San Diego Comic Con has come to be a convention that means a lot of things. It only vaguely has anything to do with comic books and instead is more a celebration of, and I hate to use the term, “geek” culture: video games, movies, comics, toys, etc. It’s also a huge commercial event with many companies exhibiting wares like a trade show and also hawking rare, convention, exclusives to hungry patrons looking to get their hands on something unique. The problem is, these convention exclusives were once novelties, but in the toy industry, they’ve become practical necessities for fans of certain products and it creates a hyper-competitive environment full of broken websites, tapped-out wallets, and frustrated fans.
For the second year in a row, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the event to be done remotely. At least with this year, companies had plenty of time to plan for that and many crafted special videos or hosted live panels to show off to fans what’s expected to come later this year and into next. Unfortunately, a global shipping crisis could not be foreseen so a lot of product that would have been sold at physical booths this year are still in transit. It certainly takes a damper out of things when, as a consumer, you fight scalpers and busted websites only to secure an order for something that won’t even ship for 6 to 8 months. In that case though, at least the consumer can be happy to have secured a coveted item and the waiting is just what it is.
It’s been an interesting season. I was musing on Twitter how this time of year that purports to celebrate the collector, toy, industry instead brings out the worst in the industry. As one would say though, it is what it is. I spent a lot of time, and money, going after the stuff I personally wanted and watched from afar as plenty of other fellow collectors tried to get the things they wanted. Some experiences went better than others, but I can at least say that I did get everything I really wanted, and the things I didn’t I passed on because it just wasn’t worth it to me.
The company always in my sights this time of year is NECA. I have been collecting NECA’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles products ever since they started making the stuff back in 2008. NECA chose to use this time of year to only highlight items expected to arrive in stores between now and October, so while there weren’t a ton of reveals, there was certainly plenty to get excited about. On the film front, they had a new Casey Jones to feature that now comes with an unmasked portrait as NECA was able to get the likeness rights to actor Elias Koteas (with some help from April actress Judith Hoag) around the time the original figure was released. It looks great, though considering it’s basically the same figure I already have just with a new head and elbows means I may pass on it. Complicating the matter is Walmart posting a preorder just last night for a mystery two-pack claiming to be April and Casey from the farm portion of the film. There was no image to go with it, but being a TMNT product, it sold out. It’s dated for November so I suppose it’s not a surprise it was withheld from the show. Also from the movies is Shredder from the sequel, The Secret of the Ooze. He’s largely the same figure as the first film except he’s purple and has a new cape and helmet. Still, he looks pretty awesome and would pair quite well with Tokka and Rahzar.
From the cartoons, NECA had some two-packs that we knew were coming thanks to a Target leak, but had yet to see. Groundchuck and Dirtbag will be arriving together which makes sense since they debuted together in the same episode of the show. Dirtbag even has a nifty feature where he can separate at the torso and be placed in a sculpted pile of rubble like he came up from out of the ground (since he’s a mutated miner or something). The other big two-pack shown was Wingnut and Screwloose who too looked quite impressive. Screwloose in the cartoon was a much larger character than someone like Joe Eyeball so he gets a full figure this time around, which is awesome. He looks to be roughly the same size as Baxter. Those were the only new reveals, but they did show additional shots of some of the figures NECA put up for preorder earlier in the year and also teased a cartoon Tokka and Rahzar two-pack. For the comics, they only had a teaser for Fugitoid and nothing for the video game line was shown or teased which was expected as the comic line is intended to replace it.
As expected, NECA did have an exclusive set to sell this year as they have every year going back several years now. And for TMNT, they actually had two. The first is an exclusive Super Shredder that will be sold at Walmart stores. It’s another paint variant meant to resemble a European version of the old Playmates toy, similar to how the Shadow Master variant was an homage to a mail order exclusive of the same toy. This one is basically hot pink with metallic blue shoulder pads and spikes. It’s fine, though most fans were more interested in the cartoon 4-pack that went on sale at NECA’s webstore yesterday. Titled The Catwoman from Channel 6, the set contains four figures: Mutated Cat April, Irma, Vernon, and Burne as well as a bunch of unique Channel 6 themed accessories like cameras and little mutated versions of Vernon and Burne as turtles. It’s a pretty cool looking set as the box is done up like the deluxe releases with f.h.e. inspired artwork, but mostly it’s the first chance at an Irma and Burne. They may not be heroes or villains, but they were in a lot of episodes of the cartoon and it’s hard to have a display that doesn’t include them. Many were disappointed that the Cat April doesn’t come with a new, non-mutated, April head, but her skin tone is different as a cat and it wouldn’t have made sense. Irma comes with rat parts, like Vernon, while the cowardly cameraman has two new portraits to differentiate him from his prior release: a scared version and a blindfolded one. The set was sold with some “swag” like last year’s Musical Mutagen Tour and set collectors back $175. A version without the swag will arrive at Target in the coming months and retail for $150. I was able to place an order yesterday as the set remained in stock for awhile relative to other NECA exclusives, which means about 15 minutes. International versions are still available, and really the only downer is NECA has not provided a release window so I have no idea when this thing will ship.
In non-turtle news, NECA had some horror stuff to show based on Halloween and Gremlins II. I’m not really into that aspect of their business, but I am very interested in one of their newest intellectual properties: Gargoyles. Despite boasting that they have around six or seven sculpts already completed, NECA was content to just show two characters: Demona and Thailog. Demona had been teased already so this was just a chance to get a closer look at her, and predictably, she looks terrific. Thailog, being a clone of Goliath, was a bit underwhelming as he’s basically a Goliath variant. He has a new portrait that’s rather smug looking, and I like it, but I would have preferred to see another new sculpt. Demona was confirmed as the second release, and I believe Thailog was confirmed as the third, but no release window was given. Since Goliath still hasn’t shipped, it would probably be generous to expect both to arrive before October is through, but hopefully Demona can at least make it out before Halloween. Goliath is my most anticipated action figure release this year and I can’t wait to go hands-on with this line!
After the NECA hysteria died down, my focus turned to Bandai. I am a casual collector of Bandai’s S.H.Figuarts line and it’s Dragon Ball figures, but one of their exclusives this year caught my eye. An anime accurate Nappa was going on sale following the manga-inspired version that was released a couple of years ago. I had seen that figure on display several times at a local comic shop and came close to pulling the trigger, but ultimately passed. I decided I would not do the same this time, but Bandai seemed to have other ideas. The sale started at 9 EST last night and it was doomed from the start. The website crashed and no one could check out. Twitter was flooded with complaints while the social media accounts for Bandai and Bluefin Brands tried to push patience. It was a repeat of last year, and despite promises to do better, Bandai came up short. After an hour of constant refreshing and baby steps, I finally got through, but others weren’t as lucky. It helped I was only going after one of the four Dragon Ball exclusives, the others being Goku, Whis, and Beerus. I would have liked to have grabbed Beerus as I enjoy that character, but I just didn’t feel like spending more money. Same for the special stands that were on sale which featured a custom base. At least with Nappa, I have an expected delivery window of August, so the wait for this exclusive should be fairly quick.
The longest wait though is reserved for Mondo. I am a first-time buyer of Monda, though I’ve seen their stuff before. They did a line of Mirage-inspired Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that were pretty cool and also have tackled Batman: The Animated Series. Their figures are 1/6th scale, so they’re around 12″ usually and quite expensive. Last November though, the company unveiled a figure in a new line: Wolverine. Not just any Wolverine though, Wolverine from X-Men the animated series. I was immediately interested despite the scale and cost and I only became more interested when the company teased it earlier this week. This thing comes with the photo frame of Scott and Jean that Wolverine broods over and has become a popular meme over the past few years. And to top it off, he comes packaged in a window box that simulates Wolverine laying on his bed pining for Jean. It’s ridiculous, and also ridiculously expensive at $200. A standard version should arrive sometime next year that will certainly be cheaper. How much cheaper I’m unsure of as the world of action figures continues to get hammered by shipping price hikes. This figure comes with a sad Wolverine head and we know that’s exclusive to this set, but is the picture? Or the alternate Morph head? The turkey leg?! Yes, he comes with a turkey leg.
Mostly, I just felt the need to show my support for anything X-Men animated as that has become my new grail toyline. NECA has crafted the TMNT lines of my dreams and are now going to dip their toes into Gargoyles. X-Men though was my biggest love as a kid and I’ve talked about my desire to see that cartoon get dedicated action figures based on it. Some will wave the retro-carded line by Hasbro in my face and say “This is X-Men animated,” but it’s not. Doing figures based on the designs of Jim Lee is not the same as doing an actual cartoon line. This figure from Mondo appears to get that right based on the paint deco which uses two shades of yellow, two shades of blue, and doesn’t have over-the-top detailing like stubble on Wolverine’s face or individually sculpted teeth. Unfortunately, I’ll have to wait until January (if not longer) to find out just how good this thing is as that’s the current expected ship date. Apparently, this wouldn’t have been ready to sell at a physical booth had the convention happened.
It was quite a week though, and it followed a week of reveals by Super7 the prior week which got G.I. Joe fans talking. The state of the shipping industry makes it hard to say how many of the products shown off this week will actually reach collector hands this year, but it’s fun to know what’s coming. Right now there’s a lot of waiting going on which is rarely fun, but often necessary. And I’m an adult capable of being patient when it comes to my toy hobby. Still, waiting on the chance to try and buy these exclusives was anxiety-inducing when it doesn’t have to be. It’s great companies are creating products people want, but why the artificial scarcity? And with so many of them not even shipping for months, why not just open preorders for most of them? I get it if you’re selling some goofy, expensive, variant that not everyone needs, but a character like Nappa from Dragon Ball Z in his show accurate colors should be something every DBZ collector has a chance at. NECA appeared to meet demand with its set, and they have more shipping to stores as well, so I give them high marks this con season. Plus, I think the exclusive figures in that set, namely Irma and Burne, will see release in the main line at some point too. Even the mutated April might get a re-release and if that happens the only truly exclusive things in that set will be the large cameras and alternate Vernon portraits. And that’s fine! I want to get the toys that I like and I want everyone else to as well. I don’t need these things to be hyper exclusive to have value for me. Some people see things differently, but I’m confident in saying they’re the minority in this day and age. It’s a time of year I both look forward to a lot and also dread. It’s over now though and I’m largely feeling good so…mission accomplished?