January 17, 2010

25 ACTION FIGURE CARD BACKS FROM THE 1980s

Oh, how they mocked me for saving the backs of my action figure blister packs through the decades, but now....now my master plan has come to fruition! Now I am the Keeper of the Knowledge of the card backs...and the power is all mine! Ha, ha, ha, ha!

(Click on any image to make it giant-size! Hit 'refresh' if all the images don't load.)

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983)
Wow, seventy-seven figures seemed like a lot. Today you can add over one thousand more to your checklist. They were the rise of Kenner and the fall of the Mego cooperation who declined to handle the license. It's pretty amazing that Kenner's Star Wars toys turned out to be as revolutionary as the film itself. This list would look entirely different without them. While the 12-inch G.I. Joe and the Mego Superheros still seemed like dolls with their pajama-like removable clothing, the Star Wars line truly lived up to the name "action figure."

I'm still perplexed by the arrangement of the figures seen here. This is something I spent many childhood hours trying to decode. Sure, the ones from Jedi are all at the bottom but the rest are a mishmash. A Bespin Guard next to a Tusken Raider? Vader next to Yoda?! There are so many missed opportunities: they could have been organized by film, or by allegiance, or release date, or planet of origin, or age... I must stop. I told myself I wouldn't do this again.

(Note the ravaged bottom right corner where the proof of purchase was removed.)

If you like this image you may be interested in a print of a later Kenner photo shoot by photographer Kim Simmons.

Super Powers Collection (1985)
I grew up a Marvel apologist so it is only now that I can finally admit how excellent Kenner's Super Powers collection is. Their perfect sculpts and vivid colors make them look like they leapt straight out of a comic. Yet the Achilles' heel of the collection is the ridiculous Justice Jogger (seen in the bottom right corner). Why a "jogger" for Superman when he can run around the Earth in an instant? Is this a commentary on our judicial system? It's been described as Superman's La-Z-Boy. It even has a protective transparent visor— what, for his hair? Oh, it's super alright— superflous. (Zing!)

Secret Wars (1984)
Hey, Mattel, is this the best you could do for us Marvel lovers? The figures look pretty good, but many of them have identical bodies and identical guns. And the whole shield thing is atrocious. Wolverine would never carry around some giant, bright red, mystic shield that tells the future. Even the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. wouldn't tote these shields. They even dared to replace Captain America's trademark star shield?! And they picked Kang the Conqueror as one of the first eight figures? Be sure to enlarge this one and check out the printing job that they did too.

TRON (1982)
What cool toys and what a cool photo. Could these be the first translucent action figures? More recently toy makers have used this technique for all sorts of ghosts and invisible characters, not to mention annoying "rare variants." The ones in the photo must be prototypes because the real TRON figures didn't have corpse-like white faces. I'm glad.

Thundercats (1986)
And then there's Panthro. He uses nunchakus! But that is not all— his nunchakus HAVE CLAWS ON THEM! I was double-sold.

Thundercats Miniatures (1986)
Poor KidWorks toy company. Looks like they had such high hopes for this line. That many accessories for a collection of miniatures is unheard of! Now KidWorks is no more. Oh, I did my part; I bought one. Where where you when they needed you?!

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1983)
This arrangement always confused me. The four guys in the amazing painting are articulated action figures while the hunks of plastic in the photo are "Monster Adventure Figures" from a completely different company, and they're frozen in their poses. Somehow I ended up with some of both and I became the laughing stock of every dungeon master on my block; which is to say nobody. I still had fun with these even though playing with them made me a suicidal occultist.

Robotech (1985)
Always be suspicious when they only show you illustrations of the other figures. In this case the real things weren't too bad, but it's still a good rule to live by.

Universal Monsters (1980)
These are among my very favorite figures, but a black and white photo? Well, I suppose that is how they originally appeared in the movies, but it doesn't get any cheaper looking than this.

The Legend Bruce Lee
I spoke too soon. Chuck Norris would never settle for this treatment.

The Other World (1983)
I scored nearly this entire collection from the clearance rack for just a few bucks. It wasn't long before the local Salvation Army scored my entire collection for free. I wholeheartedly tried to immerse myself in the mysterious Other World where Raidy the King presumably likes to raid and where they're not afraid to name their two headed maniac Skitzo (though Multiple Personality Disordero would be a more scientifically accurate name.) But these weren't real action figures, they were rubbery wire-frame bendys and my standards were just too lofty at the time. They did score points for the ever-smiling, little orange Yipps (I held on to one) and I liked that all their weapons glowed in the dark.

The Real Ghostbusters (1986)
Their tag line strikes me as funny, "Join the Real Ghostbusters in their ghost-chasing pursuits!" It seems downright academic compared to what it would be now, something like "Bustin 2 the X-treme makes me feel goooood!" By the time these arrived Kenner had proven themselves masters in the art of action figuring. I'm still not comfortable with the different colored coveralls, just as I frowned upon the Ninja Turtles getting different colored masks, but I suppose I understand the logic. The proton packs were well designed, but there was no easy way to remove the "particle stream" so the guys were constantly shooting each other.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1988)
I got my first real job, landscaping, when I was sixteen years old. Soon as I received my first paycheck I promptly cashed it and took the money to Wal-Mart where I purchased the first ten Ninja Turtle figures and a radar detector.

Robocop (1988)
Quite a bit of kiddie entertainment in the 1980s was derived from R-rated source material such as Rambo, Police Academy, Commando, and most astonishingly, The Toxic Avenger. This was frustrating to kids like myself who didn't have lax parents. Kenner pioneered the trend when they produced their 18-inch figure based on Ridley Scott's Alien in 1979. Getting the Robocop figure didn't contribute to my delinquency but watching the movie at the drive-in with my friend and his lax mother may have.

Swamp Thing (1990)
1990? Sorry Swampy, you're not welcome in this list. Wait, before you go I must say that your lame villains look like they stuck finger puppets on their heads.

Donkey Kong (1982)
Before the princess, Mario dated Pauline. Now you know. I always thought it was freaky that she was playing a game of Donkey Kong. These days they call that being "meta."

Pac-Man (1982)
Some creative liberties were definitely taken here for the sake of a buck: groom Pac-Man... dead Pac-Man? It all paints a pretty bleak picture- he eats, he's chased, he gets married, he dies.

Pee-Wee's Playhouse (1988)
This is a fantastic set. On a packaging note, it's odd that half of the products advertised are merely described with text. It's not an effective choice because I literally owned this figure for twenty years before I read those descriptions.
Hmmm, all that stuff sounded really good; I'd better go hit ebay.

M*A*S*H* (1982)
This is the series that's known for bringing the first cross-dressing character to the toy shelves. I bought this one when I was a teenager so I can't imagine how children would actually play with these figures. They only make slightly more sense than the Love Boat figures that came out around the same time. However, mixing the two sets would have been epic.

Masters of the Universe (1981)
Did you notice right away that this package is a reproduction? Good. I was just testing you.

G.I. Joe (1989)
If you must know why I held out on G.I. Joe until the late 80s it's because of one tiny detail— rivets. The four-inch Joes had shiny metal joints on their shoulders, and having grown so accustomed to Star Wars figures with their seamless, yet permanently stiff arms, I found the new approach too aesthetically distracting. For years I remained in denial of the fact that the cool poses they were capable of far outweighed the flaw. But it's just as well, I was able to focus on my precious Star Wars without having my resources divided among the two competing franchises.

Eventually Hasbro took over Star Wars and added full, rivet-less articulation to them while removing the metal eyesores from their G.I. Joe line, all proving that there is hope for humanity.

Captain Power (1987)
This was part of a huge and expensive endeavor to combine a toy line with an interactive live-action television show. The show seemed pretty cool but it tanked for numerous reasons, thus I got this one for a song at the local Kay-Bee. I like how the package is supposed to look like printer paper with holes for those old "tractor feed" printers.

Beetlejuice (1989)
Can you spot Kenner's conspiracy to punish the casual Beetlejuice fan? Imagine that you want a Beetlejuice—just a plain Beetlejuice. Not one dressed like an artist, or one with a head that looks like a merry-go-round, or a groom— just the normal one. Yeah, there it is, the one pictured with the Vanishing Vault. It doesn't exist! Unless of course you buy Showtime Beetlejuice and stick its head on Spinhead Beetlejuice. Then you're forced to piece together the unwanted remnants to form a horrendous groom-body/carousel-head guy. Well, I guess you could give that one to your cousin and he'd probably be totally grateful.

Defenders of the Earth (1985)
When these came out I was really rooting for them. I liked the idea that a bunch of characters that our grandfathers were excited about could please a new generation. But I'm not sure of how successful they were. On one hand they made sixty-five episodes of the cartoon, and Marvel did a comic of them, but on the other I bought all mine on super-clearance. Regardless, Mandrake is the coolest magician action figure ever.

The Interchangables (1985)
If you thought these were called Micronauts it's because they were before the Mego company folded and sold the molds to Hourtoy. If you thought these were called Microman it's because you are Japanese and that's what they were before Mego introduced them to the United States. Rather than upholding the legacy of the originals Hourtoy shamed them by using inferior plastic and changing the contents of the sets.

As a kid I was baffled and even a bit frightened of the Micronauts toy line. They looked cool, but they lacked visual coherence. Who was the main character? Why did their vehicles look so stupid and come with weird spare pieces? Were they puzzles or toys? All I did know is that they were cold, eerie, and super skinny so I fled. Hoping to gain some understanding I bought the Marvel comic book, but it confused me even more with its slew of characters that weren't part of the toy line. When I grew older still, I bought this "Cosmic Warp Chamber" in another attempt to make sense of it all. It only filled me with more questions, and there was no internet to sooth my mental turmoil.

Star Trek: The Next Generation (1988)
Sheesh, these things are worthless now. Back in the day everyone thought that the legions of Trekkies would keep them in permanent high demand. I just looked this one up on ebay and there's a completed auction for ninety-nine cents that got zero bids. I remember being instructed to snatch up a Tasha Yar if I was ever lucky enough to find one. In a recent auction she couldn't pull in $4.70 or best offer.
Say, what's up with Worf's photo? Is he in front of a blue screen? What a joke!
Okay, okay, I take that back. Sorry, I'm just a little bitter about these; they were supposed to be in lieu of a 401k plan.

Nightmare Warriors (1983)
This is such a wonderful B-grade line; an obvious attempt at tricking grandmas into thinking they are Skeletor's brothers. The set includes some of history's most interesting characters, only dead. I like that there's room for both a Roman soldier and a medieval knight, A less subtle toy company might have just thrown a wizard or an astronaut into the mix. I notice that they opted not to name the U.S. soldier after anybody real. Is it "too soon" after the world wars?

(There's a nice post on these at Weirdo Toys.)

26 comments:

Robot Vaudeville said...

Heh, the only thing cooler than action figure card backs are the Kenner booklets with every figure from every series listed in it.

I loved browsing through pages of Ghostbusters figures I knew I'd never own, flipping over to Beetlejuice to see which ones I was missing... good times.

Giddy Vintage said...

Why even put Zodac and Stratos on the Masters of the Universe packaging if they are not available? These are all great!!

blalock said...

The DC Super Powers collection represents the apex of my childhood joy. That, and the Marvel Superheroes line. Did those not hit until the 90's?

Christopher Smith said...

Though I refuse to accept your apology for Marvel, I will award you with accolaids in regards to this post. One of the most satisfying and humerous I've read in some time. The idea of grandmothers being tricked into thinking skeletor has brothers had me lol'ing as they say on the interwebinet.

Good show

johnbooth said...

I've always preferred the earlier Star Wars cardbacks, with each individual figure in its own unique environment, but I understand why that eventually became impractical. Also - Kim Simmons is a super nice guy, and he sells prints of a lot of his original Kenner art: I've got the old Dewback packaging photo hanging up here.

And a lot of the rest of these take me back to my high school days working at Children's Palace - thanks as always for the trip!

Anonymous said...

These are a trip through the past for me. I had 8 of the 77 on the Star Wars card!!
Those MASH figures crack me up, they were the epitome of lame at the time (I was 9) and we mocked them. The CHiPs figures (and patrol bikes) were also a source of humour and shame. One guy in our school was constantly trying to rook me into coming over to play with the CHiPs stuff...LAME. hahahaha fuck I wish I had aset those bad mofos now.
As always thanks for the nostalgia trip.
Chad

R.J. said...

They misspelled "Zeddemore" on the back of the Ghostbusters package. Nobody ever remembers the extra "e".

Zorgan said...

This is a great post. I'm tempted to buy the complete Swamp Thing collection on ebay for 149.99.

Darrin.. said...

Very nice post brother!! It's a great insight to pop culture and for toys of the given decades.

I remember thinking I had a mint with all my Star Trek figures... Sports cards... and comic books. What the heck happened?!? They just aren't worth anything anymore!

The Fiji Mermaid said...

Great post. There were some toys on there I had at one time, but completely forgot about, like the "Other World" figures.

Christopher Tupa said...

Wow! Thaks for sharing, brings back the memories. i really want to go home "sick " and bust out the toys and play.

Al said...

Giddy Vintage, I don't know about any other territories, but Stratos and Zodac were definitely available in the UK.

I know because I had them both, and would have much preferred many of the other MOTU figures!

docweasel said...

You like and publicize so many cool, classic items, games and artifacts. Why are you obsessed with something so lame and useless as star wars? Ugh, I am so frikken sick of star warz and fanboiz ranting about it. I hated it even when I was a kid. The only thing worse is star trek. No wait, star wars is worse because it enriches george lucas, a real a-hole. I'm sure you enjoyed the recent 70min takedown of Lucas' evil works on YouTube by some serial killer wannabe?

Kirk D. said...

Robot vaudville- Great point. Somehow I'd forgotten all about those. How did they escape me, how??

Giddy- I was wondering the same thing and I'm not enough of a he-man head to know the story. I looked up some authentic he-man back-cards and the same thing was on some of them. Maybe they weren't planning on releasing those until after the first batch?
They definitely came out at some point.

blalock- both of those sets were out at the same time in the mid 80s and in direct competition. Though I think the DC ones lasted longer (while the Marvel ones seemed to stay on the shelves longer. I got a great deal on all of mine.)

christopher- come over and we can further debate the secret wars/ super powers issue with visual references. We can also discuss Skeletor's family. I have some shocking info I'd like to share.

John Booth- Oh, you had to pull out your Kim Simmon's connection. Oh, yeah? Well I know Peter Meyhew and Jeremy Bolluch!
(if you count meeting them in an autograph line at a convention.)

chad- well done bringing up CHiPs figures. That reminds me of Dukes of Hazzard figures too. Those plus Love Boat, plus MASH equals the worst! I must have them all.

R.J.- I love that you know that. Thank you.

Zorgan- Don't do it!! Go with "Or Best Offer" or just get them loose for a fraction of the cost. My son bought one of those for $1 this weekend!"

Darrin- I guess ebay happened, for better or for worse. What's great is now I have a ton of toys to share with my kid. And I don't feel guilty for letting him open them.

Fiji Mermaid- Thanks, and count yourself lucky for having those in your childhood. You're forever in the Other World club.

Christopher- That reminds me of how painful it was to leave new action figures to go to school and the joy of reuniting in the afternoon.

Al- they definitely came out in the US eventually, but the backcard lists them as being unavailable for some reason. I need an expert to interpret.

docweasel- I watched the entire 70 minutes of that review and nodded in agreement the entire way through. It was awesome. On the other hand the first Star Wars was magic for my four year old mind. I didn't even know the name George Lucas until I was a teenager. Before that I was simply sold on the monsters and laser battles and space ships.
I don't fault you for not being into it. There's lots of other popular stuff I can't understand, but I'm right there with the masses on SW. So what was your Star Wars?

Chris Donato said...

Damn, dude. You've given mee so much joy with this post. Thanks.

docweasel said...

My Star Wars I guess was the Beatles, long broken up when I was born, but I was obsessed with them, and continued as I grew up and became a musician (which is tough for a girl in a guy's world, which live music is and was in my area)

I had all their albums, books, posters and etc. and then it became shorthand, well if you want to buy "K" a gift, get her something Beatles, so I accumulated a bazillion more corny and cool things.

But I'm just not ready to equate them with SW :p

Christopher Smith said...

Kirk upon second reading of this I must also thank you for shedding some light on an issue that puzzled me often as a child and then again as a collector. I owned the Beetljuice bed, I had the Showtime Beetlejuice as well as the shrunken head beetlejuice and I often wondered where my regular run of the mill beetlejuice was. I now know he never existed. Of course I never considered a head swap.

Jon the action figures buff said...

Great post... this brings back the memories of when I was a kid and I would get my action figures ready for action and would then take a look at the card back to check the other figures that I just had to have. I've also mentioned your post, some of the best action figure card backs from the 1980s on my blog and bookmarked this page.

Anonymous said...

AND WHERE IS HE-MAN????!!!!!

I love that collection with some real sweeties here and there, but where are "The masters of the Universe"? You know it wouldn´t be complete (I know that it never will be complete ;)) if you add He-Man... he was essential for..I guess a whole generation of cheapo action figures all over the world. Even in the small and dark croatia, somewhere around the 80´s....

Unknown

Anonymous said...

Huh....I saw em!!!! Yes, I am finally blind. :)

I like actionfigures 8)

Unknown

Gav Kasso said...

Micronaut confusion! Funny as...check out cosmo man, he's having a real gay disco party with his buddy there.

Anonymous said...

Great read! I used to keep all my cardbacks when I was younger...I especially liked the box artwork on TMNT vehicles, they were kind of scratchy and not particularly representative of either the cartoon or comic.

I gave up when I began to accumulate boxes of them when SW came back in the 90's.

I'd love to see a good sized print of any of these for the Turd-cave.

Benny Turd (UK)

Jay Amabile said...

thank you for solving a mystery for me. I used to have all the "Other World" collection when I was a kid and I couldn't remember for the life of me what they were called. Thank you for posting the pictures also!

Ashley Pomeroy said...

"I'm still perplexed by the arrangement of the figures seen here."

One thing I notice is that Boba Fett is right slap-bang in the middle!

Also, you can tell the it was photographed ages ago - it's actual photograph, and not a Photoshop montage. They actually had all those figures lined up on a paper backdrop. It must have taken ages to set them up (I wonder if they're glued down).

I pity the kids who had Snaggletooth. Also, have you ever seen more TM and (r) symbols in one place, ever?

rpchurch said...

Is Free Mumm-Ra kind of like Free James Brown? Did Mumm-Ra get in trouble for beating S-S-Slithe with his staff and running from the Third Earth police in his Cadillac sarcophagus?

Thanks for putting that Swamp Thing card up. Haven't seen that in ages. And, I love that it is for Bio-Glow Swamp Thing (my opinion - the best of the whole character line).

Kirk D. said...

rpchurch- yes, I think a Free Mumm-Ra bumper sticker would work right next to Free Tibet, etc.