Chronic Ankle Instability
August 7, 2009

I bought my first Justice League figure in the summer of 2003. It was Attack Armor Green Lantern. I had been eyeing the line and once I saw that cool green translucent force field I bought in. Heck, there were only 6 characters. (Hawkgirl was ify at that point if I remember correctly.) I loved the simple lines, the clean design. Even my wife thought they were cool. "These guys are going to display well," I thought to myself. And they did. Back then.

But that was a stronger, tougher generation. That was a time when action figures could stand on their own two feet. Wish I could say the same for the sissys of today.

Lets spend a few moments looking at where the line started and where it is now – specifically, how has the Justice League / Justice League Unlimited figure’s legs and ankles devolved over the last 6 years. We’ll focus on two body types: the one that was inspired by the original Flash and the one inspired by the original Green Lantern. I use the term "inspired" because these character’s molds are not the same ones used for subsequent character’s that share a similar body type. These original figures had sculpted grooves in areas around the boots, gloves, and other areas like belts and emblems. Flash’s shoes have unique definition around the ankles and a delineated sole. Both original figures are made of quality plastic and have sufficient heft in the ankle area that keeping them upright has never been a problem for me.

Around 2005 the line exploded beyond the Big Seven. Many of the new figure’s bodies were adapted from those original styles. For instance, the Atom descended from the Flash, and Starman descended from Green Lantern. Again, they weren’t the same exact mold, as was evident by the disappearance of the sculpted grooves, but they were clearly related. It became obvious rather quickly that the ankles and feet on these new figures were thinner. I’m not sure that the plastic deteriorated at this point but the less substantial lower support began to give and figures started to fall.

Mattel acknowledged the deficiency and started adding tapered platforms to the feet of the Flash style body type figures. Aesthetics aside this did help these figures to stand but the soft plastic none-the-less often prevailed. For example, Tomar Re has the platforms yet remains one of my most unstable figures.

The figures we are getting currently that make use of the Flashesqe and Green Lanternesqe body types seem to be the most inferior of all, especially the Green Lantern style. None of the figures using this body type that I’ve gotten recently stand. And that accounts for quite a few figures: Forager, The Key, Vibe, B’wana Beast, Devil Ray, Psycho Pirate, Dr. Polaris, Mr. Terrific, and Hourman to name a few. All of these figures are problematic for me.

The fact that the right ankle on these guys is only slightly wider than 2 millimeters is a big part of the problem. Coupled with soft plastic these figures have little chance of remaining upright without some kind of assistance. Recently Mattel began offering Justice League Unlimited Action Figure Stands at the rate of 25 stands for $12. Overlooking the fact that their effectiveness in keeping figures upright is debatable they just look obnoxious and clunky to me and that flies in the face of the very reason I was attracted to this line in the first place.

Besides my routine hot/cold water treatments I have to employ various other techniques to keep my JLU collection standing at attention. For most of these difficult Green Lantern body type figures I display them in a "walking pose". The right leg is extended forward and resting on its heel. The balanced pose is pretty successful albeit ugly. Some characters (like my Forager) still refuse to cooperate and are reluctantly leaned against the back wall of my display cabinet. This is a last resort for me. I’m just not a fan of poster tack or other adhesive solutions.

I noticed that the figures included in the new 6 packs have a peg hole in one of their feet. This may be a good development. If Mattel were to offer bulk sales of the clear oval stands that are included with all female characters I would buy them. These are a lot less obnoxious to me. But I still suspect that even with a stand the figures will eventually lean into a Matrix like pose (and probably end up falling over anyway.)

Of course, the body styles based on the original Flash and Green Lantern are not the only ones with problems. My original Obsidian is made of an exceptionally soft plastic. His legs are downright rubbery. In this photo I am exerting very little pressure bending his legs. (He’d be really good at yoga.)

I guess there are lots of things that represent legitimate complaints but this is my biggest frustration with the JLU line. After getting the 2 new 6 packs last week I went about rearranging my JLU display. It finally busted the seams of my display cabinet and took over 1/2 the shelves in another. (I could have never predicted that when I picked up John Stewart 6 years ago!) As I lay in bed that night I felt my temperature rising with every "clunk" I heard. The next morning I surveyed the damage and most of my new figures with the problem ankles had bit it, often taking neighbors with them. Grrr. For a line that thrives being displayed together it sure doesn’t come easy.

I can hear Gorilla Grodd mocking me: "If you puny humans had only evolved strong ankles like me you wouldn’t be having this problem!"



Danny "CantinaDan" Neumann
Action figure anthropologist, Professor Cantina Dan Neumann has been a scholastic contributor to the online community studying the complex world of parumplasticus populus {little plastic people} since the turn of this millenium. His primary focus is the visual cataloging of species exhibits through photo-journalism.
Read other articles by Danny "CantinaDan" Neumann.





  • Erik superfriend says:

    A great review of a continuing problem.
    The sad thing is, Mattel knows about the standing / falling issue and despite frequent requests has done nothing about it. Maybe they know we will buy the characters anyway, so why bother spending money to fix the problem. Its still sad.

  • Jeff Cope Jeff Cope says:

    The inability to stand is why I dropped this line a few years back.

    • Hourman says:

      I have a box full of my entire JLU collection waiting to go on eBay because I just got fed up with the cheap plastic and the constant, CONSTANT falling over.

      And stick tack or museum putty doesn’t help anyway, Dan. Not for JLU figures. They still fall over – just … more … slowly …

    • MisterPL says:

      Same here, Jeff. I quit the line because I preferred to show off my collection on shelves rather than a storage bin. I drilled holes in the feet just so I could try stands but even that didn’t work. Every spring would mark the start of JLU Pickup, when I’d guess which characters I just heard toppling off my display.

      When even Mattel can’t display them in an attractive fashion, you know it’s going to be more frustrating than fun. This is why I’m looking forward to DCIH 2.0. Same diverse character selection, better articulation (except for the female characters, of course), and much better display value.

  • David says:

    Hahahaha…Grodd. Love that guy!

  • Bill says:

    Yet another reason why the JLU line is inferior to Marvel Legends.

  • jzachery says:

    I hear ya. I keep my figures in a wooden armoire in my room. And sometimes when I’m just sitting watching TV or laying in bed about to fall asleep, I hear someone topple. LOL. For some, I’ve tried everything, putty, stands, leaning, etc. and they still won’t stand. My worst offenders are Forager and Saturn Girl. I love the line, and will always collect it, but it is highly annoying.

  • chad says:

    marvel legends also has the same problem with some of the figures not be able to stand like the justice leque figurs and also the same thing with dc classics for think when matel is working on the body molds they to keep costs in budget have to use less strenghth for the legs thus why the legs making some of the line weak

  • Brainlock says:

    I clicked on this blog, thinking it would be a general DC/ML ankle joint complaint. Then I see it’s yet another one about JLU’s inability to fight that harshest mistress, gravity.

    The last several 6pks I haven’t even bothered to open. when I found the new Supergirl/Terrific 6pk last week, I went with the set that had the straightest legs for her. The other two were even more bent than that pic of Obsidian up there. Tala didn’t seem to have that problem, afaik, but others in her set did.

    Maybe they need to switch to a new plastic or just retool the damn legs to be a hair thicker at the ankle so we won’t have this problem?

  • j1h15233 says:

    This is a very annoying problem. I can get most of them to stand but it doesn’t always look good and it doesn’t always last. Some of them can stand perfectly fine for weeks and then I’ll come home one day and there they are on the floor with 20 friends they knocked over. The day that this line dies, I have a perfect display idea in mind that will make this problem irrelevant but until then I’ll keep adding new figures and keep picking them up when they bite the dust.

  • xrmc20 says:

    Great photos–I really enjoyed reading about and seeing the modifications Mattel has made. I have sold extras on ebay, and given extras to kids, but I always keep those clear stands that come with the ladies. I’ve built up a solid supply.

    I’m sure Grodd is mocking all of us.

  • Veil1 says:

    I’m seriously thinking about inserting the smallest of metal pins into the feet to keep the ankles from bending….you just have to be super careful not to send the pin out the side of the leg.

    • Jason Geyer says:

      This amazingly doesn’t help that much unless you go way up the length of the leg. When I made my Kilowog trophies for work last year I put a 2″ metal pin in their legs, and then put the exposed end into a wooden base, and then epoxied the whole thing down and clamped it for a day just to make sure these things were solid.

      The result? Most of them are leaning at a crazy angle, with their feet firmly flat on the base still. The pins have bent with them, or have forced their feet to separate from the wood. But the ankles are now just bent beyond belief. So unless you put a really stiff rod in there, and go high up, they’re still going to give in to gravity.

      I think Mattel needs to hire new engineers.

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  • Emerald says:

    All they’ve ever had to do to fix this problem is cast the legs in a rigid, non-bendable plastic. It would make them heavier at their base as well as non-flexible and they would probably stand without assistance.
    The reason they probably never have done this is because it is harder to match up different plastics colors and this line has always been done on the cheap. I’m sure their tooling costs we’re covered long ago. I think this is the only reason this line has survived — they are essentially dollar-store quality items, pennies to produce, with a much much higher perceived value tacked on.
    Despite no media vehicle, Mattel probably looked at the bottom line and said keep making them as long as we can – the margin is too good. My kids have about 5 identical Superman figures and don’t need any more than collectors do and yet they keep making them.
    This line has always defied retail gravity….

    • Jason Geyer says:

      The reason the plastic is soft is most likely it is full of regrind, which makes it much cheaper but of a lower durometer.

      Virgin plastic is best, but more expensive It has nothing to do with matching colors.

      • Emerald says:

        It could be “recycled” plastic, but the durometer could just as easily be a result of a semi-rigid catalyst. Matching plastics colors with different physical properties has always been a problem (many many toys suffer from this and you don’t have to go far to find one), although it is true it is less so in recent years with digital calibration. Sometimes the dyes can match perfectly, and yet different lighting, surface quality can make make parts not match. Just the physics of it.
        If the cost is more for a rigid urethane, which I doubt is anything if not minimal, that still leaves little excuse for Mattel and this problem. I still bet the overwhelming reason is shaving cost.

  • Maniac Joker says:

    Interesting to hear that J1 say his figures fall over as he specifically said earlier this year that they never did. Ah the truth shall set you free.

    • J1h15233 says:

      I never once said they don’t occasionally fall over. Almost every one of my figures are standing. They don’t all look good or even when they’re standing and they do occassionally fall over. The truth remains the same.

      • Maniac Joker says:

        Not what you said in several threads a while back, but at least now we know the truth. Not that anyone really believed you had magic figures that didn’t fall over anyway.

        • j1h15233 says:

          Man learn how to read. That thread was only talking about your figures being able to stand. Mine are standing. Some of them are leaning forward like the Joker, others are on one foot like my latest Yellow Lantern custom, some have arms out, some have bent knees (old articulation), others lean one way or the other but they’re standing. Do they always stay that way? No. Sometimes they start to move back and lose their stance I put them in and fall over but that thread was about figures not standing at all and mine do.

          • Maniac Joker says:

            LOL. If that’s what you want to believe.

            However in that thread you said your figures never fall. A moot point I suppose now, but even in that thread it never made much sense when you said a figure could “stand” until it fell. You really need to work on your comprehension skills.

          • Danny CantinaDan says:

            Don’t make me pull over!

            Bottom line: it sucks that we have to go to such lengths to keep these figures upright. Sorry to provoke another argument that’s really just another sign of frustration with this problem.

  • DanMan says:

    I would pay MORE for sturdier figures. I don’t know why they don’t spend the extra money to make the product acceptable.

  • Zodach says:

    I started collecting JLU a few years ago, but I sold them all on eBay because this drove me nuts. I really like the style of the figures, but their inability to stand up on display is what keeps me from giving Mattel more of my money.

  • Danny CantinaDan says:

    Well, I guess if my collecting was based solely on what figures stand the best I’d have a cabinet full of Weeble Woobles.

    Thanks for all the comments, folks!

  • John Cage says:

    I’m a little late to the discussion, but I just got back from Chicago with the Secret Society Luthor-Tala-et al and the Hourman-Mr. Terrific-et al packs, and not one of them stands on their own. Most will stay up with a little tinkering, but I really could’ve used a few more clear bases thrown in. Supergirl is the worst — I’d have to post a picture of how bad she looks, especially since, in addition to her warped legs, her skirt is kind of sideways as well.

    Not that I’m complaining since I’m glad to have the lot of them (7 new figures, plus new versions of Elongated Man and Supergirl, and the Obsidian figure I couldn’t find when it was first out), but as far as standing goes this lot makes Dove and Forager look good.

    Have a good day.
    John Cage

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