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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

THE UNCANNY BUT TRUE CREATION OF WOLVERINE


THE UNCANNY BUT TRUE CREATION
OF 
MARVEL'S MOST POPULAR MUTANT,
THE WOLVERINE


BY
"RASCALLY" ROY THOMAS
AND
JOHN "THE MEGO STRETCH HULK" CIMINO 

I first wrote an article about the history behind the creation of Wolverine in BACK ISSUE #76 (October, 2014). But for this write-up, I wanted to go a lot more in-depth. While there are many articles and books written on the origins of Marvel's most popular mutant over the years, there is also a lot of misinformation. So much so that fans, historians and even comic creators alike are not fully aware of who was truly behind the creation of the character. So what can a mere-mortal, like myself do to educate the masses on this convoluted mystery? Why not have my good buddy and the co-creator of Wolverine himself, Mr. Roy Thomas help me put an end to the confusion once and for all. No more false information. No more exaggerations. And no more bogus claims. Here are the facts, and nothing but the facts on the true history behind creating one of comicdoms most popular and influential characters ever -- James Howlett aka Logan aka Weapon X aka the Wolverine!

The "Let's Get Small" issue of BACK ISSUE #76 (2014) that I first wrote the history of Wolverine in from TwoMorrows Publishing. Without a doubt one of the best comic-book magazines on the market today.

The idea and concept of Wolverine was birthed by then Marvel editor-in-chief Roy Thomas. Being the successor to Stan Lee as the head-honcho editor of the company were some pretty big shoes to fill. But Roy understood the dynamics of the comic-book business pretty well. He had been a comic fanboy since he was a wee young lad, so to him, the job was pretty simple: make captivating and interesting stories to sell a bunch of comics. Period. In 1974 it occurred to Roy that something like 5% or so of Marvel's readers were Canadian, so it seemed well past time that there should be a Canadian superhero in a Marvel comic. And why not base that character on a tough and fearsome Canadian animal? A wolverine perhaps? Why not. And Wolverine was a great name! Roy also briefly considered the name The Badger, but the connotations of the word "badger" included pestering, bothering... i.e., being annoying. While a wolverine was not only a fierce little beast that was known to attack animals far larger than itself--its name also was close to the word "wolf," and thus a much more dramatic word than "badger."  So "Wolverine" it was!

Roy's idea for a Canadian character was based on the wolverine (also spelled wolverene). It is also referred to as the glutton, carcajou, skunk bear, or quickhatch, and is the largest land-dwelling species of the family Mustelidae. It is a stocky and muscular carnivore, more closely resembling a small bear than other mustelids. A solitary animal, it has a reputation for ferocity and strength out of proportion to its size, with the documented ability to kill prey many times larger than itself. The wolverine is found primarily in remote reaches of the Northern boreal forests and subarctic and alpine tundra of the Northern Hemisphere, with the greatest numbers in northern Canada.

I told Len Wein to write the character because I had liked the accent he had given Brother Voodoo earlier (Jamaican for a Haitian character, but at least it had character, and Len did it well). I gave it to him because he was one of Marvel's best writers, and because I was busy just being editor and writing the various Conan comics.

I had only three requirements of the Wolverine, all of which I gave to Len in my office: (1) He was Canadian, and announced as such right away. (2) He was short, because a wolverine is a small animal. (3) He had a quick temper, because wolverines are known for being fierce and taking on beasts far bigger than they are. 

That was the blueprint. The idea. The concept. The groundwork.

The advertisement Roy Thomas used to promote THE INCREDIBLE HULK #181 features the coming of the dreaded deadly Wolverine that was seen in three issues; DAREDEVIL #115, MARVEL PREMIER #19 and THE MIGHTY THOR #229. These comics came out a month after THE INCREDIBLE HULK #180 that had Wolverine appear in the last panel of that issue.




Len Wein went off to write and develop the Wolverine into a 3-part Hulk story. While the costume and look of the character was designed by John Romita, who was the Marvel art director. It was John who added the claws, and ironically the metal Len wanted the claws to be made from was Adamantium which was also created by Roy back in AVENGERS #66 (July, 1969).

AVENGERS #66 (1969) first introduced the Marvel Universe to the hardest metal on planet earth -- Adamantium. Written by Roy Thomas with art by Barry Windsor-Smith.

Since art director John Romita remembers me asking him to design a wolverine costume, I may have looked at it once or twice before Herb Trimpe drew it into the story. Nor did I have any special contact with Len or Herb about the character after that. I had done my job by coming up with the general concept and name of the character called the Wolverine, who would be introduced as a villain (but, of course, at Marvel, that didn't mean he wouldn't be a hero any day now, and I wouldn't have bothered conceiving a Canadian super-character who was ONLY going to be a villain, would I? That might just annoy Canadians, when I was trying to give them an extra reason to buy Marvel comics). After that, Len did his part, which included developing the Wolverine. I consider that I, Len Wein, John Romita, and Herb Trimpe are all the co-creators of the Wolverine, in that chronological order--no one else was involved, unless you want to count the colorist.


The Wolverine character sketch conceived by John Romita.

Herb Trimpe drew what Roy, Len and John formulated in THE INCREDIBLE HULK #180-182 (October to December, 1974). And as much as I personally would also like to credit Herb as an "official" co-creator of Wolverine, Marvel does not consider him one. He just got paid for the job and that's all he was legally entitled too. Even Herb himself stated he had nothing to do with the creation of the character. He was just the artist doing what he was told. But Roy insists:

I myself have always considered Herb a co-creator of Wolverine. If he isn't, then neither is George Tuska a co-creator of Luke Cage (which I do consider him to be), because he, too, "just drew the story" of a character written by Stan, Archie Goodwin, and myself and visually designed by John Romita. 

The Wolverine bursts into the last panel of THE INCREDIBLE HULK #180 (1974) and the comic-book world was never the same.






THE LEGENDS WHO CREATED A LEGEND 



Roy Thomas  (1940-)
Created the concept and blueprint of Wolverine and had the final say in the overall creative process (subject to publisher Stan Lee, who did not get involved in the process).



Len Wein  (1948-2017)
 The developer and writer of Wolverine in his Hulk story and in the first "New X-Men" story or two.



John Romita, Sr. (1930-) 
Wolverine's visual designer.



Herb Trimpe (1939-2015)
 He first drew the stories to feature Wolverine, which involved depicting how he moved, reacted, fought, etc.


Roy, Len, John and Herb were 4 equal parts in the creation of the Wolverine character. But, as we all know, comic-book characters and stories continually evolve. And when new writers and artist come along and take over stories and concepts, new ideas formulate. These creators listed here were most responsible for bringing Wolverine out of the doldrums of a "back-up" character and changed him into a full-blown Marvel Comics superstar!



Gil Kane  (1926-2000)
Accidentally changed Wolverine's mask on the cover of GIANT-SIZE X-MEN #1 (1975) from the original design that John Romita came up with and gave him that cool "Batman" look that has become so iconic.






Dave Cockrum  (1943-2006)
 Came up with the idea of the claws being part of Wolverine's body and was the first to draw the mutant unmasked with his funky hairstyle and hairy chest. He also liked how Gil Kane changed Wolverine's mask and kept doing it going in the issues making it the standard look.






John Byrne (1950-)
His art modernized Wolverine/Logan and gave him the iconic look and feel that has become the standard for every other artist to this very day.






Chris Claremont  (1950-)
 The father of the X-Men, wrote and developed the heart and soul of Wolverine. He fleshed out and streamlined the past, present, and future of the character and gave him his Clint Eastwood as Outlaw Josie Wales and Dirty Harry attitude/personality/speech that comic fans adored. "I'm the best there is at what I do. But what I do isn't very nice." Claremont's work is the foundation and the benchmark for who Wolverine is, and all writers just expand on the concepts that he had already laid out. He's also the guy who gave Wolverine the name: "Logan" (and that's a great name, bub).







Hugh Jackman (1968-)
I have to give a mighty shout out to the actor who has superbly portrayed Wolverine on the big screen from 2000-2017. Nobody can claim to have made the character more recognizable to a world-wide audience. Len Wein himself said, "When I got my first glimpse of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, my breathe caught. In that single instant, he was Wolverine." And to be honest, when most people think of Wolverine, they think of Hugh Jackman.


End credits from the LOGAN (2017) movie.

Final Jeopardy question in 2017. Can you answer it?



ICONIC CANADIAN COMIC-BOOK CHARACTER



Writer: Chris Claremont (co-plotter)  Artist: John Byrne (co-plotter)  Inker: Terry Austin

Without a doubt, THE UNCANNY X-MEN #133 (May, 1980) is one of the most iconic Wolverine issues ever, and the one most responsible for cementing him as the fan favorite, breakout character in the title. While Wolverine had a few "cool" moments to shine since issue #94 as a background character. It wasn't until issue #109 that he really started moving into the forefront of the X-Men stories and began capturing the reader's imagination. Whether you think it was because of Chris Claremont's writing, John Bryne's art, Terry Austin's inks or a combination of all three, Wolverine just kept getting better and better. Like his silent take down of a guard in the Savage Land in issue #116, his off panel escape from Alpha Flight in issue #121 and his rising from the sewers in issue #132  saying, "Okay suckers -- you've taken your best shot! Now it's MY TURN!" (which is one of the most iconic images and cliff-hangers in comic-book history). But issue #133 features the extensive of all those moments, as Wolverine takes on a group of Hellfire Club mercenaries and mounts a rescue operation all by himself. Thrusting him into the spotlight for the first time! It put Wolverine onto the path towards becoming not only the most popular X-Men character, but arguably, the most popular character at Marvel. 

If there was ever a time for Wolverine to capture readers imagination, THE UNCANNY X-MEN #133 did it in spades! The opening page sent them on a wild ride never seen before in the history  of comics.

In the issue, Hellfire Club mercenaries are searching the basement to confirm Wolverine's death when he suddenly emerges from the shadows and attacks them. Quickly dispatching of the mercenaries, Wolverine intimidates the fourth into surrendering before pressing him for information about the Hellfire Club (this was another truly iconic moment for the Wolverine-mythos and comic-book history in general because never had a superhero used such methods to scare a villain). Wolverine was becoming this new type of more darker and violent hero who would go to extreme methods to get the job done. It was such a bold new concept that readers couldn't help but jump on the Wolverine bandwagon and express to even non comic-book readers how cool this character was. Wolverine truly was the forerunner of the "anti-hero" that ushered in the Modern Age of Comics and this issue was the beginning of it.

It was revolutionary to have a comic-book superhero act so brutal to his enemies. Wolverine was the prototype character to pave the way for all the other anti-heroes who followed and ushered in the Modern Age of Comics.


LET'S HAVE ROY THOMAS SNIKT! US ON THE WAY OUT


 



LINKS TO OTHER "MEGO STRETCH HULK" AND "RASCALLY ROY" HERO ENVY ARTICLES...

THE ROY THOMAS SPIDER-MAN COSTUME



Roy William Thomas, Jr.
Roy Thomas is a legendary comic-book writer and editor, who was Stan Lee's first successor as editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics. He is known for co-creating some of comics' greatest heroes and villains including Wolverine, Carol Danvers, Iron Fist and Ghost Rider and introducing the pulp magazine heroes Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja and sci-fi fantasy Star Wars to Marvel Comics. He's also known for his championing of Golden Age comic-book heroes -- particularly the 1940s superhero team the Justice Society of America. He has had lengthy writing stints on Marvel's X-Men and Avengers, and DC Comics' All-Star Squadron, among many other titles, movies and books. Roy was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2011 and knows more comic-book history than just about anyone.


John Cimino
John Cimino is a Silver and Bronze Age comic, cartoon and memorabilia expert that runs a business called "Saturday Morning Collectibles." He buys, sells, appraises and gives seminars on everything pop culture, so if you got something special, let him know about it. He contributes articles to ALTER EGO, RETRO FAN, BACK ISSUE and THE JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR from TwoMorrows Publishing, runs the Roy Thomas Appreciation Board on Facebook and has appeared on the AMC reality show Comic Book Men. He also represents some of comicdoms biggest stars and brings them to a Comic Con near you. John still thinks he's really Captain Marvel, people just don't have the heart to tell him he's just an obsessed fanboy that loves to play superheroes with his daughter Bryn. Contact him at johnstretch@live.com or follow him on Instagram at megostretchhulk.

www.heroenvy.com

Thursday, February 1, 2018

MY TOP 10 GREATEST TOY LINES EVER


TALES FROM THE TOY CHEST

Stories of Childhood Toy Triumph and Tragedy



By
John "THE MEGO STRETCH HULK" Cimino

CASE NUMBER:447743
MY TOP 10 GREATEST TOY LINES EVER


In another write up on TALES FROM THE TOY CHEST, I wrote about "My Top 15 Greatest Toys Ever." But in this article I wanted to expand more on just those "single" toys that I loved. This time I'm going to go a step further and rank my favorite toy lines as a whole. The toy lines that continually kept me asking my mom to go back to the toy store so I could get another figure or accessory to keep the adventures going with that particular group of characters. Basically, the whole enchilada when it comes to fun! 

I was born in 1973, but the years I had the most fun in (that I can remember clearly) are from 1978 to 1989. Many of those toys that I got into during that time are kind of what defined me as the person I am today (for better or worse). So, I always had a serious stake in toys. But sadly, after those prime years, toys were never really the same for me and I basically lost interest in collecting and playing with them. 

Now, while I do respect the quality and technology of the toys today, all of them seem to lack a certain amount of charm than the ones I grew up with. Today, you get perfect art on the packages and perfect articulation on the figures. And with all the accessories and electronics they come with, all the imagination falls by the wayside. Back in my day we were lucky if the head on the figure moved. But did we care? No way, because we still had hours of fun regardless.  

Who knows, maybe some of these toy lines that I have listed here will take you back to your youth. Maybe you'll even agree at their rankings and maybe some you won't. Maybe you'll think I left out some of your favorites and maybe you'll let me know about it. But either way, it was a fun write up to compile and I hope you enjoy it. So, without further delay, I give you my top 15 greatest toy lines ever.



10.) SHOGUN WARRIORS (1978-1980)

  
The Shogun Warriors, like the Micronauts before them, and the Transformers after them, was a toy line that consisted entirely of Japanese toys and characters repackaged for the US market. Originally manufactured by a toy company named Popy (which was an off-shoot of Bandai), the "Shogun Warriors," as they were renamed by the toy company Mattel, were launched in the US in 1978.

Most children in the US had no idea who these characters were. Mattel simply put them all in the same "universe" and labeled the line "Shogun Warriors." But most of these characters did not actually cross over with one another and each had their own cartoon and comic books in Japan.

The Shogun Warriors line consisted of a few different types of figures. The most popular were the 24" vinyl figures that featured shooting fists and missiles and had wheels on their feet. These figures were like a kid's dream. They were simply massive -- and were full of cool action features. In Japan, they were called "Jumbo Machinders," and there were over a dozen characters produced for the Japanese market. For the US and Mattel's line, their were seven figures: Great Mazinga, Raydeen, Gaiking, Diamos, Dragun, Godzilla and Rodan. Sadly, a few changes were made to some of the figures for the US market as we received "dumbed down" versions of the figures to keep things within budget for Mattel to produce. In essence, these were not direct imports, since Mattel even went so far as to change the molds on some of the figures. It would seem that they licensed the molds and then produced the figures from themselves.

But the 24" figures were not the only ones to be changed. There was also a 5" die-cast line that were made from the original, popular and classic Popy molds. These figures were what Popy was known for in Japan. There, the figures were called "Chogokins" after the fictional metal that Great Mazinga was made of in the cartoons. These figures also featured shooting fists and missiles. The first issue of these figures featured the articulation of the original's, but in the second releases, Mattel took away some features in order to keep costs low by reducing the articulation and sticker detailing.

The smallest figures in the line were 3" and featured the most characters, consisting of 10 different figures. These were small and poseable, but didn't have any of the action features of their larger counter-parts. They were also made of mostly plastic, unlike the heavy die-cast figures in the 5" line. There was also a line of different vehicles -- most of which were the ones that combined to create the different giant robots in their respective cartoons (although they didn't actually have this feature as toys).

One of the most popular vehicles at the time was the "Solar Saucer" which featured a launching 3" Grendizer robot. Grendizer was another hugely popular cartoon character in Japan (and my personal favorite of all).  The European market, however, received the larger version of the "Solar Saucer" with the fully-poseable, die-cast 5" Grendizer (known as Goldrake in Europe) from the original Popy line. Also the 24" Grendizer was only available there and not in the US. Both toys are highly sought after by US Shogun collectors and they carry a hefty price tag in good condition.

Finally, there was the holy grail of the Shogun line: the Shogun Combatra Deluxe Set which is tough to find. Again, like most toys lines of the time, Shogun Warriors only lasted a few years, but it's still beloved by toy collectors worldwide for its obvious nostalgia, amazing designs and awesome action features. If you grew up in the '70s, there's no doubt that you owned at least one of these figures in one form or another.


9.) M.U.S.C.L.E. (1985-1988)


The M.U.S.C.L.E. figures were based on the Japanese toy line called Kinkeshi. Kinkeshi were based on a manga and anime called "Kinnikuman," and some figures were based on anime-only characters. The main hero was Kinnikuman, who, in the US, was called "Muscleman" and was the leader of the "Thug Busters." He was described as the "greatest wrestling champion." The only other named figure in the US line was Buffaloman, who was renamed "Terri-Bull," and was said to be the leader of the "Cosmic Crunchers."

Although the bread and butter for Mattel were the M.U.S.C.L.E. figures, they naturally had accessories to offer, too. The Hard Knockin’ Rockin’ Ring Wrestling Arena, which let you and a friend stick your M.U.S.C.L.E. figures into plastic clamps and bash them back and forth like Rock’em, Sock’em Robots. There was also the Battlin’ Belt carrying case, modeled after the WWF’s World Championship belt, which held 10 figures and could be worn around your waist. This being 1986, there was, of course, a Nintendo game (though it’s generally considered to be one of the worst video games ever made). One of the more unusual offers for the M.U.S.C.L.E. line was the Mega-Match board game, where matches were played by twirling the arrow of a cardboard spinner. The one must-have item for any serious fan of M.U.S.C.L.E. was the mail-away poster. By sending in two proofs of purchase, kids could receive a 23 inch by 35 inch full-color poster that showed all 233 M.U.S.C.L.E. figures. Not only did it look cool hanging on your wall, it was the only official index of figures available for the toy line.

Later in the series, Mattel tried shaking things up by offering the same figures in different colors other than the standard flesh tone plastic. In all, there were nine additional colors used, including dark blue, neon green, orange, and even pink. 

M.U.S.C.L.E. was an immediate success, with industry magazine "Playthings" naming them one of the 10 Best-Selling toy lines of 1986. However, its heyday was short-lived. According to Martin Arriola, a former lead designer at Mattel, the company never completely owned the M.U.S.C.L.E. property; some percentage of M.U.S.C.L.E. revenues had to be paid to the original Kinkeshi toy company, Bandai. Therefore, even though sales were strong, Mattel always considered M.U.S.C.L.E. a second-tier product, behind lines they did own, like Masters of the Universe. So when the toy industry was completely turned on its head in 1987 by the explosive popularity of the Nintendo Entertainment System, most toy companies were left scratching their heads and scrambling to make up for lost revenues. This meant that many weaker toy lines got the axe, including secondary lines that came with licensing baggage like M.U.S.C.L.E. By 1988, the M.U.S.C.L.E. figures were unceremoniously discontinued.


8.) THE SUPER POWERS COLLECTION (1984-1986)


In 1984, DC Comics awarded the master toy license of their characters to Kenner, hot on the heels of Mattel's Masters of the Universe toy line. The initial pitch seemed to be heavily influenced by Kenner's popular Star Wars line with multiple playsets, vehicles and accessories for Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Teen Titans, and many others. Darkseid and his minions were the main adversary for the heroes to battle against. Although classic villains such as the Joker, Lex Luthor, Penquin, Brianiac and the Riddler (an Argentinian import figure) were included in the line.

Winning the DC Comics license away from Mego Corporation and Mattel with their emphasis on action and art, Kenner devised hidden mechanisms within the figures that would trigger an action when the figure's legs or arms were squeezed. This emphasis on each figure's "super power" led to the naming of the line -- The Super Powers Collection! Each figure in the first two series were also packaged with a mini-comic featuring that character's adventures. In all, three series of figures and accessories were released, but after three years of production the line collapsed. Regardless, this line was always better than Mattle's Marvel Comics Secret Wars line that went toe-to-toe with it. POW!! Take that Jim Shooter!!!


7.) MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE (1982-1988)


Masters of the Universe (commonly abbreviated MOTU and sometimes referred to as "He-Man," after the lead hero) is a media franchise created by Mattel. The main premise revolves around the conflict between the heroic He-Man, real name Prince Adam, and the evil Skeletor on the planet Eternia, with a vast line-up of supporting characters in a hybrid setting of medieval sword and sorcery and sci-fi technology. Later spin-offs, especially She-Ra, Princess Of Power, also featured He-Man's sister She-Ra and her struggle against the Evil Horde, along with other planets/settings; however the main premise usually remained the same. Since its initial launch, the franchise became a pop culture phenomenon, spawning action figures, cartoons, movies, comic books, and newspaper strips. This toy line was so popular that they defeated Kenner's Star Wars line on toy shelves and cancelled it.Yeah, He-Man really was the most powerful man in the universe at this time.

Created by Mattel in 1981, the MOTU line was first released as 5 1/2" action figures in 1982 (as opposed to the 3 3/4" size used by Kenner's Star Wars and Hasbro's G.I. Joe). Brief descriptions of the characters would appear on the toy line's unique packaging and box art (with illustrations by Errol McCarthy, William George and others); however, the lore of Masters of the Universe would really first be explored through mini-comics that accompanied the toys through the duration line. He-Man and his arch-enemy Skeletor were the first released in action figure form, along with other core characters of the entire series; Man-At-Arms, Beast Man and Battle Cat.

Later on that year, first wave of action figures in 1982 would also include Teela, Mer-Man, Stratos and Zodac. Also alongside the first wave of figures were the Battle Ram and Wind Raider vehicles and the Castle Grayskull playset. Additional waves of action figures, creatures, vehicles and playsets were released every year until 1987, with the final two oversea releases from the original line coming from Italy in 1988.


6.) ELASTIC (1979-1980)


In 1979, Mego Corporation was enjoying their 25th anniversary. But despite reaching such a milestone, the time for celebrating was not on their radar. A year earlier in 1978, Star Wars toys came along and dominated the entire industry like never before. It was bad enough that Mego passed on the Star Wars license in 1976, because now, along with every other toy company, they were playing catch up.

During the last three years, another toy manufacturer, Kenner, who had the Star Wars license was doing well with another toy called Stretch Armstrong. He was a 12" corn syrup filled latex figure that could stretch into many different positions. By 1979, the toy proved to be so popular that Kenner introduced a variety of new figures into the line including the Stretch Monster and Stretch X-Ray. All the Stretch Armstrong figures remained unchallenged on the toy shelves because no other toy did what they did. Mego recognized this and wanted to do something similar. Already owning the licenses for the Marvel Comics and DC Comics characters since 1972, Mego knew they could challenge Stretch Armstrong's market share with more well known properties possessing a stretching gimmick. I mean, who wouldn't want a stretching Superman or Batman figure even though it had nothing to do with their superpowers?

With Mego obtaining "insider information" on how to make these figures, they went about creating a stretch line of their own. Basically all Mego did was swap the wording of "stretch" to "elastic" on the box, designed a similar type of latex figure, but made it a little bigger and transformed them from generic characters into world famous comic book superheroes. Spider-man, Hulk, Superman, Batman and Plastic Man (which was the first toy ever of the character). And for the youngsters, Mickey Mouse, Casper the Friendly Ghost, and Donald Duck were added in early 1980.

Sadly, by the Spring of 1980, the Elastics proved to be more trouble than they were worth for Mego and sales quickly declined. And after losing a lawsuit to Kenner a few months later for gaining that "insider information," the entire Elastics line was cancelled and fell into toy obscurity.


5.) G.I. JOE: A REAL AMERICAN HERO (1982-1994)


G.I. Joe was originally a line of figures produced from 1964-1969 by Hasbro. They were 12" figures that represented all branches of the U.S. armed forces. The development of these figures led to the coining of the term "action figure." From 1970-1976 Hasbro renamed this line to "Adventure Team G.I. Joe" and added a host of comic-like characters and villains. While these lines did well with children of the day, they quickly fell into obscurity as other, more colorful action figures began to hit the toy market.

But it was in 1982, that saw the highly successful relaunch of this toy line. Now renamed to "G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero" with new figure molds scaled down to 3.75" (to mimic the Star Wars figures) and with new characters, vehicles, playsets, and a complex background story involving an ongoing struggle between the G.I. Joe Team and the evil COBRA Command which seeks to take over the world through terrorism, this toy line quickly became a pop culture phenomenon. It was so big in fact, that in 1985, both "Toy Lamp" and "Hobby World" ranked G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero as the top selling American toy. "YOOO JOE!"


4.) WWF WRESTLING SUPERSTARS (1985-1989)


One of the most popular products during the WWF's massive growth in becoming a pop culture phenomenon was their LJN "WWF Wrestling Superstar Figures." While Star Wars and G.I. Joe led the charge for small action figures, LJN's wrestling figures went BIG (standing about 8" tall). Also, most action figures had articulation and came with a growing number of accessories. These wrestling figures are as stiff as a King Kong Bundy punch. And most of them came without accessories save for maybe a hat, belt or cane.

Despite their shortcomings in the articulation department, these figures were actually a lot of fun to play with and could seriously pound on each other. LJN also did an excellent job of capturing the likenesses of the wrestlers and WWF personalities. They might not have the same level of detail as today's wrestling figures, but it's still easy to tell who the wrestlers were with all the charm the '80s characters had to offer.

Each figure was packaged with small posters. They were rolled up and stored at the base of the packaging. Also, the packages had a file card on the back, similar to those found on G.I. Joe figures from the same period. 

Today, LJN WWF figures can command big money on the secondary market, particularly for unopened mint figures. Some of the most valuable figures came at the end of the line's run, which is often the case for figures and toys as the decreased popularity which means smaller print runs. The final series came out in 1989, and were made by Grand Toy in Canada and not LJN. The figures switched to a new black card and were a mix of a few new figures and several repackaged wrestlers from earlier lines. These black cards are much tougher to find than figures from previous series as the series declined in popularity. As a result, they are generally much more expensive.


3.) CAPTAIN ACTION (1967-1968)


In 1964, Stanley Weston (1933-2017) went to Hasbro with the idea of an articulated doll in the form of a soldier with accessories. Hasbro took his concept and came up with G.I. Joe, the first modern action figure for boys and the first to carry the action figure moniker, which was an attempt to remove the term "doll" from a boy's toy. Being well school in the importance of licensing fan favorite properties based on television and comic characters, Weston founded his own company called American Leisure Concepts (ALC). He was so good at licensing big names in pop culture, that he would come to represent an impressive list of clients and properties including DC Comics, Marvel Comics, and King Features Syndicate.

Weston couldn't have predicted a better time to capture the license to the DC and Marvel heroes because beginning in January of 1966, the live-action Adam West Batman series hit television and nearly every kid in America wanted to be a costumed crime-fighter. Weston (who was a big comic fan) took note and brought the idea of a new, articulated, twelve-inch action figure to Ideal executive (and G.I. Joe co-conspirator) Larry Reiner. Weston first proposed Captain Magic, a many-in-one hero, who could adopt the guise of several heroes. The name was eventually changed to Captain Action, and Ideal released the first super hero action figure to retailers in 1966, just in time to cash in on the super hero craze.

The original Ideal base figure for the line was Captain Action that came with a blue and black uniform, lightning sword, belt, ray gun and mini-poster. Separate costume kits of Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Lone Ranger, The Phantom, Flash Gordon, Captain America, Sgt Fury and Steve Canyon  were available. Each costume kit came with accessories to complement each character. The next wave in 1967, added Spider-Man, Buck Rogers, the Green Hornet, and Tonto with collectible flicker rings in each box. The flicker rings were also added to the first wave of Captain Action character costume kits in updated boxes.

In 1967, Captain Action proved popular enough to expand the line, adding a partner called Action Boy, who could change into costumes of Robin, Superboy and Aqualad (for some reason these costumes didn't come with flicker rings). An arch-enemy was introduced called Dr. Evil, who was a blue-skinned alien. And a line of four female figures called the Super Queens which featured Batgirl, Mera, Supergirl, and Wonder Woman (they were individually based on singular characters and didn't change into outfits).

More accessories and playsets came along but unfortunately by 1968, the Captain Action line declined in sales and Ideal discontinued it. Even with DC Comics releasing a comic book that year couldn't bring back interest in the character and the series was cancelled after only five issues.


2.) AWA ALL STAR WRESTLING (1985-1986)


The Remco AWA All Star Wrestling toy line was an action figure line based on the wrestlers of the American Wrestling Association Promotion (known as the AWA). The toys were made of a solid plastic pose, with movable waists, legs, arms, and heads. Most came with accessories, from outfits to championship belts. This was actually the first line of wrestling figures available for sale in the United States, preceding the very popular LJN WWF Wrestling Superstars line which also debuted in 1985 (ranked at number 4 on this list).

This set is unique for releasing figures in 2 or 3 packs as opposed to single figure packs. The only figures available in single figure packs was the final series in the collection, the highly collectible Mat Mania series released in 1986.

By today's postmodern sculpting standards, the AWA figures were ugly, some even uglier than their real life AWA namesakes, and that's probably why I love them so much. And they were basically the same size as the Masters of the Universe figures which the Road Warriors beat the shit out of for fun on a regular basis. Come to think of it, the Road Warriors beat the shit out of all the action figures I had and still remain tag team champions to this day -- Oohhh, What a Rushhhh!!!.


Although collecting wrestling figures are popular, these figures are some of the toughest to obtain due to their scarcity and sky-high value. Getting a complete set is almost impossible and will most likely cost you a fortune. But hey, that's the fun of toy collecting.


1.) WORLD'S GREATEST SUPER-HEROES! (1972-1983)

 

If there was ever a toy line that defined the word "charm" when it came to pure awesomeness, it has to be Mego Corporation's "World's Greatest Super-Heroes!" that came to toy shelves in 1972. The popularity of this line of 8" figures created the standard scale for the 1970s and featured several popular superhero and villain figures from both DC and Marvel Comics. 

Earliest figures of Batman (with removable mask), Robin (with removable mask), Aquaman and Superman were released in a solid box. The design was quickly changed to a window style box along with blister cards and "Kresge" cards and Spider-man, Captain America, and Tarzan figures would quickly follow. The next year saw the Supergals Assortment which included Supergirl, Batgirl, Wonder Woman and Catwoman and the Superfoes Assortment featuring Riddler, Mr. Mxyzptlk, Joker and Penguin. Shazam! also arrives to the line with the release of vehicles and playsets.

More heroes were eventually introduced; the Hulk, Iron Man, Lizard, Falcon, Green Goblin, Green Arrow, Mighty Isis, the Fantastic Four, Thor, Conan, the Teen Titans and the exclusive Alter Ego figures of Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson and Peter Parker. Also the Fist Fighters figures of Batman, Robin, Joker, and Riddler were launched along with more vehicles, accessories and playsets.

While the art on the packages got updated and changed throughout the years, it still couldn't prevent the line from ending in 1983 with the entire Mego toy company soon to follow. Regardless, the legend and spirit of the "World's Greatest Super-Heroes!" toy line still lingers on today with a ton of knock offs and reproductions that continually get released. They are also highly collectible with some figures reaching astronomical numbers to acquire them on the secondary market. There is no doubt in my mind that they will always be one of the most influential toy lines ever created and without a doubt my favorite of all time.




Other Tales From the Toy Chest:

THE HULK ROLLER SKATES DEBACLE
http://hero-envy.blogspot.com/2011/11/hulk-roller-skates-debacle.html

THE STEALING OF THE SUPERHERO STAND-UPS
http://hero-envy.blogspot.com/2011/11/stealing-of-superhero-stand-ups.html 

BATMAN COLORFORMS AND MY DAD

MY TOP 15 GREATEST TOYS EVER
http://hero-envy.blogspot.com/2013/09/my-top-15-greatest-toys-ever.html

THE MANGLOR MESS UP
http://hero-envy.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-manglor-mess-up.html 

SUPER MARKET SKIRMISH: THE PDQ INCIDENT
http://hero-envy.blogspot.com/2014/05/super-market-skirmish-pdq-incident.html 

THE TOP 10 GREATEST G.I. JOE FIGURES EVER
http://hero-envy.blogspot.com/2015/08/the-top-10-greatest-gi-joe-figures-ever.html 

HULK OR HOLOCAUST
http://hero-envy.blogspot.com/2014/07/hulk-or-holocaust.html 

THE WRANGLING OF WRESTLEFEST
http://hero-envy.blogspot.com/2016/05/the-wrangling-of-wrestlefest.html  
 

CAPTAIN ACTION


   John "The Mego Stretch Hulk" Cimino
John Cimino is a Silver and Bronze Age comic, cartoon and memorabilia expert that runs a business called "Saturday Morning Collectibles." He buys, sells, appraises and gives seminars on everything pop culture, so if you got something special, let him know about it. He contributes articles to ALTER EGO, BACK ISSUE, RETRO FAN and THE JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR from TwoMorrows Publishing and has appeared on the AMC reality show Comic Book Men. He also represents some of comicdoms biggest stars and brings them to a Comic Con near you. John still thinks he's really Captain Marvel, people just don't have the heart to tell him he's just an obsessed fanboy that loves to play superheroes with his daughter Bryn. Contact him at johnstretch@live.com or follow on twitter at @Elastic_Hulk and have some fun.


 www.heroenvy.com