If you’re a geek who grew up in the 1990s, chances are you have fond memories of superhero toys. They’ve been around since the first wooden Superman action figure in 1940, and they’ve only grown more popular over the decades. Yet the 1990s were a revolution for superhero toys. For one thing, adult collectors became a force in the toy industry, so action figures became more detailed and articulated. New technology like holograms and voice recognition also made cooler toys. The rise of independent comics also meant figures from other companies besides DC and Marvel could be produced. It was a great time to be a kid.
For all the awesome toys on the shelves in the 1990s, not all of them turned out so hot. In fact, a lot of them were downright lame, and we’ll be going over 20 of them. We’re going to be talking about really ugly figures no one wanted to be seen with. Other figures just didn’t make sense for the character, and others were a little too close to the original character who was lame to begin with. Now, get ready for CBR’s countdown of the most forgotten and unloved superhero toys of the decade.
20. X-MEN’S PROFESSOR X
As the founder of the X-Men, Professor Charles Xavier is an important figure in the team. He’s not only a brilliant strategist but also the most powerful psychic in the world who’s capable of controlling and reading minds, moving objects and generally being awesome. Professor X has been a part of every comic book, TV show, and movie starring the X-Men, and it’s hard to imagine the group without him. With all that said, you’d think that any lover of the X-Men would want a Professor X action figure, but you’d be wrong.
That’s because there’s very little “action” in a Professor X action figure since he spends most of his time rolling or floating around in a wheelchair. No shooting lasers or karate chopping supervillains for this superhero. 1993’s Uncanny X-Men Professor X action figure is a perfect example. It came with a figure in a floating chair that you can’t even take him out of. You can hold his action figure and pretend he’s reading minds or moving objects with telekinesis, but you don’t really need an action figure for that. No 1990s kid was screaming, “Yes, I finally got my Professor X figure! Now I can sit him on the sidelines to watch while I make the real X-Men fight!”
19. STREET GUARDIAN SUPERMAN
Since his first appearance in 1938’s Action Comics #1 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Superman has been one of the most popular superheroes in comic books. He has a huge assortment of powers added over time like flight, strength and heat vision. His immortality and power has made him almost a god. What is it that people love about Superman? His strength? His power? His morality? His ability to walk around the streets in a leather jacket? Wait, what? That’s what we got with 1995’s Street Guardian Superman.
It’s not really clear why Superman would need a special outfit to go out on the streets of Metropolis, but this fit the bill.
The toymakers decided to replace his blue tights and red underwear with black pants. They also got rid of his iconic cape and replaced it with a trench coat because there’s nothing more 1990s than a superhero wearing a trench coat. If you think this might be something that ’90s kids could work with, consider that he didn’t come with a steel beam he could bend or a brick wall to smash through. Street Guardian Superman came with a “swinging battle chain” and “armored shield,” things that a superstrong and invulnerable hero definitely doesn’t need.
18. X-MEN’S BONEBREAKER
Wolverine makes a lot of enemies, and one of the worst was Donald Pierce, a powerful member of the Hellfire Club. Pierce had dedicated his life to destroying the X-Men and Wolverine in particular. In 1988, Uncanny X-Men #229 (by Chris Claremont and Marc Silvestri) introduced one of his most vicious schemes where he turned himself and four of Wolverine’s other enemies into the cybernetically enhanced assassins, the Reavers. The Reavers were led by Bonebreaker who had tractor treads below the waist instead of legs. In the comics, he was a fearsome and ruthless enemy who was rebuilt many times when the X-Men would beat him, letting him come back for more.
As one of the greatest villains of the X-Men, it seems natural for Bonebreaker to get an action figure. The problem came in 1994 when it came time to bring him to life as a toy. All the nuance of the character was gone, replaced by a legless figure who had a small tank that his torso would attach to. That seems kind of cool but if you took the bottom half off, you just had half of a toy with a gun lying on the floor. That’s more sad than terrifying. Plus, his 1980s-style mohawk didn’t exactly resonate with ’90s kids.
17. THE SPAWN MOBILE
Spawn is a brutal anti-hero created by Todd McFarlane in 1992’s Spawn #1. Starring a former assassin who was killed and brought back to life as a deformed creature with mystical powers, the comic book was a smash hit and catapulted Spawn to the heights of fame in the industry. He went on to star in a major motion picture in 1997, his own animated series, several spin-offs and video games. Of course, like any superhero worth his salt, he also got his own line of toys. His detailed action figures became major collector’s items and that’s where things kind of went wrong.
The Spawn Mobile was a cool-looking car, but it just didn’t fit the character.
In the comics, Spawn gets around mostly using his powers of teleportation and his own two feet. That’s why the Spawn Mobile in 1994 wasn’t too great. It just didn’t make sense for Spawn to be cruising around in it, especially since he never used a car in the comics. The fact that the car was also mostly painted white when Spawn is known for having a black suit didn’t help. Sure, maybe some 1990s kids would like this if they knew nothing about the character, but real fans stayed far, far away from this roadster.
16. DICK TRACY’S STEVE THE TRAMP
In 1990, the comic strip Dick Tracy was brought to life on the big screen. Played by Warren Beatty, Dick Tracy was a tough-but-honest detective fighting against organized crime in a big city. Known for bizarre and colorful villains like Nazi war criminal Pruneface and assassin Flattop, the movie adaptation was a showcase for cool makeup. It was also a flop. Yet there was a time when all of Hollywood thought 1990’s Dick Tracy movie would lead to a Batman-style merchandising craze for the classic comic strip detective. so waves of action figures were produced whether kids wanted them or not.
That’s where Steve the Tramp came in. Having only a brief scene in the movie as a bum who abused the Kid, kids weren’t exactly running to bring him home. His action figure’s only claim to fame was that it smelled awful, which is interesting because the movie never said anything about Steve the Tramp smelling bad. But it played into the idea that homeless people stink. Not only did 1990s kids not want an action figure stinking up their toy box, but parents and homeless advocacy groups protested the idea of a stinky homeless figure and it was pulled from shelves.
15. X-MEN’S TREVOR FITZROY
With a name like Trevor Fitzroy, you’re probably destined to be a villain. First appearing in 1991 with Uncanny X-Men #281 (by John Byrne, Jim Lee and Whilce Portacio), Fitzroy started out as a hero in an alternate future where the giant robot Sentinels had taken over humanity to wipe out mutants once and for all. Fitzroy joined the Academy for Xavier’s Security Enforcers but betrayed the team and turned to evil. With his power to open portals through space and time, he traveled to the present and became an enemy of Bishop and the X-Men.
Fitzroy is a great character but his 1994 action figure wasn’t a big seller to ’90s kids.
Part of the problem is that Fitzroy was almost unknown except to hardcore comic fans. He made a brief appearance on X-Men: The Animated Series, but not enough to build up demand. The other problem is that making time portals is hard to capture in toy form, so he just came with “crystal battle armor,” also known as “blocky plastic to put on his head and shoulders.” Other than that and his lime green goatee, his action figure didn’t look that special. When kids looked at a shelf with Wolverine, Magneto and Cyclops, Trevor Fitzroy was left to gather dust.
14. MAGNETO’S MAGNETRON VEHICLE
If there’s one thing toy manufacturers love, it’s vehicles. That’s because no one buys vehicles without an action figure to put in them, so every vehicle sale is an action figure sale, too. Toymakers also figure that when you’ve already bought all the action figures, you’ll want them to have vehicles to ride around in. It all adds up which is why the companies try to pair every action figure with a vehicle, even when it doesn’t make sense.
A perfect example of that is Magneto’s Magnetron Vehicle. Released in 1994, it was (as you probably guessed) made for Magneto to ride in. It does that job but not much else. First of all, Magneto doesn’t have his own vehicle in the comics. He usually travels around by flying on magnetic fields and crushing any cars that come near him so transportation isn’t a problem. Second, even if he did have a vehicle, it probably wouldn’t be this three-wheeled scooter that’s not as majestic as the ruler of the Brotherhood demanded. Kids of the ’90s who got a Magneto action figure would probably get the Magnetron along with it if their parents didn’t know better, but they weren’t running to stores to snap these up.
13. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES’ BURNE THOMPSON
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles exploded onto the pop culture scene in the late ’80s and have stayed popular with kids ever since. Not only are the Turtles themselves cool, but their army of villains have made toy companies a lot of money. Shredder, Krang, Rocksteady and Bebop have been pressed into plastic molds by the thousands, and kids continue to gobble them all up. Many villains came from the comics but one of the least popular villains came from the 1987 TV series: Burne Thompson, reporter April O’Neil’s boss.
Burne was TMNT’s answer to Spider-Man’s J. Jonah Jameson, a foil who irrationally hates the heroes.
With the TMNT toys being what they are, Burne got an action figure, and it should be obvious by now that those figures bombed, but let’s spell it out. No one – we repeat – absolutely no one was lying in bed at night, wishing on a star to get a Burne Thompson action figure. He didn’t even come with anything to fight with; he had a donut, typewriter and megaphone. The most a kid could do would be to stand Burne in a corner and have him tell April to go out and find the Turtles so the real adventure could begin.
12. FANTASTIC FOUR’S INVISIBLE WOMAN
The Invisible Woman started out as a founding member of the Fantastic Four and has remained a member through most of the group’s history. When she was first created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, her only power was to turn herself invisible. That didn’t make her very useful in combat so her powers expanded to turning other objects invisible and creating force fields of different shapes and sizes. That turned her into one of the most powerful superheroes in the Marvel Universe.
Unfortunately, when it comes to toys, the Invisible Woman is still left out in the cold. Most of her action figures focus on the “invisible” part of her powers, and her action figure from 1995 is a perfect example. That’s because the figure is completely transparent. The Invisible Woman’s power is to turn invisible and back again, but this version leaves her invisible all the time. Kids would have a hard time playing with an invisible figure, since she couldn’t be seen or interact with any of the others unless they imagined her being visible. And if you’re going to imagine her visible, why not imagine her invisible and color her in? Let’s face it; the toy company probably just wanted to save on paint.
11. BAT SIGNAL JET
In Batman’s arsenal, there’s a handful of tools that have become the most famous. There’s the Batarang and the Batmobile, of course, but the Bat Signal is one of his most important. When Gotham City is in danger, the police go straight to the roof of the station and turn on the Bat Signal to shine the hero’s symbol into the clouds.
While fans love the Bat Signal, one toy took it too far and turned the symbol itself into another Bat-vehicle.
In 1993, Kenner created a toy vehicle called the Bat Signal Jet. It was really what it said on the box, a version of Batman’s Batplane with a nose that could project the bat symbol. Well, let’s be honest. This “vehicle” was basically a flashlight with a seat on it. While it was cool to run around, shining the light on the walls and ceiling, the fun didn’t last long because it’s hard to imagine Batman wanting to fly around, shooting the Bat Signal out in front of him. That made it kind of a lame gimmick, and 1990s kids weren’t having it. They’d much rather have a cool Batplane or Batcopter that could shoot something useful like missiles and Batarangs.
10. SHAPESHIFTER PUNISHER
The Punisher is the perfect antihero in the Marvel Universe, a former veteran whose family was killed in a mob shootout. Dedicated to keeping that from happening to anyone else, he doesn’t bother to put bad guys in jail, he just mows them down with machine guns. He’s tough, hardcore and doesn’t crack jokes or use goofy gimmicks to get the job done. Unfortunately, nobody told Toy Biz that when they created the Marvel Deluxe Shapeshifters Punisher action figure in 1999.
The Shapeshifters action figures were pretty much Transformers versions of superheroes. On paper, the Punisher version works because he turns into a gun, but there are two reasons this figure went from being a hotly-anticipated toy to the laughing stock of the Internet almost immediately. The first is that the idea of the Punisher being something as silly as a Transformer kind of takes away from his coolness. The other is that before his transformation, the Punisher’s barrel was designed to fold out of his crotch. After his transformation, the barrel folded out of the back of his legs, looking exactly like it came out of his butt. Either way, this action figure was something kids would want to hide instead of play with.
9. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES’ BANDITO BASHIN’ MIKE
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles started life as a comic book in 1984 created by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman and took off as a TV series in 1987. The story of four turtles who learn martial arts to fight evil ninjas has an appeal that’s lasted for decades and crossed over into the toy realm. As early as 1985 when they had their first role-playing game, the Turtles became a media juggernaut. From the first line of action figures, kids and adults couldn’t get enough of the Heroes in a Half-Shell and their toyetic designs.
To satisfy the demand for more TMNT action figures, the toy companies started making the wildest toys imaginable.
However, Bandito Bashin’ Mike crossed the line for some 1990s kids. It was part of a Wild West-themed collection of the heroes and featured Michelangelo wearing an incredibly stereotypical Mexican outfit, complete with sombrero, handlebar mustache and a mini-figure of Thorny the Cactus. The sheer racism of the figure meant that some parents left it on the shelf, and kids didn’t know what to make of this version of their favorite character. Let’s not even talk about the Native American Leonardo.
8. X-MEN’S BANSHEE
The mutant Banshee is one of the superheroes introduced into the X-Men to add more of an international feel to the team. Originally a villain who first appeared in X-Men #28 by Roy Thomas and Werner Roth in 1967, Banshee joined the team in Giant-Size X-Men #1. As a mutant with a powerful voice that could create sound waves that stunned enemies and let him fly, Banshee is also a loyal and determined member who’s defied the odds countless times. He’s one of the most popular X-Men, so an action figure seemed inevitable.
The toy company obviously had a problem with his powers, though. How could an action figure simulate his sonic ability? The answer they settled on in 1992 was to put a whistle into the figure’s chest to blow into and make a blast of sound, which wasn’t quite the same. Even if a 1990s kid liked that part of the figure, they could never share the figure with anyone else who might want to blow the whistle too. Or maybe they would spread their spit all over the inside, and turn this action figure into the perfect carrier for diseases. Just what every kid and parent wanted from their toys, right?
7. SHARK TRAP SPIDER-MAN
When most people think of Spider-Man, they think of the city. New York City is part of Spider-Man’s legacy and seeing him swinging from skyscrapers in the Big Apple is an iconic image that’s used in all his movies, TV shows, and (yes) toys. He fights bank robbers, purse snatchers and the occasional alligator-monster living in the city sewers.
His ties to the city are one reason why 1997’s Shark Trap Spider-Man fell flat.
Shark Trap Spider-Man was part of a new wave of toys where (for some reason) ToyBiz decided that Spider-Man needed a water-themed collection and introduced the Web Splashers line of Spider-Man toys. There were Spider-Man toys that came with water guns and an inflatable raft, but Shark Trap Spider-Man took the cake. This action figure turned Spider-Man into a clone of Aquaman with a green semi-transparent, armored green suit and a trident. The figure’s real hook was that it came with an inflatable shark trap for all those pesky sharks he kept running into. It’s hard to imagine why a city-kid like Spider-Man would need to fight a shark in the first place, but he was prepared if it happened. Unfortunately, kids didn’t take to the idea of a waterlogged spider.
6. X-FORCE’S QUARK
We’re going to be talking about Quark, and this is going to be a tough one, because both the character and the action figure are pretty cool, but there’s a reason this didn’t catch on in the 1990s. Quark is a character who first appeared in 1985’s Longshot #1 by Ann Nocenti and Arthur Adams. He’s from the Mojoverse, a dimension ruled by the sadistic gamemaster named Mojo, who forces people into gladiatorial games for the amusement of his people. Quark is a former slave who once fought for Mojo but turned against the ruthless villain. His unique ram-like appearance and power to create good luck made him a useful and loyal ally of Longshot.
Unfortunately, some of that was probably lost on most kids in 1994 when Quark was given his own action figure. If you didn’t know the character’s history, you’d think he was just a big muscley guy with guns and a sheep’s head. He made an appearance on X-Men: The Animated Series, but not enough to cause a wave of popularity among ’90s kids. This was the only figure Quark has gotten so far, but we can hope a new version will come out soon so we can appreciate it.
5. INFRARED BATMAN
If there’s one thing Batman is known for, it’s his huge collection of gadgets and alternate suits. Batman has the same motto as the Boy Scouts: always be prepared. Whether it’s an armored suit for fighting heavily armed enemies or a heated suit for fighting Mister Freeze, Batman can plausibly produce a suit for every occasion. Toymakers love Batman’s numerous costumes because they can make Batman action figures wearing any crazy or weird costume they can imagine, and it kind of fits. One suit, though, didn’t pass that test.
In 1993, Kenner released its Infrared Batman action figure for its Batman: The Animated Series toyline.
Let’s say upfront that he never wore the suit on the show, but it’s hard to believe he would wear it anywhere else. The main feature of the suit was an orange plastic helmet that he wore on his back and flipped over onto his face. That part was the “infrared” in the name, but the helmet also had a disk shooter mounted on top of it. It’s hard to imagine Batman thinking the best way to fight crime is to shoot huge red disks at people. It also made Batman look pretty silly, not like the cool crimefighter that ’90s kids knew and loved.
4. SLALOM STRIKE BATMAN
If there’s one word that dominated marketing in the 1990s, it was the word “extreme.” Music turned extreme, clothes turned extreme, comics turned extreme and sports turned extreme. Technically, extreme sports were sports that considered more dangerous than others, and they really took off in the 1990s with the X Games. Yeah, the “X” stands for “extreme,” dude. Skateboarding, snowboarding, freestyle BMX and other sports became cool, and everyone who wanted to be cool started doing them. Of course, that spread to comic books with skateboarding superheroes like Night Thrasher. Batman wasn’t spared from the extreme sports trend, either.
In 1998, Kenner released Slalom Racer Batman as part of its Mission Masters series from The New Batman Adventures. That’s just a cooler way of saying “Skiing Batman.” This figure put Batman in a white suit on skis which isn’t a totally dumb idea. It was obviously made to exploit the extreme sports fad of the 1990s, but it didn’t exactly fit the image of the cool, dark hero. If you ever wanted to see Batman shred the slopes, this was your time. To fit the theme, the figure should have come with a little can of Mountain Dew. Then again, it makes more sense than Batman airboarding in Batman and Robin.
3. X-FORCE’S KANE
Created by Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld in 1991 X-Force #2, Garrison Kane was once a human mercenary who worked with Cable until he was injured and given cybernetic arms and legs by Weapon X. The arms could change shape and he could shoot off his hands to control them separately. They also gave him increased strength and speed. He’s a powerful guy and also a cool character.
In the 1990s, Kane got his own action figure. but it didn’t take off like it should have.
Let’s be clear that there was absolutely nothing lame about the 1992 figure itself. It pretty much looked exactly like Kane and came with a “snap back living hand” that he could shoot off, just like he did in the comics. The problem is that almost no kids in the 1990s would have any idea who this action figure was. In fact, most people today would have no idea who Kane is. Unless you read the comics, the only time you saw Kane was in a brief cameo in an episode of X-Men: The Animated Series. That’s why unwrapping a box and finding Kane inside it would have triggered confusion in most 1990s kids instead of excitement.
2. MONSTER SPIDER-MAN
In the comics, Spider-Man has gone through some rough transformations. He’s grown extra arms in the Six-Arms Saga. He’s grown fangs and stingers in the crossover, “The Other.”. He was even exposed to the Lizard’s formula and turned into a Spider-lizard-man. It seems like Peter Parker has gone through some awful body horror, but those were all child’s play compared to what was done to him in the toy realm.
In 1997, Toy Biz introduced the Web Trap Monster Spider-Man action figure for Spider-Man: The Animated Series. It had four arms, but not all of them ended in hands. It had four legs with one human foot, and one clawed foot. The head had multiple eyes and mandibles. If this had been any other superhero action figure aimed at the adult market, this figure would have been pretty cool, especially with the amount of detail and horrific elements. But this was the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man getting mutated, and this figure would be more likely to trigger nightmares in little kids than fun. There’s also the fact that, if it wasn’t for the red and blue color scheme and the name Spider-Man on the box, this figure looks nothing like him.
1. FAMOUS COVERS’ AUNT MAY
Without question, Aunt May is one of the few good things in Spider-Man’s life. She raised him after the loss of his parents, cared for him through his teenage years and still gives him advice when he has problems. In terms of his story, she serves as a source of dramatic tension when something happens to expose his secret identity or supervillains threaten her life. She’s a big part of Spider-Man’s world, which is why it probably made sense to make an Aunt May action figure. But it was a bad idea.
This Aunt May figure was strictly for keeping in the box and putting on display.
In 1997, Toy Biz created a mail-order Aunt May figure for its Famous Cover series based on the cover for The Amazing Spider-Man #115 where she tried to protect Doctor Octopus from Spider-Man by threatening him with a gun. The figure had an outfit made of real cloth so it wasn’t flimsy or cheap. The problem was that it came with an oversized head and hands, and elongated arms. It’s hard to imagine any kid in the 1990s who would want to spend time playing with an action figure of Aunt May, especially one with a long, toothy face.
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