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.
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!