After Iron Man came out in May 2008, I started hearing rumors that Marvel was merchandising X-Men less than the Avengers (which is how I’ll be referring all of the characters that Marvel Studios owns the rights to for the sake of simplicity) in order to get 20th Century Fox to drop the license and revert the rights back to Marvel. As the Marvel franchises scored hit after hit and converged in The Avengers, the rumors got louder. As a primarily X-book reader (though primary Marvel watcher), I didn’t put much stock in it. From my vantage it seemed like The Avengers, especially Age of Ultron, were taking everything they could from X-Men stories. There’s a scene where rioting townsfolk attack Iron Man’s safety drones, almost like the Avengers are dedicated to protecting a world that fears and hates them, which is the X-Men’s tagline. Marvel introduced Magneto’s children (screw the retcon attempt from Sixis), though not as mutants. But then when X-Men: Days of Future Past came out, there were no action figures outside of a few minimates and a Hot Toys Wolverine, I decided that the conspiracy theory warranted an investigation.
I started by checking out the numbers for Marvel’s three non-movie toys lines: Marvel Universe/Avengers Infinite, Marvel Legends, and Marvel Select, I documented the Marvel Universe single, double, team and masterworks packs since the first wave in 2009, nine months after Iron Man came out, Marvel Legends starting from the Fin Fang Foom series released one month after Iron Man, and Marvel Selects starting with 2007’s Zombie Spiderman.
Out of those 525 action figures, 307 have been Avengers, 116 have been X-Men, 27 have been Fantastic Four, 72 have been Spiderman, and 4 have been in between. (Those four were FF Spiderman, Quicksilver and a Marvel Universe and Marvel Legends Scarlett Witch). Percentage wise, that’s 58.4% Marvel, 22.1% X-Men, 5.1% Fantastic Four, and 13.7% Spiderman.
I separated Fantastic Four and Spiderman figures as well as X-Men, because if the logic is that Marvel is stopping the creation of merchandise to get their X-Men rights back, then they’d be doing the same with other franchises they’ve sold the rights too as well. I’m biased toward the X-Men. Chris Claremont’s run on Uncanny X-Men is the reason I read comic books and collect action figures today, but it looks like Spiderman and Fantastic Four fans are the ones who should be concerned. The Fantastic Four was the book that turned Marvel into one of the big two comic book companies, and it’s a shame to see them cast aside the way they are.
Of course, even if these numbers were decisive, which they aren’t because we don’t have a percentage breakdown of what part of the Marvel Comic Universe are Avengers versus X-Men versus Spiderman versus Fantastic Four, correlation does not equal causation. There’re a few other possible explanations for what’s going on with the figure production.
It’s possible Hasbro (Universe/Infinite and Legends) and/or Diamond (Select) have numbers that suggest that the Marvel figures outsell the other three brands. The movies have certainly been doing better. If that’s the case, than there’s no conspiracy to get the licenses back from Marvel Studios. They’re just doing what corporations do: trying to get the most money possible.
They could also be operating under the assumption that most collectors have all the X-Men and Spiderman figures. They were both heavily merchandised alongside their movies and cartoons in the 90s and 00s while Avengers were relegated to the back. If that’s the case, maybe it’s like a wheel and the Avengers will roll back down while the other three rise back to the top.
But none of that could explain what’s going on with the unevenness in movie merchandising, meaning specific lines in support of specific movies, which is what I’ll be talking about in Part 2, next Wednesday.
A Call to Action (Figures) is a weekly column published on Wednesdays, chronicling my rants and raves about all things action figure. Next week I’ll be doing Part 2. Didn’t you read the last paragraph of this weeks!?