Variants started in comic books. With The Man of Steel #1 in 1986, DC found that they could sell more copies of a book if they printed it twice with different covers. From there, Marvel took note and raced to DC to see who could make the most. Some, and this is what’s most common today, were just simple drawings different from the original cover art, but it exploded into 3D covers, holographic covers, and other ridiculous extrapolations on the idea of covers. If the books in that time weren’t the best as some contend, it wasn’t because the creators weren’t innovating on the covers.
Action figures followed suit, with two types of variants. The first was the kind I never buy—variant figures in the same wave, like the ones in the January 2015 waves of Hasbro’s Marvel Infinite. They released a gray and blue Beast, as well as a sand and a human Sandman. Same sculpt, same $9.99 price point, different paint job. The other type of variant, the more common is redesigns of the same character, which are also common in comic books. Daredevil in plain red. Daredevil in Armor.
Jean Grey in her X-Factor attire. Jean Grey as Phoenix.
Classic Hulk. World War Hulk.
The more popular the characters, the more repackages and variants that you can expect to see. Sometimes I find it frustrating (WHERE IN GOD’S NAME IS MY 3 AND ¾ INCH ARCADE!?) but I also understand that these companies need to put out popular figures to make a profit and stay in production.
In other words, the 58 and ½ Wolverines they’re going to put out next year are the figures that allow them to afford making Beta Ray Bill, and the guy I’m looking forward to most, Morbius the Living Vampire.
I thought that I didn’t buy this kind of variant either, not really at least, but when I went through my collection to take photos, I realized that I had more than a few, which raised the question why? Why do I buy this thing that pisses me off?
Part of it is two/multi-figure packs. It’s how I ended up with both of my Iron Mans and all of my Wolverines but one. It’s common practice at Hasbro (and I’d imagine elsewhere as well) to pair rare figures with common ones to make the hardcore nerds like me who want to have the whole Wrecking Crew also buy more Hawkeyes, and to get the more casual collector who just wants a Hawkeye to fork over a few extra dollars and get Piledriver too.
But that doesn’t account for the rest, or how the boss man Nick Lenihan (oh, captain, my captain) ended up with a 2nd Hot Toys Captain America. For him it was an issue, “because I desperately needed to upgrade my Cap from the original film” figure. I find myself upgrading too.
But I’m also a sucker for having complete sets. Red Deadpool doesn’t fit with X-Force, and he needs to so I can remake Rick Remender’s team.
So as much as I hate paying for the same character twice, it’s something I don’t forsee myself stopping.
A Call to Action (Figures) is a monthly column published in the middle of the month, chronicling my rants and raves about all things action figure. Join me next month when I reprise my favorite holiday tradition, smashing gingerbread houses with action figures.