I was totally going to do a follow up to my Super Powers blog with a blog about Marvel's rival toy line, Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars. I was prompted even further by Plaid Stallions posting the original catalog that Mattel provided to retailers to promote the line. Check it out!
DC already had a successful cartoon series to promote their line, so while they produced a comic book tie-in, it wasn't really that important and ultimately got deemed a "parallel universe" story that didn't actually tie in to the main DC Comics universe. Marvel did the opposite. Their Secret Wars series was a HUGE deal, to the point that their editor-in-chief, Jim Shooter, actually wrote it himself.In the 12-issue maxiseries, Marvel's biggest names, Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, The Avengers, The Fantastic Four (minus the Invisible Woman, who was pregnant at the time) and The X-Men (minus Kitty Pryde who was busy sucking) were teleported to an alien world by an omnipotent force known only as The Beyonder, and forced to do battle with an assortment of the baddest Marvel Super Villains available, led by the diabolical Dr. Doom.
The series isn't exactly ground-breaking and the only real permanent impact was the introduction of Spider-Man's black costume:
Which ultimately turned out to be the symbiote Venom. Or as comic writer/illustrator Erik Larsen described him, "Help, my laundry's attacking me!" Heh! Allegedly, the black costume was created simply because Mattel wanted to produce a second Spider-Man in the toy line and this is what Marvel came up with.
As if there weren't enough super characters in the story, Marvel introduced three new female characters, including villains Volcana and Titania (who would ultimately become the She-Hulk's archenemy) and a new Spider-Woman, the Denver-based Julia Carpenter.
Julia's black costume would serve as the subconscious inspiration for Spidey's. Poor Julia... I don't hate her or anything, but there's really only one true Spider-Woman, Jessica Drew!
Poor Julia never amounted to much, as Marvel didn't really have a plan in place when they introduced her. She vanished after the series for quite some time. Eventually she teamed up with Iron Man and ended up dating him for a while and joining his 90s team Force Works. Jessice took up the Spider-Woman name and currently has her own series and is a member of The Avengers. Julia now goes by the code-name Arachne and lives in Canada. Poor lamb!
Anyway, whereas Kenner produced quite the extensive toyline with Super Powers, complete with all of DC Comics' biggest names, with logical weaponry and power actions, Mattel kinda just crapped out Secret Wars. Having already produced the Masters of the Universe line, they were the kings of the "let's just make a couple of unique figures and paint them differently to make a bunch of characters" approach. Not just that, but whereas the SP collection had the 12 biggest names in DC's roster, Secret Wars had an anemic eight. Captain America, Iron Man (who was at the time, James Rhodes, making him the token black guy, even though you can't tell), Spider-Man and Wolverine made up the heroic team, slugging it out with a redesigned Dr. Doom, Magneto (neither of whom included a cape, although they always wore them in the comics), Kang (the Avenger's time-traveling enemy, who wound up being the poorest seller of the bunch) and Dr. Octopus.
Also, whereas the Super Powers figures each had a unique action feature when you squeezed their legs or arms together, Mattel's idea for a cool feature was to give each character a shield, into which you could pop lenticular pieces, so that when it was inside, you could tilt the shield and the image would change from one to another. The "secret message" shields did NOT appear in the comics, but they did shoe-horn them into coloring books and such. Super Powers was much more heavily promoted, as every time anyone else picked up one of my Secret Wars figures, they'd squeeze their legs together for naught. "Isn't he supposed to do something?" Nope. Nuthin.
I'm totally not just dissing this line because I prefer DC Comics and their characters. These were just plain shitty toys. They were made out of bendy, rubbery plastic. The detailing on their costumes rubbed off if you looked at them funny. You'll never find a loose Iron Man figure where the yellow circle on his chest isn't rubbed off! And Dr. Octopus' tentacles usually broke off after about two hours.
The character selection was goofy... obviously, they didn't include any females or uniquely built males like Thor, The Hulk or The Thing because that would have required them to tool additional bodies and they were crapping these out on the cheap.The Marvel characters have a few vehicles in the comics. The Avengers zip around in the Quinjet. The Fantastic Four have the Fantasticar. The X-Men had the Blackbird (also known as the X-Jet). But for the toy line, Mattel just made up their own. Dr. Doom had the motorized Doom Roller, which I suspect was a cast off from the Masters of the Universe line. Both teams also had their own motorcycle, complete with enclosed sidecar. I must admit, I did enjoy the design of these, even though they were not actually from the comics. I probably used the cycles more than I did the figures. I think Batman and Robin used the Doom Cycle more than Dr. Doom did.The requisite playset was the Tower of Doom. Okay, look at the top where Spider-Man and Dr. Doom are standing. Notice how they are taller than the section they are flanking? Yep! The playset was TOO SMALL for the figures to fit in! Dumbasses! I ended up using this more as a base for Cobra and pretending the turret on top was the Weather Dominator from the GI Joe cartoon. The Joe toys were smaller than Secret Wars and thus fit the playset better. How do you screw that up?!
To top that, the second wave of Secret Wars figures which included black costume Spidey, was made up of characters who WEREN'T IN THE SECRET WARS COMIC BOOK!
The heroes were joined by Daredevil and The Falcon.
The Villains by Baron Zemo (in a fierce magenta costume with fur trim! You go girl!) and the newly introduced Hobgoblin, who included an awesome bat-shaped sky sled. Interestingly, the two new villains included new tooling... if they were going to go that far, why not pick bigger names? I mean, Baron Zemo? I didn't even know who that was at the time, although obviously I had to have him, due to his jaunty ensemble. In the little four panel comic on the back of the toy's card, he used some sort of device to make plants grow enormous, so I just assumed he was a plant-based character. Eventually, I learned that he was just a random generic mad genius character. Trimmed in fur.
Like I said, these toys kinda sucked, had limited selection and nowhere near the profile of the Super Powers collection, so Mattel stopped after two waves... in America at least.
In Europe three additional figures were produced, once again, featuring characters that DID NOT APPEAR IN THE SECRET WARS COMIC! The heroes were joined by Iceman, who did have a high profile due to this featured role on the Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends Saturday morning cartoon.
Two new villains were also added, The Constrictor:
And Electro:In addition, Brazil got two exclusive playsets:
Ha ha! Goofy as hell, but kinda whimsical! I mean, don't you wish you had Castle Spider-Skull?
So to wrap up, Secret Wars was kinda a lesson in how to NOT do a Super Hero toy line. They started off with some big names, but the poor production values and lack of diversity hurt them and then it seemed like for the rest of the waves, they were just drawing names out of Thor's winged helmet. The accessories were just made up and not based on the comics. And the gimmick, those "secret message" shields was stupid. Even so, the line has its fans. I mean, I got these pics someplace, right? But anyone that says they preferred this line over Super Powers is just a brainwashed Marvel Zombie.