Category Archives: retro toy flashback

Collectible of the Week: Buck Rogers Laserscope Fighter (Mego; 1979)

In 1979, the post-Star Wars, Glen Larson version of Buck Rogers took the sci-fi world by storm.  I was nine year old at the time, and both the feature film and the follow-up TV series on NBC were right up my alley. 

The franchise starred Gil Gerard as Buck, Erin Gray as Colonel Wilma Deering, and Pamela Hensley as Princess Ardala.  The tone of the enterprise was cheeky and knowing, and the special effects, for their day, were absolutely stellar.  Down to the sexy opening credits, the film version played like James Bond in the future, or in space, perhaps.

Accordingly, I was thrilled when I began to see toys from Mego lining the shelves at Toys R Us.  Among the first of these was a spaceship toy with a design you never saw featured on-screen: the “Laserscope fighter.” 

This sharp-nosed space fighter “with simulated lasers and explosions” featured a cockpit for the 3.5 inch Buck Rogers figures.  But more interestingly, it possessed a rear-mounted view screen through which you could track, target, and incinerate enemies.

The box explains: “Look through the view-screen and line up your target, press the switches – see and hear the lasers fire – the target will appear to explode right before your very eyes!”

Also according to the box legend, this Buck Rogers Laserscope fighter featured:

·         Laserscope viewscreen
·         Twin stub wing handles
·         Telescopic focus control
·         Realistic laser sounds
·         Swing-open cockpit
·         Fits any Buck Rogers figure.

Of course, I must confess that when I was generously given the Laserscope fighter as a gift, I was a bit disappointed because I really wanted the Buck Rogers star fighter, a craft which was featured on the show and boasted an infinitely cooler design aesthetic. 

But once I actually got the star fighter for the Christmas of 1980, I could enjoy the Laserscope fighter as a kind of “alternate” ship for the intrepid Buck.  The fighter sort of fit with the universe of the TV series, because Buck often ended up going undercover for the Earth Directorate, flying ships of various designs.  So it was kind of cool to be able to play out that scenario with a ship other than an “official” one.

Also, if I understand my toy history right, the “Laserscope fighter” was also released in Europe, but as a toy from a different Mego license: The Black Hole (1979).  

Of course, the design of the ship doesn’t fit that particular franchise any more than it resembles something you saw on Buck Rogers


Collectible of the Week: Flash Gordon Playset (Mego; 1977)

This is another Mego playset from the 1970s for which I harbor deep and abiding love.  In 1977, Mego manufactured a line of toys from Flash Gordon (1936), including four 10-inch action figures (Flash Gordon, Ming the Merciless, Dale Arden and Dr. Zarkov), and this terrific playset/carrying case.
The world of Mongo comes alive in this double sided playset” the box informed kids.  “One side is Ming’s Throne Room complete with Ming’s throne.”  
The other side is Dr. Zarkov’s secret laboratory with a simulated computer and (3) computer cards.”
The set also “fits all Flash Gordon figures (not included.)
Like the Star Trek, Planet of the Apes and Wizard of Oz playsets, this Flash Gordon playset is  constructed of hard cardboard, surrounded by laminated vinyl, I believe.  The illustrations on this set are really quite beautiful as I hope you can see, and strongly evocative of Alex Raymond’s art work.  
The three computer cards included here are double-sided, and feature images of all the characters, plus a city of Mongo, plus a rocket on approach.  They slip down through the top of the computer, into the viewscreen. panel. 
You might think that the timing (the mid-1970s) was weird for a Flash Gordon boomlet but I remember in the mid-1970s — around the time of Star Wars — finally getting to see the original serial at my local library.  On Friday afternoons, I think, I went to see it, one chapter at a time over a span of weeks.  Also, if I’m not mistaken, some TV stations had begun to play the original Buster Crabbe serials as well.  It was kind of a mini –Flash Gordon fad.  My grandmother from Texas (now deceased), was thrilled to see the serials again because she had loved them as a kid.  It was pretty awesome, actually, that my grandmother, mother and I could all sit down and discuss together Buster Crabbe and Flash Gordon.
Today, I don’t own any of the Flash Gordon action figures, alas, which came equipped with plastic swords and cool helmets.  But I do own this wonderful Mego playset and its box, which remain in excellent shape.

Collectible of the Week: Super Laser Assembling 2-in-1 Change Bot

My five year old son absolutely loves transforming robots.  Joel  passionately collects Beast Wars, Gobots, Transformers, Megazords, Brave of the Sun Fighbird…you name it.  Throughout our many travels in search of robots of all sizes and shapes, we often come across toys that we don’t entirely recognize.  This week’s collectible is one of them.
I must confess, I don’t know if this particular toy came from a popular Anime franchise or not.  I’m not highly conversant in Anime, at least not yet.  I’m learning.  However, I believe this cool transforming robot set may have originated from something called “Video Senshi Laserion” in the 1980s, or “Super Laser” here in the States.
Regardless, this “Assembling 2-in-1 Change Bot” with “double joint power up” transformation is a pretty awesome mechanical life form.  The toy was made in Taiwan, and three separate robots are included.  
Individually,  the robot consists of “Ex-Caesar” (a car), “Atlas Carbot,” and “Atlas-Jetbot.”  Together, however, the machines make “Super Atlas-Bot,” and the back of the box provides detailed, step-by-step instructions for transforming the robots into cars and planes, and vice-versa.  Not that Joel needs them.  He’s far more coordinated at five than I was at that age, and he loves the thrill of discovering how to transform and combine robots.  Just between you and me, he’s either going to be an engineer, or the world’s biggest fanboy.  Or both.
As much as Joel wants to get his hands on toys like the Super Laser Assembling 2-in-1 Change Bot and start playing, I’m a devoted fan of box art.  Joel and I have an understanding: he gets the toys, and I get the boxes.  It’s a good compromise, and when he’s done playing for the day, the toys go back in the box.  Sure, they aren’t mint in box anymore — a phrase Joel has learned — but I realized a few years back that it’s more fun to play with these toys with my son than to keep them in boxes, on display.  
I just gave Joel this toy on the weekend, and he loves it…

Collectible of the Week Update: Interplanetary Star Fortress (Sears; 1979)

Back on November 30, 2011, I wrote here about one of my favorite StarWars knock-off toys, the fantastic “Interplanetary Star Fortress” manufactured and sold exclusively by Sears, and made to fit Kenner Star Wars figures, as well as Mego’s The Black Hole and Buck Rogers figures of the 1970s.   The playset is a quasi-cylindrical carrying-case that folds out to become an expansive asteroid surface and landing pad.

My own version of this disco-decade toy was missing several critical features, including a shuttle pod and plastic gun turret that could stand atop the cylinder.  My version was also missing the carrying strap and the box.

Well, via the wonders of E-Bay, I finally got my hands on a mint-in-box Sears Star Fortress that features all the elements I had been missing.  I only had a few of the base installations previously, but this version came with the “solar reactor building,” “headquarters,” “personnel quarters,” “1 particle accelerator tank” and “1 hydrogen storage tank.” 

Joel and I actually got to fold the light cardboard “buildings” into shape, and connect them together with tabs, which was fun.

This knock-off is a much more interesting toy with the missing shuttle pod and turret intact, as well as the previously missing base structures.  The shuttle pad actually has a door that opens, and snaps shut, and is fully decorated inside with high-tech (for the 1970s) imagery and detail.

Yesterday, Joel and I used the newly up-fitted Interplanetary Star Fortress to stage a battle between Ben Tennyson and Ghost Freak (plus minions BenWolf and BenMummy).  Not exactly the scenario I would have imagined at that age, but still a hell of a lot of fun. 

Collectible of the Week: Knight of Darkness (Ideal; 1977)

Just keep telling yourself, this eleven inch tall action figure from Ideal, and manufactured in 1977, is not Darth Vader.  
Try it again: the Knight of Darkness is NOT Darth Vader.
Okay.  Deep breath.
Whether or not the Knight of Darkness resembles Darth Vader (d’oh!) is likely immaterial, because this “fearsome enemy from outer space” remains one awesome-looking sci-fi enemy and a great toy to boot.

Perhaps, Darth Vader, the Knight of Darkness and Baron Karza could all get together for lunch at the Mos Eisley cantina and compare notes on the Dark Side…
Anyway, The Knight of Darkness (No. 4603 – 7) looked so much like Darth Vader that allegedly George Lucas sued Ideal for copyright infringement.  He reportedly lost the case, in part because Ideal’s S.T.A.R. Team (of which the Knight was a new part) already had a history on the toy market of over a decade.  Still, looking at the box art, at ZEM-21 (C-3PO) and the Knight in particular, it’s tough not to feel a Star Wars vibe.  At least a little.
I remember as a kid in 1977 that I really wanted Star Wars toys, and  then my grandparents suddenly showed up for my birthday with a Zeroid (R2-D2?), ZEM-21, the Knight of Darkness and the Star Hawk (“the spacecraft of the Zeroid.“)  At first I was tremendously disappointed and confused.  My grandparents had been snookered by a Star Wars knock-off and even at age seven, I knew it.
But then, I actually started playing with awesome Ideal S.T.A.R. Team toys, and creating my own space adventures.  I must admit,  it was actually a bit more fun inventing a universe than merely recreating scenes from Star Wars. 
So let’s hear it for the Star Wars knock-offs.  There have been some great ones over the years, but none perhaps, more malevolent-appearing and yes, fearsome, than this Knight of Darkness, “dressed in his special uniform and boots,” to quote the box.   The Knight, based on Captain Action figure molds, also came complete with a mean-looking laser pistol.
If only Ideal had released some minions for this Knight of Darkness to command, all would have been right with the universe.

Collectible of the Week: The X-Files Action Figures (McFarlane Toys; 1998)

To coincide with the theatrical release of the first X-Files movie, 1998’s Fight the Future, McFarlane Toys manufactured a small line of exquisitely detailed action figures from the film.

Although I have always wished for a more complete and affordable line of X-Files action figures (to include Tooms, the Peacock family, Frank Black, Morris Fletcher, Jose Chung and other high-profile “guest” characters), this movie-based line was certainly a terrific start.

On the back of all the McFarlane Fight the Future figure cards read the following legend: 
For years, the world has seen reality distorted, facts manipulated and truth hidden.  But there’s even more to the story than anyone suspected.  Because no one has been able to see the whole picture until now.  Cherish the past.  Enjoy the present.  Because the truth is coming.”
Underneath this warning were featured biographies for the franchise’s two stars, Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny).

For Mulder: “Oxford-educated, brilliant and driven, Agent Fox Mulder was one of the leading investigators in the Violent Crimes division of the FBI, until he requested a transfer to an obscure area of the Bureau known as the X-Files...”

For Scully: “Recruited out of medical school by the FBI, Agent Dana Scully was originally assigned to the X-Files to debunk Agent Fox Mulder’s work and report on his finding. Idealistic, intelligent and with strong convictions, Scully soon realized the X-Files contained extraordinary secrets that could not be refuted by scientific interpretation…”

In whole, “Series One” of this “ultra action figure” release included an Attack Alien (replete with club) and the long-clawed, green skinned alien who ripped him to shreds, two versions of Agent Mulder, one in suit and tie, and one in his parka for Antarctica, and two variations of Agent Scully along similar lines.  The characters look very accurate to their appearances on the series/in the film.

I’ve long considered The X-Files the Star Trek phenomenon of the 1990s, but to finally reach that apex, we definitely need more toys and play sets from the Chris Carter-verse.  And to get those, we need a new film, or a new TV series.

The truth is out there: I’d be in favor of either.


Collectible of the Week: Mad Scientist Dissect-an-Alien Kit (Mattel; 1986)

This Mattel toy from 1986 was my son Joel’s toy “pick” from The Mad Monster Party in Uptown Charlotte last weekend.  
His eyes fell-upon this vintage toy, and he knew he had to have it.  
And what’s more, he knew his Dad would purchase it for him…
This strange 1980s-era toy encourages the intrepid young scientist to “yank out alien organs dripping in glowing ALIEN BLOOD!  
The Mad Scientist Dissect-An-Alien Kit box also relates that inside the alien body there are “12 body organs” and “only one way they’ll fit together.”  In other words, “it’s the slimiest puzzle on Earth.”
The bug-eyed scientist featured on the box also opines “Yeech! What an oozy operation! Can you make all the organs fit inside the alien?” 
You know, it’s actually much harder than it looks…
The Mad Scientist Dissect-an-Alien Kit includes: “alien, 12 alien organs, Glow-in-the-dark Alien Blood compound, plastic scalpel, Operating Mat, Alien body bag, and a Journal of Mad Experiments with Instructions.
The interesting thing about the Operating Mat is that the colorful background names all twelve of the alien’s unusual organs.  
You’ve got the “veinausea,” “heartipus,” “liverot,” “spleenius,” “mad bladder,” “stumuckus,” “blooblob,” “fleshonius,” “branium,” “gutball” and “lungross.” 
The toy also comes replete with a short comic-book describing the scientist’s discovery of the alien creature.
Joel and I have played with the toy a couple of times already (after washing it off, because, in my wife’s words, it was “mega-sticky”) and the best part, after inserting all the organs, is bandaging up the poor old alien with a giant plastic band-aid.  It’s ouchless.
Mattel, the makers of the Mad Scientist Dissect-an-Alien Kit also released (and sold separately) some Alien Blood Monster Kits (“Squeeze Em! Alien blood oozes from their eyes, mouth or nose!“)
Now where am I can going to find those for Joel?!