Being one of the most popular comic book titles in history, the X-Men have seen no shortage of promotions and tie-ins over the years. Some of them, like the toys and the video games and—of course—the movies have all made sense. Others really haven’t. There have been no shortage of bizarre promotions featuring the X-Men, some of which are admittedly great. And to their credit, a lot of them worked. There are a couple things on the list that legitimately helped me to discover the X-Men as a young kid, for which I am eternally grateful.
Promotions are weird like that, because as little sense as they often make, they’re usually the thing that hooks a young kid onto a title or character before even the cartoons, movies or especially comics. There’s every chance a kid might encounter the X-Men on a box of fruit snacks or a can of Spaghettios before they’ve actually read or seen anything featuring those characters.
With that in mind, we’re going to look at some of the absolute weirdest nonsensical X-Men promotions and tie-ins we’ve ever seen. From the good to the bad, to the downright strange, we’re going to highlight some of the best and worst X-Men merchandising there’s ever been. It’s also worth pointing out that for this piece, we will not be looking at unlicensed, bootleg or knock off items.
A lot of people can say that they love the X-Men, but I bet a much, much smaller number can say that they’ve ever wanted to smell like the X-Men. That’s what you’re going to get out of X-Men cologne, which comes with many different scents for different characters, like Wolverine and Storm. This 2004 cologne line promised fragrances “for men and women” although I’m not sure what the distinguishing factors would even be there as (obviously) both men and women can wear whatever fragrances they want but even at that level, they seem pretty gender neutral to begin with.
Wolverine Beard Comb
I have to admit, I kind of get this one. The existence of a licensed X-Men beard comb is probably a little much, but if there’s going to be any character on a beard comb then of course it’s going to be Wolverine. You want your beard to evoke a Canadian lumberjack, then you’ll just naturally want the comb to evoke one of the most successful Canadian lumberjacks of all time.
X-Men: The Movie Senator Kelly Figure
Obviously, as a kid growing up in the summer of X-Men, the things I was most excited to get my hands on were the toys. Especially after I saw the film. And I got my hands on the whole set. I just wanted to keep it going, I wanted to continue where the movie left off, to take that cast on new adventures and imagine what might have come next. (If I recall correctly, the X-Men 2 I enacted with toys introduced Nightcrawler, Pyro and Apocalypse so I was two thirds of the way there…) So it pains me to revisit the figures as an adult and realize that they were really goddamn weird. We’ll get into a couple of them, but Senator Kelly (or as one of my childhood friends fondly referred to him, “Scrotum Face”) is the strangest of all. He didn’t come by himself, he was an accessory to Jean Grey and that’s even weirder. But my God, just look at it.
Wolverine in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3
After Spider-Man made his way into Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, Wolverine wound up getting that very same treatment in the next game. Wolverine didn’t come alone, however, as he also appeared as an unlockable character among the likes of Darth Maul, Shrek and more. The idea of seeing Wolverine is his classic yellow outfit doing grinds and flips is actually more exciting than you might think. And that says a lot, because it sounds great.
X-Men Hardee’s Happy Meal Toys
I only got to eat Hardee’s when we went on long trips as a kid, because we didn’t have one in the whole state and I’m pretty sure we didn’t have one in all of New England in general. Having said that, I saw ads for this happy meal promotion all the time and I really wanted to get my hands on them. I remember being excited because the ads showed the X-Men in battle with deep cut villains like Avalanche. I never did get to a Hardee’s to get my hands on them. Looking back years later, it’s so weird for one of the most successful cartoons and comics of the decade to do a promotion of this size with… Hardee’s.
X-Men: The Movie Mystique Figure
Unlike Senator Kelly, Mystique is a major, exciting character in X-Men and one of the coolest parts of the film. However, there’s a problem with the character, and it’s not just that she’s butt naked. Mystique has a power that doesn’t translate to toys in the same way that the others do. With Wolverine, you can pop his claws, with Cyclops, you can always make his eyes light up. But with Mystique, you have to really think about how to effectively convey her powers. And that’s worth noting, because they go about that in the worst way possible. They could not have come up with a less satisfying way to do it. To achieve “transformation” Mystique is packaged with a Wolverine skin suit. It’s just this floppy, latex Wolverine costume, like you just pulled the bones right out of his body. You’re meant to then have Mystique wear this husk like she’s an actual shapeshifter and not Leatherface. And if you ever get your hands on this toy, please do this just to see the results.
X-Men: Mutant Academy 2
To clarify right out of the gate, this was a great game. It’s even better than the first Mutant Academy, both of which are basically glorified Mortal Kombat using the X-Men roster. There are more characters and the choices are exciting, you get some skins from the X-Men movie and you even throw Spider-Man in for good measure. There’s one thing that puts it on this list, and that’s “Pool Party Mode.” Now, if it were just a pool party fighting arena, that would be one thing, but in addition to that, every single character gets a bathing suit skin so that they can show up to that arena in the proper attire. The variations, from two piece to one piece to some characters getting floaties, is fantastic. I’m not saying that everything about this isn’t wonderful, but it is absolutely worthy of a spot on this list.
X-Men: The Movie Comic Adaptation
I remember getting my hands on this about as soon as the promotion train kicked off. It was handed out at Toys ‘R Us on the day I bought my first two figures from the movie’s very bizarre toy line. Which is amazing, because somehow I don’t remember being totally spoiled on the film despite reading a comic book blow-by-blow of what happened in it. Reading it after seeing the movie, there are a couple hilarious things. The first is that Mystique is censored throughout the comic, as they were forced to go back through the issue and give her a one piece black bathing suit as a costume. More than that, though, it’s very much written like a comic book. It reads like an early ‘90s comic and looks like the movie, and the juxtaposition there is actually greatly unsettling.
X-Men Chef Boyardee
This is going to sound absurd to say, but I remember this being a big deal. Every single comic I owned seemed to contain that same one-page ad that boomed, “The X-Men get canned!” in serious black font. That was, of course, a nod to the fact that they’re “uncanny” which is about as bad as a pun can get. I got excited when I started convincing my mom to buy them in regular rotation, even feeling like a processed pasta detective as I tried to unravel the identity of the “mystery mutant villain” shape.
X-Men: The Movie 20” Talking Wolverine Doll
You know, I really feel like this one speaks for itself. Everything you need to know about this, you can tell by looking at it. It looks like a classic Wrestling Buddy toy. Come to think of it, those did get a weird plastic update with WCW figures of the time. This Wolverine looks like he’d be much more comfortable next to Sting than Cyclops, and if Hulk Hogan’s voice came out of there instead of Hugh Jackman’s, you can’t tell me you’d be remotely surprised.
X-Men Pizza Hut Combo
I can’t say enough good things about this weird pizza promotion because as far as I can remember, this is the thing that got me. I had maybe been vaguely aware of the X-Men, but we did this deal including a pizza, a comic book, a poster, a trading card and the collector’s edition VHS tapes of the first four episodes of X-Men: The Animated Series and I was absolutely in heaven. If it weren’t for Pizza Hut, I would not have fallen into the X-Men as deeply—or at least not as quickly—as I did at the time. It’s especially weird because we really didn’t go to Pizza Hut all that often as a kid. So this one feels even more like destiny. Greasy, greasy destiny.
X2: Wolverine’s Revenge
It’s not strange at all that X2 got a tie-in video game. It’s not strange to even say that the game was incredibly disappointing, a lot of licensed games were at the time. What makes it stand out and what earns its place on this list is that despit the fact that it is titled after X2, it has absolutely nothing to do with the movie. This is more insane than you’d think. Not only were most of the major platform superhero games we got at the time based on movies, they were all relatively faithful (often lazy) adaptations of those movies. The Spider-Man game reflected the movie and even the game based on Ang Lee’s Hulk manged to tie-in. This is a totally unrelated Wolverine game with the comic book incarnation, despite the movie’s title and Hugh Jackman being on the cover. Even weirder, the whole plot revolves around Wolverine headed north to investigate more about himself and where he comes from, which feels way more like a perfect follow up to that movie as so much of the plot revolved around forming those questions. At the very least, it’s got the legendary Mark Hamill as the voice of Wolverine.
Did you love X-Men figures as a kid? Did you love ViewFinders? Did it keep you up at night, burning, festering in your soul, the question that kept you from sleeping, eating, and living your life to its full potential: “Why can’t these be the same thing?” If so, you should know that X-Men Projectors were marketed toward you and you alone. For the rest of us, they were mostly neat toys that decently represented the characters we knew from the cartoon. I’ll admit, though, that the packaging was so excited about itself that it really tricked me into thinking this was the next stage of toys. Every figure was going to have some component inside to project stills (poorly) onto dimly lit walls. These toys were made to usher in a future that is, unfortunately, not the one we find ourselves in now.
X-Men Monster Armor
The Toy Biz X-Men figures were the action figure titans of their era. They were all over the place, they went on for years and people couldn’t get enough of them. But by 1997, things were getting weird with attempts to keep the X-Men toy line fresh. And none of those attempts were weirder than the Monster Armor line. I have no idea what they were going for. It was strange to see the Savage Land line partner each X-Man with a dinosaur, but at least that was a thing in the comics. Even the X-Men vs. Street Fighter toys had a video game to promote. Monster Armor, however, was exactly what it sounds like. Each figure had big claws and scary faces and other parts that you could snap onto your figure to turn them into a monster. I remember being excited despite all this, because it was the first Mystique figure ever, or at least one in the same height range as the other standard X-Men toys.