Welcome to Figures & Speech, Nerdist’s regular column by, for, and about grown-ups who still play with their toys but might want to know more before they buy. From product reviews to informed editorials, these are most definitely the articles that’ll make you want to strike a pose.
McFarlane Toys used to be the masters of horror-inspired 7-inch action figures, whether based on Image comics, Todd McFarlane‘s imagination, or modern classic movie monsters from Freddy Krueger to the Wishmaster Djinn. With character likenesses of unprecedented detail, and a determination to snap up R-rated movie licenses that at one point had been considered taboo, McFarlane basically had at least one action figure in ever horror fan’s house by the beginning of the millennium. In keeping with a general company philosophy, the company heavily favored sculpt over articulation, often saying that the “action” in the action figure was in its dynamic pose rather than extensive poseability. To enhance that notion, they often came with small diorama bases that put the characters in their element.
When many of the specialty stores that used to sell such figures went out of business, competitor NECA stuck with their take on 7-inch horror figures, while McFarlane Toys took a shift to the mainstream with a play for Walmart sales—making Halo action figures that were smaller and more articulated, the better to allow for vehicles in the line. The Walking Dead, when it hit TV and became a massive hit, seemed like a natural for the old McFarlane, but new McFarlane grabbed the license anyway…the company just made them smaller and more articulated like the Halo line. Following an awkward first series of figures with ill-functioning action features, horror fans quickly warmed to the line once it began to focus on actor likenesses and innovative articulation. Still, it was frustrating not to be able to pose an in-scale Daryl Dixon side-by-side with Jason and Leatherface.
At long last, that has changed. McFarlane branched out into 10-inch and one-inch LEGO-ish format, but this year, they’re going all-in on a return to 7-inch figures, across many licenses. It’s called Color Tops, possibly in response to Star Wars‘ Black Series, though it’s not clear what the colors are for, exactly. They’re not specific to genre or license, as most of the initial “red” series is Walking Dead/Fear the Walking Dead, but not all; numbers 5 and 8 in the series are from Assassin’s Creed and Titanfall. An Assassin’s Creed figure and two other Walking Dead characters (Jesus and CORAL!) will also appear in the subsequent blue series, as will Spawn and three Gears of War 4 characters. And what happens when they run out of basic colors for waves? More obscure shades like fuschia and salmon?
For this review, we’ll focus on the initial Walking Dead/Fear the Walking Dead roster, save one—Abraham in the Marine uniform (#7) was not yet made available to me as of publication time.
The fronts of the boxes showcase actual actor photos, which is a new feature on McFarlane figures in this scale; they used to show carefully lit photos of the figures that might fool you into thinking it was the actor because of the excellent sculpt. Here, the artistic photos of the figures are saved for the backs of the boxes. And the boxes, for the first time, are almost completely collector-friendly, in that if you want to take them out, you will have to undo one plastic waist tie and some tape, but if you’re careful, you can put the figure and the accessories back into the plastic tray and the box.
Though these don’t come with diorama bases, they do come with a new standard base, with an asphalt-like textured top and room for the appropriate logo in front.
Bases are a big bonus for those of us who like to display figures, and they are also usually the first things to go when prices rise (see Mattel’s WWE line, which ditched the name bases after year 2). These ones are also stackable.
The sculpts are up to par with what we expect from McFarlane, and in some cases look almost lifelike from the right angle.
The articulation, however, is nuts. And I don’t mean “nuts” as in “there’s a lot of it and it’s really well done.” I mean nuts in that it is applied extremely inconsistently across the line without much apparent rhyme or reason. Unless, perhaps, your goal in play scenarios is to break Rick Grimes’ neck and brand his Adam’s apple with the letter “A.”
But let’s take this one by one, since each figure’s articulation is genuinely different, like this is a test run to see what works and what doesn’t. Rick, aside from the double-ball neck joint that only really looks right in one position, mostly includes joints purely for the sake of adjusting the figure’s balance until it’s just right, though the cut shoulders and elbows allow him to point his gun or hold it by his side (it fits in his holster, too, but with his hand in a trigger pose he’s best holding it).
IOW, he has articulation, but, you’re probably not going to want to use it to get poses like this:
Michonne’s neck joint works better, with any potential joint-line awkwardness covered by her dreadlocks. So you can cock her head to give some serious side-eye.
Aside from the waist, though, her pose is so specific there’s not much you can do with it beyond minor adjustments. You can raise and lower her sword, or put it in the sheath on her back. But then her hand pose will look odd..
Then there’s Daryl. And as if he weren’t already going to be the hardest one to find, he comes with extra accessories AND more articulation. Notably, in addition to having his signature crossbow and sheathable hunting knife, he comes with the only zombie part in the entire line.
Daryl has a ball-jointed neck, ball-jointed shoulders, cut elbows and wrists, cut hips, and—weirdest of all—ball-jointed ankles for some reason. Given how low his pant legs come down there isn’t a lot of room to make use of those joints, but they exist.
There’s some minor inconsistency in paint color between his hands and arms, but it shows up more in photos than in person.
Things get weirder with the Fear action figures, because you’d expect them to be consistent with the others. And while they’re the same scale, so yes, you can do that crossover episode you’ve been imagining…
…they have joints none of the others have. Yes, Travis has a neck like Rick’s that can move a lot, but only makes sense in one position. He also has ball-jointed shoulders AND elbows, so he can either hold his gun neutrally, or surrender. And sure, you can pose him shooting it too, but that’s not very Travis-like.
Here’s the weird thing about the elbow joints: while companies like NECA have been innovating new ways to use concealed articulation on figures like this, McFarlane seems to have simply scaled up the joints from their smaller Walking Dead toys, without compensating for the fact that they’re more noticeable in 7-inch scale. Madison has them at the elbows but has straight cut joints for shoulders. She can at least wield a hammer, and also comes with a detailed fire extinguisher covered in small print.
The giant crease in her shirt looks a little odd if you stare at it too long, but I suspect it was scene-specific.
All the figures are designed to fit one way on their bases, which they do—though Michonne’s stance is wide enough that she almost comes off the edge.
From that distance it almost looks like a group shot of the actors, doesn’t it? McFarlane’s penchant for detail remains strong. And yes, they are in-scale and compatible in displays with other horror toys…
No Walkers/Infected are yet on the slate for them to more appropriately fight (a customizable two-pack would rule, McFarlane folks, if you’re reading), so if you don’t have other horror figures already, well…you get to act out human drama. And decide just who are the real walking dead!
Most of McFarlane’s Color Tops figures should run you $19.99, a standard price point for figures these size, though there will be some larger Titans from Titanfall that’ll likely cost more. And while I do not understand the thinking behind the articulation at all—if it’s a test to see what’s best, shouldn’t it have been done before getting the product to market?—I’m delighted to welcome back the company to its original and best style. These are definitely superior to the 10-inchers, and even though that line is being continued with a new Glenn figure, I have a feeling these will render the only-slightly-larger models irrelevant. It’s not clear yet whether the construction set line is continuing: new models were shown at Toy Fair, but none has been set for release, save a series of minifigs with extra-large heads.
I’m on board for more of these, however. Are you open to a whole new (old) scale? Let us discuss in comments.
Luke Y. Thompson, Nerdist’s weekend editor, has killed zero walkers or people, though he has caused many ants to be flushed down a drain or three.