Another New York Toy Fair has come and gone, and in its wake are a number of announcements that will likely have fans of comics and collectibles alike chatting for months. We’ll be doing some history and/or commentary tied to several announcements. One of the bigger things to be confirmed is the comeback of a line that was long beloved by collectors, Marvel Legends.
Marvel Legends: You’ll soon see a long delayed (by me) review of the exclusive two-packs that appeared recently at Toys R Us. These three packs (Winter Soldier/Black Widow, Hulk/Valkyrie, and Deadpool/Warpath) marked the return of a line that many felt was the absolute standard bearer of super-hero toys last decade. During the couple of years that the Legends expression has rested, Hasbro managed to turn the smaller cousins of Legends, Marvel Universe, into a huge hit.
Some History: The Legends line itself got off to a small start in 2002. Technically, it was a spin-off of the successful Spider-Man Classics line from Toy Biz, a series of very articulated figures that easily outshone the standard Marvel lines of the ‘90s. The first assortment consisted of four characters: Captain America, The Hulk, Iron Man (classic late ‘70s/early ‘80s armor) and Toad. Yeah, Toad, owed at least in part to the popularity of the X-Men films.
Series Two introduced a conceit to this line that’s long been the bane of collectors: the dreaded variant. Your base figures were Dr. Doom, Hulk, Human Torch, Namor, and The Thing. The chase variant was a Doombot ; there were also variants of Thing (one with a trenchcoat), and Hulk (a Wal-Mart exclusive that sported a removable white shirt). The Human Torch had a running change; he originally had a 4 on his chest in flame form, but later versions dropped the 4.
The fourth series introduced the notion of one figure being the rare chase, in this case Goliath. Goliath was a repaint of Giant-Man from an earlier Avengers boxed set, and it also included Ant-Man and Wasp from that same set. For series five, the chase was Red Skull, and the number of other figures increased to six. In fact, the number of figures would continue to increase; by Series Eight in 2005, there were eight figures and several chases (including Yelena Belova Black Widow, a classic Cap, a Doombot re-release, and a Mohawked Storm).
A huge change arrived in the line with Series Nine; that was the introduction of the Build-A-Figure, a new idea that featured each character in the assortment coming packed with a piece of a larger figure that collectors could then build. Galactus was an obvious first choice for this, and his pieces were spread about among seven figures. The next two series followed suit.
Series Eleven walked away from Build-A-Figures for a short time, replacing those pieces instead with vehicles of some type. For example, Vengeance came with his bike, Logan came with a motorcycle, and so on. Series Twelve went back to the BAF. In a move that irritated many collectors, the next wave in 2006 was a Wal-Mart exclusive; on top of that, it was a huge assortment, requiring NINE figures to build an enormous classic Giant-Man.
That same year, Marvel Legends also showcased “Face-Off” two-packs, bringing in as-yet-unmade villains like Kingpin, Leader, and Baron Strucker to face new versions of their classic enemies. These joined previously released exclusive boxed sets, some of which included figures that were/became very rare (such as Rogue). Between 2003 and 2006, nine of these sets were released at various retailers. Additionally, a number of spin-off lines debuted, including X-Men Classics (which featured the likes of Archangel and Avalanche).
In 2007, a seismic change occurred as the line transitioned from Toy Biz to Hasbro. Fans took issue with some changes, like the elimination of packed-in reprint comics. Also, some felt that the quality suffered in the changeover; notably, many fans voice complaints about the Emma Frost figure from Hasbro Wave One. Nevertheless, the line continued to move forward, offering splinter assortments like a Fantastic Four wave that boasted a Ronan the Accuser BAF.
The breaking point came in 2008. First, there was the Hulk series. Fans would have to buy two whole assortments to make the BAF Fin Fang Foom. This occurred at the same time that the Red Hulk Series was a Target exclusive and the Ares Series became a Wal-Mart exclusive. This also accompanied a spike in prices; though the figures were as low as $8 at many outlets in the earlier years (indeed, into the BAF days), individual figure prices hit $14 at some outlets. The sheer amount of waves, the number of figures needed to complete a BAF, the frustration over various exclusives and the impending doom of the economy all began to take their toll. The two-packs also went to exclusive status.
By 2009, with the exception of two-packs exclusive to Toys R Us, the line had ground to a stop. However, at SDCC that year, Hasbro unveiled plans to re-invigorate the line by showing a large number of sculpts that fans could vote on. The top three would join later two packs, which they did; the three winners were Valkyrie, Winter Soldier and Deadpool from the current round of packs.
Now: Plans call for a full return for Marvel Legends in 2012. It’s been said that the line will pick up where it was, moving forward with new characters or versions (like Thor in his current outfit) and new BAFs (like Terrax the Tamer). Look for a Thor exclusive at SDCC this summer, along with announcements regarding the specific composition of the line to follow.
With Marvel Universe continuing to expand, Marvel Legends returning, and the debut of similarly-sized lines for the Captain America and Thor films, it looks like this is a good time to be in the Marvel figure family.Also on Newsarama: TOY FAIR 2011 Images