Tuesday, November 22, 2005

In Defense of Action Masters

I admit it. I like Action Masters.

This statement puts me in the minority of long-time Transformers fans (newer ones won't even know what I'm talking about). Those with really long memories will know that I've already "come out" on this subject, and that I used to host a web page featuring this often maligned segment of Transformers history.

I can understand why some fans dislike Action Masters so much. They are, after all, "Transformers that don't transform." And while I concede that the gimmick of transformation was originally what "Transformers" were all about, I would suggest that the reason that the toy line has continued to exist (and even thrive) for so long is because the characters are so interesting. Even non-Transformers fans have some idea who Optimus Prime is. Most will remember Bumblebee as "the one that hung around with Spike" (the main human character) even if they can't remember the character's name, because his character was so heavily featured in the 1980's cartoon.

Action Masters are, at their core, representations of the Transformer characters in action figure form. Since the designers did not have to worry about engineering transformation schemes into these figures, they were able to create figures that actually more closely resembled the characters as they appeared in the cartoon and the comics. Also, being just a figure and small transformable weapon, most were much more affordable than many of the other Transformers toys available up to that time. (Of course, that didn't help the line sell well. In fact, much of my current Action Master collection was picked up from the clearance aisle at Kay-Bee toys [nowadays, they tend to go by "K-B"] for about 99 cents each.)

Although I don't expect that this idea is likely to be picked up by Fun Productions (and therefore don't intend to include it in the letter I'll be sending owner Brian Savage), I would go so far as to suggest that Action Masters would make excellent club exclusives. Mr. Savage has often commented that, compared to the G.I. Joe exclusives he does for their club, Transformers are much more expensive and limited. While one can create a "new" character by mixing and matching different parts of G.I. Joe figure molds (i.e., the head from one character, with the torso of another, on top of legs from yet another), you really can't do that with Transformers. All you can really do with Transformers is recolor the figure, and maybe attach a new head (which usually has to be molded from scratch, increasing the costs). The Action Masters, on the other hand, have more or less interchangable parts. This has been ably demonstrated by the Custom Masters web site, which features new characters made out of the parts of many different Action Master toys. And since we already know that Joe Toscano (the Custom Masters creator) has done work for some of the folks currently involved in the club (see the G2 Breakdown featured on the site), it seems like it wouldn't be too difficult to hire his creative talent to work on something new and special for a club exclusive.

One potential obstacle to this would be the question of whether or not the original Action Masters molds even still exist. However, we do know that the Optimus Prime mold was used as recently as 2002 by Takara. This would imply that the others may well be out there yet.

I don't think that anyone at Hasbro or Takara thinks that there's much money to be made on the Action Masters in your average toy store. But they would be ideal as club exclusives, intended specifically for collectors. And they would be far less costly to produce than any of the transformable exclusives the club is likely to be planning. If the molds are out there, it seems to make sense to make use of them in the market most likely to appreciate them.

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