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Remembering Toy Biz’s X-Men

By Alex Wiggan

Today’s post on the Honcho-SFX blog is all about the X. Or rather, it’s all about X-Men – X-Men toys, to be exact.

Yep, today we’re turning back the clock to the 1990s so that we can talk about an X-tremely successful line of toys which dominated the decade. The toy line in question is Toy Biz’s X-Men, which not only introduced a new generation to Marvel’s most famous mutants, but also proved there was longevity in comic book based action figures.

Hitting stores in 1991, a year before the X-Men cartoon hit TV screens, X-Men arrived at a time when toys such as the Ninja Turtles and the Super Nintendo were the ‘in-thing’. So, when a line of toys based on a comic book property such as the X-Men popped up, toy shop owners would be forgiven for thinking the toys would likely sink without a trace. But, little did anyone know that Toy Biz had grand plans for the line which would see X-Men eclipse many of its rivals.

The first wave kicked off with many of the X-Men’s key players, from Wolverine (in classic brown & yellow duds) to Cyclops, Storm, Nightcrawler, Archangel and Colossus. The initial wave also included three pretty big bad guys in the shape of Juggernaut, Apocalypse and Magneto!

Talk about putting all your eggs into one basket – the first line-up included so many of the comic’s iconic characters that it could have killed the series dead. However, it didn’t and what collectors soon learnt was that there were many, many important characters yet to be released.

By drawing inspiration from the comics and by utilising the extensive back catalogue of (then) almost 30 years’ worth of X-Men adventures, Toy Biz was able to create a series of strong waves, with each new line filled with mutant after mutant, after mutant.

As the line developed more characters were added, from Mr. Sinister, Sabretooth, Fitzroy and Silver Samurai to Maverick, Banshee, Professor Xavier and Cable and with each new wave came new variant figures. The variants largely focused on Wolverine (Wolverine in Space, Wolverine as Weapon-X, Wolverine takes out the trash etc…) which worked to a greater and lesser degree, but thankfully these variants didn’t outweigh the ratio of new characters.

x-men-toy-biz-toys

So long as there was a steady stream of new and core characters, kids were willing to part with their (parents’) cash. And there was a steady stream of new and core characters with each passing year.

What was perhaps most surprising about Toy Biz’s X-Men line is that it took more inspiration from the comics than it did the hit animated show which arrived on screens in 1992. Sure, many of the characters who appeared in the line also appeared on TV screens, but there were a whole bunch of action figures who never got their time to shine in the ‘toon.

Taking this a step further, a whole bunch of characters showed up in the toy line who even the most ardent X-Men reader would struggle to recall (Slayback, anyone?). But then that was the beauty of Toy Biz’s epic X-Men toys; these random characters needed no real introduction, they just looked cool.

One of our favourite waves of the entire run was the Phoenix Saga series, which included such action figures as Corsair, Gladiator, Ch’od and Phoenix (with light up hair action no less). The toys were based around the iconic Phoenix Saga storyline and demonstrated the sheer genius of taking just one storyline and developing it into a series of plastic playthings.

Outside of the core X-Men figures, the line managed to produce many successful spin-offs, from the X-Force wave which appeared early in the run, to sister lines such as the Generation X and the X-Men 2099 figures. And of course, the line also included playsets, vehicles, miniatures and oversized action toys, such as the ridiculously awesome Blackbird Jet and the rather robust (but also ridiculously awesome) Sentinel.

What made the line truly great was the sheer amount of detail that went into each figure. Each toy had a cool action feature, each looked comic book accurate and each came packaged with a collectable Marvel trading card. To say this line had it all would be an understatement.

Such was the success of Toy Biz’s X-Men line that while many other toys came and went, X-Men continued to appear on toy shelves for the majority of the 1990s and it also made a great accompaniment to Toy Biz’s marvellous Spider-Man toys (more on that another day). Together with Spider-Man and other Marvel superhero lines X-Men also helped to keep Marvel afloat during difficult financial times (more on that some other day too) and that’s pretty impressive stuff.

By the time the line had reached its conclusion, it had amassed a huge collection of toys, however it was also clear it was time to call it a day. The series had become filled with numerous variants, various exclusives and a heap of in-package bonuses, including free CD Roms (remember those, kids?), it wasn’t quite the powerhouse that it once was. The kids that had started buying the toys back in ’91 had also grown up and they no longer invested their pocket money in toys and action figures as they once had.

But oh, those glory days, when the X-Men ruled the toy shelves; those really were magnificent days and we’re thankful we were there to see the X-Men in action. We wish we had a time machine to revisit all those wonderful, wonderful X-Men toys, but alas we don’t; so instead let us take this opportunity to say how much we loved those toys and how much they became an intrinsic part of the ‘90s Marvel experience. Toy Biz and X-Men you were awesome. Thank you. Thank you, so very much.

 

 

 

About the author: Alex Wiggan has written blog posts for Honcho-SFX blog since October 2014. He likes writing, eating pizza and watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Sometimes in that order.

 

Love cool  stuff? Us too! Then check out the great range of cool TV, comic book and movie memorabilia available from Honcho-SFX, including this Baywatch baseball shirt, this Terminator shirt and this Blues Brothers raglan shirt.

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