Sunday, September 8, 2013



Stories of Childhood Toy Triumph and Tragedy



While most of my other posts on TALES FROM THE TOY CHEST focus more on toys during certain moments in my life, I decided to switch it up a bit and just let your readers in on the whole sha-bang! Let's forget about single toys during my time as a child in this article, let's talk about all of the great ones. While my childhood had its problems, growing up and being a kid during the late 70's wasn't one of them. The years of 1978 and 1979 were the greatest time for being a super hero fan because of all the toys that were available. The 5 biggest names at that time was Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-man and my favorite hero of all, The Incredible Hulk. And it could even be argued that the big green guy was the most popular of the bunch due to the highly successful live-action series that was on television at the time starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno that was sweeping the nation.

During the late 70's it was Spider-man, the Hulk, Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman as the most popular super heroes in the world.

So being a big Hulk-fan back then was awesome! Not to mention that Marvel and DC Comics went all out to license their characters to other companies in the year of my birth in 1973 to make toys, video games, clothing, apparel, etc. appear all over the place and become part of the culture. By 1978 there was more super hero product on the market than ever before and I was 5 years old and right in the thick of it! WHOOOOO!!

Today there has been an even bigger super hero boom due to all the successful movies in theaters and the products that we see in stores. There are more super heroes known today to the mainstream public than any other time in the history of comics. The reason being is that most of the kids that grew up during my generation now run the major corporations of today and always knew the full potential of the superhero genre that they grew up on. Just look at all the high quality actors, writers and directors that produce these feature films that are ruling Hollywood - the characters are finally shown with respect and honor (well, most of them are). 

Now, while I do respect the quality and technology of the toys of today, all of them lack a certain amount of charm than the ones I grew up with. Today you get perfect art on the packages and perfect articulation of the figures. And with all the accessories they come with, all the imagination falls by the wayside. Back in my day we were lucky if the head on the figure moved. But did we care? No way, because we had hours of fun regardless. And the absence of some cool, super hero rack toys found in dollar stores are long gone. Yup, those cheap toys that usually made no sense and would last about a day that mom bought at the counter of a Woolworth, Zayers, Ben Franklin and the like (just to shut us up) are replaced by ipods, iphones, DSI's and all that other junk. Maybe I'm being a bit too bitter or nostalgic for some of you, but that's how I feel about it.

But I digress, I like to put my money where my mouth is so that brings me to this write up. If I'm so confident in the toys that I adore are the pinnacle of all childhood dreams, what are those toys? While everyone has a favorite during their youth, those of you that grew up during the 70s and 80s will relive some former glory with the toys I present to you here (and don't worry, not all of them are based on super heroes). So without further ado, I give you my top 15 greatest toys ever (truth be told, I could have done a top 100). I hope you enjoy it and as always, let me know what you think.


(MEGO 1975)

While I was too young to enjoy this toy as a child, when I did find out about it and finally got to play with it during my adulthood... I fell in love. Very rarely do toys capture the pure absurd fun of comic books and cartoons of yesteryear. But ​"absurd" and yet, "sadistic" fun are the only words that I can think of to best describe The Mangler. Because there is not much you can really do with this vehicle, as it serves only one purpose - to allow Spider-Man to brutally murder the Green Goblin over and over and over again... hey, what's not to love? The front of this plaything has a metal mouth that captures Gobby and swallows his body whole while crushing it through two cylinders (who knew Spidey was capable of such creative violence??). In the ensuing terror, a surprisingly nonplussed looking cardboard corpse of the character is then spit out the back of the vehicle in a condition that the packaging eloquently describes as "flat as a green pancake." The ridiculousness of this toy (even with its brutality thrown into the mix) gives it its "charm" for me. While many toys of the past lose its playability due to the high sophistication of today's toys, this one is a rare exception. Killing... err... flattening the Green Goblin on a daily basis is a fun business, just don't try it on your friends in real life.

(REMCO 1978)

Let's be honest, people today who want to have physiques of the heroes they love take steroids (and a host of other drugs). But back in the late 70s those drugs weren't as well known to the public, much less to any child. No, back then there were the Hulk's instant muscles! When I first saw this toy in a Zayer I was totally astounded! I could have muscles just like my favorite super hero in a matter of minutes? I was instantly sold! I can clearly remember my mom shelling out the 10 bucks for it and ripping the box open as soon as I got home. I put on the muscles, then pumped away and literally became the Hulk for a few hours. I then came up with the bright idea to watch the Hulk live-action series on Friday night at 8PM with my cut up Tough Skin jeans and these muscles strapped on and ready to go. When David Banner (Billy Bixby) changed into the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno), I pumped the air into my Hulk muscles and changed right along with the actors and then rampaged all over my house. Come on, how many toys could manage this much fun? This cleverly disguised float didn't last very long as it eventually sprang a leak and kinda got mangled at the bottom of my toy chest - but it always remained a favorite of mine! And could you believe that this "mere" toy inspired my little boy brain to go out and lift weights to become the real thing in later years? That's exactly what it did! Just look at the hunk o' man I am today... thank you Remco!

(CHEMTOY 1978)

The Spider-man Webmaker was a rack toy that I clearly remember purchasing with my mother and having a ton of fun in the shortest amount of time. Yes, my friends, it didn't really last that long as I lost the "not so age appropriate" tiny yellow play pieces of Spider-man, Mary Jane, Green Goblin and such within an hour. And if my memory serves me right, I lost the Spidey figure first. So honestly, once he was gone who was going to be spinning those funky webs?? ARRGH! I vowed to get this toy again and replace the Spidey piece, but sadly I never did. And although this was just a cheap disposable rack toy, you'll notice that it was actually quite entertaining and full of Spidey-mythos-goodness. On the back of the packaging there was an image of Empire State that you could pose the play pieces on and cover them in web-goo. It was a fun, creative and messy time with Spidey and the gang, so what kid wouldn't enjoy this?

(FUNSTUF 1978)

Now this was a toy that really captured the magic of The Incredible Hulk! You put the big "Ani-Form" Hulk figure in a cage, attach his Velcro shirt, snap on the handcuffs (earlier versions didn't have this), build the Rage Cage around him and then attach the air-inflator into the figures back nozzle and pump away. Slowly, the Hulk figure would expand as he began tearing out of his shirt (the Velcro sound prying apart only heightened the anticipation) and when the Hulk got to a certain size... BOOM!!! He busted free from his bonds and broke free from the cage -- geek orgasm --! Throughout the 90s, Toy Biz released quite a few different versions of the Hulk Rage Cage but the original 1978 version is still the best, so don't settle for any imitations. Around the same time as this Hulk toy hit the shelves, a complimentary Thing "Rock Trap" version was issued and was equally as cool. Truth be told, I never saw it in a store or up close until I went to a friend's house in the mid-80s. Needless to say I was in total awe of it. I would've loved to have these two man-monsters clash when they were pumped up to their max when I was a kid - I know I would have made Jack Kirby proud! Even today, this "Ani-Form" Thing figure is very hard to locate and could be a bit pricey (I should know, I sold a MINT one for a nice fee a few years back).  

(MEGO 1979)

While I love old, ugly toys because they possess a certain amount of charm, this one takes the cake. Now I love Captain America, always have and always will. But this toy puts him on another level with me because of how cute and disproportionate he is. Yup, that's right, just look at the size of his head! I absolutely loved how enormous it was and it made me adore this figure even more! What kid wouldn't enjoy a big headed, 12" Star Spangled super hero to fight off the forces of evil with? The bright colors of the costume, the shield, the box and the awesome "Fly Away Action" made me believe in the American dream! Simply put, this is the best Captain America action figure ever (with the Mego 8" a close second), but the rest are not even close! Go get em' Cap!!!

(TYCO 1979)

This toy is one of those that everyone seemed to forget, but once they see it again years later they remembered it and recalled how awesome it was! The reason why I know this is because I bought a few of them back in 2007 and brought one of them to a convention to raffle off. Sure enough, I made a killing from all the fanboys who entered it and wanted to relive their childhood (the proud winner was my good buddy, Marc Lombardi) on a toy that they never thought they would see again. In truth, I never had this as a kid, but my friend up the street did and we used to make awesome characters in his backyard (I remember a girl who lived between us having the Barbie version). When I purchased a bunch of them years later, I gave one set to my daughter Bryn who loved it and played the crap out of it until she broke it and lost a few pieces. Man, good times.

(IDEAL 1982)

The Team America toy line was an attempt by Ideal to replace their successful Evil Knievel toy line after Knievel served six months for battery in the late 1970s, and it used many of the same molds and designs. These stunt cycles were some of the most fun and action-packed toys EVER made!!! You put them in their holdster, rev them up and they shot out at top speeds and leaped and jumped and crashed into everything in sight! I was lucky enough to get the hard to find Black Murader Stunt Chopper as a kid and thought I was cool as hell in my neighborhood because everyone else had the regular stunt motorcycles of Honcho, Wolf and Reddy. Little did I know a totally-magnificent Captain America stunt chopper was also in toy stores but I never knew about it. I found out almost 10 years later when someone had a picture of it. Truth be told, I nearly shit myself. At first, I couldn't understand why Ideal made a Cap cycle? And then after some research I found out that Team America debuted in Captain America #269 (1982). A few years after that I miraculously located one and paid a pretty hefty fee to purchase it still sealed in the box. Now while most collectors would have loved to have this toy that way - I didn't!! I was tempted for years to crack it open, to hold it, to rev it up and to play with it - just once. Sadly, I never did and sold it off with a big chunk of my collection back in 2003. I've never seen another since and I honestly don't want too because it'll break my heart.


Wrestling today is a barren wasteland. I couldn’t tell you 10 new wrestlers that have come from the 2000’s and up and couldn’t care too. Despite wrestling’s current shape, there was a time in my mind when it was at the top of pop culture. Every boy (and girl) that watched Saturday morning cartoons and read a comic book that wanted to emulate a real life, living and breathing superhero could do it by watching wrastlin’ on the tube. For me, that peak period in wrestling was the 10 years between 1982 thru 1992 and I couldn't get enough of it. During this period, I would be introduced to a mega-event called Wrestlemania and just about every boys list of wrestling heroes included the two greatest wrestlers ever to step into the ring; Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair. And with these two icons that championed their respected territories, wrestling became a household name all across the world like never before. But after Wrestlemania VI in 1990 there was one wrestler who eclipsed even Hulk Hogan in terms of popularity for a short time - The Ultimate Warrior! He was truly a living and breathing super hero walking the earth and I went crazy for him. From 1984 until 1989 LJN produced a bunch of rubber wrestling figures that all my friends and myself went nuts over. The last 6 figures produced which included The Ultimate Warrior were only distributed by Grand Toys of Canada making them rarer and much more valuable than most of the other figures. So despite how hard I searched, I could never find this figure in stores. Finally, before prices soared to unattainable heights, I was savvy enough to order a sealed Ultimate Warrior figure out of a toy magazine for only 20 bucks. Today, due to the passing of the Warrior (R.I.P. my friend) this figure can reach up to 2,500 bucks sealed on the open market... SO FEEL THE POWER OF THE ULTIMATE WOOOOORRRYAHHHH!!!

(MEGO 1974)

While Mego Corp. was famous for making their World's Greatest Super-Heroes 8" action figures that ran from 1971 until 1980 (which are extremely collectible today), it was their Captain Marvel/SHAZAM! figure that was always special to me. Sure, the Hulk, Thor, Thing, Superman, Batman, Spider-man, Conan and the like were always perennial favorites (I can even remember my mother having a bunch of boxed Batman's at the top of her bedroom closet ready to give my brother and me a new one if it broke... jeez, how much could I get for those today?). But out of all of these awesome figures, I simply adored Captain Marvel the most. I think it had something to do with the bright colors of his costume, the lightning bolt on his chest, the bright blue packaging it came in (especially the Kresge card packaging) and acting out scenes of the SHAZAM! live-action series on television by Filmation that ran on Saturday mornings. And did you know the head-sculpt on the figure was based on the actor, Jackson Botswick who played Captain Marvel in the first season of that series? While I had a lot of fun with this toy as a kid, I've grown to appreciate it even more as an adult... SHAZAM!!!

(MEGO 1978)

Nothing, but nothing was better to me as a kid than a big, playable Hulk figure to smash things with! Mego Corp. did one hell of a job in designing this Hulk figure and did a great job on the box as well (I loved all the Hulk pictures on the back of it as a kid). He looked and felt awesome in my little hands as a child and I took him everywhere. I can't even remember how many figures my mother got me when I was a kid because I would play with it until it fell apart. One day my mom came home with two of them (one for me and my brother) and it had "Fly Away Action"... oh my god... now the Hulk could leap with just a pull of a string. How awesome was that? Check me out on Christmas morning at 5 years of age in 1978 in the picture below (the bottom right holding the 12" Hulk and Energized Spider-man figures), now that's one happy kid!

(FUNSTUF 1978)

The dream of having real-life super powers was always believable to me when I had this toy. There was something truly magical and dangerous about it. Having the power to shoot something from my wrist and it could stick to something or even destroy something was the stuff my kid dreams were made of. I loved the Hulk "Flying Fist" (I loved that name as well) and sporting his actual suction cupped fist on my wrist to shoot and smash things with was pure heaven. The Amazing Spider-man "Web-Shooter" was also endeared to me because it made more sense to the character's powers. And I actually thought I could swing building to building with it (luckily, I've never tried). I thought the possibilities were endless with these toys and to me, they almost were. I'll have to give the Hulk the nod over Spidey because he was my favorite super hero, but truth be told, I loved them both equally.

(IDEAL 1979)

When you talk about the all time greatest table top games ever made people say Chess, Checkers, Parcheesi, Scrabble, etc. I say Hulk Smash all those pretenders! The absolute greatest table top game ever made is this one!! And that is the absolute truth! It captures all the elements and the unpredictability of the Hulk-mythos in amazing fashion. Bruce Banner building and protecting, the anticipation of him getting angry and changing, the Hulk's rouges attacking him (including the Silver Surfer), plus the best part of all - the Hulk's unstoppable rampage in actual motorized action! This game is the stuff every Hulk-fan's dreams are made of and it's fun as hell! What also makes it so good and topping it out at number 4 on this list is the replay factor - because it never gets old. I played this until the Hulk broke when I was a kid. I loved it so much that today as an adult, I bought a few of them to play with my daughter and at friends houses - it's that good. Even people who are not fans of super heroes will have fun and appreciate this game. It's a classic, so go and try to play it today because you don't want to make the Hulk angry.

(POPY 1975)

Here is a toy I never knew about until I was an adult. If I did, I would've swam to Japan as a kid to get it. I'm not joking! Offered as a mail-away monthly prize from a particular kid's magazine and in a few select stores (with different packaging) the Jumbo Machinder Grendizer Spazer is one of the toughest (and most expensive) Jumbos to track down and easily among the most sought after. This is a toy that kid dreams are made of because basically it's a big-wheel on super-intergalactic-steriods!!! You put your 24" Jumbo Grandizer figure inside the Spazer (sold separately), hop on board, scoot as fast as your little legs can carry you while shooting projectiles (yes, you read that right, it actually shoots missiles and disks) and basically save the universe over and over again. It is simply the greatest non-superhero toy ever made and could well be the coolest toy ever!! And interestingly enough, I envisioned this toy when I was a little kid before I even knew it existed! Yup, while watching Force Five on Thursday afternoons and watching Grendizer religiously, I thought about how cool it would be if there was a Spazer that a kid could ride on like a big-wheel and you could put a big Grendizer robot in. You can imagine my surprise when I found out years later as an adult that one had already been developed - I was simply astonished! The only reason I can't rank this at number 1 is because I found out about it so late in life and sadly, I've never even owned one. I'm sure many of you haven't either because it goes for about 30 THOUSAND on the open market today!!! Simply put, this is a toy that is heralded by the gods above and a holy grail in anyone's life.

(AMSCO 1975)

While I was way to young to enjoy this toy in my youth, seeing it a few years later in a Heroes World catalog made me clearly understand the significance of it. But sadly, my little hands never got a chance to play with it as I never saw it in stores and was too young to order it from any catalog. It took me almost 20 years to find and I just so happened to get one still sealed in MINT condition for a hefty price. Truth is, I would've paid any price for it. But like the Captain America Stunt Chopper that ranks in at number 8 on this list, getting this toy sealed has left me with a painful curiosity to open it up. I want to play with it so bad and enjoy all the moments I missed playing with it as a kid!! So here and now I will let the world know that this playset is one of the greatest super hero toys ever!! I truly believe that without even a hint of hyperbole. Marvel World is just what it suggests, cardboard replicas of the people and places of the Marvel Universe; the Baxter Building, the Daily Bugle, the Avengers Mansion, Dr. Strange's crib, Peter Parker's house, etc. They're all here, reproduced in excruciating detail (drawn by the legendary Sal Buscema). To inhabit these buildings are 34 mini figures of everyone from Aunt May to the Hulk and it even included their secret identity images on the back - how awesome is that?? This is more than just a toy or a collectible. It's the ability to actually play with the magic that Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko had brought into my life. Now after all that prestige, I can only think of one toy greater and more meaningful to me than this...

(MEGO 1979)

To anyone that knows me there can only be one true answer to what the greatest toy that influenced, shaped and destroyed my life is... The Incredible Hulk Elastic figure by Mego Corp. I can go into great detail about it but that might take to long so read the story here; "In Search of the Holy Grail of Hulk" to understand the havoc this toy wrought on my childhood. With Mego trying to capitalize on the Hulk live-action series that was all the rage in the late 70s, they distributed the Hulk Elastic figure first and separately from the others (the Hulk came with a different box). This figure sold a ton, but unfortunately, not many would survive the next 30 years. And today this figure remains one of the most elusive and most rare of the entire stretch line. Finding one in perfect condition is next to impossible, with only 1 known that hasn't been restored in any way and isn't in need of any repair - oh yeah, I own it! This Hulk looks fantastic and I believe it to be the best representation Mego ever did of the hero. With his big, bulky body, purple pants and mean green head sculpt, he is the Hulk in all his glory! He is also by far the heaviest stretch figure ever made. With a magical look, it's no surprise why this toy is considered the stuff of legend in the realm of Hulk memorabilia. It remains the supreme “Holy Grail” of all Hulk collectibles! Simply put, this Hulk toy is the strongest one there is.


I had to add this because although I didn't know about it as a child, it was another version of my favorite toy, The Elastic Hulk and for that I have to pay homage to it. And my pen name is based on both of these toys combined, hence the name I call myself  "The Mego Stretch Hulk", see how clever I am? Denys Fisher was a company in Europe licensed under Mego Corp. (they also produced the Stretch Armstrong and all their other stretch figures overseas for Kenner). In 1979, Mego used their Marvel license to have them make a stretch Hulk figure. This Hulk was manufactured in the Thorp Arch Estates in Wethergy, England. It was only distributed in Europe and was never made available in the United States. It was said to be sold only out of either Kays or Freemans mailorder catalogs. Only a small amount made their way into some local UK stores. One of these stores was called the Asda Supermarket in Doncaster, England. The Hulk had a price tag of only 8.99 (about 15.00 in US currency at the time).

So let's hear what your favorites are!

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John Cimino
John Cimino is a Silver and Bronze Age comic, cartoon and memorabilia expert that runs a business called "Saturday Morning Collectibles." He buys, sells, appraises and gives seminars on everything pop culture, so if you got something special, let him know about it. He contributes articles to ALTER EGO, RETROFAN, BACK ISSUE and THE JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR from TwoMorrows Publishing, runs the Roy Thomas Appreciation Board on Facebook and has appeared on the AMC reality show Comic Book Men. He also represents some of comicdoms biggest stars and brings them to a Comic Con near you. John likes to think he's the real Captain Marvel, people just don't have the heart to tell him he's just an obsessed fanboy that loves to play superheroes with his daughter Bryn. Contact him at or follow him on Instagram at megostretchhulk.