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The History of Battle Beasts!
Matt - 2/04/01

Well, we've covered M.U.S.C.L.E. and Monster In My Pocket figures, now its time to take a look at the line that's had more article requests than both the previous combined - Battle Beasts.

For those who don't remember, here's a little background on the collection. And really, if you're not up to snuff on your mid-80s 2" action figure lines, you ain't worth shit. Consider this an exercise in personal growth, because god knows nothing short of a masters degree in physics will get you a promotion faster than a full-fledged, competent understanding of Battle Beasts. The year was 1984 - which I guess we can call part of the boom years for action figures, if you want to believe such a thing exists. A lot of people would consider this site, at its core base, 80s nostalgia. Definitely not the case - it just happens that, for whatever reason, a lot of cool shit came out during this time, particularly between 1983-1987. Since the market was so saturated with cool stuff to make our moms buy us, Battle Beasts never really bit off a big chunk of the market. With the arrival on the internet and much easier ways to pick up our childhood favorites, they've got a pretty strong following.

So what were they? Little action figures, around 2" tall with weapons, each of whom belonged to a specific classification - wood, water, or fire. Consider this the toy version of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Wood beats water, because nothing spells defeat like being able to float on your opponent. Water beats fire because, well, it puts it out. Fire beats wood for burning obvious reasons. The figures were all extremely well crafted - very unique and colorful, which was pretty rare for such small figures. Take a look...

Look, they're all together! In the forest! For the sake of marketing, the three teams were able to put aside their personal differences long enough to give us a grand look - and as you can see, they're pretty cool. In theory, they were all supposed to look like an animal. In practice, Hasbro took some severe creative liberties with what could be considered animals - thus leaving us with Beasts who lived up to their name, seeming to be hybrids of monkeys and rhinos with coat hangers on their heads. Most kids overlooked this biological impossibility, since animals don't carry knives or wear blue metal suits anyway. Battle Beasts were a fantasy world.

To drive the point home, we saw a series of animated commercials featuring the Battle Beasts battling, and explaining why which side was winning. It was absolutely surreal television - you'd have a wolf wearing a Robocop suit punching an Owl in army fatigues yelling 'Fire! Fire beats wood! Fire!' over and over again until someone from the Water Camp came in and kicked him in the balls. You know, I'm not gonna try to scapegoat the toys of yesteryear to explain why we're all such fucked up wastes of skin today, but its pretty clear that anyone who spent a good portion of their time dealing with Battle Beasts was going to end up at least somewhat maladjusted. Here's how it went...

One of the fire beasts is on the scene. For the sake of simplicity, let's call him James. James is pretty proud of himself, since he commands the use of fire and can fly. These aren't thing to scoff at - imagine how popular you'd be if you had wings and could spit flames while talking at the same time. Needless to say, James is pretty proud of himself. Unfortunately, pride leads to hate, as Johnny, the Battle Beast fish and representative of the Water Team, gets rightfully pissed off that James is gloating so much. Johnny does believe that a certain amount of self-worth is essential in this workaday world, but man, James is just being an egotistical little flying wolf bitch. So, he sprays water at him.

James is immediately defeated, because as we've already established, water beats fire. Now, don't mistake what you're seeing here as some sort of warlike malice on Johnny's part - he's just defending his kind. I'd also like to point out that the Beasts' weapons were obviously a cosmetic affair, since they're never, ever used. Still, no beast was without a weapon. I'm not sure how to make sense of it, maybe battle axes and pointy sticks were to the Battle Beasts what comical keychains and wallet chains are to us. But just to show you how this universe was a karmic place that ultimately always came full circle, I'd like to introduce Michael, of the outstanding and upstart Team Wood.

Michael, at first, had no intentions of getting involved with James' and Johnny's little affair. But now that the stupid fish reverted to type and gloated about his victory, he knew he had to act. So, he knocks a log into the water, and somehow this spells defeat for Johnny. Isn't this like some fine Shakespearian work? I feel like I'm watching a re-enactment of MacBeth here. Anyway, Michael throws wood in the water, knocking Johnny out of commission. So, does that mean Team Wood is the best group out there? Don't count your CHICKENS, my friends.

James wakes up, and now he's on Michael's ass! FIRE BEATS WOOD! James spits fire at a tree, setting it ablaze, and somehow hurting Michael in the process. I've never seen vicarious pain like this since the time the Undertaker fainted when Jim Cornette emptied out his mystical urn. The point is - no one Battle Beast was part of the best team. That is...not at first.

Hasbro might be a lot of things, but fools? Nuh uh. They're behind some of the most powerful toylines of the modern era. Sure, they've had their share of dogs too, but generally, they're got a remarkable success rate. Part of their sinister formula is adding hard-to-find (and thus highly-sought) figures into a popular line. So, we were given Battle Beasts with a new affiliation - Sunburst. These guys could beat all the other teams.

Of course, since Battle Beasts were also available in Japan, we didn't really see the line in full here in the US. We eventually got some Lazer Beasts, but these were incredibly rare (and collect huge sums in today's market) - so, basically, Fire, Wood, and Water were the teams those of us in North America were looking at. The series met with some success on toy stores - enough success to warrant giving our Beast friends wildly themed vehicles for each team...

For creatures so parked in the simplest, most core elements of nature, they got pretty snazzy with their bases. I guess it was some kind of social status, I don't know. The Water Team sought to capitalize on everyone else's innate fear of sharks by fashioning their base after one - only this shark had a gun, a waterfall, and a few misplaced platforms that served no purpose. Team Wood had a really tough time trying to think of a surrogate animal theme. Seriously, can you name any animal out there besides termites who even slightly lend themselves to a 'wood' theme? Well, Team Wood couldn't either, so they flipped a coin and turned their base into a giant, stupid beetle. Amazingly enough, I had this toy. Their base had paid little attention to necessities - the only real things it has are a prison and a big wood box, presumably to hold all the extra wood. Because Team Wood conserves, you see.

Rounding out the three bases, from the Fabulous Fire Team, we have the Blazing Eagle. Personally, I thought Fire had an obvious advantage, since their base could fly around and basically just be menacing with a lot more panache. But some cried foul, since an eagle has about as much to do with fire as fish do. The war as to whether or not fire had chosen their totem animal unfairly got pretty ugly, so respectfully, we'll just move on to the next topic and leave the rest to your imagination.

Now, for cartoon enthusiasts, the secret past of Battle Beasts is actually pretty intriguing. Not intriguing in the same sense of figuring out how things like an octopus choose a mate, but interesting enough to make your ideas on the foundation of cartoon continuity shatter at the very base. Yes, Battle Beasts have some skeletons in their closet.

Okay, so, with that, I must tell you, Battle Beasts aren't who you think they are. In fact, they were originally part of the Transformers line of continuity - and by truth, still are. DOES THIS NOT SHOCK YOUR WORLD?! CALL YOUR FRIENDS - SPREAD THE GOSSIP - ITS TRUE! In the preliminary stages, they were called Beastformers, made by Takara in Japan. For those who don't know - Takara made many of the original Transformers toys, basically the Japanese version of Hasbro when it came to the line. Battle Beasts were a TF spinoff! They were going to be a part to the disastrous Powermasters line before coming into their own. If this paragraph doesn't seem to make much sense to you - don't worry, the only thing you need to pick up on is that the Battle Beasts are essentially part of the Transformers universe. So when you played with your toys and had Optimus boss them around, you weren't being blasphemous at all. You were just one of the few who did things the right way.

The whole wood/fire/water thing came later - beforehand, those rub symbols on their chest actually told us whether or not they were Autobots or Decepticons. Pretty scary. If this all went through, we'd have to eliminate people like Wheelie and Bumblebee as the shittiest Transformers out there. To be honest, I don't really have too much info on all this, but I can tell you that the two series crossed over many times, in merchandise, and yes, on the shows. Let's check it out...

Remember when Patsy waltzed into that party in the middle of Roseanne and started talking about past lives as transsexuals with Jackie? Seeing Daniel take care of sick Battle Beasts doesn't have quite the same effect, but its pretty high up there on the 'holy shit!' scale from a strictly geek point of view.

Meanwhile, Hot Rod, yes Hot Rod, talks trash with one of the Beasts. These episodes were part of the Headmasters series in Japan, sadly never shown (to my knowledge) in the US. For more info on the Headmasters, go check out my Fortress Maximus article from last month. Point is, there's actually solid animated evidence that the Transformers and Battle Beasts co-existed, almost peacefully. This kinda stuff really won't make the tabloids, that's why we need websites to talk about it. If we didn't, we'd have millions of uninformed jackasses walking around assuming that Team Fire never heard of an energon cube. Knowledge is power.

Now, if you're a tad curious about the particular personalities of the Beasts, have no fear, we've got it covered. Since there were so many of these friggin monsters running around, a lot of them were lost in the shuffle. But, thanks to a series of comics about the Beasties, we got a few profiles...

Wow, I guess some things really are best left unsaid. Cutthroat Cuttlefish? That sounds like something Batman would come up with when he needed a new adjective for a criminal he was mentioning too much. Unfortunately, that's the guy's real name. On the flipside, Knight Owl wasn't much better. Could you picture these two meeting up for introductions?

CC: Hey guy, what's your name?
KO: Knight Owl.
CC: I know you're a night owl. What's your name, I meant.
KO: No no, that is my name. Its a phonetic cutesy thing - I'm Knight Owl.
CC: I look to you with my inquisitive eye, misunderstanding your answer.
KO: Okay, Knight Owl as in...uhh...Knight Rider. Got it?
CC: Oh! Haha, that's pretty good. Very clever. I'm Cutthroat Cuttlefish.
KO: ....
CC: ....
KO: Really.
CC: Yeah, it means I'm a cuttlefish who doesn't take any crap.
KO: I see.
CC: Yeah.
KO: Okay, well. I guess I'll see you sometime. Bye.
CC: Later.

Okay, so the names sucked. But we're not done yet - there were other, far more mysterious Beasts on the horizon. Beasts that had new affiliations. Beasts that came from another planet. Beasts that cost a fuckload of money if you actually wanted to add them to your collection nowadays..

Shadow Warriors / Laser Beasts were available in very limited runs - they had a sort of dome on their chest instead of a rubsign, and based on that merit alone, they run a ridiculous amount of money on the collectors market. Its also acceptable to call these guys 'Orbs'. Most of them had weapons that resembled the creature carrying it, probably one of the most useless features a toyline has ever spent money on. Each of these were sold in individual boxes to denote esteem, and since their availability on this side of the world was, for all intents, zero, they're pretty high-priced.

Some of them did hit the market in carded two-packs like the one shown above on the right, but these are almost flukes in their rarity. Actually, the fact that anyone would still have one today is a fluke, since these two-packs weren't available in Japan, only in a very centralized test market here in the US for an extremely short period of time. It never ceases to amaze me that people had the foresight to hold on to these things way back then, since the collectors boom really didn't start till the 90s. Or, at the very least, that's when the prices started going up. Eh, since we're on that topic, here's a little story about that, and the upward swing of the prices of these kinds of toys.

I started dealing/selling/trading old toys at, literally, age 13. Don't ask me how I fell into this trap or why I was interested in it, somehow a Starlog Magazine landed in my lap, I saw the classifieds in the back, and the rest is history. Now, there's always been a market for old toys, in the same way there's a market for antiques and other items that are scarce and sought today. However, back then, it was a lot different. When I first started buying Star Wars figures again, and I'd say this was around 1990, maybe 91 or 92 even, the prices were a far cry from today's. They weren't dirt cheap, but figures and items that would cost several hundred dollars were nearly as high. I had a few dealers I was trading with pretty often, and they sort of took me in as their protege. The Starlog/sci-fi mag dealers were a relatively close-knit group, and most of them knew which dealers were good, and which were assholes. So I would consult people on trades before making them, and at least a few times did I find that old greedy dealers would like nothing more than to take advantage of a kid who didn't know the value of the crap he had in his closet. Anyway, it was around this time that the popularity in the market really jumped - I know people who had more or less stockpiled toys in their attics for years. For awhile, it was basically a side hobby...they'd trade, they'll sell some stuff here and there, and so on. Eventually, the market went up so much that they could pull it off full time. I credit the internet with most of this, simply because before that, the general public really had no idea anyone was selling this crap. The only place you had a chance of scoring old toys were at comic shops - and they were so hideously overpriced, nobody really bothered. (even seven or eight years ago, I can recall comic shops in the area selling beat up and bare Star Wars figures for 50-60 bucks a piece - an absolutely ridiculous price)

Anyway, whatever the reasons behind the increased popularity, there's a lot of people enjoying the trade of old action figures and the like as a full-fledged business, strange as it might sound. And because of the demand, toys like Battle Beasts sell for much more than their original retail cost today. I'm not sure how to tie this in to the Battle Beasts to make this little story on-topic, but to make a long story short, a lot of people have found nostalgia to be pretty damn profitable. Now, back to the Beasts.

Battle Beasts either had good timing or kids liked them a hell of a lot more than I remember, since they even managed to spill out far enough to get their own lunchbox set. Or, worse yet, their own Halloween costume. Actually, let's face it, this was during a time where everything had a Halloween costume. It took a decade for companies to realize there was only one or two things per year that every kid wanted to be. Finally, on the right, Battle Beasts Jump-Up figures. They were, quite simply, pieces of plastic molded to look like Battle Beasts, stuck on a suction cup. The very definition of a stocking present. These were the types of toys you'd squeeze out of your parents when you got shackled into tagging along on trips to the local closeout and clearance outlets.

For a relatively small line, these guys have a pretty big history, which I've only touched upon. Consider this your refresher course. As always, check out eBay, who should be giving me a royalties check at this point, if you're looking to purchase some of 'em. For those curious about the numbers you're looking at - 76 different Beasts were released in North America.

Oh, and for you sickos with tiny action figure fetishes, here's some past article links that'll give you an erection faster than, well, something really hot - MUSCLE - Monster in my Pocket

- Matt

PS, you are hereby demanded to go check out a new site that's sweeping the nation with its crucial attention to - Candy Ass Inc.! This one's run by my friend Cracker, a cerebral soul who loves to get funky with all, regardless of race, creed, and color. About a year ago, Cracker had a vision of creating a content portal for great sites who don't necessarily have the useless hit count to 'prove' their worth - and finally, his dream is realized with the help of what looks to be a donkey-shaped lollipop. HELP CRACKER HELP YOU - GO NOW. YOU LOVE IT MUCH.