Howdy everyone! Hope you are enjoying your Labor Day weekend, and getting out and about one last time before the unofficial end of summer hits us. If however, you are sitting around a computer or device and need something to kill some time, I thought I’d help fill up your boredom temporarily and deliver for some what should be a pleasant trip down memory lane. Yep, I’m talking about another entry into those toy brands and products that made my childhood in the 80s extra sweet and in turn caused me to never really grow up, much to the chagrin of my wife of the past 11 years.
With hit shows like “The Toys that Made Us” on Netflix chatting about a lot of big ones like Barbie or Star Wars, I thought I hit on a toy line that was one of my personal favorites despite not really being around for that many years:
The Marvel Secret Wars Line!
Yes, this short lived toy line ran for two years in 1984 and 1985 and was the brainchild of the Jim Shooter’s aggressive marketing campaign of the Marvel brand to 3rd party licensees and Mattel. Although at the time, Mattel was seeing an explosion in the boys toy market with their Masters of the Universe line, they wanted a similar scale line to compete with Kenner’s Star Wars powerhouse. After Kenner introduced a second similar scale line with the Super Powers Collection based on the DC comic characters, Mattel really started to get antsy and went a-courtin’. Marvel, who was in a similar boat, in wanting to stay competitive with their main rival, DC, was receptive to Mattel’s advances, and thus several months later, the Secret Wars baby was born.
Now, Mattel did have some pretty unusual demands in terms of this toy line which they placed on Marvel to deliver. For one thing, they wanted Marvel to publish a comic book starring the main characters of the the toy line. That wasn’t unheard of at all and was pretty much standard practice for Marvel in the early 80s as they were making toy related comic books out of GI Joe, Transformers, Rom, Micronauts, Crystar, and even Chuck Norris’ Karate Commandos.
What was goofy was the Mattel claimed they test marketed various names for the toy line and the term “Secret Wars” tested overall the best, so it was mandated that the series would be called that. Thus, that’s why all of us comic fans got saddled with a pretty odd name for this comic book event, as there’s nothing secret about this particular event if you read the actual story. If you were going to ask me, the series probably should have been named “Battleworld” given that’s where it takes place, however, I will say that now, the term “Secret Wars” has become so well known among comic circles, that many think this could be the name of a future MCU movie at some point down the road once Disney brings in all those X-men/FF characters into the shared universe.
Another goofy demand was that the heroes and villains should have multiple costumes so that Mattel could use the same buck for the figure and just do a repaint to save costs on a second version. It was out of this demand that Spider-man’s famous Black Suit was born, and again for those of you that have been fans of Venom or are looking forward to upcoming Tom Hardy movie, you can have Secret Wars to thank for even suggesting that Spidey should wear anything except for his trademark blue & reds.
But regardless of the demands, Jim Shooter knows how to deliver a decent story, so despite all the muck he had to cobble together, the original 12 part Secret Wars crossover is one of the best Marvel has ever done, and I’ll go down swinging that even to this day, it’s an enjoyable read for any comic book fan. I often re-read this series every couple of years as like the toy line, it reminds me of simpler times and those pleasant days of running around in short pants.
Now that the backstory is out of the way, I can say that over the course of this toy line, like Masters of the Universe, I pretty much collected nearly all of the major toys in this series, including the elusive Tower of Doom play set, which is now quite rare and worth a pretty penny to collectors.
This was mainly because once the toy line folded, these toys went on sale at discount stores everywhere, so my thrifty parents could pick them up for dirt cheap. Plus as Marvel toys, they knew immediately that I would like them, which now that I’m a parent myself I have found is probably the most crucial factor for whether you buy a toy or not. I mean, c’mon, if you are going to spend money that could go to food or gas for the car on a toy, you want some assurances the kid will actually play with the toy, right? And so I got pretty much every super hero from this line, despite not exactly knowing who some of the guys were.
I mean I remember getting a Daredevil figure and saying “I’m not sure if this guy is a good or bad dude”, but whatever he’s gonna be a bad guy because he’s so red looking and I hate the color red. So for many years before I read a Daredevil comic proper, you could find the “Man without Fear” taking orders from Doctor Doom and getting the snot kicked out of him by my Super Powers Team Hawkman figure. Boy, that was a strange wake up call when I finally realized this guy was a good guy the whole time. It’s probably why I have such a strange aversion to Daredevil comics in general, maybe I feel I was lied to for all those years, and that secretly I wish Matt Murdock was the villainous lackey I decided he was so many years ago.
Although in some ways, not knowing who some of these heroes and villains were was a blessing when it came to my play. Take for example, Baron Zemo. I know that if we had a conversation about the good Baron for most of you, it would probably go like this:
Reader: “Who the hell is Baron Zemo?”
Me: “Ummm…the bad guy in Captain America: Civil War?”
Reader: “You mean Iron Man?”
Me: “No…the other guy”
Reader: “You mean Winter Solider?!?”
Me: “No…no. The other other guy. The solider guy.”
Reader: “That guy that died at the beginning of the movie?”
Me: “No…that was Crossbones. The guy that wanted all the Super Soldiers?”
Reader: “I have no idea who you are talking about.”
And it would be true. Baron Zemo is a pretty obscure character even for a lot of comic book fans. Most of us know him as like a second rate Red Skull who’s biggest claims to fame is the “Under Siege” story were he nearly defeats the Avengers and being the guy that started the Thunderbolts. But for me, growing up, I thought his Secret Wars figure was so bad ass that often times, he would be the main leader of my super villain death squads. I dunno, maybe it was evil looking white eyes, the bold black lines on a purple jumpsuit, the yellow headband, the puffy white fur shoulder pads, not sure.
But yeah, I didn’t know who this guy was, and I didn’t care. Zemo was someone you didn’t want to mess with and even to this day, I will read comics with Baron Zemo in them just because of that toy. Talk about successful brand imprinting. Although I will say, I always portrayed my Zemo has someone that had mind control powers, and thus would take over other super heroes and make them fight to the death against their former friends. Iron Man was often times his favorite target for these schemes, mainly because I hated Iron Man as well.
I think in closing though it’s really sad that this line collapsed when it did. Although the series 1 figures were pretty bland at times, they really started to do some neat things with series 2, including a pretty sweet ass Hobgoblin figure complete with bat glider, which I’ll say it probably the best presented figure of the entire line. I would have liked to see things continue and get a Hulk figure or some females such as Firestar who was popular thanks to the cartoon show, or some of the X-men who were popular because…well…they are the X men. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be and we would have to wait another 6-7 years before they came out with another line of Marvel related toys starting with the Toy Biz X-men line in 1991.
If that’s why my own Secret Wars figures look a little rough around the edges, it’s because they were the sole way for me to have Marvel style adventures for many many years growing up. And I still love them to this day. For me, they are still the definite line of action figures based on the Marvel property.
Sure they are simple, they don’t have a multiple points of articulation like the modern Hasbro line, they don’t have built in super powers like the Toy Biz line, but for me they are better for it. They are the perfect figures for kids to play with because their sturdy hard plastic frames can take a lot of abuse without breaking, they don’t have a ton of accessories to get lost, and they have simple attractive color schemes. Although the Dr. Doom figure could have used a cloth cape or something, and the Captain America could have definitely used his signature shield instead of the lenticular shields that came standard with all the figures, the rest of the characters are on point, and I wouldn’t change a thing.
Here’s hoping that someday, Diamond or Funko or Super7 reprints this line with additional figures thrown in, like maybe the Fantastic Four, or a Wasp, or a Molecule Man or Klaw, since all of them play such important roles in the Secret Wars comic series. I know Gentle Giant made large reprints of these figures a couple years back, but in order for me to shell out my money, I would need this line recreated in the same scale, hopefully so I could still play with my original figures along side the new ones. That would make this near 40 year old kid very happy indeed!