As a kid, I was introduced to the X-Men without even knowing it. Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends was airing in my region and it was a show I watched when I could. That show featured Spider-Man (naturally) alongside Firestar, a new character created for the show, and Iceman. I had no idea Iceman was a member of the X-Men, or even what the X-Men were, and I wouldn’t for years after. I barely knew anyone from the Marvel Universe as outside of that show I basically saw Spider-Man PSAs and that Marvel Productions tag that would roll at the end of shows like Muppet Babies. Captain America? Wolverine? Iron Man? Totally off of my radar. Actually, the only other character I knew was the Hulk due to his television show.
In the early 90s that obviously changed. I was properly introduced to the X-Men via the inaugural line of action figures from Toy Biz. Despite not having a television show to cross-promote with, Toy Biz released the first wave of figures in 1991 complete with advertisements during the shows I watched. That’s how I learned who Wolverine and Cyclops were alongside Storm, Nightcrawler, Magneto and others. My friend from down the street loved the line, and at first that’s how I experienced the toys, but once the cartoon series launched in 1992 I too was hooked.
That show was X-Men and it was a ratings hit in 1993 when it was properly launched following “sneak peaks” in the fall of ’92. Once the show got its claws in me I was hooked and ready to turn aside the likes of Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. X-Men became my life, and even though I also got comics and trading cards featuring my favorite mutants, it was always the cartoon series that was my first love and primary method of interacting with the brand (aside from the toys, of which I had many). As my passion for collecting action figures has reignited over the past five years or so, a dedicated line of toys based on that show has become my grail line, of sorts. It was on my mind so much that I had to get it out in this space, and despite not being an avid collector of Hasbro figures, I always kept tabs on the company and anytime a question was asked of the community about what they wanted next, I was always there to tell them.
With 2022 marking the show’s 30th anniversary, it has long been in my sights as the most logical time for such a toy line to come around. And sure enough, last fall Hasbro confirmed it was indeed heading to the animated universe when it announced a new line of toys based on the show starting with Wolverine and Jubilee. Since then, we’ve seen reveals of Mr. Sinister, Storm, and Jean Grey with Wolverine and Sinister starting to make their way into the hands of collectors in the UK. Presumably, their arrival in the US is imminent, but before I even have these long sought toys in hand I’m feeling a bit letdown by this whole thing.
Hasbro is one of the biggest toy producers in the world. The company produces mass market toys sold all over the place and often at a fairly affordable price relative to other goods in that space. They have tremendous negotiating power with the likes of Target and Walmart and even own their own factories so they’re far more insulated against some of the challenges faced by smaller outfits dealing in the same type of goods. For awhile, their Marvel Legends and Star Wars: The Black Series have been consistently good at a relatively low price. While a figure from NECA might cost you 30 bucks, a figure from Hasbro would sit at $20. Over the last year though, things have changed and prices have gone up. Now that same NECA figure is around $37 while Hasbro’s is $25. And when it comes to the new X-Men line, we’re talking $28. And while the gap still remains around 10 bucks, the NECA figures continue to come with loads of accessories and are often uncompromised when it comes to necessary tooling, while Hasbro has gone in the other direction. Fewer accessories, fewer paint apps, and more reuse have made Marvel Legends no longer the value it once was.
With the animated X-Men line, Hasbro is targeting a rather specific audience. It’s one that experienced the show as a kid 30 years ago and is an adult collector now. In truth, almost every action figure line Hasbro produces is consumed by more adults than children, but with this line Hasbro can’t even pretend like it’s aiming to attract children. It’s being sold exclusively through Hasbro’s own online store, Hasbro Pulse, and will eventually be sold on Disney’s website and maybe at some of their physical stores. It’s simply a line meant to appeal to collectors, and since they’re promising figures based on the show, you would think accuracy would be important, no?
Apparently that’s a foolish assumption as it appears Hasbro is looking to cut corners wherever it can. When the line was announced, it became obvious right from the start that Hasbro would be re-releasing some older figures with cel-shading paint apps to mimic the show. The encouraging part though was some of the little details. Wolverine had two, newly sculpted heads that better reflected his appearance on the show. He also came with a little picture frame from the episode “Captive Hearts” that is quite popular in the online meme community. These figures may not be on the level of high grade imports, but at least the love was there (aww). Jubilee, on the other hand, looked almost nothing like her show counterpart aside from her gloves being color-corrected. She was coming with effects parts that looked nothing like her fireworks, but it was Jubilee, a character I’m not particularly fond of, so I could overlook it.
The reveals to follow have been uneven, at best. Sinister is an almost straight repaint of the previously released Marvel Legends figure. He looks fine, and Hasbro fixed his neck by making it bare instead of featuring the riveted costume, and applied a good paint job. He has zero accessories though, which is beyond cheap at this price point. Storm followed and, again, she’s mostly a repaint. She gets a new hair sculpt that looks okay in some stills, but her complexion is wrong, her costume is wrong, and she has a lighting effect, but no white-out eyes to pair with it. It’s just all wrong if it wants to be what it claims to be. Jean Grey is the latest reveal, and once again, Hasbro is just repackaging an older figure. For this one, they seemed to even instruct artist Dan Vessenmeyer to model the artwork on the inaccurate figure. Or, they gave him shots of the figure and he just went with it. Either way, her hair is wrong, the coloring on her costume looks off, and they’re including a second, non pony tail head when it doesn’t even make sense to do so in the context of the cartoon. Yes, she went without a pony tail for the series finale, but her costume was also more yellow than the usual tan. And you may be wondering why I would complain about a bonus accessory, but it sucks to get a useless accessory when a more appropriate one could have been included like a powers effect piece or a Cerebro helmet. All things that would make sense for the character.
What it comes down to, is that I look at these solicitations so far and I just get the sense that whoever is in charge of this line has no real attachment to the source. Or, they’re being so severely restricted by corporate that it’s completely stifled their attempts at making the best figures they could. And that’s Hasbro, in a nutshell: they’re not interested in delivering the best possible product. They want to deliver an acceptable product at as cheap a cost as possible. And I get it to some degree, the Marvel license is probably expensive, but so is Star Wars. Their Star Wars output looks a million times better and is far more accurate than what’s being done with the X-Men. Clearly, they value that line more, and I’m not saying they shouldn’t as Star Wars probably sells well. They’re going after a somewhat niche audience with this line, but I’d argue it’s not a tiny one. Literally millions of kids tuned into that show every Saturday, and I bet millions are still interested in it. What would it cost to do this line properly? If these figures had to be $35 to make that happen then so be it! I think collectors, generally speaking, will pay more if the product warrants it. We’ve seen prices go up this past year and spending habits don’t appear to be wildly affected by them. Everything has a limit, but Hasbro doesn’t appear interested in seeing what that is with this line.
It becomes even more frustrating when this X-Men line is compared to other lines based on 90s television properties. NECA’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line strives to match the cartoon as much as possible and it looks great. And the actual figures in that line cost similar to what Hasbro is doing here, and they often feature unique tooling that’s not likely to be reused. DC Direct did a Batman: The Animated Series line that, while imperfect in some respects, at least looked like the source material. Even Hasbro has done better as their Into the Spider-Verse action figures looked terrific! I pondered on more than one occasion picking those up despite not really feeling an impulse to collect figures from the film just because they looked so good. Mondo’s sixth scale Wolverine looks great, and Diamond Select has a line of busts based on this show that look fantastic. If Hasbro didn’t want to do this line right they should licensed it out to Diamond because they clearly seem to have someone onboard who values this show more than anyone at Hasbro does.
When this line became a reality, I knew it wouldn’t be exactly what I wanted. How could it? I knew there were going to be compromises, and in some respects it’s gone as well as I thought it would because my expectations weren’t terribly high to begin with. Still, I’m bothered by it as I’m preordering all of these figures out of obligation rather than a desire to actually have them in my possession. Perhaps my enthusiasm will rise when I have them together on a shelf, but voicing criticism now is really my only weapon as a consumer. Again, I was happy with the initial Wolverine reveal. I think he should have represented the standard for the line: some parts reuse, new toon accurate head, and one accessory clearly inspired by the show. That’s all! That’s a pretty low bar, it should have been manageable, but Hasbro is fucking it up. That Wolverine isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough, and I’m not sure I can say that about the other four. I hate to prejudge anything I have yet to experience, but it’s hard not to in this case. Will my opinions change when I’m actually reviewing these toys for this blog? It’s possible, but right now, it does not seem very likely. What was a dream line for me, has turned into a joyless obligation and that’s not something I anticipated happening. Do better, Hasbro.