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Holding Back The Future

Posted by: Lt. Clutch at 7:25 pm on Monday, June 18, 2012

As the new millennium happened, most of my contemporaries became parents. Over the last ten years, I’ve made the acquaintance of several collectors who are the first of a kind: Their love of action figures is being passed to a new generation. What makes this such a melancholy experience is that the toy industry is proving a finite concept when it comes to action figures. Unlike bicycles or video games, the market is increasingly being geared towards the adult collector. Kids of the 2010’s are looking more like those of the 20th century’s 1950’s and earlier, back before the dawn of action figures. Role playing is no longer focused on plastic objects but the actual children themselves as viewed through computers, smart phones and online networking. Familiar hazards such as school bullying have followed kids there, sadly enough. But comic books and action figures are slowly being relegated to cultural history, much like trading cards, model kits and board games before them.

Surprisingly enough, Connect Four has endured. Dad always won when I played him.

Should we expect a comeback? Who knows? I would say that the action figure industry has covered all the ground there is left, but it’s all down to what Junior asks for at the toy aisle and a parents’ willingness to comply. I haven’t seen trends go backwards yet, although “retro” is still very much a movement, although one that embraces music and fashion rather than playthings. Lead soldiers and the hula hoop have come and gone, but they lacked the benefit of branding. A character brand, although not guaranteed to last the test of time (like when Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck were considered popular) can still serve as a visual reminder for consumers to keep their faith in a specific product. Superheroes are currently undergoing such a transformation, with Superman being a good example of the character’s visual appeal outlasting the public’s interest in the character’s actual adventures. Try as we might, this isn’t 1978 and DC Comics is a far different company than the one we grew up with. The same goes for Marvel, now firmly nestled under the Disney empire’s wings. Will Spider-Man someday become a corporate shill much like Mickey Mouse turned out to be? Nothing more than the public “face” of a shadowy conglomerate? Again, time will tell but all signs point to “yes.”

Unlike that sell-out Mickey, poor Woody never got an amusement park for his troubles. Dude.

George Lucas is retiring soon but his own empire (certainly one fashioned after Walt Disney’s) will go on. Lucas’ bread and butter has been licensing, with action figures its chief money-maker. This can mean good things for collectors and their offspring, should the Star Wars franchise continue to thrive over the ensuing decades. Gene Roddenberry’s own Star Trek fizzled out for a while before a reboot set it back on course again. Maybe Lucas’ successors might have to gamble in such a manner at some point. In-house toy brands like Hasbro’s G.I. Joe and Mattel’s Masters of the Universe are safe enough, long as their parent companies continue to exist. But even if a merger were to happen, the brands are well known to carry over into another domain, long as the fan base follows suit.

From a personal viewpoint, my interest in the hobby is strong as ever even though it lacks the youthful ingenuity which is carried away through our loss of innocence. As a kid, figures were gifts given to me by parents and family. I tended to associate them with loved ones. That’s why I admire those of us in the field who take time to share and nurture our interest in little plastic people with their own kids. Otherwise, adult collectors mostly see toys as part of their monthly budget, something to help keep us all sane in a highly depressing, increasingly crazy world. For some, it’s a way of living. For others, it’s simply a form of therapy. Holding back the future by keeping the past close to us, shedding away thick layers of rough times while savoring only the great memories. Those are always few and far between. You don’t need any reboots or comebacks to appreciate them again because they never really leave you.

80’s toy lines are similar to music icons. Whatever you do, don’t call it a… well, you know.

My collecting habits during the last twelve years have pretty much resembled the 1990’s. Even as the continuities that drew us in for nearly a century were hastily thrown under the bus, Superheroes and their respective toy lines reached their apex through the likes of Marvel Legends and DC Universe Classics, while GI. Joe, Transformers, Masters of the Universe and a few others underwent several facelifts and franchise renovations. Star Trek and Star Wars have seen their ups and down but are still there. The economy might be at its worst since the Great Depression, but some of us are still clamoring for a revival of Crystar, the Crystal Warrior. Heck, if Doctor Who made it back on the other side of the pond, why not some vintage Remco clearance fodder? Anything is possible if the demand is there.

In the meantime, as I deal with stuff the seven-year-old Clutch never thought existed (such as strokes, court trials, mortgages, unemployment and ill-health) I’m comforted by rediscovering Little Golden Books, the Care Bears, Earl Norem, Steel Monsters and Robotech. Thank the toy gods for eBay’s search bar on a difficult day.

Remember guys, it’s a good life if you don’t weaken.

For some fun, old fashioned reading material, Little Golden Books are still out there.

Like many a boy’s toy line, the Care Bears have undergone more reboots than the DCU.

I can’t keep mentioning Earl Norem enough. Earl is the King of toy line painted art.

As they are wont to do, Steel Monsters will be on my mind for the next 24 hours.

If I can’t own a USS Flagg before I go, the Robotech SDF-1 Playset just might do.

Photos courtesy of the following:

http://www.otownwatersports.com

http://zncinema.net

http://www.audiblehype.com

As mentioned last time, I need your feedback like a Black Hole collector lusts for the Humanoid. (That sounded way more dirtier than it should have…) This is it for my biographical toy essays. Any suggestions for future columns?  Want to hear a particular story on a given toy? Just drop me a note or leave your comments below. So what are you waiting for? Get crackin’!

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author: Lt. Clutch
A kid at heart who loves his hobbies. Going on five decades of collecting all things playable. My interests: Movies, comics, animation, toys, art, history, and music.

 

 

6 Comments »

  • demoncat says:

    have to agree the toy market seems to be old collectors trying to pass down the love to the new generation even though the younger collector changes more and more out of wanting to collect plus even ever green stuff like star wars and gijoe wind up running out of steam. to be reborn to thrive. as for future colums for you . how about when you first started buying toys on your own who was your first figure or toy. plus any figure you came close to getting only to some how losing out on having.

    • Lt. Clutch Lt. Clutch says:

      The sad thing about the toy industry is that there’s no going back, sort of like trading in modern cars with their various fancy gizmos for a horse and buggy. Kids are now used to products which undergo unnecessary innovations on a near annual basis. Look at smart phones for example: Last year’s model is made redundant soon as the next one is announced. Action figures took decades to evolve on the articulation and sculpting fronts so there’s no patience there unless you’re a devoted collector.

      Thanks for the column suggestions. I probably mentioned them in passing early on but I have a couple of stories from the 80’s which are pretty neat.

  • demoncat says:

    as for Crystar coming back to toy shelves ever if captain action can return plus new demand for micronauts surely crystar can return for lately the toy industry has proven what is old is new again espically with motu. as for any other remco stuff sadly do not see that happening due to proably some of their old stuff like warlock going back to their original rights holders by now.

    • Lt. Clutch Lt. Clutch says:

      Oh, yeah! I don’t doubt that we’ll be seeing Crystar again at some point. Marvel created him, so we’re not talking about a ROM-like situation where Parker Brothers/Hasbro holds the cards. He’ll be back as well someday. As for Remco’s other stuff, if you meant “The Lost World of the Warlord,” DC owns everyone who showed up in that line, so we could likely see them turn up in Matty’s Club Infinite Earths. The Warlord guys are DCU characters proper that were licensed to Remco like they did with Sgt. Rock. And wouldn’t it be cool if the rights to Thundercats also went from Bandai to Mattel? Thundercats Classics, anyone? With Power-Con/ThunderCon a reality, it’s a highly feasible idea.

  • demoncat says:

    warlock no doubt may be a future dc club infinite earths. though dcdirect did make a figure of him way back when. the others in the line think not enough support to warrent the cost for mattel to even make them bandi will never give up thunder cats though they do have eight inch classics line. rom unless hasbro sneaks him into marvel legend or mu. will never ever appear on toy shelves ever again.

    • Lt. Clutch Lt. Clutch says:

      Yeah, Arak, Machiste, Deimos, Hercules and Mikola are mainly known to Warlord fans proper. It’s gonna be a long shot but they could wind up in the club too if sword & sorcery ever makes a comeback at DC. Warlord lasted over a decade and has seen several relaunches. Too bad about Bandai’s Thundercats bombing so badly, they only got three characters out in the classic style. I was hoping for the rest of the main cast this year. As for Rom, Marvel has to act now that Hasbro holds the license. Call him Spaceknight instead of Rom but strike while the iron is hot or we’ll never see the guy again. Rom has a cult audience and their only media connection is a long comic book run but Rom was heavily tied to the X-Men, Hulk, Thing, Avengers and MU proper. Let’s try and get it done, Marvel!


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