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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

X-amining X-Men Action Figures: X-Men Series III & IV, X-Force Series II

Year of Release

Roll Call
X-Men Series III
Apocalypse II, Bishop, Omega Red, Spy Wolverine (Wolverine V), Strong Guy, Tusk

X-Men Series IV
Ahab, Brood, Cyclops II, Longshot, Professor X, Sabretooth II

X-Force Series II
Cable II (Space Cable), Cable III, Cannonball, Grizzly, Kane II, Krule

Firsts and Other Notables
These two series of X-Men figures draw heavily on the post-Claremont, solo Jim Lee X-Men run for inspiration, filling its ranks with figures of characters featured in issues #4-11 of that series, alongside new versions of Apocalypse, Cyclops and Sabretooth, the first ever Professor X figure, Tusk (?) and Ahab (??).

Strong Guy also gets a figure, the first of the Peter David X-Factor team to do so.

The second series of X-Force figures is once again light on actual members of X-Force, with only Cable and Cannonball included. And Cable, receiving two different figures in this series, is clearly the Wolverine of X-Force toys, in terms of being included in every wave, often multiple times.

Space Cable's design is based on his appearance at the start of X-Force #18, the conclusion to "X-Cutioner's Song", while the third Cable figure is based fairly faithfully on one of the character's looks in his miniseries.

Along with those two, we get a new Kane figure (meaning Kane now has two more figures than most members of the X-Men) based on his redesign in the Cable limited series, alongside Grizzly (who featured heavily in the first post-Liefeld story of the series, but will also be returning to the series soon) and, hilariously, Krule, who fought X-Force for a few panels then got dropped into the ocean.

Two figures reached the prototype stage for release in the two X-Men series but weren't included: Tusk's fellow Dark Rider Barrage was going to be released as Gauntlet (another company had the rights to the name Barrage, which is what happens when you give characters vague, generic names), but the figure never made it to production when the decision was made to cut down the number of figures per series.

Maverick also had a prototype made, for release in Series IV, but it too was held back, though the figure was eventually released in a later wave.

Thanks again to Marvel Toys for the images.

Of Their Time
The existence of Krule and Tusk action figures just about screams "it's the 90s!"

As, to a lesser extent, to all the figures culled from the Omega Red story in X-Men #4-7, though at least Omega Red, Maverick and Wolverine spy gear have made appearances outside that one story.

Ahab's inclusion is curious, as it falls between the (very brief) periods in which that character was a thing in the comics: his first appearances in the "Days of Future Present" annuals, which occurred a few years before these figures were released, and the introduction of Rory Campbell in Excalibur and the teases that he would become Ahab in the future, which doesn't happen until later in '93.

Favorite Figures
Obviously, I'm a big fan of the Cyclops figure in Series IV. Though a little bulkier & barrel chested than I'd like, I remember being viscerally excited to have a Cyclops figure in his current duds, and of course, the light-up visor is just an all around great action feature.

The third Cable figure is probably my all-time favorite of the character's many figures, a simple and well-executed design.

Similarly, the Bishop figure is striking, with a lot of detail in the sculpt. Having his hair molded prevents the head from turning, but otherwise, it's a top-notch figure with an unintrusive action feature.

And finally, the Brood figure is just fantastic, a remarkably solid hunk of plastic that not only makes for a great X-Men figure, but also an all purpose alien/Cobra-project-gone-wrong for GI Joe figures.

Austin's Analysis 
These series represent the last time these action figures exist specifically as an extension of the comic books - while the animated series on Fox did air while these figures were on the shelves, they would have been developed prior to the show's launch. And while future lines will continue to mine the comics for additional characters (often to dubious success), future lines will also be heavily influenced by the animated series (it is doubtful Rogue would ever have gotten a figure if not for her popularity spiking thanks to the cartoon), including a line inspired by a specific story from the series.

These series also represent the point at which the line completes its phasing out of the action feature gimmicks - these series, and future series, will continue to include various action bits, but most will be relatively less intrusive (and easier to ignore) than the figures in Series I and some in Series II. As a result, while these waves include some hilariously dated and questionable inclusions (like Ahab, Tusk and Krule), in a lot of ways, it's the pinnacle of the series, at least in terms of marrying playability and sculpting while still being driven principally by the comics.

The world didn't need more Cable figures, but both of the figures in this series are very well-designed, with lots of neat details in the sculpts. Ditto Series III's obligatory Wolverine figure, which draws its inspiration from a narrow source but still turns out a really fun figure. The Apocalypse, Cyclops and Sabretooth figures update and improve on the characters' series I versions, adding some much needed bulk to all three and updating Cyclop's & Sabretooth's costumes to their Jim Lee attire. We can laugh about the inclusion of Omega Red, but he was, for better or worse, the marquee villain of the short solo Lee run in X-Men, and the story that introduced him clearly was a big inspiration on these waves. The huge popularity of Lee's X-Men also likely led to the inclusion of Longshot and the Brood, a perfect storm of timing that would have otherwise probably resulted in neither figure ever being made.

And, of course, this wave gives us a remarkably well done Professor X figure, a surprisingly fun figure of one of the less action-oriented, but nonetheless pivotal, members of the team. All in all, while future series will include much-needed figures for classic and long-overlooked characters and some increasingly-sophisticated sculpting, it's hard to top these three series for striking the right balance between its character lineup, playability and design, while still clearing looking first and foremost to the comics themselves for its inspiration.


  1. Of these, I had Cyclops, which I loved, and Sabertooth, which, although it had a great sculpting, the legs weren't flexible at all. The only worse figure than his was the Silver Samurai's.

  2. This is when I officially went from being a kid who buys toys to a hardcore action figure collector. I have so many memories of all of these.

    Bishop, Cyclops & Professor X were very popular for obvious reasons. The Sabretooth and Apocalypse figures were also much needed improvements over the originals. ToyBiz really upped their game in the year since the line began.

    The Brood figure was pretty great for its time and in my opinion still holds up today. That was the first non-humanoid sculpt ToyBiz did and it looked awesome and creepy to 10 year old me.

    As far as I know, this is the only figure ever made of Strong Guy. "Big" figures were a new thing at the time and I remember the huge guys were always well received. Even Tusk, despite nobody knowing who he was. Everyone started asking for an updated Colossus and Juggernaut once big figures were on the table but it was a couple years before we would get them.

    Ahab and Longshot peg-warmed like crazy. I kind of liked the Longshot figure but Ahab was such a dud. I remember countless disappointing Toys R Us trips looking for new X-Men figures and seeing nothing but rows and rows of those two.

    This X-Force wave was a bit of a let-down, way too many minor characters. Cannonball was a welcome addition but his costume was already outdated. When the X-Force line starts doing the Capullo costumes, it gets REALLY good. Seriously, the last couple lines of X-Force figures might be my favorite line of toys ever.

    I'm really glad you're doing these with your comic reviews as it really captures how hot X-Men culture was at the time.

    1. One more note on Professor X: He was actually already made in a gift set of X-Men but his hoverchair was screwed into a plastic base for all of the figures to stand on. The gift set came with several other X-Men figures but they were all re-releases. Nobody wanted to buy that thing and end up with doubles.

    2. I had that gift set. I don't know that I asked for it, so it was probably -- a gift. I think all the characters had their joints permanently glued, too, so they were like statues. But still, I got my mom to unscrew Professor X from the stand so I could have a figure of the guy. That didn't stop me from getting the carded version as well though, when it was released.

  3. It looks like I had all of these except for Tusk and Cable II. Cyclops, Apocalypse, and Sabretooth were probably my favorites, though I loved having a Professor X figure simply because I never would've expected one to be made. The armrests on his chair could flip open and he had little laser pistols hidden inside, which I never thought much of as a kid, but I find pretty funny as an adult.

    My only real problem with these figures as a kid was how they scaled with the prior waves. Wolverine's supposed to be short, so no problem there, and we got newer, bigger version of Apocalypse, Sabretooth, and Cyclops, so that was all good. But put the original Storm next to this Cyclops and she looked tiny. Iceman became pretty scrawny by comparison as well. I've always been anal about scale in my toys, even from when I was a very little kid, so that bugged me to no end.

  4. Tusk's fellow Dark Rider Barrage was going to be released as Gauntlet (another company had the rights to the name Barrage, which is what happens when you give characters vague, generic names)

    They were going to name him after another guy in the same group when the real name was a no-go? Talk about throwaway characters!

    Rattlor and Stinkor and whatsthere suddenly start making a lot of sense.

  5. Toys R Us had these for $4-5 each and sometimes would run 2 for $5 deals on them. I can't believe if you want something like this today they are $10, so crazy.

    I was about 13 and the Aliens 3 figures were discounted at Walmart for .27 cents each. I bought them out of them. I took them to the local Toys R Us and traded them for store credit. I then took and bought a ton of the 2 for $5 X-Men figures. I took those to my local comic shop and traded them all in for $4 each. I bought the full run of X-Factor and had my monthly books were covered for months.


  6. A Brood action figure? Wow.

    The extension on Cyclops’ backpack in that group shot looks like it’s making a peace sign / rabbit ears behind him, as if it were Plastic Man or (more appropriately) Warlock.

    // at least in terms of marrying playability and sculpting while still being driven principally by the comics //

    I both approve of and agree with your criteria, not that you asked. My childhood was mostly a take-what-you-can-get, beggars-can’t-be-choosers deal, although within the (odd in retrospect) parameters of cloth-costumed DC and Marvel figures from Mego there was impressive fealty to the extant designs for the characters released. When the smaller, sculpted Secret Wars and Super Powers lines debuted, with more TV-, movie- and comics-based lines to follow, the bench depth boggled my mind even as some of the variations for the sake of wider play scenarios and/or just selling more toys rolled my eyes.

    “Thrusting Knife Action!” is surprising to see on toy packaging of such relatively recent vintage (from my perspective as a grizzled fortysomething).

    Do you know who did the card art? The faces suggest Tom Grummett to me, but he only has one credit at Marvel, comics-wise anyway, during this period per the GCD.

    1. Neal Adams did the Apocalypse card art. Tom Grummett did a majority of the others. I had a book that gave art credits to all of these, not sure where it went though.


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