I was five years old when Star Wars hit theaters, which also means I was at ground zero for the action figure craze of the late Seventies. Though the unholy alliance of Kenner Toys and George Lucas reigned supreme in the hearts and minds of covetous tykes, they were joined by scores of bandwagon jumpers across a bewildering array of genres and licensed IPs.
I took to action figures because they took my existing love of plastic army men to the next level. They were colorful, had distinct visual identities, and could be kitted out with all manner of accessories both official and improvised. Not only were they generally sturdier than the Mego dolls which preceded them, but the newcomers’ smaller scale meant that they could integrate with Fisher Price “Little People” playsets and the various plastic vehicles cranked out by Marx and the like.
Despite the licensed branding which hung over most action figure lines, my little brother and I never adhered to pre-existing scripts. Chosen figures became good guys and bad guys based on how much we liked them, with names and backstories folded in afterwards. It was a rudimentary and improvised form of role-playing game in many respects, which is probably why I lost all interest in action figures shortly after picking up a copy of the D&D Basic Set in junior high (because “getting to old for that crap” certainly wasn’t the reason).
Our early action figure adventures tended to be a derivative and nonsensical mash-up of things pulled from our popcult sphere — comics, Creature Double Feature flicks, cartoons, and kid-oriented sci-fi and horror fiction. All of it went into the pot, resulting in a lumpy stew thick with grade school melodrama and the laziest of cliches. Fortunately, notions about “the anxiety of influence” are utterly lost on young children. It wasn’t about creative originality. It was about having a blast channeling our favorite things into action-packed narratives.
With that in mind, I’d like to share a little information about some of the major players in my childhood fantasy realm (with photos ganked from a Google image search because my original figures have been lost to time).
Clawtron was a Fisher-Price creation, part of the company’s attempt to have its Adventure People line keep up with the Skywalkers. His noggin betrays his humble origins, re-purposed as it was from a decidedly terrestrial race car driver figure.
Clawtron’s brief ascendance had more to do with timing than anything else. My mom bought him for me not long after my classmates stole all my “cool” Star Wars figures on the last day of kindergarten. While a poor shadow of what I had lost, he still had enough of a mysteriously sinister vibe to serve as an adequate consolation prize. He began his career as a hero, before taking a heel turn to sub for the missing Darth Vader.
After experiencing some initial success leading a criminal band of broken Micronauts, some Zee Toys’ “Metal Men” and a one-footed Stormtrooper, poor Clawtron was eventually demoted to minor minion status.
Clawtron’s primary nemesis was Boba Fett. Though he shared the name and appearance of the famous bounty hunter, this Boba Fett was actually a bona fide superhero. He has super strength, could fly through air and space, shoot beams from his hands, and was immune to everything except the deadly element “argonite.” When he wasn’t slamming evil with his best pal Pocket Superhero Batman, Fett and his entourage would roam around the countryside in a Tonka Winnebago in search of new adventures and beer.
His death did not come from a fanged space-anus, but from the jaws of our family dog.
Every hero needs a sidekick, so Boba Fett had “Teegs.”
Why “Teegs?” Because that’s how my three year old brother’s brain processed “Luke Skywalker in Bespin Fatigues.”
Teegs was okay, if a bit boring to be around.
Captain Decker was not a single character, but rather a continuum of beings who served as Chief Pathos Officer to our heroes.
One Decker was killed when Space Hitler (a Black Hole Ernest Borgnine figure) and Clawtron crashed his wedding to Fisher-Price Scuba Team Lady, giving Boba Fett and Batman a reason to seek some payback. Another sacrificed himself to some spinning blades in the Bookcase of Doom so that the survivors could warn others about its perils. If someone had to remain with an exploding spaceship or get eaten by a Wampa for wandering too far from the Winnebago, Decker would rise to the tragic occasion.
We could all use a pal like Decker.