It’s basically Christmas even as I write this. The next few days are going to be dead online, but I was determined to get one last holiday-themed article on the site before Santa hightailed it back to the North Pole.
Consider this my Christmas gift to you. It’s not wrapped, and that’s good, because I am absolutely the world’s worst wrapper. Half a roll of Scotch tape on every box, with tears on every seam.
Let’s take a look at six great toys from the 1984 JCPenney Christmas catalog.
This is another one of those “too good” catalogs, filled with so many things I owned and cherished. Problem is, those just happen to be the exact things you’ve already seen a million times before. Like, yeah, I could include photos of Castle Grayskull and the old Darth Vader figure, but it’s not like you’ll get anything new from them.
Instead, I’m gonna focus on the deeper cuts. I’d completely forgotten some of the things featured below, even if they once meant the world to me. Hope they hit you the same way. If not, oh well, you’re at your Aunt Jan’s right now anyway, pouring spiked punch into a coffee cup while your worst cousin tries to bring up politics. Why do I bother?
Kronoform Robot Watch!
In the realm of transforming robot watches, Kronoform was the Rolex. In robot form, it looked right at home with the earliest Transformers figures. That was no coincidence. The watches were produced by Takara, which also created our beloved Autobots and Deceptions!
There were a billion similar robot watches, but Kronoform was the one name brand. (You might remember cheap imitators acting as the top prizes in so many fifty-cent vending machines. Honestly, even those knockoff versions were pretty great.)
These watches were way popular when I was in elementary school. Kronoform let us sneak toys into class in plain sight, and so long as you didn’t do anything stupid — like, say, demonstrate the transformation process while Mrs. Hatcher was standing right there — they were a fast ticket to schoolyard stardom.
When Masters of the Universe was at its white-hottest, it wasn’t uncommon to find “knockoff” vehicles specifically tailored to fit He-Man figures. Those vehicles weren’t made by Mattel and had no official association with the line, but they were still some of the best accoutrements for anyone with a 6” Skeletor.
Produced by Marchon, the remote-controlled Trundaxx was among the most famous “not He-Man but still He-Man” toys. The futuristic tank could roll along an included length of track, or better yet, ride indefinitely through a loop of that track, which effectively turned Trundaxx into a He-Man hamster ball.
In a bold move, JCPenney slugged a genuine He-Man figure into the photo. Mattel probably wasn’t thrilled about that, though since we’re talking about a two-inch pic on page 474 of one single JCPenney catalog, I’m guessing they had badder fish to fry?
R2-D2 Toy Toter
I feel like they missed a golden opportunity with this one. The R2-D2 Toy Toter was a simple toy chest at heart, and that’s how it was marketed. As cool as it was to shove dolls into a 30” R2-D2, I think the bigger lure was in owning the next-best-thing to a real R2-D2.
R2 was practically life-sized, and he really rolled. There were smaller replicas that more closely resembled “movie R2,” but in this case, size mattered. Had they sold this as a surrogate droid rather than a storage unit, every kid in the world would’ve demanded one.
I never owned the Toy Toter, but I imagine that anyone who did saw it more as a “pet droid” than a place to chuck stray dolls. Man, this thing would’ve changed my life as a kid.
This was the first-ever plush Gizmo, and in my view, still the best. We’ve seen Gizmo dolls that were more movie-accurate in the years since, but this one just had that intangible “pillow” quality. If the goal of a toymaker is to create something that kids never want to let go of, it was total perfection.
It’s the same doll that was famously offered in a special mail-away promotion on Gremlins Cereal boxes. While Gizmo was only available “loose” in stores and through retail catalogs, buying one from Ralston meant that it would arrive in an adorable shoebox, complete with breathing holes. That was certainly worth the extra steps!
The Tower of Doom!
Look close and you’ll notice that Spider-Man and Captain America were palling around with Batman and Superman. That was just JCPenney’s way of illustrating that the Secret Wars Tower of Doom playset was appropriately-sized for many action figure lines, but daaaaamn, it was still kinda ballsy.
The DC figures were part of Kenner’s Super Powers collection, while the Marvel figures and playset belonged to Mattel’s Secret Wars line. In fairness to JCPenney, the Tower of Doom — pitched as Dr. Doom’s headquarters — did have a certain “generic” quality that made it ripe for unsanctioned crossovers.
“Mixing worlds” is one of the best things about owning toys, but with today’s rights-holders being so careful with their brands, you’d never see something like this in a current catalog.
(Love how the Joker is just casually sitting on the edge of that platform with his giant hammer. I guess he was on break?)
Sitting on a page far away from JCPenney’s actual Transformers section was Astro Magnum, who you should recognize as a dead ringer for Shockwave, one of the coolest of all Decepticons.
Many of the early Transformers figures didn’t start their lives as Autobots and Decepticons, but were instead repurposed from already-existing toys. The Astro Magnum/Shockwave thing was particularly interesting, because both toys were sold in the United States at the same time, whereas most of the Transformers’ “origin figures” were older and exclusive to Japan.
The real Shockwave figure had the exact same mold, but was produced with a purple color scheme. Astro Magnum is identifiable by his dark grey hue, and also by the fact that he lacks any rubsign stickers. (As much as I love Shockwave, Astro Magnum might’ve been even more badass. He came off like Shockwave and Megatron merged into one!)
Thanks for reading, and if you celebrate it, merry Christmas!