Well in 2002 Toy Biz produced a wave of 6” action figures under the title of Marvel Legends (so that sort of helped).This first wave of figures consisting of Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America and Toad depicted strong comic-book likenesses, improved articulation over action figures that were currently on the market, and also came boxed with a comic or a poster book.The figures proved a hit and as each wave of just under a half-dozen figures appeared, the articulation developed and more characters arrived creating a steady supply of Marvel's mightiest creations to ever cover a bedroom shelf.These figures however didn’t just appeal to the usual toy buying age group instead they became a sort after collectable, providing fans with plastic replicas of their favourite and sometimes obscure heroes.
One success of the line was the chase or variant figure which would be shipped in cases of each wave to the toy stockist.A variant would be a slightly different version of one of the figures in that current line, so it could mean a different paint-job on a characters costume, or a different facial expression.A chase figure was a character put into that current wave of figures who would have a much smaller production run than the other characters, and wasn’t necessarily part of the promoted line.Captain America’s nemesis The Red Skull was a chase figure from wave 5 and as such the illusive nature of these smaller produced figures would garner more money on the secondary market.
As the line continued to develop it incorporated different eras from Marvels history to bring characters to life who fans would instantly recognise.As a result this also meant multiple versions of Marvel’s heavy hitters, like Spidey and Wolverine would often be found amongst a wave.In order to keep a line such as this one successful the brand needed to make sure it could keep the regular fans happy, but also sell toys to anyone familiar with the more mainstream and recognisable superheroes.The line was never geared directly at children as it didn’t force figures to have ‘action features’ or a series of inane weapons, but it did need to meet a bottom line, so a variety of Spider-man’s in different costumes was the answer.
The pick and choose option meant collectors could opt out from buying yet another wall-crawler, but that was until Toy Biz cleverly introduced a new element into the line with the ninth wave.The build-a-figure turned toy collecting into more of an obsession all by making use of one simple gimmick and that was to simply put an extra part in each box.These parts, were actually body parts, a different one came with each character, and when connected would form a completely new figure!These weren’t just ordinary characters either, the first one was Galactus, the planet devouring behemoth who would simply be too expensive to fit into the line ordinarily, and reducing him to the size of the other figures would have just been ridiculous.This new way of bringing him in meant collectors could get a Galactus that was in scale with the range and also showed that Toy Biz were committed to bringing fan-favourites into their line.The beauty of this for Toy Biz meant that in order to complete the build-a-figure character the entire range of figures would be needed, meaning some of the less popular ones would still need to be snapped up.
The introduction of the build-a-figure revolutionised the way in which a toy line could be marketed to ensure continued sales across the brand and stayed popular for the remainder of the waves Toy Biz released, only being dropped once for wave 11’s Legendary Riders.Along with the huge success the company had made from this one toy line, they also offered boxed sets containing a specific theme, like the complete Fantastic Four, The Sinister Six or Marvel Monsters, and even a Wal*Mart exclusive build-a-figure Giant Man wave. By the end of 2006 however the line faced a new challenge as Toy Biz lost the rights to produce Marvel’s toys to Transformer and G.I.Joe producer, Hasbro.
The line had proved so successful for Toy Biz, that Hasbro knew it would be sensible to continue an already strong brand with a built-in fan base, and so decided to continue were it had left off.Launching with a newly christened wave 1, the Annihilus build-a-figure wave basically gave more of the same as before, but with a few changes.The packaging was revamped and the comic-book that came with the line was dropped, but the biggest development was that the figures weren’t of the same quality as before.The articulation was reduced, the paint-jobs opted for a lighter and brighter approach and it came as a bit of a step back for what had been such a fan-friendly line.Hasbro continued to produce waves however, and the build-a-figures and variants continued to be a draw to the brand.As Hasbro started to find their feet with the line they opted to move closer into collector specific waves to focus in on each character.A Spider-man movie wave with a build-a-figure Sandman was produced, as was a Fantastic Four themed range and a Hulk wave split into two was produced to accommodate the build-a-figure Fin Fang Foom.
With the increasing costs of plastic, Hasbro switched focus from their Legends range to their smaller scale 3 ¾” Marvel Universe brand at the beginning of 2009, but said that the Legends line would return once again.With Marvel having thousands of characters in numerous alternate costumes littered throughout their 70 year history, the Marvel Legend brand still has legs and could continue on successfully for many years to come.The focus on quality for the consumer during its early years helped influence and shape Mattel’s recent DC Universe (2007) brand and the introduction of the build-a-figure has been picked up by other toy lines including Doctor Who and Star Wars.Marvel Legends managed to survive cancellation, a change in production company and even some disgruntled customers angry over paint-schemes, and takes its place as one of the most important lines to hit toy shelves.
PLASTIC FANTASTIC: *Stan Lee, the ultimate Marvel legend, was produced by Hasbro in 2007 with interchangeable parts so the figure could triple-up as Spidey and Peter Parker.
*During the 1990s Toy Biz stepped in to help Marvel Comics out when they faced bankruptcy and went on to produce a successful range of X-men and Spider-man toys. After losing the license in 2006 to produce Marvel Legends the company changed its name to Marvel Toys, but no longer produced any Marvel related figures. If that wasn’t confusing enough they had once produced figures for DC Comics, including toys based on the first Tim Burton Batman movie.
*The initial first wave of Marvel Legends included the X-men villain Toad, who seems a little out of place next to Cap, Iron Man and the Hulk. The reason for this was because he was initially set to appear in an X-men line, but when that fell through he was added to Marvel Legends instead, which also explains why he has less articulation than the other figures in the wave.