Collectors of the “Little Men” tend to fall into one of two camps: devout followers of a favorite character OR they like ’em ALL: every character, every costume variation, every. last.one.
This is a challenge for toy companies who have to balance loud fan requests with demand for popular major characters. Of them all, the MARVEL UNIVERSE line has come the closest to unleashing a ton of a … Marvel Universe worth of head-scratching, how-did-they-remember-THIS-dude? characters in 4″ of plastic.
In the late 1930s, MARVEL comics started out as TIMELY comics, and featured three big claims to comic book fame: a life-like human android that could burst into flame, a half-human/ half-undersea Prince who liked to punch Nazis and flood Manhattan, and a Super Soldier who carried a shield that looked just like a copyright infringement. And so, the Human Torch, Namor the Submariner, and Captain America were born to stardom. Timely had lots of other brightly colored characters, but these three were their big guns. Indeed, only Cap and Namor lasted long enough to be published by MARVEL comics in the Sixties, although another character was created as a newer version of a Human Torch, the android showed up eventually.
As comics were targeted to “gasp” children in the Forties, both Cap and the Torch were given boy sidekicks. Namor, wisely, hung out with chicks. I think it was the speedo.
TIMELY never saw reason to frequently team up their powerhouse publications. There were a few issues where the Torch and Namor beat the crap out of each other, probably because the “fire and water” cliche was SO obvious they figured it was worth a shot. Towards the end of WWII, they published a compilation book called the ALL-WINNERS SQUAD which featured two stories where these guys all got together, along with a patriotic super lady named Miss America and a super fast guy named The Whizzer. It never happened again and I think we can all blame The Whizzer for that.
Flash-foward 30+ years and MARVEL writer Roy Thomas dabbles with his childhood love affair of TIMELY comics to write WWII-era team stories of the All-Winners. Wisely, Roy replaces patriotic Miss America with patriotic Union Jack, super awkward The Whizzer with super-less awkward Spitfire, and renames the team THE INVADERS. It’s a great comic book because it has artist Frank Robbins drawing Nazi Vampires getting the tar knocked out of them by the best characters in comics. As well as Union Jack and Spitfire.
Toy-dom vaguely recalls THE INVADERS and the MARVEL UNIVERSE line has made “WWII Captain America” (with a look that lasted one comic book, because of copyright concerns with the triangular shield being too similar to another character), “WWII Bucky”, and Union Jack. In 2009, a limited edition (read: EXPEN$IVE) boxed set was released with Cap, Torch, and Namor. My fast-working hands did a cheaper job those guys and added Toro, the Torch’s sidekick, and Spitfire, for good measure.
The MARVEL UNIVERSE line is fun because they don’t take up a ton of space on the bookshelf and are the lowest cost/ most diverse character figure line out there. When Bill announced that he wanted to start a collection, I thought this would make a fun addition as a Christmas gift…
…only to not be able to find the damn things for nearly three months!!!
So, with all apologies, here they (finally) are: I hope you enjoy them!!!