Before we begin, let me say, unequivocally, this post is born of my selfish desire to have the action figures I want based on properties I love.
And I am not alone.
I had two posts planned regarding Diamond Select Toys. The first was going to be a fun Top 10 List (who doesn’t love those?) devoted to figures DST could make in order to increase the viability or their Star Trek line, specifically as relates to The Original Series.
The second was going to be a frustrated, though reasoned, screed about how DST is butchering three beloved sci-fi television action figure lines: Battlestar Galactica, Stargate, and the aforementioned Star Trek.
That was the plan.
Then I read this in the latest DST Q&A…
"…TRU has decided to cancel their orders for the latest TOS wave of figures. They are not selling enough to support the space but we have agreed to review the line at each of our future meetings to see if they can be brought in again."
…which was followed shortly by this…
"…the chances are the traditional action figure line is on hold for Trek in 2010"
If you know DST, even at all, you know within that statement lie the death of their Star Trek action figure line.
Which makes the fun Top 10 post moot. So, now, you’re just gonna get the screed.
Just a bit of background for the uninitiated.
Diamond Select Toys makes a whole lot of stuff based on a whole lot of stuff. Among their action figure lines are two they effectively rescued from the previous licensee: Buffy The Vampire Slayer, formally held by the defunct Moore Action Collectibles, and Star Trek, formally held by the since incorporated Art Asylum. Along the way, DST picked up the rights to action figures for two other science fiction TV gems, Stargate and the 2004 re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica, and assigned design duties to Jean St. Jean Studios, who have done not but outstanding work on both properties from the start.
Star Trek. Battlestar Galactica. Stargate. All under one tent. What could stop them?
Well, DST, apparently.
Let’s get something out of the way right now; I know none of these three properties are the In, Hot, or Now thing. I know Trek exists by the grace of J.J. Abrams, Galactica is basically over, and Stargate has only the Galactica-like Universe remaining in production, but that’s not a reason or an excuse for the sad state of DST’s lines.
Want a counterargument? Star Wars.
And before you say a word about epic, monolithic fanbases or marketing genius, let me cut you off at the pass…
If Hasbro ran Star Wars the way DST’s run Trek, BSG, and Stargate, it’d be in the same sorry condition.
Let’s look at the individual problems first.
I’m rather tempted to give DST a pass on Stargate, maybe even a pat on the back. They’ve managed to release four series of figures based on the original SG-1 series, with the first bowing in 2006, almost ten years after the show went on the air. Also on the market are three series of figures based on the first spin-off, Stargate: Atlantis. Between these releases, most of the essential characters of both shows (most, I say) have been made and, in general, the rational fan in me says we should be happy nerds when it comes to this collection.
But then DST announced SG-1 Series 5 and things went bad.
More on that in a bit.
The main issues with this line lie in the overarching mistakes DST makes, so I’ll save my complaints for a bit later on, but there is one thing I’d like to address and it is both symptomatic of, and feeds directly into, the reason DST’s sci-fi lines are all but dead by their hands…
I can look to the left at my desk here and see 14 DST Battlestar Galactica figures on one of my shelves. I love them all.
None of them is William Adama.
I’m going to concentrate on The Original Series here for three reasons. First, it’s my favorite, by far, of the Star Trek series. Second, it remains the most popular, and marketable, of the Star Trek series. Third, DST has done a decent job of getting at least the crew of Star Trek: The Next Generation out there in figure form.
As we’re all well aware, Playmates did a fairly exhaustive line of Star Trek action figures, spanning all applicable series, spread out over most of the 90s. That being the case, DST had their work cut for them when it came to producing figures of characters, or variants of main characters, not already produced by Playmates. However, luckily for them, there were some glaring holes in Playmates’s Original Series range, in particular, so DST, and Art Asylum before them, had some golden opportunities laid out for them.
They’ve taken almost none of them.
To Art Asylum’s credit, they did recognize some opportunities. I’ll be forever thankful for my full set of red movie uniform figures. That was AA recognizing Playmates only ever released Kirk, Scotty, Chekov, and Saavik in that attire. AA/DST even went the extra mile and released a figure of the ill-fated Captain Clark Terrell of the starship Reliant. Playmates never did that.
So, there were some bright spots. But then DST signed a deal to bring their Original Series figures to TRU pegs…
…and things went bad.
Remember that Top 10 list I mentioned earlier? Here it is, minus all the nice, blog-friendly pics I spent an hour finding. They are in order of how badly I desired them, most first…
1. Gary Seven
2. Comdr. Matt Decker
3. Lt. Kyle
4. Romulan Commander from “Balance of Terror”
5. Lt. Jose Tyler
6. Number One
8. Montgomery Scott from “Where No Man Has Gone Before”
9. Gary Mitchell
10. Dr. Richard Daystrom
…with an honorable mention to Commissioner Bele and Capt. John Christopher.
Undoubtedly, your list would have differed, maybe even been totally different, from mine; that was going to be the fun of the post, but there’s one thing undisputed about my list: with one exception, which made sense with what we were told DST planned, none of the figures listed above were made by Playmates.
Another advantage to my list is cost. Fully half of the figures listed above could be achieved with new heads on existing bodies. DST is known to have had Art Asylum sculpt one of the others. Three of remaining four could have been packaged with existing figures (Sarek w/Spock, Number One w/Pike, and Daystrom w/ Kirk, off the top of my head) to allay costs; I’m confident collectors would have rewarded the effort with their wallets, and Gary Seven would have made a great SDCC exclusive. But, alas, DST never dared to dream beyond what had already been done, turning to whipping boys like The Economy as the reason for their failure.
The truth is, when it comes to Star Trek TOS, DST has done little but flood TRU pegs and etailer pre-order pages with Kirk and Spock variants, most of which Playmates handled previously, and rehashes of figures Art Asylum managed to bring to market without their help.
One notable exception is the TRU exclusive Series 3 Klingon Captain Kang. He’d never been made in his TOS look by Playmates or Art Asylum. In fact, all DST had to do to create the Kang figure was slap a new head on an existing body (sound familiar?). It was truly, or at least basically, a new TOS figure from DST.
How many times did you ever see him on the pegs at TRU?
I’m not saying you can maintain a Star Trek: TOS action figure line by leading with Gary Seven, Lt. Kyle, and Gary Mitchell; of course you need Kirk and Spock in there. But, as DST has now proven, you can’t have not but Kirk and Spock, particularly those already done by another company, and expect to build a McDuckian money bin for your profits, either.
I have a Kirk in Dress Uniform figure from DST for just one reason: it was packaged with a Khan figure that had never been done before by anyone.
There were ways to make this work.
But that’s the other problem…
When is a Pre-Order Not a Pre-Order?
Imagine, if you will, a world in which, in order to get the DC Universe Classics figures you want from Mattel, you have to pre-order them, sight unseen aside from a few hastily cobbled proto pics, and hope enough of your fellows do the same lest the figures in question are never put into production. Imagine how you’d feel if, after you made said pre-orders well before the appointed release date, the figures in question were delayed…and delayed…and delayed, while Mattel told you not enough of your fellows were making their pre-orders to be able to put the figures into production in the first place, though they’d been announced as upcoming releases. Then imagine Mattel turned around and equated what I just described as "retailer pre-orders," and blamed those retailers, and the market for DC Universe Classics in general, for their inability to put the figures they announced and you pre-ordered, in some cases over a year prior, into production, much less in your hands.
And you think MattyCollector.com sucks.
Most unfortunately, and I would say amazingly, the above is exactly how DST runs their sci-fi lines.
Or, rather, how their sci-fi lines don’t run.
There are currently twelve Star Trek: TOS figures (a thirteenth was officially canceled), five Stargate SG-1 figures, and five Battlestar Galactica figures sitting in this very specific form of limbo DST has (mis)managed to create. I know this because all I needed to do to find out was go to BBTS.com, sign in, and click on "View Preorders." There they all are, little pictures on a screen; likely as close as I’ll even get to them because, for some reason, DST simultaneously feels the suggestion of a figure is sufficient reason to buy it, but a guaranteed, faith-based sale is not reason enough to make it.
Among the Stargate SG-1 abortions is General George Hammond, a character fans have wanted in figure form for years. Essentially the King Randor of SG-1, Hammond is the key supporting character on the show. As an SG-1 fan, it hurts to be so close to a figure of this beloved character, and yet so very far away from ever having it.
Battlestar Galactica fares even worse for, among its figures in suspended animation is and the above-named Commander William Adama, the star of the frakkin’ show, who’s been dangled in front of us three times (I know DST’s promised the revamped Series 4 for March but…seriously?) with no release in sight. This is to say nothing of Colonial President Laura Roslin, who was removed from the original Series 4 and never seen or false promised again. These are the stars of the show. I know they’re not action heroes, but this is a collector’s line.
2-pack. BBTS exclusive. Can I be the only one whose thought it?
Can I be the only one whose thought any of it…
Some people won’t buy things unless they can see them.
Some people can’t afford to have their money tied up for months in something that may never come.
A retailer pre-order is not a customer pre-order.
Are these really things I need to say?
Is this thing on…?
I surely won’t be alone when I say my anger and frustration is born of passion. I love these shows and I love these figures; DST, and especially Jean St. Jean Studios, has done a great job with what they’ve managed to release.
But I’m sick and tired and sitting here and reading Q&A after Q&A full of contradictory, counterproductive, tripe about markets and retailer support when DST has set up a system, seemingly almost intentionally, by which customers are taught to have no faith in anything the company says…but are expected to support all product in full lest they themselves be blamed for the lack of promised product. Add to that the inept handling of what mass retailer space they do have (I didn’t even mention the unmitigated Bait and Switch that was BSG TRU Series 4) and Diamond Select Toys has become a joke whose only saving grace is not having the privilege of fecklessly bungling properties more people care about.
But that’s no excuse, DST.
Get your shit together.
You’re ruining my hobby.