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Wednesday, December 23, 2020

X-amining X-Men Action Figures: Age of Apocalypse & X-Men 2099

Years of Release
1995-1996
 
Roll Call
Age of Apocalypse: Apocalypse, Magneto, Weapon X, Cyclops, Sabretooth 

X-Men 2099 Series I: Bloodhawk, Brimstone Love, Meanstreak, Metalhead, Skullfire 

X-Men 2099 Series II: Breakdown, Halloween Jack, Junkpile, La Lunatica, Shadowdancer 

Firsts and Other Notables
Embracing the "themed" approach that inspired the earlier Phoenix Saga, Mutant Genesis, and Invasion lines, "Age of Apocalypse", not surprisingly (given the storyline's popularity) receives its own line of action figures, spotlighting arguably the most popular (non-female) characters from the storyline (or at least the ones with a significant impact on the narrative), with Sabretooth's turn in the story as a gruff killer with a heart of gold essentially letting Toy Biz populate it with two Wolverines. 

Released in 1996, these figures are a bit bulkier and more top heavy (with broader shoulders) and feature more limited articulation than earlier waves of X-Men action figures, a design aesthetic the series would embrace as it moves into the late 90s. 

An AoA Gambit figure was announced (and included in cardback art) but wasn't released until 1997, as part of a "Marvel's Greatest Couples" set, alongside a "Age of Apocalypse" Rogue figure. 

Sabretooth comes packaged with a smaller Wild Child figure, to recreate their "Age of Apocalypse" dynamic, while Apocalypse comes with the AoA Shadow King (who is just goo in a jar) and Cyclops comes with one of the telepathic brains that kept the Pens docile. 


Both lines feature specific cardback art on the fronts and backs. 


The X-Men 2099 figures represent an eclectic mix of characters from that series; while the first wave features relative mainstays like Skullfire, Metalhead, and Meanstreak (as well as Bloodhawk, whose appearances are much more intermittent) and arguably the series most consistent straight villain in Brimstone Love, the second wave is much more hit-or-miss: La Lunatica is an understandable inclusion (though like the main X-Men, the female characters suffer from skewed understandings of how kids buy toys, with neither Cerebra nor Krystallin, both of whom arguably warrant figures well ahead of, say, the one-off Breakdown left out), as is Junkpile (who straddles that villain/ally line throughout the series). But Breakdown seems like little more than filler, while Shadow Dancer (a non-verbal one-off character) seems like he was included just so the wave could have a big, bulky, vaguely-villainous looking figure in the mix. 


Halloween Jack is notable for being the one X-Men 2099 character to appear in a present day X-book (during his creator's John Francis Moore's run on X-Force) (he also has far more articulation points than the average figure, an attempt to replicate the character's more agile/extreme mannerisms, making him more a peer of the later hyper-articulated Marvel Legends figures than his more clunky and limited forebears). 


For more on X-Men 2099, you can check out my reviews of every issue of the series over on our Patreon page. 

Thanks to FigureRealm.com for the images! 

Of Their Time
Obviously, both of these lines are inspired by very specific stories/series from specific years; X-Men 2099 ran for over three years, but it's existence (and that of the entire 2099 imprint) is tied to that early 90s boom time (and the immediate aftermath of its bust, when Marvel was still trying to milk every last dollar they could out of it), when the market could support something like an imprint of a half dozen titles all set in the future, inspired by but narratively-separate from existing characters. 

Favorite Figures
The only one of the 2099 figures I owned was Skullfire, but it turned out to legit be one of my favorite figures of the entire X-Men line. Something about the design and proportions of the figure seemed "just right", along with an action feature (the see-through/glowing hands) that was cool without being intrusive.  


As for the "Age of Apocalypse" figures, I needed another Wolverine figure like I needed a hole in my head, but I did really like the way you could snap claws onto his stump to recreate the big reveal that while his hand may be gone, the claws that came out of it aren't. 


The Apocalypse figure always seemed cool to me, too, but alas, I was never able to find one to purchase for myself. 

Austin's Analysis 
These two lines of action figures are representative of where the X-Men figures on the whole were by 1996, stuck between two worlds: the more traditional (and kid-focused) action figures of the past, with limited articulation, basic sculpts, and more overt action features, and the more collector-driven, highly articulated, faithful-to-the-source material figures that McFarlane Toys was already putting out. These figures aren't entirely void of action features, nor are most of the sculpts especially dynamic, but they're also, generally, bigger figures, more suited to being displayed on a shelf than held in the hands of playing children. And while "Age of Apocalypse" was certainly an extremely popular storyline, a line of X-Men 2099 toys seems very niche, and very much a case of a line trying to juice an orange for all its worth. Toy Biz has a few more lines of figures, curated along specific groupings like this, to come, but from this point forward, the vast majority of "new" X-Men figures would consistent of older figures being repainted & repackaged. 

At the time these figures came out, I found myself in a similar position - aging out of the "plays with toys" demographic (I was, honestly, probably well out of that demographic already, and only hanging around in it because I had a younger brother) but lacking still the disposal income to collect action figures for the sake of collecting action figures (at least, non-Star Wars action figures, which I was collecting still, with the vast bulk of my limited disposable income going to the comics themselves). As a result, these are the last lines of X-Men figures I bought figures from with any regularity, and even then, my purchases were few and far between, picking up only a couple of the AoA figures and one of the 2099 figures (despite reading and largely enjoying that series). There are a few one-off figures from later lines I bought after this, ones acquired at conventions or deeply discounted at a Kay-Bee store (back when those were still around), including a few figures from the later "Onslaught" line. But at this point, I was mostly done with collecting X-Men figures, and while I continued to keep up with the various Star Wars collections, it wouldn't be until Marvel Legends, figures geared towards the collectors' market at a time when I had more disposable income, that I would return to collecting superhero action figures on the regular. 

As such, this will be my last "X-amining X-Men Action Figures" post; I will likely look at the "Onslaught" line in some capacity, but more in its capacity as tie-in to the storyline than as the continuation of a line of action figures. But from this point forward, my forays into X-Men action figure collecting are much more sporadic, and less rooted in a specific time as a reader/collector which helped inform these retrospectives. That was a time when my fandom (and my age) was still young, and things like X-Men action figures (and trading cards) were vehicles to expand my knowledge of and investment in the characters (especially with so much of the characters' histories locked away in expensive back issues), a way, even after I ostensibly stopped playing with the figures as toys, to make the characters feel more lived in and real, to keep me engaged with the narrative even when there were no new issues to read. The world of the early 90s, in comic book terms, was a wild, raucous time, and the X-Men action figures were, ultimately, a key piece in helping make those characters feel like some of the biggest & best characters in the world. It would be a lie to say that these figures, on the whole, weren't responsible for cementing that notion as a truism in my brain to this day, but like the busting comic book industry of the time, I eventually moved on and left the action figure side of things behind. 

Next Week
What If? #87, featuring Sabretooth!

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15 comments:

  1. I think the only AoA figures I had were Magneto and Apocalypse, because I thought they both looked really cool, even though I wasn't huge into the crossover.

    I somehow had all the X-MEN 2099 figures, though! Not sure how that worked out. I don't remember actually ever, well... doing much with them. But I had them. And I used Luna as a stand-in for Hebzibah with the Starjammer figures.


    "....aging out of the "plays with toys" demographic (I was, honestly, probably well out of that demographic already, and only hanging around in it because I had a younger brother)..."

    This was my experience exactly. I was well past the age when I should've stopped playing with toys at this point -- I would've been a somphomore/junior in high school in 1995-96! -- but my brother was six years younger than me, so he was my excuse to keep getting them.

    I never really stopped, though. I kept picking up Toy Biz's various Marvel figures all the way through high school and into college, but more for collectability as time went along. I loved the few series they did around 1997 that were based directly on Joe Madureiera's artwork. I think there was a "light-up" wave and then another one.

    Then I moved straight into Marvel Legends when those were released, and finally stopped around the time the ML license moved to Hasbro and the figures seemed to become cheaper in quality.

    Though over the past year or two, I picked up a bunch of more recent Marvel Legends, mainly spurred by the fact that I realized Hasbro's quality had gotten much better, and they had made or were nearly done making all the early/mid-90s X-Men over the previous couple years. I now have an ML collection of '90s Cyclops, Jean, Wolverine, Storm, Beast, Archangel, Psylocke, Bishop, Gambit, Rogue, Iceman, Colossus, Jubilee, and Professor X, plus Mr. Sinister and Magneto, and I couldn't be happier!

    (I mean, I guess I could be a teeny bit happier if I could finish the '90s villain trifecta, but Apocalypse was a build-a-figure and is quite expensive second-hand!)

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    1. I definitely took a break in action figure collecting (at least in terms of X-Men/superhero toys; as I said, I've never really stopped collecting Star Wars figures in some way, shape or form) around this time, before Marvel Legends started up. I bought the occasional figure here and there, but wasn't doing it on the reg again until Marvel Legends.

      I now have an ML collection of '90s Cyclops, Jean, Wolverine, Storm, Beast, Archangel, Psylocke, Bishop, Gambit, Rogue, Iceman, Colossus, Jubilee, and Professor X, plus Mr. Sinister and Magneto, and I couldn't be happier!

      I have a similar assortment of Marvel Legends figures for the "All New, All Different" era, including Phoenix, that I display in a case along with my copy of GIANT-SIZE X-MEN #1; I have my eye on that Storm/Thunderbird two-pack at Target so I can get Thunderbird and complete the set.

      I guess I could be a teeny bit happier if I could finish the '90s villain trifecta, but Apocalypse was a build-a-figure and is quite expensive second-hand!

      It's not the same, but I have the original Apocalypse build-a-figure (the one that is bigger than all the other figures, roughly the size of the build-a-figure Galactus or Sentinel) that I'd be happy to send you if you'd like; he's just hanging out in container at this point.

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    2. Thanks for the offer, but I actually have that same large-scale Apocalypse BAF, and it's also sitting in a storage tub in the garage.

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  2. By the time these rolled around I was buying strictly comics and video games. Though, I was 20 in 1995 so that's probably not too surprising. I wouldn't start collecting toys again until the Star Wars figures that were released just prior to The Phantom Menace.

    To be honest, I had seen the 2099 figures around but had somehow missed the AoA figures. Which was probably just as well since it appears to be a fairly predictable line up.

    I also had no idea that there was an Onslaught line of toys. Those couldn't have been very popular.

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    1. Yeah, I'm fairly certain the couple-three Onslaught figures I picked up, I purchased on a deep discount at a Kaybee store in the mall. And like the AoA line here, there was only five or six figures to it, IIRC.

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    2. The Onslaught line was annoying because it was in six-inch scale rather than the five-inch scale used for all Toy Biz's other Marvel stuff. It wasn't a big deal for Apocalypse and Onslaught himself, since they were larger than everyone else in the comics, but it was especially irritating for Jean. Finally, a decent Jean figure in her Jim Lee costume to go with all the other X-Men, but she didn't fit in with them because she was an inch taller than everyone else!

      Toy Biz also did an Avengers line around this time, also in a six-inch scale, and it also bugged me. Thor could pass with the five-inch figures if he had to, but there was a really nice Scarlet Witch in that wave, and she, too, towered over all the other Marvel characters.

      I think those waves were designed more for collectors than kids, which was the reason for the different scale, but I could be wrong. In any case, I don't think Toy Biz ever experimented with six-inch scale again until they launched Marvel Legends years later, and then it became the default going forward.

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    3. Yeah, in whatever form I end up writing about the Onslaught figures, I will be ranting about the scale change. :)

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    4. The upshot to the six inch figures is that the five inch Wolverine would almost be in scale.

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  3. AOA GAMBIT figure was eventually released by Toy Biz in 1997 as a box set two-pack with AOA Rogue. "Marvel's Greatest Couples"

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    1. I did not know that! Thanks, I updated the post.

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    2. Greatest Couples with Gambit and Rogue is kind of ironic.

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  4. Damn, seeing these again takes me back! Although at this point I was pretty much done with comics and had moved onto to hardcore video gaming. X-Men 2099 and even AoA weren't my thing. The last comic figures I bought were Spy Wolverine and Omega Red in 1993, I believe. Great article!

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  5. I bought all those AOA figures about a year ago before the MV Legends versions were announced. There is a Jean, Beast, and Sugar Man that were released later in other lines and then the MV Legends BAF of Holocaust that is freaking expensive now.

    They really pushed that 2099 line between Marvel Series 4 and this line and yet, no one really cared. They are probably the most easily found X-Men figures today found in toy stores today. The series is the most generic bland 90s so no shock there.

    I was 14/15, I was completely done with action figures when these released, I remember seeing them and being like, people still buy this, haha. PS1 was out at this time and any extra money or time was going into things like FF7, Wild Arms, etc.

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    1. I picked up that Sugar Man figure at a con or Kaybee or something at some point; it was part of a "Marvel Monsters" line or something like that, where all the figures were bigger/bulkier than the average. I had him sitting on my desk for years, for some reason (terrible character, neat looking action figure, I guess).

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