HASBRO'S
SUPER ARTICULATION JOE

Last modified: Tuesday, January 1, 2002 7:48 AM

 

Gaaaaaa! That face! Those eyes!!!

12/07/01-- It's official: Hasbro has finally joined the ranks of companies which offer a figure equipped with the ganged hinge elbows and knees. Although it doesn't appear to have an official name, "Super Articulation" or "SA" seems to be popular. (At some point we will run out of meaningless superlatives to bestow on these improvements.) At present, SAJOE is making appearances in the lower cost carded figures, most frequently in the Vietnam M60 Gunner. But they may be mixed in with those sporting the older Classic Collection body style. Why this low cost figure for the debut? It's unclear what's going on here-- whether it's a mistake, or just a doesn't matter kinda thing -- if you want to be sure, look at the elbow. The M60 Gunner is wearing a T-shirt, so it's pretty obvious. In time, this figure will probably become Hasbro's standard as the CC body is phased out.

This happens not a moment too soon-- they're only a couple years behind the curve on this and old CC was beginning to show its age quite a while ago. This gave the impression of Hasbro being a lumbering giant which didn't care. And that was probably true while Star Wars ruled the toy aisles.

That's changed. Hasbro's Joe is currently experiencing a revival; they had begun revitalizing the Joe line with a diversity of releases during the summer, and introduced some incremental changes in the basic CC figure ("Gung Ho Grip" and smaller feet). Sales are good due to the coincident resurgence of flag-waving, and this has become a lightweight news story in its own right. The publicity certainly can't hurt.

This is a long overdue updating of the CC figure. Indeed, this figure can be seen as an overhaul or evolution of the CC figure, since it retains a lot of the characteristics of that figure. One of those characteristics is durability, and this is retained in SAJOE. That's due to Hasbro's use of the same materials and construction methods. [I should mention that for me, the durability of a figure isn't a selling point. I'm not fond of the dense & heavy materials that give the figure that kind of durability. Speaking as a figure remodeler, these figures suck: They're hard to crack open and rubber is difficult to resurface. But that's just me...]

The ganged hinges are one of the major differences between SAJOE and the CC figure, and were probably not that difficult to implement: It's simply a replacement of those limbs into the same style torso sockets using redesigned parts. Hasbro did a good job on the hinge aesthetics: the elbow hinge's center segment is thin and about as discreet as something like this can be. The bicep and thigh rotation seams are nothing special (I'm still waiting for someone to put all that stuff together in one place.). However, the gap between (and misalignment of parts in mine) indicate a kind of sloppy, imprecise production standard.

The "Gung-Ho Grip" hands are one of Hasbro's innovations which made their debut in the interim CC figure refinements. I hadn't fiddled with one until now, and having done so, I'm reluctant to call them an "improvement". They look funky. They're oversized and the pivot holes are hard to ignore. Placing the right hand's wrist hinge 90 degrees off from the usual orientation wasn't a horrible decision since it allows you to do unique hand poses, but the usual way probably has more useful posing potential.

The feet are long and way too narrow. I'd heard that some of the interim figures had small feet, so I guess they decided that it wasn't a great idea and went the other direction. It appears that Hasbro has also decided to do something about the CC figure's legendary weak ankles, which had doomed it to be an incurable shelf-diver. The ankle hinges on my sample were damned tight-- so tight that the feet could barely tilt at all. It's probably not a good idea to "break 'em in": Unless they're using some kinda magical mojo, the materials and mechanics suggest a return to its shelf diving ways.

The other major change was to include two-part torso articulation. As with 21C's Super Soldier, the abdomen section looks ball-ish, but to a lesser degree-- so it doesn't look quite as ridiculous. I can only guess at the construction of the articulation there, but it appears not to use spring or elastic tensioning. Instead, it seems like two rubber barbell pieces are pressure tensioned in sockets when the torso halves are welded together. This would account for the peculiar damping envelope when you tap the upper torso (it kinda vibrates, ya see?). The hard plastic torso sections and hips don't actually touch each other.

The thick neck design appears to be unchanged and standard CC heads should fit the neck (the oldest customizing trick on the books).

Mechanically, the figure is good and tight (other than that weirdness with the torso sections). This is a good sign, and hopefully will continue through all the production runs. Even as the molds start to wear down. Big shock-- he's capable of standing (uhhh... LOL! He just shelf-dived behind me!!! No shit! That didn't happen, right?).

Overall, the figure looks pretty good. The body is sculpted with that stylized heroic look-- the arms and legs look reasonable, while the chest and particularly the abdomen look too mechanically chiseled. The weakest part is probably the hips and torso section-- the gaps between these parts (and particularly the hips) are unnaturally wide. The long "diaper-ish" hip section seems too high and makes this figure look a bit like it's wearing hiked-up old man's pants-- it also makes his arms look too long and ape-like.

Naturally, this figure invites comparisons with the other "SA" figures available to Joe buyers: Dragon, 21C, BBI, Formative and perhaps, Sideshow. SAJOE is certainly somewhere at the top of the list in terms of affordability, accessibility, appearance, and functionality. This isn't too surprising-- they've had several years to study the other designs. That cuts both ways though-- it's several years of disadvantage while their CC figure sets have had to compete based on price, availability, subject matter, outfit, brand name, childworthiness... Are people who bought figure sets during that time likely to replace all those figures with these new ones? Probably not-- that would be expensive. Some may have already done it with figures made by other manufacturers, and this figure really doesn't bring anything radically new to the table. But for present and future purchases, this removes one obstacle in Hasbro's competitiveness for adult Joe buyers. A lot still hinges on their choice of subject matter and quality of their outfits and accessories. And that's been improving lately. It's unlikely to hurt Dragon or BBI much (cuz they're "models", right? har, har) because their niche is 1:6 realism-- fragile pieces & all. I think that those companies may feel some pressure to upgrade the features of their figures, as a matter of pride. It probably hurts 21C the most-- but they're hurting in so many other ways these days. Rubbing salt in their wounds would be cruel. As for Formative, it returns them to their usual place at the bottom of the price and quality heap.

Okay, he's short, and I hate the stuff he's made of... But SAJOE is a welcome addition to a field which includes some pretty lame choices. The Sideshow figure in the center towers over everyone, but unfortunately can barely stand, due to funky loose joints and poor quality control (I've got 6 Sideshow figures and they're all pretty flakey). The tall Formative guy at the far right can barely stand, but it's because his feet are made of really soft rubber. Stupid designers. Neo Guy at the far left is kewl but expensive. A little too model-like for many folks too. Dragon's guy displays a nice mix of useful articulation in a lightweight body which stands better than most. He just needs to remain clothed. (Sorry, my 21C figure is in pieces, and I'm not about to extract my BBI figure from his cockpit and undress him just for a stinkin' review...)

 

AUUUUUGGGHHHH...THOSE HANDS!!! (This one's for Lee...) There seems to be a rumor going around that SAJOE's hands aren't removeable. As you can see, this rumor is totally without basis-- obviously, people aren't trying hard enough! I did this the show-off way-- with heat. A much quicker and easier way would be to use your Skill saw or Dremel and cut the sucker right off.

With careful analysis of this picture, you can form a theory as to why the hand doesn't come out as easily as a tooth-- our teeth don't have friggin' flanges like this which retain them in our skull! Apparently, Hasbro doesn't want these hands to be removeable. It takes a lot of heat to get the forearm soft enough where the flange retaining edge will give it up. Of course, pulling on the hand will ensure that the softer molded-in hinge pin get stretched or break; pulling at the harder plastic wrist pin will mar the hand and stretch the wrist pin AND/OR stretch the forearm. The forearm will shrink and collapse behind where the wristpin is embedded, and that doesn't look swank. The heat needs to be extremely focused at the end of the forearm (use your laser set to a broad focus), and then, you're basically splitting the end of the forearm open. I'm not saying it can't be done-- but it's definitely not easy. If you're really determined to swap hands, it might be less maiming just to make regular old incisions along the molding seams at the end of the forearm and pry it open with a screwdriver.

(later) Forget that idea-- the plastic will crack if it's pried unheated and deform if it's pried when heated. The easiest way which leaves the least amount of patch-up work is to write off the Gung-Ho hands. They suck anyway, right? You can cut them off at the wrist pin if you can access it (Sorry, but I've run out of hands to try this on), or just cut the molded pin in the hand which secures it to the wrist pin. Then cut off the wrist pin so you'll have a flat surface to drill. Take your Dremel and drill through the center of what's left-- we're not even going to try to remove it, but create a new channel for whatever hand you've chosen to replace it with. Some plastic may come oozing out from the heat-- that's cool, it's easy to remove. Hopefully, if you've drilled the hole about the right diameter, the softer melted plastic remaining inside will hold the replacement hand's wrist pin with enough friction to keep it from falling out. Otherwise, you know the Teflon tape trick, right?

(Be sure to send your tax-free donations to the Jimbobwan Institute for Advanced Moronic Studies...)

 

THE AMAZING JIGGLE-ACTION TORSO (01/01/02) There's nothing like waking up on the first day of the new year to cut open a figure's torso. I needed his arms, but did some extra cutting for your entertainment.

Both the arms and torso articulation show a new approach from Hasbro. With the arms, the hard plastic arm pin is relatively unchanged, but they've added two pieces of rubber for friction, so that there's no actual hard plastic-to-hard plastic contact. The square piece is like a gasket for the hard plastic structure which holds the arm in the body. The other piece is like a sleeve gasket to add extra friction and stabilize the area where the arm pin leaves the body. These are excellent ideas which should ensure that the shoulder articulation remains tight. Rubber (or soft plastic) doesn't easily wear down and won't wear down the hard plastic-- only time will tell if the soft material remains soft for the long haul.

The torso articulation is similar to what I'd guessed. Nylon barbells rest in soft rubber beds (the square piece which act like gaskets) in the midsection and anchor the upper and lower sections. Because there's almost no hard plastic-to-hard plastic contact, the effect is like the upper torso is connected to the hip section by a thin rubber bar-- this is where the springiness comes from. In this case and judging by the popular reaction to the "floppiness" (it actually isn't floppiness though), this ain't such a great design-- it's missing something. Thin rubber shims/gaskets between the hard plastic parts in the socket wells (like with the rubber sleeve in the arms) would stabilize the parts fit and reduce the "chatter". Of course, if they'd stuck to a traditional spring or elastic tensioned design, it would be much easier to make this modification. Sometimes I think their designers go too far out of the way to produce a new way of doing things (maybe to save a few pennies), and we end up with just a redistribution of the things that don't work the way they should.