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Classic Avengers

Marvel Collector Editions
by yo go re

In the late '90s, ToyBiz began down the path that would eventually lead to Marvel Legends. Their figures began flirting with a 6" scale rather than the 5" scale they'd been using for years, and they released some toys aimed directly at collectors more than kids. For instance, in 1998 there were two X-Men box sets - the Original Members set, and the Giant Size set - and in 1999, they released a similar set of the Avengers.

I actually reviewed this set when it came out, on a website that's long gone. The only thing at all left from that review is the photo up above. Let's see how the figures hold up.

We start with Thor, the god of thunder. Amazingly, there were only three Thor figure released before the Marvel Legends switch: one in 1990 in Series 2 of the Marvel Superheroes line, that didn't even include his cape; one in 1996's Avengers Reborn line, with a very exaggerated, cartoony style; and this one, the best Thor figure until the Walmart exclusive.

Thor is wearing his classic Jack Kirby costume, with the black shirt and trunks, the blue tights, and the yellow wraps around his legs. The shin-bandages are actually sculpted like real cloth, which would be impressive today, let alone in the '90s. His helmet and the discs on his chest are all vac-metallized, which is annoying, particularly since the two discs below his belt are just painted silver. He does have a softgoods cape, with satin lining and a felt or velvet surface.

The weakest part of this figure is the face. For whatever reason, Thor turned out to look very feminine. This is meant to be a "first appearance" set, and the Avengers' first appearance was drawn by Jack Kirby. The most feminine face Jack Kirby ever drew was still not as soft and forgiving as Darkseid, so I don't know what happened here.

His articulation was good for the time. He has hinged ankles and knees, T-crotch, swivel waist, swivel wrists, hinged elbows, swivel/hinge shoulders, and a swivel neck (though his hair keeps it from moving much at all. He comes with Mjolnir - the first-ever Mjolnir, in fact, to have the "whosoever hold this hammer" text actually sculpted into the surface. Not painted, sculpted. It's still a suprise when that happens today, so it was mind-blowing back then. 15 years later, it's still one of the best Mjolnirs ever made.

Next we move to the biggest figure in this set, Giant-Man. He's 8⅛" tall (not counting his antennae), and would be even taller if not for his weirdly wide-legged stance. The proportions on the figure are strange - he ends up with an unusually narrow waist, possibly to make his chest look bigger and more heroic. As it is, he just looks like he's going to break in half the first time a supervillain punches him.

The sculpt is good, with lots of small, subtle wrinkles and raised edges for the boots, gloves and the black symbol on his chest, but the articulation has a real oddity. He mostly moves like Thor did, but he's lacking wrist joints, or anything that would provide the same range of motion. We hope you like his fists the way they are. That shortcoming makes it very odd that this exact mold was used in Marvel Legends (repainted blue and yellow as Goliath, the Series 4 chase figure).

Giant-Man has dark shadows airbrushed in the recesses of his muscles, but it doesn't really do much other than make him look dirty. That was a fairly new technique at the time, so you have to give them credit for trying. Plus, who's to say he didn't just get finished having a giant battle? His eyes are painted well, since they're so big.

The Avengers box set had a variant that was allegedly shipped in a 50/50 ratio, but I sure never saw it. The variant concerns Iron Man, who is wearing his Mark II suit (aka, the golden armor). The one I got has a fully vac-metallized body - fully. Even under the edges and inside the screw-holes. The other, which I've been trying to get since I learned it existed, is more of a flat brownish-gold, painted rather than chromed.

The sculpt is very good. The suit is bulky without looking far, and there's a big dent by the left shoulder that suggests he's been in a fight. The details are minimal, but they perfectly match what Kirby drew - a few seams, big electrical sockets on the chest, all that. Unfortunately, vac-metallizing a figure softens out the detail (as if you needed another reason to hate the stuff), so the lines here aren't as sharp as they could be.

Iron Man moves at the knees, hips (mostly blocked by the skirt), waist, wrists, and shoulders. There's an antenna that pulls up out of his shoulder, and his helmet is removable. The face beneath is a nicely generic Tony Stark - this wasn't the first Iron Man to have a removable helmet, but it wasn't terribly common back then, either.

Every set of action figures has to have one that's the worst, and in this box set, it's the Hulk. Other than the fact that his pants have no legs, this Hulk looks almost nothing like the way Kirby drew him. Yes, he's weird and lumpy, but that's not enough.

For one thing, the figure is short. He doesn't even stand 5⅛" tall, which is mucho, mucho pequeño. There was a rumor (or urban legend or whatever you want to call it) that whomever originally sculpted this toy tried to get away with giving Hulk three or four toes, the way Kirby often drew him, but that didn't make it to the final product. It may, however, explain why the foot looks about 20% too wide for the body, if a pinky toe had to be added after the fact.

Hulk's articulation is less than ideal. He has hinged ankles and knees, a V-crotch, swivel waist and wrists, swivel/hinge shoulders, and a swivel neck. His arms are sculpted facing the inside, rather than forward - no clue why. He has an ugly brown airbrushing delineating his muscles, and the paint on his hairline is kind of a mess.

Next we have Wasp, the final founding member of the Avengers. This isn't the first Wasp toy we got, but it is the first one that actually looked the way you think she should look. Remember in the '90s when she became some sort of half-insect hybrid? Be happy if you don't. Anyway, this is just a tiny, 2½" figure, but ToyBiz didn't cut any corners. She's still fuly painted, and she still has seven points of articulation. Her wings are translucent purple, and she has a silver microphone hanging from her left ear. Her skirt is a separate piece glued in place.

But wait! There's more! Since the Avengers weren't founded by Giant-Man, this set also includes an Ant-Man to go with Wasp! He's a little shorter than she is - again, because his legs are so weirdly wide - but has all the same joints (knees, hips, shoulders and neck). He has a very detailed sculpt for his size, with the edges of his costume once again sculpted, but the truly impressive thing is that his helmet is removable! Both Ant-Man and Wasp were included with the ML4 Goliath.

And we're still not done! To accessorize the two little folks, the set includes six ants - three red and three black - of various sizes. They're unarticulated, and the red ones are kind of translucent, but it's still a nice little extra.

This box set was a real winner when it came out, and honestly, the only thing that's wrong with it now is that the figures aren't in a 6" scale. If you or someone you know would want a ready-made Avengers collection, you can't beat this one.

-- 02/17/14

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