Here at The Toy Book, we constantly find ourselves staring at the unfolding future of toys. In the case of action figures, the future always seems to be on bigger, sleeker, and more—whether that pertains to more points of articulation, more swappable accessories, more high-tech bells and whistles, etc.
But not every toy maker views the future of action figures this way; in fact, some have their eye keenly fixed on the past glories of the genre. At North American International Toy Fair, one modest trend we noticed was retro-style action figures, the kind made famous decades ago by companies such as Kenner and Mego (both now out of business). As for why they’ve been making a comeback of late, a popular explanation is nostalgia—that is, the same kids who played with and collected these types of toys are now grown-ups with their own disposable incomes. These men and women retain a soft spot in their hearts for the pop culture of their youth.
And if working in the toy industry has taught us anything, it’s that where there’s a soft spot in people’s hearts, there’s a potential market niche. Below you’ll find a quick survey of companies that brought new retro-style action figures to Toy Fair, and as you can see, many are adapting movies and TV shows from the late ’70s and ’80s, which is good news for anybody who’s ever wanted their very own poseable Snake Plisskin or Dr. Emmett Brown.
It should never be a surprise to find Funko among a list of companies specializing in vintage toys. After all, the toymaker had revived the bobble-head figure, which was a popular fad during the ’60s, only to fade into obscurity before Funko relaunched them circa 2000.
On the action figure front, Funko is known for its Re-Action line, which gives the Kenner-style treatment—think 3.75 inches high, five points of articulation, and simple, yet effective sculpting—to films and TV series that never got their own toy lines. This year will see Re-Action figures for The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Dark Crystal, and The A-Team. Funko is also branching out into more contemporary fare, such as The Big Lebowski and Breaking Bad, the latter of which will include figures of Walter White, Jesse, and Gus. (As if to underscore how these retro-style figures aren’t necessarily kids stuff, there’s even a Dead Gus, which is missing half of its face.)
Released during the ’80s, the Super Powers Collection from Kenner was based on the protagonists and antagonists of DC Comics, and still ranks among the greatest licensed toy adaptations of superheroes ever released. Now, Koto Inc., which caters to the collectors’ market, is launching its own Super Powers line in August. Headlined by the DC Universe Superman Classic Costume Artfx+ Statue, and soon to be followed by Green Lantern and The Flash, they resemble the classic Kenner toys, but are larger and of much higher quality. This 8-inch Superman statue has an alternate arm part to visually recreate the “power action” move of the original figure, and each statue comes with vintage-looking box art.
NECA Inc. is known for retro-styled toys inspired by Mego Corp., a now-defunct toymaker known for its 8-inch action figures. This June, NECA will release a limited edition, two-figure set based on the film Interstellar. Modeled after actors Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, the figures have NASA-approved spacesuits consisting of tailored cloth—just like the best-known toys of the 1970s! They also come with sculpted and fabricated backpacks, gloves, boots, and helmets.Just to show that it remembers prior decades every bit as well as the other toy companies on this list, NECA will also be releasing Mego-inspired figures of Iron Maiden’s mascot Eddie, Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th, Part 6, and a line based on that watershed classic of the ’90s, Home Alone.
Both KISS and Kenner first rose to prominence at roughly the same time, so it is perhaps fitting to see both license and licensee wrapped up in one big, vintage-y package. Rolling out in spring from Bif Bang Pow!, the KISS line was created in collaboration with Gentle Giant, and features the classic line-up of Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, Gene Simmons, and Peter Criss. Each 3- to 3.25-inch figure comes with that band member’s trademark musical instrument.
For more commentary from Phil, check back often. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!