To call the action figures produced by Todd McFarlane Productions Inc., just toys would be an insult to Todd McFarlane and collectors alike. The semi-posable, amazingly detailed figurines are some of the most popular, and highly sought after collectables available in the realm of toys or otherwise.
In 1994 McFarlane Productions released a six figurine set based on McFarlane's indie comic Spawn, which was at the time and still is the most popular independent comic book in history. The figures proved equally popular, standing out on shelves more so than other figures at the time due to their unparalleled detail in both sculpture and paint; further, the packaging included a comic related to each character and was more arduous than the weak plastics encasing other action figures at the time.
The features apparent on the models alongside their packaging`s durability made them more appealing to collect than to actually play with.
The figures appealed to Spawn readers. The young adult audience that read the comics also had the disposable income to afford the slightly higher priced figures. The minimal articulation (an often cited flaw in the McFarlane toy line) was of little consequence to those who understood the toys were tailored to collecting opposed to manhandling by the twelve and under crowd. Regardless of the how or why the toy line became so popular, it is, and it happens to be the most commercially successful toy line at this time.
In light of the original series broad acceptance, McFarlane Productions spawned (pardon the pun) numerous other themed figurine sets, including the notorious Movie Maniacs, the McFarlane's Monsters Collection and its variants, a dragon themed collection; The Beatles, KISS, and Simpsons sets, as well as the collections based on various TV shows (LOST, 24) and the X-box 360 hit video game Halo 3.
Other productions include a Military themed set; sports collections, and, of course, many additional sets based on Spawn comic books.
The McFarlane figures became the bar by which all other collectible figurines were set. After the models proved to be commercially acceptable, many other toy companies attempted to emulate the style of the McFarlane statuettes, but no other company has matched the success of McFarlane's Spawn toys or their descendants. Marvel has issued a number of collections called Marvel Legends.
The toys within each series were detailed figures based on Marvel characters, each model came with a comic, and each one was packed in hardier plastic than average action figures. While most of the toys in the various legends series reduced in value, some of the more popular characters, like Wolverine, retained and increased in value.
However, the Spawn figures, while taking into account their relatively recent releases, are only less valuable as a whole then toy collections of vintage status. Toys modeled after 80's cartoons may net hundreds of dollars for popular characters, sometimes even thousands (Optimus Prime for example).
Vintage toys based on films such as Star Wars or shows like Star Trek also net immense amounts of cash when sold, but consider the most popular of the vintage toys like Darth Vader ($2000 for a 1978) have had 30 years to escalate in value.
On the other hand, the original Spawn figurines have each grown to become ten times their original sale price in a third of the time ($10 US to $100). Further, some of the most popular McFarlane models reach prices in the thousands. Needless to say, it is a formidable feat for a company to produce action figures in the last decade and a half that rival toy versions of North American media icons in both value and collectability.
As you may have already assumed, if one is interested in collecting action figures, McFarlane Productions Inc has a lot to offer. The statuettes are admirable, collections are always original and, in general, the McFarlane toy line is peerless in any way, shape, or form. McFarlane Productions continues to be a force to reckon with in the toy industry, and will likely continue to retain the title as King of action figures for some time to come.
Martin Brinkmann runs his own Action Figures store and writes about them in his spare time.