I’m currently in the process of redoing my toy room. A fresh coat of paint, a new floor, some more Cap-themed décor- it’s coming along nicely. But as I’m starting to put my toys back onto their shelves (and thus moving things out of the living room and giving my wife less reason to kill me in my sleep) I’m starting to realize a mind-boggling fact- toy companies are making it really tough for little kids to be Captain America fans.
Don’t get me wrong- I absolutely love this age we’re living in right now. It’s a great time to be a fan of the Star Spangled Avenger. You can’t walk into a Walmart or Target without seeing Cap’s face plastered on a sign, a card, or even on a box of cereal. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has helped usher in a whole new excitement behind one of comic books’ greatest characters, and I want for very little now. Ten years ago I was struggling to find even a Cap T-shirt, but today I rolled out my Captain America area rug, took a sip out of my Cap coffee mug, and sat back and though, “Man, this is a Golden Age.”
Yet with all the great merchandise coming out, I can’t help but feel like little kids are getting the shaft. You see, while they can buy a Captain America action figure in pretty much any store in creation, they have nothing for that Steve Rogers toy to do. Toy companies see him as just a small piece of the Avengers pie, meaning that very little time is devoted to Cap himself.
Growing up I was a Spider-Man fan. He was just everywhere, and our options back then were really either Spider-Man or the X-Men (unless you wanted to go DC). There wasn’t a lot of media presence for Marvel at the time, but there were always Spider-Man toys on the shelves, and I was 6, so it seemed like a perfect fit. Flash forward to 25 years later and Spider-Man is still dominating toy aisles.
Ol’ Webhead has a bevy of variations released throughout multiple lines. You can get regular Spidey, Ben Reilly version, Scarlet Spider, Black Costume, Spider-Armor, Iron-Spider, Scuba-Spidey…the list just keeps going. In addition to his many iterations you can also get a plethora of Spider-Man villains for him to fight, because, well, if you have a Spider-Man in his Spider-Buggy driving through the Spider-lair, he’s going to need a super villain to be chasing after, right?
When I was growing up, one of my favorite things about Spider-Man was that every now and then my parents would get me a new bad guy for Peter to beat on. Doc Ock was usually my go-to lead baddie, but it was always so exciting to shake things up and have Rhino break out of jail, or Electro rob a bank. And yeah, Spidey occasionally fought Magneto or Sabertooth, but there was always a special joy that came from recreating a scene I had read in a comic or seen on a cartoon. And when I wanted to go a little wacky I could always throw “Stealth Mission” Spider-Man into his missile launching Web-copter and go for a joy ride. But when things came to Cap…well he always kinda just showed up on occasion to help that little Parker kid out, since he usually never had his own bad guys to fight, or his own vehicles to drive.
That brings us to the crux of my issue. Captain America has 75 years worth of great supporting characters that kids could be playing with right now, and most of them would make awesome toys, so why don’t companies like Hasbro try to garner more interest in them? Everyone uses the argument “Well, Cap fight Nazis, and I doubt K-Mart wants a Nazi on a toy shelf.”, which is very true, but we currently live in a time when Cap no longer fights Nazis. Thanks to the movies he fights Red Skull and his evil HYDRA organization. Not a swastika to be seen. The die-hard Cap fan in me cringes a little when I say this, but I think, from a marketing standpoint, that this was a brilliant play. It should have opened up the door for a 4 year old to have a Red Skull Playskool toy, but I still don’t see any around. Now why is that?
And let’s talk about the variants and vehicles here, because I feel like it’s another place where toy companies just keep missing opportunities. Cap has over a dozen different comic looks, and plenty of room for “out-there” variants, I don’t know why no one is taking advantage of it. What I wouldn’t give to see kids outside today playing in their yards with Artic Mission Cap, driving his red, white and blue snow buggy to catch the villainous Batroc. Again I have to ask- why are toy companies afraid to use Cap the same way they do Iron Man or Spider-Man?
Now keep in mind that this argument is not solely held for Cap’s sake. Hulk, Thor, and Antman all seem to share this issue. They are all just “Iron Man’s backup”. It’s a little upsetting that my kids will never be able to play with “Anti-Venom Armor Captain America” while taking on the Serpent Society, or have Space Thor stopping Loki from stealing the Asgardian Shuttle.
Even jumping beyond little kids, we have Hasbro’s ever-growing Marvel Legends line, which, while finally bringing in some more obscure characters, still leaves a lot to be desired. In this newly released “Captain America Classics” wave, we get a new Cap, Agent 13, two Cap villains (Cottonmouth and Scourge), one Iron Man villain (Whirlwind), one Avengers villain (Taskmaster), and one Avengers B-lister (Mockingbird). For a “Cap-themed” wave, we only really get about half the wave being Cap characters. Yet look at the Spider-Man Legends released at the same time. One Spidey variant, one Spidey…uh…supporting character? (Spider-Gwen) and 5 Spidey villains (Venom, Speed Demon, Beetle, Mad Jack, and Morbius). Now THAT is a themed wave.
At the end of the day I just feel the need to ask again- Why do toy companies make it difficult to be a Cap fan? Right now the only thing a four-year old can do is buy a basic Captain America and either have him help the Avengers or fight the Avengers. Though I suppose the latter is good prep for Civil War.
What do you guys think? Am I completely off here? Let me know.