In Meta-Messages, I explore the context behind (using reader danjack’s term) “meta-messages.” A meta-message is where a comic book creator comments on/references the work of another comic book/comic book creator (or sometimes even themselves) in their comic. Each time around, I’ll give you the context behind one such “meta-message.” This time around, we look at how the Secret Wars shields showed up in comic book continuity!
In 1984, Mattel debuted the Secret Wars toy line. As part of their licensing deal with Mattel, Marvel agreed to release a comic book series to tie in with the toy line, which became Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars.
As it turned out, there was very little overlap between Marvel and Mattel, so the toys did not follow the comic book series at all and, as Mattel’s Roger Sweet later recalled, Marvel had little input into the toys, either, noting, “I was quite familiar with the Marvel Comics characters. I had grown up with some of them, and had read about them in the Marvel comics. Marvel provided very little actual support, but would have if Mattel had needed it. My design group and Marketing handled the selection of the Marvel figures to go into the Mattel Marvel line, and the creation of the other product like vehicles and playsets.”
Therefore, when it came time to come up with the gimmick that would go along with every action figure in the toy line, Mattel came up with their own idea without any input with Marvel and it did not tie in with the comics at all. That idea was to have lenticular “secret” shields for every character. The heroes would have round shields and the villains would have square shields and the lenticular aspect of the shields allowed them to show off little battle scenes or sometimes reveal the secret identity of the characters.
Here’s Spider-Man with his shield…
And here, in the famous comic book ad for the action figures (with art by Mike Zeck, who drew the Secret Wars comic book series), we see them explain the basic concept behind the secret shields…
Again, as noted, this was all Mattel and had nothing to do with the Secret Wars comic book series, which was written by Jim Shooter, and naturally did not involve special shields at all.
The Secret Wars toyline was not particularly successful and surely a good number of fans wondered what the heck the point of the shields were in the first place, as obviously only Captain America actually used a shield normally…
So it was really weird. And for the most part, it just entered that weird little recess of your mind where you keep knowledge of abandoned toy lines. And so it would have stayed there, unforgotten, but decades later, Cullen Bunn hilariously decided to poke a little fun at the concept of the Secret Wars shields by actually working them into Marvel official continuity!
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