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It’s been a fairly good toy week. I wasn’t even looking hard and found most of DCUC 6 today, and had to really hold myself back from looking at any Targets because i don’t want to stumble across those clearance deals like $3.48 Marvel Legends and $35 Millennium Falcons. I’m trying to scale back, and sales always make me break down like a 6 year old girl in a free pony store. I didn’t see a Shazam!, Black-Suit Superman, or Dr. Impossible. But what I got has made me pleasantly surprised.

First, though, I want to point out that our old friends Shocker Toys has released pictures of the factory production pieces of their first Indie Spotlight wave. I’ve given Shocker a pretty hard time or the years (albeit very well-deserved), but on the flip side I need to point out when they’ve done something right just as much as berate them for doing everything else wrong. These sculpts and paint jobs look pretty good. If I ever see them in a store, there is s light chance I might pick one or two of them up. Considering my attitude toward the company and its product lend themselves to me torching a store carrying their toys, this is a surprise indeed. Heck, I’ll go so far as to say that if Shocker wants to send me a set for review I will go out of my way to be fair.

Back to DCUC: I gave Mattel a hard time just in my last post. Wave 5 was just a mess, and we’ve been hearing about them switching to a new factory and that they’re looking into the problems for so long now, it really sounded like a broken record designed to brush off collectors. I’m happy and amazed, though, that DCUC 6 actually does go a long way toward fixing problems!

To start with, the plastic has a harder durometer than previous waves (although to be fair, wave 5 also was nice and hard). Unlike wave 5, the joints are definitely not frozen on any of these. Someone finally got the memo to make sure every joint was worked good before packaging, because now the problem is that some of them are slightly loose. But I’ll take that any day over potential breakage. Most of the paint is nice and crisp, and the C&C figure, Kalibak, has great snap together joints that seem to fix the "bad leg" problems plaguing earlier figures. In fact, Kalibak’s joints are so tight he can easily stand on one leg while waiting for that last piece! And the paint is not only nice and crisp (only found the one set, and those were all as nice as can be expected) but they are finally starting to get all the colors right. In past waves, there have been many unexplicable shifts from the paint masters to the production figures. I hope this just keeps getting better. Bravo, Mattel!

One complaint, which may be big or minor depending on what you care about: the "paint wash" on these guys is pretty bad. Mainly because its not a wash, but rather a quick once-over with an airbrush, and on only one color on the figure. It makes them look dirty, instead of added depth. And even if they continue this process (my advice would be to save money and drop it is they can’t do it right) they should go with a slightly darker shad of the base color, not this almost black wash. It needs to be subtle, not in your face. 

One last complaint: I hate these formed inner bubbles in general, but this wave they are so bad that you have to nearly break the figure to get them out, especially Hawkman and Killer Moth, whose wings have to be cut free. Why can’t we go back to simple carded figures? Is theft really that much of a problem? Speaking of Killer Moth’s wings, mine were put in slightly too high, making them lean forward on his back. But again, a minor complaint when you get a Killer Moth figure to begin with! Now bring on the 60s Batgirl to go with him.


Posted by Jason Geyer [10] Comments
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Man, Mattel really makes it hard to be a Mattel defender. 

I like a lot of what they try to do, but between concept and execution, something just goes missing. Do they need to hire an engineer? Or fire the one they have and hire a good one?  I’m really hoping that everything I’m hearing about wave 6 being the start of a new beginning is true.First, a bit of good news: although I have yet to see any of the Walmarts I frequent in Dallas carry DCUC, I did finally see an empty peg space today with tags for DCUC and DCIH! And there were A LOT of empty pegs in the toy section, leading me to believe that the new reset is right around the corner.

The bad news, though, is that even after searching abunch of Walmarts while on vacation in San Antonio and finding the four sets for me and other AFI guys, I still was a loser at DCUC Roulette. It doesn’t matter how nice these look in the package: when I opened them Black Lightning’s arm fell off (I didn’t even touch his arm, either!) and Amazo’s elbow peg wasn’t pushed through his arm, leaving it hanging at the elbow. And of course Metallo is fantastic…as long as you don’t move his legs. All the joints were fine, but the hip pegs won’t stay in the torso, much like the problems with Metamorpho back in wave 1.

Speaking of Amazo, he appears to be the smallest one in the assortment! I say appears as he uses the same body as Atom, I think. But visually he does look like the shortest one. I just can’t understand how 5 assortments in to this line, and there isn’t a single basic beffy body to use for these larger characters. This was the same short sighted thinking that led to Superman, Atom Smasher, Amazo etc. being tiny in JLU, but you’d think by now Mattel would have been past that particular learning curve and thought toward the future right off the bat. Ah well.  At least I found a set, which is better than most collectors.

Posted by Jason Geyer [14] Comments
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Recently I needed to make a bunch of Trophies for a internal project at work, based upon two execs in my company. I sculpted some custom heads, but had no idea how to make that make copies, or what bodies to use for them.

With the help of the amazing SpyMagician (who cast all the heads I needed and sent them back within days) I ended up choosing Kilowog as a base body. He had no sculpted details, making him perfect for a "generic superhero body", but more importantly, nobody wanted this single carded monstrocity so I thought it would be easy to pick up the 20+ Kilowogs I needed.

Little did I realize, but the Targets near me only yielded one or two of the ‘Wog per store! I became increasingly desperate as I drove all over Dallas until I stumbled in the motherload at Parker & 75: there before me was greatness- easily 25 Kilowogs, shining from the pegs, untouched by human hands!

So, in the end, I did clear a few Targets of the bane of JLU collectors, and whittled down the "Kilowog Graveyard" quite a bit. With any luck,  those stores will restock sooner than later with all new JLU singles.

No need to thank me, just doing what any responsible citizen would in a time of crisis.


Posted by Jason Geyer [10] Comments
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…is that Jason gets a stress fracture on his heel. 

In V-Town to help set up some stuff for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this week, and all the walking coupled with my bad arches has given me the "excrutiating pain", as the kids call it. But thanks to my friendly local super Walgreens I was able to hobble down the street and pick up some icy/hot cream, a big bottle of ibuprfen, a few instant cold packs, and $50 worth of shoe inserts to play with (I wasn’t going to hobble back 5 blocks if one didn’t work). 

As with any trip to a new town, I limped over to the toy aisle once I found my pain relief items.  Does anyone remember when you used to be able to go into any drugstore and find a world of wonders? Super Powers, Master of the Universe, Star Wars gum cards…it was like a trip to kid’s paradise! But now it’s just some lame generics and maybe a Hot Wheels or two. When did all the old school toy distribution completely disappear?

Was it when TRU and Wal-Mart undercut these guys so much that the prices in a drugstore are too insane to carry mass market? I don’t know. But it did make me sad not to find anything worth looking at. Especially since my poor feet hurt way too much to explore Vegas much (it’s my first time in Sin City). My client did put me up at the Wynn, so I can’t complain too much (checked in next to former Spurs’ star Avery Johnson, so that was neat to this San Antonio boy). Too bad I have to fly out before CES starts, as it would have been nice to see some of the new products.

I will say that while walking the con floor today I spied a booth setting up a HDTV that was running a clip from The Empire Strikes Back in HD…just stunning looking! But that was about it for coolness…

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I’ve never done real predictions for the year ahead before, but I do weigh in on things going down in the industry as they come up on message boards. A boss of mine once asked me how I always seemed to know what was going to happen; the truth is that you just have to think of what bad stuff could happen, and then make it worse. People want to believe nothing but good things are in the future, but I’ve found that that is rarely the case.

That said… here are my predictions for the new year:

  1. The toy industry is going to get worse in 2009. 2008 was a terrible year for toys, with Chinese factories closing, material and distribution costs soaring, a weak dollar, toy companies shutting down, and even some of the biggest retailers disappearing for good. So far, nothing is on the horizon to turn this around. In fact, I expect more factories to close and more companies to get out of the toy biz.

  2. Toys R Us and Walmart will do very well. TRU has had some very bad time in this decade. But with former Target Exec Jerry Storch’s plans finally becoming apparent, and with KB Toys’ closing, look for TRU to start turning things around and once again becoming the main destination for shoppers looking for toys. I’m especially pleased with the smart decisions to redesign all aspects of TRU, from the layouts to the new logos and store graphics to the combining with Babies R Us. Walmart on the other hand, will continue to dominate with their reliance on toys being loss leaders and undercutting the other retailers during the holidays.
  3. Hasbro & Mattel to initiate mergers…or spin-offs. This one is a little more out there, but I think if the economy continues to decline or level out the "Big Two" will look for new ways to juice the stock price in light of a brutal Holiday 2008. One of two things will happen: either we’ll see a repeat of the late 80s acquiring sprees, with both looking to buy out smaller companies to show "growth" OR you’ll see them start to spin-off successful brand categories into their own corporate entities to make themselves lean enough to be profitable. Since expanding 20 years ago, both companies are just too unwieldy at this point to have any leeway for new ideas, and we’re seeing how hard it is for Mattel to keep their profit margin and still make even the lowest quality product. Look for new safety/QC laws that will make their job even harder.
  4. Licensed toys will stay strong…but become even less worth paying big bucks for the license. Movie based toys will continue to decline in sales, while the cost of the licenses + restrictions for studios will make this option less attractive for toys companies. I still don’t see a push for developing in-house brands for a couple of more years, but look for this idea to be more attractive in 2009.

That’s it for now. A couple of no-brainers, a couple of riskier predictions. I wouldn’t ask anyone to invest based on my analysis…or would I?

 Your thoughts?

Posted by Jason Geyer [3] Comments
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OK,  every year I avoid making any New Year’s Resolutions as I know I’m going to break them sooner or later. It’s a farce designed to make you feel like you’re being productive but in actuality you’re just saying you’ll do something in the future based on a bogus deadline. Why not a "new week resolution"? Then your feet will really be held to the fire.

That said, I’m joining the herd with my all-new, all-different New Year’s Resolutions ’09! I’ll actually be posting my progress on this very blog (once a month?) so there is a bit of incentive to follow through with them.

  1. Lose Weight. The great American past time. When I started my first website I was 180 lbs (I’m 6’2"). When I started ToyOtter.com I was 320 lbs. When Daniel and I started AFI I was 240lbs. I’m now hovering in the 250s. I turn 40 this summer, so it’s way past time to get healthier.
  2. Get Off the Internet. I’ve been online since I was 22. By 1995 I was online easily 1/3 of the day, and now I’m online over half the day with work and hobby merging. I find myself not watching TV or movies, going out with friends, or accomplishing my many creative pursuits that I used to. For the 2009, I’m going to try to be online only at work, and only for work. I’ll update AFI during my lunch hour.
  3. Write More Articles/Blogs. Yeah, this seems at odds with my last resolution, but it really is about being more productive and do less aimless surfing. I have a lot of content, so of which was started 3 years ago! All will get finished this year.
  4. Give Away 90% of My Toys. By the time I hit 40, I want to have divested myself of all toys that I do not have on display. I only have a few lines displayed, so most of what I’ve picked up in the past 20 years has to go. I’ve become less interested in collecting as the years go by (but still love the toy industry) and realize that I do not need to own things to appreciate them, and I definitely do not need to keep anything that has not been displayed for years. I have a good idea of where they are going to go, so please do not ask nor suggest future homes for them. Thanks.

That’s it. If I’m lucky, I can accomplish them all. I figure I can do at least two of them, both with the deadline of this summer. We’ll see how it goes.

To stretch out the new content, I’m holding off on the 2009 predictions for a day or so.

Posted by Jason Geyer [9] Comments
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Well, 2008 is gone. It royally sucked, and might have been the worst year in recent memory. To celebrate, I’m going to share the pain with a select few companies in the first ever…

Golden Otter Awards!

So a word before we begin: these are my awards, my opinions, and you will possibly disagree with my assessments. To which I say: get your own blog. This means you, toy companies. I think almost every company could do better with fan relations, especially as this year was full of rumor and misinformation that could have easily been clarified by a company rep. That said, here are the awards!

 Best Single Figure(s): NECA’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

NECA has outdone themselves with these figures (which is really saying something!). We’ve seen many figures based on specific artist styles, from Bruce Timm to Jack Kirby, but these figures based on the rough drawings of Kevin Eastman are just incredibly well-done. The accessories make sense, the display bases combine for a big street scene, and the Turtles themselves are easily distinguishable from each other, even though they are all colored the same. They even made an exclusive Black & White version just like the original comics. And the great paint jobs showing the "ink lines" are just icing on the cake! Sadly, rumor has it that the license was pulled and we won’t be seeing the extension of the line shown at SDCC this year. This is a real bummer if true.

Runner up: Sideshow Indiana Jones 12" Figure. Tons of accessories, great detail and clothwork, great likeness. A bit pricey (especially the exclusive versions) which is why it wasn’t number one. But probably the best IJ toy out of a lot of products this year.

Worst Single Figure: Hasbro Hulk Series Savage She-Hulk

Where do I start? The prototype of this figure (the first one to be based on She-Hulk’s original look) looked pretty good, and I know for a fact that it was sculpted to be in scale with the rest of the Hulk series. But the finished product is just ass. The color is way off, the scale is just jacked up and the ripped dress she’s supposed to be wearing looks like a cheap apron. A big part of the problem was Hasbro trying for a two-fer: using the same body for their con exclusive Shanna the She-Devil to save money. The Shanna figure just plain rocks, but the She-Hulk now is way too tiny, and with an initial price tag of $15 she is wildly overpriced besides! Couple that with the fact that you are forced to buy her to make a complete BAF Fin Fang Foom, and you’ve got the worst figure of the year.

Runner up: Mattel 5" Dark Knight Joker. There were way too many bad figures this year to count. We saw some real duds this year, but in general the Dark Knight 5" Joker was some crazy semi-animated, highly-stylized version of the Joker for no good reason. Batman and Two-Face are presented pretty straight, with no liberties taken (not counting Bat-Variants). But the Joker didn’t match anything, and looked incredibly out of place, FOR NO GOOD REASON. Boo-urns, Mattel.

Best Packaging: Mattel Infinite Heroes

Although the line itself had problems, Mattel outdid itself with some very unique packaging, not only showcasing the line branding (Crisis!) and the figure enclosed, but the custom clamshell in the shape of a giant hand grabbing the figure was just inspired. I will say that if Hasbro’s similar Marvel Universe 3 3/4" line was out in 2008, it would have one hands down. Unique illustrations of each character and nifty modern design make one hell of a package!

Runner up #1: Hasbro GI JOE Seriously, a line of packaging designed in 1982 kicks the ass of most everything out there today. Couple it with the fact that Hasbro is doing all-new card art in the same style as the old days, and you have a winner! The fact that it isn’t new is what keeps it from the top spot.

Runner up #2: Sideshow 12" Indiana Jones Sideshow Toys always does a terrific job on all of their products, but I bought an Indiana Jones so I’m going with the one I’ve personally seen. Check out the interior at the link above, though, and see how it should always be done. This was an easy category this year though, as most companies are going toward rock bottom generic packaging in all their lines.

Worst Packaging: Hasbro Indiana Jones

Probably the hardest award to give, as there was just too much competition. And I’m sure this one will be the most controversial choice, as the IJ packaging is pretty to look at, and not instantly forgettable like most figure cards (hey McFarlane, why not hire some designers?). But the Indiana Jones packages all used a lackluster brown on tan color scheme, hid both the figure name and movie it was from in small type, and made it incredibly hard to figure out what characters you were looking for at a glance. And trying to see what was behind the first figure on the peg was even worse! The title was just his name, when it should have been something like "The Adventures of Indiana Jones: The Temple of Doom!" with an emphasis on each movie. When the figures are pretty lackluster (civilians in regular clothes/soldiers/guys in robes) the packaging really needed to sell the line. Give each movie its own color scheme, a big title, and character shots on the package. Put a relic on the side marking each series (Idol, Sankara Stones, Grail, Skull, Etc.). Seriously, this was a case of the package designer being in love with their own cleverness (the whip forms a hook!) and not in service to the toys.

Runner up #1: Mattel DC Universe Packaging As nice as the IH cards are, the overall line design provokes a big "WTF?!?" when you see it on shelves. DCUC might have been in the running for Best Packaging, but it, IH, and JLU all looked nearly identical, with IH and JLU being pretty much the same size to boot! When the guys stocking the shelves can’t figure out what line goes where and everything is a jumble, how are parents going to be able to tell the difference? Really, each line needed a distinguishing color and/or shape to easily see where it belonged in the scheme of things.

Runner up #2: Star Wars Clone Wars/Legacy Packaging Same explanation as above. These were nondescript packages that had very nice design, but made the two lines interchangeable and led to them being pegged all together in a big mess. With the lack of any strong movie or assortment identifiers, trying to find the latest figures was a chore. This was doubly disappointing as it followed some really fantastic package design in 2007. 

Even Worst Packaging!: Mattel Dark Knight

This deserves its own category. I’m not sure when the last time I saw such horrifically designed packaging was, but this thing looks worse than most of the generic bootleg toy packages. The logo is nearly unreadable, the "HeroDCZone" logo is terribly designed, you have all this empty white space, a bad illustration of Batman, non-descript fonts, and a completely out of place purple striped "accent wall". The only kind words I have for this is that it looks like it was designed by a (blind) committee, led by WB’s licensing dept. and not Mattel. I just can’t believe that the normally highly skilled Mattel Packaging guys like Ruben did this.

Best Figure Line: Mattel DC Universe Classics

I’ve made no secret of my love for this line, and I do think it is the best toy line of the year. It’s been just one year that the first assortment hit and already we have a more diverse DC Universe lineup that has EVER been produced, in my opinion. And it is being designed to be the definitive versions by the Four Horsemen, with variants that make perfect sense and a sense of history and scale to each figure. I’ve written before that it might finally be the line to surpass Kenner’s Super Powers, and I still stand by that statement.

Runner up #1: Hasbro GI Joe 3 3/4"  I don’t collect these, but I have to give props to a line revival done right. Star Wars went through a lot of missteps and redo after redo to get it right, but these bad boys were pretty good right out of the gate. The only drawback might be the slight change in scale from the classic line.

Worst Figure Line: Hasbro Indiana Jones

Just a very, very painful thing. So many people have waited so many years for this line. Hasbro themselves sat on the license for this line since 1999, preventing any other company from taking a crack. And honestly, I wanted Hasbro to make these anyway; I wanted the classic scale, I wanted vehicles, I wanted playsets. All things Hasbro does well. So how in the hell did they screw this up that badly?!? Bad assortment choices, bad packaging, bad case packouts, bad distribution…it goes on and on. Incredibly bad paint, terribly posed figures, way too many Indiana Jones variants right off the bat, too many guys in robes (seriously? Belloq and Sallah both get their robed versions first?) Too much emphasis on Crystal Skull. Not enough playsets. Not enough varied vehicles. And above all else, a really, really stupid mindset that thought this line should follow the model of Star Wars. This could have been a failry usccessful 2 year long line. But they wanted a line that lasted in perpetuity, and so killed it in its first year by self destructing from the get-go. Thanks for nothing Hasbro. And congratulations; you didn’t even make all the characters that Kenner managed to in their one year of IJ toys.

Runner up #1: Mattel DC Infinite Heroes Good God. This line is just terrible. If there was ever a line that DC fans were wanting to buy, it was this one. Inexpensive, amazing depth of character, perfect size. And yet Mattel delivered a line that would have been great circa 1990, but is woefully inadequate for today. That no one at Mattel could see this trainwreck happening during development astounds me. And the assortment choicesare mind-boggling: Guy Gardner/Black Hand released three different times in the first few months? Superman only available in the 3 pack? Crazy big hands, bad paint, and 80% reused sculpts with 20% wildy unique new sculpts? Thankfully, there are plenty of other great DC figures to own, unlike Indiana Jones, so it’s no big worry not to buy these.

Runner up #2: Mattel DC Universe & JLU The pain just doesn’t stop. I *love* DCUC. But Mattel is trying its hardest to give me (and many others!) a reason to stop collecting this line. They are taking perfect prototypes and messing up the production of them in ways that are both frustrating and perplexing. How do the color choices change so drastically between paint master and test shot? How can the scale be so off on figure like Robin and Sinestro and Grundy? How can the joints be fused so badly over and over and over? Why is it still so hard to find these EVERYWHERE a year into the line, when it is selling so very well? Why is the paint so sloppy and misapplied across the board? I’m terrified of what I’ll find when I open these. And considering how much money they are saving vs a line like Marvel Legends, I don’t understand the excuses from "the biggest toy company in the world" when every smaller company doesn’t run into the same problems for much smaller runs. As for JLU, they still can’t stand. And the stands I ordered from MattyCollector.com were jokes. All that said…I’m still buying both lines. I could write a lot more, but instead I’ll just let Kenan Thompson speak for me.

Honorable Mentions

Otter’s Choice #1: Mattel’s Pixar Cars I wish they did this for all their lines. Every background character and on screen variant, plus tons of others seen and unseen in the movie, this is what collector’s dreams are made of. Bravo, Mattel. You do understand toy cars, if nothing else!

Otter’s Choice #2: Hasbro’s Marvel Universe 3 3/4" line If this had come out this year (and isn’t plagued by production problems) it would take the top spot hands down. I don’t want to buy these. I may have no choice. I recently wrote an article looking back at the old 80s Secret Wars line and if these figures deliver on the promise we’ve been waiting for for over 20 years, then I just might give up my other toy lines for it alone. Give me a Baron Zemo II and a Constrictor and the deal is sealed!

That’s it! I hoped everyone enjoyed the awards, and I hope the toy companies take away something constructive from them. Don’t get defensive, get better. Always remember: a good sculpt costs the same as a bad sculpt to produce, and if you solve problems upfront they save you a lot of headache on the back end ( *cough* legs that don’t stand *cough*).

Tune in tomorrow for my New Year’s resolutions, and maybe a few predictions about the upcoming year in toys! 

Posted by Jason Geyer [16] Comments
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Ottertorials 2009 January