Everybody Loves Legends
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
I remember the day vividly. It was in the early 2000’s and I was still cutting my teeth as a movie reviewer down the Jersey Shore before MTV created the monstrosity that is “Jersey Shore”. I was commuting into NYC for movie screenings a few times a week and learning the business. I had started buying figures again after college and was really a relatively casual buyer back in the late 90’s. If you’d seen the figures of the 80’s, you would give me a pass compared to today’s offerings. Anyway, I was focused on comic books at the time, getting my pull list from the amazing Midtown Comics. The second floor of the store is mostly toys and I always made it a point to go up there and check things out. Their was a shift happening in toys. A new direction. The dawn of an unprecedented era was coming upon us.
It was that weekend in the year 2000 and the world was still a little less scary. It was before 9/11, before the Dark Side. Before the Empire. Seriously though, it was less of a plugged in world where you could still stay off the grid if you chose to. I went to the mall I grew up going to here in Jersey when I stopped into a place I had always gone to when “Mall-ing” called ZAPP! Comics. Behind the counter, and behind the middle aged jerk that reminded me of a Hobbit before the LOTR movies or Gwildor from the Masters of the Universe were these amazing new figures. Years earlier at a local comic book and baseball card show, my dad, practically a pacifist, got into an argument with the comic shops aforementioned worker when he asked a simple question about the price of an item. Since that argument, I made it a point to never buy from this shop but this day would stop the streak. I WANTED THOSE FIGURES!
The figures were made by TOY BIZ and were called Spider-Man Classics and they were amazing, no pun intended to Spidey’s moniker. The first wave of these super articulated figures included Spider-Man (based on the art of Mark Bagley & Erik Larsen), black costume Spider-Man, Man-Spider (a really odd choice) and Venom in transformation. I swooped in and picked them up and just to give you a clue of how new they were, this comic shop was in a bustling mall and had only one set. I scoured Toys"R"Us and other retailers but never located them again. They were a little clunky with that ridiculous hard plastic clamshell that is a bitch to open but they also came with these awesome bases that you could snap the figures onto and then pose. We even were treated to a reprint copy of classic comics for each character included in the clamshell. They were new and different and started to shape the state of toys for the 21st century.
By 2001, the next wave had arrived and the buzz began to build on these new figures. They were still called Spider-Man Classics but demand was growing amongst the fanboy geek set. The second wave included Classic Spider-Man (First Appearance), Daredevil, Battle Ravaged Spider-Man & Rhino. All in all, a well planned out and varied wave for the figure palette. This wave also included what would come to be known as a “variant” figure and its first was the classic Daredevil in yellow and black. Some collectors throw around the word variant a little too often if even the slightest detail is different than the “regular” one but a true variant is pretty much an overhaul of one of the figures in the wave.
2001 also saw the debut of two Exclusives from the now out of business KB Toys. (God how I miss you KB) The two Spider-Man Classics Exclusives included Spider-Man 2099 & Scarlet Spider, and I am still kicking myself for not picking them up when the KB aisles were filled with them. At the time, all of the aforementioned figures had the “Spider-Man Classics” name printed in a large sticker on the clamshell. I had no idea what would come next from the company simply known as Toy Biz.
On the heels of the Spider-Man Classics success, Toy Biz knew that after years of making superhero toys, they had found their golden goose in these hyper articulated figures from the House of Ideas, aka Marvel. Like a TV show that spawns a spin-off (Think Frasier after Cheers), Toy Biz decided to bank on these figures and changed the name to (wait for it, wait for iiiitt)….Marvel Legends. The birth of the seminal Marvel toys of the millennium was officially here and at your friendly neighborhood toy stores, not just your local comic shop. Marvel Legends was a big get for Toy Biz and they were banking on these new types of figures. Little did they know that the gamble would pay off handsomely but their was one hitch in not too distant future.
The very first Legends release was a modest wave of four figures, still in the hard to handle clamshell, still coming with a comic book. Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man & Toad made up the first wave that was produced and they quickly became a hot item. Except for Toad. You couldn’t really give Toad away until years later when it shot up on eBay from the smarter collectors that saw a future in Toy Biz’s new creation. The first wave also included two variants including a Gold Iron Man & a Wal-Mart Exclusive Stealth Armor Iron Man. Toy collectors were going nuts for these new figures because they had everything that fans had wanted. Articulation, pose-ability and amazing sculpts worthy of the Marvel name. Everything from the fingers to the feet moved making these figures a dynamic addition for toy displays.
As the years went by, the Legends line became more and more popular amongst even the oldest of Marvel fans. The figures were clearly becoming geared more towards the adult collector but still maintained enough appeal for kids. But don’t be fooled, Toy Biz knew what they were doing and by the time Waves 2 and 3 hit in ’02 & ’03, figure junkies were combing their states for the figures and more specifically, the variants. For me, it became an adventure, driving hours, chasing the variant.
2005 brought what would become one of the most clever ideas in the history of the action figure. Toy Biz introduced the Build-A-Figure feature, affectionately known as the BAF. What this did was supply each figure in the wave with a lone part that when you had all of the pieces would build a larger scale figure. Simple right? Not so fast. Now collectors that coveted the BAF, were forced to purchase all of the figures in the wave. Even the ones that they did not want. Translate that and it meant major bucks for the company churning them out. The first BAF wave was in early 2005 and consisted of Bullsye, Bullseye variant, Deathlok, Doctor Strange, Hulk, variant Hulk, Nightcrawler, Professor X & War Machine. Each contained a piece to make an oversized Galactus, a dream for toy collectors to finally have the Eater of Worlds.
It was not until 2007 when toy giant Hasbro became the key license holder of the rights to produce all of the toys and games from the Marvel Universe. This was a big get for the already massive company because not only were the comics big, Marvel was really hitting their stride with their films making the companies profile that much higher. DC could just not keep up with their own DC Classics figures hitting stores in 2008. Personally I was just never that impressed with DC’s offerings save for the core characters. Too much emphasis was on second tier characters and even with BAF for DC, Classics seemed destined to be peg warmers with Marvel having the last laugh.
The Marvel Legends line was also credited with what has become known as the “chase” figure. The chase figure, unlike the variant, was a limited run of a lesser known, sometimes B-list Marvel character. The nickname chase came from these figures being shipped in lesser quantities forcing collectors to literally “chase” after them. Chase figures became highly sought after and that is on top of the usual variants thrown into a wave. The first chase figure was introduced in just the second wave in the form of the Dr. Doom's “Doombot”. Another great example of the chase figure was in series five with an extraordinarily hard to find Red Skull. Then there are the figures that are previewed as coming in a new wave but somehow become mythical plastic unicorns like 2013’s Blade or Dani Moonstar. These are the white whales that for one reason or another did not make it to the pegs. As a skeptic, I have to think that a couple of Hasbro and Marvel brass have these figures sitting around somewhere. 😀
The next few years made the Legends brand even stronger as they would churn out two to three waves per year but the ride was not perfect. The Legends line had a big lull between 2009 and 2012 and that is most likely due to Disney purchasing the entire Marvel corporation. At the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con, Hasbro employees revealed that because of the upcoming slate of Marvel films, the Legends line would be returning. Then, during the 2011 SDCC, an amazing Mjölnir with a new Thor Legend figure was revealed to be an exclusive toy at the Hasbro booth. I bought two and was lucky to get out of the convention hall alive. By the time the new Legends were revealed in early 2012, Hasbro had adopted the classic card backing and an easy to remove plastic bubble over the piece. The current packaging, which I think is the best to date debuted with the release of the Amazing Spider-Man 2 wave that had an Ultimate Green Goblin BAF. It looks like they are sticking to this packaging and myself and a lot of fans could not be happier. The package for Legends is now easy to handle and you can easily take the figure in and out of its plastic and cardboard home.
All of this and that is not even counting the box sets that have hit over the years as well as the Con Exclusives. To own every Legend ever produced would cost a tidy sum which is why the really smart and financially able collectors purchase cases in advance from online retailers like BigBadToyStore.com & EntertainmentEarth.com. Still, I miss the thrill of the hunt because like Curly said in City Slickers, “They’re ain’t nothing like bringing in a herd.” Well, for serious toy collectors, there is nothing like finding the Legends you are looking for on the pegs. Especially if it's at the first store you go to!
Marvel Legends have also been the go-to for custom action figures which has become big business in and of itself. Type in “Marvel Legends custom” on eBay and you are guaranteed to see lots of bids on figures that have never seen the light of the day crafted by brilliant artists that took a real Marvel Legend and reinvented the figure. I have tried my hand at customizing and am unhappy to report that I failed miserably! Then again I didn’t want to deal with a scalpel unless I became a doctor. For the record, I am not a doctor. I majored in space in college. Not outer space; just space.
The hyper attention to detail, the amazing pose-ability and the points of articulation are really second to none for this price range. Now the Legends have become synonymous with the gold standard in 6-inch toy collecting. The new waves come and go so fast, it becomes hard to even keep up. While at the Hasbro presentation at Toy Fair last month, the toy company received rousing cheers at their upcoming slate for 2015. It is only mid-March and already we have two waves on shelves and another due later this month. And on the horizon for the Legends? It could not be any brighter after the PowerPoint display from the Hasbro execs. Believe me, if you want to get in on the Legends craze, 2015 is your year.