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


"Waow, bummer...all potatoes and no meat..."



The previous article, Mattel Slayer?, was a quickie look at and critique of 21st Century Toys' new "Super Soldier" articulated figure. I made a lot of guesses and predictions based solely on surface evidence. This article digs deeper inside Super Soldier SSAM (SSSSAM) to see what's really going on.

It occurs to me that I might seem a little sadistic for digging up flaws in figures that we really want to like. Hell, maybe I am? (evil snicker) On the other hand, there's a great line from a movie about blowing sunshine up yo ass... If you want smiley face commentary, you've come to the wrong place. Because this figure's the product of a faceless corporation which has been bashed many times before, I left the kid gloves at home. Seriously though, I do strive to be objective, reasonable, and fair.

Even before making the first incision, I considered this figure DOA because the ankles-- as designed, they don't farking work!!! I've bought two of these guys and they both have this problem. It's worse than any of the other figures I've seen (except HOF). They're unsalvagable without major surgery ("but Jimbob, just shoot superglue into the joint..."). Of course, you can probably fix anything if you set your mind to it, but you shouldn't have to, and wouldn't have to if the company would just do their job-- test this stuff and fix it before springing it on us paying guinea pigs!!! Novel idea, huh? Personally, I think they know exactly what's going on, but leave the flaws in so they can fix them later and appear responsive to the customer. Sick, devious little bastards.

By cutting the figure apart, I can relieve some of that pent up angst, ha ha. It's interesting to see how they handled the design, and it's useful to have an inside view of a product. This gives you clues about how you might handle a repair or how to handle the figure to avoid having to make a repair.

Yanking the head: This is something you need to watch out about if you're planning a simple headswap: The good news is that the neckpin & headsculpt is fully compatible with the Classic Collection style (even if the neck is too short and makes him look like a hunchback). However, if you haven't heated up the base of the rubber head so that it's soft, you're liable to pull the whole neckpin off. It looks worse than it really is though, so don't panic. To get it back on, just lift up the edge of the lower retainer (pressed by the spring against the body), and work the neckpin on by wedging it through the widest slot. Piece 'o cake.

Removing the neckpin hardware made it easier for me to split the upper torso by allowing me to cut the molding seam further into the neck area. The more of the seam you cut, the easier it is to split the body without making big ugly cracks in the torso.

The SSAM and CC figures are often lumped together in the same "durability" category. Actually, the torsos of both the SSAM and SSSSAM are constructed of a thinner and softer plastic than the CC. If you use a screwdriver to wedge the halves apart, the SS plastic is easier to mangle. Because of this figure's open-ended torso, it's better to just pry it open with a pair of pliers.

Digging In: The upper torso pops open with a very satisfying crack to reveal these innards. The neckpin base slides into the body section. The upper torso is articulated to the lower torso by a spring assembly: the wide lateral cut in the upper torso socket permits the generous side-to-side articulation. Notice the raised texturing lines-- these contact the texturing bumps on the underside of the retaining piece to help it stay in position via friction.

The front-to-back cut in the lower torso permits the front-to-back bending.

Rotation of this section is somewhat impeded by the shape of the lower torso: it's a squashed sphere, and the top end is largely covered by the upper torso socket. When you rotate the sections, it's like having an oval ball rotate within an oval socket, so there's a favored position.

This closeup shows the arm's ball & socket articulation. This design permits an extra bit of articulation to simulate the movement of the shoulders. A traditional rotation design has a fixed 90 degree angle but this gives you an extra few degrees of variation off of that. It's nothing dramatic since the diameter of the cutout hole is small and limits the amount of travel.

One thing that should raise a warning flag is the potatoes ...errr...balls! Notice the scuffed wear marks on this new, minimally played-with figure? It's from the pressure-tensioned friction contact between the rigid ABS-like plastic balls and socket. Guess what happens when friction erodes the parts? They get loose. How do you fix it? By increasing the pressure of the tensioning, which in this case requires cracking open the upper torso. I think they should have put a spring and pad inside the sockets, but that would have increased the cost. Like most things these days, these guys are designed to be cheap to produce and disposable.

For full figure disassembly, the hips need to be done next. They're secured to the lower torso by the same mechanism, although with a shorter lateral cut. Here the rotation works better because the socket is much shallower and doesn't trap the lower torso's squashed spherical shape.

The legs are connected via a traditional rotation flange. There's no separate shim to increase the friction on the rotation, but there are two molded nubs which the flanges wedge between. As the lower picture shows, the inside of the flange has raised texture lines which rub against a texture line on the housing. If all this stuff stays in good shape, then the legs stay tight. If anything wears down, then you've got floppy legs. Again, the remedy requires cracking open the section and rebuilding the parts for proper tensioning.

Personally, I hate this design but it seems to be so widespread. My current favorite is the way they do "Workout Barbie's" legs: An elastic band connects between the two legs, so they stay good and tight without the huge articulation seam. Theis also permits a range of articulation comparable to this design's. (It works for Barbie-contoured hips, but I don't know if it would for a male figure though.)

Finally, the lower torso egg. Looks mighty peculiar assembled on the figure, and even more peculiar standing by itself. But it's a good functional design because roundness is what works best in a ball & socket joint.

Inside, it's just what you might expect. The deep front-to-back cuts let the spring-loaded tensioning pins give the figure good front-to-back posing.

The separate spring-loaded sections is a better design than the vintage figure's single elastic design. As discussed in a previous article, elastic and springs like to pull/push in a straight line. The vintage figure's elastic encounters kinks at the leg/hips, the hips/torso and the torso/neck. These make the figure's sockets not want to stay in that unnatural state, so they fight the friction between the pieces. Therefore, if the ball & sockets are really smooth and frictionless, the parts seem floppy. (The "floppy" Masterpiece edition figures' problem is because the balls are too slick, not because the elastic is too loose, and you fix that problem by using a solvent to clean off the slick mold release residue.)

In this spring-tensioned design, the kinks are eliminated by separating the spring into three sections, with each pushing in a straight line. Because they're independent of each other, they don't fight to maintain their tendency to remain straight.

This design is similar to what Dragon came up with. The problem with the defective Dragon figures was probably due to their use of a bad batch of overly brittle plastic. I wish I knew more about plastic formulations though, because there seem to be all sorts of variations which affect things like its brittleness, its scuff-resistance and hardness. It would also be nice to know something about its long-term stability under different heat/humidity conditions. I hope they aren't making these things out of bio-degradable plastic!

The Other Stuff: I haven't gone into any of the other parts because their construction is pretty self-evident. Wear resistance of those parts depends largely on the qualities of the plastic. You get an idea of whether the part is rigid or semi-rigid plastic by tapping the piece with your fingernail and listening. It appears that the upper part of the leg is made of two pieces of rigid plastic (makes sense because they had to assemble it around the rotation hinge), whereas the rest are solid semi-rigid pieces. Likewise with the arms.

I think they use the semi-rigid plastic because it has good wear resistance and is somewhat self-tensioning. In theory, this eliminates the need for metal rivets. But those type of hinges never operate as smoothly and securely as a solid sandwich of rigid plastic and nylon/delrin secured by a rivet. I'm not sure of this, but I suspect that semi-rigid plastic is more succeptible to gradual splitting when tensioned under the force of metal rivets.

In Conclusion: So there ya have it. You should now be prepared to tackle all sorts of problems that you might have with this figure, as well as improvements, depending on your level of figure-bashing prowess. All in all, it's not really a bad figure-- there are just a few major flaws that the manufacturer should address which make it a DOA figure. It's DOA but should be redeemable, if that makes any sense...? I guess it's that eternal hope thing. That's nothing new, since we've yet to see a near-perfect figure come from any of the manufacturers. I guess that's what keeps us figure-bashers entertained and provides material for articles like this...