After a crazy holiday weekend filled with ups (lots of wine) and downs (too much wine), I come to you with only the barest sense of coherence!
Welcome to the eleventh edition of Five Random Action Figures, starring old plastic monsters from my personal collection. As a matter of full disclosure, this post is only being written so I can sneakily show off the gaudy Christmas decorations I found at Dollar Tree.
Chip the Ripper
Food Fighters, 1988
I covered Food Fighters in the very first edition of Five Random Action Figures, but here’s something I didn’t realize at the time: This line has gotten popular!
Over the past few months, I’ve noticed that whenever a Food Fighters photo works its way onto social media, everybody flips. I’ve also noticed correspondingly higher prices for these formerly dirt cheap figures. What gives?
Maybe none of us realized that so many others shared our affinity? Back in the day, nobody bragged about having lots of Food Fighters. It’s not like we called time-outs in strangers’ handball games to announce that we’d found figures based on hamburgers and pizza. Maybe the line’s popularity surge has something to do with our newfound camaraderie?
Or could it be that Food Fighters is simply gaining new fans now, in 2014? Surely one of you has never heard of them before this article. Does the idea of warring armies full of anthropomorphic edibles intrigue you? Am I inadvertently creating more eBay competition for myself with the mere mention of them? If so… fuck!
Star Wars, 1978
One of the earliest Star Wars figures, you might remember Hammerhead from his brief appearance in the Mos Eisley Cantina. When this figure was first produced, he was just another wacky alien getting tanked in the bar, no more or less important than the werewolf or lamprey.
Of course, no Star Wars stone is left unturned for long. Guides and novels ultimately fleshed out even the most inconsequential background characters. As it turned out, “Hammerhead” was just a slang term for this guy’s species. He was actually Momaw Nadon, a kindhearted, plant-worshipping Ithorian with a dramatic history of Imperial run-ins.
It worked the same way with virtually every other character in the Star Wars universe, from random aliens to blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em droids. Hell, even individual Stormtroopers ended up with rich histories.
(Think of the seemingly least important character from any Star Wars movie. Now Google him. You’ll see what I mean.)
This being one of the oldest SW figures, Not-Quite-Momaw had to make do with a skimpy leotard and only a passing resemblance to the creature from the film. Whatever, I still love him. It’s hard not to love chocolate aliens with t-shaped heads who go to bars wearing cerulean swimsuits.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, 1989
In Five Random Action Figures: Part 4, I covered Scumbug, one of the “new wave” Ninja Turtles figures that drove kids out of their goddamned minds. The situation was that we’d already collected every Ninja Turtle figure on the market, so when word trickled down that Playmates had finally released four new ones, we all went crazy trying to find them. (Those new figures were shortpacked and not at all easy to find!)
The quartet included some of the all-time best TMNT figures. There was Wingnut, Scumbug, Muckman, and most importantly, MONDO F’N GECKO. A punky, heroic lizard!
Of the four, Mondo Gecko was by far the hardest to find, and it’s easy to see why. The Turtles had ushered in some screwy ideas about what was considered “cool,” and Mondo Gecko nailed all of them even better than they did! His colors were louder, his clothes were edgier, and he came with HIS OWN FUNCTIONAL SKATEBOARD! (Which I’ve sadly lost, because the world is so utterly unfair.)
I can’t honestly claim that he’s my favorite Ninja Turtle figure, but he was certainly the one that provided the most bragging rights. I didn’t even have to name him specifically. Just sauntered up my friend’s steps with a slyly-delivered “found it,” and he knew exactly what I was talking about. Everybody was on the hunt. Everybody wanted Mondo Gecko.
Karate Kommandos, 1986
I know very little about the Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos animated series, but I’ve long had a soft spot for its corresponding toy line. There’s a very specific reason for that.
Anyone remember the Consumers Distributing store chain? Instead of wandering through aisles full of bric-a-brac, you’d go in, find a kiosk, and simply page through a paper catalog. After placing your order at a front desk that resembled the points redemption area of a casino arcade, one of the staffers would disappear into an unseen warehouse to fish out your items. (Yes, it was as weird as it sounds.)
Consumers frequently mailed out their catalogs, especially during Christmastime. What I remember most about those books is their wild clearance sections, where older stock was available for ridiculously low prices.
I’ll never forget seeing Karate Kommandos figures in those books… for 49 cents each. This went on for several years, and even by the very late ‘80s, Consumers was still advertising dirt cheap Chuck Norris figures.
Unfortunately, I was never able to get them for that price. The catalogs featured plenty of great deals, but you still had to find a Consumers store that actually had those things in stock. That was the trick. I begged my mother to take me there many times, and there was never a single Karate Kommandos toy available.
I missed out on some great figures! Here were have Super Ninja, an appropriately generic name for a character that looks like he was devised by the same companies that made bootleg He-Man toys. Note how his articulation allows for textbook karate chopping. That’s my boy.
Rock Lords, 1986
Tonka’s Gobots line gets more grief than it really deserves. The toys were often chintzier than Hasbro’s Transformers, but with their lower prices, that was kind of the point. The cartoon was comparatively more childish, but it was made to be. You wouldn’t apply a Hanna-Barbera sensibility to transforming robots if you weren’t aiming for especially little kids.
Besides, the Gobots line eventually overachieved. Without Gobots, we never would’ve gotten Rock Lords, the awesome spinoff where robots transformed into alien rocks instead of played-out vehicles. And without Rock Lords, we never would’ve gotten Rock Narlies, a spinoff of a spinoff that was somehow even better!
This collection of fuzzy monsters had hidden wheels and were essentially “pull-back” toys, using the same technology that was normally reserved for three dollar plastic cop cars randomly sold at mom-and-pop pharmacies.
The real appeal, of course, was their hair. Each Rock Narlie was around 90% hair. Hair with scratchy textures and crazy colors. They looked like the Terror Dogs of the Norfin Troll universe.
Kids who had Rock Narlies rarely treated them like action figures. No, these were our inanimate pets!
Thanks for reading my many scatterbrained thoughts about five random action figures.