Q&A: Small Stuff, Star Wars Blind Bags, and Retro Action Figures

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, June 11, 2017

1. Micro Machines have gone on clearance, both here on local shores and apparently over yonder in the United States. Does this bode ill for the line? In your experience, how powerfully does a line going on clearance predict its cancellation?

5 years ago I would have given you a very different answer, which means that the answer I am about to give you may also be bunk. Historically, when a toy assortment goes on clearance (85770, 87500, etc.) that generally meant that the store chain in question would never stock it again. This was there way of ending the product to make way for the next SKU of assortments, which often were similar (if not identical) toys. Once in a blue moon specific items from an assortment would be marked down at Toys R Us (Batman: The Animated Series Man-Bat and The Black Series Constable Zuvio come readily to mind) but at the big box stores, once it was done it was done. A new 5-digit assortment SKU may be on tap the following year - this happens with 3 3/4-inch action figures every year or so - but that specific one would go away.

Since The Vintage Collection we've seen weirdness. Target used the same DPCI for three different consecutive assortment SKUs, thus denying the chain's efficient means of clearing out the old for the new from 2010 to 2015 - that unnatural. The 2010-2012 TVC line shared a DPCI with the 2012 line and the 2013-2015 The Black Series 3 3/4-inch assortments. This prevented old stock from being cleared out, while allowing items to pile up and prevent the successful distribution of new replacement product. This was a real distribution issue - the store found a way to shoot itself in the proverbial foot with this one kind of item, which is sort of like being unable to take out the garbage. (The product wasn't garbage, but you did have something old and decaying getting in the way of something new and potentially vital.)

In 2016, we saw the opposite happen, sort of - an assortment would go on clearance and then continue on at full price later in the year. We saw Assortment #B3834 (6-inch The Black Series) orbit $20, and then go on clearance in the summer, only to return to full price for Rogue One's debut in September. In 2017 we saw it start around $20, and then go down to $10 at many stores, specifically Walmart and Target, with sales galore at Toys R Us. The 6-inch format still had unreleased assortments in this SKU, but the format was in no means likely to end. The fact that it's not yet going to a new assortment is sort of not how things usually go.

As of right now I am unaware of what the future is on a few formats - specifically MicroMachines, Titanium Series vehicles, and Titanium Series helmets. Are there more? I don't know. We've been teased more helmets, but I don't know how/if/when we can expect more of these things. Perhaps something will be revealed soon, but given how Micro and ex-Galoob product was treated historically I would bank on it being rested before potentially being brought back. Die-cast metal vehicles were a thing in the mid-1990s until 2000, and again from 2005-2011, and again from 2015-present. MicroMachines were a thing from about 1993-2000, and again from 2015-present. I don't have a lot of faith in the formats due to what I seem to be seeing, but I like them and collect them and support them. I wish more people were on board with Titanium Series myself, and as I type this I sit here lamenting the lack of a go-to vehicle format where you can get the most good stuff. Each one is missing a bunch of cool things. MicroMachines missed much of the prequels and all of television. Titanium Series never touched things like the Mini-Rigs, 1980s television, or the novels beyond a couple of bounty hunter vehicles. The action figure line skipped out on tons of bizarre repaints, the novel vehicles, and so on. And the X-Wing Alliance miniatures game has a bunch of things, is missing a bunch of things, and is terribly expensive.

It is my hope all of these formats continue, but if you look at 2004-2007 you'll see Hasbro experiment with tons of formats, some of which change, some of which return, some of which die. If I were you I wouldn't hold my breath, but I'd also suggest thanking your lucky stars that there's one less thing hanging over your head to collect. Things ending offers you an element of freedom if you're like me and a little compulsive, and the end of a format you like may be less worth mourning than it is accepting as a brief respite from one more thing stressing you out in life. Toy collecting is up there with sneaker collecting as one of the seemingly most stressful hobbies you can endure.

Here's my really short answer: if you see or hear of any MicroMachines, Titanium Series Helmets, or Titanium Series Vehicles showing up somewhere outside the USA buy them - and tell me so I can buy them too, provided no American release had happened as of that time.



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2. In the past few years, I noted a return by Hasbro to the blind bag format: My Little Pony, Transformers Tiny Titans, Marvel 500, and Micro Machines for PVC figurines; Transformers Tiny Turbo Changers for converting super-deformed ABS; and, in years past, Fighter Pods and Angry Birds for rubber. Transformers Tiny Titans was discontinued after six (6) waves; Micro Machines, if the line has died, looks to be done at also six (6) waves. Marvel 500 is apparently on its ninth (9th) wave; My Little Pony, apparent overlord of the concept, is on its twentieth (20th) wave. The questions I ask are rather general: what are your thoughts on the format? What prompted their return? What leads to their discontinuation? They certainly aren't limited to Outer Rim territories the way your simplified six-inchers are, so I surmise they weren't conceived for emerging markets alone. I personally love collecting them, but I feel like I belong in the minority as far as vocal support for such lines on the internet is concerned. If toy trends cycle much like fashion, what preceded tiny blind-bagged figurines at their price point? What will succeed them? If we apply a cyclical view of history to toy trends, the impending return of static dramatic statuettes in the Titanium line, ala Star Wars Unleashed, suggests that someone with your experience in these matters could make a few predictions as to what we might have coming up in the next few years. What do you foresee, good sir?

The bling box/bag format has proven to be popular. It's a proven format in Japan and the low-cost impulse buy continues to do very well in Hasbro's girl brands but seems to struggle a bit for the boys. The new Turbo Changers seem to be popular, but the Generations "Alt Modes" are just sort of limp. Kidrobot, Funko, and others have had a wonderful go with them, and other companies continue to find new ways to keep them fresh.

Keeping it fresh is important - if things lag, they have to change gears. Lines will be changing gears, as Hasbro's Transformers Tiny Titans are giving way for a similarly priced but superior transforming product. These kinds of products are focused on children as an entry-level thing. In other words, Hasbro may not be sitting there considering the needs of anyone who would read a column like this, unless you're somehow in elementary school, in which case I'd be very surprised.

Right now you know a lot of what I know - Hasbro is really trying "statue"-style products with its $50-$60 "Centerpiece" statues (a concept I feel will live or die on how much more imaginative they are than the offerings of the higher-dollar statues) and the Titanium figures (which I figure will end in the next year.) I personally see Hasbro's worst competition as itself. 20 years ago, we were all going for 3 3/4-inch Kenner figures, with some going for the 12-inch figures, and there being minimal competition for character-based collectible toys. The Micro stuff was a separate beast at another company, and the whole statue and bust trend had yet to really begin. Today, Hasbro is going to do 3 3/4-inch figures, 3 3/4-inch super-articulated figures, 3 3/4-inc die-cast metal action figures, 6-inch super-articulated figures, 6-inch statues, 6-inch limited articulation figures, 12-inch limited articulation figures, MicroMachines figures, Galactic Heroes figures, and I have no doubt I'm forgetting some. And that's just Hasbro - Jakks Pacific is also making 20- and 31- and 48-inch action figures. And Funko has Pop! Vinyl bobble heads, wacky wobblers, mystery minis, and Hikari vinyl figures.

Blind bags are a new thing to Hasbro in the big-picture sense, only having been a part of it for under ten years. If Hasbro decided one or two formats were worth sticking with and really got behind them, we'd probably see them thriving - but they test things, and some work really well for a short period of time, and they're still successes. Most toy lines don't last more than a season or two, and Hasbro has "failures" that are wildly successful compared to other companies' best offerings.




3. I love the figs that have recently come in 3.75" for the movies and shows we all wanted but never got (Big Trouble in Little China, Predator, Jaws Star Trek Tos, to name just a few). Does the licence preclude them being super articulated? I get it as a deliberate move to keep in the spirit of the era, but why not offer an articulated set of arms, shoulders, and legs?

I don't have a definitive answer because every contract can be written (and of course, interpreted) differently. Funko already had licenses for stylized 3 3/4-inch figures for some licenses because of the Pop! Vinyl line. They also already had licenses for Marvel and Star Wars Bobble Heads because they made Wacky Wobblers for quite some time.

The licenses also sometimes - but not always - dictate things like price point, sales channels (mass market, specialty, big box, discounters, etc.), and materials. Wood, metal, and plastic are sometimes different licenses - it depends on how good your lawyers were when you negotiated the contract. Hasbro's Star Wars figure license locks out a lot of would-be competitors, but you'll see a lot of different stuff orbiting what may be included in Marvel's licenses. If you can find a new twist on it, they seem pretty good about sharing the IP freely.

In the case of ReAction, what you saw was a design choice - they wanted it to be a riff on Kenner's Star Wars line from 1978-1985. There were at least some discussions about era-specific retroness, as Predator in 1987 wouldn't necessarily be made in that style, but that 5-jointed dull-expression figure was indeed the very purpose of that specific branded line. ReAction has left Funko and reverted back to Super7, but Funko continues to make new 3 3/4-inch action figures in a line it calls "9POA" which is pretty self-explanatory - but for those of you who are new, each figure should have about 9 points of articulation.

Figures in this "9POA" style so far include Batman 1966 and Twin Peaks, plus Suicide Squad guys from last year. I'm fairly sure it's specialty only as DC does divide many of its licenses by channels in retail (no mass market, no closeout stores, etc.), and there's nothing stopping Funko from doing more joints short of budget/desire/style reasons. If you want G.I. Joe-style Predator figures, I suggest writing in and asking them to deliver the goods. Super7 is fairly religious about getting style right, so I would be less inclined to assume they would do a more modern take on its Alien figures - they were very specific about doing retro Kenner to match those original prototypes from 1979, and I'm glad they were.




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Back in the day this used to be the easiest part of the column to write - with Star Wars being dead, it seemed there were no shortage of things to wax on thanks in part to there being nothing we couldn't talk about. Between NDAs and spoiler-phobes and a whole lot of uncertainty, we're in an era that's probably about as uncertain as things were since the original Kenner days. Long gone is the notion of introducing a product and keeping it around for a year or two. It used to be we knew a lot more about how the next year or two would look, and now there are variables that are a lot stranger. Expanded Universe materials - which I still can't believe will be canon for long - have to worry about multiple unreleased movies and at least one television show to contradict. The line is somehow both more open - we find about The Black Series figures as much as a year in advance - and incredibly closed - we don't really even know what kinds of products The Last Jedi will inspire, let alone specific characters or names. I personally still have issues with being asked to collect an entire movie's toy line 3 months before I can see it, and I can see that helping to diminish my enthusiasm a lot more quickly than just about anything else these days.

In the last few weeks we've been treated to some magnificent new things, though - but unfortunately this means some other areas get ignored. The new 6-inch Tusken Raider is really something, but I don't even know when or if we're going to see Fenn Rau or Bistan in the USA. The 6-inch line seems to be flourishing, with Hasbro doing some of its finest work ever. That new Qui-Gon figure ain't bad. The new Royal Guard is quite decent for a figure that just needed to be a salt shaker with a napkin on it. It's just a little sad to see the line shifting away from what I came here for in the first place - 3 3/4-inch figures that were new and fresh and exciting. Right now I'd just settle for new.

If nothing else, the new paradigm has given the 3 3/4-inch fan something it hasn't had in years - a vacation every year. There's so little going on between March and September that if you just up and quit for six months, there's precious little you would miss. This is good and bad. We've gone a few years without a 3 3/4-inch convention exclusive of any kind for Star Wars - and I'm OK with that. Things are never going to be perfect every year, but there have been some increases in anxiety (Disney build-a-droid) while other aspects have seemingly mellowed out a little bit. Nothing is perfect - it will never be perfect - but it certainly feels more manageable than it was, provided you just stick to one of the two major Hasbro scales.

My question for you - Kmarts. I have a local-ish Kmart that is not on any of the store closure lists and has no store closure signage, but has been having an inventory reduction sale for almost a month. Are any of you guys seeing the same thing at your Kmarts? (You can save the "LOL U still have kmart???" comments, I got those on Twitter already.)

--Adam Pawlus

Got questions? Email me with Q&A in the subject line now! I'll answer your questions as soon as time (or facts) permit.


Kmart & MicroMachines

I enjoyed all the MM love in this edition. I've been wondering the same thing about the clearance sales. I still haven't found Bling Bag Wave 6, neither online nor in store. The modern MM line wasn't tough to collect; I am still holding out hope there will be more this fall for TLJ.

All the Kmarts near me have closed. I believe there are only two left on the island, and last time I was at both they were quiet and not well stocked. It has always been my favorite nostalgic store; so many great Star Wars exclusives over the years. That chain is doomed.

As always, such a joy to read this column. Thanks for your insight Adam!