Mike Pigott’s takes a look at some dynamic Marvel Comics vehicles made by Tomica of Japan.
Over the years, there have been a lot of model vehicles based on Marvel Comics characters…although not many good ones. One of the reasons for this is because not many of the heroes actually drive cars, so it’s not easy making models of vehicles that don’t exist. So Batman from rival DC Comics has always been dominant in the diecast world, as he has a Batmobile – or rather, lots of different Batmobiles and other Bat-vehicles, from his various comic books, films and TV series.
Generally, characters who can fly, shoot webs, or possess powered exo-skeletons rarely need cars. There have been a lot of Marvel character vehicles produced since the 1970s, but very few have been authentic. Corgi made several fun Spider-Man vehicles during the ‘70s, despite the fact that Spidey never drove a car. Corgi’s other Marvel hero models were just unrelated, regular Corgi Toys with character figures and decals added.
More recently, companies such as Hot Wheels and Johnny Lightning have produced large numbers of licensed Marvel products, but these were just stock-standard car and truck castings with character designs and logos tampo-printed on them. Majorette and Hot Wheels have both produced Marvel ranges that were caricatures of super-heroes; they were cartoony vehicles with the colours and characteristics of Marvel heroes and villains. But again they bore no resemblance to anything from the comic books or films. So it was interesting to see Japanese company Tomica produce a small range of Marvel characters which were significantly different that previous offerings.
Over the past decade, Marvel franchises have become some of the biggest money-spinners in the movie world. Starting with Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and The X-Men, the Marvel characters have made it to the screen in big-budget blockbusters starring some major actors and overseen by top directors. Admittedly there have been a few duds as well, such as Daredevil and The Punisher, but on the whole they have been quality films which have turned the super-hero movie into one of the dominant genres.
Possibly the most exciting development was the introduction of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a series of films that all exist in the same continuity and cross-over with each other. The first film was Iron Man in 2008, and subsequent films featured Captain America, the Incredible Hulk and Thor, culminating in them banding together in The Avengers.
All of these films proved popular at the box-office, and it was good to see second-string characters like Thor, Iron Man, Black Panther Ant Man developing into major drawcards. Even the obscure Guardians of the Galaxy were transformed into a major film franchise. Other minor Marvel characters, such as Hawkeye, Black Widow and The Vision were introduced in The Avengers films. Even the Marvel TV shows Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter exist in the same continuity.
Anyway, it’s time to get on to model cars: Tomica is a high-quality range of diecast miniatures manufactured by Takara Tomy of Japan. In addition to the standard, realistic range of vehicles, Tomica also has a sub-series called ‘Dream Tomica’, which is based on fictitious vehicles. While similar in size to regular Tomicas, and using similar packaging, the Dream range includes mainly licensed character toys based on TV, films, video games and comics. Initially the line seemed aimed at the juvenile market, as early releases included characters for very young children such as Pokemon, Hello Kitty and Thomas the Tank Engine. However, later items were more dynamic, including a few Batmobiles, Transformers vehicles and some from obscure Japanese TV shows. As would be expected, these were well-made, solid and nicely finished little vehicles.Some Dream Tomica models have been vehicles for three of Marvel’s big guns. Rather than just having character decals printed on them, or being caricatures of the heroes, these genuinely appear to be designed as vehicles they might actually drive. A lot of thought went into these models, and they are lots of fun. All three have Stark Industries logos on them, indicating that millionaire-genius Tony Stark (Iron Man) designed them for his super-hero colleagues.
IRON PRESIDENTIron Man is Tony Stark, a millionaire businessman who got rich manufacturing munitions. When he was kidnapped by foreign terrorists and forced to build them a deadly weapon, he instead built himself a powered exo-skeleton and escaped. He later improved his suit of armour and became the hero Iron Man, and soon joined super team The Avengers. Iron Man has appeared in three of his own films and two Avengers movies, convincingly portrayed by Robert Downey Jr.
Tomica’s Iron Man car is called the ‘Iron President’. It is not related to any vehicles in the comics or films, but appears to be based on the type of car Tony Stark may conceivably use. On first appearance, it looks to be a generic supercar, somewhere between a Lamborghini and an Audi R8, and is finished in Iron Man’s suit colours of metallic red and gold. However, on closer inspection it seems to have numerous seams around the body, which may indicate that it can transform into a suit of armour. On the rear engine cover is a blue circular port, which may be an interface for Iron Man’s suit or other machines. It’s a nicely made model, with a black interior and black plastic base. The wheels are black mags with chrome rims, and have working suspension.
CAPTAIN CRUISERCaptain America is one of the oldest Marvel heroes, having been created in 1941. He was Steve Rogers, a puny weakling who volunteered to take an experimental steroid-like ‘super soldier’ serum, which transformed him into a muscular, powerful, perfect he-man. Unfortunately, the inventor of the serum was murdered by Nazi agents, so Steve was the only Super Soldier created. He was given a stars-and-stripes uniform and an indestructible shield, and sent to occupied Europe where he took the fight to the enemy. Captain America was one of the favourite heroes during the 1940s, but after the war his popularity declined and he disappeared for several years. In 1964 he reappeared, supposedly having being frozen in ice for over a decade, and he later became the leader of the Avengers. In the recent films, the Cap was played by Chris Evans, beginning with Captain America: The First Avenger.
Tomica has given Captain America a large armoured car called the ‘Captain Cruiser’, which is clearly based on a Humvee. Although the Cap usually rides a motorcycle, this is the type of vehicle he probably would drive: it’s big, rugged and all-American. Finished in dark blue with a red chassis frame, it has Cap’s ‘winged A’ motif on the bonnet. The doors are decorated with red and white stripes and a US star roundel. A fun novelty feature is the Cap’s circular shield strapped to the rear hatch. There is a blue plastic bull-bar on the front, while the wheels are thick off-road types with blue hubs. This is a very heavy, solid metal with a black diecast base, although the windows are opaque and there is no interior.
SPIDER FORMULASpider-Man is probably Marvel’s best known character, first appearing in 1962. Peter Parker was a nerdy high school student who got bitten by a radioactive laboratory spider, which conferred the strength and abilities of a spider to him. He gained super strength, and was able to climb walls and leap huge distances. Being a clever boy, Peter developed wristbands that could shoot web-like strands so he could swing from buildings. Initially creating the Spider-Man identity to be an entertainer, Peter was moved to become a super-hero when his Uncle Ben was murdered by a criminal. Spider-Man was one of the unluckiest of super-heroes, often suffering misfortune and loneliness, and did not join a super team like the Avengers.
Spider-Man is the most successful Marvel characters in terms of film and TV appearances; he has featured in several animated cartoon series, a live action show and three movie franchises, where he was played by Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland – the latter being incorporated into the Marvel Films continuity.
‘Spider Formula’ is the name given to Tomica’s Spider-Man car. It is a generic supercar finished in his trademark colours of red and blue. Being able to swing from buildings, Spider-Man probably doesn’t need a car, but if Tony Stark was picking up the tab, this is what he might choose. The car is mainly red, with blue doors, spoiler and trim. There is a spider-web pattern on the bonnet and roof, which are actually raised lines on the bodywork rather than just being printed. The side air intakes also have web patterns, while the front air dam has a slight pincer shape. There is a black spider logo printed on the rear engine cover. The interior and base are in black plastic, while the wheels are similar to the Iron President but without the chrome ring.
The models are in fairly standard Tomica red and white boxes, with a photo of the respective car and a small picture of the hero. On the box side is a Stark Industries logo, plus a signature of Tony Stark, indicating that the models are made to his designs.These models were not sold in the USA and Europe, and are limited to Japan and the Far East market. However, they are now out of production, and will need to be tracked down on the internet if you want to get a set. They are probably among the best super-hero models of all time, and certainly the best Marvel vehicles.
This article was first published in the July 2017 issue of Diecast Collector Magazine.
Marvel Comics Characters TM and (C) Marvel Comics Inc.
Text and photos (C) Mike Pigott 2021.