If you’re an action figure collector, you’ve had this experience. You walk into a retail store—Toys “R” Us, Target, Walmart—get to the toy section and there’s a wall of repeats of the most popular characters from your favorite line (for me, it’s Captain America, Wolverine, Iron Man, and Spiderman in the Marvel Universe line) and the cast-offs you’ve already bought and no one else wants. Not only is the figure you came looking for not there, but there isn’t a single figure you’d even consider buying.
And the double packs are even worse. Hasbro (and I’ll mostly be addressing the Marvel Universe line because that’s the one I’m most familiar with) are filled with the characters I couldn’t possibly want another of. (Check out the photo of every Wolverine I’ve had to buy to get the figures I actually wanted in sets in my column from last week.)
This is all anecdotal, but let’s look at the numbers. Out of the 169 Marvel Universe figures (variants included) released while the line ran, there were 28 Steve Rogers/Captain America, Tony Stark/Iron Man, Peter Parker/Spiderman, and James Howlett/Wolverine. That’s about 16.5 percent, which is a lot, but not terrible. It’s when it comes to double packs that it gets awful. Out of the 40 released, 22 featured one of the characters I just listed. That’s 55 percent, a little more than one out of every two.
And as much as all of these repeated irk me, I suspect it’s because these are the figures people are buying. (I’m not going to touch the chicken and egg question of “Are people buying them because Hasbro makes so many or is Hasbro making so many because people are buying them?”) I also think that if someone from Hasbro was to explain why there were so many of those figures made it into double packs, it would be because they overproduced and are now trying to sell them in pairings with figures they know they can sell.
This is a problem because of all the figures that we, the fans and collectors, want that aren’t getting made. Off the top of my head, there hasn’t been a 3 and ¾ inch Gamora (who was one of the main characters in the highest-grossing movie of the year), Arcade, Scorpion, any of the Marauders outside of Sabretooth, and the list goes on and on.
It also creates insane pricing disparity. I can get an Iron Man cheaper than I could in a retail store on Amazon, but I can’t find a Vision for under $150. I’d love to have a Vision, but who can afford it?
We might not be in the boardroom, but without our money, neither is anyone else. We, the collectors, make this industry go. We can stop Hasbro from making more of these figures we don’t want by not buying them. They’d have to be insane to keep making these figures if we all stop buying them. And that goes for other figure lines as well. Every figure you buy, you’re sending a message to the company: I want more figures like this.
This concept, voting with your wallet, works for everything. We live in a society where the profit margin determines what companies make. They make more movies like the ones that sell the most tickets. How many movies since The Dark Knight have tried to imitate its gritty atmosphere? They’re more McDonald’s than anything else because they make the most money. How we spend our money shapes our world. Let’s shape one where the action figures we want get made.
A Call to Action (Figures) is a weekly column published every Wednesday, chronicling my rants and raves about all things action figure. Join me next week and read about the lack of female action figures.