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The 1990 JCPenney Christmas catalog didn’t pack quite the same punch as some of the other catalogs I’ve reviewed, but it’s still hundreds of pages of toys, peanut dispensers and cheap lingerie, and that’s more than enough for a review.
For those keeping score, I was eleven years old when this catalog debuted. Still very much into toys, but rapidly approaching that age when I wouldn’t receive them without making direct requests. (I hated that “in-between” age. Everyone just gives you bad clothes, bad books and the funkiest desk lamps $15 can buy. It’s like you have to spend 2-3 years as some nonspecific SBTB background character.)
Below: Seven highlights from the 1990 JCPenney Christmas catalog!
Marvel Super Heroes 4-Pack!
I have an enormous soft spot for the original run of Marvel Super Heroes figures, which — if you’ll take my meaning — were essentially ‘80s toys living in the ‘90s. Detailed and colorful without ever seeming over-embellished, their simplicity was a nice respite during a time when most action figures were purposely gaudy.
Of the four shown here, Punisher was my fave. I knew zilch about the character when I originally had that figure, but that was fine. He had a skull on his chest and came with a big gun. It was easy enough to fill in the blanks.
Nerf Fencing was the THE BEST. I never had the set, but my friend did, and that shit was just the perfect excuse to be a rough-and-tumble asshole.
Okay, remember the old Real Ghostbusters Proton Pack, with its length of yellow foam that could be misappropriated as a blunt weapon? It’s like Nerf saw what kids were doing with those and thought, “We MUST monetize this.”
Played the proper way, young fencers were only meant to aim at push-in targets on their opponent’s handle. In practice, eyes, mouths and genitals were worth many more points. So infrequently were we handed the opportunity to stab our friends without consequence, no eight-year-old could resist the chance.
Batcave & Batman Figure Set!
Price: $24.99 & 16.99!
Batman movie toys remained hot even after more than a full year on store shelves. After all, the movie was pretty dark and violent, and kids of that era rarely had the chance to attach themselves to something so “adult.” We weren’t going to let go easily!
Am I crazy, or is that absurdly cheap for a Batcave playset? Even by 1990 standards, 25 bucks sounds way low. I’m guessing that after hawking the things for a whole year, some retailers decided to drop the price?
Some of us were casual fans, and some of us were Batman lunatics. No matter how deep or shallow your interest was, you had that Batman figure. Everyone did. Breaking his Bat Rope belt was one of the time’s chief rites of passage.
(And hey, even if you didn’t like Batman at all, that had to be the #1 choice for aunts and uncles charged with buying presents for kids they barely knew. Yeah, you STILL had that figure.)
Lights Alive was awesome, guys. It was kind of like a Lite-Brite, but instead of pushing in pegs, you just rolled over the screen with a volley of tiny-sized plastic kitchen utensils. It was the Lite-Brite for people who had no time for bullshit.
Lights Alive had already been around for years by 1990, and that’s good, otherwise I’d have to explain why the ten-year-old me owned a toy marketed almost exclusively at preschoolers.
Awesome Action Figure Cars!
Price: $19.99 each
1990 was an amazing year for action figure vehicles. Though these three come from wildly different lines, the interesting thing is how the figures from each collection would (roughly) fit in ANY of the cars. So yes, if you want Ray Stantz to drive Beetlejuice’s undead Cadillac, go nuts.
Though the Ecto-1A is the obvious fan favorite from this trio, I actually have a much stronger connection to the TMNT Footcruiser. That was Shredder’s flying car, which, to my knowledge, never appeared on the cartoon.
Way back when, my cousin and I used to spend Christmas Eve hiding out downstairs, while the rest of our extended family ate forty courses in the dining room. We’d carefully collect our respective gifts and put them into neat piles, preparing for the stroke of midnight with unabashedly greedy glee.
The problem was, this only took ten minutes to do. With hours left to kill, we’d start inspecting the wrapped gifts more closely. For a few years, we’d go no further than holding them up to the light, hoping to see through the wrapping paper to whatever surprises hid beneath.
Well, in 1990, I guess I was feeling bold. I theorized that nobody would notice if I started making small slits in the wrapping paper. I felt a little guilty, but knowing that I had a TMNT Footcruiser coming my way was sooo worth the shame.
Dick Tracy Slumber Tent!
I hate that I missed all of the tent fun when I was a kid. Between floor tents and bed tents, the ‘80s and ‘90s had some version for virtually every cartoon and even negotiably kid-targeted movie imaginable. They always seemed like so much fun.
It’s not that I didn’t want one. I’m no fool: An instantaneous private clubhouse that didn’t involve being out in the cold with bugs naturally appealed to me.
When I finally asked for one, I unfortunately didn’t specify what type of tent I had in mind, and thus received a regular outdoor tent, which needed to be staked into the ground. I accepted this as a loss, but not a total loss… until I tried to set the thing up in our concrete backyard, and failed miserably.
I ended up leaving the pile of would-be tent in the corner of our yard, where it’d remain until someone finally tossed the sad remnants many years later. The only enjoyment I got from that tent was by spitefully declaring it to be the “worst gift ever” to my poor mother. Kids are always dicks, but they’re even bigger dicks when there’s tent drama.
I’d STILL kill for a Dick Tracy slumber tent. I’d hide in there with Pull ‘n’ Peel Twizzlers and my ratty old copy of Shadows of the Empire. Life would slow to a pleasant crawl. Whenever I was ready to face the world again, I’d have the parting gift of crawling through Dick Tracy’s fist.
Price: $39.99 – 49.99
With the Super Nintendo’s North American release still a year away, the original Nintendo did its best to slay the dragon known as Sega Genesis.
Since I’ve always been an on-the-nose sort of Nintendo fan, I’m only really familiar with the top two titles. (Never played Ninja Gaiden II, and I can’t even pronounce Astyanax.)
Super Mario Bros. 3 still ranks as one of my favorite games ever, and even more so when I pair it with a Game Genie. Oh, those ridiculous power-ups. Used to play the battleship level and pretend I was some kind of Terminator-like future-hero sent to motherfuckin’ destroy everything.
As for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I sucked at it, but being a major TMNT nut meant that I’d never stop trying. Haven’t played it in over 15 years, but I still hum the main theme whenever I need to clean a room in five minutes flat.
Thanks for reading about 25 year old toys!