I’ve put a lot of thought into how I’ve structured this series. I was worried, for instance, that three straight weeks of interviews along a similar subject line would feel too repetitive. In the end, though, I went with it, because I wanted to establish the impact of what I’m discussing. It’s easy to point at a line of figures and say, “more of those need to be women.” It’s a simple, casual, and even correct observation. However, it’s also ineffective.
The point of part one was to identify a current practice as it was occurring; that piece published the same day that the Rescue figure was announced. Parts two three, and four were even more important; they establish the impact of that practice. As I said, it’s easy to point at a line, but that pointing doesn’t establish why the change needs to happen. It needs to happen because it affects people. It affects grown women, who look at something like a Play Arts figure or a Bishoujo statue and see, both clearly and immediately, that their desires, their concerns, and their opinions were not considered. This is, arguably, worse than having those desires and opinions dismissed; dismissal at least requires the chance to raise those things first. No, in this situation, those things are not even on the table. It’s as though they’re not worthy of wasting an iota of thought on, and women get to see that on display every time they walk down those store aisles.
A final caveat: Like in the first four parts, I’ll be confining my explorations largely to the 6″ scale Marvel Legends line. While Hasbro has other offerings in many scales with many other franchises, I quite frankly only have the money to spend on one of them. Also, those other lines would only marginally skew the numbers I’m working with here–in many cases, they’re actually worse than Marvel Legends.
Case in point: This small-scale Avengers Vs. Ultron 9-pack went to great lengths to include a large number of characters, but still managed to not include either of the two women featured in the film, despite the fact that the majority of the characters chosen are easily available outside of this pack.
The Widow Parallel
I discussed in part one the way that Rescue was initially planned for retail release in 2013, only to finally be announced again two years later as an incentive bonus. The path of the Black Widow figure is not identical, but it is markedly similar. In 2012, The Avengers hit theaters. Hasbro, smartly, used the film as a springboard to restart the Marvel Legends line. The line had been having some trouble that ran pretty parallel with the overall economic troubles the US had been experiencing. Having licensed figures of a smash hit film was exactly what they needed, and so they released a six figure line: Captain America, Hawkeye, Hulk, Iron Man, Loki, and Thor.
You’ll note a character missing from that roster.
It’s worth noting that, despite the rarity of villains from the MCU getting figures, Loki got precedence over Black Widow (and this despite the fact that her best scene in the film consists of playing him like a fiddle). Going back over the timeline, Black Widow’s first MCU appearance was in 2010’s Iron Man 2, which means that she was a part of the franchise before Captain America, Thor and Hawkeye. Still—no figure.
In fact, Widow wouldn’t get a figure for her appearance in Avengers until—you guessed it—two years later. This figure came out as part of a series tied with Captain America: The Winter Soldier—what would be her third appearance in the franchise. Even then, that figure was primarily a Winter Soldier figure in terms of costume design—it just had an alternate head featuring her haircut from the Avengers film. Her release for Avengers: Age of Ultron, part of the oft-discussed Amazon Box Set: a retooled version of the earlier release. The only differences are a new head, a slightly retooled abdomen, and the left hand.
The new Age of Ultron figure on the left, the previous figure on the right. Green circles indicate changes. Scowls indicate dissatisfaction with flash photography.
For contrast, Hasbro has released a six-inch figure of every single suit of armor that Tony Stark has worn onscreen in the MCU save only two: The Mark 7, which appeared in the climax of Avengers, and the Mark 45, which appeared in the climax of Age of Ultron. The only repaints in that run are the Mark 3 and the Mark 43, which were repaints of the iteration directly before them in the film as well. Captain America has had four figures (one for each film appearance), Hulk four (two from the Avengers movies, one Norton Hulk and one Banner). Black Widow, who changed costumes for each of her four appearances to date, has only had one costume appear in figure form, and furthermore as an afterthought in both appearances.
It’s what makes the #WeWantWidow campaign an even more egregious oversight on Hasbro’s part—they’ve literally already been called out on this exact subject. The reason Widow came with an Avengers-styled head for her Winter Soldier release was because of how glaring her absence was during that earlier film’s marketing. One such oversight might be considered an easy mistake. Two becomes more suspicious.
Of course, even then, it’s only two if you restrict this criteria to Black Widow only. When you look at the merchandising for the MCU as a whole, you’ll note that only three women have had the action figure treatment: Black Widow, S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Maria Hill, and Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy. That means: No Sif, no Jane Foster, no Pepper Potts (her upcoming Rescue figure is not an MCU version, remember), no Agent Carter, no Hope van Dyne, and no Scarlet Witch, despite what is again a very prominent role in Marvel’s biggest movie of the year. Furthermore, of the three that were made, Black Widow and Maria Hill share retooled versions of the same sculpt (the abdomen on the new Black Widow actually first appeared on the Maria Hill figure). While retooling and reuse is a long tradition in toylines, the decision to use the same sculpt a total of three times in a sub-line where there are only four female figures total is…questionable.
At any rate, that’s the parallel I mentioned earlier in the series–two female figures, sidelined and finally slated for release two years after the fact, while their male counterparts received multiple releases in the interim.
Hasbro’s 2015 Track Record
Now, I don’t want to ignore the progress that Hasbro has made in this regard. 2015 has been a banner year for the Marvel Legends line. This year they’ve put out over seventy three figures in the six-inch scale, up from 2014’s thirty-seven. Of those thirty-seven in 2014, only eight were female characters. To their credit, they’ve gone from being able to count their female characters per year on one’s fingers to releasing sixteen this year alone. Sixteen female characters in 2015, double the previous year’s! That’s great!
Until you start crunching the numbers. If you do, you’ll realize that, in this same year, they’ve released fifty seven male characters in the same toy line—more male characters than the entirety of releases for 2014—and that number climbs to sixty if you count interchangeable parts for some of those characters.
A spreadsheet of Hasbro’s Marvel Legends releases for 2015.
That’s a ratio of more than seven-to-two, for those keeping track. For those keeping even more track, you’ll note that seven-to-two ratio applies to both years. That’s where the numbers really stand out: When doubling product for 2015, Hasbro doubled the numbers of male and female characters released almost exactly. Even so, it’s possible to chalk that up to coincidence–which is why I crunched the numbers on Marvel Legends for every year since Hasbro acquired the license. There was one year–2009–where the ratio is the same, and two where the ratios are better (one of those years had no general retail releases). Every other year has been worse. The ratio isn’t accidental. It’s deliberate.
And sure, with a number that high, we’ve gotten a lot of new, obscure characters out of that mix! However, we’ve also gotten:
- Five Hank Pyms
- Four Ant-Mans
- Four Spider-Men
- Four Iron Men
- Three Hulks (or two and one Bruce Banner, if you want to split hairs)
- Three Thors
- Two Captains America
- Two Groots
- Two Hawkeyes
- Two Daredevils
- Two Ultrons
- Two Visions
Again, to contrast: Of the sixteen female characters released in 2015, only three of them qualify (loosely) as duplicates: Spider-Woman, Ultimate Spider-Woman, and Spider-Girl are all separate characters who share similar monikers, as opposed to the list above, where we’re literally looking at duplicates of the same characters over and over. This point is actually good for the sake of female characters! Hasbro is at least releasing different characters, instead of the same couple over and over.
So—female characters are being made at a rate of two for every seven male characters. Not only are the male characters getting a massive precedence in the production rates, but several of those characters are getting multiple figures, when those slots could be budgeted for, say, a Kamala Khan Ms. Marvel, aka Marvel’s breakout hit of the last couple of years.
To highlight the glaring difference we’re talking about, let’s go back to Scarlet Witch. Scarlet Witch debuted alongside her brother in 1964 as an X-Men villain, then from there did a heel/face turn and joined the Avengers in 1965. Like Pepper Potts, this means that Scarlet Witch has been around for quite some time. She and her brother have been around long enough and are popular enough that they’ve appeared in both X-Men: Days of Future Past and Avengers: Age of Ultron despite those movies not sharing continuity. And yet—there is no action figure of Scarlet Witch’s film appearance (for Age of Ultron, she was a small child in Days of Future Past, so we can probably let that one slide). There is an action figure of her as she appears in comic books—sort of. That figure is the first Scarlet Witch figure in the Marvel Legends line in eleven years–and the previous one was from before Hasbro acquired the license.
Again: Five Hank Pyms, one year. Two Scarlet Witches, more than a decade and two different companies. This is what I mean when I say that Hasbro has a problem with women. As much as I’d like to believe that problem is getting better, it’s going to take more than two years of a slightly less dismal ratio in order to convince me.
Next week, I’ll tackle the topic of upcoming figures for 2016, and how these decisions are carrying into the future of the line.