Welcome to a special holiday edition of Five Random Action Figures. For maximum effect, you gotta drink eggnog and wear footie pajamas while reading this.
This time, I’m limiting myself only to figures that I personally got for Christmas back in the ‘80s. Two were already in my collection; the remaining three were purchased specifically for this article, and not at all because I thought it’d be awesome to own Serpentor again.
G.I. Joe (1986)
More “sci-fi” than the average G.I. Joe character, Serpentor was cloned from the remains of civilization’s most notorious warriors and strategists, like Julius Caesar and Attila the Hun. (This was later retconned, but since the retcon was even more out there, that “sci-fi” descriptor still fits.)
As the new leader of Cobra, Hasbro gave Serpentor the royal treatment. At first, his action figure was only available with the Air Chariot vehicle, which meant that kids had to work extra hard if they were gonna convince their parents to buy Serpentor during a regular trip to Toys “R” Us. Most of us had to wait for our birthdays, or in my case, Christmas.
Actually, I received him a few days before Christmas. This involved breaking my vow to not ask for him early while making my pitch at our old ratty Sears. My mother took the bait, as if I was really gonna spend a week living with Serpentor but never actually seeing him. C’mon.
Once she acquiesced, I had 3-4 days to play with Serpentor before Santa’s arrival. I never got bored of him. Even on the afternoon of Christmas, when the crowds were gone and I could finally pay full attention to my presents, I remember feeling guilty that I still wanted to play with Serpentor more than my “new” stuff.
I think it was the sparkly cape, but it could’ve just as easily been the Halloween snake mask. Or maybe it was the little cobra that came packaged with Serpentor in lieu of the traditional rifle. Man, this guy had a lot going for him. Easily among my top 5 favorite G.I. Joe figures.
The Real Ghostbusters (1987)
Bad-To-The-Bone was a “second wave” figure from Kenner’s Real Ghostbusters collection. I received him for Christmas in 1987, along with Slimer (then sold under his “Green Ghost” moniker) and Bug-Eye. Yes, it was a happy Christmas.
Even just those three figures showed wild discrepancies in size, style, construction and features, proving early that Kenner was gonna go the extra mile for this line.
The figures were from my parents, but the gift tags attributed them to my older sister. When I thanked her, she only offered a half-assed look of disdain, irked by the forgery but mostly not giving a shit about my dumb action figures. In her defense, being riotously annoying was certainly a part of my childhood skillset.
I don’t believe that Bad-To-The-Bone ever appeared on the cartoon, presumably because a skeleton merman who trapped victims in his ribcage was a tad much even for a show like that. (The figure’s eyes also popped out, because Kenner evidently had a strict quota to meet with that particular action feature.)
I’ve written plenty about the giant monsters from the Inhumanoids toy line, but its more diminutive humans were way cool, too. They would’ve been standouts in any other line, and the only reason you never hear about ’em is because they had to share retail space with a 15” veggie Cthulhu.
Herc Armstrong was one of the four Earth Corps figures, which were all the same size but with wildly unique exosuits. The figures were super tall — think Thundercats — but had G.I. Joe-scale heads under their helmets, subtly evoking the headshrinker scene from Beetlejuice.
I received the complete set of Earth Corps figures from my late godmother, who didn’t get me presents often, but knocked it out of the freakin’ park whenever she did. I’d typically see her a week or two after Christmas, so on top of giving me great toys, her gifts always felt like bonus presents. I loved that chain smoking gambling addict so much.
She packed the figures in two Macy’s boxes, probably more for convenience’s sake than to trick me into believing that she’d gotten me clothes. (That did cross my mind when she handed me the gifts, but I should’ve known better. After all, this was the same woman who gave me the whole Voltron lion set not two years prior!)
The blonde fellow is Dargon, who you might remember from Five Random Action Figures: Part 25. The figures from Coleco’s Sectaurs line were super cool, but the only reason anyone remembers them is because they rode giant bug puppets with electronic flapping wings.
Dragonflyer was Dargon’s trusted mount, and the two were sold together in an excessively huge window box. Many of my Christmas memories are crystal clear; other comes in images that act like mental puzzle pieces. In this case, here’s what I can remember:
1) My father tossed me the set after midnight at our Christmas Eve party. It wasn’t wrapped.
2) I insisted on playing with it immediately. Probably because the house was so crowded, I managed to crack one of Dragonflyer’s foot-long wings within ten minutes.
3) I stupidly considered Dargon to be a canonical relative of He-Man’s — a literal cousin who happened to be part-bug.
Powered by batteries, Dragonflyer has detachable wings that flap like mad, all while you puppet the creature through an inconspicuous black glove. It’s one of the most effortful toys I’ve ever had, and the kind of thing that only would’ve come out during the action figure boom of the 1980s. We just don’t see this kind of extravagance in toy stores anymore.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1988)
My TMNT obsession happened by accident. I got in early, but I wasn’t there at the start. Some neighbor kids introduced me to the cartoon, and thank God it was a Krang-heavy episode, because if there’s anything that puts stars in my eyes quick, it’s brains that talk like gassy old ladies.
Christmas ‘89 came just a few weeks after that discovery, and as fate would have it, my brother gifted me a pile of TMNT toys. (I believe I was in the fourth grade at the time, when getting toys for Christmas was already becoming less of a given. This was a lucky break!)
In the pile was the Turtlecycle, Wacky Action Michaelangelo, and finally this Raphael figure. Since Wacky Action Mike felt more like a gag than an action figure, I considered Raph my first “real” Ninja Turtle. I treated him with great reverence, which in fourth grade terms meant sharing my jelly beans and letting him pilot the Cobra BUGG.
I’d stick with that toy line for years, watching it expand and eventually add figures that completely outclassed the “simple” offerings from the first wave. Didn’t matter to me. I still loved the original Turtles, and no amount of space suits, surfboards or storage shells were gonna make me retire ‘em.
If you’re anything like me, getting four inch warriors in December meant so much more than getting four inch warriors in March or May. To me, the figures featured here are absolute symbols of their respective holiday seasons. I don’t remember much about Christmas ‘89, but I’ll never forget Raphael or his toothpick sai.
Survey time: In the comments, talk about some of the best dolls and action figures that you specifically remember getting for Christmas. (Or whatever you celebrate at this time of year.)