Wednesday, August 31, 2011

August 2011 Recap



Below is a recap of all the post we've covered in August 2011. If you missed any, or simply want to see them again, click on each "title" to be taken directly to that post. As always, thanks for reading.

Marvel Superheroes
Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos
Pee-Wee's Playhouse
Wonder Woman
Mortal Kombat

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Mortal Kombat (Hasbro)



In 1992 Midway developed and released the first ever motion capture fighting game for an unsuspecting public of arcade dwellers. Mortal Kombat was an overnight success taking in millions of dollars in quarters on a weekly basis. The game was so gruesome, that it would later prompt the US government to inform all software developers that they had one year to develop (with approval from the government) a working rating system for games. Thus the ESRB was formed - Entertainment Software Rating Board.

In 1993 Midway followed the success of the first game with the even more popular Mortal Kombat II. The series introduced gamers to even more characters, and was even faithfully ported over to home console systems such as the Sega Genesis, and Super Nintendo.


One year later (1994) Hasbro approached Midway for the rights to produce a line of figure based on the series. Similar to G.I. Joe, the figures stood 3 3/4 inches high, and featured multiple points of articulation.

Hasbro probably speculated that selling packaged figures without any accessories or weapons wouldn't be a popular decision among toy selecting children, and thus decided to produce several variations of packed in items with each figure. Ranging from spears to nunchucks, to guns, the variety was somewhat fitting to each figure, regardless of the characters in the games never using weapons (until later Mortal Kombat games anyway).


Each figure was released twice, in two separate runs. The first "printing" of figures consisted of the basic figure with the various weapons and accessories. When a "reprinted" set was produced, each figure now sported a small triangular sticker on the bottom left of the plastic bubble, as well as an insert which contained pro tips and codes for the various console versions of Mortal Kombat II.

Overall, Hasbro did a great job in presenting the entire line-up of original MK characters through single packs, vehicle pack-ins, and multi-packs (see below for information on vehicles and multi-packs).

The figures were fair resemblances of the characters, and came packaged in a very eye catching red bubble package with the Mortal Kombat logo displayed at the top next to an artist rendition of the character.

In 1995 Midway developed Mortal Kombat 3 for the arcade, while New Line Cinema released a fairly accurate, and true to the game film for movie theaters.

Capitalizing on the success of the film, Hasbro repainted the majority of their figures, and re-released them with a new sticker on the packaging that informed consumers that they were "Special Movie Editions". Some of the accessories and weapons were also changed, but again were simply there to appease children as even in the movie the characters sported no weapons (with the exception of Sonja who is first seen with a shotgun).

With the exception of the sticker, and the backer board showing the available characters, the packaging stayed the same to the originally released figures.


Both in the regular line up of figures, and then again in the "Movie Editions" line up, Hasbro released a two pack featuring Goro and a variant Johnny Cage figure. This was the only way one could obtain the Goro figure. While you had to get a second Johnny Cage figure, at least Hasbro was kind enough to alter his appearance. For the "Movie Edition" pack, it was the only way to get a movie version of Goro and Johnny Cage as neither were released in single packs.


As is the case with most toy lines, Hasbro introduced vehicles into the series in an attempt to sell more toys. Unique to the Mortal Kombat line was that while the vehicles themselves never made an appearance in the games or movies, they were the only way to get the figures Kano and Reptile, each packed in with their respectively assigned vehicle. The third vehicle came with a repainted Shang Tsung.


Throughout the years, Mortal Kombat has seen the license for figures handed from company to company. Many have tried to make a successful toy line, and most have failed. Hasbro's, while not the best of the attempts, at least gets to say they were the first. If anything, the series showed the potential that lied in video game players desire to collect memorabilia from their favorite games. That alone has opened the door to many toy producers to create single figures or entire series based on various video game characters and series as a result.

Hasbro, you get an "A" for effort!

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Wonder Woman (Mego)



Mego had been distributing "dime store" toys since the 1950's, but never could find its niche until the 70's when it started producing name brand eight to twelve inch dolls. Since then, Mego has dominated the toy isles with figures based on Marvel and DC Comic characters, as well as several various TV shows such as C.H.I.P.S. and Duke's of Hazard.

Linda Carter took the TV world by storm, and awoke an entire generations sexual urges when she portrayed Diana Prince, AKA Wonder Woman on ABC from 1975 to 1979. Clad in tight blue shorts (if not underwear), and a bright red top that allowed men to see for miles at the right camera angle, she was destined to become a sex symbol overnight.


Between 1978 and 1979 Mego produced a small line of dolls based off the hit show. Mego had already been producing various DC comic related dolls, and one based on Wonder Woman had previously been released in the 1974 Supergals assortment. This line however was different both in sculpting, and by design that it was purely geared towards the TV show.

Along with the artwork of Wonder Woman, Ms. Carter was also featured on the package. The overall concept design of the packaging didn't stray far from typical Mego packaging. A large rectangle box with a clear window, and a large tab off to the left was pretty standard for the company in those days. Coupled with its light blue background, and bright red and yellow eye catching logo, it was like a tractor beam to young girls (and some boys) back in the 70's.

Five dolls in total were produced, one of which was a second version of Wonder Woman. The variations between the two dolls are numerous between the packaging and accessories. The most noticeable being that the second version titles the doll as simply "Wonder Woman," while the original claims to be "Linda Carter as Wonder Woman." The first version also came with a set of clothing that allowed you to change her from Wonder Woman to Diana Princes with a dress suit as seen in the show, while the second included a plain pink dress to change into. Ms. Carter's image was also removed from the package design of the second format.


The three other dolls were Nubia, Queen Hippolyte, and Steve Trevor.

Mego originally planned to produce what was known to be a "Wonder Woman Playset." Though a prototype was mocked up, and several photographs exist, the physical playset never came to be. This is most likely due to the TV show ending, and interest in the dolls dwindling at a fairly rapid pace.

The playset appeared to be nothing more than three cardboard cut outs linked together by tabs, and a handful of plastic furniture pieces - Pretty standard, cheap playset production for the 70's and 80's. They were highly fragile, and fairly easy to lose. Perhaps with that said, it's a good thing the playset was never produced. Someone out there could own this prototype if it wasn't destroyed when Mego closed their doors, and if it were to ever surface, it would be a very interesting bidding war to watch.



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Monday, August 15, 2011

Pee-Wee's Playhouse (Matchbox)



Pee-Wee Herman was a character created by Paul Reubens in the early 80's for a comedy act with the group The Groundlings. He later formed the character into a more kid friendly persona, which lead to the movie Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, directed by none other than Tim Burton. With the popularity of the film, Reubens was offered the opportunity of a life time from CBS to create the ground breaking show Pee-Wee's Playhouse.


The series launched in 1986, and was an overnight success. Reubens was careful to promote only positive messages for children in ways of never having candy sponsors, or any other sugary treats. In fact, he even tried to release his own sugar free cereal, Ralston Purina Pee-wee Chow, which after a blind taste testing was dropped immediately. As a huge smoker, Reubens was also incredibly careful to not be seen or photographed with a cigarette in his mouth in an attempt to keep young kids away from smoking.

As was the case with most Saturday morning cartoons/shows, it was inevitable that a toy line would soon be pushed on the market. Of all companies, it was Matchbox that found mild success with an "action figure" line based on the series, producing seven figures, a variety of "creatures", one deluxe figure, and one playset.

The toys were kind of a let down to kids. They offered no articulated joints, and were poorly sculpted, resembling the characters only in terms of clothing. It really was no surprise that while the TV show itself went on for five years, the toys died out way before the series end.

Many don't know this, but the show helped to launch the career of then unknown Lawrence Fishburn who portrayed Cowboy Curtis throughout the series. Sadly, nobody else in the series really went on to do anything. Reubens included.

Depending on the collector you ask, this series ranges in size drastically. Some consider the figures and Playhouse set to be everything, while others include the various "creatures" which mostly consisted of smaller toys with wind-up action to be a part of it. Due to the similarity in packaging, I have always considered everything combined to be the complete series. After all, what is the Playhouse without Chairry, Jambi, Conky, and all the other various beings that made it what it was?

The only known variant in existence is Chairry on both a purple and pink card.

In 1991 Reubens was arrested for exposing himself in a pornographic movie theater. His career tanked overnight, and he disappeared from the spotlight using this opportunity to separate himself from the character. He has since been featured in a handful of big budget films such as Batman Returns and Mystery Men, and as of 2007 announced that he would be developing a new Pee-Wee movie, and has even appeared in public dressed as the character. The film was slated/rumored for a 2011 release, but as of today, nothing has transpired yet.

But, for what it's worth, Pee-Wee's Playhouse remains a staple of 80's Saturday morning shows. With a positive message, a friendly smile, and his trade marked, "Ha, ha, he he he he," laugh, Pee-Wee Herman will be a cherished memory for many a child turned adult.

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Monday, August 8, 2011

Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos (Kenner)



It never ceases to amaze me what was deemed marketable in the 80's. It seemed like every time you turned around a new series was hitting the Saturday morning cartoon line up, while a new toy was cluttering up the isle of your favorite toy store, soon to be in the clearance section.

During the late 80's, Kenner was madly grasping at straws trying to find the overnight success it found with the Star Wars line which had ended in 1985. If it was a show targeted towards kids, Kenner was right there bidding for the rights to produce a toy line.


In 1986, the animated mini-series Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos aired as a five part special. It was released side by side with the toys and Star comic book series of the same name, and was little more than a two and a half hour (with commercials) promotion to sell toys and comics to kids.

The series was produced by Ruby-Spears Productions, who had found success with the animated Mister T show staring Mr. T, and Mr. Norris's show followed the same formula. Each episode would begin with a live action Norris working out in a gym, and briefing kids on the synopsis of the show to come. At the end of each episode, we would return to a live action Norris who would provide a moral lesson. Norris also provided the voice for his own character. Needless-to-say, the series never took off.

With generic plot lines based on Norris as the head of a government command unit battling against a secret organization of villains known as Vulture, the show never really offered more than a poorly done rip off of G.I. Joe. The character names were cheesy, with such gems as Super Ninja, and Ninja Warrior.


For the mini-series, Kenner produced nine figures (three of which were Chuck Norris variations), and one vehicle. The figures offered standard articulation in elbow and knee joints, as well as a swiveling neck, and each figure was fairly colorful, and catching to the young eye. Each figure came with an accessory that made little to no sense when compared to the actual TV series, and the packaging was a bland gray and black layout, with a drawn in character to resemble the figure inside.


The comic book series which lasted a whopping four issues was even more of a bomb. Despite being drawn by Steve (Spider-Man) Ditko, the series failed on so many fronts from story to characters. It simply was not entertaining, and Star pulled the plug in just four months, making Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos one of the most short lived regular series books in the history of comics.

Between Ruby-Spears Productions cartoon mini-series, Kenner's action figures, and Star's comic books, it seemed that Chuck Norris and his Karate Kommandos were just never meant to be. Everything seemed to fizzle away overnight as if it had never even existed. It was also around this time that Chuck Norris himself seemed to fade away into the background of Hollywood actors, remembered now only as some legendary mythical creature with a beard of extraordinary powers.

As of April, 2011 the series was made available by Warner on their website as a "Manufactured on Demand" DVD - Essentially meaning that they would produce a set of the DVD's for each person who ordered one, but no more than that. It is unknown how long this DVD will be available, so grab it while you can if you're interested. You can find it, "HERE".

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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Marvel Superheroes (Toy Biz)



Toy Biz originated as a small company in Montreal, Qubec. However, by 1988 it had reincorporated itself into an American Company, where it became a major producer of toys based on Marvel Comic superheroes with its first line of toys of the same name.

Marvel Superheroes was a brief toy line introduced in 1990 by Toy Biz which would later spawn individual sub set lines based on Marvel characters such as Spider-Man and the X-Men. While the series didn't take off as it was initially anticipated to, it opened up several doors of opportunity in the world of franchising toys based on comic book series. Doors which have allowed companies like McFarlane Toys and Top Cow to raise the bar in quality and standards, and continue to push the world of comic book based action figures forward.


Series 1

The series had a strong launch, consisting of eight of the most well known, and at the time considerably popular characters in the Marvel Universe. With multiple points of articulation, in both the arms and legs, and also neck, the figures allowed for posing the figures for collectors, while at the same time being very "playable" with by children. The attention to detail was superb, and the figures themselves left little to nothing to nitpick about in terms of quality and accuracy.

The package art left little to desire. The dull gray/silver backs with light blue banner certainly wasn't eye catching to the average toy isle lurker, and the artwork while representing the characters well was simply plain. About the only thing that would catch your attention was the accurate to the comic title logo for each character. Sadly, this dull design would stay for the entire series' lifeline.


Quiet laughable was Toy Biz's attempt to incorporate vehicles and playsets into the line. While the playsets had a certain amount of appeal to them, the vehicles were simply jokes. Introduced in the first series were Captain America's Turbo Coup, and Spider-Man's Dragster. Needless-to-say, these vehicles didn't fly off the shelf, and offered nothing more than a frown to fans of these classic heroes.

However, with that said, it was only 1990, and toy collecting had yet to explode into the hobby it is today. You have to understand that Toy Biz was marketing directly to children as it was yet unknown that the majority of collector's were, or rather would be adults.

Series 2

With sales of the first series picking up rapidly, Toy Biz launched a second series literally right on its heels. Before most people had even accumulated the first eight figures, another seven were made available. However, by now the line was shifting drastically towards being a Spider-Man series, and less about the Marvel Universe as a whole with four of the seven new figures being related to Marvel's Wall Crawler, two alone being variations of him (making a total of 3 Spider-Man figures since the series launch).


My personal favorite, The Punisher not only got his first figure by the second series, but Toy Biz also produced a pretty acurate rendition of his van, and the only vehicle in the series to really be relatable to the actual figures themselves.

Two more playsets were also released, the large "Attack Tower", and the much smaller Hulk Rage Cage, which included a variant figure of The Incredible Hulk from the first series - Essentially it was Hulk with a yellow shirt.

Series 3

The largest series in the line, series 3 saw a release of ten new figures. While Toy Biz continued to capitalize on the ever growing popularity of Spider-Man with children by releasing yet again two more Spider-Man figures (now a total of 5 in the series), the also surprised fans by releasing the entire Fantastic Four team, and a fan favorite, but still unknown to the mass population, Deathlok. The Silver Surfer figure was also unique, because this re-released figure now sported a shinier chrome look, as opposed to a dull silver plastic.


It was around this time that Toy Biz launched a spin off set, The X-Men (not pictured), and sales of the Marvel Superheroes series began to decline. Whether or not it was due to the popularity of the X-Men figures being larger than this series, or if the series had simply run its course is unknown to the general public.

Fortunately by this time Toy Biz also ceased production on vehicles and playsets - possibly due to failed sales of the prior releases, or simply to cut costs in production.


Series 4

Some argue that there were four series of figures, while others are adamant that there are five. Personal, I go with four, though it is interesting to note that the Venom figure in this particular set has a very different hole punch in the package from the other three figures. So, who knows, perhaps it is five.

The fourth series consisted of only four new figures, while several from the first and second were re-released. While the toy line in and of itself was dwindling in sales, it is arguable that the re-release of older figures as opposed to focusing on more new ones is what killed the franchise off once and for all. Though it is possible that Toy Biz was prepared for this and was simply re-releasing these figures to push out back stocks onto the market as opposed to having storage in a warehouse which would simply be destroyed (recycled, melted down, pick your choice word) if it remained unsold.

Unimpressive was that three of the figures in this series were nothing more than touched up/altered figures to make newer variations of prior released figures, and a repainted Captain America to make U.S. Agent.



By 1994, Marvel was in full control of the toy isle with no less than six different toy lines. Sadly though, with sales falling each month in the Marvel Superheroes line, Toy Biz called it quits, and focused their efforts on other Marvel related products.
Still, what a great series this was. With accurate sculpting, beautiful attention to detail, and characters that are simply loved by everyone, this series was a true treasure to toy collectors around the world. It paved the way for most super hero franchises today, while at the same time staying as memorable as yesteryears great super hero series like Super Powers and Secret Wars.

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