Sit. Make a cup of coffee. Wrap yourself one of those $10 throw blankets, because I know they’re your vice. This one’s gonna take a while.
Below are nine finds from the 1993 JCPenney Christmas catalog, a 600+ page behemoth filled with toys and video games and lime green lingerie.
I would’ve been in the eighth grade at the time, a little less into action figures, but desperate to not let anyone know that I was still into them at all. Video games and shitty sneakers were safer picks, but I still managed to satisfy my inner six-year-old whenever no one was looking. (Hip hip hooray for Christmas vacation.)
Street Fighter II Tabletop Game!
Essentially a souped-up version of Rock ‘em Sock ’em Robots, here we had Guile and Ryu beating the holy hell out of each other. I’m glad that they didn’t go with the safer-but-boring Ryu/Ken matchup, but the perfect world version of this game would’ve so obviously pitted Blanka against Dhalsim.
The warriors’ kicks and punches were scored by strange electronic noises, which I suppose made up for the fact that this Rock ‘em ripoff didn’t let you punch Ryu and Guile’s heads off of their bodies. C’mon!
Jurassic Park Command Compound!
The Command Compound was the hottest straight-up toy in the ‘93 catalog, and by “straight-up toy” I mean anything not from Nintendo or SEGA. The showpiece of the Jurassic Park action figure line, this immense playset now sells for a whole lot. (Or maybe it doesn’t. Maybe eBay sellers just made a pact to never list a MISB Command Compound for less than 400 dollars, no matter what. I picture them in red robes, and there is blood.)
The playset wasn’t structurally film accurate, but it still carried the air of a scale model. Rarely did action figure adaptations of movie locations seem so faithful, and it’s for this reason that the Command Compound was owned by many but craved by all.
(Yes, it was for that reason, and not because you could make big plastic dinosaurs wrestle while a four-inch Jeff Goldlbum shot at them. Look, sometimes I’m wrong.)
Ah, my old friend Barney. I spent plenty of time with him back in ‘93, thanks to my growing pool of nieces and nephews. Aged between 2 and 4, they were all obsessed with Barney, and routinely threatened to wreak havoc whenever denied the warm glow of his purple hide.
As a REBELLIOUS new teen — or at least soon-to-be-teen — their Barney fixation disgusted me. I could live with the dolls and doodads, but I couldn’t stand the videotapes. I had to watch those motherfucking tapes so many times that I can STILL quote the songs more than two decades later.
“Hi I’m Adam, and I’m happy too! With Barney nearby there’s always things to do!”
And then Adam kind of bopped around the stage as if he were imitating the moving gears of a clock.
I hated Barney.
Well no, Barney was mostly okay, but his remora were terrible. Those rotating kids. Baby Bop. Barney was chill enough on his own, but he was always saying dumbass things that were guaranteed to rile everyone up. Like everybody would be nice and calm and playing with toy blocks, and then Barney would blurt out, “I WONDER WHAT IT’S LIKE TO FLY LIKE A BIRD?” So naturally the kids and Michelle Tannersaur drop the bricks and go berserk, and then Barney has to spend 20 minutes pretending he’s a plane.
I’m moving on.
Transformers Generation 2 Megatron!
I wasn’t a big fan of Transformers: Generation 2, which at the time seemed like a “cheaper” version of the original series, with less of a push and some half-baked executions. That wasn’t an entirely fair assessment, and only with age and maturity am I able to admit that I just didn’t like the bolder colors. Everybody looked like sidewalk chalk.
I’ve softened over time, and in fact now count Generation 2 Megatron among my favorite Transformers toys from any iteration. There’s something uniquely ‘90s about turning Megatron into a psychedelic cow-print tank, and then saying, “No, no, this isn’t enough! I will also make his face purple!”
It’s too much, but it’s SO too much that it makes a full rotation and stops dead over the island of awesome, which I guess in this case should be capitalized. Island of Awesome.
Bucket of Bazooka!
This kind of Bazooka packaging is gone now, right? It is in the States, at least. How the hell did that happen?
Bazooka was nobody’s favorite gum, but it was so insanely cheap that logic had to beat preference. Bazooka was traditionally a nickel a piece, and one of my favorite things to do was fill a wrinkly brown bag with a dollar’s worth of it. My hobbies needed work.
Things I remember about Bazooka gum:
1) I liked the come-ons for baseball cards and Bazooka shirts way more than I liked the comics.
2) The original flavor was the most ubiquitous by far. Grape only popped up every now and again, but cherry was so rare that you started hearing the Wonka song whenever you found it. (Green apple, despite rumors, plainly never existed.)
3) It also came in a tube, all soft and wet and tasting like sugary taffy. That shit was so good that I still go to bed asking God for a solid.
Super Nintendo Games!
($34.99 – $74.99)
I owned around half of the SNES games shown here, though I’d forgotten just how expensive they were. 75 bucks for Street Fighter II Turbo, in 1993?! (Worst part is, I can’t even claim that it wasn’t worth it. It so was.)
I never felt the same mutant bond with my SNES that I shared with my NES, but the truth is that I got far more use out of the Super Nintendo. From Starfox to Mario Paint to Super Mario World to Mortal Kombat II, the neat thing about so many SNES classics was that you could play them for entire days without getting bored. In video game parlance, they were the fairy fountains from Zelda.
TMNT Sewer Tank Aquarium!
The Ninja Turtles had lost considerable steam and were only passively featured in this catalog, with just a few action figures and an iffy pajama set. Hidden in another part of the catalog was the one TMNT item really worth owning: THE SEWER TANK.
Part playset, part aquarium, the small, plastic tank was barely adequate for goldfish, let alone the live turtles suggested by the photo. Yet who would’ve asked for a Sewer Tank if a pet turtle wasn’t the goal? Pair that with its 40 dollar retail price, and any parent who bought this ended up double-fucked.
G.I. Joe Headquarters!
This version of the G.I. Joe Headquarters bore some resemblance to the 1983 original, but it definitely wasn’t a re-release. It doesn’t look too extraordinary here, but that might be because JCPenney didn’t photograph it in a mock bedroom with two smiling kids. Did any of you have this thing? I want details.
Interestingly, the figures shown on the playset weren’t a part of the G.I. Joe universe. They belonged to The Corps, a still-going and weirdly-beloved riff on the Joes that traded finer details for better prices.
Idea: Buy the G.I. Joe Headquarters and the Jurassic Park Command Compound, and merge them into the Jurassic Joe Headquarters Compound. Chain of command: Hawk, T. Rex, Scarlett, Dilophosaurus. And then I guess we’ll make the raptors Dreadnoks.
Marble Whirl Deluxe Set!
Wow, I’d totally forgotten about Marble Whirl! The set let you create vertical slides for marbles to run through, but I saw it for what it really was: A version of Mouse Trap that didn’t pretend to be a board game.
I may have been a bit too old for Marble Whirl, but you can get away with “aging down” during the Christmas season. I was home and I was on vacation; nobody was gonna see me building the Colosseum out of plastic marble junk. In a sense, this box of bizarre bubble pipes was Christmas in a nutshell.
Thank you for reading about toys (and gum) from 1993. Here are more of Dino Drac’s catalog reviews: