The early-mid 90s had a glut of action figure lines that ran from travesty to triumph, but has a legacy that mostly resulted in a present situation where a collector can find 99% of the figures from the era MIP for less than $5 – even from good, popular lines. I clearly remember many of the figures being in that 3-for$10 at Kaybee toys. Many of these figures were made by an “upjumped” company called Toybiz.
Toybiz was a company – currently owned, in a way (corporate ownership can get…complicated), by Marvel after bouncing around from several owners over the past 15 years – which had handed to them one of the most valuable franchises and successfully turned it into a profitable venture almost overnight. Marvel had found success in the early 1990s in both the comic world and the cartoon world, producing both some new Spider-man and X-Men comics and cartoons that were well-done in both story and art, and had looked to Toybiz to produce a successful action figure line.
Toybiz’ various Marvel Super Heroes lines – which started with a launch of popular characters and branched out into various lines (I’ll cover some of the other lines in other articles. There’s quite a bit to go through) - featured just about every character that had gotten page time in the early 90s (Kylun? Really?) – were a huge hit alongside the renewed interest in comic books. Mattel had struck out in their Secret Wars line with a dearth of popular characters, poorly-designed and mediocre figures, and stiff competition with the phenomenal DC Super Powers line from Kenner. Toybiz picked up the Marvel slack a few years later after their success with the DC Super Heroes line and Batman movie figures.
The Marvel action figures of the 90s were in 5” and 10” scale, with varying success in sculpts and quality. Many of the Spider-figures and villains were particularly well done, with multiple Spider-man figures made with wall-crawling to web-shooting functions. Several of the Avengers-related figures (like Thor) left some quality on the table, but most of the lines more or less fell somewhere in between, mostly because of the poseability limitations of the figures or lack of detail in sculpting. The standard shoulder-leg-knee-elbow of maneuverability was the rule here, but there WAS a nice poseable Spidey, the first such Spidey that was widely available almost since the Mego toy. Five total waves of Marvel Super Heroes were released, with wave 4 simply being re-released wave 1 figures on different cardbacks.
One of the nice things about the line was the accessory quality. No garish colors and bizarre weapon choices here. The Punisher had his M-16, Spidey had webs, Cap had his shield, Green Goblin has his glider. Crazy-colored costumes and single-purpose outfits were cast aside as well, even when the line branched further out into other Marvel franchises (No Deep Space Toxic Sludge Mutated Spider-man! You had to wait for an X-men Wolverine a few years later for something so bizarre)). Where Kenner was producing outfits that even Adam West wouldn’t be caught using for DC’s Batman, Marvel figures kept to the bare minimum (well…until the later years of the X-men line).
As to availability, the figures are not rare at all. The hardest pieces to collect are the various vehicles and complete playsets. The Punisher’s Van – probably the most rare vehicle of the line – I have seen go for $20 loose (which, in my opinion, is a STEAL) and on sale at various websites for $100+ MIB. It’s actually a repaint/modification of the Joker Van from Kenner’s DC Super Heroes line in the late 80s with a tow-behind artillery piece.
"What super-hero needs artillery? The Punisher. That’s who!"
For army building, there are not any bad-guys mooks to collect (such as AIM or Hydra or a random bank robber /thug/mobster/purse snatcher to punch), but you can always get a bunch of Dr. Doom figures and pretend they are Doombots. You will have to find figures from other lines to serve as cannon fodder to hold up gas stations (like the John Conner figure from Terminator).
When it comes to pricing, I am usually ready to throw a punch at sellers when it comes to the Toybiz Marvel Super Heroes figures. If you need to fill a hole in a collection with a single figure, wait until someone puts a MIP figure up for .99+ shipping, and you can easily score one for less than $10, if not cheaper. NONE of the figures should be priced more than that, but it is not uncommon to see single MIP figures priced at over $30 on a BIN (Buy It Now) auction and never sell. As it stands on ebay, if everything was purchased by itself, you are looking at about $500 for the whole collection (including vehicles), which is overpriced (I’m NOT including the reproduced figures of Wave 4 here, but putting that in would only bump the price up about $100 at most under this scenario). With just a little patience, you can score a few MIP figure lots with the figures at around $5 or cheaper and fill the holes in from there. At that price, you are looking at probably around $300-$350 for the whole Marvel Super Heroes collection MIP.
The more I think about this line, the more I believe it was a good “start” for Marvel into the 90s (see my above comments on Secret Wars figures on how Mattel screwed up a perfectly good opportunity), as well as a good line for kids who like super heroes in general to play with. The figures are generally cheap, beat the Super Hero Squad figures on poseability and accessories (don’t get me wrong, I like the SHS figures for what they are, but they’re more statues than anything else), and are the right size for kids. The sculpts were not the quality of the Super Powers line, but the figures hold up generally better as far as construction and paint (other than the knees), and I would even recommend the Toybiz Marvel Super Heroes if you do not want your 5-year-old getting too rough on your Marvel Legends figures (or if the ML figures are simply too big).