"Transported to a strange planet by a force from beyond the universe, Earth's deadliest villains try to destroy the Marvel Super Heroes -- as they fight the Secret Wars through the use of secret messages!"
This was the description for Marvel's first foray into an action figure toy line! Mattel developed this line specifically around the Marvel Super Heroes: Secret Wars comic book limited series from 1984, these were perhaps the first exposure for many fans into the Marvel Universe.
The premise of the comic was that the majority of Marvel's super heroes (including Spider-Man, Hulk, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, and the X-Men) were summoned to a galaxy far, far away (by way of Central Park) by a massively powerful alien called the Beyonder in order to face off against a similar group of villains. The story was teased for several months leading up to the first issue's publication. In the regular monthly comics, the entire battle took place in between issues, leaving readers to wonder just what was behind some changes for the characters: the Hulk broke his leg, Iron Man got modified armor (the first of what was to be many upgrades!), the Fantastic Four got a new team Member, Colossus had his heart broken, and Spider-Man came back with a brand-new costume...which remains a major story to this day. But what happened during the battle? What caused all of these changes?
While the mysteries were revealed over the 12-issue run, there was another way to answer those questions for toy fans....you could make them up on your own! Mattel released Marvel Super Heroes: Secret Wars, an ambitious toy line for kids to create their own adventures and bring the war home....
Action Figures Wave 1
Being a longtime hardcore Marvel Zombie (I'm a card-carrying Wild Agent of Marvel!), I picked up each and every one of the these figures as soon as I saw them in stores. This first wave of the line was pretty major, not only for creating a great mix of heroes & villains, but the 4 heroes in this wave are STILL 4 of the cornerstones of the Marvel Universe to this very day! The figures themselves shared body parts, with only a few new sculpts required. While not an sophisticated in sculpting, detail, or articulation as today's figures, there's still something cool about these classic toys, nearly 25 years later.
The leader of the heroes in the series, it's a natural that Cap was included in the initial assortment. While he doesn't come with his traditional shield, one of the inserts does have the familiar circular pattern incorporated into it, so I tend to just keep that one inside. Cap got a lot of playtime over the years, so he suffered the dreaded "paint rub-off" very common with this line....too much handling, and the paint came right off! Fortunately, I was able to get another figure for this feature.
Another cornerstone of the Marvel Universe, although with a bit of a twist: this isn't Tony Stark under the helmet. Jim Rhodes was standing in for Stark at the time this series took place, so in a way, this was a new character. Although this fact was not a large part of the series, it is interesting to mention it here. The packaging also reveals that Rhodey is inside the armor, but one of the inserts clearly shows an image of Tony Stark. Whoever wears the armor...it's one of my favorite figures in this line.
For even the most casual comic book fan, when you think of Marvel Comics, you think of Spider-Man. This iconic character was the only figure to use this body sculpt (twice, which I'll get to later), and was a great representation of the character...because Spider-Man is supposed to be scrawny, not muscular. There's one thing I've always felt about Spidey though....while he looks great all hunched over and in action poses, he doesn't look so good standing straight up. Fortunately, this figure is a bit hard to stand up because of the pose of the feet.
This is a milestone figure! While there have been many, many figures made of Wolverine over the years, this one was the first! With the popularity of the X-Men at an all-time high, it was a great choice to give the wild 'n wooly mutant his very own action figure. His claws were represented by twin gauntlets that snapped onto his wrists, and there's a variation of silver or black claws.
The main bad guy in the series, if not the entire Marvel Universe itself! Doctor Doom is shown here with his modified armor that he briefly wore in the series (most likely the armor was added in due to the toys!). He's not quite the Doom we love to hate, but he's still pretty neat. He also included a few hole where his weapons could be stored...a unique feature for toys at the time.
This is a strange figure, because every time I've seen the good ol' Doc Ock, he's been a lot more out of shape than this figure represents. Since they had to make a modified sculpt for the arms anyway, you have to wonder why not go all-out and make a more accurate version? Whatever the case, this figure included attached flexible arms that could pretty much only spin around about 5 times before they broke off.
What exactly did Kang do in the series? I barely even remember him....oh yeah, that's because he didn't do anything other than run around in the background and getting "killed" early on (hey, this is comics, no one is killed forever!) I'm not sure how this qualified him for action figure status. I think they tried to make Kang "cool" by facing him off against Wolverine, but it didn't quite work out. Have those two even met before?
Now HERE's a villain that deserves to be an action figure! The Master of Magnetisim has been a long-standing foes of the X-Men, and with mutant popularity on the rise, it was a no-brainer that he be added to the figure roster. If only he came with a cape...which something I took care of as a kid...I cut up an old sleeping bag and made a cape for him!
Action Figures Wave 2
Now, here's where the line gets interesting...it's only the second wave, and already the characters are spawning off into the rest of the Marvel Universe....and with one exception, none of these characters were even IN the Secret Wars series! This wave saw a limited release, and I actually only purchased 2 figures in stores...the rest were acquired later on.
But why these particular characters, and why not some of the heroes that were actually on Battleworld? For some, the answer is a bit obvious...but for others, the answer can be summed in one name: Mike Zeck.
The most obvious figure in the "What The--?!" category, this guy was nowhere near the comics when this toy line was produced, and to top it off, he sports almost all-new sculpts! So, why is he included in this line? Perhaps the answer can be found with artist Mike Zeck, who prior to illustrating Secret Wars, he was the artist on Marvel's Captain America comic book series, when Baron Zemo was a featured villain. He certainly has a unique look to him, but he wasn't a terribly popular character...that wouldn't happen until much later.
Since the Daredevil comic book had become very popular during Frank Miller's run prior to this toy line, the character was brought to the mainstream awareness through this action figure. He came with a billy club accessory, but I don't have that, since it was not included with the figure when I purchased it.
Another character from Mike Zeck's Captain America run, but also Cap's longtime partner. This is a nice rendition of the character, although the wings are of course inaccurate, but they would be hard to do with the limited articulation of this figure. The inclusion of Redwing as an accessory is a nice, and necessary, touch. Another reason why this figure was included in this line may have been the fact that he had a limited series of his own being published at the time, so this was a nice tie-in.
Here's a really strange choice for a character for this line. At the time these toys were made, not much was known about the Hobgoblin. He was a relatively new villain at the time, and there was a huge mystery over just who was underneath the mask. But what's really cool is that he was made up of almost with almost all new parts. He even came with his goblin glider! For a new character in the Marvel Universe to get an action figure so quickly was pretty cool, although he wasn't on shelves for long before he was gone.
Spider-Man (Black Costume)
The only character from this wave who actually was part of the Secret Wars series...in fact, this "costume" made its first chronological appearance in the series. I mentioned earlier that the heroes returned from the Secret Wars within the span of a single issue, leaving readers with many questions. But perhaps the most asked question was where Spider-man got his new costume from? Issue #8 finally revealed that story, but it wasn't until later that we learned that the costume was a symbiotic lifeform, and then of course it later went on to become the villain Venom. The figure is just a repaint of the original figure, but this remains one of my favorite figures from this line, because I followed along with the story each and every week!
Action Figures Wave 3 (European Release)
This final wave for the Secret Wars line was released in Europe, and featured a trio of figures that once again, were not part of the Secret Wars comic book series. But once again, we can thank artist Mike Zeck for these...Constrictor appeared in Zeck's Captain America run, and he also did the covers for the Iceman limited series released that same year. Coincidence? I think not! The only "Zeck connection" I can think of for Electro is that the illustration from the original entry in The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe was drawn by Mike Zeck.
Vehicles & Playsets
There were a half dozen or so vehicles and a pair of playsets for this toy line, and none of which I actually own. I had no trouble mixing up my Marvel Super Heroes with other toy lines, so there was no need for additional ships for me. But if you want a full list, then check out the Secret Wars Menu!
See you next month!