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2009 was a unique year for the toy industry. Just as companies reach new heights in manufacturing technologies and are able to produce toys that are far more advanced than what was coming out the year previous, the world slipped into a recession that left many people avoiding the action figure aisles altogether. Of course, the ripple effect of the recession will carry forward through 2010, as retail toy purchasers will be restrained by the sales numbers of 2009, in terms of what they can order from all our favourite companies.

With that in mind, we're likely to see some pretty spectacular new products at this year's Toy Fair, as all the manufacturers battle it out to win the orders they need to make it one more year. We're confident that all the toy makers we love will make it just fine, since despite all the troubles in 2009, they were all able to amaze us with new toys. Below is an review of the best of 2009.

Hot Toys launched their brand new MMS DX (Movie Masterpiece Series Deluxe) 1/6 scale collection with a figure that celebrated the character-defining portrayal of Batmanís number one villain, The Joker, by the late actor Heath Ledger. Throughout his all-too-short career, critics and moviegoers alike have always praised what he brought to the roles he played, creating a realism that submerges you completely in the films. While many people have jumped on the Heath Ledger bandwagon since his untimely passing on the 22th of January 2008, the accolades he received arenít hyperbole. With his death we all knew that no one would ever be able to play The Joker and as such, the feature film, The Dark Knight, will never have the sequel originally planned. Ledgerís Joker wasnít a silly clown like Jack Nicholsonís or Caesar Romeroís earlier performances as much as he was a force of nature like Bruce the Shark in Jaws, The Tornado in Twister, or Darth Maul In Star Wars. You couldnít reason with him, and you couldnít stop him. Even in capturing him, he proved to be the one pulling the strings. In a nutshell, Ledgerís Joker was terrifying and will forever be known as one of the best motion picture villains.

While this is the third Joker figure produced by Hot Toys, this one is clearly the definitive version, with itís incredibly realistic skin tones, and PERS (Parallel Eyeball Rolling System) eyes, other companies are going to have to work over time to create a better figure. No expense was spared in packaging or in accessories, and as such, Hot Toysí MMS DX Joker, which saw release late in the forth quarter, is unquestionably the best action figure released in 2009.

It is surprising that none of the domestic retail action figure producers have stood up and said they are going to create less waste. In fact, over the last decade we've seen more materials going in to the packaging than ever before. In the struggle to win the consumers' hard-earned cash, almost every mass market toy company has offered very complicated packages that include multiple layers of printed cardboard and non-recyclable plastic, not to mention more little rubber elastics and twist ties than you can shake a stick at. Even though the packages these days look great, and one has to marvel over their design, ultimately it is nothing more than trash that will sit forever in landfills all over the planet. Some of the high end companies have taken us in the right direction by creating packaging that is intended to be saved, that uses less plastic and no twist ties or rubber bands. In fact, most of the products from companies like Sideshow Collectibles and Hot Toys don't even have tape on them! Moving into 2010, lets hope a responsible company like Hasbro, who has a long history of listening to their customers, will very publicly address this waste and vow to create packages that consider the environment, and challenge all the other toy companies to follow their lead. Think this is exaggerated? When you photograph as many toys as we do, you learn very quickly that the action figure industry creates far too much waste.

Many franchise fans will tell you with the conviction of a faith healer that the second film in the Terminator series is the best they have evert been, and we couldn't agree more, but one has to tip their hat to the strains of continuity that has been respected from one film to the next. While Terminator: Salvation didn't live up to many people's imaginations, it did nothing to offend the history it has become a part of like another film in the series (we're looking at you Terminator 3*). Regardless of the reactions the film had, one thing we can all agree on is how rich the character and robot design in the film was. That design, as you are well away, was totally over looked with the domestic atrocity that was Playmates Toys figure collection. Juxtaposed to that was Hot Toys' Terminator: Salvation line, which gave us film accurate figures that look almost alive! While the movie may have tanked and may not be Blu-Ray worthy to some of you, no action figure collection is complete without at least one of the figures in this line. Stay tuned for more to be added to our Photo Archive very soon.

*Ah, Terminator 3. We have figured out an easy trick to make this movie good. You see, just like Escape From The Planet Of The Apes, T3 is a film that bridges the movies together, and like EFTPOTA it does just that. Our simple trick to making this film awesome is super-easy and anyone can do it. 1) put the disc in the player 2) skip to the last chapter 3) sit back and enjoy.

There has been a lot of negative talk about how Mattel has handled all things action figure relatated, from horrible blind case assortments, to sketchy delays, to the horrific way they dealt with the missing Gleeks that were meant to be exclusives for those attending the 2009 San Diego Comic Con, and even to how they offer figures directly to collectors through their Matty Collector site, but one thing no one will slight them on is the bold decision to produce figures based on the classic Eighties' feature film Ghostbusters. Mattel, while working within the confines of their mass market products, created pretty dang cool figures worth their direct-to-collector price points. If you haven't taken a closer look at the Ghostbusters collection, follow the above link to check out all the figures released thus far including both scales of the Ray Stantz figures, which have just been added.

Anyone who knows anything about modern action figure collecting can tell you that NECA produces some of the most dynamic looking collectible figures. In most cases, their figures are designed to work not only as a complete collection, but as an individual piece perfect to decorate a collector's office. For the most part, NECA produces figures that trade articulation for iconic posing, and no one can really complain since the chosen poses are always winners. When it came time to follow SOTA Toy's Street Fighter collection in the Player Select line, NECA knew they had to offer collectors a nice silhouette and a heck of a lot of points of articulation, and they delivered! At this point, there have been six released in their Street Fighter IV action figure collection and none has been as well executed as the Chun Li figure. Follow the above link to check it out for yourself.

Despite how incredible the J.J. Abrams helmed Star Trek feature film was, what was offered at the toy shelves was a massive disappointment. The figures based on the film looked like they were produced in the mid Nineties, and we were all left wanting. At the same time, Diamond Select Toys continued to offer outstanding figures based on the Original Series and The Next Generation, but for what ever reason, the DST line didn't get any love from retail buyers, and as such the collecting community was unable to buy incredible Star Trek figures. Moving forward to 2010, DST still seems to be having trouble getting the attention of the retail buyers, even though their figures are far better than most of the stuff found in the toy aisle these days, and it might be time for us in the toy collecting community to raise our arms and say in unison we want our DST Star Trek figures! If you haven't familiarized yourself with this spectacular line, follow this link and check out our Star Trek Photo Archive. Incidentally, we've just added the Captain Kirk with Commander Chair -The Trouble With Tribbles version. Follow the above link to check it out, and for goodness sakes, go down to your local Toys "R" Us and demand more Diamond Select toys Star Trek figures before it is too late!

2009 was an very challenging year for the toy industry, and despite the challenges brought on by the economy, there were still some amazing products released throughout the year. Even though we saw the 25th Anniversary A Real American Hero relaunch take a break, Hasbro kept action figure fans sated with their line of figures based on the Paramount Pictures feature film, G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra. While the film will never be an Oscar contender, we'd be lying to say this flick wasn't a guilty pleasure. Even with some of the more questionable aspects (such as Duke and Baroness having a romanic past), ROC allowed us to see the death of the Hard Master in a way that more or less complimented Larry Hama's flawless Sake Eyes/ Storm Shadow origin. Whether you liked the film or not, you will have a hard time arguing the quality products Hasbro gave us in their G.I. Joe: Rise Of Cobra action figure collection. These figures were so well done that Hasbro has likely scored another generation of life-long G.I. Joe fans and kept long time fans like us looking forward to what they have up their sleeve next.

While Hasbro kept us up to date with the latest incarnation of G.I. Joe lore, Sideshow Collectibles kept the home fires burning with their G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero 1/6 scale action figure collection. Right from the start, with their Snake Eyes figure, SSC proved that they were on the right track, and in 2009 we saw six awesome figures, and one great environment that included everyone's favorite wolf. While there is a bit of controversy surrounding the Firefly figure coming out next year, the line looks to be moving into the toy collector's hall of fame (yeah, we know there isn't a toy collector's hall of fame, but if there were, Sideshow's Joes would be in it).


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