Showing posts with label Toys. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Toys. Show all posts

Sunday, June 28, 2009

SilverHawks Sunday VIII: Getting a grip

This is the Miraj:

More specifically, this is *my* Miraj.

This is the underside of the Miraj.
Un latino azul!

That black strip? It does this:
It's a boy!

It has a handle. Now, it's not alone in that (after all, the villain vehicle/space squid Sky Runner has one too), but it's among very few toys I know of where the handle is recessed and...well, optional. Most action figure vehicles don't even think about handles, and most of the ones that do either try to make them inconspicuous by making them part of the design (like He-Man's Blasterhawk) or throw inconspicuousness to the wind and just slap a handle on it (like He-Man's Talon Fighter).

The recessed handle is a really smart move. It recognizes the need for play practicality--kids have small hands, space opera dogfights are hard to do with awkwardly-weighted plastic ships full of figures, you have to set it down in order to fire the missiles, etc.--while also recognizing the importance of aesthetics and the fridge logic that might result from slapping on a handle ("Who does He-Man expect to be holding his ship, and why would he accommodate them?). A lot of times, functionality and form are at odds with one another, but I think this strikes a great balance that maximizes both. It's a small thing, but it's worth pointing out and commending, at least.

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

SilverHawks Sunday II: The Toys

The SilverHawks toys don't represent any kind of watershed in action figure development the way some of their contemporaries did. He-Man was groundbreaking in developing a series based on a toyline (immediately after the legislation banning that was overturned) and including action features in each figure. G.I. Joes made serious leaps forward in articulation and accessorization, with countless vehicles and sprawling playsets like the U.S.S. Flagg. ThunderCats incorporated lots of early electronic technology, with light-up eyes and infrared sensors. Even lesser-known lines like Visionaries and Super Naturals experimented with holograms, and Captain Power had vehicles that interacted with the TV series. Most importantly, Transformers gave us giant robots that turned into other things*.

SilverHawks didn't have anything quite so innovative. Most of the figures had a standard five points of articulation (shoulders, legs, heads); there were several vehicles produced, a couple of role playing toys, and most of the main characters got a release before the line abruptly ended. Most of the heroic characters featured shiny metallic paint decos and some decent detailing. Almost all of the toys had action features of some sort, and the villains (at least) were particularly sturdy, hefty figures. I had several of the accessories break over the years--nearly every figure came with a companion bird of some sort, and the talons which held said birds to their owners' arms tended to be pretty brittle--but I've never had any issues with any of the bricklike villainous figures. The main characters' metallic paint had a tendency to chip and wear off in places, which is not only unfortunate, but is also a problem that persisted well into the late '90s (if not longer), as it was a major complaint about several waves of Beast Wars figures.

This is not to say that there weren't several nice things about Kenner's shiniest toys. First, they had some superbly detailed sculpting for that era and size. They don't exactly meet modern standards, but I know there are an awful lot of toylines that wouldn't have bothered with the same kind of detail that went into the SilverHawks' armor and facial expressions. Heck, I'm having a hard time imagining another toyline of the era where simple accessories like Tally Hawk could merit their own paint jobs. Heck, the Sword of Omens that came with Lion-O was just red with some silver paint on the blade and hilt; they didn't even bother painting in the Eye of Thundera. SilverHawks even had their tiny chest emblems painted on!

Due in part to that level of detail, they managed to avoid one of the major frustrations of cartoon tie-in toy lines: figures that look nothing like the characters on the show. Maybe it was just my anal retentivity, but I was always bothered by the fact that the toy Lion-O's claw shield was bright red instead of gold, and that there was no reduced-size Sword of Omens to put into it. It bugged me that if you tried to make Mumm-Ra's headdress fit him like it did in the show, he looked like an idiot. I didn't like that Man-At-Arms had no mustache, or that She-Ra's headdress wasn't smaller and bronze-colored. SilverHawks toys bypassed all this: they looked almost exactly like the characters they were based on, with very few exceptions. Most of those exceptions were with the villains--in particular, Windhammer and Hardware, who look fairly goofy--but those villains made up for the looks by being (as I mentioned) very durable and typically having extra articulation--knees!

I said that there weren't many innovations to the SilverHawks line, but one sticks out (especially since I did some research** for this post). By this point, every toyline and its brother included some kind of action feature to the figures, and the SilverHawks are no different. The basic figures all had cloth wings that attached at their backs and wrists. You push the arms down to the figures' sides until they lock into place, then squeeze the figure's legs, and the spring-loaded arms spread the wings***. Now, apparently someone along the way thought "you know, this action feature is cool and all, but won't kids want to occasionally have the figures, like, punch people?" This in mind, the designers made the arm socket in such a way that the figure's arm could rotate in addition to springing up and locking down--a rudimentary ball joint****, which would eventually become standard fare. You might think that's a small thing, but I've had much more recent toys with similar or the same action features that lacked this basic concept of motion along two axes (Masters of the Universe 2002 Stratos comes to mind, and I believe one of the Batman Beyond figures suffered from this). One consequence of this construction was that the arms were detachable (as was the leg which activated the spring mechanism) and could be reattached with minimal effort. There still aren't many toylines where dismemberment is such a minor inconvenience, but it's been a staple of Transformers toys since Generation 2. Most of the moving parts will pop off and on fairly easily, anticipating the kind of wear and tear children put on toys. I'm not sure how intentional this was, but it certainly made the toys more durable, and that's always a plus.

So while SilverHawks weren't really a pioneering line in most ways, they did achieve a pretty high standard of quality and detail. I'll talk more about them in future posts, to be sure--especially the vehicles and accessories.

*Also, Go-Bots gave us robots that turned into other things. Some of those things were rocks.
**I went down to the basement and played with twenty-year-old toys. I was, frankly, surprised that they were in such good condition. Quicksilver could stand to be repainted and to have his joints tightened up, but pretty much everyone else is in fine shape.
***At least in theory. My research** reminded me that Copper Kidd's arms were very difficult to get into the locking position, largely due to his smaller stature (the wing fabric was bunched up in the smaller space between his arms and body).
****And admittedly, ball joints weren't necessarily new; G.I. Joes used them, but with a very different construction, and some He-Man toys (Sy-Klone, for instance) used a system that mimicked what most modern ball joints are capable of.

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Déjà Joe

While the habit is nowhere near as pervasive (or expensive) as it used to be, I still collect a few toys here and there. When I'm out shopping at the big box retailers, I inevitably pass through the action figures aisle and thumb through the Transformers and DC Universe figures--and the 25th Anniversary G.I. Joes. I never really got into the Joe toyline as a kid--most of what I have is from the really gimmicky end times of the Real American Hero line, with space suits and Play-Doh armor. The most recent revival of the line has given me the opportunity to collect my favorite characters (and the coolest figures) with the best sculpting, paint jobs, accessories, and articulation I've ever seen in the Joes, and some of the best in toys period. About the only figure I want that I haven't gotten is the black-suited Baroness, because it's only available in a too-expensive Cobra 5-pack.

But I digress. Anyway, I've noticed something strange at some of my local stores, and I'm curious if it's some kind of widespread phenomenon. The first one I noticed was General Hawk. I saw a General Hawk figure, but he looked odd. He was kind of amorphous, kind of short, kind of bulky, and kind of crudely articulated. Also, he was wearing bright orange instead of the more muted/realistic colors of the modern line. He looked like a figure from the '80s series, here on a 25th Anniversary card. I didn't think too much of it, just filed it away as a weirdness (and it helped that I didn't remember what the modern Hawk figure looked like).

But then, a few weeks later, I encountered a Cobra B.A.T. with a weird lenticular animation sticker on its chest. Now, I'd bought a modern B.A.T., so I was pretty familiar with what it looked like--which was pretty different from this. I also noticed that neither the figure nor its accessories quite fit into the bubble, even though the bubble had been reattached well enough to not look like it'd been tampered with. I've looked since then, and discovered that it was the fourth version of the figure, from 2003 (based on a 1991 mold). Here's the modern version for comparison.

Hawk, as it turns out, was the 2005 version of the figure. The modern one looks considerably different.

Since then, I've seen a 2004 Cobra Trooper and a figure I couldn't identify on a Crimson Trooper card. With the exception of the last one (which I saw in a different part of the state), the only real sign that the figure didn't belong was that nothing quite fit in the bubble. Someone took some serious time and care to reattach those bubbles.

So, what's going on? Initially, I thought that replacing dime-a-dozen new figures with vintage '80s ones was an exercise in insanity (or at least poor financial planning or ignorance of eBay); now that I know they're 2000-era reissues, it makes more sense financially. I can understand the impulse to scam big box retailers by returning old figures on new cards, effectively getting free toys, but is it really worth that much effort? Are toy collectors really so hard up for $8 and so drowning in 2000-something reissues that they need to engage in some illicit bartering? Mightn't that be a sign that they need to take a break?

Or am I way off-base, and is this perhaps some crazy Hasbro contest that I've missed out on winning three times? What's up?

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