Monday, July 10, 2017

1987 – The Toys

On episode 167 of the Needless Things Podcast we talked about the pop culture of 1987. We recorded a similar episode last year about 1986 (and will do another one next year about 1988 – see the pattern?) and I accompanied it with posts about the toys, music, television, and movies of the year.

It all started out as one post, but as I poked around my memory (and the internet) I realized that there was simply too much great stuff to include it all in one post. At first glance 1987 seemed a bit leaner in terms of pop culture awesomeness, but then I started poking around and discovered that roughly 8,000 absolutely incredible movies came out in 1987, so that was one huge on its own.

Television also ended up providing enough pop culture treats to warrant an individual post.
All along I knew that the toys of the year would provide plenty of material for a piece because if there’s anything I can go on about, it’s 80s toys. Even if there was only one big toy released in 1987, I could’ve waxed poetic about it for a thousand words.

Fortunately, that was not the case.

Boglins – There are two stories here – one of me loving a toy line and getting to interview its creator decades later. You can hear that on episode 25 of the Needless Things Podcast.

The other story is of me being an asshole kid.

I was obsessed with Boglins the second I learned of them. I think it was via ads in comic books of the day, but I can’t find evidence of such a thing online. If I have time to go through my back issues before this goes up, I’ll check.

Mom was not into Boglins. She thought they were gross and creepy and that interest in them was likely a sign of a sick, deranged mind.

I don’t remember the nature of the conversations we had about Boglins. I think they might have revolved around the concept that I could somehow develop marketable skills or learn a trade from having such a complex puppet toy. I’m sure they were annoying. Which is almost certainly the part that broke her down.

I’ve told that portion of the story several times. What I failed to mention – and really hadn’t remembered until recently – was that when Mom finally got me a Boglin, she also bought one for my three year old sister. And even though mine was Dwork, one of the full-size models, and my sister’s was one of the smaller ones, I was jealous that she had one. 
Boglins were my thing and to my sick, deranged mind her having one made mine a little less special.

Kids are messed up, you guys.

Captain Power – I’ll go right ahead and admit up front that I never had any Captain Power toys and didn’t love the line enough to beg my mom for them like I did with Boglins, Madballs, and a few other toys that she eventually broke down and let me buy. Don’t get me wrong – I wanted an XT-7. But in truth the designs didn’t appeal to me that much.

I even had a conversation with one of my parents where they explained to me that in all likelihood the toys wouldn’t interact with the TV show as well as what was depicted in the commercials. I didn’t want to believe them, but I’m pretty sure I did.

I’ve read in recent years that the show was quite good. I don’t really remember watching it, but I am curious to check it out. And looking back at the line now I do think it’s pretty awesome. There are certainly more toys and figures than I remembered, so it’s a little odd that I didn’t end up with at least one or two random Captain Power toys in the last thirty years. I might keep an eye out now.

GI Joe – While GI Joe had obviously been around for a while in 1987, it’s a year worth noting because it’s the one when my interest started to wane.

After a visit to I saw that there were a few vehicles I never had – the Defiance shuttle, the Maggot, the Mamba – and that it’s the year that the infamous Battle Force 2000 was launched, which I usually denote as one of the killing blows to my original Joe fandom. Looking at their 1988 page reveals that I had very few of the toys released that year.

1987 did have some badass stuff, though. The Cobra-La team set was released, which I liked in 1987, hated as I got older, and like again now. Hasbro put out the Mobile Command Center, which is still one of my favorite playsets ever. The remote control Crossfire was under the Christmas tree that year, which I think my dad liked more than I did. And of course there were the motorized action packs, which I loved. They were all cool, but the Rope Crosser was my favorite.

I had asked for the USS Flagg the previous year and Santa had brought it for Christmas. It’s obviously one of the best toys I have ever owned and I still regret losing it to the heat of my parent’s Georgia attic. In 1987 I asked for the Defiance space shuttle, not necessarily because I thought it was all that great, but because it was the big new GI Joe toy and I wanted it. I didn’t get it. I still feel like there was some lesson I was supposed to learn there, but I have no idea what it would have been.

As far as figures, most of them were awesome. I understand that this was the year that some people think things got way too silly with characters like Crystal Ball, Raptor, and Big Boa (I’ll give them that one), but there was such a great variety of figures with excellent accessories that I still consider 1987 a great year.

Transformers – I never had a ton of Transformers. As much as I liked the cartoon, the scale issues of the toys always bothered me too much. That and the clunkiness of their robot modes. But in doing my research for this post I discovered something interesting – I had a bunch of the 1987 Transformers and it was because I loved the Head/Targetmasters gimmick.

Just for fun, here’s the list of Cybertronians that I somehow convinced my parents (mom) to procure for me in some form or other that year – Crosshairs, Kup, Overkill, Punch-Counterpunch, Scourge, Skullcruncher, Slugfest, Snapdragon, and Weirdwolf. For me, that’s a lot of Transformers.

I think it’s possible that our summer relocation to Houston, Texas could be responsible for this and a few other items from today’s post. We had to move there for three months thanks to my dad’s job and my parents spoiled the shit out of us because they knew it was a lot to ask to basically take away an eleven year old’s summer break. I can’t complain. I got a bunch of toys I wouldn’t have otherwise had, I watched David Letterman every night, and I got to see RUN DMC and the Beastie Boys at the Astrodome.

Spiral Zone – I mentioned the cartoon last week, but the toy line is where this franchise truly shone. Shined. Whatever.

The figures were around twelfth scale – maybe a bit bigger – and had fabric uniforms with plastic armor pieces and tons of accessories. There was a human army and a mutant army and all of the characters were unique and awesome. The vehicles were great as well, very reminiscent of a higher-tech Mad Max type world.

It’s hard to find intact figures in good shape, but this is a line I’d collect in an instant if I had the resources. For years I assumed they were cooler in my memory than they were in reality, but I saw some in person a couple of years ago and they live up to my remembered hype.

SilverHawks – This was another line that was cool, but apparently not cool enough for me to use up my limited “be annoying enough to get it” cards. Vac metal is a great toy gimmick that I have always been a sucker for, but I have to admit to not loving the outer space bird people gimmick as much as other folks do. SilverHawks was cool and all, but I was getting to the point where I was cynical enough to start recognizing concepts like, “Like ThunderCats, but birds!”

TigerSharks – “Like ThunderCats, but fish!”

I actually preferred the TigerSharks cartoon to Silverhawks (they were both produced by the same company as ThunderCats, Rankin-Bass), though it wasn’t as celebrated. As I’ve mentioned many times, I have a fondness for aquatic-based gimmicks.

The toys were made by LJN, so they looked more like their ThunderCats cousins than Kenner’s SilverHawks, though the space birds were really much better toys. I never had any of these, either and honestly don’t remember even seeing them in stores. I’m not saying they weren’t there, but they must have had a low profile.

The Real Ghostbusters – Three years after one of the biggest movies of the 80s was released, we finally got toys, but based on the cartoon. As much as I loved the cartoon, I was initially disappointed because I never liked Egon’s horrible hair.

I remember having to make hard decisions about these. I think my Papaw bought me some and I had to decide between them and GI Joes and I vividly remember using my own money to buy the Squisher Gooper Ghost – the only slime-based toy I ever owned. Squisher, the four regular Ghostbusters, and the later Fright Feature figures were the only figures from this line I ever owned.

This remains one of the greatest toy lines of all time in my opinion and if I had unlimited resources I’d buy every bit of it.

Super Naturals – Holograms were huge business in 1987. So huge that there were at least two toy lines based entirely around the fact that they used holograms. I never cared for Super Naturals back then because they had limited articulation and the line was 95% made up of crappy little ghost figures (or so it seemed).

Nowadays I look a little more fondly on Tonka’s weird line. This is one that I might try to put together one day if I ever finish my Inhumanoids collection.

Visionaries – This was the other major line based around hologram technology. They were packed with articulation and seemed more cohesive as a line. Now, thirty years later, Super Naturals seem much more interesting than Visionaries.

Sky Commanders – These next three are sort of similar in scale and conceit and were certainly chasing the same market – kids that cared more about the vehicles than the figures. I had one or two pieces from each line, but since I wasn’t one of those kids they never took with me.

Kenner’s Sky Commanders were based entirely around zipline technology, which, believe me, is cooler than it sounds. All of the figure sets, vehicles, and even the huge headquarters were based around being able to slide the toys around on strings or plastic tracks. Like most 80s toy commercials, the environment presented was ideal for the Sky Commanders line, but nobody’s house was actually practical for placing these things all over the place. There were lots of awesome design ideas here, though.

StarCom – This line was from Coleco and featured an outer space theme. Tiny little astronaut figures with magnets in their feet would activate motorized features in the vehicles. In all honesty it was a brilliant line and the figures were cooler than I’m giving them credit for, but it wasn’t quite exciting enough to take hold.

Hasbro’s Air Raiders – These toys used the power of air! Each vehicle had some kind of pneumatic device to propel it or included projectiles. The figures were weak and generic, but the vehicle designs were fantastic, resembling crafts from many of the higher-concept science fiction movies of the day. If I had the opportunity (and the space) I’d be happy to have a display of loose Air Raiders vehicles in the Phantom Zone. I definitely didn’t appreciate them back in the day, though.

Army Ants – I think that Mattel’s M.U.S.C.L.E. line inspired a number of minifigure-oriented toy lines. This was one of them. They were simple little ants with rubber bulbs for butts. The sculpts were excellent, depicting rough and ready archetypes of the military. This was a line that compelled army building, obviously. It’s right there in the name!

I had a dozen or so of these, but the reason the line is significant is because our first night in Houston I had a nightmare that an army of Army Ants was marching into my room to attack me. It was a strangely vivid dream and one that I can still almost feel. I would have the exact same nightmare many times over the following years, with my brain going so far as to relocate to my home in Georgia after we got back. Oddly, I was never scared of the toys as a result.

Battle Beasts – I started this piece strong with Boglins and I’m going to end strong with a toy line that I am still compelled to collect to this day. Hasbro’s Battle Beasts were technically part of the Japanese Transformers line, but I still don’t quite understand how and don’t care enough to find out. To me, they were simply badass little animals in cool cybernetic armor.

While I thought the rub-off symbols that were the gimmicky portion of the concept were neat, they weren’t important. I was much more into the designs of the figures. I didn’t have a ton of these because they fell outside of my standard collections and maybe came out after we left Houston, but I’m still trying to make up for that now.

For some odd reason I tend to find these much cheaper online than I do in person. Dealers seem to think that any Battle Beast in pretty much any condition is worth twenty bucks. Meanwhile, I can find plenty online for ten or less. I don’t get it.


Okay, normally I wouldn’t ever comment on something that didn’t come out of my own mind or that wasn’t a personal recollection. But in this instance I have no choice but to relay some critical information to you, the readers.

In the course of browsing the awesome Action Figure Archive I came across a toy line from 1987 that I do not remember at all, though I have seen figures from the line several times in my life and just didn’t know what they were.

I am talking about Tonka’s Steel Monsters and it’s the Mad Max line we always wanted but never had. The site lists it as 1986-87, but I don’t care. I had to bring this to your attention.

Do you know how bad I want this entire line right now? I didn’t want to steal pics from the Archive, but the Masher alone just made my MUST HAVE list. I love that they’re all just retooled versions of existing Tonka trucks. The Masher is just a grader painted black with some extra armor thrown on:

The prices for these are all over the place on eBay, but I’ll be keeping my eye out next year at Toylanta!

Did I miss anything? What was your favorite toy from 1987? Let us know in the Needless Things Podcast Facebook Group!

If you enjoy anthropomorphic rhinoceroses, the 80s, or Needless Things, you might enjoy Huge thanks to our killer Patrons Zack, Gary, Lucas, and Beau!

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