Scott Beatty is a writer and one of comicdom’s preeminent experts on action figures past and present. He has a terrifically cool blog of his own: Plastic Memory. Somehow or other we connected — I don’t even remember how anymore — but we decided to share our love of action figures and superswag with a mutual MIGHTY Q&A about what we dig.
Gotta figure if you’re reading this site — or his — you might enjoy being a fly on the wall because there’s very likely something(s) in here for you.
Dan: What’s your earliest action-figure memory?
Scott: For me, it would have to be Mego. I got the entire Bat-Lineup for my fifth birthday, including the Batmobile, Batcopter, and Batcycle. My brother had Big Jim and a G.I. Joe or two, but Mego was all mine. Coupled with the debut of Super Friends on Saturday morning TV, I became a Johnny DC early on and strong.
Dan: For me, and I’ve told this story before, it was Mego that was a seismic shock. I had the Corgi Batmobile and Batboat early on. We’re talking 4-5 years old. I also had Batman and Robin soakies. And I had something called a Batman Pix-a-Go-Go, which was a kinda-sorta moving picture slideshow toy.
Action Jackson entered the picture because my mother didn’t want me playing with war toys. So G.I. Joe wasn’t really a factor. But then one day at a friend’s house, I saw Batman and Robin — removable masks both — standing at the ready on his dresser. And that it was it right there. Life-changer.
Within a few years, I had a big collection: Batman, Robin, the Joker, Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman, Batgirl, Batmobile, Batcycle, Batcopter, and the piece de resistance, the Batcave — still the best toy I’ve ever owned. I was already a DC kid because of Batman, so I also had Superman, Aquaman, Shazam!/Captain Marvel, Mr. Mxyzptlk and, later, Green Arrow. But I also had Spider-Man and Captain America.
One of my favorites was the Ideal Batman playcase. I loved that thing. The Ideal playset was pretty great. It came out a while before the Mego Batcave.
I’d been begging my mother for a Mego Robin and she brought it home with the playcase. I loved that toy and reacquired it a few years back. It holds a proud spot on my shelves. I had a Spidey one too. I didn’t know there was a Superman one until much later but it probably wouldn’t have mattered because I didn’t really dig Superman that much until the movie came out.
Did you have any of those sets?
Scott: Nah, never any of the cool sets. My cousin had the Batcave, and he never shared. I only ever saw the Mobile Bat-Lab and Joker Van in comics ads, not once at retail. Both the Wayne Foundation and Teen Titans were items I never, ever saw up close until I was an adult attending comic cons, and even then these holy grails were priced out of reach.
Dan: I never understood the point of the Batman van. The Joker van, however, I thought was brilliant but I never got it. I think by the time I became aware of it, my mother thought I was getting too old for such things. Little did she know …
Scott: Yeah, the Bat-Van certainly pushed the envelope a bit … but after the whole Dutch Wooden Shoe Batcopter, it just screamed FUN at me. I had Catwoman and didn’t care it was a girl doll. If that van was a-rockin’…
Dan: Dutch Wooden Shoe helicopter, yes! I always thought it looked like a clog with a propeller on it.
The Wayne Foundation, like you, was something I didn’t really discover until much later, so it was never on my radar as something to pine for. For me, the Batcave was the Alpha and Omega. I spent so many great hours with that thing.
Scott: Dan, I have dreams of finding one or both of these at some rural flea market or yard sale, mint-in-box, kept for a child who never visited a lonely grandma. Or something. Maybe the toys were just kept nice by some weird shut-in fanboy who’s like us in more ways than we’d care to admit.
For me, DC Comics’ The Brave and the Bold was the gateway drug to these characters, so every Mego OTHER than Batman was a partner for the Dark Knight.
I’m absolutely giddy that Figures Toy Company is recreating all the Megos I never had, plus all-new characters in Mego style. I collected Mattel’s Retro-Action DC Super Heroes and was sad the line couldn’t find an audience. I’m hoping FTC keeps making 8-inch figures until the wheels come off.
Dan: I appreciated Mattel’s attempt at bringing back the Megos but I didn’t like the production quality at all. They were way too floppy and they strayed a little too far from the hokiness of the originals. Great character selection, though, especially Luthor. I never understood why Mr. Mxyzptlk, but not ol’ Lex. Figures Toy Company, on the other hand, is killing it.
Scott: I have to give Mattel props for the attempt. I liked them. And I have every one. I was impressed with the fact that each wave had more NEW figures than reboots. There seemed to be a plan there. Unfortunately, fans were — as Mattel ToyGuru Scott Neitlich argued — “louder than they were numerous.”
FTC, as you say, is indeed doing gangbusters. I haven’t been this excited for new toys since Mattel’s DC Universe Classics. I will have the entire DCU in 8 inches of fully clothed and fully articulated glory!
Other than the WGSH Megos, I have fond memories of the Bat Raygun flashlight (Remco?) and smaller licensed items. Remember how having your own flashlight in the 1970s was actually thrilling?
Dan: I never had the Raygun but I think I know which you mean. I once made my own Batman utility belt though: I took a white, very 1970s belt that had three rows of holes all the way around. I took a bunch of those old, yellow, flat Kodak boxes, punched holes in the back and attached them with twist-ties. Instant utlity belt. Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep the boxes from opening so it could never hold anything.
Scott: Have you read my Batman Handbook? You’re three degrees away from fighting crime just by having built your own Utility Belt.
Otherwise, I’m saving space on my DC shelves for the Batman and Robin Crazy Foam containers.
Dan: Crazy Foam! Yes! I remember being put off that Robin’s logo was off-model. Pretty funny.
Scott: I loved, loved, LOVED Crazy Foam … and I’m also on the lookout for Batman or Robin cans that are long past their expiration dates. How about you? What came after Mego for you?
Dan: After Mego? Hard to say. Concurrently would have been Star Wars.
I went absolutely bananas for Star Wars (unique, I know). I so desperately wanted those figures. But we just didn’t have the money and my mother thought I was pretty well stocked with Megos. But I wouldn’t be deterred. Instead, I made paper finger puppets for every character I could think of, in multiple outfits. I colored toothpicks for light sabers. Pretty ingenious, actually and I wish I still had them.
Scott: Star Wars took over for me. I had the Death Star and virtually every other vehicle/playset. I was really into it, but I missed seeing Star Wars on its first run, so I didn’t catch the bug until the second swing through theaters.
Never got the Early Bird package, but I worked hard to catch up and stayed with it through Empire. By Jedi, I was thirteen and starting to like girls more than toys, and comics more than both … mostly because girls then didn’t really cotton to fanboys so much.
By then, I had dabbled into G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, but really dived headlong into comics collecting via Alternate Worlds, a bygone sub service out of Sykesville, Maryland.
Now, I’m just surprised we skipped over cool stuff like Big Jim’s Wolf Pack, Micronauts, Six Million Dollar Man, and the various TV/Movie based 3 3/4-inch figures that tried (but failed) to ride the Star Wars/Lack of Petrochemicals to Make Toys bandwagon … stuff like The Black Hole, Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, etc.
Where did you side with those lines?
Dan: Big Jim always intrigued me because he had the Kung-Fu outfit and anything even vaguely martial arts was of course all the rage in the ’70s. In grammar school, there was a karate demonstration one night with a guy who could pull a truck with his teeth. At least that’s what was on the flyers. Instead he just broke wood and stuff. I guess they couldn’t fit the truck in the gymnasium.
My cousin had the Six Million Dollar Man Steve Austin figure and I really dug rolling up his skin to check out the cyborg parts, looking into his head peephole (that sounds so wrong), etc.
But I was such a Batman obsessive that I didn’t have time in my toy life for almost anything but Megos. I never even really considered Big Jim. I had Action Jackson and that satisfied my nebulous-adventurer itch.
I did eventually get a 12-inch G.I. Joe with realistic hair and I started getting into World War II history, so I imagined him battling in the Pacific.
Were you into Planet of the Apes at all?
Scott: Are you freakin’ kidding me?!
POTA is listed among my FIVE FANBOY FORMATIVE FILMS. I was a total junkie of the original series, the animated series, and even the TV series when it aired on CBS. When I was a kid, when we played “guns” outside, it wasn’t Cowboys and Indians or Storming Normandy or Star Wars, it was PLANET OF THE APES.
As a kid, I actually had quite vivid POTA dreams of being pursued by Apes. Pretty strong influence, including my lifelong leaning toward apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic fiction.
Dan: What POTA swag did you have?
Scott: Bupkus. My cousin, who was favored by a rich aunt, had the Mego POTA Treehouse and War Wagon and all of the figures. I had nothing … but desired them much in the years that followed. Unfortunately, I never got the EMCE Toys Re-Mego Apes from a few years back. I can’t wait for NECA’s Classic Apes line to hit!
Dan: I absolutely loved the Planet of the Apes. Still do to this very day. It’s part of the family lexicon. I had Cornelius and Zaius from Mego, plus my Dad built a wooden treehouse for them. He thought the Mego one looked like junk.
What I would have killed for was James Bond. I loved James Bond and still do.
Everyone else hates it but I still love The Man With the Golden Gun and since there were no real action figures to speak of, I’d put together my own get-up: I’d skulk around the house in a suit jacket with a toy shoulder holster and rubber pellet pistol, even in the summer time. I filled a wallet with business cards of aliases. I picked up women in exotic locales. Pretty typical, actually.
I did once win this with tickets earned playing Skee-Ball at the boardwalk, though:
I think I should probably pick one up. And I NEVER HAD THE CORGI ASTON MARTIN GRRRRRRR!
Scott: Dan, if there were mass-marketed James Bond toys when I was a kid, I’d probably have lost my mind. My first Bond film was Moonraker, which I saw at the movies, and only after some SERIOUS debate by my parents. I was absolutely obsessed with Bond after that and pored over my grandmother’s TV Guide every week to see if ABC was airing any of the earlier 007 films on the Sunday Night Movie. Somehow, I never caught sight of Mego’s Moonraker stuff. To this day, I’m bewildered by the disdain for Moonraker. For a ten-year-old fanboy, that flick had EVERYTHING.
Dan: Man, the Sunday Night Movie. Always a special occasion when a James Bond movie was on.
Scott: Obviously, we’re both nostalgists when it comes to this stuff. What do you think the appeal is for us “fans of a certain age” when it comes to Megos and that new plastic smell? I’m astounded at how far toys have come, but there’s something so wonderful in an 8-inch doll that looks and feels like the “action figures’ of my youth.” Thoughts?
Dan: I think the whole root of it is indeed the nostalgia of it. When I was a kid, I had all this awesome stuff and yet I always wanted other characters like the Flash, or Hawkman — I even wrote to Mego about it — or I wanted greater detail, or different outfits. And it’s all come to pass, which is wonderful. I have a room full of this stuff and it’s great.
But there is always something about your first, and those simple feelings of love and security that come with them. You grow to find that simple is sometimes better.
So I think it’s about an involuntary, emotional response, like a smell or a song or a sound that reminds you of your favorite summer days.
Scott: I think it also plays to a time when anticipation actually meant something, and the play patterns weren’t necessarily pre-scripted. Imagination was key in all of it.
I tend to be a nostalgist as time wears on, but I think it’s less a matter of simply longing for those happy memories as it is a remembrance of heroes and toys that were molded first to be FUN. They only became collectible if they survived the crucibles of our backyards or family pets or what we did to them on rainy days because “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool to ‘accessorize’ Superman’s costume to look more like he lived in Kamandi’s time?”
July 18, 2014
My “toy era” was the 1980s, but this is a fascinating conversation!