Hasbro’s Marvel Toy Team on the Future of Comic and Movie Toys

It may not have escaped your notice that Hasbro has really upped their game on Marvel action figures this year. From dead-on actor facial sculpts like Michael Rooker’s Yondu to elaborate build-a-figure giants like Warlock, they’ve been killing it with detail. At San Diego Comic-Con, I got to talk to Hasbro’s Dwight Stall (senior Design Manager for their Marvel team) and Ryan Ting (Global Brand Manager) about what they’ve done right so far, and what the imminent future holds.

Stall says the improvement this year, while not necessarily a natural progression, is due to the notion that “our team is constantly not allowing itself to just sit on something that’s doing well and let it ride. We’re always looking for ways to improve our craft.” Ting also points out that key to this is the close relationship with Marvel Studios: “they provide us great reference, and allow us to do the most accurate movie figures and television likenesses to date.”

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One of this year’s biggest announcements, one they had demurred on when asked in previous years, was a Marvel Legends series featuring Netflix versions of Daredevil, Elektra, the Punisher, and Jessica Jones. Though Krysten Ritter appeared to have provided incentive by calling for her own action figure on national TV, the Marvel team say they were actually working on it before that (it takes over a year to design a brand-new figure, which is also why you haven’t seen Star Wars make Old Luke Skywalker until now), though the timing worked out well to get them more publicity for it. They do not at present have plans for TV-based Luke Cage and Danny Rand, though a 4-pack of comic-styled versions of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, and Luke Cage is coming. As for Agents of SHIELD, they’re not ruling it out like they did in the past, and say it is certainly possible.

When the first Avengers movie came out, Hasbro’s Marvel line was predominantly focused on a 3-3/4 inch scale, with very limited 6-inch figures. Now, that ratio has reversed, a decision that has been purely market and fan driven. As guaranteed a hit as Avengers seemed to be, there was still some hesitation the public would support a massively produced 6-inch figure line. “The more these characters become pop-culture relevant to the world, the bigger the opportunities are to make them in their plastic forms,” says Stall. Ting notes that 2017 is the first year with three big Marvel movies (technically one is half-Sony, but unlike the Marvel Fox movies, Sony’s actually do get toys), “and that translates into more product for us.” They’re not abandoning 3-3/4–Thor: Ragnarok is getting some nicely detailed smaller figures, including a Gladiator Hulk–but they’re having no difficulty selling the bigger ones. Ting sees fandom as a whole supporting 6-inch scale across all toy lines–not just Hasbro’s–and says there’ll be no shortage of them moving forward.

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Perhaps the best news for movie-based Marvel Legends fans is that figures who maybe were not given their due before from previous films are fair game, thanks to a new scanning technology that uses not only 3-d modeling of actors’ heads and bodies, but also takes a color scan of their faces and prints it directly on the figure (the Kurt Russell Ego figure, now available in a two-pack with Star-Lord everywhere, was the first). I mentioned Black Widow and Hawkeye, which received a vague but possibly affirmative response (“they’re high on the list of targets we want to address in the upcoming years”), though Stall responded to my Mickey Rourke Whiplash request by saying the tattoo deco costs would be “astronomical.” Ting says everything in the Marvel Cinematic Universe up until now is fair game–with the possible exception of The Incredible Hulk, which shares some rights with Universal–and he’d love to see Marvel get behind a tenth anniversary movie line that could revisit or debut older characters in the line.

But there’s a new Legends scale on shelves now, with 12-inch coming back in a big way. It’s something that has been on hiatus for a while at that level of detail (cheaper, limited-articulation figures aimed at younger kids have been around), but it’s one beloved by older collectors. “I think sometimes resting a line helps reinvigorate the fans’ passion,” says Stall, saying Hasbro’s first attempt in 2007 had to follow a Toy Biz line that had already made most of the major A-list characters, leaving them a less popular selection to add to it. “But now with it being off for a few years, we’re able to go back and start all over again with these super-powerful A-list characters” like Thor, Daredevil, Wolverine, and next year the movie-based Black Panther, which could be a test for more movie figures in that scale.

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Speaking of Toy Biz, towards the end of the year Hasbro will be paying tribute to those original Marvel action figures of the early ’90s with a classic-styled Vintage Legends line that imitates the old-style packaging and reimagines the figures as if they were made with today’s technology, sculpting level, and even character selection: while Wolverine, Captain America, Spider-Man and Iron Man reference their original figures, the line will also include Black Widow, who was never part of that series. Widow will also be the first figure of a new “riders” series that will see her on her motorcycle (they’ve clearly heard the complaints about an earlier toy that did not) and also include Ghost Rider on his flaming bike.

Walgreens exclusive Fantastic Four comic-based figures will continue: the entire team has been sculpted, but they need to keep selling well in order for fans to get them all. So far, so good.

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As for Infinity War, and whether they’ll get to make all 40+ figures, the team said they weren’t allowed to talk about that just yet, but with a wide variety of products that would include multiple exclusives, they’re certainly hoping to get to as many as possible.

Do you like what you see so far? Let us know in comments!

Featured Image: Hasbro
Images: Luke Y. Thompson

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