There was a very strict hierarchy at play in the Zayre’s action figure aisle during the Golden Age of Articulated Plastic Crap. Where perennial favorites and popular sellers occupied high profile peg-space, the unloved assortment of knock-offs and also-rans was consigned to a large wire mesh bin which spanned the length of the aisle’s bottom shelf.
In its depths lurked the secret history of the 1980s action figure craze, the plastic chaff left by the wayside in the feverish pursuit for the Next Profitable Thing. Go-Bots and Captain Power. Bravestarr and Silverhawks. Mighty Crusaders and Wheeled Warriors. Sectaurs…
A stillborn attempt by Hasbro to extend the company’s action figure winning streak, the larger-scaled Inhumanoid toys failed to resonate with anyone except the future denizens of Geocities fan pages and insular BBS communities. The premise behind the line was solid enough — “a bunch of Iron Man types battling a band of creepy psuedo-kaiju,” — but the toyetic execution was llacking on multiple fronts.
The figures of the human heroes were bulbous, over-accessorized nightmares intended to radiate badassitude but succeeded only in evoking this…
…while the scale of their monstrous enemies placed the most kid-desirable part of the franchise outside the impulse purchase threshold of a pestered parent.
It also didn’t help the the heady boom times of the 1980s action figure craze had begun to ratchet down by the time of the Inhumanoids’ 1986 debut. In trying float a new IP in a hyper-saturated marketplace, Hasbro (which controlled two of the top three action figure franchises at the time) was essentially competing against itself. Whatever small charms the Inhumanoids possessed, they could not stack up against either Transformers’ or G.I. Joe’s established strengths.
This didn’t stop a the marketing Powers-That-Be from staging a half-court multimedia press on behalf of the property, which was given an era-obligatory stiffly animated TV serial and a funnybook miniseries farmed out to Marvel’s “Star Comics” kiddie imprint.
If that bit of dismissive delegation wasn’t proof enough that the bloom had fallen off the licensed toy comic rose, consider the fact that The Inhumanoids comic featured no fewer than three artists during its four issue run. The scripting chores were handed off to Bullpen vet Jim Salicrup, who had the dubious honor of adapting “the modern monster masterwork” of Flint Dille’s cartoon teleplay into funnybook form.
(There’s something strangely poignant about how insistently the comic version’s credit section reminds readers that they could be watching a more visually dynamic iteration of this drek on the TV screen…like seeing “HEY, DID YOU KNOW THIS CAME FROM A BOOK BY MARIO PUZO?” in an enormous flashing font after the opening studio credit for The Godfather.)
Summarizing the plots of Reagan Era toy comics is like playing a game of merchandise-centric Mad Libs, so just bear with me here as a fulfill my obligations as a chronicler of funnybook failures.
One one side you have the “Earth Corps,” a ragtag bunch of 1980s spins on the 1950s Two-Fisted Man of Science archetype who wear goofy-looking suits of elemental themed power armor and are led by the square-jawed “Herc Armstrong.”
On the other side, you have a gruesome gaggle of primordial monsters led by the dreadful “D’Compose” (which is French for “Chris Claremont has a lot to answer for”).
There are evil humans who side with the monsters and good monsters who side with the heroes, adding some rudimentary plot complications and additional opportunities for purveying product. At a certain point, Ms. No-Toy-Offered (a.k.a. “Sandra Shores”) joins the team to add some cheesecake to the sausagefest. (I’d wager there’s a pretty good master’s thesis to be had in comparing the dynamics of outlaw biker gangs and their communal “mamas” with those of 1980s toy line groups and their token female members.)
The story chugs along the prescribed arc of banter-battle-betrayal-battle-reconciliation-confrontation which will be intimately familiar to anyone who has even seen a snippet of any of the era’s animated informercials. It — like the Inhumanoids toy line itself — reeked of the desperation which happens when a bunch of suits attempt to reverse engineer past successes into a “sure fire” formula buoyed by the sheer folly of trying to second guess the ever ephemeral tastes of children.
The lonely and scattered remaining fans of the Inhumanoids are fond of extolling the “creepy” and “mature” tone of the series. That’s understandable, given how there was such a dearth of “creepy” and “mature” sci-fi/action/horror entertainment in the mid-1980s which didn’t involve pimping puerile plastic crap. These poor souls had to make do with what was at hand.