always come out better when they’re trying to resemble a piece of art and not an actual person. Action figures can sometimes point out how absurd a character would look in the real world making the figures totally undesirable or just plain ugly. This is no such toy. Hot Toys puts out high grade action figures that are more like dolls than what most would consider an action figure. These things are stupidly expensive, which is why I only bought one from the series, but are extremely nice. This take on Batman is from the film The Dark Knight and depicts his updated costume in that film. He comes with a stand and a bunch of little accessories including an assortment of bat-a-rangs, bombs, and even a second head. I’ve never bothered to switch him to the Bruce Wayne head because why would I ever want to? His costume is a rubbery material that works really well because it’s how I imagine the costume would actually feel. All of the little details are present making this probably the most accurate movie-based figure in existence. He also came with an extra set of hands but good luck getting the factory attached ones off, I never could. That’s okay though, because he looks cool as is. He also sports quite a bit of articulation. I’ve never gone through the trouble to really pose him but there’s plenty of pictures online of people who have. If you’ve got about $150 burning a hole in your pocket and really want an awesome Batman toy, you can’t go wrong with this one.
1. NECA Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Maybe I’m cheating again by making my number 1 action figure four figures, but as you can see, it couldn’t be done any other way. The Ghostbusters got me into action figures, but my obsession exploded with the TMNT and they were really my first love. These toys are everything I love about action figures. They look great, move great, are loaded with accessories, and are of characters that I adore. Each one has just the right amount of personality to separate it form the rest, perhaps even more so than the comics they come from. And as you can see, these turtles are based on the ones from Mirage Comics. Each one comes with a base, some knives, their turtle specific weapons, a little turtle, and an extra set of climbing hands. That’s all well and good, but all I really care about is that each turtle has his weapons. Mikey stands out in this regard as his nunchaku have real chains, how awesome is that?! Every incarnation of the character released before that had all plastic nunchaku and never in my wildest dreams did I ever think one would come along with actual chains. Raph’s sai are just wide enough that he can fit his fingers within the blades which is cool for display purposes (though I’m too scared to do it as I’m afraid the sai will stretch and break after awhile). I love the expression on Donatello’s face, it just looks exactly how I picture him. And Leo is Leo, which means he’s awesome. Somehow, some way, NECA did not sell enough of these figures to warrant future ones. They did do an April O’Neil figure that was just as ugly as the source material. I’m guessing that one sold poorly which is why we never got a Mirage Shredder to join these turtles. One was unveiled at a Toy Fair along with a Foot soldier, but he has never been released which is a shame. At least we got four comic accurate turtles that kick all kinds of ass. And if you really want a comic accurate set, NECA released a four-pack of the Turtles that are colored in black and white. I prefer the colored ones, but it’s pretty cool they went through the effort of putting out a second set.