It is Halloween and that means it’s time for costumes, candy, and spooky fun. It’s also Halloween 2022, a pretty important date if you grew up loving those mutants who ran around in colorful spandex fighting for a better tomorrow. That’s because 30 years ago on this very night, the animated series X-Men premiered on the Fox network. The decision to debut a cartoon in prime time with characters still on the periphery of mainstream appeal was both a bold choice and one brought about by necessity. Fox had done the same recently with Batman – The Animated Series, but that hardly feels like a gamble considering that was coming hot on the heels of Batman Returns. You see, the show should have premiered in September on Saturday mornings, but the project was fraught with delays and the early animation sent back from studio AKOM was said to be a disaster. And since the show wasn’t going to be able to premiere as planned, the producers involved decided to focus on the first two episodes to get them ready for a Halloween premiere with the rest of the season to follow in early 1993. Marketing dubbed it a sneak peek, and it must have worked because before long the show was a ratings hit and the rest is history.
Given that it’s such an important day for an elder X-Men fan like myself, it only felt appropriate to forego something spooky this Halloween in favor of something celebrating that show. Now, I originally intended to debut my review of Hasbro’s Morph, but I received that figure in late September and I was just too eager to talk about Morph. The timing just didn’t make sense, so we’re pivoting to something else. Had Mystique, the next planned figure in Hasbro’s dedicated X-Men animated line, arrived this month she would have been featured here. And she even embodies a bit of that Halloween look with her blank eyes and affection for skulls. Instead though, I think we have the next best thing with one of the major villains from the show: Apocalypse.
Hasbro’s retro card series of Marvel Legends has caused some confusion in the collector community, and I’m afraid this Apocalypse only adds to that. It started a few years ago as an homage to the classic ToyBiz line of figures from the 90s. Hasbro created updated blister cards based on those styles and packaged Legends in them. They had to be slightly oversized to accommodate the larger Legends figures compared to the classic ToyBiz ones, but who in the collector community doesn’t love a good dose of nostalgia? They’re definitely neat, and since the designs of the figures are largely based on their 90s appearances they hit pretty hard when it comes to nostalgia. It was successful enough that Hasbro then did the same with Spider-Man. Unlike the old X-Men line, the Spider-Man line from ToyBiz was a direct tie-in to the animated series that premiered on Fox (in sneak peek fashion as well since it worked so well with X-Men) in 1994. As a result, collectors weren’t sure if these new Spider-Man retro card releases were based on the animated series as well. I’ve seen many collectors refer to the Hobgoblin, especially, from that line as being animated inspired, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. The only one released that is definitely based on the cartoon is the PulseCon exclusive Venom from last year (which is being followed-up with an animated Spider-Man this fall).
Now adding to any confusion that still exists out there is this Apocalypse figure. Apocalypse had multiple releases in the ToyBiz days so a retro card release makes sense. However, this particular figure features a purple and blue deco. That is significant because that’s the color scheme Apocalypse had in the animated series. No where else has Apocalypse ever looked like this. And to drive the point home further, he comes with an interchangeable gun attachment for his arm that is pulled right from an episode of the show which has left many to ask “So why is this not a release in the VHS line?” And the answer is, “I don’t know.” I don’t think any of the marketing team for Legends has explained that one. My guess is that someone on the team really wanted to do this character in this look, but the budget for the VHS line couldn’t accommodate it so they did it this way. It’s bizarre, because this figure does not feature the cel-shading paint job of the VHS line so it’s not just a difference in packaging. This figure is also based on the build-a-figure Apocalypse released a few years ago, so disassembling it to fit in a VHS box would not have been problem. Plus, as illustrated with Mr. Sinister’s VHS box, Hasbro is willing to adjust the sizing when necessary on those boxes so there’s really nothing stopping Hasbro from releasing the figure in that line from a design standpoint. I know the cel-shading is a bit of a contentious topic in the community, but this figure is so cartoon specific that I can’t imagine there was a ton of demand from collectors not interested in the animated series. This version of Apocalypse has always been viewed as a little “goofy” because of those colors so comic collectors are most certainly not the target audience, but here we are.
Because of the colors on this guy, I definitely consider him to be part of the animated series line of action figures. It’s bizarre, and if it’s simply a matter of budget then I don’t know why they didn’t just hit this guy with more paint so he would fit in, but here we are. That said, I’m happy to have Apocalypse in this deco as it’s been perhaps the figure I’ve wanted most to come out of the animated line next to Morph. This funky color palette just hits right for me. Like most kids in the early 90s, I was confused why Apocalypse looked like he was painted for Easter in the show and would have preferred him in black and blue, but over time this look has just become a hallmark of the series for me and I appreciate it more as a result. Plus, Apocalypse is so bad ass that he can look like this and still be feared!
The figure does come on the aforementioned blister card and it is pretty massive. It’s almost comical to look at how big this thing is relative to other retro card releases and even more ludicrous compared to the 90s cards. It features some nice artwork, though not in the animated style aside from the suit colors, and definitely has that old school ToyBiz feel. Many like to keep these releases mint-on-card, but I am not one of them. If you want to preserve the card as much as possible, I recommend slicing the bubble from the bottom with a blade which will allow you to slide this big boy out. And once removed, he is indeed rather big standing at around 8.25″.
In looking at this figure, what immediately stands out as “animated” aside from the colors is the sculpt of the chest. I mentioned earlier that this figure is based on the build-a-figure from a few years ago, but it’s been re-tooled in several places and the upper torso is one such place. The musculature has a very soft look to it which is in-line with the show. There’s basically just a hint of pectorals and nothing more. The other details of the costume, such as the shoulders and the collar area, look as they should. The only parts not exactly screen accurate are the boots and the gloves. The boots are just all-together busier in their design, something an animated show would strive to eliminate. The hands are similar, but they’re also just not sculpted right as he should have a blue knuckleguard on each hand. Lastly, the cables that connect his arms to his back should plug-in around the elbow and not the forearm. Obviously, these inaccuracies exist because Hasbro is reusing old parts and I would say it’s mostly fine. While I would love to buy action figures that are committed to matching the source material to a more exact specification, I know that’s not Hasbro’s approach. They do things mostly with cost in mind and basically think giving us a new torso is good enough. The issue now is that approach was more acceptable when these figures were a lot cheaper. It’s something that will bother some folks, and for others it won’t. In my experience Hasbro has done a good job of conditioning its fanbase to accept these figures for what they are so my expectation is most will be unbothered.
As a last bit of aesthetics, we should talk about the paint job. Apocalypse is quite purple and quite blue, as he should be. Hasbro prioritizes using as much colored plastic as possible with their figures and this one is no exception. The paint is mostly limited to the head, upper torso and the gauntlets. The head is where the most paint was needed and it’s done well enough. We’ll talk about the appropriateness of the expressions when we get to the accessories, but there’s enough paint to bring out the sculpted details of the face with minimal slop. He’s not the easiest face to paint as the lips basically wrap around the whole head and he has that gap in the blue on top of the head, so Hasbro did a very nice job here. What is unfortunate though is his head is in two pieces glued together and there’s a blue seem as a result between his forehead and the portion of his flesh that runs up his head and it looks stupid. Otherwise, the paint details are fairly simple and done well enough. The chest even has this really nice, matte, finish which looks great, but also makes the shiny, plastic, portions look worse by comparison. Where they had to match colored plastic to painted, the figure also looks fine.
The elephant in the room when it comes to paint is obviously the exclusion of cel-shading. This is a retro card release, so cel-shading isn’t normally expected, but he’s also animated Apocalypse and the other X-Men animated figures all have it. Personally, I would like characters based on a cartoon to feature a paint job that reflects that medium. On the other hand, I concede that the cel-shading in the VHS line has been applied poorly. Part of me would like to give Hasbro some credit here in thinking that with a bigger figure to work with, the cel-shading would turn out better, but there’s no guarantee of that. They seem to struggle just finding the right colors to use when shading (see the hideous mustard color they use to shade yellow). Ultimately, it is what it is. I would love some shading on the torso, especially, but it’s not here. Maybe that’s a good thing? I don’t know, but that’s just my opinion. I don’t think he clashes in a significant manner amongst the other figures in the VHS line so I guess it doesn’t matter that much. As was the case with the accuracy of the sculpt, the absence of shading is going to matter more to some, and not at all to others.
Moving on to accessories, Apocalypse is pretty much par for the course when it comes to Legends these days. He doesn’t have a lot, but at least here what he does have is done well. First of all, he has two sets of hands: fists and open, “clenchy,” hands. That’s fine as it allows him to look menacing, dramatic, and you can even get those clenchy hands to grab onto another figure. He also has two heads: an angry one and a stoic one. The angry one is reused, and the stoic is new. As a comic inspired sculpt, I think the angry head is fine. As an animated Apocalypse? It’s terrible. He basically never looked like this in the show so I probably won’t be using it. The stoic head is more my thing. It’s still done in the Legends style so it’s not a toon-accurate look for the character, but that’s been true of almost every release in the VHS line as well save for Wolverine. I refer to it as stoic, but he is frowning and looks kind of ticked off. I do wish the shape of both was different as Apocalypse tends to have a wide jaw compared with the top of his head, in both the comics and the show, but these heads are pretty uniform. If it were up to me, I’d have gone with this head, but with less detail to remove the frown and paired it with a laughing head. Imagine a laughing Apocalypse on your shelf with his fists on his hips or his arms crossed? Perfection. Lastly, we have the optional gun part. It attaches to the forearm and the cable can even plug into it. It is taken directly from the “Beyond Good and Evil” plotline when Cable confronts Apocalypse at the start so it is pulled right out of the show. It looks nice and Hasbro even included some blast effects for it which I would not have expected. It’s nice to have as it allows you to display Apocalypse as a menacing overlord on your shelf, or as someone willing to get his hands dirty which was rather true of the character in the show. They could have loaded him up with more arm attachments, but this feels like a fine selection of stuff for Apocalypse. It just would have been nice to get a new effect part for the main part of the gun that plugs into both of the center barrels. Since they instead gave us three separate pieces, one barrel will always be empty.
Time to talk about the articulation. Despite being a big boy, Apocalypse moves okay and is pretty standard for the line. We have the ball-hinged head that lets him look up and down, all around, and even tilt the head a smidge. The collar doesn’t really get in the way until you try to rotate the head, but the range is decent. The shoulders are just ball-hinged and he can raise his arms out the side and rotate them pretty well even with the shoulder pads getting in the way slightly. The elbows are single-jointed and he can’t quite hit a 90 degree bend, so that could be better. The wrists rotate and hinge horizontally. In the torso, we get an ab crunch that lets him bend back a bit, and crunch forward a decent amount. It’s mostly colored plastic here so paint rub shouldn’t be of great concern, but it’s worth being mindful of. The waist is just a twist and the legs are ball-pegs. He can damn near do a full split and is capable of kicking forward just fine, though the cheeks will prevent much rear leg motion. There is a thigh cut which does what thigh cuts do and the knees are double-jointed. There’s no boot cut, but down in the ankles you have the usual hinge and rocker combination which works just fine. More importantly, everything is nice and tight so he shouldn’t be toppling over on your shelf. Apocalypse really only needs to hit a few poses and this figure is capable of doing that.
All in all, I am quite pleased with this release for Apocalypse. Yes, I would have preferred this come in the VHS line for both the packaging and the cel-shading, but since it didn’t, at least we got a fairly robust release as far as accessories go. I’ve been pretty disappointed with the majority of the VHS line because of the poorly applied cel-shading, inappropriate reuse of some sculpts, and the dearth of worthwhile accessories. It’s really been a money-grab kind of line and at least this Apocalypse feels more substantial and like a better value. They actually did some re-sculpting to make the figure more cartoon accurate, and while they didn’t go as far as they could with that, I think most will find they went far enough. My preference would have always been to receive figures with sculpts actually designed to mimic the animated look, but Hasbro was never committed to doing that for one reason or another. This figure does suffer a bit as a result because the head isn’t right and the veiny biceps look stupid on Apocalypse (and they would look stupid on any version of Apocalypse so I don’t get the thinking here). The rest of its shortcomings are just par for the course with Marvel Legends, like the dearth of paint apps (the cables look especially plain), so regular Legends collectors will likely be content. Unless someone else can get the license to produce animated X-Men figures (highly unlikely), this is unfortunately the best we’re likely to get. And at least with Apocalypse, this one does indeed feel good enough. Most of the VHS figures are not and the feeling of settling is palpable with each one, but here I don’t feel that way. At least not as much.
Apocalypse does come at an inflated price though of $40 which is obviously a lot for a Marvel Legends release. This one at least feels more worthy of that price compared with the VHS figures at around 28 bucks. A comparable figure would probably be NECA’s Chrome Dome from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line which was also $40. I would argue that the NECA release is a better value than this as it came with more stuff, more paint, and was 100% new tooling, but it also came out a year ago so maybe in 2022 it would be $45. Value, as always, is rather subjective, but in this case I think the value is there. If you’re interested in picking this one up, you may have to dig around a bit as it is sold out in several places. Hasbro Pulse still has it open for order so that may be the safest bet. Amazon does as well, but they can be hard to trust. Re-stocks may be on the way too so I don’t think it’s one you’ll have to spend a fortune on eBay for, but I also would recommend acting fast since I don’t think this one is ticketed for big box stores which would indicate there will be fewer of these out in the wild than the Age of Apocalypse version, by comparison. More importantly, if you can find some time today (admittedly, difficult given the holiday) or maybe even just this week throw on some classic X-Men and take a trip through time. It’s incredible to think I was watching the show as a kid 30 years ago, and while it may not hit the same as it did for me then, it’s still a worthwhile nostalgia binge and a show I think is worth celebrating. Or if you want to read more about it, I’ve covered both Previously on X-Men and the X-Men art book and recommend both to fans of the show. Here’s hoping the sequel series due next year is able to carry on its legacy.
November 30th, 2022 at 12:38 pm
[…] order. Hasbro must have determined they were too small to implement them like they do the cables on Apocalypse where they’re separate pieces that can be removed effortlessly. Not so […]