This site has become something of a palace for old toy identification purposes, and I get at least a few e-mails every day from guys and girls trying to figure out where the figures and dolls in the back of the closets originally came from. Most of these questions have been answered at some point in the archives, but I don't expect people to wad through several hundred articles just to find out that their bug-eyed He-Man figure is really a Sectaur. Still, there's some really terrific lines out there that haven't had their day in the sun here on X-E yet, and my all-important purpose with today's article is to give you, the readers, the answers you've been searching for.
By the way, that entire last paragraph was just one enormous excuse for me to call this website a 'palace.' Me - 1. Impossible Connotations? Big Fat 0.
We're going to take a look at ten of the very best obscured toylines of yesteryear, so after you've searched through your attic for the figures that've mystified you for years, sit back and relax. This is just the sort of long, pointless read the doctor ordered. And if you've ever e-mailed me asking what the stupid name of your stupid toy was, check through this one carefully - I've been asked more questions about the following toys in the past few years than I could ever possibly count. I mean it's gotta be at least three or four questions, some totally mind-boggling number like that. Here we go...
#1 -- ARMY ANTS: I'm always thrilled when somebody asks me about these things - I would've sworn I was the only one who remembered 'em. Army Ants were possibly the best 'little toys' ever. Sure, there were far more M.U.S.C.L.E. figures, and Battle Beasts were ten times more detailed - but did either of those lines have figures with removable asses? I think not! Army Ants were, well, ants. But they weren't any ordinary ants - they were insectoid machines of mass destruction, each two-inch figure adorned with soldier helmets and rifles. And you know, since ants can hold ten times their weight over their head, it allows for some really big rifles. Don't you dare call the things pistols because it's insulting - they're carrying guns that could blow the head clear off an owl.
There were two teams - red figures and blue figures. For some reason, the stores around here never seemed the carry the blue figures. It's sad when you live in a city with selective racism towards certain primary colors, especially since the blue ants just looked a whole lot cooler while the red ones weren't even really red - they were orange. You could rip the bulbous rubber ass off of the figures to mix and match allegiances. I'm not sure if they suggested doing that on the packaging, but it seemed pretty natural at the time. I believe they were only sold in two-packs and eight-packs, either one was a bonus because technically you were getting more than one toy for your (mother's) money. I should mention that the best part of Army Ants had little to do with the figures themselves - if you removed the ass and swished it around the inside of your mouth in just the right fashion, you could make it stick, suspended off the tip of your tongue. You couldn't do that with any Transformers toy, kids.
#2 -- ROBOTS, LASERS, AND GALAXIES: Yes, you did have these, you just don't remember it. A line of shitty plastic lizard toys sold pretty much everywhere for a buck or so even today doesn't sound like the makings of a successful toy line - but once you put the things inside a flashy box and size them so that He-Man figures can ride 'em, you've got yourself a winner. Robots, Lasers, and Galaxies were basically generic-type toys that appeared more interesting than they were. Each of the creatures, which ranged from dinosaurs to elephants, was fitted with a cheap plastic saddle which all too conveniently matched the scale of the MOTU figures just perfectly. By the way, it even says that on the box, so it's no coincidence.
Amazingly, the Poor Man's Battle Cat lasted a lot longer than the real thing. I don't know what kind of experimental alien plastic they used on these toys, but they're absolutely impossible to wear out. The blue lizard thing up above is one of the only toys that survived with me to this day from childhood. And it's not like I took care of such a piece of shit toy - obviously the innards were filled with admantium.
#3 -- KARATE COMMANDOS: Yeah, this is what every kid wanted for Christmas. Action figures based on the exploits of fucking Chuck Norris. Why not just give your kid a milkbone or spiral-bound notebooks? I'm not sure if this was a local company, but did anyone else out there have Consumers stores in their area back in the mid-80s? They were a weird retail outlet where you'd go in and fill out little order forms from the catalogs instead of actually browsing the wares - an idea so alarmingly dumb it's no wonder they went out of business. Every time I went there, all I'd see was people filling out forms, the staff going to find the items, and the customer then deciding that their choices looked a whole lot better in the catalog. The plus side was, they had great clearances in their holiday catalogs, back in the era of the Sears Wishbook. I remember these Chuck Norris bozos being peddled for, literally, 39 cents.
The breakdown of that 39 cents? 20 cents for materials. 10 cents went to Chuck. 5 cents for stock space. The remaining 4 cents was to pay off Consumers for degrading their good name by carrying Chuck Norris toys. The only real plus side is that one of the figures was a fat, naked sumo wrestler. So if any small gay children were chubby chasers, this was a great toy to experiment animism with.
#4 -- MATCHBOX PARASITES: Transformers had taken the idea of transforming toys and robots to new heights, and every company out their sought to get in on the success. Even Matchbox, who previously did little more than making small toy car replicas, couldn't resist the temptation. Somehow, their rip-off was better than most. Parasites looked like typical Matchbox cars, but their hoods flipped open to reveal separate robots that extended well beyond the height of their car disguises! I added the exclamation point there because robots hiding inside of cars rock!!! Right? Yes!!!!! Hmmm. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The cool thing was, they didn't just use the same car mold or the same robot mold and color it differently for each figure. Every Parasite was very much unique, the robots ranging from strange cannons to really skinny versions of Starscream and beyond. The 'story' behind these guys were that they traveled here from space with sinister intentions, while others arrived on Earth to stop their evil ways. Finally, Matchbox cars that had heroic or villainous qualities. You know the Ford Pinto must've been a bad guy. Ain't no way they'd get away with calling that death trap a hero.
#5 -- SUPER NATURALS: Made by Tonka in 1986, Super Naturals were, bar none, one of the best and most underappreciated toy lines of their time. I loved these guys. They all looked badass, they were taller than most of the other figures out there, and they were probably the cheapest way to get your hands on a real, working hologram. Essentially just a small group of good guy/bad guy figures, Super Naturals all looked terrific even without their special feature. Their costumes had phenomenal detail, their weapons glowed-in-the-dark, and they all seemed to be wearing pantyhose. If the combined might of those attributes don't sell you on the idea, just wait - there's more!
The torso and face sections of the figure played host to a changing hologram that had the particular character changing from his humanesque state to either an animal, a demon, or something else tied-in appropriately. These weren't shitty holograms like you'd get out of the grocery store sticker machine - they really worked and they actually looked damn cool. As an extra bonus, there was an additional hologram sticker on their shields. I don't know why they didn't do well, I guess they may have cost a bit too high. Holograms didn't come cheap back then. Plus, there were some other minor faults with the line - while every figure has this very clear medieval flavor, the vehicles that were marketed as part of Super Naturals were all fashioned after monster trucks. Kinda kills the whole fantasy aspect when you've got Satan and King Arthur driving around in Gravedigger. Oh well. They're still tops.
#6 -- MANTECH: Sadly, I don't know much about Remco's Mantech figures. I had a few of them, but I'm pretty sure they were based on a relatively unpopular comic book with no cartoon to speak of. Information is limited, which sucks because these were really, really terrific figures. They were sort of like Centurions, in that they had all these interchangeable weapons and parts that essentially gave kids double the fun - it was like having a cool action figure and a small set of Legos all in one really pretty window box. Actually, these things seem to have borrowed all the cool features from various other, more popular figures. Their blocky bodies remind me of the dudes from Inhumanoids, only Mantech's people have weird Fisher-Price like heads. It added a hint of comedy since you'd expect them to direct traffic or help old ladies cross the street, not blow stuff up.
The vehicles were even cooler - one was some strange type of remote-controlled roller coaster, another was a playset that looked something like a flying saucer. Keep that in mind in case you're ever on Jeopardy - just seems like the perfect Daily Double question they'd throw at ya. Remember, it's in the form of a question. If Alex says 'Trundaxx,' you say: 'what is the strange type of remote-controlled roller coaster thing from Remco's Mantech.' Bet high, but with your head.
#7 -- MANGLOR MOUNTAIN: Ohhhhh yes. I've been asked about this thing a ZILLION times, and I had it too, but it wasn't until very recently that I was able to identify it. Manglor Mountain was a slightly older toy than the rest of the ones we're looking at, but there were hundreds of these things sold in closeout stores across the globe for the better part of the entire decade. I vividly remember finding this one as a child with an 8.99 price tag attached. Sucks for me, they had dozens of the things and now that I look at what they're worth, if I had made my mom purchase all of them we'd both be able to afford small tropical islands. Mine would be bigger and have more southern exposure, because after all it was my idea.
I barely remember how the thing even worked, I just know that I loved the living shit out of it and, for some unknown reason, I'd always pull it out and play with it while my family was watching The Cosby Show. I don't know what kind of connection I made between Bill and the Manglords, but it was there and here I am, I will not eat them, Sam I am. It came with this green figure that you'd help forge from this strange goop-like material, which made him so sticky and pliable that you could rip him into pieces and stick him right back together. As an extra bonus, he came with a volcano playset and a plastic iron maiden. There were other figures in the Manglords line, but this was clearly the centerpiece. How could it not be? The sticky figure's wearing a damn hula skirt. He obviously led the pack.
#8 -- SECTAURS: I've written about Sectaurs in the past, and I probably will again. Some of my best childhood times were spent puppeteering these guys. Sectaurs were a collection of 8" posable action figures that all shared an insectoid background - the good guys just had antennae and bug-eyes, while the villains were all freakish black spider-creatures with eighty-five eyes and fangs. Just the figures alone would've been neat enough, but some of the larger toys came with electronic insect 'puppets' that fit onto your hand, giving you the chance to become a real Sectaur. These puppets had huge plastic wings that'd flap incessantly, complete with buzzing noise, if you turned 'em on. They were really, really innovative toys.
Even if you never had a Sectaurs toy, you probably remember the commercials. The ad spots were episodic - every few weeks a new adventure would start it's rotation on television which followed the previous commercial, and the whole thing was so enamoring that I found myself watching cartoons I absolutely loathed just on the off-chance that I'd see kids playing with the toys nobody would buy me. These commercials were virtually the only reason to watch the 700 Alf cartoons shown on Saturday mornings. Oh, what the hell. Click here to see what I'm talking about.
Kid: Mom, look, there's a giant bug on my hand!
Mom: That's nice, dear.
Kid: No Mom, help! It's really big! It's gonna eat me!
Mom: I'm busy right now. You handle that.
Kid: MOM I'M SERIOUS, IT'S GONNA GET ME!!!
Mom: Careful, it's friends are crawling up your back.
Kid: *cry* MOM!
#9 -- THE INFACEABLES: No kids I knew were ever much interested in these guys. They were the Unbuyables. Again, another takeoff of Transformers, only this time substituting people and animals instead of robots and cars. The end results aren't too pretty. Every figure was a carbon copy of a character from an already-established series, and they didn't even pick out good things to rip off - some of the figures are rips of Gorn, from Star Trek. If you're gonna steal somebody else's shit, find someone who put out good shit.
The package said it was their 'mystic powers' that allowed them to transform from man to beast. Actually, it was an obtrusive pull-and-twist system that made all the figures appear brittle and mutated. They even had stupid names, like 'Torto The Claw.' Then again, He-Man was friends with people named Fisto and Roboto, and it didn't hurt his cash-flow any. I've now done a complete 180. I like these figures. If for no other reason, I finally know how to spell 'infaceable' now. I wasn't even sure it was a real word. Thanks, Galoob!
#10 -- MEGADONS: Like the aforementioned Robots, Lasers, and Galaxies toys, Megadons were vehicles and creatures that could play host to any action figure from any line. These 'mechanized battle carriers' were huge beasts of burden fashioned after prehistoric and current animals, and they actually walked! If a toy like this was made for any official line, it would've cost a boatload of money. Because these were borderline generic toys, you could snatch 'em up without wasting your miracle birthday wish. Their only downside is that they were pretty easy to break, if you consider that young boys aren't as interested in admiring craftsmanship than they are smashing their toys against walls. Because of this, and because of a low total distribution, they're nearly impossible to find today. That's not a bad thing, since kids today are far more evil than they were fifteen years ago and I'm positive they'd find a way to use 10" motorized rhinos to take over the world. We're lucky their extinct.
I hope this little trip back in time has helped answer some of those burning toy questions you've had sitting in the dark recesses of your mind for the past decade or so. If it didn't, then I hope it at least helped you kill some time before something decent came on the television. And if it didn't do that, then go screw yourself, Mr. Impossible-To-Please. If you've got more boyish toyish questions, send 'em on in and I'll try to cover it when I do a follow-up article sometime in the future. Goodnight starfish.
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Photo credit for this article courtesy of The Virtual Toy Chest. Check them out for information on all sorts of past toylines!