Thursday, August 18, 2011
Nerd Rant: Seven Spectacular Sci-Fi Toys That Got Away
If you’ve been a horror/sci-fi nerd for as long as I have, then you’ll know this story well. You’re at a shopping mall or a toy store or a comic book shop, and you see a toy you’ve never seen before that captures something special about one of your favorite franchises. Maybe it’s a replica of something that hasn’t been made available any other way, or maybe it’s just plain cool in its concept. Regardless, you don’t have the money to buy it at the time, so you think that you’ll just pick it up later ... but you can’t, because you never see it again anywhere. Another variation of this story is that someone else tells you about a toy that’s everything you could ever ask for from a franchise replica, but you never get the chance to purchase it because none of the stores at your location carry it.
This post is devoted to seven such toys that I wanted to have in my personal collection but for whatever reason, it just never happened. Many of these toys are available on eBay right now but at prices that go far beyond my meager living expenses, so I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. (Sob, sniff.) Read on to learn more about seven of my very own white whales, so to speak, which are numbered according to my personal preference and overall rarity.
7. Terminator 2 Bio-Flesh Regenerator Play Set by Kenner (1991)
The most magnificently morbid aspect of the Terminator franchise is that it features skeleton-like robots that wear skin, muscle and blood--much like we wear clothing--to better perform their mission of killing lots and lots and lots of people. These robots were sort of like the technological counterparts to Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, minus the passionate interest in making barbecue. (Sure, there were also the shape-shifting liquid metal robots in the Terminator movies and TV series, but where was the gory, blood-soaked fun in those?)
In honor of this franchise-defining feature, Kenner released the Bio-Flesh Regenerator Play Set as part of their Terminator 2 toy series. This play set was a lot like Kenner’s Play-Doh play sets, except this involved making tiny Arnold Schwarzeneggers for the purpose of tearing their skin off to expose the homicidal machinery underneath. That’s all the play set was good for, actually--it didn’t come with any humans for the robots to terminate, nor did it include a hydraulic press that a Linda Hamilton action figure could use to crush the robots. Nevertheless, the fact that Kenner combined Play-Doh, one of their most kid-friendly toys, with the goriest aspect of a violent R-rated franchise made it worth every cent. It’s kind of like making a talking Freddy Krueger doll that says “Let’s be friends.”
I only saw this play set for sale once and for as much as it appealed to my love of gallows humor, I didn’t pick it up. Playmates released a variation on this toy as part of their Terminator Salvation line, but it doesn't use Play-Doh as "flesh" and I never saw it for sale in any store (in the US, that is).
6. Alien Queen Hive Play Set by Kenner (1994)
Kenner’s Aliens toy line from the 90s has a very bizarre back story. The toys were originally produced as part of a cartoon version of the Aliens movie called Operation: Aliens. The cartoon took the characters from Aliens--Ripley, Hicks, and so on--and gave them a PG-rated, cartoony G.I. Joe-like makeover for the purpose of selling toys. While only a pilot episode was made for the cartoon (which was never aired), the toy line was released anyway. Of the action figures in this line, only one of them was an accurate replica of its original movie version: the Alien Queen figure that was included in the Alien Queen Hive Play Set.
This play set comes with the Alien Queen, the Queen’s egg sack (which discharges bright green ooze!), an Alien egg and an Alien chestbuster. Oddly, the egg does not come with facehugger; it instead is designed to contain and spring-launch the chestbuster. McFarlane Toys would release their own Alien Queen set a few years later that had more details, but it was much less durable and didn’t come with an egg sack. Unfortunately, unlike the McFarlane set, I never saw Kenner’s Alien Queen Hive Play Set for sale anywhere during its initial release.
5. Star Wars Die Cast Metal TIE Bomber by Kenner (1980)
If you grew up during the original release of the first Star Wars trilogy like I did and were obsessed with it like I was, then you wanted to have replicas of the many ultra-cool Star Wars vehicles in your collection. After the releases of Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back, most of the vehicles (the X-Wing Fighter, the Millennium Falcon, the TIE Fighter, etc.) were available as the following merchandise: as vehicles for the action figures, as die-cast metal miniatures, or as model kits. Some of the vehicles were available in all three of these versions, while others were available in only two. For example, the Star Destroyer was too big for the action figures, so you could get it either as a die-cast metal miniature or as a model kit.
Unfortunately, one of the Imperial Empire’s attack vehicles, the TIE Bomber, was only available during the 80s as a die-cast metal miniature and those were extremely difficult to find. The Rebel Alliance’s Y-Wing Fighter also had this limitation, but at least that was later made available as an action figure vehicle and model kit after the release of Return of the Jedi. The TIE Bomber wasn’t that lucky and it wouldn’t become available again until its inclusion in Galoob’s Star Wars Micro Machines series in the mid-90s, over a decade later.
3. and 4. Micro Machines Action Fleet: Narcissus Escape Shuttle and Colonial Marines Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) by Galoob (1996)
In addition to Kenner’s Aliens toy line, Galoob also released a few items for the same license in the 90s. Some of the items were part of the Micro Machines Action Fleet, which largely consisted of vehicles from the original Star Wars trilogy. Of the Alien/Aliens vehicles produced, the two most impressive and scale-accurate were replicas of the Narcissus escape shuttle from Alien and the APC from Aliens. Each toy included figures that could fit inside of the vehicles, which could open to reveal somewhat movie-accurate details. For example, the Narcissus includes a hypersleep pod for Ripley and a tiny carrier box that contains an even tinier Jones the cat. Click here to see a gallery of pictures of the Narcissus toy, and click here to see a gallery devoted to the APC toy.
The Micro Machines Action Fleet also included the drop ship from Aliens but it was not large enough to fit the Action Fleet version of the APC inside of it--a scale defect that, in my opinion, defeated Galoob’s idea of making a drop ship toy in the first place. For a drop ship replica that included a scale-accurate removable APC, you’d have to go to Japan.
I tried to find the story behind Galoob's Alien/Aliens vehicles, but I didn't find much that could be verified as accurate. I've heard rumors that even though Galoob was willing to put the Alien/Aliens vehicles in their Action Fleet line, they didn't make very many of them and they didn't distribute them very widely so I'm not sure why they even bothered at all. They also made a Predator vehicle for the Action Fleet line, the Predator Warrior Transport, but that too was under-produced and under-distributed.
2. Robotech Cyclone Rider by Matchbox/Gekken (1985)
I loved Robotech when it appeared on US syndication during 1985, particularly the various human and alien mecha designs. I could figure out how most of the transforming mechas worked in terms of how they changed from mode to mode, but the Cyclone motorcycle remained a mystery to me. Somehow, it changed from a vehicle into a battle armor/jet pack combo for its rider, but I had no idea how it shifted its parts around to accomplish this transformation. I heard that Matchbox distributed a transforming Cyclone toy with an armored rider figure (which was originally made by Gekken in Japan), but none of the toy stores near me carried it so I was out of luck. Matchbox also made a non-transformable Cyclone to go with their Robotech action figure line, but what was the point of making a Cyclone toy if it didn’t transform?
New transformable Cyclone toys have been produced recently by companies such as Toynami, but they cost much, much more than the Matchbox version. I suppose that the moral of the story here is that if you're going to collect toys, be sure to buy them before they officially become classified as "collectible". Once that happens, the prices shoot through the roof.
1. The Simpsons Bio-Genetic Reconstruction Kits by Caryco Magnets (1997)
I saw one of these kits for sale only once in a greeting cards store and to this day I regret not purchasing it because I never saw it for sale in any store ever again. These magnet kits aren’t much more than two complementary set of magnets, but they are based on such a delightfully warped idea that they can’t be anything other than wildly insane fun. Both sets were produced as flat 9” x 12” layouts, with the main Simpsons characters--Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie--serving as the main magnetic pieces. The kits also included smaller magnets, such as body parts and props from the show's non-Simpson family characters, such as Moe, Barney, Ned Flanders, Krusty, Sideshow Bob, Milhouse, Apu, and Mrs. Crabapple, that can be layered on the Simpson family. By combining these magnets, you could create your own Simpsons "mutations". If you ever wanted to know what an illegitimate child of C. Montgomery Burns and Marge Simpson would look like, this was your chance.
Each kit came with a primer by Dr. Nick Riviera, Springfield’s resident master of medical malpractice, that described the ins and outs of genetic mutation, as well as possible mutants that can be made with the pieces included. For as fun as these kits are, I’m still surprised that Bio-Genetic Reconstruction Kits were not released for Futurama, Matt Groening’s other popular animated series, since this kind of pulp sci-fi-inspired humor is Futurama’s specialty.