What's shakin', Crime-Fighters?
Back in the early Seventies, toy producer Mego wisely began to snap up the rights to a whole cornucopia of licenced products. They soon started to produce a series of eight-inch tall action figures based on both Marvel and DC comic book heroes and villains. Collectively, these bad-ass dolls became known as the "World's Greatest Super-Hero".
Given my burgeoning interest in the Super-Friends and comic books at the time I'm not surprised that I was such an easy mark for these toys. Especially when confronted with such compelling in-store displays:
Pretty soon Mego had to change their cardboard box packaging because kids were tearing into them like rabid terriers in order to get a peek at the figures inside. That's when they started producing the clear-panel window boxes:
And some blatantly racist *slash* sexist (yet undeniably compelling) television ads:
"The Falcon: that great black super-hero!" Jesus.
Out of the first four figures that were released, I had Superman, Batman and Robin.
Aquaman eluded many a young collector because he was short-shipped; only two per case pack. Although the King of the Seven Seas is frequently ridiculed, the fact that he was amongst the first wave (pun not intended) of characters released is pretty high testimony to his popularity at the time.
Even though they featured cloth costumes, excellent facial sculpts and about fourteen points of articulation, they were nowhere near as durable as Hasbro's G.I. Joe. Their little plastic gloves and boots would routinely split, their belts would break and their capes would fray and then unravel like a blanket in a Warner Brothers cartoon. The most immediate problem, however, was the sticker-on-fabric super-emblems would quickly lose their glue, fall off, and then get covered in more crud then the average toddler's lollipop. As you might expect, there came a point in time when they just wouldn't stay on anymore.
Nevertheless, I totally loved these guys. Since they were fairly affordable, my parents were pretty good sports about replacing the once that I really liked. Sometimes their little internal rubber bands would break, and they fell apart like C-3PO in The Empire Strikes Back. This was like the Mego equivalent of a massive coronary and there was very little hope of the plucky little dolls bouncing back from such trauma.
Such was the fate of my original Batman, who actually came with the removable cowl. A similar fate befell his two super-pals. Robin's "R" emblem immediately vanished, then he broke his utility belt and then his rubber spine completely disintegrated one day. As for Supes, he lost his "S" chest insignia, one of his super-boots fell apart and eventually G.I. Joe's main nemesis, the Intruder, broke his back during a particularly heated fracas. Which goes to show that the Doomsday storyline really could have been cooked up by a four year old.
Noting how much I played with them and how crushed I was when they fell apart, my folks were kind enough to buy replacements for "the big three". My second Caped Crusader (with the goofier-looking molded pinhead) eventually lost his belt, but I still have him. My second Superman is also in storage somewhere. Robin lost yet another belt and broke a leg but his spine is still intact. Having said that, every single one of these understudies also lost their emblems.
A few years later, Mego released their Marvel assortment, including Captain America:
Getting Cap was pretty cool because I was already familiar with him thanks to the comics. But it was his totally pimp plastic shield that I really dug. Sadly, when my Mark I Captain America inevitably fell apart, he didn't get replaced. Maybe that's because I'd since become totally obsessed with this dude:
To me, Spider-Man will always be the ultimate Mego, mainly because he was completely self-contained: no stickers to fall off and no gloves and boots to lose. Eventually the front of Spidey's tunic got all stretched to crap, and I honestly can't remember if this was due to a particularly strenuous bout of crime-fighting or because one of my asshole friends did it. Whatever happened, he was eventually replaced by a successor who I still have today.
Unfortunately, in an effort to make him look more like the original Spider-Man, I eventually took a marker to his head and traced out the web-pattern molded into his plastic mush. Even though I did a pretty decent job (Hey, it pays to be an anal-retentive kid), I'm sure it did very little to improve the figure's value.
I loved Spidey so much that I actually opted for the Amazing Spider-Car over the Batmobile when I was forced to make a heart-rending choice between the two:
In retrospect, this was a pretty stupid decision since, in the comics, Batman was a helluva lot more reliant on the Batmobile then Spider-Man was on the Spider-Car. In fact, the Spider-Mobile storyline which was running in the comics at the time (starting with Amazing Spider-Man #130) was actually a pointed and sarcastic diatribe against mindless greed, consumerism, sponsorship and advertising.
I also rejoiced when the Super-Foes were released, especially the Joker:
The Cesar Romero-style Clown Prince of Crime's silk-screened suit was pretty elaborate. He also came with removable brown loafers, a nylon purple coat and a Dolemite-style pimp cane, appropriate for beating ass. After being kicked in the knutz repeatedly by Batman and Robin, the Joker eventually gave up the ghost and fell apart as well.
Then there's The Penguin:
Like the Joker, ol' Pengy here had an elaborate printed costume, removable vinyl tuxedo jacket with tails and a pair of black dress shoes. On the lame side, he didn't come with a trick umbrella! Now, that's criminal!
Since the The Penguin is kind of a lame villain, he didn't get nearly as much abuse as the Joker did. In fact, the only real indignity he ever suffered involved his nose and a pair of fingernail clippers. Despite this unfortunate dalliance with plastic surgery, I'm almost 100% sure that LaToya Jackson here is still sealed up in a box in my parent's basement.
Speaking of lame-ass villains, here's Mr. Mxyzptlk (pronounced Mix-yez-PITTLE-ik for all you verbal masochists out there):
So, you might ask yourself, why would Mego produce this schmuck instead of Superman's real arch enemy Lex Luther? Well, back then Luther didn't really have a flashy super villain shtick; he was just some bald dude in an Armani suit. So I guess someone at Mego must have thought that this imp from the Fifth Dimension would be a more colorful-looking and compelling choice.
Ah, no. From all reports, this overproduced yutz choked up bargain bins well into the Eighties.
Frankly, I don't have a clue why I owned this guy. I think it's because I wanted the Riddler for Christmas but he was sold out and I got this prolific clown as a substitute. At that tender age I hadn't even read a comic book featuring Mxyzptlk so I had no clue what his powers were. In fact, I always thought it was kinda cruel that Superman wanted to routinely beat up this poor, gay Winston Churchill impersonator. Honestly, even if they'd made Brainiac instead, I probably wouldn't of known what his abilities were either. But at least I wouldn't have felt so guilty presiding over all of the Super-abuse.
Mego also produced licenced figures for such diverse fare as One Million BC, Planet of the Apes, The Wizard of Oz (?), Happy Days (??) and Laverne & Shirley (???). Although none of that stuff really interested me, I did gravitate towards their Star Trek line, presumably because I saw the "The Corbomite Maneuver" one Saturday morning and it scared the poo out of me.
As such, I ended up with Mr. Spock:
Even back I had the sense not to mix up Star Trek and Super-Heroes, so I don't recall Spock ever applying his own joy buzzer/neck pinch to the Joker, scanning Mxyzptlk with his tricorder (presumably in an effort to figure out who the f#@k he was) or phasering off a few inches of Penguin-flab. As a result, Spock is probably my best-preserved Mego. In fact, the only mishap he ever suffered was a broken tricorder strap which my Dad tried to melt back together using the oven burner. Even though the strap was considerably shorter and a tad charred-looking, it stayed together to this very day.
I'm pretty sure that the Enterprise's science officer still in stasis somewhere in my parent's basement. It's a damned good thing, too, since Spock is one of the best Megos ever produced. His cloth tunic is the perfect color, his props are all to scale and the facial sculpt for Leonard Nimoy (which predates Realscan by decades) is actually not too bad.
In addition to the 8" figures I also had a soft spot for Mego's "Comic Action Heroes":
Let's see: barrel chest, no neck and little spindly arms and legs. Who does he remind me of? Hmmmmm...
Pretty soon another major marketing juggernaut came along and trumped the "World's Greatest Super-Heroes". Which is kind of a shame since I would have loved to own Aquaman, Batgirl, Catwoman, Green Arrow, Isis, Riddler, Captain Marvel (dubbed "Shazam" for bulls#!t legal reasons), Supergirl, Tarzan (?), the Teen Titans (Speedy, Kid Flash, Aqualad, and Wonder Girl), Wonder Woman, Conan (?!?), Falcon, Green Goblin, Hulk, Human Torch, Invisible Girl (begging the question, how many kids were sold an empty box?), Iron Man, Lizard, Mr. Fantastic, The Thing and Thor.
But, back then, there was a finite amount of allowance and giftable events. By the time Spring 1978 rolled around, every cent I could procure was immediately blasted off to a "Galaxy Far, Far Away".
But, alas, that is a tale for another time...
EPIC PHOTO CREDITS
EPIC PARODY Bless you Robot Chicken for bringing these beloved toys to life...
EPIC BOOK Super-collector Benjamin Holcomb produced "World's Greatest Toys": an amazing and reverential 256-page hardcover guide to Mego's 8-inch Super-Hero Action Figure Toys. Although it's technically out of print it may still be avaialble through aftermarket sources.
FAIL "And, look...it's The Falcon! And he's still black...did we mention that?"