Variant Covers, Lenticular Shields, and Not-So-Secret Wars.

Marvel has been doing "action figure" variants....I felt left out.

Marvel has been doing “action figure” variants….I felt left out.

Although I do have the entire series of “Secret Wars” (although I had to go backward to get some of it) and Secret Wars II”, I never had any of the action figures. I still don’t, and resist the siren call of eBay. The packaging was cool, the weird lenticular shields they were packaged with was cool…sigh.

I love the fact that Marvel right now is referencing the coolness of all of that, with variant covers about that coolness, while simultaneously changing everything about their continuity and product line. It is an incredible move of full on chutzpah, that you have to respect, if not enjoy. Heck…I got one of the variants to use as a reference for the art above…which I ran through a four color process filter to get some visual separation from the Marvel Covers. I didn’t want to just clone.

In an interesting side effect of the process, which was not unlike Jack Kirby’s mixed media collaging…the original art for the piece above, sitting in my desk, is by necessity a “misprint.” As if one figure were packaged in another figure’s card. I have a friend who loves misprints, and thought that it was a cool thing as a result. I may copy that piece, and give it to him as a gift.

That being said, I have already expressed being kind of “meh” about the current “Secret Wars” event. It is what it is…and what it is doing primarily is taking up all of my summer comics with stories that are of no consequence. Things that are up in smoke when the big “reset” of the end of “Secret Wars” occurs. Everyone keeps asking me…”Why use the name if it has so little do do with the Secret Wars of the 80s?” It’s a good question, and asks for both a discussion of that comic, and the origins of it.

Most of the time, a movie, a tv series or a comic book inspires a line of toys. At least thyat has been the formula since the overwhelming success of “Star Wars” in 1977. In the case of “Secret Wars”, it was completely the opposite. Mattel had in mind a series of action figures featuring Marvel’s superheroes, and committed Marvel to publish a new comic series using its most famous characters within it…thus inventing the Crossover as we now know it. Jim Shooter wrote the stories and the team of Mike Zeck and Bob Layton drew the twelve issues of “Secret Wars”.

It was a huge hit.

That was exactly was Mattel wanted to have; in words of Jim Shooter: “One big story with all the heroes and villains in it”, so the toyline would be very attractive to kids. The name “Secret Wars” is just a mixture of two words that, after Mattel’s research, caused a positive reaction in kids. Mattel had interest in superheroes after Kenner (fresh off success with Star Wars Figures) acquired the rights to produce DC superheroes and just in case superheroes became the new trend after Masters of the Universe (which straight up did NOT happen).

The toy line had two “waves” of shipment worldwide, plus another one released outside North America. The first one was released in 1984 (eight figures), the second one in 1985 (five figures), and the third in 1986 (3 figures). Because toys have a “longer” life than comic books, the comic series were extended for an additional year in “Secret Wars II” (nine issues), released between July 1985 and March 1986. These comic books were also written by Jim Shooter, but the artist was Al Milgrom.

All the Secret Wars figures came with a shield (which only made sense for Captain America, yet also robbed him of any chance of an accurate accessory) and multiple double sided cards that can be placed into the lenticular shield for hours of back-and-forth goodness. You see the shield’s lenticular coating made it flicker between two possible images…on both sides of the shield. That stuff is always fun. Always.

Let’s look at the packaging first…that will make the art above make more sense:

You can see the figure, the shield, and the sheet with the other images.  Iron Man also came with a gun, which is weird.

You can see the figure, the shield, and the sheet with the other images. Iron Man also came with a gun, which is weird.

Also…James Rhodes was Iron Man at the time, since Tony was too busy getting his drunk on to be a proper superhero. Way to be a bit racist there, Mattel. Opportunity for a major African American superhero in the marketplace? What…you’ll pass on that? Real nice.

Anyway, that was the product line that made Secret Wars in the first place. Even though all of the characters got lenticular shields (the good guys red and round, the bad guys grey and square) the shields never made it into the comic in any way. They would have, I believe, if Larry Hama were the writer, but that was neither her nor there. The shields themselves displayed action shots about the characters, and pretty often as you can see, their secret identities. I guess that’s why it’s a secret shield…it displays secrets? Should it be trying to hide or protect them? It’s all very unclear…

Iron Man with his different lenticular options.  See...the shield is telling you who is inside the suit...negating the point of that serious Iron mask he's wearing,.

Iron Man with his different lenticular options. See…the shield is telling you who is inside the suit…negating the point of that serious Iron mask he’s wearing,.

Unless…it IS Jim Rhodes in the suit, and the shield is misleading you so you won’t fight him. Instead, you’ll leave Battleworld and go beat up a drunken bum with a couple of P.h.D.s. That would be cunning, lenticular shield…but I doubt it was what Mattel had in mind.

Instead, they were pushing marvel characters as they perceived them to be, and were giving some kind of fun perks of “action sequences” since there wasn’t a comic in the packaging. Kind of cool, but it’s not very smart to reveal your secret identity to the guys who are shooting at you. Guys like Doctor Doom and Kang. Check it out…

The "come to my house and beat me up while I'm not wearing my Suit" mode of the shield.

The “come to my house and beat me up while I’m not wearing my Suit” mode of the shield.

All it’s missing is Tony’s address. Clearly, not a good plan to hide behind…you enemy will wait you out. But wait…!

Clearly this is the, "Were you unclear how big a bad @#$ I am?" mode of the shield.  Much more functional.

Clearly this is the, “Were you unclear how big a bad @#$ I am?” mode of the shield. Much more functional.

And that, True Believers, is why “Secret Wars” was ever a thing. Still…those shields are pretty cool. Very cool. In the 80’s on Battleworld, the other heroes were a bit crummy to the X-men because they were mutants. Now, presumably, it’s because their film rights are owned by Fox. Let’s take a peek at Battleworld today, people, complete with lenticular shields.

See?  The shield displays backstory and secrets.

See? The shield displays backstory and secrets.

Kitty Pryde was clearly right, (also in the 80’s) when she shouted “Professor Xavier is a Jerk!” He’s pretty snooty above, for a guy that both happens to be alive again for no reason, AND can walk. Maybe the protagonist should have shown him the shield in Panel Two, when it was showing her throwing stuff into the sun, instead of Panel Three, laying near a fireplace. Hmmm. Those lenticular shields sure are tricky.

Notice that in the lead art, the lenticular shield shows an image of Pony. Just as well, eagle eyed viewers will notice the logo of the old school, 1970s/80s interlac Legion flight ring on her other images. I’m guessing that she still wouldn’t fly too well with a flight ring…but you got one, as a member. It was way easier than drawing a Quislet accessory, let me tell you. It’s the sole nod recently to DC comics, who have lost most of my readership. Depressing.

All of this came about because I wanted to do a color version of my Secret Wars Sketch Variant, which referenced the Mike Zeck Cover from “Secret Wars” No. 1. I have had a copy of the cover for a while, inked it earlier this week, and have just finished the color. I considered being Isaac Perlmutter about one of the cast members, and editing that character out because of a creative dispute. Ultimately, I didn’t, but mostly because I just don’t want to be like Isaac Perlmutter.

This image is the whole reason I did the post in the first place.

This image is the whole reason I did the post in the first place.

With that done, I need to get back to the drawing board, for next week’s art. A big color post by this takes a whole lot of art time…for the same effort, I could have been four days ahead!



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