Recently, the world of action figure collecting was rattled by the news that Marvel Comics unexpectedly broken off their contract with Toy Biz, the company that has had exclusive rights to produce and distribute articulated action figures of Marvel Characters for well over a decade. Sure, Marvel will sell rights to put their characters on everything from diapers to genetically modified tomatoes, or as I’d like to think of them, Dr. Doomatoes, but Marvel action figures have been special since ToyBiz has started taking them seriously. If you can sort through the legalese of the public contract, Marvel has paid a hefty premature severance fee and I think there’s also five goats and at least one vestal virgin in question.
ToyBiz and their director of product development, Jesse Falcon, have been incredibly collector-friendly over the past few years. They’ve interacted with fans, and have created figures with an even focus on marketing and obscure fan-favorite characters, so it’s a shame that we won’t be hearing much more from them after 2006, when Hasbro takes the helm. ToyBiz will still produce wrestling lines and movie properties like Curious George (having ended their Lord of the Rings contract at the end of 2005), but their core Marvel line, with which they’ve become synonymous, will be moving on. This news comes very soon after the news that Palisades Toys has abruptly closed up shop. People will lament these passings in song one day. The vikings of the future (since time is cyclical) will lift giant steins of mead and toast them in dead languages, and then go back to playing Warcraft in their mothers’ basements.
I visited ToyBiz at Toy Fair 2006. Every year, they have a group media event, which is lovingly called the “nerd herd,” at which all of the Internet news outlets are ushered politely through their showrooms, cameras aflutter, to gather as much visual evidence as they can to disperse to the nerds at home. The feeling in the showrooms was noticeably somber. Instead of animated demonstrations of the toy lines, we got a “you already know what these are” speech and were set free to snap photos. While this is what everyone there wanted anyhow, it rang like funeral bells. Everything in the showroom, we were assured, is in production and WILL find itself onto shelves, despite the changing of the guard. That information should settle about 50% of all of the collector rumblings out there.
I’ve uploaded all of the photos taken in the ToyBiz showroom below!
The first action figure display that we came to was all about the Fantastic Four line of figures, both waves one and two. While wave one is on shelves now, wave two (which I spoke about in the earlier Super Skrull article) will be hitting in April of this year, with no figures planned after that. Included in wave two are Human Torch (with transforming action), Invisible Woman (with a clear variant figure), Thing (with unarticulated arms, to perform some action feature), and villains Dragon Man and Kang.
Continuing with the Fantastic Four theme, an animated series is due to come out this year and will be accompanied by a line of action figures. There are noticeably smaller than the 6” figures that Marvel usually makes, and the first wave will include Dr. Doom, a non-flamey Human Torch, Thing and a Skrull. Wave two will include Hulk, Mole Man, a flamed-on Human Torch, a very Evangelion-looking Doombot, Mr. Fantastic & Invisible Woman. Somewhere in there, an enormous, rocky Mole Man creature will also come out.
Next came Marvel Figure Factory, which are tiny dioramas that one assembles from 20 to 30 tiny parts, all packed into a tiny crate. Any fans of Japanese gashapon know exactly what these are about, as the gashapon craze is nothing new. ToyBiz put out the first wave of these many months ago, and they consisted of a handful of known characters, backed up by an even larger array of ‘mystery figures’. These figures were blind packaged, meaning that you had no idea who you were buying — only that they box had a big ol’ question mark on it. Inside could be a variation on a known character, or it could be a completely new character that wasn’t even listed on the box. They’ve followed up that concept with another wave of these figures. These have just hit retail a few weeks ago, but are still difficult to find. I’ll tell you this, though: each mystery box is stamped with a code number. If you figure out this code (and there are online sources that have broken it), you’ll know what’s in every box. Wave two of these includes Ghost Rider, Namor, Dark Phoenix, Dr. Doom, Nightcrawler and a host of other exciting surprise figures. They retail for about 6 dollars per figure.
A new line that ToyBiz will be distributing this year is Marvel Icons, which are 12” figures made of rotocast plastic. Previous to rotocasting production, 12” (or 1/6 scale) figures were prohibitively expensive and difficult to make. As new technology came along, ToyBiz was able to make these large scale figures and retail them for only ten bucks each, which is an incredible bargain, considering that most 6” action figures are in that price range. They maintain all of the detail and most of the articulation of the smaller figures, and they’re BIG. Why settle for a 6” Captain America when you can have one that you can bludgeon someone with? You may have seen these types of figures before, as ToyBiz has made them for the Spider-Man and X-Men movies, as well as for a few other choice characters, and every one of those figures was excellent. Now, they bring this scale to characters like Iron Man, a new Wolverine and Captain America, all of whom comprise the first wave, which will hit in late 2006.
Now we hit the big deal of Toy Fair for many collectors : Marvel Legends. Maybe you heard about the Marvel Legends Kansas debacle of 2006, but that’s an article unto itself. In short, prototypes for a series not due out until May were accidentally left on a Walmart shelf after a promotional photo session and were quickly bought by a dedicated and unwitting collector, who quickly became the talk of toy town. Man, did that get the geek juices flowin’.
Marvel Legends have become popular due to a combination of highly detailed sculpting, super articulation and character appreciation. They’re items of high value due to the fact that they show up very inconsistently in stores due to a strange distribution scheme, and are also purchased (when not hoarded by eager stockboys and resold on eBay) very quickly.
2006 will see a handful of Marvel Legends waves, and all of these figures will include various parts of a larger figure. Collect all of the figures in the wave and you can assemble a beautiful extra-huge figure out of these extra parts. In the past, we’ve seen the Sentinel, Galactus and Apocalypse waves. Since all of these guys are very large characters, often dwarfing human-sized heroes, it makes sense to create them in a larger size. Other Marvel Legends big action figures (or BAFs) will include Giant Man (exclusive ONLY to Wal-Mart), Mojo, Onslaught and MODOK.
Here’s where we walk the line between popular and obscure, as Mojo and MODOK are often regarded as thoroughly ridiculous and pointless characters. I mean, Mojo is a fat slug with a robot-spider body who rules over a TV dimension, and MODOK is a giant head whose acronym name stands for “Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing.” Oh, once he was once “Designed Only for Calculating,” but after his puppy died, he was never the same. You can see why these would be regarded as ridiculous, and yet, here they are. Maybe it’s the big ol’ “up yours!” that ToyBiz is giving to their corporate masters, and maybe they’re just making figures that THEY would love to see, but I love ‘em for it.
Of course, these waves of figures include your standard array of heroes and villains, including three figures of Iron Man (who is a personal favorite) in various armors, Spider Woman, Beta Ray Bill (who is a space horse with the powers of Thor), Ant Man, Havok and Wasp, among a ton of others too numerous to count. After these waves are over, there’s a slim chance that anyone important will be left out. Add to this a series of Marvel Legends two packs, comprised of archenemies and figures to recreate epic battles, as well as boxed sets of various super teams and events in Marvel Comics history, and it’s really too fun for words. Marvel Legends WILL continue once Hasbro takes over, but they may not be anything like this at all.
In short, it’s a banner year for Marvel figures, and it may be the last, so celebrate it.