Saturday, October 20, 2012


A huge part of my childhood comic book collecting in the 70's and 80's were comics based on some of my favorite toy lines.

Back then, Marvel Comics was the king of translating toys/toy lines into cohesive comic book stories for the kids to follow-- especially at the time before toy companies were legally allowed to put cartoons on the air based on their toy lines.

So, now I ask you to come with me on a little trip down memory lane as I pick my Top 5 comic books based on a toy line.

Before we get started, I'll just list a few honorable mentions.

Marvel Comics' Starriors - Sectaurs - Visionaries - Crystar

Starriors - Crap comic by Marvel. Crap toy line. Awesome Bill Sienkiewicz cover.

Sectaurs - So-so 8-issue comic by Marvel. Pretty cool toy line by Coleco (?) Really loved the cool spider puppet creatures that the figures would ride.

Visionaries - Forgetable comic by Marvel (under their STAR Comics banner). Decent toy line by Hasbo. Never really took off as either.

Crystar - Pretty good comic series by Marvel, including a guest appearance by X-Men's Nightcrawler. Not to great, but somehow awesome, toy line by Remco. To be honest, I just love any figure that is-- or has parts-- molded in transparent plastic. Plus, the idea of a knight/warrior made entirely of crystal just seemed so cool to me.


1979 - 1980

Marvel Comics' Shogun Warriors Comic Book

I honestly can't remember which I got first, the comics or the toys, but I know that I absolutely loved them both. Giant robots and monsters with flying fists and launching missiles? Yeah, now that's what a kid's dreams are made of!

In 1979 Marvel Comics released issue #1 of the Shogun Warriors. The comic only lasted 20 issues and had nothing to do with the original Japanese versions of these characters, other than the robots being piloted by humans.

The series was written by Doug Moench with art by legendary Hulk artist Herb Trimpe.

The series itself was fairly forgettable, but being based on some of the best toys ever, I devoured each issue, trying to learn more about these robots and their story (as divergent and Americanized as it was from their original Japaneses versions.)

I do remember wondering why I couldn't find the other robots-- other than Raydeen-- in the 24" format, not realizing that they didn't make them here in the US. I also always wished that my Raydeen had that cool bow on his arm like he did in the comic book. Of course in Japan he did-- but we have Mattel to thanks for giving us a launching fist (that actually belonged to Mazgina) on our Raydeen instead.

Thanks, Mattel.


1984 - 1991

Marvel Comics' Transformers Comic Book

Yes, Transformers is #4.

The reason for this-- which is the exact opposite for GI Joe-- is that the cartoon was far superior than the comic book. The cartoon is the accepted TF cannon in all TF circles. The comic books just never quite hit the mark, which is strange considering that is was Marvel honcho (at the time) Jim Shooter who actually "created" the characters and storyline for a bunch of Japanese import toys that Hasbro had no idea how to market to kids.

So, while Marvel created the concept, story and characters for the Transformers that we all know and love today, the cartoon writers were actually the ones who took it in all those perfectly classic directions.

There were two main writers on the comic, Bob Budiansky (issues #2- 55) and Simon Furman (issues #56 - 80, although Furman has written many other TF comics since then). The art on the book-- unlike the animation in the cartoon-- was never really that good, and Marvel switched artist on the book quite often. If you did get one that you finally liked, you could pretty much be sure that he'd be gone in a few issues.

My biggest problem was, in the comics, they were drawn too organic looking, whereas in the cartoon, they were nice and blocky and robotic looking. Plus the coloring in comic books at the time couldn't match how awesome these characters looked in the cartoon.

All in all, a so-so comic with a few decent issues that really only kept collecting because it was Transformers.


1979 - 1986

Marvel Comics' Rom Spaceknight Comic Book

Now we're getting to the good stuff!

Remember how crappy the ROM toy was? Hell, did you even know this was a toy? Well, it was, but more than that, it was one of the best comics of the 1980's!

The comic, written by Bill Mantalo (who also wrote #2 on this list) and illustrated (mainly) by Sal Buscema, ran for 75 issues; far beyond ROM's existence as a toy by board game manufacturer Parker Brothers.

The main reason for this was that the comic was brilliantly written, with a richly arcing story full of Shakespearean heroes and villians.

Once again, as it had done in with the other books on our list (except Shogun Warriors) Marvel Comics created something out of nothing and turned Parker Brother's failure into their own success!

Marvel also integrated Rom into the Marvel Universe, crossing him over with several of their characters, including the X-Men, who were seeing a huge raise in their own popularity at the time.

Aside from the brilliant stories, one of the best features about this comic's run were the breathtaking covers that artist Michael Golden contributed to the series. (He did the same for GI Joe and Micronauts, where he was also the artist on the series.)

The saddest part about this comic is that we'll probably never see Rom again, as the rights to him lie either with his original creators or Parker Brothers, but not with Marvel.

So, while Marvel still uses the characters and ideas that were created by them for this series, Rom himself seems destined to only live in the past, and in the hearts of those who remember his adventures as part of their own childhood story.


1979 - 1986

Marvel Comics' The Micronauts Comic Book

The Micronauts were pure sci-fi magic-- plain and simple.

Once again, Marvel took an obscure toy line-- this time with MEGO's imported "Micorman" line from Takara in Japan, re-dubbed "Micronauts" here-- and gave it a story for kids to follow and entice them to get mom and dad to buy they action figures and playsets. However, how this came about was quite different then how it usually happened.
In most cases, it was the toy company approaching Marvel to help them, but this time out, it was Marvel who approached MEGO to translate their Micronauts line into a comic book.

Marvel Comics' writer Bill Mantalo's son received some Micronauts figures for Christmas in 1977, and the gears in Bill's brilliant mind started turning as he began to craft a story around these unique looking figures. He approached then Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter and convinced him to obtain the license-- which he did.

Running on the major sci-fi/fantasy energy created by Star Wars, Mantalo brought to life an intricately crafted universe ("Inner-Space" actually, a sub-atomic universe where the "Micronauts" lived) filled with fully-realized characters with meaningful, intertwining relationships and character motivations.

In my opinion, if Micronauts-- as it existed in the comics-- was a movie franchise, it would have been even better than Star Wars. (Even though there were definitely aspects of the Micronauts that were inspired by Star Wars.) 

Beyond what Mantalo was able to do with the story and characters, the other integral part to the Micronaut's success as a licensed comic, and it's now enormous cult status, was artist Michael Golden.

Golden, now a comic book legend himself, brought these stories to life with a mix of believable human drama, emotion and a sci-fi vision that was second only to Ralph McQuarrie.

Sadly, much like Rom, the many of the main characters from Miconauts live in an ownership limbo, so the chances of ever seeing them return is pretty much zero. While Marvel still has access to-- and sometimes uses-- a few Marvel-created characters from the book, the Micornauts as we knew them will only live in these original books, and perhaps that's for the best, as a series like this really is like capturing lighting in a bottle.


1982 - 1994

Marvel Comics' GI Joe A Real American Hero Comic Book

Larry Hama.

That's all you need to know as to why this is #1 on my list.

Larry Hama isn't just the guy who wrote every issue of GI Joe ARAH (A Real American Hero), he is GI Joe ARAH.

Hama wrote every issue of the comic as well as 90% of the action figure bios, worked closely with Hasbro on the entire GI Joe ARAH line, and crafted all the characters and stories from what was originally created to be a bunch of generic military action figures.

It was Hama's vision, as well as his time as a soldier in Vietnam, that took GI Joe to what we know it to be today. 

While the comic itself had many great artists in its lifetime-- including Herb Trimpe, Russ Heath, Rod Wingham and the great Michael Golden providing the art on several covers as well as the interior art on the GI Joe Yearbooks-- it was one man's brilliance, experience and dedication that brought it all to life-- not only as comic, but as a brand.

As I mentioned earlier, GI Joe and Transformers were opposite when it came to which was greater: the cartoons or the comics. Here, GI Joe was so far superior to the GI Joe cartoon that the cartoon almost seemed a childish parody of what Hama was doing in the comics. 

Hama's world for the Joes and their enemy Cobra was our world-- the real world. It was full of grit and faithful military tactic and terminologies, mixed with just the right bit of fantasy to keep things unique.

Of course, since this was technically just a vehicle to market a toy line, Hama had to play by Hasbro's rules. This meant always having to incorporate new characters and vehicles into the comics as they made their appearances in the toy line. This made it difficult for Hama to maintain a solid thru-line to stories that he had been crafting as well as keeping the focus on the main characters that he'd established. It made it difficult, yes-- but far from impossible. Hama, in his brilliance, always seemed able to keep the perfect mix of both new toy product introductions as well as delivering cohesive storyline centering on characters we'd invested in from the beginning.

To this day, the story of Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow and their mysterious and intertwining past, remains one of comics greatest tales-- not to mention two of pop culture's greatest characters.

Sadly, in 1994, GI Joe published its last issue at Marvel Comics, leaving many plot lines unresolved and many fan broken-hearted. However, unlike our other book on the list, GI Joe does live on and continues to be written by Larry Hama!

After years of other variations by other companies and writers, comic company IDW-- who now publishes several comics under the GI Joe banner-- relaunched the original GI Joe ARAH title in May 2010 with Hama at the helm, picking right where the original series had ended. It continues to this day.

No other comic ever came close to giving me what Hama and GI Joe did in my childhood years. So powerful were these characters and their stories that they remain my all-time favorite property in all of pop culture. 

Of course, GI Joe also being the best toy lines in all of toy history didn't hurt in how dear they still are to me, but that's a list-- and story-- for another day.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012



I loved Big Jim as a kid, but what I loved even more was Big Jim's P.A.C.K.!

Mattel's Big Jim PACK Figures

No, not package, damn it! P.A.C.K.! As in the acronym for "Professional Agents, Crime Killers".

Well, actually, I take that back. I love Big Jim's package! In fact, the entire team of Big Jim, Warpath, Torpedo Fist, The Whip and Dr. Steel all had some of the best packages in all of toy history! (Okay, I really should say "packaging", but I'm really just going to keep pushing this double entendre thing as far as I can.)

So, what makes these old 10" figures from the 70's stand out as one of toy history's all time best you ask? Two words:

Jack Kirby.

Jack "The King" Kirby

That's right, the King of Comics himself created the box art for all of Big Jim's P.A.C.K.! And if you don't know who Jack Kirby is, then I banish you from this blog!! (Actually, please don't leave. I need the traffic!) At this time, Kirby was deep into his New Gods stuff, so the art is drawn in that hyper-stylized art that Kirby was known for. Awesome stuff-- and perfect for the comic book like characters of the P.A.C.K. In fact, there was even a Big Jim comic book produced with art by Sal Bucema and Joe Sinnot that was included with the Big Jim Commander to give a story to Jim and his P.A.C.K.

Big Jim's PACK Comic Book

(Remember, this toys line was produced at a time when the FFC made it illegal to produce cartoons based on toys because it was deemed too decisive a marketing ploy. This was actually repealed in the early 80's which is why and when we got cartoons of Transformers and GI Joe. Now, there's some toy history for ya!)

The characters of the P.A.C.K. were a motley crew at best. The first released was Big Jim as "Commander" of the P.A.C.K.

Mattel's Big Jim PACK "Commander" Jim figure

Jim, and all the members of the P.A.C.K. that followed, had a wolf symbol stamped on his left hand to identify him as member of the group.

Three different versions of Jim were released for this series. The first one wore a blue shirt and white pants, while the second version wore a black shirt and gold pants.

Mattel's Big Jim PACK "Commander" Jim figure - white & gold versions

Both versions also included a shoulder holster (what secret agent would be complete without one!) with a vac metalized pistol. He also had a cool wrist gauntlet on his right hand with spikes on the bottom of it for extra damage when he employed his karate chop action!

The final version of Jim was Double-Trouble Big Jim. This had a different uniform than the rest featuring a horribly 70's stylized blue jumpsuit. Looking more like a mechanic than a secret agent, this version had the boots, belt and shoulder holster of the originals. 

Mattel's Big Jim PACK "Commander" Jim figure  - Double-Trouble version - boxed

What made this version the "Double Trouble" Big Jim was the "good-idea-poorly-executed" action feature of Jim being able to change his face from normal to angry by spinning the head around to the other side where the other face/expression was. To do this, Mattel decided to make the hair static and spin the head beneath it giving Jim the very definition of "helmet hair".

Mattel's Big Jim PACK "Commander" Jim figure  - Double-Trouble version

The over-all aesthetic of this figure was pretty bad, especially considering how brilliantly cool yet simple the original Commander Jim was.

The villain of the line was the Ruler of the Underworld known as Zorak.

Mattel's Big Jim PACK Zorak The Enemy figure

Zorak also featured the same face changing feature of Double-Trouble Big Jim, but with Zorak's head covered with a hood, the feature worked great on this figure.

Zorak's face could turn from a mustached villain to a green faced monster. Other than this feature and a cool cape with a gold chain, the rest of Zorak's design was fairly uninspired, consisting of only black pants and boots.

The P.A.C.K. team itself consisted of two new figures and two revamped ones.

Mattel's Big Jim PACK Warpath figure

Warpath was a Native American archer and all-around ass kicker who was originally named Chief Tankua in the Big Jim line. Here he's part of Big Jim's P.A.C.K and given a cool hat and the Wolf tattoo on his left hand. He had a very cool silver bow and a few arrows featuring a wolf head on the flattened tips; something he retained from his original release. (I wonder if this was the genesis of the naming and symbol of the team.)

Mattel's Big Jim PACK Dr. Steel figure

Dr. Steel was the other figure who was revamped and included in the P.A.C.K. line. He remained the same from his original release and included an intricate chest tattoo and a vac metalized right hand.

Mattel's Big Jim PACK The Whip figure

A new character called The Whip was certainly the coolest edition to the P.A.C.K. team. As a spy, The Whip certainly looked the part, dressed all in black with a black watch cap. He also had a great assortment of weapons a gear. He included, as his name suggest, a whip (Beast-Man from the Masters of the Universe would later be give the same exact whip), a bolo, four boomerangs, a chest bandolier which can hold the boomerangs across his chest, as well as a wrist-launcher which can "throw" his boomerangs when his "karate chop" action is engaged.

Mattel's Big Jim PACK Torpeedo Fist figure

The last edition to the P.A.C.K., one year later, was Russian sailor styled character named Torpedo Fist. His action feature allowed him to extend his fist through an armored gauntlet he wore on his right arm, hence his name.

There were also a line of vehicles to go with the P.A.C.K. line, as was per the usual when it came to the Big Jim line. The coolest and most notable vehicle was the "LazerVette".

Mattel's Big Jim PACK LaserVette vehicle

This line of multi-national character fighting an evil terrorist character who leads an organization certainly sounds a lot like a precursor to GI Joe A Real American Hero doesn't it? Hmmmm...

Big Jim was one of the most beloved and longest running figure lines of the 70's, producing dozens and dozens of different figures and vehicles during it's lifespan-- including a great line of secret agent (i.e. James Bond styled) figures the were released only in the European market. Of the whole line, however, the P.A.C.K. stands out as the shining gem of the series, appealing to fans of no only Big Jim, but GI Joe and superheroes alike. The perfect mix to grab this author's attention at the time.

From Mattel's Catalog

Mattel's Big Jim PACK from Mattel Catalogue

Mattel's Big Jim PACK from Mattel Catalogue

Mattel's Big Jim PACK from Mattel Catalogue

Mattel's Big Jim PACK from Mattel Catalogue

Many of Big Jim's ads were hand drawn artwork

Mattel's Big Jim PACK Comic Book Ad
Art by Sal Bucema and Joe Sinnot

Monday, October 8, 2012


Hasbro's Battle Beasts Logo

1987 - 1988

"Battle Beasts-- transform and roll out!"

Wait-- what???

That's right, the origins of what we here in the US call "Battle Beasts" actually has direct ties to the Transformers toy line and cartoons in Japan.

Takara Japan's Battle Beasts Logo
Note the Autobot and Decepticon logos on the Beasformers box art. 

First appearing in the Transformers: Headmasters cartoon series (only aired in Japan, but available in the US now on DVD) in the episode "Rebellion on Beast Planet", Beastformers were created and marketed by Takara alongside their Transformers line (presumably to ensure greater sales.)

Takara Japan's Battle Beasts Figure - Boxed
 Takara's Battlefomers packaging.

When Hasbro decided to import the Takara's line-- as they had done with Transformers-- they decided not to tie the line into the Transformers, but instead let it stand on it's own, renamed "Battle Beasts".

Hasbro's Battle Beasts Ad

No changes were made to the actual figures in their US release, and the "game" of Battleformers remained the same: the battle of Fire, Water and Wood.

Each Beast had a rub sign [clan symbol] on its chest that you would heat active by rubbing it with your finger. Once you saw what symbol that beast had (any beast could have any symbol, they were not specific to that beast) you could "battle" with friends using the logic of Fire beats Wood, Water beats Fire and Wood beats Water.

But the cool part, for me at least, were just the design of the Beasts themselves.

Hasbro's Battle Beasts Carded Figures
They stood 2" tall and only had articulation in the arms, but when you take animals, anthropomorphize them, and put them in some bad-ass futuristic Gundam-type armor, kids are helpless but to think they are the coolest things ever!

Each figure also came with some sort of weapon, like a sword, spear or other edged weapon that it could hold in either hand.

Hasbro's Battle Beasts Carded Figures

Sold in packs of two (how else are you gonna make them "battle", right?) three series were produced with a total of 76 beasts made. There were also a few vehicles sets made along with some transforming playset bases.

There was also a 4th series released in short supply called "Laser Beasts" where the rub sign was replace with a clear lens that you could look through to see the character's clan affiliation.

The line continued longer in Japan, but after Series 3 here in the US, it died out pretty quickly, but that didn't keep so many of us from remembering this very cool, unique and collectible figure line very fondly.

The line is currently seeing a resurgence in two forms.

Here in the US, Diamond Select has created a line similar to the original Battle Beasts concept of anthropomorphized animals in armor fighting one another-- but without the rub sign "battle" concept. And while they carry the same name and concept of the original Battle Beasts line, they actually have no official affiliation with Habro/Takara's original toys. 

Diamond Select's Battle Beasts Figures
Diamond Select/Art Asylum's new Battle Beasts line using the minimates bodies as a base.

In Japan, however, Takara has officially revived their original concept from the 80's, albeit with a few changes. Gone are the rub signs of the originals, now being replaced with different dice that can be inserted into the chest of the figure and then "rolled" by pushing a lever on the figure's back. Takara also incorporated the "gaming" element of the line in a more focused way this time out with the figures being less about "toys" and more about part of the game itself (similar to HeroClix.) They also renamed the line "Beast Saga".

Takara/Tomy's Beast Saga Figures
Takara/Tomy's Beast Saga figures.

The original figures can carry a bit of a hefty price tag these days, and the loose ones are hard to find in good condition-- and with their weapons. So, if you're looking for a nice alternative, perhaps one of these new lines might be for you! But, let's be honest, nothing is ever going to be as truly awesome as those original beasts!

Hasbro's Battle Beasts Loose Figures
 The white Lion character with the eye patch was considered the leader of the "Autobot" animals in Japan.

Hasbro's Battle Beasts Loose Figures
The crab guy was always my favorite character as a kid!

Awesome original Battle Beasts commercial!

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Here are a few snapshots of my recently acquired Manga Realiaztion BAOH figure.

Yes, this is indeed a full fledged action figure with all the articulation that you'd expect from a figure. Bandai, however, also included a set of pre-posed lower legs (from the waist down) that you can swap out with the articulated ones to create a more dynamic pose (one that you can't actually achieve with the figure's regular articulation) that fits perfectly onto the pegs located on the diorama's base.

I will hopefully get around to doing a real review on this figure-- along with some more info on it-- once I begin my action figure reviews.

Anyway-- on to the photos!!

Bandai Manga Realization BAOH figure
 The diorama base (something we need to come with more action figures!) is a giant severed mandrill head!!

Bandai Manga Realization BAOH figure 
 Baoh comes with multiple hands and arm blades, including these blood covered ones. Simply brilliant!!

Bandai Manga Realization BAOH figure
 Since this figure was sculpted by hyper-talented S.I.C. sculptor Takayuki Takeya it shares many of S.I.C.'s design tricks. All the flesh on the upper torso is cast in transparent plastic and then painted. This is most beautifully evident on the head sculpt(s).

Bandai Manga Realization BAOH figure
All of the blood on both Baoh and the mandrill's severed head (and tongue) are also cast in a deep transparent red plastic giving this piece an intense, high-end, collector's look.

Bandai Manga Realization BAOH figure

Having been a huge fan of Baoh since the early 90's when Viz Comics imported the original mangas, as well as the bloody gore-infested OVA's, finally having a figure of this level of quality (and size, it stand nearly 8") is like a dream come true.

Sadly, even though there are so many characters from this era that could fit perfectly into Bandai's Manga Realization line, they don't seem to be doing much-- if anything-- with it. 

I would love to see a new line of Guyver figure! I can't even begin to imagine what Takayuki Takeya's version of Devilman and Seline would be like! (Although I have to think it would be very much like Nirasawa's, who is obviously Takeya's main influence.) 

This figure is just about as perfect as they come-- fingers crossed that Bandai does something more with this line.