Points of Articulation
Back at the beginning of this year, rumors started to surface about Hasbro acquiring the Marvel Comics license from ToyBiz. Soon enough the rumors were confirmed, and the speculation started. What would the toys be like? What would become of ToyBiz? How was this even possible, if ToyBiz owned Marvel? There are a lot of questions, and a lot of people talking without all the information. Here's what we know:
The company known as ToyBiz (run by Jeff Hseih and Avi Arad) did indeed buy Marvel when they were in financial trouble in, what, the late '90s? Mid '90s? Anyway, since "Marvel" is a more recognizable name than "ToyBiz," they renamed themselves Marvel Entertainment Group or Marvel Enterprises or whatever the official name is. They then formed a company called ToyBiz that worked for Marvel.
To confuse things further, at some point they formed a company called "ToyBiz Worldwide" that landed in between the two somewhere - TBWW worked for Marvel, and TB worked for TBWW. ToyBiz was in charge of actually designing the toys, while ToyBiz Worldwide was in charge of manufacturing, distribution and the like. That meant the the sculptors could sculpt (and so forth) without having to worry as much about the actual business side, and Marvel could make comics without having to get their thumbs in the toymaking pie.
Big New Marvel licensed their products to ToyBiz Jr., the company they created, through the end of 2006 - we can assume that this was both to make sure the comic company had an outlet for their characters and that the toy company had a big money-maker that didn't require any outside advertising expendatures. You ever seen an ad for Marvel Legends on TV? Or anywhere? It allowed ToyBiz to make a name for itself without any huge financial risk, and at the end of the day kept all the toy profits in-house.
At the end of 2005, Marvel bought out ToyBiz Worldwide (though that must be for tax purposes or something, since they're really buying out themselves) and will handle all the TBWW stuff themselves, probably being overseen by (or at least with input from) Hasbro, who gets a five-year license in 2007 at which point they'll be the ones in charge of everything. The bidding process came down to them and Playmates, but the boys from Rhode Island came out on top.
By winning the bid, Hasbro had to buy all the Marvel licenses from ToyBiz: Marvel Legends, Spider-Man, X-Men Classics, Fantastic Four movie figures... everything that was around when the deal went down. They don't have to continue any of those lines, but it would make sense for them to do so - they already had to pay for the ideas, the look and the names, so it would be a waste of money if they dropped it all.
At Toy Fair in February, a lot more was made clear - ToyBiz showed off a ton of product, squeezing as much life as possible out of their lines before they went away. The other choice would have been to scale back severely, to focus on the other properties in an attempt to survive this change. Their LotR license expired in December, so now all they really have is TNA Wrestling, Code Lyoko and Curious George.
So what would become of ToyBiz? The rumor was that the whole company would be sold by Marvel and absorbed by Hasbro, much like Kenner and Galoob were. Turned out that was just a rumor. ToyBiz is still going to be around, doing their own lines. But they're also going to function as a studio, kind of like Art Asylum or the Four Horsemen, doing work for Hasbro. ToyBiz will plan the lines (with input from Hasbro and Marvel) and sculpt the figures; Hasbro will be in charge of production (toys will be made in their factories) and distibution (toys will come over on their boats).
Marvel owns the characters, obviously. But ToyBiz owns the tools - the steel molds the figures come out of - and the designs of all existing figures. So if Hasbro wants to use a Black Panther body to make a new figure (for instance) they have to go through ToyBiz. Because of that, it makes more sense financially for them to just hire ToyBiz to work for them than to rent pieces on an as-needed basis. Jesse Falcon keeps his job. The same sculptors who have always worked on Marvel Legends will continue to work on Marvel Legends.
And yes, Marvel Legends is continuing. So many fans assumed the worst at the outset - that ML would die, and be replaced with a smaller, crappier line. It was great watching them try to backpedal when it was revealed that not only was Marvel Legends continuing (nearly) unchanged, but that ToyBiz had designed the entire debut series; it would have been ML16 if the change hadn't happened. It wasn't "Dayglo Chainmail Tanktop Spider-Man." It was Marvel Legends, same as always. In fact, almost all of Hasbro's 2007 Marvel Legends lineup was in some stage of preparation under ToyBiz.
There will be changes, however. We'll still get BAFs for now, but we won't get reprint comics. ToyBiz probably got them on the cheap, since they were an in-house branch of Marvel. Hasbro would have to pay for the rights, which would mean more expensive figures for us. And the price is already going up - only $1 or 2 in the US, reportedly, but the price will nearly be doubling in other places, thanks to underhanded distributors. Sorry about that, Australia.
Hasbro is also doing away with some of the articulation. Knees, elbows... anything that's doubled up, basically. Supposedly they'll have a new kind of joint that gives the same range of motion, but that sounds suspect at best. We probably won't see new figures with finger and toe joints. Some figures will have the same articulation as the old figures, some will have less. It will depend what works for the character and the budget.
ML won't be the only line they have. They're releasing a set of repainted Spider-Man villains, and a set called Spider-Man Origins that will feature the wall-crawler in his different costumes. The Spider-Man 3 figures will drop down to 5", but the real Spidey figures (returning after the movie line, in 2008) will apparently be in the 6" scale we know and love. For some reason, the ToyBiz/DST collaboration, Marvel Select, will continue; possibly trending downwards, to be closer to Marvel Legends size.
The preschool Spider-Man & Friends line will go away, replaced by minimally articulated PVCs called Superhero Squad - which Star Wars fans will recognize the "Galactic Heroes" format. The 12" Icons figures will continue, and Hasbro showed some more Superhero Showdown 4"ers at SDCC. Finally, there will be a line called Marvel Heroes, which is where all the non-Spidey, non-Legends figures will go. Figures with action features and variant costumes. Imagine X-Men Classics and Hulk Classics all rolled up into one, with whatever other characters they want to toss in there. It's still unclear whether the line will be 5" or 6", but the first few figures will be XMC repaints. We'll also be getting superhero-themed Potato Heads, along the lines of Darth Tater, but Figure Factory will seemingly be ending.
If you asked in January, the ToyBiz/Hasbro deal was a death knell for collectors. In July, things started looking brighter. By next January, people may be singing Hasbro's praises, and lining up outside stores to get the new figures. The only difference? Time and information.