Toymageddon

January 23rd, 2009

 

This post is pure candy – zero content, just shameless aesthetic enjoyment. Whilst mulling over this recent Christmas, having watched the fizzing brain of my 18 month old niece as she fully encountered the joy of tearing open a present for the first time, suddenly cogniscent of the potential excitement that lurks beneath the gaudy paper.

I also realised that I would never again get given toys as a present again. Poor me. Luckily as a fully fledged comics reading baby-man, I’m not totally relegated to kitchen utensil-as-gift territory, but still. Man, I loved toys. I think as much as anything it was the stirrings of mild OCD when, as a kid, you discovered a new range of toys. A whole new universe opened up, with its own logic, morality, and mythology. I needed to possess that knowledge, to own it. It wasn’t simple greed, and I was by no means a spoiled child; rather, I had to understand everything about this exciting new plastic reality. Action Force was first (GI Joe to you Americans), followed by Transformers (and boy did that passion burn brightly – I don’t think anything ever excited as much as the first time I saw that advert. Robots in Disguise, by fuck!). MASK came next, and was the last hurrah before I had to *sniff* put away childish things, grow my hair long and discover drugs, wanking and sulking.

But this is more about those slightly peripheral toys that either didn’t fully consume me, or that disappeared before this could happen. These are the B-movies to the blockbusters of Transformers and He-Man – gnarly, slightly cheap, bizarro attempts to possess young children’s hearts, minds and pocket money.

There’s something about these fringe plastic treats that still fire my engines. Their ludicrous ‘high’ concepts and carefully planned collectability; the repetition of design that feeds into the obsessive’s hungry need for completion. Transformers seem like a master class in logic and realism (Robots…in disguise!) when compared to the inherent ridiculousness of the fucking Battle Beasts. Seriously, check it:

WAR WEASEL!

CUTTHROAT CUTTLEFISH!

BIGHORN SHEEP!

How can you not love these guys? Mother Nature just got an upgrade. YEAAAH BWOOOOY!! So what was the deal with these stupid things? Well, think Scissor, Paper, Stone. Add battle armour. There you have it. Each Battle Beast had its own hologram (and seriously, no self-respecting toy of the 80’s or early 90’s didn’t have a motherlovin’ hologram. It was the quintessential badge of cool, a sure sign of quality and ultimate futuristic shit-hotness), that, when rubbed, revealed one of the three elements (?) Fire, Water, ermm Wood…anyway. Fire burns wood, wood floats on water, and water puts out fire. Let the battle commence. But that was it really. There was no extensive world-building or back story. There weren’t even any accessories, although digging around on the intyweb unearthed this:

RAD!

But as far as I recall they simply arrived out of the blue, two per pack, ready for battle, and already boring a whole in my addled, frothing brain. Trailered by some ridiculous garish advert, wherein “Battle Beasts!, Battle Beasts!” would be chanted like some hellish mantra, they quickly occupied my consciousness fully. Probably for about two weeks. Plus they were cheap – Transformers and their ilk were relatively expensive, especially if you wanted a big boy like Soundwave (which you did). Battle Beasts were small (maybe 3″ tall) and simply moulded. Affordable, collectible, stupid. Precisely what I was crying out for.

But perhaps the problem with Battle Beasts wasn’t a lack of back-story…but TOO MUCH!? Enter M.U.S.C.L.E! These little pink blobs of plastic came late in the Beast’s toy odyssey, but had I been a bit younger I’m sure I would have accumulated thousands of these fuckers. They were notionally wrestlers I think, but what that was basically irrelevant. They were actually a form stretched to almost infinite polymorphous degree. They came in packs of 5, 10 or 25. They were cheap. And they were weeeeeeird.

300_87502

muscle

Now take a look at that second picture. Do you see that dude that’s basically a pyramid with a head? That’s fucking nuts. How does he wrestle? What does he do when he’s not in the ring?

HOW DOES HE WIPE HIS ASS!?

I also dig that building shaped motherfucker in the first pic. He’s a happy looking chap, eh? Like Ben Grimm’s special brother. Incidentally M.U.S.C.L.E. stands for Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Everywhere. Take the day off marketing guy! You win.

The real genius of these little buggers was the sheer diversity of them. You could buy hundreds before you got a duplicate. I also love their packaging. There’s something fairly timeless about it – that writing could come form any of the last 5 decades. Again I have no idea about the back-story for them. Wrestling seems to be the extent of it. But the joy embedded in their endless deviations on a basic formula is infectious. Ideally you want about 10, 000 of these guys lined up militaristically on your bedroom shelf. With that fucking pyramid guy leading them like some plastic Genghis Khan.

Moving on…

Madballs. A brief fling these, no great romance. But they’re pretty cool nonetheless. I’m not sure what you were meant to do with Madballs – I’m assuming some form of ball-related activity. But in all honesty that wasn’t on the cards. They just looked really great.

But I do remember that they had their own comic. Seriously. Can you imagine getting landed that fucking assignment? If it was me, I’d basically try and do a version of Crisis On Infinite Earths, but with balls. I think that would be totally awesome.

Crisis of Infinite Balls.

Fuck that, maybe I’ll just do it anyway, then post it up on a Madballs fan-site. Or maybe I’ll just bite the bullet and write some porno Madballs slash fic. And then kill myself.

What now? Oh yes.

Micro Machines come in collections of five!

Micro Machines come in collections of five!

Micro Machines come in collections of five!

Micro Machines come in collections of five!

Aaaagh! Jesus, stop, stop! I’ll buy them alright…I just need to jack my grandmother for a few more readies…*sob*

Not really much of toy car man myself, but who can resist a 3cm monster truck? Perhaps now better known for the awesome and chaotic computer game, Micro Machines enjoyed a long period of popularity. I had a fair few, entranced by their highly detailed dinkiness. I use to gaze lovingly at the tiny 57 Chevy I had for hours (well, minutes at least) seeing in its tiny, shiny contours a gateway to the glorious pop cultural promised land. But that’s because my Mum used to lace my cornflakes with LSD.

The main thing I remember about Micro Machines is how much they hurt when you stepped on the little c***s. They were awful pretty though.

Monster in My Pocket. Now, I don’t mean to crude or anything but…really?

“Is that a Monster in Your Pocket or are you just pleased to see me?”

Titter. But seriously. I never actually bought one of these – again, a little bit late in the day. But I had a fair few of them. How? Simple – they came free in packs of Chocolate Wheetos (devastatingly sugary hell-cereal designed to make children into drooling bi-polar speed freaks – although compared to your average American cereal, positively Amish-esque in their simplicity). Thus it was a simple matter of me eating three bastard bowls of the stuff every morning, and I soon amassed quite the army of these Day-Glo beauties.

I nearly died.

They’re actually pretty cool though. There’s a vague Universal Studios vibe about them, and I’m a sucker for monsters however they come. They are a tad vanilla however – they lack the compellingly bizarro freakiness of M.U.S.C.L.E.

And so we come to the final part of this epic plastic odyssey. These last toys probably belong in the big-boy’s league (I think they’re probably still making them in Japan), but for me they still have that ‘otherness’ that characterises a good ‘B’ toy.

ZOIDS!

Given an absurd level of gravitas during Grant Morrison’s somewhat legendary UK comics run (wherein he crystallised all the best ideas he would subsequently recycle throughout his career – FACT!), the ZOIDS were basically a form of Mech, that was perhaps more palatable to our retarded Western brains than the truly awesome Gundam models, which have been made in Japan since 980AD – FACT! Basically they were fancy-pants wind up toys.

Shit they were cool.

Well they did get cooler than that admittedly. Those are kind of primitive.  I had the tarantula one – the way it moved was genuinely unsettling as I recall. But these were just the humble beginnings. ZOIDS got progressively more complicated and involved – the introduction of Red Zoids being a particularly important event. This introduced a notion of schism into their universe, which meant – and this is very important – FIGHT! Some of the Red Zoids were great, including the one at the top of this post, which is easily the most boss thing I’ve ever seen. Well, today at least.

But my abiding Zoid memory is of my 8th/9th? Birthday. I was engaged in the Very Important Task of spending my Birthday money. When you’re a kid Birthdays are especially important as you generally receive a far larger sum of cash than you’re used to, and most importantly it’s yours to do with as you see fit. Which in this case involved me keeping my brother and Dad waiting for hours while I deliberated and fretted over precisely where to direct his monetary influx. I mean hours. I’m surprised they didn’t abandon me to fend for myself in Gamleys. I would have become feral, nestling in a bed of Lego, stealing passing children’s Big Macs for sustenance. It would have been great. Eventually though I settled on this bad boy – the largest ZOID I ever owned (I owned about six):

SHIT YEAH!

Now I could have got Zoidzilla. Sure I could – I had the cash, don’t fucking test me! But something about him seemed a little too…mainstream. This guy on the other hand, had poise and mystery, and perhaps a little exclusivity. Oh yeah, and he was bristling with guns. It took me hours to construct him – this is another important factor Zoidwise: you had to build the fuckers. Which is all well and good until you lose one of the little rubber fixer plugs and its fucking leg keeps falling off. I guess this is the essential failing of Zoids – some kids love all that technical engineering stuff, and thrive on complex mechanised toys. They grow up to have well paid useful jobs that contribute to society. Some kids are lazy, messy and love Transformers (Robots…IN DISGUISE!) too much. They grow up to write for comics blogs. So whilst Zoids were undeniably awesome, ultimately they required a little too much commitment from this little hoarder. Hell I only had so much love to give.

So time rolls on. I look back at all those carefully cultivated half-collections and minor obsessions and wonder:  what did it all mean?

Well nothing, obviously. I mean if anyone can glean some inner truths from the fucking Battle Beasts then good luck to you. The truth of the matter is that my magnificent obsessions ultimately lead to just so much Day-Glo plastic landfill with a half life of 5,000 years.

But they sparked my interest kept me happy on long car journeys as a kid and at the end of the day isn’t that what really matters?

Well isn’t it?

35 Responses to “Toymageddon”

  1. Zom Says:

    Not seen that weirdy shellfish zoid before. When was that on the shelves of Gamleys?

  2. sean witzke Says:

    I had that exact same Zoid. I got it as a present from a relative who went to the UK. Had no idea what it was, but I loved the hell out of that thing, even when it I lost those rubber caps and the legs started falling off like you said.

  3. Brack Says:

    M.U.S.C.L.E. do have a backstory, it was just one that was stripped away before being marketed to the English speaking world.

    For they are “Kinnikuman Kinkeshi” toys based on the manga and anime series Kinnikuman. The Pyramid with a head for instance is one of the many forms of the evil wrestler Sunshine. Here’s a video of him shaking his stuff – http://tinyurl.com/sunshineamv

    I think Zoids and Battle Beasts may have similar tales to tell to varying degrees.

  4. Papers Says:

    Battle Beasts! When I wasn’t reverantly licking the pages of comic books, Little Me was all over the goddamn Battle Beasts. They were awesome, and made no sense. One of the sequences of toys had, instead of holograms, these faux-glass orbs in their chests with a pinhole in the back to illuminate the picture inside.

  5. Neon Snake Says:

    Ah, that’s just set a whole load of memory-dominoes going in my head.

    Battle Beasts had a back-up strip in the UK version of the Transformers, although I couldn’t tell you if it was a one-off advert, or an ongoing (not without digging through Mum’s loft, anyway), and there was some kind of backstory, involving a castle, traps, trials, and possibly tribulations, and at the end they were all granted their very own superpower based on the element they were associated with. Something like that, anyway.

    And the Zoid with the flippers and the floats? Utterly incapable of foward motion, the little bastard.

  6. Thrilltone Says:

    I had a Battle Beasts comic, so I did. I think their ultimate goal was to become ‘king of the hill’, which literally seemed to mean they had to get to the top of the hill and keep other beasts off of it, and prove they were toughest. Apocylips fae the X-Men would be proud, in a way (and his secret egyptian base would be a lot better if it was like that M.U.S.C.L.E. guy who is a pyramid and a head).

    That Battle Beasts advert! Did it go “Battle Beasts! Battle ’til the battle is won!” or was that just a bizarre song I made up with my big brother? And then they brought out new Beasts that didnae have holograms, but wee plastic balls in their guts that reacted to heat or something?!? I had a rabbit one, he was shit.

    And I know what Madballs (the quintessensial Christmas gift from relatives that don’t know what toys you like)were for: throwing at your friends, really hard, in the dark, your only light provided by the glow in the dark cloaks of two of the Supernaturals action figures.

    Gahhhhh, I’m trapped in a nostalgic hell-zone.

    There was a glorious time when Woolworths had a deal on Zoids: buy one, get two free. INSANE.

    Once again, a post of no value, so I apologise for that. But on the other hand,

    BATTLE BEASTS, BATTLE ‘TIL THE BATTLE IS WON

  7. Thrilltone Says:

    cross-postssssss

    Nostalgia is a powerful force.

  8. Neon Snake Says:

    …oops, hang on, I’m talking rubbish.

    I am, of course, thinking of Visionaries (Knights of the Magickal Light!).

    We loved holograms in the ’80s, didn’t we? And I still do.

  9. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    Yeah, there were Battle Beasts ads, certainly in TF UK (which I own #79-332 of, excepting #157 and #322) and the Visionaries backup… I only really got Transformers, by choice, partly because a Hasbro rep lived round the corner from us and they were family friends – would you like a special Menasor Stunticons display pack? Yes please! Or Fortress Maximus for Xmas, which none of your friends will ever conceivably get? Fuck on.

    There was a really minging back-up, a couple actually, in Transformers – Insectaurs and there was this thing with these horrible craturs lived in a volcano…? Like a sort of goopy giant fleshy Swamp Thing. All toy tie-ins, I’m sure.

  10. HitTheTargets Says:

    Am I showing my youth when I say I only know MUSCLE and Zoids through the cartoons that ran on Fox Saturdays and the Toonami block, respectively?

    One more thing; Zoids is going to appear in the next Super Robot Wars. That’s practically the Japanese equivalent of showing up in a Crisis.

  11. sean witzke Says:

    I think the volcano things were called Inhumanoids.

  12. Papers Says:

    I always lost the holograms, Visionaries and Battle Beasts alike. They were transitory things, those holograms.

  13. Neon Snake Says:

    I think I’m showing my age when I say that I’ve got from about number 5 or 6 of Transfomers UK, through to somewhere in the high hundreds.

    Including the Spiderman crossover, which was my first introduction to universes looking coyly at each other. Blowed. My. Mind. Conceivably, via JLA/Avengers crossovers, it mean’t Batman could team-up with Optimus Prime against Megatron. Fuck yeah.

  14. Zom Says:

    I had all the Transformers comics at one point in my life, so you and I both, Snake.

    Amy and I also had two under-bed storage draws full of the the toys – truly a collection to envy – which I dutifully smashed with a hammer the minute my teenage hormones demanded that I put away childish things.

    Let no-one ever tell you that teenagers aren’t shit heads.

  15. amypoodle Says:

    I had that Sunshine bloke but in his Arc de Triomphe mode.

    Shit, I absolutely loved MUSCLES and my eyeball madball. You’re so right about the b-list thing, though. That grotty MUST COLLECT!!! vibe.

  16. amypoodle Says:

    And, Brack, I just want to thank you for that link. Through it I have discovered the mighty Pentagon and my life is now complete.

  17. Neon Snake Says:

    That’s some harsh shit, Zom. Mine are all in my parents attic, safe and sound.

    Well, they better be. I wouldn’t put it past them to have car-booted them. You remember those “Commando” and “War Story” comics? Little A5 size things?
    I had a full collection of those, and they car-booted them a few months ago.

  18. Tim O'Neil Says:

    Battle Beasts had some AWESOME playsets – they were relatively cheap, well-constructed and goofy as hell. I loved those things.

    And Visionaries was a favorite as well. Even the comic, with some VERY early Mark Bagley art, was awesome.

  19. Jake Says:

    Wow, thanks for the wave of nostalgia. I had forgotten about some of those toys.

    The Inhumanoids were pretty cool, actually.

    Check this guy out:

    http://cgi.ebay.com.my/Hasbro-Inhumanoids-D-Compose-unused-in-box_W0QQitemZ330285678656QQihZ014QQcategoryZ348QQcmdZViewItem

    “Hinged ribcage imprisons his victims.” Fuck yeah.

  20. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    Let no-one ever tell you that teenagers aren’t shit heads.

    Oh, they are. Always shouting!

    I’m actually aghast that you did that.

    Sean – it was Inhumanoids; I expect Tendril there was my first exposure to the Cthulhu mythos, actually. They were really disturbing, but I was gutted when the backup stopped.

    Sectaurs was the other one I was thinking about.

  21. Neon Snake Says:

    When did Inhumanoids start? I don’t remember it, but that ebay shot of the…thing…with the ribs looks familiar.

    Which kind of scares me, to be honest, if it’s just been sitting there, quietly, in my subconscious for twenty-odd years.

  22. Thrilltone Says:

    My older brother shot all my Transformers with an air pistol. Couldnae kill Optimus, but. Optimus’ torso was made of metal (for further trauma, my brother also set fire to my Turtles bin, and melted cheese on then buried my Dungeons and Dragons action figures).

    Halcyon days.

    Rock Lords though, they were a weak toy. Robots that turned into rocks, accompanied by a tiny comic depicting them rolling about a lot.

  23. Zom Says:

    I remember those.

    Robomachines (Go-bots elsewhere) were like yer better made, sturdier, but nonetheless b-list transformers.

    Bots, I know it is disturbing! Behaviour predicated on teenage stupidity combined with spoilt rotten childhood

  24. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    I think I was – rather terribly – perhaps more aghast, not so much at the behaviour, as at the thought of the kindly Autobots facing an enemy, the inchoate rage of a hammer-wielding pubescent, they had simply no hope against.

  25. Axolotl Says:

    If I recall correctly the battle-beasts’ advert chant went “Battle-beasts, Battle-beasts they battle for fun”
    Presumably in case people felt that if they were just fighting it would be a bad influence, but if it was for fun it was OK.

  26. danoot Says:

    Oh man! A lot of these things (zoids, particularly) never made it to my side of the world, and my only exposure to them was when I lived overseas and there were a bunch of Brits there, for some reason. But the things that we did have, the M.U.S.C.L.E. and the madballs (Though I am sure they were called oddballs, here), monsters in my pocket and fucking Micro Machines, is like an intravenous childhood injection.

    Micromachines were the shit, and then the game came out, years later, and it was the best thing ever, like Iron Man (previously the best thing ever with cars in) except on a table! under the sink! in the garden!
    Shit yeah.

    It makes me a bit sad, actually, that I don’t have the same ability to just play, as I once did. I recall epic ninja turtles stories, roaming over the entire back yard, and into the various rooms of the house, with my brother and our mate down the street… waggling the turtles around to show that they were talking, making the hard decisions that only the turtles can take, about going for pizza or fried devon sandwiches for lunch, while holding off the foot clan in our spare time…

    So yeah, anyway. Thanks!

  27. Cole Says:

    Man! I’d forgotten about MUSCLES. Guess I’m going to have to hit eBay up. I prolly had 200 of these things. I guess my favorite will always be GI Joe though.

  28. Paul C Says:

    (wherein he crystallised all the best ideas he would subsequently recycle throughout his career – FACT!)

    I’m glad somebody else remembers this. I was worried that I’d just dreamt it. At least they’re good ideas, though.

  29. The Beast Must Die! Says:

    Oh undoubtedly. I believe he himself has fond memories of the series. Some bright spark at Marvel should really think about collecting it.

    (Similarly I wish someone would collect Bible John and New Adventures Of Hitler from CRISIS…)

  30. pillock Says:

    HO-LEE SHIT WHAT IS GOING ON HERE

    YOU KIDS STOP THAT TALKING AND GO TO SLEEP

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  32. Jason Powell Says:

    Oh my dear lord. MUSCLE.

    I remember the Madballs, and I remember the Battle Beasts (though I’d forgotten that that was their name).

    But I can’t believe I forgot MUSCLE. I whole swath of childhood memory just uncovered itself at the sight of those MUSCLE pictures.

    Holy crap. My mind is spinning.

  33. Zom Says:

    Yes. I’m not sure whether I love this post or hate it.

  34. Ross Says:

    Thankyou for a wounderful trip down memory lane :)

  35. jessedziedzic Says:

    At least some bloggers can write. Thank you for this post!!!

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