With Marvel joining DC at the modern Mego Corp., let’s take a deeper look at the originals…
UPDATED 8/18/23: With last week’s news that the modern Mego has landed the Marvel license, we’ve been dreaming about the House of Ideas. So it’s the perfect time for this “reprint,” which first ran in December 2017. Dig it. — Dan
It’s all Phillip Tagliaferri’s fault.
When I was 5 or 6 years old, I walked into Phillip’s room and standing on his dresser were Batman and Robin in all their Mego glory.
Though I had an Action Jackson, I hadn’t even conceived that these could exist. This was probably late 1972 or early 1973 and the shockwave of seeing the Dynamic Duo like this completely altered my young life and, I suppose by extension, the 45 years or so that followed.
What I didn’t realize was that this scenario, or similar ones, were playing out for countless other kids as Mego unleashed its first wave of World’s Greatest Super-Heroes — Batman, Robin, Superman and Aquaman.
For a generation, Megos were it, and no amount of Hot Toys, DC Collectibles or Marvel Select figures — terrific though they are — will ever surpass them for sheer childlike joy and wonder.
Through begging and cajoling — my rudimentary bargaining powers and skills of charm in full force — I managed over a few years to build a pretty good size Mego collection: Batman, Robin, the Joker, Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman, Batgirl, Superman, Aquaman, Shazam! Captain Marvel, Spider-Man, Captain America, Mr. Mxyzptlk and Green Arrow. In some cases, multiple versions of each.
Add to that the Batcave, Batmobile, Batcopter and Batcycle. (Oh, and Cornelius and Dr. Zaius from Planet of the Apes.)
My originals are long gone — a story for another day — but they’ve all been replaced by other original figures or today’s dead-on replicas. My collection is much bigger than it ever was, filled with characters that Mego never got around to producing or ones that I never had.
But I got to thinking. With Mego’s World’s Greatest Super-Heroes line celebrating its 45th anniversary this holiday season — it debuted for Christmas 1972 — which were the best? And by best — a purely subjective concept — I mean best designed. The ones that walk that line between hokey and goofy and clever and cool.
Now, if I were being completely sentimental, my list would look quite different. Batman would be tops, easy, hands down. Robin and Penguin would be on there. Probably Captain America too.
Instead, this is a list that tries to dispassionately consider the aesthetics and inventiveness that went into creating these wonderful toys.
So, with all that said, and your argumentative muscles already primed, here are The 13 Greatest Mego Superheroes — RANKED:
13. Kid Flash. If I’m going to have one of the smaller-scale Teen Titans on this list, and I should, it’s going to be Kid Flash, whose classic design is one of the greatest in comics history. (Click here for more on that.) I’m not crazy about the red knickers but almost every Mego makes some concession to budget or production issues. I dig the molded gloves — and only wish that Mego had gone on to create his mentor, the Flash …
12. Shazam! … whose outfit, I suppose, would have looked a lot like this. Shazam! Captain Marvel was one of the earliest Megos I had but he disappeared relatively quickly, which is strange because I was careful with my toys, but there you have it. I know that purists get annoyed by the shortcuts on the cape and even the face, but I dig it.
He looks like Rich Buckler’s Captain Marvel, and that’s just fine by me.
11. The Falcon. I was far more focused on DC’s Megos rather than Marvel’s. I was a Batmancentric kid and only had Spidey and Cap. I may not have even become aware that the Falcon had a figure until years later when I saw him in a Heroes World catalogue. I don’t think I ever saw him in a store. But this is a great design and does an admirable job of translating him from the comics page. Huge, huge points off, though, for the versions that had Planet of the Apes hands. That is just seriously messed up. (Also worth noting that the Mego commercials used to single him out as the “black superhero.” Yeesh. Different times, I know. But still.)
10. Batgirl. I suppose there was no other way around it for the Super-Gals, but I never liked the Megos with the flyaway hair. Too unruly and it really detracts from the overall effect of the figure. So part of what makes Batgirl work is her helmet: It keeps her hair in check. When you take it off, you’re still left with that odd mask but I used to think of it as Barbara Gordon’s glasses. She’s the best of the female heroes Mego produced and was one of my favorites as a kid. Taking a cue from Batman Family (click here), I used to have her date Robin. I had an overactive imagination.
9. Superman. The Man of Steel is kind of bland and he never seemed quite big enough for me, but this is about as good a classic Superman action figure as you’ll ever find. The colors are bright and bold, the cape is secure and Superman looks like Superman. I played with him a lot more after Superman: The Movie came out but I was always disappointed that he didn’t look more like Christopher Reeve (though he’s not far off, actually) and that he didn’t have better villains to battle. That was a real Mego oversight. Mxy but no Lex? Come on!
8. The Thing. I almost put the Hulk on this list because he’s a near perfect adaptation of the character in plastic and cloth. And seriously, I probably should have. But I just love the Thing’s kitsch value and didn’t want to put two of the over-muscled figures on the list. Random, but true. Anyway, that’s a top-flight head sculpt — Kirby in 3-D. And the suit is rocks painted on! If that doesn’t say Mego, I don’t know what does!
7. The Riddler. This is a terrific figure, and wonderfully simple. With so few bells and whistles to have to adapt, this Riddler really looks like the Riddler. I suppose you could quibble that his purple belt should have been one of Mego’s generic smooth belts instead of a copy of Batman’s utility belt, but whatever. Though Spider-Man was also in stocking feet (as it were), I always had a harder time getting Riddler to stand on his own. Maybe that’s because Spidey’s feet were sticky. (Get it? I crack myself up.) Seriously, though, it’s a great head-sculpt and a great jumpsuit. Great figure.
6. Batman. Batman is my favorite Mego of all time for the obvious reasons but a less biased view puts him in the middle of the list, with a big asterisk: If I only had to consider the removable-cowl version, he’d be at or near the top. But the molded-head Batman was the one that most kids had. The removable-cowl Batman was magical. Getting to take that mask off to reveal Bruce Wayne underneath was a thing of transformative beauty.
On the other hand, the molded Batman headsculpt isn’t great. By the early ’70s, the Batman of the comics had reverted to his role as a serious avenger of the night — but merchandising didn’t catch up to that for years so Mego Batman ended up with an oddly placid look. The oven mitts don’t help the look either, though I’m totally cool with that. They’re so indelibly Mego I can’t begin to criticize them. I think I also would have preferred that his cape were fastened on, because it would often spin around during Batfights.
(Side note: Robin didn’t make the list because even though he’s one of the great Megos, I frequently found him frustrating to handle: His tunic would often come open or pull out from his belt. Not exactly conducive to the aforementioned Batfights. I still love him, however, even though as a kid I often wished his head sculpt were up to date instead of being based on the Golden Age.)
5. The Lizard. Now, we’re really getting into it. The Lizard is one of Mego’s best — and may be why I like the character so much. Great head sculpt, accurate clothing and clever construction of the cloth tail. I wanted a Lizard in the worst way and never got one. It is the holiday season, so if any of you readers out there want to buy me one off of eBay, I’ll let ya!
4. Green Goblin. As great as the Lizard is, the Green Goblin is better. Sometimes Mego overshot with its accountrements but here they hit it right on. It’s a great head sculpt, for one thing. All cackling menace. The jumpsuit is a superb design too. And they didn’t skimp on other details, either: It always bugged me that Superman had generic boots — same with Batgirl — but here the attention to detail pays off with Goblin’s pointy footwear. Spidey deserved more villains — especially if they were as well produced as these two. A first-rate figure — and one I also never got. (Hint, hint.)
3. Green Arrow. Green Arrow makes it this high largely on the strength of one of Mego’s greatest head sculpts ever. This is Neal Adams’ vision almost perfectly adapted. Funny thing is I considered GA kind of exotic, too: I got him pretty late in the game — years after my original figures, which I largely acquired from 1972 to 1975 or so. He was the last DC 8-incher produced, hitting in ’75, but I didn’t know about him until much later. And to this day I find it strange that Mego produced him while never getting around to the Flash and Green Lantern, who were higher on the DC food chain. So there’s a certain aura around this figure. He’s not entirely comics accurate — he lacks those distinctive archer’s gloves and there’s no cross-stitching on the chest — but the outfit really works. On the other hand, the accessories didn’t necessarily fare as well: The quiver straps never sat on his shoulder properly, you couldn’t really fit the bow in his hand properly and the hat would fall of his head when in action. But if you pose him on a shelf, he looks damn cool.
2. Spider-Man. This is about as good as it gets. Like the Riddler, this is a case where simplicity wins out. No capes, no clutter, no belt, no nothing. Just a great-looking jumpsuit, with deep, rich colors. Now, as it happens Spider-Man is one of the greatest costume designs of all time, so that obviously helps. (Click here for more on that.) But Mego really nailed the presentation. Is it perfect? Of course not. This is Mego we’re talking about. The web lines on Spidey’s mask aren’t black. Instead, they’re indented — but I find that really cool. I also much prefer the classic, comics-accurate chest logo, as opposed to the bizarre circle version.
And did you realize that this is one of the few Spider-Man action figures to give you those John Romita eyes? It’s true. Just try finding another one. So that’s huge for me. Because it looks like this Spidey just jumped off of this cover:
1. The Joker. If Spidey is simplicity incarnate, the Joker is the perfect melding of Mego’s variety of production instincts. The head sculpt is the best the company ever produced, with its bright green hair, white pallor and bold red lips forever molded into villainous laughter. Though he was obviously meant to look like the happily crooked clown of the ’60s comics, he can also pass for the more sinister criminal of the ’70s, depending on your mood and perspective.
You might want him to be wearing an actual suit and vest — I wouldn’t. Suits at this scale look bulky and constricting. Having his outfit screened on may not be realistic but it’s classic Mego. And since the Joker’s a skinny marink, the effect is appropriate. The illusion is further enhanced by the purple tails with green shirt cuffs. The lapels never sat right but whatever. The brown shoes worked, meanwhile, and the slight tackiness of the rubber made it pretty easy to get the Joker to stand on his own. If I have a quibble, it’s that the Joker was usually drawn with purple gloves, but so be it. That wasn’t even 100 percent of the time.
So while Batman always won in the end, this Joker laughed all the way to the bank.
— MEGO’s WAYNE FOUNDATION: Dig This Rare UP-CLOSE LOOK. Click here.
— How ADAM WEST, NEAL ADAMS and MEGO Made Me a Lifelong BATMAN Fan. Click here.