Superheroes have never been just for kids. Ever since Superman leaped his first building in a single bound, grown-ups have thrilled to the adventures of underwear-clad crime-fighters right along with the younger fans. Originally, being an adult superhero fan wasn’t something you advertised if you didn’t want to be sneered at or pitied by snooty fellow adults. Oh, how things have changed in the past 80 years! Now, fandom is big business. Trying to wade through the near-infinite, ever-increasing number of superhero toys is the work of a lifetime — and more than one eager fan has devoted themselves to the task.
But the more you sort through this mountain of merchandise, the more you realize that a good chunk of the products seem to be more for adults than for children. In some cases, this is due to a grievous design flaw. In others, it is simply because the product was created with a more mature and, theoretically, more responsible consumer in mind. Either way, you definitely don’t want your mom to catch you playing with them. Here are 15 notable examples of superhero toys that are — or should have been–kept far away from the kids’ section of the store.
15. STICK ‘EM UP
Part of the Transformers’ enduring appeal is that they are two toys in one. Whether you feel like playing with robots, cars or even insects, Transformers has got you covered. And if you want to play with toy weaponry? Well, Transformers can help you with that, too. Maybe a little too enthusiastically, as it turns out.
Take this Megatron toy as an example. When not in robot mode, he can transform into a pistol. A life-size, rather convincing-looking pistol. Maybe everyone was cool with kids running around waving guns in the air back in the innocent, halcyon days of the 1980s. But any kid careless enough to play with this outside nowadays? They’re just asking for a jumpy neighbor to call the cops on them.
14. HEY, WHAT’S YOUR NAME?
During its heyday, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe had an extensive action figure line. It featured prominent characters like He-Man and Skeletor, as you would expect. But padding out the collection was a whole slew of other characters that probably made at least a few parents do a double-take.
The toys themselves aren’t so bad. They’re colorful, strange-looking plastic figurines — just what most kids would enjoy. The real problem is the names of the characters these figures represent. These miniature heroes and villains bear such dubiously child-friendly names as Ram-Man, Fisto, Extendor and Tung Lashor, among others. One or two such monikers we could brush off as an accident, but this many? We’re not sure who deserves more flak: the people who came up with those names, or the people who approved them.
13. WHY… JUST WHY
Punisher toys in general aren’t likely to be popular with more sensitive parents. After all, Frank Castle’s main claim to fame is being a brutally violent anti-hero. But this infamous action figure has a special place in our hearts for all the wrong reasons.
As part of Marvel’s Shape Shifter toy line, this Punisher toy was designed to be turned into something else, Transformers style. Predictably, he’s supposed to transform into a gun. Unfortunately, for some inexplicable reason, the manufacturer decided that the best — nay, the ONLY — place to put the gun barrel was where Punisher’s, uh, “gun barrel” should go. Clearly, the Punisher should stick to shooting guns rather than becoming one. Judging by the look on his face, we’d say he is in agreement.
12. WELL, THIS IS UNFORTUNATE
We’re starting to think that gun-shaped superheroes are just a bad idea. Here’s a hilarious little toy that has made an appearance on just about every “inappropriate toys” list on the internet. We assume that we don’t have to spell out why — just look at it. There is not a single aspect of this water pistol that was not utterly botched. The trigger, the reservoir cap, the look on poor Batman’s face… the entire product is stupefying in how poorly thought out it is.
How is such a thing allowed to exist, you ask? We don’t know, but one thing’s for sure: this isn’t going to help Batman’s hatred of guns any. We like to imagine that Robin has one and trolls Batman with it whenever the Dark Knight pushes him too hard during training.
11. SKY DANCERS, TAKE TWO
The Sky Dancers skyrocketed to fame in the mid-’90s. The toy was simple to use, in theory. You pull the string in the base, and the doll goes spiraling up into the air. The Sky Dancers even starred in a cheap and short-lived cartoon series, but their popularity didn’t last long. The manufacturer was forced to recall them after a slew of reported injuries, up to and including chipped teeth and concussions. Yikes.
But the Sky Dancers are back, after a fashion. They now go by the name Flying Heroes and take the form of all your favorite superheroes, even those who can’t actually fly, like Spider-Man and Batman. If you’re a kid who wants one of these for their birthday, you better hope your parents weren’t in Sky Dancers’ target demographic.
10. PLEASE CALL AN AMBULANCE
How would you go about designing an action figure of a character with an alter ego? You could always create two different toys, one for each identity, to milk more money out of the fans. Or you could make the head removable and include one head for each identity. The point is, there are plenty of ways the designers of this Ghost Rider figure could have depicted both Ghost Rider and his human identity, if that’s what they wanted to do.
Instead, they chose to terrorize their young customers with Option C: depict him mid-transition. Instead of showing a guy with a flaming skull for a head, or even a regular-looking person in a leather jacket, you get to see a man suffering burns so severe that half his nose is gone. Well, that’s much better!
9. THE DOCTOR WILL SEE YOU NOW
Operation is a classic, but its premise is kind of disturbing if you think about it. An insufficiently anesthetized man lies on a table and stares up at you in alarm as you, a surgeon who in no way deserves their medical license, removes his funniest-sounding body parts all willy-nilly. But if you really want to make people side-eye you at parties, why not whip out this special Spider-Man version of the game?
If the cover is any indication, the players take the role of Doctor Octopus, who is clearly about to do something horrible to a woozy, unwilling Spider-Man. We guess that means the winner is whoever successfully maims Spider-Man the most. Or maybe Spider-Man is there of his own free will. Maybe he has no health insurance and Doc Ock is his only option for medical care. Either way, a pretty grim premise for a kids’ game.
8. HELLO, BOYS
If you look through enough figures depicting female heroes, you should start to notice a pattern. Specifically, every single one of them is designed with sexiness rather than butt-kicking in mind. The Pfeiffer-inspired Catwoman toy pictured above is probably one of the more kid-friendly models. Sure, she’s wearing a corset and ripped, skin-tight latex, but on the bright side, she’s standing normally rather than striking a pose that accentuates the parts that male fans are allegedly most interested in.
Fortunately, toy lines like Super Hero Girls now provide kids with a more diverse, less provocative way to interact with their favorite female characters. The figures designed for adult collectors may be pretty, but the kids’ toys seem more in line with the spirit of the characters.
7. MAYBE STICK TO GO FISH
Unlike most of the items on this list, “Almost Got ‘Im” isn’t unsuitable for kids because it’s dangerous or inadvertently sexual. It’s because your kids will probably get confused and bored within minutes. The packaging may make it look like a kids’ game — it is clearly based on the classic cartoon Batman: The Animated Series — but a look at the instructions reveals that it is essentially a Bat-themed poker set. Accordingly, it is listed as appropriate for fans ages 15 and up.
In other words, unless you plan on teaching your junior superhero the fine art of gambling their allowance away, which you’d probably regret the next time you ask them whether or not they’ve cleaned their room, this is a game you should save for your grown-up friends. Not that your kid is likely to ask to play this. No kid plays card games anymore anyway.
6. THE WONDERS OF SUPER-SCIENCE
Superman has ever been a symbol of safety and wholesomeness. So parents must have been reassured when Superman appeared in the instruction manual of Gilbert Chemistry Sets. Back in the mid-20th century, chemistry sets were one of the most popular toys around. Gilbert marketed them as a stepping stone to a successful scientific career.
And they didn’t contain imitation chemicals, either. These were actual chemistry sets with actual chemicals that could result in actual explosions if the kids did what kids do best and a) got distracted, or b) tried to “improve” upon the directions for a more interesting outcome. The only difference is that most toys don’t explode if you play with them wrong. Then again, if you’re playing with a chemistry set, you’re probably a ’50s kid whose mother smokes unfiltered cigarettes while preparing your margarine-smothered lunch. You’ve got bigger problems.
5. THERE’S ALWAYS TOMORROW (MAYBE)
Labeling Batman: Dark Tomorrow as “not for kids” is insufficient. It’s more “not for humans who wish to preserve their mental health.” Released in 2003, players panned this game for various reasons, including the ending. Batman’s goal throughout the game is to prevent Ra’s al Ghul from blowing up, well, basically everyone. One would think that finding al Ghul before he can hit the detonator would accomplish that goal, right?
The game certainly lets you think that. They let you get all the way to the final confrontation before revealing, oh by the way, you should have deactivated the bombs first. Too late now, though! Ra’s al Ghul has killed everyone, and Batman too. Any kid unlucky enough to play this game is probably still telling tales of the frustration and trauma it inflicted on them.
4. A LITTLE TOO REALISTIC
This particular replica of Captain America’s famous shield is an impressive two feet in diameter. That’s far too large to be comfortably wielded by most crimefighters-in-training. You might as well let them play with a garbage can lid. It would be cheaper and would probably cause the same amount of damage when your kid inevitably tries and fails to throw it the way they saw Cap do it on TV.
But let’s not be too hard on this product. It is a very nice-looking shield, after all. But there are plenty of other Captain America shields on the market. So if your kid plans on dressing up as the Star-Spangled Man with a Plan, maybe get them the kiddie plastic frisbee version and keep the full-scale version for yourself.
3. A LITTLE TOO VILLAINOUS
Like every other superhero show, Jessica Jones spawned several toy sets. But the show deals with some very adult subject matter, so the toys should probably be restricted to adults’ collections as well. he Minimates cast set, for example, features the heroes Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Trish Walker, and the villain Kilgrave. For those unfamiliar with Jessica Jones, Kilgrave isn’t just another megalomaniac out to conquer the world. He mind controls Jessica into sleeping with him and then proceeds to further screw up her life in an attempt to prove how much he loves her.
Who doesn’t want their child playing with a Minimate version of a guy whose villainous plot revolves around assaulting and stalking women? We suggest you keep this toy on a high shelf and hope your kid doesn’t ask about it.
2. HOLY CLOSE-UP!
In the ’60s, no superhero was bigger than Batman. So, naturally, a whole slew of Bat-toys flooded the market, including a set of trading cards. On the front of each card is a production still or publicity shot from the 1966 feature film. On the back is a cringeworthy Bat-pun and a piece of a picture of one of the main characters. It was something like a jigsaw puzzle. Collect enough cards, and you can put together a nice big picture of Batman, Robin or one of the villains.
Unfortunately, this set-up led to one or two let’s-just-say-regrettable shots, including this one that prominently features Batman’s shiny blue shorts. We’re sure many a ’60s child giggled over this card, showed it to their friends to share the laughter, and then hid it someplace where mom would never, ever find it.
1. RIGHT TO THE POINT
Say your kid is a Wolverine fan. The good news is that Wolverine is one of Marvel’s most popular characters, so you’ll have no trouble finding toys and games featuring their favorite mutant. The bad news is that the coolest of these toys often involve multiple pointy parts. The best and/or worst of the lot is probably these replica Wolverine claws, which are made of actual stainless steel.
This should go without saying, but anything you can successfully cut meat with should not be anywhere near your kid’s toy box. While we’re on the subject, even though these claws are definitely designed for adults, fans of every age should exercise caution when using them. One wrong move and you’re liable to snikt yourself into the emergency room.
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