Note: Entertainment Earth provided the items in this feature for review. Entertainment Earth and Superhero Hype are affiliate partners, but opinions expressed in the review are independent. Readers can obtain a 10% discount on in-stock items at Entertainment Earth via this link, with free shipping on orders over $79 using the code FALLFREE79.
Dioramas aren’t the easiest things to come by for action figures these days. Playsets are so expensive as to need crowd-funding, and even the small diorama base bits that companies like NECA and McFarlane used to include fell by the wayside. Collectors, though, want them — how else do you display figures on a shelf in an interesting manner? And if your shelves are wireframe, as many of mine are as a holdover from when the apartment used to flood every time it rained, a solid base proves very useful for figures to stand on.
So like many collectors, I’ve always been curious about Extreme Sets Dioramas. And this month, Entertainment Earth sent one for review. They’re made of thick cardboard, like the original Barbie dream house and many Sears playsets of yesteryear. But are they any good at fulfilling collector needs?
The one I chose was the Hallway Pop-Up, which includes an elevator and stairs. The decaying decor looks most obviously inspired by the Matrix movies, but it also makes a natural haunted house or slummy hotel where superheroes might battle supervillains. It’s versatile, where some of these sets are a lot more specific, like a sewer lair or a sci-fi desert home.
The first thing to know is that this diorama, in particular, is not one you can put on a shelf. It’s larger in size than a card table, taking up a space of about two square feet. It’s ostensibly 1/12 scale for six-inch figures, but it’s big enough to work better with 1/10, which is to say the 7-inch scale favored by McFarlane, NECA, and Diamond Select.
You’ll want to give it all the space, too. The floor, staircases, and elevator don’t actually attach to anything; they need a flat surface where you can just push them all up next to each other. A card table isn’t big enough, as there’s some overflow. The product description claims the elevator has opening doors, which isn’t exactly correct — the elevator door piece can be put between the elevator piece and the rest of the set, or taken out, but the doors don’t “open” as such.
This is less aimed at collectors who want shelf decoration than it is at toy fans who like to photograph their toys. If that’s your hobby, these are amazing. Since it’s completely open-topped, it can be fully lit from above, like a movie set. The door panels open, but you’ll want to be judicious about camera angles to avoid showing any cardboard edges. Note that these included photos were taken in a space and time crunch — you might be able to do even better,
Printed cardboard will always have a little shine to it, but on the whole, the printing is not highly reflective, and doesn’t make flash flares. Photograph it just right and some of the peeling paint actually looks real. The stairs, which are each individual folded pieces, hold the weight of McFarlane figures just fine. For the purposes of this review, Entertainment Earth provided several cool figures from their McFarlane clearance section, which is often ample: Ninja Spawn, Atom Smasher, and Martian Manhunter. Only Carapax from the Blue Beetle movie was not yet on markdown, but given the movie’s fortunes at the box office, he may be eventually. Atom Smasher’s right forearm broke off almost immediately, but Entertainment Earth swiftly offered a replacement without requiring a return.
The diorama is most impressive, and easy enough to slot together, but finding a place to put it is hard. After the photos, disassembly proved necessary, though I kept the staircase and elevator intact, since they’re pretty solid pieces. The rest are back in the box, where they’ll rest until another photoshoot calls for them again. $59.99 is not an unreasonable price for something this size, a great gift for the toy photo hobbyist you know, but one that may make their spouse hate you forever. Extreme Sets has some others I look forward to trying out, and makes them for 1/18 scale as well (3-3/4 inch figures). EE seems to sell out of them quickly, so move fast if you want one.
As for the figures, Martian Manhunter feels like the most must-have, instantly recognizable to fans of any incarnation of the character, and possibly the last one you’ll see for a while. Atom Smasher’s sculpt feels deceptively simple — its grasp of anatomy under textured fabric feels more on point than many more exaggerated superhero toys. Ninja Spawn has some wonderful small details, but his physique’s a bit gangly under all of that, and the sword holsters in his back don’t really stay put, with a tendency to rotate. Add to that the fact that he looks more like a desert bandit than a ninja, and, well, he’s a matter of taste.
Carapax’s big selling point is that he’d fit right in with Marvel figures as a Stark suit or Halo figures as a super-Spartan. It’s a great sculpt with some limits on the arm articulation. What it still needs is some sort of blast effect, just to show where and what exactly his weapons are. For kids to whom these things matter, it’s not clear where his blasters are in the armor.
Just to show how 6-inch figures look in the diorama, the first appearance of Wolverine from Marvel Legends got briefly drafted into the photoshoot.
Sure, they’re not plastic, but this would cost maybe ten times as much if it were. Here’s hoping Extreme Sets keep coming up with new ideas and concepts in this vein.
Check out many, many more photos below: