TOYHEM 2020 features the latest in a recurring series of 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
Over the last few years, we’ve has a lot of fun listing toys we’d love to see re-released, given that we’re in the Golden Age of Toy Reproductions. (We also like to list toys that should have been made — and would like to see now — such as THE TOP 13 MARVEL MEGOs WE’D LIKE TO SEE — RANKED (click here).
Anyway, it’s the final week of TOYHEM, so we’ve invited podcaster and toy maven Chris Franklin to join us again with ANOTHER 13 CLASSIC TOYS WE’D LIKE TO SEE RE-RELEASED. (Links to prior columns can be found below.)
By CHRIS FRANKLIN
Walk into any store with a toy department (just make sure you mask up, first), and you will find the ’80s are back. Not only do Masters of the Universe, G. I. Joe, Ghostbusters and G1 Transformers have new toy lines on the pegs, but you can buy authentic reproductions of a 1986 Winston Zedmore or a 1984 Cobra H.I.S.S. tank as well!
Still, there are plenty of classic toy lines and figures who haven’t gotten that repro love just yet, and it’s high time they got another chance to take that magical ride in Santa’s sleigh. So, once again, here are ANOTHER 13 CLASSIC TOYS WE’D LIKE TO SEE RE-RELEASED:
13. Beetlejuice (Kenner). In 1990, Kenner released a series of action figures based on Tim Burton’s 1988 spooky comedy, Beetlejuice (and strangely not the simultaneously running animated series). The line featured several screen accurate depictions of the titular Ghost With the Most, with a nice likeness of Michael Keaton, which Kenner also nailed in its Batman: The Dark Knight Collection. The toys were definitely aimed at kids, with action features similar to the Kenner Real Ghostbusters line, but also included a few other movie characters like Alec Baldwin’s Adam Maitlan, Otho and Harry the Hunter.
With the film established as a perennial favorite more than 30 years later, and a long gestating sequel still being discussed, perhaps Hasbro (which absorbed Kenner long ago) could re-release the movie characters and throw in a few new ones like Geena Davis’ Barbara Maitlan and Winona Ryder’s Lydia. Let’s say it one more time and see if he appears: BEETLEJUICE!!!
12. Blackstar (Galoob). The 1981-82 animated series Blackstar could be considered a dry run for Filmation’s mega-successful He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. With a heroic, muscle-bound barbarian-type lead, magical sword and mixture of sci-fi and fantasy, the two properties are certainly not dissimilar.
The Filmation series was wrapping up its initial network run, as Mattel’s Masters of the Universe toy line was becoming an overnight sensation in 1982. Rival toy company Galoob saw the possibilities, and similarities, and began producing a series of Blackstar figures in 1983… the same year Filmation’s He-Man series revolutionized children’s syndicated television.
But Galoob’s Blackstar line shouldn’t be looked at as just an “also ran.” The toys featured innovative light-up features, and heroic characters were packed in with companion Trobbits (hmm, sounds familiar), while villains came with demons. There was a lot of play value in the line, with plenty of vehicles and steeds (like the hero’s winged dragon, Warlock) and a very impressive Ice Castle play set. Before the advent of Thundercats late in the game in 1985, Blackstar emerged as the leading contender for discerning kids’ MOTU money. With all the love He-Man gets nowadays, a reissue from a nostalgia-driven company like Super 7 seems like a no-brainer.
11. The Archies (Marx). Speaking of Filmation, in the late ’60s and throughout the ’70s, they produced various Saturday morning animated adaptations of Archie and his friends from Riverdale. Musical segments on the shows produced hit records like the immortal “Sugar, Sugar.” So at the time, Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica were dominating newsstands with their eponymous comics; television; Billboard charts; and for a brief period, the toy aisle with a set of figures produced by the venerable Marx Toys.
Marx produced 9 1/2-inch cloth-costumed figures of Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica, without a Reggie in sight. They also sold various outfits for the characters on blister cards, a carry case, and a jalopy for them to ride to Riverdale High in. Although the bodies have limited, Barbie-like articulation, the real winner in this series was the head sculpts, perfectly capturing the classic look of the characters that is still in use today. With Archie Comics continuing to branch out the franchise in new and exciting ways, and the characters back on TV, in a fashion, on Riverdale, it seems like the perfect time to reissue these classic toys.
10. Captain Planet and the Planeteers (Tiger Toys). In 1990, media mogul Ted Turner helped create and release Captain Planet and the Planeteers, an animated series designed to address and engage kids in the environmental issues facing the world.
Turner and the other creators’ method was a concept similar to the way in which Jack Kirby’s Forever People would call up the all-powerful Infinity Man: Five teens from different countries across the globe would use their inner power and magic rings to combine Earth, Fire, Wind, Water and Heart, and summon Captain Planet, a blue skinned super hero decked out in red with a green mullet.
Together they fought enemies of the environment like Duke Nukem (not the video-game guy) and Sly Sludge. Helping to develop the look of the series and provide the early packaging art was none other than comics legend Neal Adams. Some then and now derided the cartoon for its preachiness, but when you are dealing with a message show, that’s just part of the package. The show never forgot the superhero action aspect, and the toys carried that out admirably.
Sadly, Captain Planet’s mission is more relevant than ever, so now would be a great time for a revival, and a re-release of the classic toys.
9. Centurions: Power Xtreme (Kenner). Kenner may have locked in the 3.75-inch action-figure size with their Star Wars line, but that never stopped them from experimenting with other scales. In 1986, they ran the gamut from the small — 2.75-inch figures from M.A.S.K. (which I included on last years’ list) — to the large: 7.5-inch Centurions. Centurion figures were made larger to accommodate the line’s gimmick: modular weapons and accessories (some sold separately) that plugged into various holes on the figures, so kids could customize them for specific play.
The concept took the Land/Sea/Air motto of G.I. Joe to the next level with characters like Ace McCloud, Max Ray and Jake Rockwell (guess which hero lined up with which environment). The villains were gnarly looking cyborgs named Dr. Terror and Hacker, who traded in much of their humanity for monstrous robot forms.
Despite a tie-in animated series from Ruby-Spears (featuring design work by Jack Kirby and Gil Kane!), and a comic series from DC, the Centurions were part of the glut of toys-to-TV products that came in the wake of the breakout successes of Masters of the Universe, G.I. Joe and Transformers.
The line got lost in the shuffle, disappearing from toy shelves after one year. Hasbro could give the line another shot, reissue the figures, and maybe sneak the characters into the 6-inch G.I. Joe: Classified line. Imagine the Build-A-Figure configurations they could dream up!
8. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (LJN). While TSR’s Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game was gaining more and more popularity in the early ’80s (and sending conservative parent groups into a “Satanic Panic”), toymaker LJN was busy translating some of the character types and trappings of the game into plastic form, in their Official Advanced Dungeons & Dragons series.
While most fantasy toys of the time blatantly ripped off the look of Mattel’s Masters of the Universe phenomenon, LJN carved their own path, creating a line of unique figures, with far more detail and paint applications than the standard of the day. From small, unarticulated dwarfs to fully articulated knights, and deluxe five-headed dragons, AD&D featured just about every kind of fantasy character or beast you could imagine. Well, almost. The line did not feature ANY of the main characters from the concurrent Marvel Productions’ Dungeons & Dragons animated series that aired Saturday mornings on CBS from 1983 to 1985. This was probably due to the toy line going into development before the animated series, and the made-for-TV kids who found themselves trapped in the D&D realm were not part of the licensing deal.
Action figure characters like Strongheart, Warduke and Tiamat guested on the show, but the kids weren’t afforded the same opportunity to return the favor. Since Hasbro now owns D&D lock stock and barrel, they could reissue the existing figures, as well as finally give fans the Hank the Ranger, Eric the Cavalier, Diana the Acrobat, Presto the Magician, Sheila the Thief, and Bobby the Barbarian that they’ve been waiting for since 1983.
7. MAXx FX (Matchbox). The brainchild of famed toy designer Mel Birnkrant, MAXx FX was an action figure pitched as a “master of makeup and special effects” who could change into any number of Hollywood’s top movie monsters, from Universal classics like Dracula and Frankenstein to modern slashers like Jason Voorhees and Freddy Kruger.
The concept was an update of Ideal’s classic Captain Action concept, swapping super heroes for horrors. Birnkrant also designed costumes for the Alien Xenomorph, a werewolf, a mummy, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and more.
Matchbox, best known for their die-cast cars, bought the concept, and made a big splash at Toy Fair in 1989. MAXx and his first four costumes were ready to roll out… and then controversy struck.
Acquiring the license for A Nightmare On Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger from New Line Cinema, Matchbox opted to also make a talking plush Freddy doll and release it before MAXx. The parent outcry over a cuddly doll based on a resurrected child molester/murderer ended the MAXx FX line before it ever made it out the door. The only item produced, ironically the Freddy Krueger set, was liquidated at closeout stores like Big Lots (where I happily bought mine!).
If a company with one foot in the horror door like Mezco or NECA could re-release Freddy, and the other three sets from Wave 1, Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula and the Alien Xenomorph, a great toy injustice could finally be undone. And perhaps the other sets could follow!
For more on the fascinating saga of MAXx FX, but sure to check out Mel Birnkrant’s website.
6. Big Jim’s P.A.C.K. (Mattel). Mattel’s sports-oriented 9-inch action figure Big Jim decided to pinch a bit from Mego’s World’s Greatest Super Heroes and Hasbro’s G.I. Joe with the arrival of his action P.A.C.K. (Professional Agents/Crime Killers) team in 1975. The group was composed of different weapons/fighting specialists, and in some ways presaged how Hasbro would revive the G.I. Joe concept in the ’80s.
Jim was outfitted in a Nick Fury-like field agent outfit, and was joined by former frenemy Dr. Steel and his karate chopping metal hand, the Whip and his array of exotic armaments, and Warpath, a Native American with a bow and arsenal of arrows. They were later joined by Torpedo Fist, with his extending metal arm, who helped them oppose the evil Zorak, with his face changing action, going from evil human, to even more evil underworld demon!
Big Jim also got a new figure, with helmet hair and similar face change feature, going from determined to just plain honked-off. If the toys weren’t cool enough, most of the packaging and licensing art were drawn by comic legends Jack Kirby and John Buscema, upping the action level of the figures past 11. Somehow despite this, P.A.C.K. was disbanded after two years, and Mattel eventually moved Jim over to Europe where he had even more incredible adventures. But strangely the company hasn’t tried to revive this homegrown IP outside of a connection to their Maxx Steel line. It’s high time for the P.A.C.K. to make a comeback… but please repro those Kirby boxes!
5. Bullet Man – G.I. Joe (Hasbro). Big Jim wasn’t the only one cribbing a bit from the competition in 1975. The original action figure, G.I. Joe had long transitioned away from its initial military theme by this point, instead becoming “The Adventure Team,” with generic characters more likely to get involved in a jungle expedition than combat. The Joes were still known for land, sea and air adventuring, but none of them had unique identities.
The changing face of the action figure market in the mid-70s forced Hasbro to reconsider this, and introduce three distinct additions to the line: Mike Power, Atomic Man, a thinly-veiled rip-off of televisions’ then-biggest star The Six-Million Dollar Man; the Intruder, a diminutive alien caveman; and Bullet Man, the Human Bullet, a full-fledged, costumed super hero!
With his red boots and unitard, and silver arms and domed helmet, Bullet Man more than lived up to his name… and also evoked the long defunct Fawcett Comics character of the same moniker and relative design! DC Comics had revived Fawcett’s Captain Marvel in their Shazam! title a few years prior, but Bulletman had yet to resurface when Hasbro shipped their first Bullet Men to toy shelves.
For years, many collectors decried the inclusion of such an obvious fantasy character into the mix, but there’s no denying Bullet Man was a great looking toy, with his removable vac-metalized helmet and ability to fly on an included zip line. Hasbro has reissued the original and Adventure Team Joes over the years, but it would be great to see Bullet Man get the same treatment.
And while you’re at it Hasbro, throw a redesigned version into the excellent 6-inch G.I. Joe: Classified collector’s line! Just call him the Human Bullet to get by DC’s trademark!
4. The Adventures of Indiana Jones (Kenner). In 1982, another action figure line from the epoch-making combo of Lucasfilm and Kenner sounded like a surefire hit. And of course, Raiders of the Lost Ark was not only one of the top box-office draws of 1982, it was an instant classic. But the corresponding toy line, The Adventures of Indiana Jones did NOT sell in Star Wars-like numbers, despite the best efforts of Kenner, who turned in a magnificent, movie-accurate toy line with plenty of play value, and all the major and minor players.
Poorly thought-out case assortments hobbled the line, leaving pegs full of Cairo Swordsmen and German Mechanics, with no Indys in sight. Hasbro paid homage to the line with a series of 3.75-inch modern action figures covering the entire Indy series when Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was released, but given how well the recent retro Star Wars line has been received, it’s nearly guaranteed that a set of Raiders figures would be gobbled up by fans, both old and new.
3. The Lone Ranger (Gabriel). Undoubtedly one of the best-crafted action-figure lines ever aimed at kids, Gabriel’s 10-inch Lone Ranger line went all in on creating a Western world of adventure that kids were starting to grow disenchanted with by the 1970s. Parents and grandparents who grew up with the Daring and Resourceful Masked Rider of the Plains on radio, movie and TV screens were probably a big factor in the success of the line, hoping to share their love for the character with their kids. I know I got my set of Lone Ranger, Tonto, Silver and Scout from my grandparents for Christmas!
Even then, I was amazed at the intricate detailing in the costumes, weapons, saddles and every piece that came with them. I had no idea at the time that what I received in 1981 were reissues tied in to Gabriel’s new, smaller, 3.75-inch line, both in conjunction with the release of The Legend of the Lone Ranger film.
Gabriel had created an incredible number of figures, playsets and vehicles for the line from 1973 to 1977, from costume changes, to canoes and wagons, to Western towns. Any environment or accessory you needed to act out a Lone Ranger adventure was available somewhere in the line. Very few, if any, action figure lines went into so much depth with a property, in so short a time.
Gabriel is long gone, but if some quality-minded toy company were to reissue the Lone Ranger/Tonto and horse sets as a start, well, they’d get a “Hi-Yo” out of me, Kemosabe!
2. Marvel Super Heroes (Marx). Marx made the very first figural offerings of many of the Marvel superheroes in 1967, a year after the Grantray-Lawrence Marvel Super Heroes animated series debuted in syndication, and the very year Spider-Man first made it into multi-media on Saturday mornings.
Marx had made a name for itself as a manufacturer of static plastic figurines. Unlike most similar companies, Marx wasn’t satisfied with just producing “Army Men” and “Cowboys and Indians,” during their heyday of the ’50s and ’60s; they made an assortment of historical, movie and TV characters, from Apollo astronauts to Zorro.
Favored among many fans are the company’s Universal Monster figures, but the Marvel Heroes have to come in a close second. Marx chose to cast TV stars Captain America, Spider-Man, Hulk, Iron Man, and Thor in one-color plastic, as well as the fairly unknown Daredevil, snubbing the Sub-Mariner, who was part of the syndicated cartoon package.
The detailing on these figures is exemplary, from Spider-Man’s underarm webbing to the scales on Captain America’s uniform. In the mail-order ads promoting the figures, Marvel suggests: “Paint ’em or just set ’em around to form your own super-hero museum!” Painted examples really bring out the awesome level of detail, and the fidelity to Marvel artists of the time like Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby.
These figures were reissued a few times over the years, including another go in the ’70s, but the chance to own both a pre-painted and unpainted set would be great for both kinds of fans Marvel was originally aiming for!
1. Justice League of America/Batman (Ideal). A year before Marx made theirs Marvel, Ideal was all in on Batman, and by extension, his Justice League teammates. Of course, 1966 was the year of Batmania, and Ideal led the charge with role-play items, hand puppets, and of course Captain Action. But they also made smaller, static figures of DC characters, and released them onto toy shelves in several ways.
The Justice League of America sets featured two fully painted 3-inch hero figures of either Batman/Robin, Superman/Aquaman, or Wonder Woman/Flash. Paired with these were unpainted, one-color figures of Joker/Brainstorm, Keyman (JLA comic foe the Key)/Koltar (a two-headed dragon creature), and Mouseman/Thunderbolt (Johnny Thunder’s T-bolt gone rogue!), respectively.
There were also unpainted versions of Batman and Robin available in a three-pack with the Joker, and Sears released an exclusive set with a few of the unpainted figures and some extras. But the real standouts of this line are the two nearly impossible to find large gift sets of the figures.
The “Official Batman Play Set” featured the Dynamic Duo, Superman, Wonder Woman, Joker, Brainstorm and Keyman, along with the Batmobile (strangely called “Bat Car”), Bat Plane, a giant robot, and “ray weapon.” The Holy Grail, however is the “Official Batman & Justice League of America Play Set,” featuring all of the smaller set, plus the other villains, a launcher for the Bat Plane, a console, and the JLA’s Secret Sanctuary mountain headquarters!
This set is, for many, the ultimate, unattainable be-all-end-all of superhero collectibles. Unlicensed reproductions have been made in the past, but if some boutique company like Super 7 or Mezco were to give this an official re-release, several generations of fans and collectors could finally die (or at least retire) happy.
Chris Franklin co-hosts several shows on the Fire and Water Podcast Network, including Batman Knightcast (with Ryan Daly), Power Records Podcast and Superman Movie Minute (with Rob Kelly), and Super Mates and JLUCast (with his wife Cindy). He also produces the Where Does He Get Those Wonderful Toys series on the Fire and Water Network’s YouTube page. Like 13th Dimension’s own Dan Greenfield, he contributed an essay to the recently published book, Zlonk! Zok! Zowie! The Subterranean Blue Grotto Guide to Batman ’66 – Season One.
— The Complete TOYHEM 2020 Index of Features and Columns. Click here.
— 13 CLASSIC TOYS We Want to See Re-Released. Click here.
— 13 MORE CLASSIC TOYS We’d Like to See Re-Released. Click here.