DRAGON SLAYER?

Last modified: Saturday, January 6, 2001 6:20 PM

 

Formative International recently released a new figure design for their "Soldiers of the World" series which incorporates the ganged hinges found in Dragon Models' highly-praised figures. Formative has developed a reputation for being the "low tier" of Joe collecting-- their stuff is cheap and it usually shows. There have been some notable exceptions-- their WWII era jeep took everyone by surprise, and some of their cast accessories packaged with the figures have been surprisingly good. I don't think this appraisal would hurt their feelings at all. They're deliberately targeting the low end: the kid market-- with cheap playworthy toys, and are probably outselling all the other guys.

Fer grins, I've put together some pictures which show the evolution of their figure (from what I know). The top picture shows their very basic first version, with almost no articulation at all. Neither the arms nor legs pivot outward: they only rotate within their sockets. This is the first time that the notorious "orifice digger" handsculpt had ever appeared on an action figure, and it's molded with the arm. Those were the days when Hasbro's mighty "Hall of Fame" figures ruled the 12" world.

Their second issue figure had a much longer reign as the funkiest figure available. It occupied the rung below Hasbro's Classic Collection figure, and again had some puzzling articulation omissions. The knees were hinged, but lacked the rotation of the arm's similar elbow joint. The head and waist only rotate-- there's no ball articulation. On the bright side, they left the great oversized OD handsculpts, and put full wrist articulation in. For some reason they decided to shrink his fairly tiny feet though. The shoulder and thigh articulation worked pretty well, in my opinion. It's more inset than any of the other manufacturers and has a good solid feel.

Behold their improvements for the new millennium: the figure that quite a few people have been raving about. I just had to get it to see for myself. This is the motorized version (that's what the plug gizmo is for) because the plain figure hasn't been released yet. As you can see, the ganged hinges increase the range of elbow and knee flex considerably. They've also introduced the knee rotation, similar to the way Dragon does this-- the elbow rotation is handled the same way. You can't see from this picture, but they've also articulated the neck with a ball and socket, similar to that of the current figure produced by 21st Century. The range of the neck's deflection is respectable though, and I suspect that the neck is slotted on two axes. I prefer the way they designed the feet and hands articulation (compared to Dragon's): they rotate and hinge within a single mechanism, so you don't have the extra articulation seam directly above the part. And they did change the handsculpts-- they're quite good, since they're properly-sized and well sculpted. No more OD pose.

Unfortunately, this one only has torso rotation and the motorized function probably doesn't allow anything else. For that matter, the motorized function also mucks with the arms: they move together and flop around in the sockets. They're designed to be moved by the mechanism, but you can still pose them... they just have a huge amount of backlash in them.

My answer to the question mark behind the "Dragon Slayer" title of this article is: haw, haw, haw... For me at least. The only part I might salvage from this figure is the arms, since they're big & different. The sculpt quality of the SOTW figures has always been...uh...uh...extremely stylized! But I guess you can rework anything with enough effort. While it's technically too early to pronounce judgment on the regular not-yet-released version, the "character" of Formative's stuff is evident: It's cheap stuff, folks. It's not intended to be quality. They don't go to the extra expense of putting nylon inserts into joints, so as a result there's considerable play in my figure's knee hinges. As it wears, it won't get any better. Everything is pressure tensioned (versus elastic or spring tensioned), so as contact areas wear down (or get slick), the friction goes and it's floppy part city.

A sidebar comment about the future of figure improvements: The ganged hinge seems to be the direction everyone's going, but it doesn't come without a cost. In terms of articulation and poseability, it's obviously better. However from the perspective of figure aesthetics, it's a step backwards. It not only requires a larger and more visible hinge area, but so far all the solutions have required an extra seam to handle the bicep (and thigh) rotation. In theory it's possible to combine these (since a ganged hinge is just longer), but so far the manufacturers seem to be copying each other. It will be interesting to see how 21st Century handles their improvements, and whether Dragon will respond with a redesign. (If they just had me on their team... ;^)