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Navigating the Spider-Verse of Spiderman Toys

Ever since Spiderman became a success in the early 1960s, various toy companies made sure Spiderman was available on shelf for us to buy and play with.  The earliest large Spiderman I can remember is the 6-inch solid molded version by Marx.  They had released a set of six Marvel Superheroes in their popular 6-inch size solid-poly line, which also included Daredevil, Captain America, Thor, Ironman and the Hulk.  While these were sculpted well, they were molding in one large injection tool of all six then, they ran the tool in several colors and then assorted the colors during pack out.  Unfortunately, this meant you might get a green Spiderman and red Hulk.  It just did not seem right to me – even at that very young age.

It was great when Ideal released their Captain Action version of Spiderman.  These were all sold as “uniform and equipment” sets in an age where you bought one figure and many accessory sets.  It was the old sales plan of “Sell them a razor and they will keep buying blades.” Each figure came with a costume, boots, belt, gear and a mask.  The Spiderman mask for this set was unique as it was a one-piece with a slit down the sides (so his ears could stick out) and extended to cover his neck.  The other masks in the series (like Batman or Phantom) were 2-part masks.  The biggest problem this figure had was non-red hands.  However, as I hated the gloves on GI Joe and the Mego figures, it was not a huge problem for me. (One side note – if you are also trying to assemble the best 1/6th scale superheroes set, the 6-inch Mego figures may seem too small but that makes the Mr. Myxlplyx just the right size).

It would not be until 1980 when a new 12-inch version of Spiderman swung off the shelves. This was the Amazing Energized Spiderman. This figure came from Remco and was hard plastic with a molded-on costume. The feature was fun.  He is motorized, so you could attach a hook up high and watch him slide up the rope.  Since it used batteries inside, the designers also allowed the kids to tap into that power with plug in accessories like a flash light (similar to Billy Blastoff by Eldon in the late 1960s).  Remco also sold a Green Goblin version as well as Batman and Superman.  The problem was his complete lack of articulation, which left him with his left arm raised as if he was continually requesting permission to go to the bathroom. After you made him fly up a few times, your fun was done.

With all the toys produced from Marvel comic books, Marvel decided to open its own toy company instead of licensing odd variations of their characters.  The first 12-inch Toy Biz versions of Spiderman were odd.  They used the same body for each of their 12-inch superheroes, which was common among toy companies, but their proportions were very bulky and overly muscular front to back.  It worked fine for their Wolverine figure, but did not fit the scrawny Peter Parker look.  This body also has the unique distinction of having the thickest thighs of any other 12-inch figure so far. The one advantage of their sets was including a costume so you could play with Peter Parker (on steroids) or Spiderman.

Later, they released variations of the Spectacular Spiderman who could change into the Scarlet Spiderman.  As I had stopped keeping up with the comic books before then, they just looked odd to me. However, they were the first adaptations of Spider-verse variations.

Toy Biz continued to release multiple versions of the Marvel characters.  There was a whole series of 10-inch figures with very limited articulation with just turning arms and legs.  They made so many different characters and not as much tooling, so that it became a fun game in the toy store to look at the new figures and see which old figures they repainted and called it a different character.

As the price of toys was climbing with inflation, Toy Biz tried saving money while keeping articulation using roto-molding tools, which is much less expensive. Roto molding is process where you have a cavity and squirt in liquid PVC, close the mold then spin it in an oven.  Usually the parts are softer but they can be made hard also.  Most heads for GI Joe and Barbie are made that way.  It works well, but the process does not work well with defined or flat edges.  You can get plenty of articulation points, but how you design the joints makes a big difference.  I have a roto-molded Toy Biz Hulk that is great.  However, Spiderman did not look as good.  It looks like a toy that broke apart and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men could not quite get it back together again. Note the gaps in the joints.

Another Toy Biz Spiderman came out where he had even more articulation and they avoided that big gap problem by going to back to traditional injection molded tooling to solve the gap problems.  It is a fun figure for posing.  The problem comes when you get a great pose then realize the thigh is oval so if you move it in the middle, you get weird ledges appearing where the parts do not line up properly.

Toy Biz tried one last time with figures from the Spiderman 2 movie.  This was clearly their best figure.  It has great articulation and a fabric costume to cover all the visually intrusive joint lines.  Then even gave Spiderman a one-piece mask that was make out of Krayton or TPR so it was very stretchy.  It has been hanging from the ceiling in my studio for about twenty years now, swinging from one spider web while shooting another web at a GI Joe Amphibious Assault Marine scaling the wall with a rope ladder.  The figure does suffer from one flaw – quality control.  It was not as aspect of manufacturing that Toy Biz was strong in.  The uniform has a shoulder seam where they caught part of the excess fabric on the wrong side of the seam.  That is one reason I put him high in the room so I would not see the glaring quality issues.  And… that great stretchy mask, split over time even when not being played with.

There was one other Spiderman made as part of the 3rd version of Captain Action by Round 2. Unfortunately, I did not buy that one, as money was tight when it was available. It has separate, snap-in hands like the high-end figures, a good sewn costume and a good mask.  I chose to buy the Loki version instead since I thought my current Spiderman 2 would be the best one to play with in my stable of 12-inch super heroes.  Therefore, I will just have to guess that one is pretty good since it looks good in the package.

Therefore, the best Spiderman currently on the market (unless you are into the $100+ figures) is the Hasbro Marvel Legends Series.  It has great articulation that is sculpted very well to avoid those split thigh issues. It also has different heads in case you want to play with Spiderman, Peter or Peter with his lips exposed in case he is hanging upside down and runs into Mary Jane. 

While the legends are the best sculpted and articulated figures , I just wish they had sewn costumes. I would rather live with a little less articulation that fabric always inhibits.  That has not stopped me from buying Legends figures – especially when all the joints are hidden with black as on the Black Panther.

With all that being said, I refuse to sell off my Ideal Captain Action Spiderman – though he sees less action these days as he is getting older.  The Toy Biz Spiderman 2 is still swinging on the ceiling, and I have a Legends Spiderman for creating some great poses.

What is your favorite 1/6th scale superhero?

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  1. I agree, the best 12 inch figures have clothing. Probably just from my bias of classic 1/6 G.I.Joe, I think when a figure is at the 1/6 scale, soft goods gives it the fullest play potential. Clothing is also good for 8 inch Mego style figures.

    Now, I do not care for clothing on 6 inch figures. Mezco figures, for instance, are basically overpriced Legends with irremovable clothing. To me, it is just one more thing to rip/deteriorate, and honestly, these probably never would have flown if Hot Toys type figures were affordable. Mezco are honestly just affordable, smaller Hot Toys.

    Greg, I enjoy your panel at JoeLanta every year. keep it up. 🙂