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Marvel Legends
by Poe Ghostal

I can trace my awareness of the X-Men comics - and by extension, the mutant superhero called Wolverine - to its original source: an advertisement in the back of a comic. The ad featured a "cool" kid - you knew he was cool because he was wearing a denim jacket and sunglasses - holding some X-Men trading cards. Far more effective than the kid himself was the tagline above him: "It's a good bet the kid's favorite MUTANTS ain't TURTLES."

Now, at the time, I was a hardcore acolyte of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fad. However, I was also dimly aware that the Turtles - with their cartoony, anthropomorphic toyline and surfer-lite catchphrases - were perhaps targeted toward an audience that was a bit younger than I was at the time.

Thus, this sunglasses-wearing kid threatened me. The ad tapped the core of my adolescent insecurity - dear God, was I worshipping the wrong mutants? While I would say advertisements have never worked particularly well on me (the only thing ads have ever done for me is made me aware of when things I might want, such as new action figures or films, will be available), this one, I have to admit, succeeded in spectacular fashion.

Not only did I end up buying those X-Men trading cards - I also bought piles of comics and, of course, action figures.

The first official line of X-Men figures was created by a fledgling toy company called ToyBiz in 1991. ToyBiz had scored a coup in 1989 when they got the rights to make action figures for the first Batman movie. These figures were soon followed by a slew of other DC heroes; but, by the time Batman Returns came around in 1992, ToyBiz had lost the license to toy giant Kenner (soon to become Hasbro).

Fortunately, by then ToyBiz had secured the rights to the characters of Marvel Comics. The entire comic industry was on the upswing of a massive boom following Batman, and other than the Dark Knight himself, Marvel's X-Men may have been the most significant beneficiaries of it. Accordingly, ToyBiz began producing X-Men action figures. The highlight of this line - and the target of a months-long search by my parents and me - was Wolverine.

I can't exactly recall how I became interested in Wolverine. I know I loved Cable, though whether I came to Wolverine via Cable, I can't say (it's quite possible that Cable's guest appearance in Wolverine #41 is responsible for my introduction to Wolverine). I do recall there being some overlap in my interest in the Ninja Turtles and Wolverine; I have strong memories of typing up a fan fiction story on my parents' old 286 (using the CEOWrite word processing program1) involving Wolverine and the Turtles.

My first real introduction to Wolverine came via a graphic novel titled Wolverine's Jungle Adventure, written by Walt Simonson and pencilled by Mike Mignola (whose art, with its strong, sharp lines and dark shadows, I immediately fell in love with. I've always equated my fondness for Mignola's art with my penchant for sparseness and clarity; I wouldn't say I'm an anally tidy person, but I abhor clutter, and that's what I love about Mignola's work - the lack of clutter).

During the period I began reading, Wolverine wore his brown-and-yellow costume. This was the outfit he was wearing in ToyBiz's first figure of him; but, before 1991 was out, Wolverine had returned to his original blue-and-yellow outfit. I prefer to call this costume "the clown suit."

The suit looked all right in Wolverine #50, largely owing to Mark Silvestri's excellent pencils. The "blue" parts of the outfit were actually a shade of teal, which looked decent. But ultimately, I think the clown suit is inferior to the brown costume. The tiger stripe colors are similar to those of the X-Men, while also sharing a very Silver Age feel. But Wolverine is an outcast; he should look different from the other X-Men. As for the Silver Age - Wolverine is one of the iconic figures of the Bronze Age. He deserves his John Byrne-designed brown costume. It was dark, it was "gritty," which was the watchword of the decade for superhero comics in the '80s. It was Wolverine.

At the time, I was quite bothered by the costume change. I wanted my Wolverine to be up on the latest fashions. So I enlisted my mother to paint my Wolverine to fit the new costume.2

Later, ToyBiz would release their Wolverine with Spring-Out Slashing Claws to match the new design. But even then, I disliked the clown suit. I remember listening to writer Chris Claremont speak shortly after he'd left Marvel and the X-Men at a comic convention. Specifically, I remember him commenting that comics were getting terrible, that every comic had to have a Cable rip-off, and that they were ruining Wolverine after all the progress he had made in developing the character. Claremont pointed out that Wolverine was again flying into berserker rages and embracing his bestial nature, a tendency he had spent years removing as Wolverine's character grew and developed. As further evidence, I remember tossing out, "And he's wearing his old costume," and Claremont said, "Yeah! He's wearing his old costume!" Vindication! Vindication for my 12-year-old self.

I must not be alone in my fondness for the brown costume. A few years back, ToyBiz created an excellent Wolverine figure for their Water Wars subline. Later, they released a repainted Previews-exclusive version of the figure under the Modern Age banner. I would have picked this figure up but for one problem: it had no mask. I've always preferred to have "standard" versions of characters, and to me, a mask-less Logan is pretty pointless.

In late 2002, ToyBiz released their first Marvel Legends Wolverine. As someone who still felt an attachment to Wolverine after all these years, I was sorely tempted - but I resisted. That stupid clown suit! It was the suit of the '90s, true, but it just wasn't the Wolverine I had known and loved. The one I had searched for for months, the one I had seen slash up Apocalypse in Mike Mignola's beautifully drawn art, the one I had melted in acetone.

I should have known not to worry. ToyBiz can't seem to stop churning out Wolverine figures, so it was perhaps inevitable that a brown-costume Wolverine would make his way into Marvel Legends. The result? In my opinion, the perfect Wolverine action figure - and a lovely bookend to ToyBiz's first Wolverine.

To celebrate the release of this uber-Wolverine, I'm going to first give a mini-review of the original ToyBiz Wolvie (you knew this was going to be a long review when you glanced at the scrollbar).

ToyBiz's first Wolverine - the forerunner of countless future Wolverine figures - was, for its time, an impressive figure. It is about 5" tall and, in addition to the usual neck, shoulders and hips, features knees joints. The sculpting is simplistic, but for the time it was about on par with the best of the industry (only Kenner's Swamp Thing line, based on the short-lived cartoon, surpassed it).

The best feature of this figure - and one that, for a time, would become a semi-standard feature for the other Wolverine figures - was the claws. Unlike Wolverine's previous figural incarnation as a Secret Wars figure (which featured removable claw "gauntlets"), this Wolverine claws were not only a part of the figure itself, but they could be retracted via small tabs on the underside of the arms. Click the tabs out and you heard a decent approximation of SNIKT.

On the more unfortunate side, the figure was sculpted with a "Logan" head (as Wolverine is one of the few masked heroes who seems not to care whether his identity is exposed or not, which makes sense since no one - including him - knows who he is anyway). There was a removable mask that doubled as a "ring," should an enthusiastic adolescent feel so devoted to the ol' Canucklehead that he would be willing to risk severe schoolyard beatings by wearing a badge of loyalty on his pinky. Aside from the mask, the only other accessory was an exquisitely sculpted ninja sword - a reference to the ninja-themed Wolverine stories of the late '80s. Even now, this sword looks pretty good next to most 3¾" scale accessories.

ToyBiz staked its future on the X-Men line - and it paid off, big time. Within five years, it fell to ToyBiz to bail out Marvel Comics when the company went bankrupt. A few years back, ToyBiz claimed it was getting out of the action figure business - and then promptly nabbed the license for Lord of the Rings figures and began churning out excellent toys for the film, as well as the wildly popular Marvel Legends line.

The Wolverine figure of this review is part of the sixth wave series of Marvel Legends. While his package simply says "Wolverine," he is being referred to by collectors - and Amazon.com - as "Brown Costume Wolverine" (BCW).

Though most of us assumed that BCW would simply be a repaint of the ML3 Wolvie, that isn't the case - this is an all-new sculpt by Dave Cortes. And what a sculpt it is! Whereas the ML3 sculpt (tooled from the Wolverine figure from the "Evolution of X" pack) was intended to be extremely realistic (it featured a twisted torso and even a mask complete with pupils and flesh around the eyes), BCW is more in line with the rest of the Marvel Legends: the sculpt is realistic while still having a comicbook-style look.

It's an excellent sculpt. As for whose art the sculpt is reminiscent of, I've heard a number of artists' names bandied about, from Jim Lee to Joe Madureira to John Byrne to Marc Silvestri. Personally, I have no idea, though if pushed, I'd probably go with Byrne - or maybe Marshall Rogers. Regardless, the sculpt is excellent. What makes a figure like this - and what distinguishes modern action figures from those of previous decades - are the tiny details that add character. In the case of BCW, it's the creases in the boots, the intricate musculature of the torso, the furrow of the brow. I particularly like the way this figure's neck is sculpted; unlike the tall, straight-backed figure of ML3, this Wolverine has Logan's characteristic hunched look.

I also love the claws. Wolverine's claws were usually drawn like long, angular razors in the '80s, and kudos to ToyBiz for making no bones inside there note of that and sculpting accordingly. As usual, the soft-plastic claws are mangled when you open the box, but the solution is simple - dip them in boiling water, sculpt them to taste, and then dip them in ice water, and your Wolverine will have the Gillette Mach 3s he was always meant to.

But enough about the sculpt. Let's talk about articulation. I hold articulation in high regard - I collect toys, not statues. I want to be able to put my Wolverine in a variety of bad-ass action poses. And more than ever before, this figure allows me to. BCW features 38 points of articulation - all of them useful. I won't bother to list them all - suffice to say, whatever pose you want to put this figure in, chances are you can. One of the more interesting new joints is the horizontal "pectoral" joint, which allows Wolverine to pull his fist back as if to punch (or stab) someone. For the most part, the articulation balances well with the sculpt.

I've already put my figure in a number of trademark Wolverine poses, e.g. claws crossed across the face, or a Jim Lee-style lunge.

As usual with the Legends line (and ToyBiz in general), the only problem is the paint applications. In theory, the paint apps for these figures should be excellent. But what ToyBiz tries to do with ML (and their other lines as well, particularly Lord of the Rings) is to mass-produce action figures a la Hasbro or Mattel, but with McFarlane-style paint complexity. This causes problems - the factory that churns out the massive production runs of the ML figures simply doesn't have the ability to be as consistent as the smaller McFarlane runs, and the result is often very sloppy paint work. I looked through almost a dozen Wolverines and, truth be told, I simply went with the least screwed-up one. But even this one has paint problems. It's annoying, but, in my opinion, a small thing compared to the rest of the figure's positive aspects. Nonetheless, I'd recommend going through the shelves and comparing the Wolverines before making your purchase.

Now, the accessories. Like all the Marvel Legends, Wolverine comes with a detailed base. BCW's base is a tiny Japanese structure, reused from Elektra with a cross-legged Master Ogun, Wolverine's old sensei. Ogun has a few points of articulation, but he's permanently attached to the base. Again, the base references Wolverine's '80s period, when ninjas were king (be they Hand, Foot or terrapin). Ogun holds a removable katana, which is one of my favorite things about my figure - I believe it's a reference to that first ToyBiz Wolverine and his little sword. BCW can't really hold the sword very well, due to his articulated hands, but it's a nice inclusion. Incidentally: if your sword is bent, remove it and slide it in from the other side, then move Ogun's arms until it's shaped properly. After a few hours (or days, if you want to be sure), Ogun will have fixed the sword.

I'm not really that fond of the base. While the inclusion of the sword is great, it's difficult to balance Wolverine on top of the "house." And due to its narrowness, the base tends to fall over easily. You could mount it on the wall, but then there wouldn't be very much room behind Wolverine to balance him properly on the roof - and if you tried to move him down, his boots would be in Ogun's face. The base might have been better without Ogun, and with pegs where Ogun is sitting.

As is standard with Marvel Legends, the figure includes a comic. They went with Uncanny X-Men #213, though I really wish they'd gone with the one-shot Wolverine story "The Hunter," written by Claremont and produced solely for a Sears exclusive hardcover called The Best of Marvel Comics. It was later reprinted in Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World's Greatest Comics, which is where I first read it. As the introduction in that book said, it's an excellent "Wolverine 101" story - far better than the included comic, which, while offering a showdown between brown costume Wolverine and Sabretooth, would have better fit a Psylocke figure.

In terms of Marvel Legends excellence, Brown Costume Wolverine is matched only by Deadpool. A superb sculpt and excellent articulation makes for the best Wolverine figure to date. That cool kid would be proud.

-- 10/05/04

1 While I wasn't able to find any information online, CEOWrite was, if I surmise correctly, a proprietary program of Data General, the company that built my family's first computer (a 286). For several years I tapped away at a black screen with white text and a red, bare-bones menu bar. Later we upgraded to Wordperfect - which, truth be told, I was never as fond of as I was of CEOWrite (as for Microsoft Word - blecch. A necessary evil perhaps, but to this day, the black-on-white text of Microsoft Word seems strange to me. I grew up on black screen/white text word processors. Sure, I could change the colors, but then it would just look strange). Sad to say, the era of CEOWrite gave way to the more versatile, if less stalwart, word processors of today. back

2 There's a story to that as well. I believe I initially made my own attempt at painting the figure, which failed miserably. I then attempted to remove the Testor's Enamel paint I had used with acetone - i.e., nail polish remover. However, I wasn't content to simply wipe off the paint. No, somehow my inchoate adolescent mind became convinced that soaking the figure in acetone was the way to go. I remember stuffing poor Logan into a sponge of acetone inside a plastic container. When I checked on him hours later, I discovered, to my horror, that his entire upper body had melted into a hideous, Lovecraftian blob. This precipitated a search for a replacement figure, but by that point the line had taken off, and it was at least a month before another Wolverine with Snap-Out Claws could be found. back

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