TOYHEM! features a sequel to two popular columns!
Welcome to TOYHEM! For the holiday season, we’re bringing you a series of features and columns celebrating the toys of our youth, which often made for the best memories this time of year. You’ll be hearing from comics creators, regular 13th Dimension contributors and more. Click here to check out the complete index of stories — and have a Merry Christmas, a Happy Chanukah and Happy Holidays! — Dan
First, there was 13 CLASSIC TOYS WE WANT TO SEE RE-RELEASED. (Click here.)
That was so popular, guest columnist Tyrone Biljan followed up with 13 BATMAN TOYS WE WANT TO SEE RE-RELEASED. Click here.
Well, with TOYHEM! upon us — and so many great toys from the past worth exploring — we’re back with 13 MORE CLASSIC TOYS WE WANT TO SEE RE-RELEASED, this time by another guest columnist, 13th Dimension regular Chris Franklin of the Those Wonderful Toys special podcast series (among others on the Fire and Water Podcast Network. Click here.)
By CHRIS FRANKLIN
13. Gre-Gory (Mattel). Gre-Gory, the “Big, Bad Vampire Bat,” was a large, rubber toy, but he was no mere cheap rack toy on a string. Weighing what seemed like a ton, Gre-Gory’s impressive wingspan was nothing prepared to his gross-out action feature: Gre-Gory had a visible stomach, covered with a plastic dome. Squeeze the button on his back, and you can watch the blood of his victims flow through his veins! Mattel borrowed the concept and mechanism from their earlier Pulsar figure, but the effect works better here. Why Mattel doesn’t roll out a reproduction of this guy every Halloween is beyond me!
12. ROM: The Space Knight (Parker Brothers). ROM is certainly best remembered for the thought-provoking Marvel comic that ran the bulk of the ’80s, but writer Bill Mantlo’s narrative had much greater staying power than the toy that inspired it. Game guru Parker Brothers released the 14-inch, electronics-laden ROM in 1979. No doubt influenced by the popularity of Star Wars, ROM featured respirator sounds (hmm, wonder what gave them that idea?) in addition to a light-up visor, translator, Neutralizer and Rocket Pods.
ROM didn’t set the world on fire like Parker Brothers had hoped, but a marketing deal with Marvel ensured that the Space Knight would make an impact on a generation of ’80s kids. Hasbro, which incidentally has the master license for Marvel toys, now owns the character, and while they’ve teased his return, how cool would a ROM reproduction be? Oh, and give us a Marvel Legends figure while you’re at it.
11. Pepsi Super Series Glasses. While other kids across the US were collecting those wonderful 7-Eleven DC and Marvel Slurpee cups, I wasn’t, since there were no 7-Elevens anywhere near me (there still aren’t)! But I made do, thanks to Pepsi and participating restaurants like Pizza Hut carrying the DC Pepsi Super Series Glasses. The first set in 1976 (often called the “Moon” series, due to the large circle behind each image) featured iconic Silver/Bronze Age images of the DC pantheon by some of their greatest artists, like Curt Swan, Carmine Infantino, Murphy Anderson and C.C. Beck. The second series from 1978 wasn’t quite as robust, but continued with great, if somewhat less iconic visuals. Companies like Toon Tumblers have revived the lost art of collectible drinking glasses in recent years, but an actual reproduction of those vintage vessels would be fantastic. Hey, throw in a set of Superman: The Movie glasses from Taco Bell for good measure!
10. Activated Marvel Super Heroes (PPC). Now this is an obscure one. Many 13th Dimension readers probably saw the half-page Heroes World ad in 1982, advertising new Marvel figures. Immediately after the heyday of Mego but before the advent of Mattel’s Secret Wars, one wondered what exactly were these sets of Marvel “Activated” super hero figures, really? Well, turns out they were one-color static figurines (“army man” style) from PPC (Processed Plastics Company, how original) that came with a scissor mechanism that “activated” the figures, or made them move back and forth. And each one had a hole in their hand/hammer/shield to slide down an included string with grapple hook. Hi-tech they weren’t, and they recalled the ’60s Marx figures at a smaller scale, but they were cool and well sculpted, nonetheless.
I was lucky enough to get both sets… after Heroes World goofed and sent me two of the same one. My Mom had to call and complain to right this wrong. But it would be great to see SOMEONE reissue these figures and put them out in a boxed set. Perfect for the Disney Store!
9. The Six Million Dollar Man (Kenner). For a brief period, The Six Million Dollar Man was THE king of the playground set. In the mid-’70s, Steve Austin was kids’ #1 TV hero. Kenner, just years away from stumbling onto the Star Wars goldmine, found their first big success with the Bionic Man, the biggest toy of 1976.
With a dead-on Lee Majors likeness, and built-in play features like his bionic eye and bionic power arm, this 13-inch figure towered over not only 8-inch Megos, but the original 12-inch G.I. Joe line. Add in the inventive, and slightly gross rubber skin that you could lift to uncover the mechanisms of that previously mentioned bionic arm, and you have one of the coolest action figures ever made.
Hasbro, which absorbed Kenner in the ’90s, could reissue Steve… make him stronger, faster than he was before. Perhaps even Jamie from the accompanying Bionic Woman set. And how about a Bionic Bigfoot? Maybe if that long-gestating movie ever gets made… although we might be better off if it didn’t. (Click here for award-winning comics creator Gene Luen Yang’s TOYHEM! MEMORY of The Six Million Dollar Man. You’ll dig it.)
8. Corgi Super Hero Juniors. British die-cast manufacturer Corgi took the success of their mega-popular ’60s Batmobile and Batboat replicas and added vehicles for other DC (and even Marvel) characters. These same vehicles were released in a smaller 1:64 scale as well, compatible with Matchbox and Hot Wheels standard cars.
The affordable Corgi Juniors were staples of childhood for kids of the ’70s and early ’80s. (I think the Corgi Junior Batmobile was issued to each kid at birth!) The company had a hand in creating a vehicle for Batman’s World’s Finest pal, resulting in the simultaneous toy and comic debut of the infamous Supermobile, with its punching metal fists! About a decade ago, Corgi released a new series of comic-based Batman vehicles, but how great would it be to get a box set with the classic Batmobile, Daily Planet truck (where Clark Kent reveals his identity right on the side, pre-Bendis), and yes… the Supermobile! Can we get a Marvel set, too?
7. Aniforms Hulk Rage Cage and Thing Rock Trap (Fun Stuf). Remco wasn’t the only toy company creating gimmicky deluxe figures of comic book heroes (see below). Fun Stuf took a unique approach to the characters in their Aniforms line, using air pumps to expand the hollow rubber figures, thus making them move and seemingly change their shape. Hulk would grow larger, rip his shirt and burst from a cage! The Thing could escape from his rock trap… because he’s covered in rocks, I guess?
Fun Stuf also made similar figures of Popeye, Frankenstein’s Monster and Dracula, but the Hulk was their big star. Riding high on the popularity of his TV series, the Hulk brought the green to any toy company lucky enough to license him. Toy Biz made a similar action figure with the same name in the ’90s, but it wasn’t nearly as large, or as charming as the original.
6. Universal Studios Monsters Monsterizer (Remco). Remco produced a 9-inch series of Universal Monster figures in 1980. Slightly Mego-esque, these figures featured strangely (and appropriately) inhuman bodies under their cloth costumes, to accommodate a built-in grabbing/crushing feature. The next year Remco did that line one better by producing a wonderful series of 3 3/4-inch figures of the same monsters: Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the Phantom of the Opera.
Both series eventually featured glow-in-the-dark plastic or paint, and Remco provided a great toy to set both scales of monsters aglow! The Monsterizer loosely resembled an apparatus Boris Karloff’s Professor Neimann used to revive Glenn Strange’s Frankenstein Monster in 1944’s House of Frankenstein. Place any monster on the slab, crank him through the caged lid, and the built-in lights activate their hideous glowing skin — or scales!
First Funko and now Super7 have released similarly designed Mini-Monsters in the last few years, and the revived Mego Corp. has been cranking out 8-inch nightmares, so there’s already a line of horrors just waiting to ride that lightning!
5. Die-Cast Super Heroes (Mego). Perhaps the first series of superhero action figures aimed squarely at collectors, the Die-Cast Super Heroes were, not surprisingly, made of metal and featured superior sculpting for the time. The scale of the figures also predated the later 5-inch figures popularized by Kenner and Toy Biz in the ’90s.
Current licensing contracts prohibit the revived Mego Corp. from making true reproductions of their popular 8-inch DC and Marvel characters, but perhaps there are loopholes for these figures of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and the Hulk? And an all-metal Iron Man in his classic ’70s look would sure make a whole lot of sense, wouldn’t it?
4. Energized Super Heroes (Remco). Remco was really mowing Mego’s grass when they released their Energized Spider-Man figure in 1978. Mego had the rights to Marvel’s and DC’s pantheons in action-figure form, but what about “Inaction” figures? Remco’s 12-inch static Spider-Man came with a battery-operated, working winch inside his body, allowing him to climb up surfaces, and pull things toward him in his web. Remco followed up with a Spider-Copter and figures of the Green Goblin and the Hulk, and even branched out to DC stalwarts Superman and Batman. A smaller “Powerized” line followed, allowing Captain America to get in on the act.
These figures were ahead of their time, presaging the modern “deluxe” action figures we see released with every major super hero film (like the current Avengers: Endgame Hulk with Power Gauntlet). Diamond Select Toys and Figures Toy Company have reproduced most of Mego’s greatest 8-inch figures, but why can’t their rivals get some love?
3. Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars (Mattel). Super Powers’ redheaded stepbrother can’t quite compare to the overall quality and design of that line, but it is of a similar scale, and did launch a more important comics series. The gimmicky “Secret Shields” were a strange theme to go with (and one Mattel pitched to DC, before they passed to go to Kenner), but the figures themselves are fairly comic-accurate. The first action figures of Marvel icons like Wolverine, Magneto, and Doctors Doom and Octopus debuted here. Gentle Giant produced a series of 12-inch upscale reproductions, but who wouldn’t want a reissued 5-inch Falcon and Baron Zemo in time for the upcoming The Falcon and the Winter Solider streaming series? But maybe start out with a Captain America and Spider-Man Turbo Cycle gift set.
2. M.A.S.K. (Kenner). Kenner was on fire from the mid ’70s through the early ’90s, and one of their greatest lines was an ingenious homegrown concept based around the Mobile Armored Strike Kommand, or M.A.S.K. (OK, maybe their spelling skills weren’t so ingenious). Mixing the best parts of Hasbro’s popular G.I. Joe and Transformers, with a sprinkle of superheroics thrown in for good measure, Camaros became jetfighters, jetfighters became helicopters, Jeeps launched boats, and annoying sentient robots turned into… annoying sentient robot scooters?
The eponymous masks the heroes and villains wore had special powers as well, so there was a ton of play value crammed into each vehicle/figure combo. The DIC cartoon was above average, and DC helped provide back story with tie-in comics.
Hasbro now owns the license, and has teased doing something new with the franchise, including an in-development film. We’ve had several comic series from IDW, so maybe we’ll get to see some vintage repros of Rhino, Gator and Switchblade if Matt Trakker and company ever make it to the multiplex. A good start would be a Thunderhawk/Trakker car and figure set.
1. Super Powers Collection (Kenner). The GREATEST comics-based toy line ever created (don’t argue with me), Super Powers had a relatively short shelf life, but left a deep impact on a generation of comics fans. The artists at Kenner perfectly captured the Bronze Age versions of DC’s greatest characters, creating figures that looked as if they stepped right out of the pages of the Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez (Praised Be His Name) style guide.
Mattel and the Four Horseman Studios saluted the line repeatedly in the much-missed 6-incg DC Universe Classics line from a few years back, and Gentle Giant made 12-inch reproductions, but so far no one has reissued the line in its original scale.
If Star Wars, G.I. Joe, Transformers and Masters of the Universe can get repro lines, why not Super Powers? Just imagine a Batman and Robin/Batmobile gift set! Come on DC Collectibles! Squeeze those Power Action legs and get to work!
Chris Franklin hosts and produces many shows on The Fire and Water Podcast Network, found at fireandwaterpodcast.com. He would like to thank his friend Brian Heiler for generously allowing the use of photographs from his site plaidstallions.com and its sister site, which he helps curate, megomuseum.com.
— The Complete TOYHEM! Index of Features and Columns. Click here.
— The TOP 13 Wonderful BATMAN ’89 Toys — RANKED, by CHRIS FRANKLIN. Click here.