previous article | | next article
ROBO FORCE! Max Steele and friends learn the powers of merchandising!
Matt - 09/18/00

Robo Force is one of the least-known great toylines of the 80s. Some kids had 'em, but most missed out. That's what happens when you don't have a popular accompanying cartoon or a cool lead character who spews out hip catchphrases. In fact, there was very little fanfare at all over these figures...they were the kind of toys you just had to accept at face value at the toy store. Jesus, this paragraph reads like the things are actually important. Of course they're not important at all, but they're still some cool action figures.

Between toons and toylines like Transformers and Go-Bots, to movies like Short Circuit, robots were a popular fad of the decade. So it's no real surprise that these figures popped up. The line consisted of a team of 'good' robots and a team of 'evil' robots who did battle using their highly peculiar special features. These weren't any normal robots, mind you...these robots were wacked.

Standing about 6" tall with a blocky plastic body, Robo Force figures might appear to be your standardized robot action figure. But that's at first glance. No, these toys were much more than mere robots. They were robots with some of the strangest special talents of all time. Their claim to fame? All of the robots' arms had a, accordion effect going...they could stretch to unimaginable lengths. It was a cool feature, but definitely strike one against their durability. If you tell a kid he can stretch something, you can be certain the kid's going to find out exactly how much. I think my Robo Force figure's arm clocked in at 8" before ripping off the socket. To this day I'm not entirely sure what purpose the stretchy arms were meant to serve...all they really did was make the figures look like gas tanks. But for some reason, it works.

The second 'killer' feature managed to be even stranger than the accordion arms. Along the path of history of robot lore, someone decided that legs were ultimately an optional feature. I guess it's to balance things out a little...the robots get a higher brain function and cooler color scheme than us regular humans do, but some of the fuckers don't have legs. Robo Force was no exception. They might've had arms that could grab the morning newspaper from bedside, but that's only because there was no way for them to walk to get it themselves. But the criminal mastermind behind Robo Force didn't remove the legs without having a brilliant backup plan, no way. Instead of legs...they all had suction cups. Shibang!

What it really all boils down to is that little kids will clamour for anything called a 'special feature', no matter how dumb it is. You could market old He-Man figures with the arms ripped off as 'Special Mutant Man-At-Arms', and little kids will go crazy for it. Why do you think they made Luke Skywalker figures for every conceivable outfit he wore in the trilogy? Special features, man. But we're not talking about a different set of pants or an off-colored lightsaber...we're talking about something far more sinister: suction cups. With this amazing addition, your Robo Force figures could stick anywhere from the fridge to that kid in class with the abnormally large forehead.

It's at this point where we've really got to start wondering how this toyline came to be. Sure, the end result was terrific: these were kickass figures never seen or duplicated. But how does a toymaker go about pitching the idea of robots with suction cup asses and accordion arms to his or her superior? If that's not hard enough to figure out - picture the guy who actually created these mysterious entities. It doesn't take too much creativity to dream up Barbie dolls, or even turtles who mutate into Turtles...but robots with suction and stretching powers? Drugs. Definitely.

The fellow pictured above is named Coptor, and he's the only figure from the set who remains with me to this day. Looking at my poor Coptor, I'm reminded of my childhood days of occassional lapses into catatonic, infantile bouts of temporary insanity. In other words, I occassionally liked to chew plastic. It's an epidemic that's stayed with me to this day. I don't have a single pen cap that's gone completely unmutilated. But back then, in a world full of plastic toys, it really got a little crazy. And these figures made it all too easy. Between the giant rubber suction cup and the soft plastic arms, my three favorite foods in the mid-80s were chips, Twizzlers, and Robo Force toys.

To differentiate between the figures, they each had their own special little features. Some had giant guns, others had weird sonar weapons. Some even got the highly-sought black suction cup. The easiest way to figure out the good guys from the bad guys -- most of the good guys had eyes. The bad guys just had lines, or nothing at all.

There was also a few vehicles...

Like the action figures, the vehicles also prominently displayed some pretty odd features. One of the 'cars' had a secret black chamber of death and a shovel. The other one had a claw. Now the claw obviously beats the shovel, but the black chamber of death might win things for the weird shovel vehicle on a technicality, only because we can all appreciate special features that make absolutely no sense.

But the best thing in the set, by far, was the Robo-Force playset. Now I've had every conceivable action figure playset from Castle Greyskull to the Ewok Village, even lame ones like that Go-Bot headquarters and the Horde Fright Zone. And while all had merit, they all paled in comparison to this...the Fortress of Steele!

Now that's a playset. In my realm of toys, this was the place to be. Only the most elite figures from all my assorted collections were allowed entry into this plastic paradise. The thing was fucking huge...had every feature you can imagine: a crane, sealed elevator, lazers, citadel dome, everything. And - it could seal up! What better way for my most important toys to ward off intruders than to close up their castle? It even had a handle for travel purposes!

By the way, 'Steele' isn't a typo, the fortress is named after the leader of the good guys of Robo Force...Max Steele. Now Max really parlayed his Robo Force leader status into the material world like no other...for a virtually little-known toyline, take a look at all the ways Max has made his presence felt across the world...

Yes, courtesy of Ideal, Max Steele was also one of the greatest real robots in history. You have no idea what I would do for one of these things. It's got mechanical moving arms, wheels, and claws. It could talk. It could play music. The frigging thing had a legit computer chip in it...this was the real deal. They really don't make 'em like they used to, but then again, back in those days, we didn't have lollipop machines that spun the sticks for us. We give, we take.

The Robo Force phenomenon actually predates the action figures, as illustrated by the above pictures of the Max Steele Erector Set. In my years of toy trading, selling, buying, and worshipping, a lot of Erector sets have come in and out of here. They were may too much work for me to handle. I took one look at the 4,600 pieces each set had and threw 'em into the trade pile. I firmly believe a petition needs to be started that creates a law stating that everything must come fully assembled. The second picture displays the ultra-rare and entirely unpopular Robo Force board game. Super Pop-O-Matic!!

No, we're not done. There's more Robo Force stuff. Hey, I thought this line was unpopular. I may have been wrong on that one, since it's one of the only toylines I've ever seen that had...

A magazine! Yes, the Robo Force magazine. You can bet advertisers were breaking down Ideal's doors trying to get the back cover advertising spread. The sad part is, I'd be the first to subscribe if this was still around today. You think you're going to find a pleasant escape in Entertainment Weekly or Penthouse? Well, nothing could beat this. It'd be worth getting just to ride around on buses reading it. Can you imagine the looks you'd get burying your face within the cheap paper pages of this magazine?

But wait - there's more. You've got the toys. You've got the robot. You've even got the Erector set and lame board game. Hell, you even bought the fucking magazine. But you weren't a true blue Robo Force fanatic until you could say that Max Steele was the middle man of your social activity. That's why you needed...the Robo Force phone.

Okay, I'd probably give my left testicle for the Max Steele robot, but I'd give both for this thing. Even the most unpleasant phone calls would feel magical when you're talking into Max Steele. The best part is, it made all sorts of weird robot noises instead of your typical phone ringing. I'd never answer the phone! Who'd want to end that heavenly robot music just to tell your local newspaper company that you already get the fucking paper, thank you. PS, if anyone out there wants to pretend my birthday is this week, go buy me this.

No, we're still not done. I'm sorry this is getting so long, but it's not my fault Robo Force was such a giant cross promotion. Just be happy, I left out the tidbits about the Robo Force tablecloth and Robo Force napkin set. I'm not kidding, those exist too.

Let's be practical about all this. You love Robo Force, and you want the world to know you love Robo Force, but you can't go around carrying 15 action figures and a 40 pound robot. You really can't, that's why I got beat up in high school. So how do you proudly display your affection for the obsession? You wear the official Robo Force hat!!! Yes! And when people start complimenting you on your obvious high fashion sense, flash 'em your Robo Force Fan Club membership card!

And when you're through with all that, you've accomplished a few things. First, you'd undoubtedly become the world's biggest Robo Force fan. You'd be to Robo Force what Sal Piro is to RHPS. Secondly, you'd be a pretty fucked up weirdo. Thirdly, you'd definitely be single.

All in all, I'm glad that somehow I ended up doing this article...I had forgotten how cool this line actually was. Robo Force might not have the nostalgic value of Star Wars or G.I. Joe, but we've still got a place in our heart for it's magnificent mechanical wizardry.

- Matt