And now, Scary-Crayon presents... What Happened to Quality Control? by: Wes

I am not buying any more fucking toys.

Okay, this is Scary-Crayon, and you know that's totally not true. I do like toys. A lot. But it seems like every other toy I get these days -- and oftentimes after much inspection, given the craptacular paint jobs far too many figures are sporting these days -- either has joints painted stiff or breaks right out of the package or is already broken in the package. The Dark Knight Movie Masters Batman? Snapped in half at the waist; had to be returned to Toys 'R' Us. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End Captain Jack Sparrow? Right leg twisted right off; had to be exchanged at the Disney Store. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Cordelia Chase (as seen in "The Wish")? Right arm twisted off at the shoulder; relegated to the pile of misfit toys to be used for future modification tests and repainting projects. DC Direct Justice Brainiac? Hip joints painted stiff; nigh impossible to reach under the gown and get them turning (which would probably have resulted in them twisting off completely). I tolerated that one since Spencer's only had one Brainiac to begin with, he was $4.97 on clearance, and, with the lack of superarticulated legs and the restrictive gown, he was never really going to be busting any impressive poses anyway -- but it was nevertheless disappointing.

Back problems are the least of Mai's worries.And the item that I'd planned to review last week -- the 2005 San Diego Comic-Con exclusive Capcom vs SNK 2 Mai Shiranui & Chun-Li 2-pack -- had not only a Mai whose left leg was visibly detached right there in the package (being a true ball joint, it popped right on, but still), but also a Chun-Li whose left leg twisted off fairly easily when I tried to make use of the thigh swivel. This one especially pissed me off, since I ordered it from an online retailer -- and every other time I've had problems with a product I've ordered online I've had to ship it back to get a replacement, which basically adds at least $9 to the cost of the item and triples the wait time. In this case, it really would not have been worth it at all. But allow me to take this moment to enthusiastically recommend the store from which I ordered these figures, because Treasure Island Sports, Inc. (I used their Amazon Marketplace store) actually sent me a replacement without me having to send back the damaged set. (It's a good thing, too, since that Chun-Li actually had a problem right leg -- so I stole the good left leg from the new Chun-Li and gave it to the old one. And whereas the first Mai was okay in the joint department, the second one also had a stuck right leg. (The full review is forthcoming, but suffice it to say that I can't recommend these fighting femmes.) So while I'm not sure if that's how it works for all defective items or whether TISInc is aware of the problems with that set (or just wants to get rid of the things; they've been out since 2005 and don't seem to be very popular), I'm still pretty impressed with the prompt service that I received as a first-time customer. I look forward to ordering more toys from them in the future!

I could give more examples if I reach farther back -- when I opened the Transformers Universe Downshift and Cannonball 2-pack from Wal-Mart last December, I found that Cannonball was already broken in the package -- but all of the above happened within the last six weeks. Either I've somehow become like that horrible Meltdown character on "Transformers Animated" and can corrode plastics with the touch of a finger or quality control these days is sorely lacking. Have the rising costs of oil compelled toy companies to make their wares with cheaper materials? Are they so pressed for time that they fully assemble the figures before painting them? Or, if they do paint the parts separately, do they no longer bother waiting for the paint to dry before snapping them together? Or is the increasing complexity of toys to blame? After all, you can't paint a joint closed if there's no paint there -- and most of my old toys, being made of plastic that was the appropriate color, had very few paint applications. I don't have conclusive answers to any of these questions. Heck, sometimes I even wonder if the problems of today's toys stem from them being made with more expensive materials, in the way that an object made of glass is more likely to break than an object made of wood. But I do know that, of the toys I had when I was a kid, I could probably count the ones that broke on one hand (okay, maybe two, but only if you count the He-Man toys because they had those awful leg wires) -- and I actually played with those. As in, slammed them against each other and shot them with spring-loaded missiles and hurled them across the room and made them "fly" by dropping them over the railing on the second floor.

A true champion among toys.I had a Spider-Man toy that, one day, I was throwing into the air and catching in the driveway and accidentally threw so high that he landed on the roof and rolled into the gutter. And since I couldn't exactly get Spidey back down, he stayed there. For six months. He was mostly hidden from view, but I used to be able to look out of my window and see him floating there when it rained. Eventually, my dad was cleaning the gutters and called me to come to the bottom of the ladder -- by this time I'd pretty much forgotten all about poor Spider-Man -- whereupon he tossed something red and blue down to me. Of course, it was Spidey. And, aside from the dirt and grime that had accumulated on him due to having been in a gutter and enduring the elements for months, he was fine. Granted, this was a rubber Spider-Man toy that I'd gotten at the annual Main Street Festival, so there wasn't really a whole lot one could do to break him short of intentionally ripping him apart, but still.

On the very rare occasion that a toy did break, it wasn't really that big a deal. When Bebop's hand twisted off at the wrist, I got some masking tape, fashioned a makeshift cast that looped through his open hand and extended to his elbow, and sent him back to menace the Turtles as if nothing had happened. When his leg snapped off as well (that Bebop was one of the few TMNT figures that, in my experience, really wasn't very durable), Mom stuck one of those pink plastic hairpins in the socket and jammed the slender end up inside the hip interior and Bebop went right back to fouling up Krang and Shredder's most brilliant world domination schemes. When I rolled over in the middle of the night and somehow managed to break off Slash's head in the process (yes, I used to sleep with my TMNT figures too), I first tried taping up the broken inner peg with double-sided carpet tape before ultimately gluing the head back on for a more permanent fix. So what if Slash could never look askew at anything again? And when Sabretooth's leg came out of the package wobbling and twisted off at the hip on the same day I got him -- something that today would have me back at the store ASAP for an exchange -- I fashioned some weird paper mache paste out of superglue and tissue paper and stuck that sucker back on hard as a rock. Granted, his inability to kick or sit down put him at a perpetual disadvantage against Wolverine and put him in the uncomfortable position of standing for the duration of Magneto's speeches on mutant liberation, but I didn't care a whit.

It's hard to say what's changed. Part of it probably has to do with the fact that, rather than factory defects, I always blamed myself when toys broke -- likely because it happened so rarely. And I never really understood that you can take a broken toy back until I spent a summer working at KB Toys and saw that we actually had protocol for that sort of thing. If customers came in with a broken toy and a receipt, we simply allowed them to exchange it or issued a refund or that was that. Yet even though most of my returns have gone just as smoothly -- even when I bought a "Sailor Moon" DVD from Family Dollar that ended up not having a DVD inside -- I always expect the customer service representative to start shouting at me for mangling the product (or, in the case of the Sailor Moon DVD, stealing it and lying about it being missing).

Inflation is a bitch.But perhaps the main reason is that -- discounted and dollar store items notwithstanding -- toys are no longer as cheap as they once were. When I started buying my own toys, TMNT figures were regularly priced at $3.99, with sales often placing them at $3.50 and even $2.99. I think the old Toy Biz X-Men figures peaked at $4.99. To be sure, this wasn't chump change to a kid who didn't get an allowance and literally went hungry to buy toys and video games (I kept my lunch money), but trekking back to the store and arguing with confrontational retail employees (or so I thought they'd be) to replace a $4 action figure wouldn't have seemed worth it even to me. That changes when a toy crosses into the double digits. I'm still willing to let a problem toy slide if it's cheap enough, as evidenced by the example of Brainiac and the numerous knockoff Transformers I've fixed with superglue. Heck, I'm even willing to fix a more expensive one if I've got the means to on hand -- I've got no problem breaking out the clear nail polish or screwdriver to tighten loose Transformer joints, and with all of the issues I've had with action figures lately one of the next "toys" I buy may very well be a Dremel. Heck, in the long run, I might even save on reshipping costs and time spent returning broken figures to the store. But I shouldn't have to pay $60+ for a piece of hardware just because toy companies insist on throwing quality control to the wind. If a wiggly $1 rubber Spider-Man could survive the heat and rain of three seasons in a gutter for months and come out of the experience with even its paint job largely intact -- and if $4 figures that have seen days of intense play and rather careless storage remain in pretty sweet condition over 20 years later -- you'd think figures that normally retail at $10+ could not fall apart when handled. Seriously.

-- Wes --
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