I’ve been cleaning, and inevitably in the process of cleaning, you’ll come across some lost treasure or pet that you thought ran away or maybe some sandwich that you SWORE you finished but there it is, green as a springtime day and equally replete with life. Well, maybe not in your room or mine, but it happens. So, I was cleaning and I came across an old box of Minimates. I was immediately re-entranced.
A few years back, the toy industry got a hardcore fetish going for miniature block figures. You take a generic humanoid body form, usually squarish and simplified in shape, and using this simple body, make a ton of different characters by giving it different paint schemes and accessories. The sculpting cost is nullified, you get a variety of figures out of the exact same body, and you get a charming formal continuity between every figure in the line. Cost-cutting capitalization on known characters? Sure, but they’re cute enough to make us forget all of that. Medicom in Japan has been doing it for a very long time with their great Kubrick line of figures, so Art Asylum decided to jump on the minifig boat with a line of figures called Minimates, based on Marvel Comics characters. Marvel Comics, as a reminder to non-comic folks out there, include Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four and the X-Men, among others.
And MAN, did I collect those guys. Each wave of figures had eight characters, contained in four 2-packs. Additionally, there was a variation in one packs from each wave, switching out a particular figure with a less common variation of that character, adding that ‘chase’ thorn in the side of collectors. And they were fun… until Art Asylum decided that we needed a dozen different Spider-Man figures in slightly different forms of undress and battle damage, packed in with figures that we actually wanted. The same thing happened with Wolverine. Classic Wolverine, New X-Men Wolverine, sleeveless shirt Wolverine, maskless Wolverine, Ultimate Wolverine, leather jacket Wolverine, and I’m sure there were others. President Wolverine, Wolverine Soufflé, You Got Wolverine in my Peanut Butter, newborn Wolverine. You get the idea. As human beings, we have a certain Wolverine tolerance, and we were now suffering from Wolverine Poisoning. Which would have also become a figure if the line were allowed to continue in this way.
I joined the Art Asylum Collectors’ Club for roughly thirty dollars so that I wouldn’t miss any releases. Despite many promises, they actually had the audacity to send out paperclips and rubberbands as ‘membership bonuses’ and not much else. It folded under a myriad of frustration and undelivered items. The company nobly plodded on.
Art Asylum went on to create Minimates based on DC characters also, but due to licensing agreements, they could not be packaged as individual figures. Instead, they were packaged as accessories to LEGO-like construction kits called C3, which immediately amplified the price of attaining the figures. The C3 sets were rife with problems: deformed building blocks, incomplete figures, missing pieces. An exchange program was formed briefly, but it was enough to solidify real doubts about continuing to collect the line. A handful of pieces that were shown at ToyFair never saw their way to production, and Art Asylum rounded out the C3 collection with a series of mini-vehicles and closed down their flawed venture into construction kits. Recently, they’ve revisited the license and have been granted the rights to sell individual figures of DC characters, which is ultimately where their strength lies anyhow. So, consider me thrilled and suitably pre-ordered. These future Minimate waves will include the members of the Justice League, as well as some of the Justice Society and a handful of tangential (but still fun) characters, and best of all, through twenty-four figures, there’s only two characters being repeated, and I can never, ever have enough Batman. DC Comics, again as a reminder, include such iconic figures as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel.
Art Asylum also ventured into Minimates based on Lord of the Rings and Star Trek, but neither venture really gained enough of a following to continue, and many presumably-rare exclusive sets couldn’t be given away. We’ve entered a new era, though, and figures that were lost to time have once again become desirable. A Nightcrawler from the ‘Giant X-Men’ box set can reach as high as 21 dollars, which is a handsome price for a 2.5” figure that was released only a few years ago, but most of the figures are still reasonably accessible for now. There’s a very real, geeky appeal to comic fans when they can get figures of their favorite heroes that are compatible with each other despite being from different universes. Too many times, the sizes or quality of the different figures just don’t match up, so this universality between the two comic labels is pretty hot stuff and is sure increase the demand all around. If there was ever a time to try to catch up, it would be now.
And it’s infinitely cool to have a tiny, pose-able superhero team anywhere you go. I don’t care what you say, it is.