I don't remember everything about my family's Christmas celebration in 1984, but considering the haul I got, I remember a lot more of it than I should. I remember getting the ultimate pity gift of the Jabba the Hutt Action Playset -- pity gifts being the ones my mother gave me every year before the mass carnage of the midnight hour, because waiting to open my presents for that long would've absolutely killed me. I remember my aunt bringing along this magazine-quality gingerbread house that served more for decoration than eating, and somehow managed to stay in my family's living room well into the following March. Mostly, I remember Dargon and his Dragonflyer.
If X-E had a totem animal and I could cheat by making its totem animal a toyline, it'd be Sectaurs. Released by Coleco earlier that same year, Sectaurs were a group of insectoids, divided into teams of good and evil. Think He-Man with a bug slant. The toys were only mildly jolted by the benefits of an animated mini-series that few actually got to watch, surviving mostly on the unbelievable kickassness of their commercial campaign, which featured multiple thirty-second "episodes" starring the toys. Like, you'd see this one figure stuck under a pile of plastic rocks in "Episode IV," and you'd have to wait until "Episode V" to find out if he survived. Add in a Marvel comic book series, and there was enough shit behind Sectaurs to ensure a good run in stores.
Unfortunately, "good" was about it. The line was all but gone in a year's time. Most of the era's popular toys were at least based on big movies, but in the best cases, on cartoons that enjoyed daily afternoon airings. It was hard to put Sectaurs on the level of G.I. Joe. Destro was a TV star. Dargon was not.
Those of us lucky enough to have stumbled onto Sectaurs generally did so only by chance, not obsession. I doubt that Dargon topped my Christmas wish list in 1984, but because adults viewed toys much in the same way we view different brands of grapes, they saw all action figures lines more as "one big family" than as "several dozen families of differing levels of cool." I can't recall who gave me Dargon, but I'm glad they didn't know that I liked He-Man, Optimus and Snake Eyes better. This was one of the greatest toys I've ever owned, bar none.
The line consisted of several "sets" of toys, each arriving with a seven-inch action figure and some sort of creature companion. The smaller sets only came with creatures best construed as cute little plastic pets for their action figure masters, but Dargon was a deluxe set, and Dragonflyer was a deluxe creature. As Dargon tended to his included batch of plastic weaponry, you were free to assume the role of Dragonflyer's legs and viscera by shoving your hand up his glove-shaped ass. After seating Dargon in the saddle and strapping in the rubber safety belt, you got to glide the duo around the house using only a black glove and the suspension of disbelief. That's neat enough, but with the power of two AA batteries, everything got a hundred times neatier.
With the flip of a switch, Dragonflyer's upper wings came alive and flapped endlessly, with enough power to create both an attractive hum and a small breeze. Picture yourself as a little kid with this giant, flapping thing on your arm, and you'll have no trouble at all understanding why I motioned to Congress to allow for human/toy marriages last year.
I feel like I must've owned more Sectaurs toys than just Dargon, but outside of my "collector years," I can't think of any. I definitely remember wanting more of them. In particular, I wanted the one and only Sectaurs playset: The Hyve.
As the commercial illustrated, The Hyve was an absolutely immense playset, dwarfing the children in the commercial in ways that couldn't solely be attributed to camera trickery. It really was that big. As Sectaurs were nearly twice as tall as He-Man figures, picture The Hyve as an appropriately scaled-up version of Castle Grayskull. Then add another ten inches just out of spite. I wanted this thing so fucking bad. I wanted it so bad that The Hyve is in fact responsible for one of the two earliest dreams I can remember having.
The Two Dreams I Remember Having As A Child:
#1: Ted Knight was the evil principal of my public school, upstairs visiting with my parents, no doubt talking shit about me. I stayed downstairs out of fear, but for some reason, "downstairs" was now some kind of scary ass haunted amusement park, where skeletons chased me into closets that were already occupied by none other than Curly from The Three Stooges. Interestingly, I haven't spent more than three seconds of my entire life's spread of awake-time giving thought to Ted Knight or Curly. I don't know why they turned up, but I remember this dream and it still makes me weak.
#2: I dreamt I had The Hyve. It was beautiful, it was all set up in my bedroom, it was sent from heaven. This was one of those so-mundane dreams that it felt real, and as I relished in my Hyve playtime, my dreaming mind wandered, trying to figure out how I got it. Unable to come up with an answer, I realized that I was dreaming, and that when I woke up, I wouldn't have The Hyve. Defeated, I went to sleep -- in my dream -- and woke up in real life, crying.
I never got The Hyve, and the associated unfufillment stuck with me all throughout childhood, manifesting itself as a rebellious streak in my teen years, and again as a smoking and drinking habit as an adult.
Thankfully, the Internet means being able to buy anything you have ever seen, including people and islands and pure liquid capsicum. Several months ago, I purchased the Hyve. I bought it in its original box, with sealed parts, complete with a little form congratulating me on having attained "12 Sectaurs points" good towards promotional offers that expired 23 years ago. It's time to break this bitch out and make the memory of that terrible dream wither away. Then all I'll have to do is piss on Ted Knight's grave and figure out my connection to Curly.
The box is enormous. Really enormous. Like, three wine bottles high and four across. I'm almost pissed about this because it's just more proof that The Hyve would've changed my life as a child. Outside of wrapped packages that were obviously sized correctly to be video games, which gifts did you always open first? The big ones. In a big package, even shit was gold. The Hyve is far from shit, but it's one of the biggest boxes I've ever seen for anything relating to action figures. It is HUGE. The picture above could only do it justice if your monitor spans 48 inches. I know it doesn't, because you're poor.
As a kid in 1984, I honestly wouldn't have been big enough to even drag the thing into the playroom. Outside of that G.I. Joe aircraft carrier, I can think of no action figure vehicle or playset from this era with a box that even approaches this size. Small shakes, you say? Not really -- if the box was that big, it means the toy was nearly as big. It also means that you'd have a box leftover to do some awesome Calvin & Hobbes-esque shit with later on.
The back of the box tells the playset's tale. The Hyve does not specifically belong to either the heroes or the villains of the Sectaurs universe; instead, the factions fight for it. Filled with cultural secrets and great technologies, it's up to us to decide who wins. If we were feeling like dicks that day, General Spidrax and his miserable team of bandits would rule that universe in one of those feel-bad endings that made Event Horizon such a stupid movie.
The story is further expanded with this teaser text on the front of the box, using peculiar terms indicating that the Sectaurs' past is filled with terrifying things, and that the Hyve itself is filled with terrifying things, and that everything connected is in some way terrifying. Knowing this, I'm curious as to why everyone so desperately wants to get in there. Finding out secrets is cool, but finding out terrifying secrets seems like too big of a gamble to warrant battles-to-the-death.
If nothing else, at least the box taught an assload of kids the word "repository." Hell, I've never even used it until just now.
Not kidding when I say that it took an hour to put The Hyve together. The instruction manual is longer than the one that came with my computer, and you need real tools to put it together. Though everything holds in place well enough when all is said and done, it's just as clear that the intended construction of The Hyve playset was so flawed that many children had to have broke the needed "little parts" when attempting to build the thing.
There's a bunch of plastic screws that need to be hand-drilled into place, and it took me fourteen tries and a well-placed "GO IN YOU COCKSUCKER" to get the worst of 'em through the holes. I'm not a strong guy, but I am an old guy. Children who had lazy fathers and/or absentee big brothers were going to spend their first hours with The Hyve crying like bitches. I dig on that.
Finally, the war was won. I successfully put The Hyve together. After toasting myself, I reached a verdict: The Hyve is almost as impressive as a toy I've been dreaming about owning for twenty years should be. It is THIS CLOSE to being that impressive. Enter, bravely, The Hyve...
Just a hair short of a legit three feet tall, this is...The Hyve. As you can see, it's a Grayskull-esque attempt to give the Sectaurs line something in the higher-price-point category, but looking at Dargon for a sense a scale, it's just as easy to see that the thing is in fact twice as big as it really needed to be. Dargon could clone and stand on himself six times and still need a ladder to clear the top. Outside of Dargon, everything you see was included. If it doesn't seem like much, that's only because you've forgotten that shit like action figure bridges and plastic castle gates provided not just minutes of enjoyment, but days' and weeks' worth.
So large is the Hyve that throughout a day spent with it sitting fully built on my kitchen table, I was constantly caught off-guard by its enormity. I've seen the playset sitting there all day, and yet, when I walk out of the room and return later for hot popcorn, my first instinct is that Honey, You Shrunk The Me. The Hyve seems totally out of scale with the world around it. It makes the chairs under my kitchen table look like peas. I'm still not entirely confident in saying that the playset hasn't continually grown larger since I took it out of the box. I had the "whoa that's big" sense when I busted it out this morning, but by an hour ago, I was waiting for The Hyve to lure me with dreams of fame to feed it my loved ones.
I could list off all of The Hyve's features quick right now, but then I'd have nothing to say for the next 85 pictures. With Dargon as our guide, let's meet The Hyve. Every part of it. Even the screws.
Using what the instruction manual refers to as "assault ladders," Dargon begins his investigations. Only, Dargon calls them "insectivations" because he's hilarious. The Hyve arrives with three identical assault ladders, which can either be used individually or as a connected trio that still isn't tall enough to reach anything of note. That won't keep Dargon from trying.
Comin' 'round the mountain as I call, Dargon soon encounters what appears to be a long dead, once terrifying creature. He's not sure what to make of it, and when Dargon isn't sure what to make of things, he tends to linger around just long enough to let the things he can't make anything of come alive and bite him in the arms.
That's no lifeless creature -- that's Gnarr! One of the biggest reasons to get The Hyve! Complimenting the toyline's hand-up-a-bug gimmick, Gnarr is actually a puppet, controlled through a hole on the other side of the playset. Gnarr rules and knows it. Even at their ugliest, the hand-up-a-bug Sectaurs creatures always felt a little bit like real live pets. Within that, I'd suspect that Gnarr, free of the hard plastic bulk of his hand-up-a-bug cousins, was the fan favorite for take-along visits to relatives or the mall. Gnarr was like the My Buddy doll for the wrong side of the tracks.
Unable to climb past Gnarr because Gnarr is just the type of giant-legged spider-demon that would eat superheroes, Dargon shifts his weight and shimmies the ridiculously poorly connected megaladder to the other side of The Hyve. Successfully out of Gnarr's reach, Dargon mentally compliments himself for a moment too long, giving Vypex a chance to pop out, hiss and talk trash. Vypex is the lesser of the two Hyve creatures, but that doesn't mean he's not worth his own share of statues erected. A reptilian finger puppet, you're again controlling the creature from a hole on the other side. Sadly, Vypex is smaller than a shameful cock, and thus, cannot reach Dargon. Sad, because Vypex was totally into eating Dargon.
Landing closer to the top, on some strange platform with a nice, gothic railing, Dargon catches a breather and wonders why the gods chose to build a platform with a railing on a part of the castle that people can only gain access to by way of megaladders. There's no door. The platform isn't leading anywhere. Dargon briefly considers the notion of the gods being idiots. Only, Dargon calls them "insectiots" because he's a shithead. The gods are not idiots, of course; gods rarely are. When you're on a platform that obviously has no positive reason for existing, it's probably a trap. A trap set the by the gods to dissuade tomfoolery.
Yes, it's the patented "booby-trapped bridge" gag, and Dargon falls for it hardcore. As the platform tilts, Dargon clings for dear life, eventually falling back to the ground and busting an ankle like Ultimate Warrior did at Fall Brawl 1998. Now he'll have to start all over again. This is like landing on that one slide that sent you straight back to Hell in Chutes and Ladders.
Rethinking his strategy, Dargon is surprised to find himself on the floor with a cracked skull, victim of yet another boulder-on-a-string attack. The boulder is attached to a giant cannon all the way on top of The Hyve, meaning that the string is long enough to go deep sea fishing with. I love this toy. The best playsets came with 500 different ways to kill your action figures. So far we've had a plunge, a rock smash, a venomous snake bite and a spider the size of my car. My four favorite things ever. Coleco, you so psychic.
Referring back to the instruction manual, Dargon climbs up to the "Forbidden Cavern." I'm thinking the cavern's moniker is a bit of reverse psychology, because despite being "forbidden," it's the only way inside The Damn Hyve. Sneaking through the "Barri-Cage" door because some jerk left it unlocked, Dargon slides open the secret entrance hatch and prepares to figure out why all of his associated literature dictates that he make breaking-and-entering into The Hyve his life's work.
The Hyve wanted desperately to be the 1984 Toy of the Year, and to prove it, it's arguably two playsets in one. The front side of the Hyve (everything you've seen so far), is dark and ominous, bursting with danger and popping with pain. On the inside, it's a different story entirely. This playset never told the same story twice.
Dargon takes a quick look around, and is happy to note that there are no spiders, or flying rocks, or motherfuckin snakes inside. He's also gotten away with standing on a platform for more than three seconds, so it's probably not going to tip over and kill him like the one outside did. He's in The Hyve now, baby. Time to discover its secrets and use them to bed hot women.
Reminding you that these are the manual's terms and not my own, Dargon has now entered the sanctuary -- the "Bio-Control Laboratory." What happens in the Bio-Control Laboratory stays in the Bio-Control Laboratory, but I think that's only the catch-phrase because there really isn't a whole lot to do in there. Using a glossy cardboard backdrop to add ambiance, Dargon stands on a second floor made entirely of clever folds in said cardboard backdrop. I have to call a spade and admit that it's kind of disappointing, but for a shoddy cardboard platform, it still works well enough. Plus, they give you all of these neat plastic guardrails that poke right into it. I will take this as a concession and forgive The Hyve.
I feel justified complaining about its use as a platform, but I'm still a sucker for a good cardboard backdrop. They add so much to these playsets. When you're young enough to bring an action figure to life for seven hours straight, you're also young enough to look at a cardboard backdrop and turn it into a three-dimensional, air-breathing happyworld. Dargon consults a hall of electrogizmos and counts at least 6,000 curious buttons, meaning he'll have four or five days' worth of party time figuring out what they all do. A screen above appears to be an aerial view map of his planet, Symbion. He can't figure out if he's supposed to be judging anything more than if the entire freakin' landmasses have changed locations, but maybe one of the 6,000 buttons will zoom-in on the image. Dargon can't wait to find out!
On the ground floor, Dargon marvels at an even more luxurious room full of electrogizmos, this time with a chair and a video screen than plays Pink Floyd laser light shows on loop. Dargon cheekily whispers, "All and all you're just a...nother tick in the wall." Then he cracks up and I throw the boulder at him again. I don't know why I'm turning this into a short story.
Remembering the box's many claims of the amazing secrets held within The Hyve, I've used process of elimination to identify that glass box of plants as the amazing secret. What else could it be? The giant ladder? Vypex? The gothic railing? It's gotta be the plants. They must be one of those weird sci-fi plant deals, capable of incredible feats. Like, maybe they're smart plants who use the various electrogizmos to vocalize their thoughts, and they're going to tell Dargon how to cure diseases using nothing but poems. Or maybe they're insanely poisonous, and it's up to Dargon to make sure no bad guys use them to inspire genocide. Now that I look closer, holy shit, it's marijuana.
The Hyve came with an exclusive mini-comic, and it's good that playsets can't feel emotion, lest The Hyve break down and cry when I complain that the comic does not once even reference it. The comic introduces us to every character on Symbion, and every giant cockroach or bee they hang out with. It talks up places like "The City of Ancients" and "The Shining Realm." Why no Hyve? If Coleco could go through the trouble of naming each of the 50 plastic bags that contained the playset's parts as "Hyve Bags," why'd they have to stop short of giving the thing I just paid 20,000 dollars for an origin story? I'm glad the company went broke and that everyone who worked for it was forced to whore out their children in trade for dinner.
I'm kidding. I love Coleco. They gave me Sectaurs, they gave you Cabbage Patch Kids, and they gave the both of us a stuffed ALF. I'm only harsh because it's three in the morning and nobody loves me.
Standing on the landing pad atop The Hyve, Dargon's acclimated himself to the point where he now knows how to sidestep the landing pad's trap door. (Yes, it has one.) Relishing his victory over The Hyve and pondering how awesome it'll be to use that silver gun he's standing against to shoot birds later, Dargon whistles for his pal Dragonflyer. He'll fly to the base of his comrades and let them share the wealth.
Wait, screw that. Dargon found it. He should get the glory. Call your friends, Dargon. Throw a party and be the life of it.
Though Dargon commits the ancient faux pas of inviting friends who happen to be the worst enemies of other invited friends, everyone tries to put aside their differences and have a good party. At least, that's how it went with all of my big action figure playsets. They were rarely hero or villain specific, even if they were intended to be. Whether it was the Ewok Village, Snake Mountain, The Fortress of Steele or whatever else, all my figures, the good ones, the bad ones, even the mangled ones with missing legs, broke bread, never taking their outside angst further than a tongue-in-cheek shadow punch. Such parties lasted for hours when I was a kid, and I was working with ballrooms a lot smaller than The Hyve. With a place this big, my toys wouldn't have just had a "party." It would've been their Woodstock.
The Hyve is an incredible playset, indicative of why people in my age bracket are so disproportionately geeky about the toys they grew up with. Gigantic and inspirational are two great things for a toy to be, but throw in a spider puppet and I'll let you call yourself Jesus.