Seems like every decade you have an action figure line that redefines the industry. In the 60’s there was the original G.I Joe figures, in the 70’s there was Mego figures, the late 70’s and 80’s had Star Wars, and the 90’s had Power Rangers and McFarlane Toys. For this most recent decade, there are Marvel Legends.
Starting in 2001, a small toy company named Toy Biz launched a new line of highly articulated 6” Spider-Man figures under the banner of Spider-Man Classics. Based on Marvel Comics’ popular web-crawler, these figures had details and articulation like no other line before it. Up to this point, most action figure lines were between 3 ¾” and 5” and had nowhere near the detailed sculpts or articulation this new line had sporting in the neighborhood of 25-30 points of articulation for each figure.
In a very short period of time, these figures became very popular in the collector community. Toy Biz, who had merged with Marvel Comics following the publisher’s bankruptcy in the 90’s had exclusive rights to make figures based on the entire universe, wasted little time spinning off their Spider-Man only line into a full-fledged Marvel Universe line called Marvel Legends which debuted in 2002. Similar to the Spider-Man figures, each Marvel figure came packaged in large clamshell-type packaging making the figure easy to display in or out of the package. Complimenting each figure was a reprinted Marvel comic book featuring that particular character and a figure display stand which allowed the collector to show off the figure in multiple cool poses. The first series included figures of the Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man and the Toad (who was actually a hold-over from a short-lived, now defunct X-Men line).
As time went on, Marvel Legends continued to innovate by implementing what is commonly known as chase figures and variants. Basically, these are short-packed figures of either less-known characters or simple re-paints that become rare because they ship only one per case. Though this practice often drove collectors mad trying to find these figures, there is little doubt that it also drove up the demand for the figures in the eyes of many collectors who wanted to add those rare and frequently valuable trophies to their collections.
Another innovation that is credited to Marvel Legends is the concept of the “Build-A-Figure.” In 2005, Toy Biz started packing part of a figure with each 6” figure (beginning with wave 9), so that once every figure in the wave was collected, a larger-than-normal character from the Marvel Universe could be assembled. For instance in the first “Build-a-Figure” wave, you could collect parts to build the devourer of worlds Galactus who stood almost 16” tall. This concept became hugely popular and has been used by several other companies in different lines such as Mattel’s DC Universe Classic line and Hasbro’s Star Wars “Build-A-Droid” line.
In 2007, Marvel Entertainment decided to sell off the master toy license for Marvel-based action figures to the Hasbro toy company who currently makes Marvel Legend action figures though, to the dismay of many collectors, not in the numbers once produced by Toy Biz. However, Hasbro launched a new smaller line this past year of 3 ¾” figures which incorporate many of the characteristics of its predecessor’s larger Marvel Legends line.
Going into a new decade where we continue to feel the effects of the recession that hit at the end of 2008, the cost of toys continue to go up and retail shelf space is more limited. Smaller has been deemed better, and it remains to be seen how well these larger 6” lines will continue to fare. However, there is no mistaking the impact Marvel Legends had on collectors and kids alike so far in the 21st century. For that reason, we are declaring it the most influential action figure line for this decade.
If you would like to check out images of every wave of Marvel Legends made, head over to our sister site Marvelous News and check out our Marvel Legends Database