Friday, February 27, 2009

Vintage Ads: Evel Knievel Assortment

The comic that this ad is from has seen better days. However, I thought I'd still post it. It's still viewable, somewhat.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Kenner Star Wars Promotional Booklet

Here's an early Star Wars pack-in booklet from 1978. Notice the vinyl caped Jawa on the page for the original 12 action figures. It also cracks me up that this refers to the Chewbacca large size figure as "Space Wookie" there is any other kind.

We used to pour over these booklets to see what toys were coming out and what toys we should be looking for on store shelves. We didn't have your fancy internet, Kids, to know a year or two in advance what would be coming down the pike. Bah! Somebody help me to my chair.

Incidentally, this old booklet fell completely apart while scanning it for this post. Just one of the sacrifices I'm willing to make for you...the mostly silent and anonymous readers, to spread the 70s toy goodness.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mattel Shogun Warriors Dragun

Shogun Warriors were quite the anomaly on toy shelves when they were released in 1979. Japanese culture in America wasn't nearly as pervasive as it is today. Sure, everyone knew who Godzilla was and many kids were tuning in to the Battle of the Planets cartoon each week, but by in large, Japanese influence on American culture was somewhat negligible. I know that none of my friends had any clue what "manga" or "anime" was, at the time. So, when 2 foot missile firing robots started showing up on toy shelves, we all thought, "COOL!!! ...What is it?"

We had no idea if they were good robots...or bad robots...or even if they were truly robots. Although Marvel Comics eventually produced a Shogun Warriors comic book series, for the majority of the time the toys were on the shelf, we had no idea who the characters were or what their background was. Frankly, I still don't know. There was, however, a Godzilla figure as part of the line to help "Trojan Horse" these very Japanese looking toys on to American toy shelves. So, we did figure that these guys were supposed to fight him...or something.

At any rate, despite their very non-American toy appearance, the Shogun Warriors were just too cool to pass up. They were released by Mattel Toys. I believe Mattel was importing these from a Japanese Toy company named Popy. Interestingly enough, most of the copyright information molded on the figures is in Japanese.

These were large and quite expensive toys (generally speaking). So, in my neighborhood, everyone kind of had their own single Shogun Warrior and we tried not to double up and get the same one as a buddy. Shoguns weren't really a toy line where we hoped to get every figure. At least, that's how it was in my neck of the woods. My Shogun was this guy. His name is Dragun. That's all I knew about him except that he looked cool, fired shuriken-like stars out of his arm cannon, flung axes, and had spinning buzz-saws in his forearms.

Dragun has wheels on the bottoms of his feet, kind of like roller skates. His head turns and he is jointed at the shoulders. That's about it for articulation. His arm cannon rapid-fires red, yellow, and blue stars that are loaded into the top of the unit. He also features a spring-loaded axe flinging mechanism in his left hand. Just place the axe in his hand, rock it back into place, and hit the release button... axe flinging robot goodness at its finest. Dragun's buzz-saws are free-spinning and require a good flick-of-the-wrist to get them going.

A complete Dragun includes either 6 or 10 stars (depending on the release) and three axes (white, yellow, and blue). Obviously, this Dragun is a little short on battle gear.

Today, this guy has a place of honor in my studio after being rescued from the garage. I don't know whether to fear him...or slap him on the back for being such a good robot. 

I may never know.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Kenner Star Wars Action Figures (Original 12)

These guys changed the world. These characters changed the world of pop culture as we knew it. These figures changed the toy world as we knew it.

Much has been said about the small scale of the first Star Wars figures. Apparently, this scale was introduced in an effort to keep the size of vehicles and playsets for the figures down to a manageable size. The high cost of producing plastic, at the time, may have played a role, as well. Suffice it to say that Kenner started a revolution in the action figure industry being the first to release figures in the 3 3/4" scale. It became such a popular scale that other companies began following suit and we saw everything from Mego Superheroes to GiJoe being produced at this size not long after. This scale is even seeing a resurgence today in such lines as Mattel's DC Infinite Heroes, Hasbro's Indiana Jones figures, and many others.

When the first Star Wars movie hit in 1977, it caught just about everyone by surprise. Science fiction films were seen, mostly, as low budget "kiddie fair" at that point and no one expected Star Wars to do anywhere near as well as it did. For me, after seeing pre-release stills of pictures that included Chewbacca (all hairy and wearing an ammo bandolier), I had made up my mind that Star Wars was going to be nothing more than a Planet of the Apes rip-off. I was totally right, of course.

All kidding aside, Star Wars exceeded most everyone's expectations on all fronts.

In kind, Star Wars caught many merchandising companies by surprise, as well... and Kenner Toys was just as late as many companies in getting product to the shelves. Movies weren't quite the marketing juggernauts that they tend to be today. Previous to Star Wars, the Planet of the Apes franchise had enjoyed the largest movie merchandising push of any property up to that point. In those days, it wasn't a "given" that a big budget blockbuster would have toys and what-not released around or before the release of the film. These days, toy and collectible companies release stuff so much earlier than a film's release that they even have to be careful about spoiling plot points months before anyone actually sees the film.

Star Wars was released in May, 1977. If memory serves, Star Wars toys did not start hitting toy shelves until early spring of 1978...almost a year after the film's release. That's a long time to wait and a testament to the "staying power" that Star Wars held and still holds to this day. Kenner even sold an "Early Bird" cardboard package with vouchers inside for eventually-to-be-released figures during the 1977 Christmas shopping season. This was done in an effort to secure both money and mindshare before they could actually get figures on shelves in 1978.

The figures pictured in this feature are my actual figures from childhood (these are the same figures that were shown in the Valentines Day vintage photo). Most of them were secured as gifts during a 3 week stay in the hospital for a cracked shoulder. I slipped and hit the ice while playing hockey during grade school recess and didn't realize anything was seriously wrong until weeks later when it was discovered that my shoulder was infected and would require hospitalization. Fun. I believe I also received an X-wing fighter during that stay. Who knew a fractured shoulder could lead to so much cool Star Wars swag?

The first figures to hit shelves were Darth Vader, Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Stormtrooper, R2D2, C3PO, Han Solo, and Chewbacca. In fact, prior to that, the first figures seen at all by the public were Luke, Leia, Chewie, and R2D2 when they were shown before Christmas 1977 in the television commercial for the now famous Early Bird pre-order set. It was several months after the initial release of 9 figures that the Death Squad Commander, Sandperson, and Jawa found their way to toy shelves, with the Jawa and Sandperson being the most difficult to find. Once out, this completed the initial release of 12 figures. We had no idea, at the time, just how many Star Wars figures were to come from Kenner. As far as I was concerned, I was done.

I'll never forget finally finding a Sandperson figure while on vacation in Oklahoma. There was ONE left and a younger boy was holding it and pleading with his Mom to buy it for him. Luckily for me, his Mom said "no" and the prized figure was placed back on the shelf. I held on to that figure so tightly all the way to the cash register that, if I remember correctly through the haze of nostalgia, it had to be surgically removed from my hands before I could open him and add him to my growing Star Wars figure ranks. That was a good day.

When the Jawa finally appeared in stores, most of us were very surprised to see that he no longer sported the vinyl cape that we had seen in so many promotional photos on the back of packages and in pack-in booklets (of course, a precious few Jawas with the vinyl cape did trickle on to shelves and are now worth more than my car). He was wearing a soft cloth hooded robe which seemed very odd at the time given the nature of the previous eleven figure's vinyl capes and robes. Plus, it hid the Jawa's trademark bandoliers that were part of the base figure's sculpt. Ah, but it was good to finally complete "The Twelve."

Today, we are looking back on 30 plus years of Star Wars history (has it REALLY been that long?) and there have been hundreds and hundreds of different Star Wars figures produced in that same time period. However, there was a point a long, long time ago when kids who loved Star Wars didn't have any Star Wars toys to play with and waited anxiously for them to be produced...not really knowing IF they would be produced. These old figures are the epitome of "vintage" with their limited articulation, screen inaccurate weapons, simple sculpts, and uncomplicated paint jobs. However, to many "kids" from the 1970s, there will never be better Star Wars figures produced...ever.

More Star Wars features to come.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Vintage Ads: Star Wars Action Figures

I love these old Heroes World ads.  This was an ad for the very first wave of Kenner Star Wars action figures and ships.  Notice that the Death Squad Commander, Sandperson, and Jawa from the "original 12" are absent.  It seemed like forever before those 3 started hitting shelves.

Stay tuned for a photo feature on the original 12 Star Wars action figures in the near future.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Six Million Dollar Man Instructions

Here are the instructions for the 1975 first-issue Six Million Dollar Man figure.

It's too bad that Oscar and the OSI didn't have these instructions at the time of Col. Austin's crash.  They could have saved Rudy a lot of grief, trial and error... and I'm guessing, but I'll bet it would have only cost about 4 million dollars or so to get Steve back up and running.  In hindsight, better preparation and organization could have saved the tax payers millions.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Kenner The Six Million Dollar Man

"Steve Austin, astronaut. A man barely alive. Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world's first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster."

These words were a solemn call to adventure for kids who tuned in to watch the Six Million Dollar Man every week.

Just 5 years after a man first walked on the moon, an astronaut named Steve Austin crashed the jet he was test piloting. His crash was horrific, disfiguring, and left him near death. Through a combination of medical know-how and robotic technology, he was restored to become the world's first bionic man. America was still enthralled with NASA's space missions and any technological feat seemed possible. The Six Million Dollar Man TV show capitalized on these sentiments and became one of the most popular sci-fi adventure programs of the 1970s.

The Kenner toy company, buoyed by the success of the television show, started producing Six Million Dollar Man toys in 1975. Their first offering was the star of the show, Steve Austin. For the time, the action figure featured quite a striking resemblance to Lee Majors, the actor that played Steve Austin.

Now, kids at home could relive the TV Adventures and create bionic adventures of their own with the figures, playsets, and vehicles that Kenner released. There was no shortage of bionic toys on toy shelves from 1975 to sometime around 1978, when Star Wars toys became Kenner's main focus. I seem to recall looking at the back of a General Mills cereal box in 1978 that had a promotion showing both Star Wars and Six Million Dollar Man toys. So, I believe that Kenner produced them, in tandem, for a short time.

My first Steve Austin figure was acquired after saving my allowance for several weeks. My Dad took me on the trip across town to visit LaBelle's, one of the only retailers in town to sell toys. "Don't Go Breakin' my Heart" by Elton John was playing on the radio as we neared my much anticipated destination. The loose figure shown in the photos is my childhood figure that made it through. Steve's a survivor.

Engine block accessory from first issue figure

It may not seem like it now, but back then Steve was the "swiss army knife" of action figures. This is the first figure, that I can recall, that had built-in action features. Up to this point, an action figure's accessories tended to have action features but not the figure itself.

It's obvious that the designers of this figure found inspiration in other 12" figures that had come before like Captain Action and GiJoe. However, Steve upped the ante in several ways. He had a bionic eye that you could look through that made everything look smaller, oddly enough. This feature, however, left poor Steve with a gaping hole where his left eye should be.

Steve also had a less-than-subtle button on his back that would activate the "enormous strength" of his bionic right arm. Once Steve's head was turned to the right to engage the mechanism, you could repeatedly push the button and watch Steve lift whatever he was holding (the original release came with an engine block. The second "bionic grip" release came with an orange girder). Steve's right arm was also covered with a flesh-colored rubber skin that started at his shoulder and ended at his wrist. Since this rubber tended to deteriorate over time, finding a Steve Austin figure with this skin still intact today is more rare than Stretch Armstong's fingers and toes. The rubber skin could be rolled up Steve's arm to reveal removable "bionic chips" in his forearm and a larger one in his upper arm. These chips also had small holes in them that would allow you to plug Steve into various bionic accessories and vehicles via plastic cables.

Although, Steve had many special features, sadly he lacked much articulation. It was not possible to pose him in a myriad of ways like you could with other current 12" figures that were being produced at the time like GiJoe. Kids didn't care, though, and The Six Million Dollar Man toy line sold extremely well.

I also think Kenner missed the boat, somewhat, by not adding some sort of bionic feature to one or both of his legs. They rectified the situation later by offering a separately purchased set of legs with bionic features (Critical Assignment Legs). Perhaps cost constraints kept them from doing anything with the legs on the "out of the box" figure.

Second issue figure with bionic grip

The second release of Steve Austin was identical to the first with two exceptions... the lower chip in his arm was now a yellow button that activated his "bionic grip" and Steve's lone accessory was now a rubber girder rather than an engine block. Steve's right hand was now articulated at the base of the fingers and would snap shut when this button was pressed.

Second issue figure with girder accessory

A complete Six Million Dollar Man Steve Austin figure (1st and 2nd issue) includes a red top with logo, red pants, two white socks, and two red tennis shoes. First issue figures should include the engine block accessory. Second issue figures with bionic grip should include the orange rubber girder. Both versions were released with rubber skin and chips on the right arm.

This was a great toy and is from one of my favorite toy lines of all time. Each toy was fun and included several play features. Kenner went on to produce figures of several characters from the Six Million Dollar Man TV show, as well as several vehicles and playsets. I will be covering many of these other toys in future toy features.

Boxed first issue figure

Vintage Ads: Six Million Dollar Man Maskatron

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mego 8" Batman

These days, if someone needs a Batman action figure they have many options. There are DC Direct's many, many offerings...there are Mattel's Brave and the Bold, Dark Knight, Justice League Unlimited, DC Universe Classics, Infinite Heroes, Super Friends, or Imaginext figures...there are the uber-expensive Hot Toys figures...or Medicom...or Takara. There's even the odd, pity-inducing Tonner Batman for those that can't stop themselves from having every last Batman figure produced. In fact, for the last 20 years or so, there really hasn't been a point where there was not a plethora of Batman action figures on shelves to choose from. There was, however, a point in the early to mid-seventies when your choice would have been more limited. In fact, limited to ONE...

This guy.

This is the Mego 8" Batman action figure. If you wanted a Batman action figure in the early 70s, this was your, Batman. First produced in 1973, Mego's Batman was the very first Batman action figure ever produced. Although Ideal's Captain Action had a costume to turn him into Batman several years earlier, he was only masquerading as Batman. Mego's Batman was the first "dedicated" Batman action figure. He wasn't pretending to be Batman. He WAS Batman...or at least the Batman we knew at the time. The Batman we knew as kids in the early seventies could have just as easily have shown up for an 8 year-old's birthday party as he could, say, to thwart a bank robbery downtown. Batman smiled a lot more back then and this demeanor is reflected in the very pleasant countenance of Mego's action figure.

Removable Cowl Batman

The first version of Mego's Batman featured a removable cowl. After less than a year of producing this version, Mego changed Batman to feature a head sculpt with the cowl molded on. This is the version that most people owned and remember from childhood. However, the removable cowl version is much more rare and difficult to find.

A complete Mego Batman includes the black and gray bodysuit (early issues used a shinier nylon for the black trunks), a yellow belt, paper or cloth emblem (paper early, cloth later), a nylon cape (although a vinyl version does exist), plastic boots, and a pair of fingerless gloves that are most often referred to as "oven mitts." Also, when dealing with the removable cowl version of Batman, the cowl itself is very important to have.

The oven mitts were always the first thing to get lost. Always. They didn't stay on Batman's hands very well and were difficult for a child to put back on as the suit cuffs would bunch up, making sliding the gloves back on a difficult task. The paper version of the emblem seemed to come loose and be lost quickly, as well. These days, it's fairly tough to find a loose Mego Batman with the original gloves and emblem included.

Other than costume pieces, Batman didn't come with any accessories. Mego had originally planned on selling small, carded accessory sets (ala GiJoe) for Batman separately but dropped the plans before actually getting them to toy shelves. However, other figures, playsets, and vehicles from Batman's "universe" did become available from Mego over time.

Although somewhat quaint and antiquated by current standards, Mego Batman was the childhood Batman figure of so many kids and holds a special place in the memory of many Batman fans today.

Feel free to share your memories of this great toy in the comments section!

Stay tuned for many more Mego figures in future posts.

Vintage Ads: Six Million Dollar Man

Here's an old comic book ad from 1975. I'll be doing a feature on this guy in the near future.