As a kid, there was some comic book merchandising that thrilled me. I'll never forget my Spider-Man suction-cup "web" shooter or the ads for the Captain America / Hulk / Spider-Man Halloween costumes that appeared in the Marvel comics of 1975. "Hulk it for Halloween!" I thought these things were cool...but yet even in the eyes of a 5 year old, I knew there was something lacking. Why did Spider-Man's face and name have to be on the costume's chest? Why couldn't my "web shooter" at least LOOK like the real thing? Wouldn't it be cool if someone made Captain America's shield or Thor's hammer? It seemed like such obvious oversights on Marvel's marketing department - gold waiting to be mined.
Years have passed, and there have been a bounty of Marvel goodies under 6 inches tall. A passable Spider-Man costume was finally made recently. But still no replicas of comic's vast array of gadgets and trinkets that help define some of the characters of the Marvel Universe.
Enter Factory X. The Raving Toy Maniac paid a visit to Factory X and met with Timothy Wenhold, Jimi Black, and Dave DiPietro, the trio that fuels Factory X.
Dave DiPietro, Timothy Wenhold, and Jimi Black
Tim, the operation's front man, is professional, energetic, and enthusiastic. Tim doesn't just see characters with marketing potential but he's driven by personal interest as a collector and fan. With Factory X located near his home, we were able to see some of Tim's collection of statues, posters, figures, and props specializing in Batman, but covering a wide range of interests.
When we arrived, Jimi was painting his latest designs, some new busts from the Spider-Man movie that had been sculpted by Gentle Giant Studios. Jimi's on the gothic side of the spectrum, is a big KISS fan (and really loves the two-foot KISS figures that Art Asylum produced) and was the only one of the three that considered "Queen of the Damned" to be part of the list of "great movies coming out this year". Both Tim and Jimi are huge Harley fans - Tim with a Road King and Jimi with a Night Train.
Dave seemed to be the quiet one, but once we got talking, his excitement for the licenses they've acquired made me wonder if he was
buying or selling them. In Dave's office he has a shrine set up for Blade, along with one of the prop swords used while filming the movie (which was aluminum and extremely light). In the corner a calendar with Ian McKellan as Gandalf was visible, giving you a better idea of some of Dave's other interests.
the "Blade shrine" in Dave's office
All three have a variety of interests that range from comics and swords, to history (like WW2). All three are fans and their passion for what they are designing is clear in the work and their attitudes. The atmosphere is laid back, and you get the feeling these three are kindred spirits who have known each other for centuries.
Blade replica sword
While Blade is a personal favorite for Dave, it is also the license that Factory X cut their teeth on. After the movie had finished its theatrical run they had approached Marvel about merchandising the sword from the film. The result was confusion as to who would buy such a thing from a movie that had already passed its marketing and promotional window. 'Who would buy one of these?' Marvel asked. The answer is somewhere in the over 10,000 copies of the sword that they have sold. They made every effort to make the sword accurate, and they joked that if it were any more accurate "you'd only be able to use it twice because your hands would be gone since you weren't Blade!"
glaives from Blade and Blade II
The fidelity with which they produced Blade's sword has led them to a 'starring role' in the sequel Blade 2. Not only will they have merchandise from Blade 2, they actually designed and produced some of the weaponry for the film. They designed some new glaives for Blade to use, which are striking. The glaives can fold up into a single blade, a design inspired by the claws of raptors. A glyph now marks the center.
What Factory X is doing is a trend that is emerging with film merchandise and today's collector having a thirst for high quality. This is design and production of movie merchandise that is done either by or with the aid of those who made it for the movie. This allows the collectibles to reach a high level of detail and authenticity so the collector knows that what's purchased is only a hair's breadth away from the actual movie prop - or an exact replica of the prop itself as in the case of Blade and Blade 2.
Blade items are far from the only museum quality movie props in their arsenal, and you can see a pattern with sharp objects forming. We were surrounded by cutlery from Blade, Blade 2, First Knight, A Knights Tale, the sword of the Scorpion King from the Mummy Returns, and the sword and helmet of Maximus from Gladiator, to name a few. It was awesome to behold the helmet of Maximus, but interesting to note that a little authenticity was sacrificed. The helmet was made of metal, but Tim pointed out that the real prop used in the movie was made of plastic. For the replica, it was a better idea to give the fans what they'd expect rather than an exact duplicate, because as you watch the movie the helmet is steel.
They are also developing a line of swords that are based on several popular historical or literary warriors and warlords. The first sword of the line is Argo from Jason and the Argonauts. Argo is currently available. Next in the line is the "Impaler" based on the inspiration behind Dracula, Vlad the Impailer. Also coming up are Imhotep from The Mummy and the Singing Sword from Prince Valiant.
Before you start to think they are just sword-smiths, Factory X also produces some busts and statues. There's a full body Blade statue complete with his Factory X sword. They made an excellent pewter replica of the ship from Bablyon 5. Also, they had originally planned a three figure set of statues for Gladiator, but only Maximus was produced. Sculpted prototypes were finished for the other two characters and they were designed to join together to form a larger display, but they never progressed further.
What got my heart especially racing was their licenses for Marvel comics characters. With a license from Sony, Factory X is producing busts and sculpts based on the Spider-Man movie that blew me away. The Spider-Man and the Goblin sculpts and busts originated from designs made by Jimi. These designs were sent to Gentle Giant Studios who have full body scans of Tobey Maguire and Willem Dafoe in costume on their computers. Gentle Giant moved their 3-D models into the poses that Jimi designed, and returned sculpts to Factory X where painting and production are handled. The Spider-Man statue has him in a dynamic gravity-defying leap off the base. All the detail of the movie's costume, from the raised weblines to the intricate patterns on the material, are included on the sculpt. Spidey appears to be captured in mid-air, attached by a web to the gargoyle base. Speaking of bases, check out the photo of the busts. It's subtle and clever - the Spidey base is in the shape of the mask's eye piece, while the Goblin's is the top of his pumpkin bomb. Seeing the Green Goblin bust, my initial distaste for the movie's variation on the costume has subsided. He will be wicked and menacing. The Green Goblin statue has to be seen in person. Rotate it, and you'll see the statue is interesting from every angle. These should be available in June with the movie release.
But what most excited me was the Marvel Universe line of replicas. We joked that Factory X was going to make Rick Jones's hall in the Hulk story "Future Imperfect" come true. Dave and Jimi looked over the comic holding up the cover to us while pointing out to each other future prospects they already have in mind. We desperately speculated about where in the page they might have been pointing!
This line is currently scheduled in two phases. The first phase
has already been announced: Thor's hammer Mjolnir, Elektra's sais,
Captain America's shied, Nick Fury's badge and gun, Iron Man's
helmet, and Dr. Doom's helmet. All are numbered and come with a hologram certificate of authenticity.
The premise for this line is to produce truly authentic replicas of famous props from the Marvel Universe. They need to be full sized and as designed so the buyer can actual 'use' the item. They are well aware that most buyers will just have to hold, carry or try to wear their new piece at least once. So, each had to be made as if that were going to be the normal use (since if it were real that's how it would be designed!). The comics are their blueprints, but they are introducing some reality to make these 'real'.
Click on a picture to see a much larger version:
You may have seen Thor's hammer by now. This is a fantastic piece for Thor fans. It comes on a smooth black 2-piece display base, and has substantial weight. The wood and leather handle screws into the circular cap that fits onto the top. The immortal words "Whosoever holds this hammer..." are inscribed on the side. It's perfect in all ways except...it doesn't work. No lightning. No transformation when you tap it down. No backstage pass to Asgard. I flung it across the room and it didn't return to my hand. Maybe it's just mine, or maybe I'm just not worthy? Tim did mention something about future work with alien technology.
Elektra, Marvel's flagship ninja woman, has had her arsenal of weapons in the past, but her sai (three-pronged sword) were never depicted as anything much to shout about. Factory X designed this pair of swords for her - and you can actually see their design on the cover of Elektra #3. The swords are stainless steel and real weapons, kids - not toys!
"When Captain America throws his mighty shield..." How many Cap fans out there are drooling to own one of these? A few years back I read that Alex Ross had one custom made for himself. Now, you don't have to be Alex to own your very own. The shield is made of spun aluminum (aircraft metal), enameled on both sides with full leather straps, brass capped. It's light and comes with a museum wall-mount. If I catch anyone sledding on these, I'm gonna take my Thor's hammer and pay you a visit!
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. is Marvel's ultimate spy currently featured in his own mature-reader "Max" comic. I was never personally a big fan of the guy, but I have to admit the props should please any Fury fans. The badge is pewter with 2 bolts in the back like a real badge. There are no safety issues with the gun, as there are no moving parts to worry about.
During the first and second quarters of 2003 will be Iron Man's
helmet and Dr. Doom's mask. It hasn't been determined which will come first. Factory X confessed they knew the buyers will have to try them on at least once and recreate some classic poses - so yes, they are wearable. Whether you want to take these out on Halloween is up to you.
Iron Man's helmet is steel and mirror-polished brass, fully enameled. The inside is all leather lined for a comfortable fit. The eye holes are open - I tried it on, and I could certainly see just fine. This will also come with a stand and nameplate. You're on your own for repulsor rays.
Finally, Dr. Doom's mask will be all steel coated in polyurethane. As in the Iron Man mask, it will be leather-lined with adjustable straps like a catcher's mask. It comes with a green velour hood with two polished rondolets joined by a cord. Get yourself a cape and small ripe European country to conquer, and you're ready for action!
After that, will be Phase II. The line-up should be announced by the end of this year. For now, we're left to speculate. Could it be a life-sized helmet of Galactus? It could make a nice gazebo for my backyard. Maybe Silver Surfer's surfboard? Probably wouldn't be practical - too slippery. We'll have to be patient and wait for the news.
Below we have a list of release dates and suggested retail prices. These have been selling out fast, so if you want one you should pre-order to make sure your local shop can get one in. These arenít cheap, but the reason is simply the quality of design and construction that goes into these. Given the choice between mass merchandising with lower prices and lower quality, Factory X prefers to stick with limited releases of quality replicas. Tim, Jimi, and Dave are fans themselves, and they have planned the releases far enough apart so fans can have time to save up if they want them all.
They're manufacturing the stuff they'd want to see made. Thor's hammer is not plastic. Nick Fury's gun does not shoot water. Elektra's sais
are not made of rubber. I'm happy to finally see some childhood dreams come true. Now if only someone would figure out a way to get me to stick to walls.
-Mike Fichera, RTM
The following information is subject to change. Costs are approximate.
- Thor's Hammer: Released - original price $275
- Elektra's Sais: $185 Available April 2002
- Captain America's Shield: $270 - Available July 4th, 2002
- Nick Fury's Gun and Badge: $150 - Available November 2002
- Iron Man's Helmet: $350 - First or Second Quarter 2003
- Dr. Doom's Mask: $350 - First or Second Quarter 2003
More images are available on the following pages: Blade replica props, Gladiator statues, Spider-Man movie busts and statues, and misc (A Knight's Tale and Argo swords, Elektra #3 cover, Future Imperfect pages).
This article was written in March 2002, after a visit to Factory X in February 2002. Some of the photographs used in this article are press images supplied by Factory X. Used with permission.