WOLVERINE – NINJA, MONSTER ARMOR, UNLEASHED, FUTURE, HYDRO BLAST, & BATTLE BLASTER
X-MEN (TOY BIZ)
It’s going to get worse before it gets better…well, depending on your perspective, anyway. It’s certainly going to get more numerous before it gets less so. Yes, it’s time for part four of the Day of the Wolverines, where we move to 1997, a year that was quite jam-packed with Wolverines. I mean, really, just X-Men figures in general, but as the most marketable, Wolverine reaped a lot of those benefits. However, this is really where the line gives up on its “lets just make a fairly straight adaptation of a lot of X-characters” mission statement in favor of a more crazy, experimental, frantic, “try to grab all the attention we can” ideal. It was…well, it was an interesting time to be collecting for sure. Onward we go!
THE FIGURES THEMSELVES
“Long ago trained in the ways of the martial arts, Ninja Wolverine formed a powerful bond with Japan and many of its people. So when Dark Nemesis threatens to destroy Japan, Ninja Wolverine is ready to tear him to pieces. Joined by fellow X-Man Ninja Psylocke, Ninja Wolverine uses his razor sharp claws and martial art abilities to do whatever it takes to stop the forces that would enslave his adopted home land!”
Man, they really like the word Ninja, don’t they? After the success of the Light-Up series the prior year, Toy Biz opted to go even further down the themed assortment rabbit hole. Their first venture was one that was pretty popular in the mid-to-late ’90s: Ninjas. Admittedly, not the furthest reach for an X-Men assortment, and Wolverine himself is a pretty solid fit for such a theme. The figure stands 4 1/2 inches tall and has 11 points of articulation. After creep upward in scaling, Wolverine is back into a more regular scale…for now, anyway. This was a new sculpt for Wolverine, and represents the line’s turn to more exaggerated proportions and expressions. I’m not exactly sure what’s going on with Logan’s face, but I’m fairly certain I don’t like it. We get our first acknowledgement of Wolverine’s bone claws for this figure, three years after the fact. This marked the line’s first venture into a more mixed-media venture, which would prove a popular idea for Toy Biz, as it would re-surface for their X-Men vs Street Fighter line, as well as their Marvel’s Gold line. It’s not the worst looking thing, I suppose, but Logan looks a little bit like he’s swimming in all that fabric. Fortunately, it’s fairly easily removed if that’s not you jam. In order, I suppose, to make up for his lack of metal claws, Wolverine includes a three-bladed sword, a ninja staff, a chain (which the kids dig, of course), and a grappling hook.
“Transformed by Mister Sinister into a creature possessing pure animal fury, Wolverine is now the monstrous beast, Fangor. Breaking the bars of his holding cell, the monster Wolverine rages out of control. Using his increased strength, Wolverine destroys Sinister’s mutagenic equipment and soon finds himself attacked by monster versions of Rogue and Cyclops! Wolverine is mutantkind’s last, best hope against the power of Sinister!”
After being Ninjas and then fighting some robots for a bit, the X-Men played into their monstrous side, as well as their…armored side. Look, they turned into monsters, okay? And Wolverine was there because he kinda had to be, like contractually or something. The figure stands just shy of 5 inches tall (again, with the hunch factored in, meaning he’s again jumping in size.) and has 5 points of articulation. The Monster Armor series for whatever reason cut back on the articulation for the individual figures. Others in the set get a few more unique points of movement, but Wolverine just has the standard 5 joints. Wolverine is definitely a victim of a shift towards a pseudo-McFarlane style, with pre-posing, exaggerated proportions, and a more “intense” design. Logan takes an admittedly far more simian appearance, even before the monster armor is taken into account. He also ditches Logan’s usual hair, in exchange for something more free form. Despite its very stylized nature, it’s actually a kind of nifty sculpt, partly because it’s a bit more unique. I also quite dig the torn-up costume detailing. One notable thing missing are his usual shoulder pads, which were present on the prototype, but were gone by the time he made it to production. This figure also had a notable cut in paint apps from proto to final product, resulting in a somewhat bland paint scheme here. Wolverine included the five clip-on pieces for turning him into “Fangor,” which do their job as well as any of the others. I don’t know why he doesn’t turn into, say, a Wolverine, but hey, who am I to judge?
“Feeling responsible for Professor X’s possession by the evil Onslaught entity, Wolverine seeks to save his mentor. Finding Onslaught unstoppable, Wolvie rescues the one person whose reality-warping powers might be able to defeat the villain–Franklin Richards. Now in New York City’s Central Park, Wolverine stands with the greatest super heroes in the final assault against Onslaught!”
Following the…let’s loosely call it “success,” I suppose…of Marvel’s Onslaught crossover, we got a brief tie-in line as part of the X-Men line. There’s not much to it, but there was a Wolverine. Yay? Sure, why not? We’d already gotten a Wolverine with bone claws, but this one takes it a step further, giving us, to date, our only figure of Wolverine post-adamantium-removal-and-attempted-reintroduction-induced-secondary-mutation. It’s a very specific time in his life, I assure you. It’s also, like, peak ’90s craziness for Wolvie. The figure stands 5 3/4 inches tall and has 6 points of articulation. Again, the Onslaught series represents a cut back in the articulation, and more importantly it leans hardcore into the increasing size of Wolveine. Were he standing straight, this guy would have at least another inch of height. Even amongst the larger than average Onslaught figures, that’s nuts. This guy’s too large to fit in with Marvel Legends, for Pete’s sake! Befitting the time period and the version of Logan, the sculpt is by far the most exaggerated I’ve looked at yet. He’s really cartoony, and really goofy. I dig the retractable claws for this guy, but the actual fur on the forearms is just a really strange choice (according to Super Awesome Wife: “He’s hairy in all the wrong places”). Honestly, a lot about this figure’s strange, truth be told. His only accessory is actually an additional figure: it’s a little Franklin Richards figurine, in what has got to be the most ’90s attire Franklin ever wore.
“With his strong adamantium bones and claws, as well as a mutant healing factor, Wolverine can stand up to just about anything. So when the X-Men take on Apocalypse in his flying fortress, Wolverine leads the charge. Pounded by the fortress’ automated defense systems, Wolverine attacks. Using his razor sharp claws, Wolverine makes quick work of the robot guards. Facing off against Apocalypse in mid-air, Wolverine won’t stop until he sends the villain crashing down once and for all.”
At this point, the actual themes of the assortments kind of started to fall off, in favor of just leaning really heavily into the gimmicks. The Missile Flyers series was, unsurprisingly, a bunch of figures with big missile-firing flying contraptions. Also, it was supposedly in the future? All of the figure’s had “future” in front of their name, anyway. At least it didn’t get shoved into every instance of Wolvie’s name like with the Ninja figure. Future Wolverine stands just shy of 5 inches tall and he has 9 points of articulation. Yay for knees and elbows again! That said, he’s not a particularly posable figure, even with the returning joints. Pretty much he’s hot the one pose. His sculpt was all-new, and it was an all-new design and…well, there it its. It, uh, it certainly happened. His head’s real tiny, and his hands and feet are real big. I’m glad that at least, unlike the Muntant Armor, this figure’s armor does actually mimic the classic Wolvie appearance a bit. Also digging those groovy curved and wavy claws. Very unique. This Wolverine a mask (which the package proudly proclaims “fits over head”; that’s good, I guess) and a dragon-shaped wingpack with a launching missile for a head. The wingpack is green for some reason, which clashes with the figure proper, but if I’m honest, doesn’t look half bad.
“When Los Angeles is attacked by deadly mutant hunting Sentinels, it’s up to the X-Men to stop them. The Sentinels’ only weakness is their vulnerability to water. Thus the X-Men arm themselves with powerful water shooting weapons in order to defeat the inhuman menace.
Fighting his way out of any situation is the most dangerous of all the X-Men — Wolverine! Putting his enemies in their place with his retractable claws, Wolverine also has a powerful mutant healing factor making him quick to recover from any attack. With heightened senses, no one can hide from Wolverine, making him an effective hunter as well. Choosing the path of a hero, Wolverine fights along side the X-Men to create a world where humans and mutants co-exist in peace.”
1997 was the year that Toy Biz got into the water-themed stuff, with both of their main super hero lines getting in on the action. Spider-Man had the Web-Splashers, and the X-Men had “Water Wars.” The pretense of how they set up the need for these water-shooting gimmicks is pretty darn laughable, but removed from the gimmicks, they were actually an alright assortment of updates to some core looks. We’d gone a little bit without just a standard tiger stripe Wolverine, and this one dropped right in nicely. The figure stands 4 1/2 inches tall (his stature was returning again to something more reasonable) and he has 11 points of articulation. Though he lacked elbows, the rest of the added articulation sort of made up for it, and this was honestly Toy Biz’s most posable Wolverine at this scale. The sculpt is far more stylized, and definitely more pre-posed than earlier entries in the line, but for the most part, this is a pretty respectably handled take on the character. He’s packed with some shoulder armor, onto which you can mount his big water cannon. It’s incredibly gimmicky, and incredibly tacked-on, but there it is.
“In a strange universe Wolverine brings a glimmer of hope to all mutants. Fighting against the evil warlord Apocalypse, Wolverine slashes his way to making the world a better place for all mutantkind. Along with Jean Grey, Wolverine is more trouble than he can claw his way out of, his transforming Claw Cannon Blaster and its secret weapon are more than able to finish the more than able to finish the job for him.”
Okay, I’m not even going to try and figure out what that bio’s *supposed* to say, because it certainly isn’t what it actually ended up saying, because that’s just an incomprehensible mess. It’s okay, the figure it accompanies isn’t much better. After Water Wars, Toy Biz decided they really liked this model of packing every figure with some sort of large gimmicky thing, so they launched the “Secret Weapon Force,” a subline that ran through the X-Men line for the next two years. The first series was dubbed “Battle Blasters” because everyone had…big battle blasters. I know, it’s real high-concept stuff. Wolverine stands 5 1/4 inches tall and has 8 points of articulation. All of the Battle Blasters figures were retools in some way, but while some of them were rather clever, Wolverine simply wasn’t. For some reason, they opted to re-use not a pre-existing Wolverine mold, but rather a *Sabretooth* mold, specifically Captive Sabretooth from the Invasion Series. It’s not a great mold to begin with, and is only made worse when co-opted to be something it’s not. They’ve opted to do him up in his Age of Apocalypse colors, but he’s still got two hands, and no pupils, and hair that’s not even remotely right, so it just kind of falls apart. It’s also just not a very attractive sculpt, and that jaw-opening action feature looks really weird. No sir, I do not like it. They weren’t willing to drop money on new tooling, but Toy Biz were quite happy to spring for this all-new Claw Cannon Blaster, which is…a thing. Yeah, it’s dumb and I got nothing.
THE ME HALF OF THE EQUATION
The “I’ve probably got enough Wolverines” was really hitting by ’97, and so I really didn’t pick any of these up new, or even pay them much mind. I’ve got other figures from the same assortments, so I was still collecting, of course, but not these guys. In the case of Unleashed and Future Wolverine, I’ll admit to actually wanting them a little bit as a kid. They were, in fact, the two I was most hoping to see in this collection when Jason called me about it. Goofy as they may be, neither disappointed. The others are kind of a range of quality. Water Wars is surprisingly good, and Battle Blasters may well be the worst Wolverine Toy Biz ever produced, with the other two falling in between. Oh good, I’m finally through with the ’97 review. It gets easier from here.