Welcome to the Legion!

Toy powerhouse Hasbro just made Christmas lists a little bit longer as they unleashed a torrent of previews for upcoming products at their 2017 Toy Fair showcase at the Times Center on Saturday.  While some might argue that franchises like Transformers and Star Wars will always sell, certain items did stand out as especially laudatory, even if others were reminiscent of the gender-lopsided toy world we often write and read about.

First up, Hasbro’s incoming entries into the Transformers franchise:

 

While Transformers has traditionally featured characters that tend to appear masculine (inasmuch as one can gender a robot), there have been some noteworthy female bots, and Hasbro has given us a meager offering of those.  Windblade (above) will be released later this year as the first female character in the Titans Return line, Hasbro’s 2017 toy story arc.  (Another story arc, Power of the Primes, is planned for 2018, but nothing was revealed about that beyond its name.)

In addition to Windblade, fan-favorite female Autobot Arcee will also be joining the pegs this spring, along with Nautica, who will be in an exclusive three-pack of Autobots (pictured above).  While these action figures are great, they are three in a sea of dozens of male characters that will be released this year.  The kids’ cartoon Robots in Disguise will not feature any female characters in its wave of toys this year, and The Last Knight, the upcoming Transformers blockbuster, also will not give fans anything in the way of female representation.

This might be the point where one says, “Just shut up and be happy with the nearly 2-foot-tall Trypticon (a space dinosaur that eats small robots, barely visible above in a sea of other bots) that will be released this year, boxed with his Titan Masters Full Tilt and Necro!  Be happy that the next Prime, by decision of a fan contest, will be the transforming ape Maximal leader Optimus Primal, who will have his own awesome toy!  Don’t you know there’s gonna be a game coming out called Forged to Fight that, for the first time ever, will combine the complete history of the Transformers franchises and even features your beloved Arcee!?”  And yes, I am happy about all of those things. However, happiness about cool, complex, upcoming Transformers and frustration that female voices aren’t represented on a level that even approaches parity in a franchise produced on every level (from movies to TV shows to toys) by Hasbro aren’t mutually exclusive.  Hasbro is a mighty toymaker, and they have the power to create a 21st Century Transformers franchise that stays loyal to its G1 origins while making more room for female representation.  In fact, one of the other Hasbro properties, Marvel Legends, is making longer strides in that very direction this year.

Above is Wave 2 of the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Marvel Legends action figures.  While some Marvel Legends waves have been lacking in female characters, that isn’t a problem, here.  This year, fans will see the first Marvel Legends Nebula action figure (played onscreen by Karen Gillan), plus a new Gamora (Zoe Saldana) in her costume from the new film.  Topping off the excitement is Mantis, the Build-a-Figure from this wave.  (Build-a-Figures require that you buy a series of other toys in the line to collect the parts needed to make the Build-a-Figure toy.)  This will be only the second time in Hasbro’s history that a female character has been chosen for their Marvel Legends Build-a-Figure (third, if you’re counting the giant space bug Brood Queen).

Female representation won’t just be reserved for the movies, though.  Marvel Legends also has plans to put out Elektra and Jessica Jones from their hit TV series.

The new wave of figures from Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy will also feature Nebula and Gamora, along with their team and villains.  There’s also a Black Widow role play item planned for release (pictured above).  Further into the future, Hasbro is releasing a Toys R Us exclusive 5-pack of A-Force characters, the entirety of which will be women.  Dark Phoenix (packaged with Cyclops) will join them as a Toys R Us exclusive as well.  While not much could be said about the Marvel Legends for Thor Ragnarok, we were told that a Jane Foster Thor would be forthcoming, presumably with that film’s wave of figures.  While this can’t erase the all-male (aside from a possible Spider-Man/Mary Jane 2-pack) Spider-Man: Homecoming wave of Marvel Legends, and it can’t cover for the fact that female characters are, more often than not, shortpacked (packed in cases in fewer quantities than male characters, making them rarer), and it can’t erase the fact that Hasbro’s Mashers line still doesn’t contain female characters (and nothing in the Mashers line was revealed today), it does show some attention paid to the number of female characters Hasbro’s Marvel Legends will churn out in 2017 and 2018.  When asked, a representative of the brand said, “Hasbro does pay attention to diversity and does try to include all different types of characters whenever possible.”  Our collective toyscape is not perfect, but, with the thirteen female characters noted here, 2017 sounds like a hopeful year for female representation in Marvel Legends.  Of course, this is less of an issue when we hop over to Hasbro’s other popular toy universe: Equestria.

With a movie coming out in October, Hasbro’s My Little Pony line continues to amaze with both volume and range of characters.  According to a brand representative for this line, “Fan culture plays a huge role in Season 7 [of the show].”  Indeed it does.  In the upcoming season, we meet the parents of ponies Rainbow Dash and Applejack, and toys are en route to support both of those new additions to the My Little Pony family.  These characters are the direct result of fan campaigns demanding to “meet the [pony] parents.”  Beyond My Little Pony, the Hasbro team was also promoting Hana Zuki, a new YouTube series that is built to empower girls through a central female character who fights evil and learns the true powers of her emotions.

To support this series, a toy line is planned and will include blind packs that contain charms that consumers can scan using a separate device, resulting in game play on an app.  Over 100 unique charms were on display, all representing a range of emotions that Hana Zuki might feel.  Keeping track of your emotions helps when playing with Hasbro toys, as you never know where you might end up.  Play can lead you anywhere, even, famously, to a galaxy far, far away.

Of Hasbro’s Star Wars offerings, one particular action figure stood out.  This (above) is the incoming Princess Leia 6-inch Black Series action figure on special edition 40th Anniversary card.  You might remember this Leia from the wave of Black Series figures just released, but something has changed, and it’s not just the packaging.  Responding to fan outcry on sites like this one, Hasbro designers changed the facial appearance of the lone Princess of Alderaan to better match Carrie Fisher‘s likeness in the movie.  A representative for this line noted that he does read fan sites, and does respond to fan dissatisfaction, when that dissatisfaction seems widespread.  Many fans didn’t like the recent Leia likeness, so it was changed (and, I would say, improved) for this release.  This bodes well for other fan campaigns, like the #wheresrey Twitter hashtag protesting the scarcity of Rey toys in the wake of The Force Awakens.

Of course it’s not just Leia Hasbro is celebrating this year, but all of Star Wars, as it enters its 40th Anniversary.  All action figures released as part of the original Early Bird pack from Kenner will be rebooted as Black Series 6-inch figures with unique cards (not boxes) to commemorate this important moment in action figure history.

“Don’t pay eBay prices for that R2,” said one Hasbro representative, citing the high price of the Black Series R2-D2 figure.  The classic droid will be out again as part of this 40th Anniversary commemorative series, albeit without its side jet engines of prequel infamy.  The Luke Skywalker in X-Wing Pilot Gear will be an Orlando Star Wars Celebration exclusive.  More Star Wars retailer exclusives are on the way, including a Prototype Boba Fett in 3.75-inch scale from Walmart, and an AT-ACT Driver in 6-inch scale from Target.

Even Hasbro’s Mr. Potato Head Star Wars line is updated to include Rey in its upcoming small-scale set, an omission sadly made in previous sets, but that is now corrected.  All of this nicely builds the hype in anticipation of Hasbro’s Force Friday, set for September 1st, 2017, where we might get our first glimpse at The Last Jedi figures plus a Luke Skywalker 3.75-inch figure from The Force Awakens, teased at this Toy Fair event.

Beyond these main properties, though, Hasbro has done a solid job of updating its toy lines for popular Disney films as well.

This Little Mermaid toy features a fin that separates from Ariel when removed from water, recreating the climactic scene from the film.  Other additions are also planned for the MoanaTangledFrozen, and Beauty and the Beast toy lines.  For the Beauty and the Beast film doll line, it seems as though Belle’s macrocephaly (and odd Justin Bieber likeness) have been corrected for future toys.

All in all, Hasbro’s 2017-2018 prospects have much to recommend them, and we haven’t even seen them all.  As noted above, there are some great examples of diversity and female representation in what’s next.  There are also some instances where more is desired.  In general, it seems as though Hasbro is less focused on waves, and more focused on entire collections.  For instance, the Marvel Legends Spider-Man: Homecoming wave might be all-dude, but the entire Marvel Legends collection has some strong representation of women characters.  I would contend that, while this is better than Toy Biz’s record when they held the Marvel Legends license (thanks, Ike Perlmutter!), it isn’t enough.  Theatres are rightly called out for programming seasons of all-male playwrights.  A wave, in the action figure industry, functions similarly to the way a season works for a theatre.  It’s what a toy company will offer toy stores for a handful of months.  Therefore, while Hasbro’s collection might be generally inclusive (if still not gender-equal), the presence of certain waves that exclude women are worth your outrage.

Jonathan Alexandratos writes plays and essays about action figures and grief.  He’s on Twitter, now with Life-Like Hair, @jalexan

 

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Jonathan Alexandratos

Jonathan Alexandratos is a New York City-based playwright and essayist. His most recent play, We See What Happen, was created with Nashville Repertory Theatre, and is the immigration story of Jonathan's grandmother, as told by superhero action figures. Jonathan's book of academic essays on action figures, Articulating the Action Figure: Essays on the Toys and Their Messages, is due out in May from McFarland.

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  • **Correction: The Transformers Robots in Disguise 2017 wave will feature 14 toys, one of which, Strongarm, is female. Hopefully the Transformers toy universe will embrace its Lost Light comic, and we’ll see more toys in that vein!**

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