What are Superhero
Action Figures?

Action figures have gained quite and enormous popularity over the years. Although there is a wide variety of characters that have hit the toy store shelves, superhero figures comprise a large share of this popularity. It seems that those interested in comic books are many times, also interested in superhero figurine collectibles.

So what is the definition of an action-figure?

Definition: A small usually plastic doll with movable legs and arms, often based on a character from an action adventure.

An action-figure is a posable plastic figurine of an action or hero, superhero or a character from a movie or television program. These dolls usually are marketed as merchandise intended for boys. Now how true is this statement today? Girls can surely have their comic book fantasies fulfilled as well as boys, can’t they?

Action-figures can also be useful in making stop motion movies, which are gaining popularity among children due to the availability of easy to use computer software for making animated movies. Do you think these could have been some of the tools used by Steven Spielberg in his youthful home movies production days? So how did action figures get started?

A little history

Hasbro first used the term “action-figure” in 1964. They coined this term to market their G.I. Joe figure to boys who wouldn't play with "dolls". This turned out to be a very imaginative and successful psychological ploy to let boys unleash their imaginative fantasies and not be accused of playing with girls’ toys.

G.I. Joe was a military-themed 11.5-inch action figure inspired by the TV series "The Lieutenant". The figure featured changeable clothes, with various uniforms to suit different purposes. In Britain and other markets, these figures were localized as "Action Man," and had different uniforms.

During the 1970s, primarily the Mego Corporation and their standard 8-inch dolls, which included the ever-popular Action Jackson doll, dominated the action figure market. These were constructed with standard plastic bodies and interchangeable heads.

At this time, Takara Toys was licensed by Hasbro to make and sell G.I. Joe toys in Japan. They decided to make their own figure, which they dubbed the Henshin Cyborg-1. This figure used the same G.I. Joe molds, but used transparent plastic revealing cyborg innards, and chrome head and cyborg feet. Takara wanted to produce toys and play sets for the new character, but the expense was prohibitive.

They ended up developing a smaller version of the cyborg character, which stood 3-3/4 inches high, and was first sold in 1974 as Microman. The Microman line was also novel in its use of interchangeable parts. This laid the foundation for both the smaller action figure size and the transforming robot toy. In 1976 Mego brought the Microman line to the United States as the Micronauts.

Takara began producing characters in the Microman line with increasingly robotic features. Some of these included Robotman, a 12" robot with room for a Microman pilot, and also Mini-Robotman, a 3-3/4" version of Robotman. These toys also featured interchangeable parts, with emphasis placed on the transformation and combination of the characters.

Mego eventually lost control of the figurine market after rejecting the license to produce Star Wars toys in 1976. The widespread success of Kenner's Star Wars 3-3/4" toy line made the newer, smaller size the industry standard. Instead of a single character with outfits that changed for different applications, toy lines included teams of characters with special functions. Led by Star Wars-themed sales, collectible action figures quickly became a multi-million dollar secondary business for movie studios.

Similarly, comic book firms were able to get figures of their characters produced as well, regardless of whether or not they appeared in movies or animated cartoons. One difference from the traditionally costumed characters was that all sorts of specialized costumes ("Ice Batman" for instance) and removable equipment (wings and swords) were added as well.

As video games stormed the scene, figures were eventually made for the player-characters. And to follow, figures for a more limited market of older consumers were produced from the characters in "graphic novels." There was even a market for figures of performers in adult movies.

In the early 1980's, the burgeoning popularity of Japanese robot cartoons such as Gundam encouraged Takara to reinvent the Microman line as the Micro Robots, moving from the cyborg action-figure concept to the concept of the living robot. This led to the Micro Change line of toys: objects that could "transform" into robots. In 1984 Hasbro licensed Micro Change and another Takara line, the Diaclone transforming cars, and combined them in the US as the Transformers, spawning a still-continuing family of animated cartoons.

Final Thoughts

Hulk & Spider-Man

Action figures have become part of the mind and soul of so many individuals as they have grown up over the last four decades. There is so much variation and diversity of characters, there is just about anything for anybody’s interest. If you are just getting started in your action-figure fascination or have your own collection started, then you may want to check out this action figures blog. Kastor has compiled some amazing info.

Continue on to the next page to learn a few tips and techniques on action figure collecting. It should be fun and worthwhile.

If you want to keep up on the varied and interesting activities going on in the world of comic books, then feel free to sign up for my newsletter “Comics Galore” in the form below. And by all means, I would love to hear your comments and opinions on superhero figures. You can sure leave them for me at my contact page in the menu at the left. I may even be able to include them in my newsletter. I thank you ahead of time.

Dave Gieber

On to tips for action figures collecting

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