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SDCC2008 – Hands-on with Marvel Universe

I had a really special opportunity last night to speak with members of the Hasbro Marvel team, including members of their marketing, design, and packaging teams.  To our surprise, the Nick Fury of their marketing team had on hand early production samples from the first wave of Marvel Universe figures – Iron Man (modern), Spider-Man, Silver Surfer, and Punisher.  And I have to admit, I started giggling like a schoolgirl when he said we could start opening some of them.

We ended up opening up Spider-Man, Silver Surfer, and Iron Man.

The Packaging

First, the packaging – standard cardboard backing with bubble.  The Cho artwork looks great, and should provide some nice uniformity across your collection, if you choose to keep it carded.  Another nice touch – on the inside of the bubble, there’s a character-specific paper insert – when you look at the package from the side, it features a character headshot, reminiscent of what you get in the upper left hand corner of your comics.

There’s a three digit number on the upper left hand corner of the back of the card – the characters will be numbered sequentially.  The first (I can’t remember for sure but it’s got to be Spidey) has "Begin transmission… 001" on it.  People with OCD tendencies (like me) will be greatly troubled to skip characters.

The Story

Behind each figure is a little yellow envelope labeled "Top Secret" – inside you’ll find a Superhuman Registration Act ID card for that character and another document.  The ID card in the package is a great touch for packaging nuts – I remember having to cut out the file cards for my Joes as a kid – no more destroying your card backs with these figures.  The cards themselves will be two sided – one featuring the character portrait and height / weight / powers / etc. details, the other featuring a piece of character artwork – I think also by Cho.

In the case of the Surfer, the other document (a little bigger than a post-it when unfolded) included was a memo from Maria Hill to Tony Stark that sounded pretty ominous, from what I can remember.  His whereabouts were unknown, and did that mean Galactus was on his way?

This brings me to another feature of the toy – with these documents, there will be a some elements of a storyline that you put together by collecting them.  This will tie into more content that you can unveil on – each toy will come with a unique code number that you would enter to unlock more files on that character, and your own personal ID on the site will let you keep track of the figures that you’ve bought. 

In another surprise of the evening, Dan Buckley dropped by to chat about how Hasbro and Marvel have been working together on this toy line.  For Marvel Universe, we can expect the story elements to be in synch with the events in the comic universe – that will be reflected in the documents that get released with the toys, and also with the additional files that you unlock on the website.

I’d never thought I’d be talking about digital convergence in the toy industry, but that’s the only way I can describe what Hasbro has planned for the Marvel Universe line.

The Figures

Alright, now onto the toys themselves.  From a sculpt perspective, they exceeded my expectations in terms of how detailed they could be at the 3 3/4-inch scale.  The Surfer, for example, looked so much like the one released in the Hasbro ML F4 line that I had to ask if they shrunk that down.  The answer was no – each figure has been built off an original sculpt done to scale (meaning they were sculpted at the size the figure is intended to be). 

The Punisher was the one figure I was disappointed in, sculpt-wise.  His head was way too big (I’d guess at least double the plastic that was used for Spidey’s head), so he wouldn’t look quite right with the rest of the guys.  The Hasbro guys acknowledged the criticism, and said that there would be a variant head that would fit in better.

The articulation is going to vary figure by figure.  Spidey and Surfer really shine here.  Head motion on their heads is good, which I think is done with a standard round peg.  They have great range in their arms (ball-jointed shoulders, bicep swivels, single elbows, and forearm or wrist swivels).  They have double knees and ankle hinges.  While they are missing thigh or calf swivels, the joints in the crotch allow a little rotation, but I’d still like more.  One point of articulation that I absolutely love on these figures is the mid-torso joint.  On Spidey and Surfer, it allows three things – torso rotation, front and back crunches, and side-to-side tilt.

Iron Man is a little thicker than Spidey and Surfer, and his articulation was a little more restrictive.  Single knees, for example, that don’t allow as much range of motion there.  Still, I was able to get him in some decent flying poses.  While I didn’t get to handle Punisher, he doesn’t compare to the rest.  He has elbros and kneebros (?), so I am not expecting him to move as well as the others

Paint-wise, these figures hold up well to their 6-inch counterparts.  Spidey had some nice subtle airbrushed shading on the blue parts of his costume.  Surfer and Iron Man had nice metallic finishes, that didn’t chip at all given the heavy handling they were getting.  The real proof will be in characters that have fleshtones, particularly on their heads.  I’d really like to get another look at the Punisher for this, but from what I recall, the paint on his head struck me as middle of the road – neither really bad or really good.

I think that plastic quality may be a factor for some of the smaller, slimmer guys.  On both Spidey and the Surfer, one leg was a bit warped coming out of the package, and due to the size of the leg had an almost flimsy feel to them.  I did flex the plastic side-to-side just a little bit, and they bent pretty easily at the knee.  I’m not really sure there’s anything that can be done, given the size.  On the plus side, the figures didn’t pop apart at all, and no one managed to break anything.

These are toys that you’re going to pick up and play with, but I still put Iron Man through the paces.  He stands up fine, but not easily (not that I expected it to).  I think Spidey and Surfer, with their thinner legs, would be harder to keep standing up.  I would really love to see some kind of stand included – not something like with the 25th Anniversary Joes, but something simple like a disc with a single foot peg. 

There’s a circular space in the packaging right now where they put a little cardboard shield symbol – it’d be cool if they put a little stand in there.  If they wanted to go all out, they could put some symbols on the stands, like SHIELD for the heroes, and the associated villain faction for the bad guys – taking a cue from the Transformers.

The Mystery 

Rob at touched on this in his write-up – at the end of the night, the Silver Surfer was missing, but his board was accounted for.  And I had him in my hands just five minutes before they were asking for him.  Folks ended up looking for him under the tables, chairs, sofas, etc, and I don’t know if he was ever found.

When I told the guys at the Fwooshering, VB immediately accused me of stealing him.  The previous night, I had played a practical joke on him that I thought was hilarious (at the time) – I had absconded with an exclusive Zangief that Scott@SOTA had asked us to show Cornboy (we’re talking to the Four Horsemen this afternoon).  I didn’t realize until the next morning (after my head had cleared) that VB was probably stressing pretty hard.  So sorry!  I hope she forgives me.

In any case, if you see an ebay listing or leaked pics of a Marvel Universe Silver Surfer without a board, that’s probably the one.  If not, then maybe Hasbro can work in the case of the missing Surfer into the continuing story for the toyline.

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