I'm not sure why I'm using a stone wall for this article's background image. I'm also not sure why I haven't been writing many articles lately. Perhaps it's because I didn't have a nicely tiled stone wall website background to motivate me? I'd tell you that I was soul searching, but it was really more like atrophying, and even then, it's probably something that could be described with a word much less cool than "atrophying." Atrophying. It's what the guy does in the back room when you're buying awards for the third grade bowling tournament.
My brain's swimming in some kind of thick, murky sludge, and when it's like that, I know I don't have it in me to tackle something particularly hard-hitting, like, say, old soda cans. Instead, I dug through my closet and yanked out five fabulous '80s toys that, while undeserving of singular tributes, merge together quite nicely as something that can be written about without really trying.
Most of the toys below are from lines that never quite got off the ground, owing to either an oversaturated market or the simple fact that nobody wanted to play with them.
The Reactors series came to us in 1985 from a company named Nasta, and probably failed because it's impossible to imagine a company named Nasta producing battery-operated toys but no carbonated ice tea brands. They weren't terrible toys by any stretch, but the gimmick was a little off. Reactors consisted of a bunch of futuristic vehicles that moved all by themselves on the fuel provided by a plastic "power rod." And 14,000 batteries.
The example I have is the "Retriever-RR1," and that's a double-edged sword. It's the largest vehicle in the line, but it's also the most pointless, serving mainly to "dock" the collection's other vehicles, whatever that means. I don't know. Here, look at the back of the box, which provides images of all the different Reactors toys. Clearly, I got the shit one. Snorlax was the BIGGEST Pokemon, sure, but at the end of the day, Jolteon and Victreebel could still kick his ass. Retriever-RR1 is the Snorlax of the Reactors. Big for bigness's sake.
Thing won't bust a hump without two "AA" and one "9V" battery. Finding two "AA" batteries is never an issue, because your ceiling fan has perfectly convenient pull-strings and really doesn't need a working fucking remote control. 9-volts are always a little tougher, because even if I had one laying around, chances are good that it's damaged from the zillion times I put my tongue on top so I could feel electric for a second. Like Jolteon. :(
Reactors vehicles also suffered from having no corresponding action figures. It's hard to imagine why Nasta skimped, because every single vehicle in the collection had a big black canopy that could've easily been made to open up to reveal two little futuristic robot dudes inside. It wouldn't have mattered if the figures came with accessories or had arm joint articulation or whatever. It's just that without some vague idea that pilots are piloting, these things were just glorified Hot Wheels cars. And you can't even carry the Retriever-RR1 in your pocket like a Hot Wheels car unless you're like 700 pounds and wear gigantic pants.
Okay, here's where the gimmick comes into play. The ad slogan for Reactors was, and I quote, "THE POWER IS IN YOUR HANDS!" To emphasize the "power" part, this slogan was typically accompanied by a picture of a random kid wearing giant sunglasses with his hair all frazzled. Frazzled...from POWER! Indeed, we had the POWER to make Reactors roll around, but instead of a radio control device or even a goddamned on/off button, Nasta took the long way home and finished last.
See that little knobby thing on top? The thing with an "R" sticker? That's a power rod. After placing it inside the vehicle's top compartment as shown above, a light will shine through its back end, also as seen above. After a while, the light will flicker. Stay with me here. When it starts flickering, the rod's been charged with enough power to make the stupid car move. You pull the rod out, revealing its innate ability to glow in the dark, and...jeez, are you still with me? Okay, so you take the now-glowing rod out of the top compartment, put it into the bottom compartment, and then it's...POWER TIME!
With the charged rod in place, your Reactors vehicle speeds off in one direction and one direction only, and that direction is the nearest wall. It doesn't stop when it gets there -- it just keeps trying to roll through, oblivious to its inability to make like Kitty Pryde. After realizing how sad and pathetic this action feature really is, all you have left to do is uncross your legs, get up, walk over, turn the thing off and never play with it again. "Playing" with these toys only involved letting the vehicle roll away from you at top speed, with no way to direct it, much less even turn it off without first chasing it down the kitchen floor. And you'll want to do that as quickly as possible, because whatever kind of alien motors Nasta used to make these are some noisy little motherfuckers.
In case you couldn't tell, the "charging power rod" deal is a complete farce. It's a plastic rod -- it doesn't charge anything. When you put it into the compartment, all you're really doing is pressing down on a hidden "on" button. Removing the rod is the equivalent of an "off" button. So, what we have here are kind of neat looking vehicles that don't do much more than a pharmacy-found battery-operated three-inch toy tank made in a third world country. Nasta Reactors, you're flunked.
I don't have as many bad things to say about the Legions of Power line. I guess it tanked because it was basically the same thing as the already-established and moderately popular Wheeled Warriors line, and couldn't even begin to compete without its own cartoon show. Then there's the fact that these toys were made by Tonka, who weren't exactly masters at marketing anything resembling action figures. Not that these were action figures, but even though they're vehicle toys, they're more action figures than big metal yellow dumptrucks. This is the worst paragraph I've ever written.
They're best described as the kind of thing you got for Christmas from some distant aunt who didn't really know you. Nobody was a "fan" of Legions of Power. Nobody went around town with a toy pistol pretending to be Legion of Powers hero "Commander Jeffron," because it just wasn't fun to pretend you were Commander Jeffron if nobody knew who the fuck he was. Despite this, the toys seemed to trickle into our lives, however sporadically, and it's not like we had any reason to complain. They were good enough toys. Blue collar toys. Toys that earned an honest living.
Inspired by many other collections, Legions of Power was like M.A.S.K. mixed with Wheeled Warriors mixed with a LEGO bucket. Each set came with various parts that could be fitted together to create one of several vehicles shown on the back of the boxes, or if you were feeling creative, you could just make whatever the hell came to mind. The assorted parts were big and sturdy enough to keep your creations in one piece until that fateful day when a bitchy mood turned you into a toy-destroying Godzilla. With a LEGO set, anything you built was at the mercy of everything from an accidental bump to a misdirected sneeze. Legions of Power toys actually kept their shape until you went berserk on them.
This particular toy is called a "Tech Dynasty Ground Terror," which is a pretty dumb name, so I decided to follow suit by building the dumbest of its five forms -- the "Research Mode." The set includes two little rubbery action figures, and despite how generic they look, Tonka actually went through the trouble of giving each of them a name, allegiance and back story.
In fact, there were figures included with every Legions of Powers set, all with names and personas and abbreviated ranks. Oddly, 85% of the figures from both the hero and villain teams were "lieutenants." We had Lieutenant Reighnor, Lieutenant Nimrod, Lieutenant Jondice...it just went on and on. I'd hate to see the day that a new captain position opened up in the Legions of Power universe, because the politicking and backstabbing would turn said universe to ruin.
To go along with the characters, an impressive origin story was provided for the entire line. I'm not going to go into full detail, but the summary is this: Two alien planets at war are surprised when various electrogizmos literally rain from the sky, arming them with new technologies with which to pound the shit out of each other. It's the timeless story of man having machines rain on him.
Overall, not a great line, but not such a bad one either. Just got a little lost in the shuffle.
Ooooh, the Meteorbs! I loved the Meteorbs! Debuting in 1987, these weirdo egg dudes were very late additions to the Masters of the Universe collection. By then, the line had totally peaked and was on a downward slope, but Mattel tried to stop the inevitable by making cooler toys than ever before. The Meteorbs were a radical departure from the norm, seeming more like vague competition for Hasbro's Transformers than legit companions for a six-inch He-Man figure.
The idea was simple enough: Make a bunch of creatures that could transform into comets. Actually, I suppose that's not really a simple idea. In fact, that's just about the furthest thing possible from a simple idea. But they were simple toys, coming into stores with low prices and in small sizes. In the latter fact lied the true appeal of the Meteorbs. You weren't buying an action figure so much as you were buying a fake pet.
All of our toys battled each other for supremacy and that was nothing special, but certain toys had just the right mix of compactness, cuteness and psychic powers to transcend past the figure-drenched floor and become bona fide pets -- not for other actions figures, but for us! We'd carry such toys around in our pockets, let them look out the window during car rides, and swear that they really ate the Cheerios we fed them. I can only remember a handful of toys to gain such stroke during my childhood. There was Ravage and Lazerbeak...the little glow-in-the-dark baby turtle figure that came in jars of Retromutagen Ooze...maybe one or two extra small bootleg Pound Puppies won from some shady Jersey arcade...and the Meteorbs. Darling little Meteorbs.
The Meteorb featured in this article is named "Cometroid," and a quick glance at Cometroid's packaging confirms that he's the least desirable of all Meteorbs. I preferred Ty-Grrr and Crocobite the most as a child -- Ty-Grrr for his meticulously painted stripes; Crocobite for letting me spend most of the second grade saying "CROC-O-BITE" like a reject Jimmy Walker whenever shit went my way.
I hated reading up on the Meteorbs' origin story, because such material painted them as highly intelligent creatures, completely disarming my theory that they could in fact muster nothing more than adorable grunts and licking-my-face action whenever I came home from the battlefield. My bias doesn't eradicate their story, unfortunately. Within MOTU canon, the Meteorbs were said to arrive alongside the "Comet Warriors." I wrote about the Comet Warriors at length back in 2002, but here's the quick scoop: They were kind of like the heroes of Eternia, only they were from outer space and primarily made of rock. The figures transformed into roughly spherical comets, so it made perfect sense that they'd be travel buddies with dogs and cats who transformed into roughly spherical meteors.
The short bio given on the back of the packaging says that the Meteorbs are able to restore their vast powers simply by going inside their little balls to rest. If only the Charizard I blew on a Lv. 87 Mr. Mime could say the same. Great, now I gotta go erase the Snorlax line so I don't sound extra stupid.
It seems that Father Time simplified my memory of the Meteorbs over the years. Now that I've got one in my hands again, I can't get over how hard they are to transform. Difficulty level is somewhere between putting on Bruticus's chestplate and getting a POTF2 Ben Kenobi to stand without the aid of his stone-sturdy cape and cowl. I think I've gone too insider.
The Meteorbs were born cheap, but as interest in the MOTU line continued to dwindle, they only got cheaper. I distinctly remember raiding one of those fabled 99-cent clearance racks at a KB Toys, heading home with a pile of four of five of them and feeling like I had reason enough to open a pet shop. Their price on the collectors' market varies widely. There aren't too many people looking for them, but those who are show a criminal willingness to spend too much money on them. On a good day, most of the figures shouldn't run you more than $15. If they do, you've been suckered and you're probably the type of person who will believe me when I tell you that Mercury dimes are made of mercury and come from Mercury and that the lady pictured on the face of each coin is Queen Mercury of the Merucurians, who was later celebrated in The Merucurian Candidate. Fool goose, you are.
People who read X-E more diligently than other people who read X-E probably remember that I've written about A Bad Case of Worms before, but that was just some blog entry that'll probably be erased forever when I have my next Wordpress crash. A Bad Case of Worms toys are very important to me, and they deserve to be written about in a larger font over a more personalized background color.
They're the first toys I can remember choosing for myself. Four-years-old and standing with Mom in the shitty KB Toys (then Kay Bee) in the Staten Island Mall, pointing to tiny briefcases filled with stretchy worms and saying, "Mine. I need them."
I have no idea why I loved the things so much. It may have had something to do with their store placement -- KB always had them right by the register. Right by the Almond Joys. You'd lean down for candy, and there was no sense not picking up a tiny briefcase filled with stretchy worms while you were already slumped over.
The briefcase popped open to reveal a pair of long, skinny, adhesive worm toys in various colors. The old commercial wanted us to treat the worms as if they were Wacky Wall Walkers, but I never got into 'em on that level. Like the Meteorbs, these worms were pets. It wasn't much of a stretch. Mattel went through the trouble of carving each worm a smile and doe eyes. You weren't going to mash these guys in the dirt; you were going to nickname them, and read them stories at bedtime.
Hey, the more I read, the cheekier they sound. What are they up to with that little fan club of theirs?
A Bad Case of Worms wasn't an incredibly successful line, because, well, I guess you'd have to be four-years-old to pick rubber worms over an electronic machine gun or a G.I. Joe figure that came with a Joe-scale crocodile figure. Obscure even in their own time, the toys are nearly impossible to find today. The pictures in this article aren't the result of a well-placed eBay bid. I had to build a time machine for this to happen.
Lastly, we have the little-celebrated Computer Warriors collection, from 1989. The basic gist: Tiny, technological warriors fighting for the forces of good and evil find themselves living in our world, and to keep from getting smooshed like June bugs, they build vehicles and fortresses out of things like soccer trophies and flashlights.
The masterpiece of the collection was the actual computer playset, which opened up to reveal a Computer Warriors five-bedroom lodge. Still, the best toys in the line were truly life-sized. Stuff like the pencil sharpener vehicle and the calculator vehicle were extra cool, because if you looked at them just right and kind of crossed your eyes a bit, they really did look like pencil sharpeners and calculators.
If Computer Warriors had any reputation at all, we can thank the toy shown in the photo above. By far the most awesome thing to come out of the collection was the Computer Warriors Pepsi Can, which was officially licensed and perfectly sized to look just like a real, honest to God Pepsi can. Circa 1989, at least.
The unassuming can split apart to reveal "Gridd," one of the hero characters who served as his team's "mechanic specialist." Whereas most soda cans contain soda, this one hides a "hyper hoverjet," which is just a more dynamic way of saying "chair with vaguely wing-shaped things attached."
Oddly, or maybe not so odd, Computer Warriors had an unmistakable M.A.S.K. vibe. Whereas M.A.S.K. warriors hid their intentions in hot cars, these guys opted for calculators and pencil sharpeners. To each his own.
I don't know the specifics on why the line failed, but I have a few ideas. While Mattel did go through the trouble of telling the Computer Warriors origin story on one totally obscure animated video, the line never had the benefit of a real television show. When you're dealing with a conceit as obtuse as "warring sides hiding out in pencil sharpeners," you need more than a few text blurbs on the back of the boxes to help convey the finer points.
Second, they came out just as Playmates' Ninja Turtles figures were getting white hot, and at that point, the only way to survive in the action figure aisle was by making action figures that, in reference to scale, seemed like they could play racquetball against Leonardo on an even playing field.
I don't have a third point, but I wish I did. My arguments would seem less on the fly.