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Default Gallery: Jin Saotome's Super-Cool Custom Superheroes

</img>: He started hacking action figures as a tot. Now Jin Saotome sells custom-modded superheroes for hundreds and even thousands of dollars. "I would take apart my G.I. Joes, swap arms and paint them with my mom's nail polish," said the 30-year-old resident of California City, California.
With the help of his dad's metal shop, Saotome built and deconstructed popular figurines as a hobby. His first set of custom figures was purchased by a traveling jeweler, who bought an entire set of Star Wars figures for his son.
Left: Saotome makes a living cranking out custom creations like this Hulkbuster Iron Man. "What if Iron Man crash-landed in this summer's Hulk movie? He'd be wearing this armor," said Saotome. He crafted the custom piece using the beefed-up exoskeleton of Iron Man's nemesis, the Iron Monger. Saotome says this figure sold for $520 on eBay.
Photo courtesy Jin Saotome
</img>: For this chromed-out version of Iron Man's first attempt at a flying suit, Saotome buffed all the joint holes for a smooth, retro look. He then carved out a hatch on the back and rigged an LED from a dollar store to illuminate the chest.
"I just love Iron Man," Saotome said. "I've probably made nine or 10 variations on the Iron Man character."
Photo courtesy Jin Saotome
</img>: </p> Saotome is revving up his collection of Iron Man custom figures to coincide with Friday's release of the feature film. To ramp up for Iron Man, Saotome mostly created variants on the character's armored costume -- but a few were made to look like Robert Downey Jr.'s version of Tony Stark. "I'm also planning one with a tank top and a unit on his chest that'll light up," said Saotome.
Photo courtesy Jin Saotome
</img>: Blackout, one of the first Transformers shown on screen during the 2007 live-action movie, sold for the highest figure any of Saotome's custom figures have garnered to date. The Deceptacon went for a whopping $3,400.
"I don't think I could top that again," said Saotome, who's built up a large base of fans who appreciate his tweaked superheroes. "Those results aren't typical for this field.
Saotome sells all his custom designs on eBay, and prefers to let bidders decide what each figurine is worth rather than setting a minimum price.
Photo courtesy Jin Saotome
</img>: This figure is a parody of Xenu, the leader of the Galactic Confederacy in Scientology lore.
Saotome's work often touches on the lighter side of geek obsession with such gag figurines. "After I did the custom Xenu, I got tons of e-mails -- but no death threats," laughed Saotome.
Photo courtesy Jin Saotome
</img>: "In the [Iron Man] comic, Tony Stark was always battling the bottle," said Saotome of this artistic take on a boozed-up superhero. "That custom [figure] got about 11,000 views on eBay."
Though Saotome's joke figures are a big hit on the web, they don't tend to sell for as much as some of the other figurines. The Repulsive Armor Iron Man sold for about $150.
Photo courtesy Jin Saotome
</img>: Saotome cobbled together this action figure in the likeness of his namesake. "Jin Saotome" is a character from an old arcade game the artist played obsessively as a kid. He adopted the nickname used by friends who admired his skills playing the avatar, and now uses the pseudonym for his work. Of the 300-plus figures Saotome has created over the years, this is one of three he doesn't plan to sell.
Photo courtesy Jin Saotome
</img>: This Black Cat figure was inspired by an issue of The Amazing Spider-Man. Saotome is quick to point out he's not crafting from scratch, but "building on what's already been done."
Though he often takes requests for commissioned works, he usually looks to his favorite comics for inspiration. Each augmented action figure takes about three days to build, though it varies depending on the complexity of the design.
Photo courtesy Jin Saotome
</img>: Saotome usually starts with a simple base doll to build custom action figures like this Stealth Iron Man. Utilizing a prepackaged form allows the figurine to be fully articulated -- durable joints are nearly impossible to build by hand, says Saotome.
He prefers using the Silver Surfer to start, then sculpting clothes or armor from an epoxy. "I recently stepped up my game, from swapping hands, gloves and feet around to actually making my own parts," said Saotome.
Photo courtesy Jin Saotome
</img>: "I'm a customizing MacGyver," said Saotome. He estimated he has about three 10-gallon bins of spare doll parts for building figurines like this one, which is based on the Iron Man movie.
"Anything I have lying around is fair game," he said. Materials run the gamut from vintage figurines salvaged from a garage sale or eBay to a cellphone strap.
Photo courtesy Jin Saotome
</img>: "Painting, the last step, can either make or break your figurine," said Saotome, who learned his brushwork skills from various jobs and working on model replicas. This high-gloss Iron Man figurine is just one of the action figures Saotome has been working on to gear up for the Friday release of the feature film.
Photo courtesy Jin Saotome
</img>: Saotome confessed a love for all things robot and mecha, which contributes to his obsession with the various Iron Man armors and costumes, like this Silver Centurion model.
Though he's been focusing on Iron Man in anticipation of the silver-screen release, he's eyeing the rest of the summer comic-book line-up for inspiration. "I'm hoping to do some nice Hulk figures," said Saotome. "But Ray Park [who played Darth Maul in the new Star Wars movies] is one of my favorite actors, so I have to do Snake Eyes [his role in the upcoming G.I. Joe flick]."
He said he'll be skipping Speed Racer this summer, though: "Everyone's doing it and I pretty much only do Marvel Comics characters anyway."
Photo courtesy Jin Saotome

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