*Originally posted on Mike the Pod 05.01.2008.
Twenty years ago* was a pivotal point in the “male action” aisles (get your head out of the gutter) of toy stores. Hasbro’s venerable Transformers and G.I.Joe lines were still popular, but also beginning to feel the strain of their expanding lineups. In two short years, after infusing just about every conceivable gimmick, they would both be discontinued in the US. Micro Machines and a certain group of mutated sewer turtles were exacting their kudzu-like stranglehold of toy shelves, and it seemed like a new batch of hyperactive plastic-mongering cartoon shows hit the air every week. Street Sharks. The Fake Ghostbusters. Madballs. It was all a desperate cacophony designed to seek out the Next Big Kid Craze that would replicate the boon times of 1985, wallets flying from parents’ pockets like startled pigeons, compensation for all manner of arcane electronic injection-molded crap.
1988 was also the year that those of us who were young at that time learned that Nothing Lasts Forever. Children nowadays have the luxury of always seeing Star Wars figurines and Transformers on the toy shelves at Target, unless they’re sold out. In most cases, those toys have been available since the parents were kids. This was not the way things were in 1988. You could be wined and dined by a cool new toyline, read the comics and watch the cartoon, become a veritable wizard of the details of it, and then one day it would just be gone. And there sure as hell wasn’t an Internet to tell you why, or whether it would ever come back again. Anyone who loved “StarCom” as much as I did knows exactly what I’m speaking of.
But in 1988, no one had a clue of what was, inevitably, to come. Kenner themselves would be subsumed into Hasbro three years later. They went out more or less on top, with M.A.S.K. and many other beloved lines completed or underway by the end. Kenner’s plastic wasn’t always the greatest, and not every toy they made has stood the test of time, but twenty years ago, they were still bringing kids the ACTION. Luckily, I was young enough at the time to still rely on relatives willing to fund my expeditions into new and uncharted toys.
If you’re within this site’s recommended age group, hahayeahright, you may fondly recognize one of the logos on the cover above. I used to think that maybe the Silverhawks inhabited the same conceptual galaxy as the Thundercats and Tigersharks, but I was probably overthinking it. I won’t be covering Starting Lineup, not just because I don’t care for sports, but because looking at little plastic statues of ballplayers is legally the most boring thing ever. I would literally be breaking Internet law by posting it.
Few paranormal investigation units have created more playground drama than the Ghostbusters. Thanks to a gray area in trademarks, Filmation was allowed to excrete their “Ghost Busters” cartoon onto the air, since it was technically a terrible cartoon based on a terrible TV show of the same name. Never mind that the public was clamoring for the Ghostbusters that were fresh in their minds, i.e. the ones from the 1984 smash hit movie. Kids in the 80’s knew disappointment by name, thanks to remora-like marketing bastards who only cared about the next cash cow.
What you see above is the bulk of the Ghostbusters action figures concept. I always wanted a normal set of Ghostbusters figures without weird compressed faces that spun and bulging eyes, but oh well. I mean, do they have to be scared shitless all the time? What do I do when Venkman and Spengler are just going over the books? And man, Egon’s head is like that freak ventriloquist dummy from Batman. Winston is like the grinning rictus of death.
Pretty much all the figures were packed with a Ghost to Bust, which I always fancied, since the designs were cool and they usually came in candy-like translucent colors. Of course, Janine being the girl, she gets the vaguely sexual accessories. Notice how Janine’s hair stands on end when she is taken by surprise by the Tickler, and has to use her Tease Ray. Surely we’ve all been there.
On the right are the Haunted Humans, which I always rather liked. Since I was a true-blue Transformers fan anyway, the concept of changing toys was an easy sell for me. Plus, I loved how they used everyday people like the granny and the mailman as disguised ghouls. I would’ve liked to see a whole town of these guys, but it was not to be. The names are top-notch too; I would’ve been lukewarm on the football guy, but the name “Tombstone Tackle” kicked his desirability over the damn goalposts. Hard Hat Horror, Granny Gross… great stuff. I wish I could find the Ghostbusters toilet I had, where you pushed it forward, and a tongue popped out of the bowl. One of the best toys ever. Ever.
Almost everything on the above pages I got on clearance around 1989. I never got the Slimer one because to be honest, as a kid I felt towards Slimer how most people nowadays feel about Jar Jar Binks. Intelligence went out the window as soon as Slimer showed up, and in a time when we were just bombarded with Frank Welker-voiced beasts, he didn’t even sound that original. Note that he hadn’t yet been christened Slimer; here he’s called “Green Ghost”. But Kenner knew where their bread was really buttered, and that was the Ecto-Plazm.
Ecto-Plazm was most coveted of the slimes, because it came endorsed, before TMNT would use the same ploy with “Retromutagen Ooze”. It even fit the brand better than Hordak’s Slime Pit did with He-Man. Slime and Ghostbusters go hand in hand, often literally. Plus, these came with tiny rubbery ghosts inside. After a while, you could really end up with a bevy of the little boogers. Swallowable candy-like toys would become evermore scarce after the 80’s, however.
I also had the Mini-Shooter ghost at bottom right. If you filled him with Ecto-Plazm, the projectile-vomiting fun never ended. I swear though, Slimer looks like a drooling imbecile. I never understood the fascination with the dumb gasbag.
I never saw any of these vehicles in stores… the Ecto-1 was of course the most desirable. The pre-licensing wars VW Bug is a nice touch too; I love the idea that Egon and Pete are going for a cruise with the top down, trying to get away from it all, and wouldn’t you know it– IT’S A G-G-G-GHOST!!! I think I might have seen one or two Ecto-2’s, though, because I distinctly recall it causing me to take an interest in ultralight aircraft. When I was 11 or so, one of my dad’s friends flew one over and around our town, then upon landing, his six-foot propellor literally exploded, flinging wooden shrapnel everywhere at escape velocity. A two-foot shard embedded itself in the soil about nine inches from my feet, and my dad nearly had a heart attack. It was pretty badass.
I can’t imagine getting that Fire House playset and oozing slime all over it. It just seemed like a cleaning nightmare, despite the undeniable allure of the “Goop Grate”, which would divide slime into figure-snaring tendrils. And god damn– look at the size of the thing compared to the figures. It would surely be the centerpiece of any playroom, not to mention you could get GI Joes in on the deal, if you had them. Not the Visionaries, though. Those buggers were just too big and fat.
Also note: the Proton Pack and such were no doubt spiffy, but this was back when they didn’t yet have to say butt-covering things like “brown jumpsuit not included” (or as it’s most commonly phrased “toys placed in fantasy situation”). And if your folks didn’t know where a uniform store was, that meant you had to supplant your equipment with an itchy brown sweater or somesuch from the closet/attic, and the overall effect was not the same. And the Ghost Zapper projections do “actually move”, although not in the way you’d expect; it’s more of a “glitching ViewMaster” look, like something you’d see just before unconsciousness. It mainly made you think the lens was busted.
Okay, be good boys and girls, and go from left to right on the above image, okay? I know you’re all “Heeeeyyyyy… what’s THAT?!”, but we’ll get to it, we’ll get to it. Surely you see the Haunted Humans on the left, which are still pretty sweet, even though Wicked Wheelie was a big shelf-warmer, not to mention he was primarily made of that rubbery red plastic that Kenner seemed to use for everything. To me, the big strike-out on the Ghost Spooker was that the doors were just stickers. Seems like a simple quibble, but I counter that it would also be a simple design revision, which would have ensured that I had purchased it. Thus, I did not.
Now on to Bone Age, one of Kenner’s unfortunate failures. I say unfortunate because I collected a bunch of these dudes back in the day, and with few exceptions the quality was terrific. Although I’ve long since somehow parted with my Bone Age collection, I do still find an errant Bone now and again in one of my old toybins. Maybe the gimmick was a little silly (I mean really, how many ways can you rearrange dinosaur bones without it just looking like a messed-up pile of bones?), but it was original and clever. The figures were unintentionally primitive compared to those from M.A.S.K. (also a Kenner line), but they did have neat “tribe markings” on their bicep, and they oftentimes came with helmets as well, making them feel like a crazy ancestor to M.A.S.K.. The dinosaur bones were heavy, and felt kinda like bones; they clicked together with clear plastic connectors molded into the ends. Even if your new dinosaur toy turned into something stupid-looking, you still got a nice displayable skeleton out of the deal.
Brontus was one of the biggest toys (if I recall correctly), Codus was one of the littler ones. If you need reassurance of the greatness of these toys, look no further than the phrase “build his bones” repeated throughout this section. This is why hardcore Christians seek to disavow the dinosaur ages of prehistory; they fear that people will glean the secrets of the Bone Age and start digging up corpses to “build their bones” into all manner of terrible apparatus. Hardcore Christians think everything makes everybody do nasty things with corpses.
Codus may be cheaper, and he may not turn into a super bone dragster like Brontus, but that doesn’t mean his Nugent-like pilot can’t whoop it up. His name is “Bunt”, which is admittedly better than “Volc”. Volc sounds like something you’d scream if you wanted a priest to give you an exorcism, or if you were trying to expel an olive pit from your windpipe.
This. Above is why I decided to write this turd in the first place. I managed to talk my dad into getting that T-Rex for me, and who’s to say what inspirations resulted from it? He turned into a Fighting Fortress (the T-Rex, not my dad), which looked kind of like he’d crapped himself inside out. Crag came with a stone helmet, presumably to keep his furry skull from getting concaved by his T-Rex’s weak little boulder-chucking action. I admit that Ptero and Tritops actually have some nice alt-modes. Ptero and his caveman pal could tear ass around the Bayou, and Tritops could fuck up the huts that are no doubt ubiquitous during the Bone Age.
Brog, Org and Tund. Let me just state now that I am loving these cave-names.
Okay, the problem with the pages above should be obvious to anyone; these dinos are all WAY too cute. The two with their mouths open seem to be saying, without a trace of irony, “we came to PLAY.” Dynacus definitely has a Taun-Taun vibe to him, and Anklor all but exclaims “I SNIFF OUT FUN.” I’m sure I never saw Anklor on store shelves; an ankylosaurus that transforms into a hot rod is a sure sell on me. Look how much fun Tuk is having, and those Stone Clan dudes are usually such a grim bunch.
Here we are at the end of the line, literally. I don’t think Bone Age continued beyond this. At left, you can see the kind of crazy shit you can make by combining numerous sets, like a poop-skimmer to show your dad, who will then furrow his brow, shake his head softly and laugh internally at the dumb junk you spend your money on.
Those Clan Packs I distinctly remember shoplifting from Child World back in ’87 or ’88. I had strict aesthetic boundaries regarding the toys I actually paid for (like Transformers, which often tarted up subpar toys with gorgeous packaging design), and the Bone Age man-figures were definitely subpar. Again, Kenner was responsible for M.A.S.K, which had a panoply of colorful, well-designed miniature action figures. They even had articulated knees, so they could sit in the vehicles. Bone Age cavemen weren’t honestly that far away from gumball machine toys.
The stuff on the right made up the rest of the Shelfwarmer collection for Bone Age. As you can see, a couple of them have reasonable gimmicks, like the net, but in terms of quality, we’re not far from the old Flintstones movie Happy Meal toys I have that nobody wants. I swear, my brain registered these as repackaged Ewok accessories when they were on the shelves. The crap brought up for Waterworld sometime later didn’t help matters (I bet that was Kenner too).
Farewell, Bone Age. Truly your place in the history books is worth fighting for. It wasn’t your fault that Dino-Riders came along and stole your thunder(lizards).
“Partly metal, partly real”, sang the astonishingly shrill and piercing Silverhawks theme. It was worth suffering through, however; Silverhawks’ animation, particularly in the opening titles, was quite a bit better than that of the show’s similar predecessors. Trouble was, the plots and characters were as dishwater-dull as everything else. That said, the lineup of figures is presentable enough, even though most of the heroes’ identities are rather interchangeablah. You could never find the shiny chromed ones, and Mon*Star is made of the aforementioned Accursed Red Kenner Plastic. Buzz-Saw was fucking everywhere. You could get a box of Buzz-Saws for a buck. Mo-Lec-U-Lar was the same way, and despite his fun-to-say name, he was not any kind of substitute for a toy like, say, Modulok from He-Man.
If you’re unfamiliar with Silverhawks, you may wonder why “Bluegrass” is given more than one figure. Bluegrass was the inevitable dumb redneck character who got wayyy too much screen time. He looked like he wandered in accidentally from another cartoon like Galaxy Rangers or BraveStarr, where all the characters talk and look like dumb rednecks. (To be fair however, the animation on both those shows was also above average.) All I really remember about Bluegrass is that he sucked. So did Copper Kid, another inevitable 80’s chestnut in the form of the elfin prepube twerp. He wasn’t quite as bad as “Wilykit” and the “Burbles” or whatever from Thundercats, but he was damn close.
The rest of the Action Toy Guide has far less action, since, as I mentioned, it’s all Starting Lineup guys, ho hum baseball boring. So that’s pretty much it; a reasonable section of what kids were playing with in 1988. I hope you enjoyed the tour… I have tons more old catalogs and toys in several big bins for y’all to pore over. This is just a taste. I haven’t even gotten into the Sky Commanders, or Air Raiders, or Battle Force 2000… yet. And just in case you were curious for some perverse reason, here’s the final offering of the guide for 1988: Skyball.