15 Years of Marvel Legends and the modern age of Toy Collecting

I was so blown away by my first Marvel Legends action figure, Captain America to be precise, that I wrote a movie about it. Okay, so the figure was more of a McGuffin than a central aspect of the plot, but the point is I loved the thing. I should add, that while this may seem like a piece on a child’s nostalgia for a cherished play thing, but these are actually the reflections of a then 20 year old man that still bought toys.

You see, at that point in time, 2002 for those keeping score, action figures were made for kids and they kinda sucked. Most figure lines featured poor quality sculpts (the look of the figure) articulation (how many moving parts it has) and revolved around gimmicks and action features like the standard setting “squeeze the legs to make him punch”. It was a kids game, which is what was expected from toys at that point.

However, simmering in the background was the highly successful line of “ultra-action figures” from Todd McFarlane (Spawn) and his upstart, self named, toy company. The figures produced by McFarlane toys looked and felt different than other figures on the market. Sculpts and paint were more detailed, gimmicks were replaced by quality accessories, and they had more than 5 moving parts.

Now, I don’t know that a straight line can be drawn from McFarlane toys to 2001’s Spider-Man Classics line by ToyBiz (the precursor to the Legends line) but lets go with the idea that it did. The notion that McFarlane, famous for his work on Spider-Man before his jump to image, would make a line of toys that would then inspire a rival toy company to make better toys starting with Spidey makes for a good story.

The classics line had it all; Sculpt, articulation, display bases and they even came with a comic book. It was great stuff and it further opened the door for adult collectors to get in, or stay in, the toy game with figures that deserved shelf space in the nerd cave. I loved the line. Spider-Man had fingers that could move into the web shooter pose… what could be better than that?

As it turns out, it all got better. With the expansion of the line into Marvel Legends in 2002 we got more of everything: More characters, more detail, more articulation and the introduction of the Build a Figure (large characters built by assembling parts included with other figures) all fueled primary and secondary market interest in the Legends line. Concepts like “chase figure”, ‘variant” and “custom” entered into the vocabularies of collectors everywhere. The one thing we were missing, community. We needed a place to come together, to share our love of toys and show off our newest pick-ups.

Cue: the Internet.

With the fall of ToyBiz, the Legends brand found itself in the capable hands of toy giant, Hasbro. With brands such as Transformers, G.I. Joe and Star Wars under their umbrella, Hasbro was a huge player in the action figure world and promised to keep the Legends line alive and growing.

Also growing,was the world of a social media. A world where people with weird, different and unconventional interests were connecting with each other and discovering that they weren’t the only one. While groups had been forming on Facebook for some time, it was Instagram where I found the rabbit hole I’m still falling down to this day.

Here were guys that not only liked toys as much as I did, but also dedicated time to the practice of posing their figures and setting them in dramatic scenes to be photographed. I discovered the “art” of toy balance; seeing how elaborate an action scene I could put together without any supporting aides for my figures. I started using hashtags to connect and showcase my work to other collectors. I discovered that there were entire sub-communities within the toy community, all with their own unique style. It was an eye opening and game changing experience.

The other thing that the Internet did was show us all just how many toys were out there, how many of them other people were buying and where they were buying them. Social media was a perfect test market for toy companies. What did we want? More and better toys. And thats what we’ve got.

From Mezco to Mafex, Sh Figuarts to NECA, Hot Toys to Revoltech the list of high end toy and collectable companies go on and on and on.

Whether you are army building a legion of HYDRA soldiers for your Red Skull, searching for the perfect Batman or completing the 90’s X-Men blue team in plastic, its a golden age of toy collecting. As long as your pockets are deep enough, there is no limit to what you can put on the glass shelves. And it all started with a toy line that wasn’t just great, it was legendary.

15 years of Marvel Legends… can I get an excelsior?

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