Armagideon Time

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…

…and Inhumanoids.

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 “maturesci-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.

Related posts:

  1. Nobody’s Favorites: An insignificant power
  2. Nobody’s Favorites: Get the spray
  3. Nobody’s Favorites: Everybody must get zoned

19 Responses to “Nobody’s Favorites: Stale to the core”

  1. Jason

    I’m sure I owned this comic, since I was literally buying everything Marvel produced (along with a bunch of other crappy comics) in the late 1980′s.

    Did it have a “Roll Call” page where everybody refers to himself in the 3rd person?
    “Herc is ready to clobber some bad guys”
    “Just tell Liquidator who to shoot”
    “Unlike those other guys, Auger prefers to use brains instead of brawn”

  2. LCB

    There seems to be no end to these sorts of Nobody’s Favorites, because if my browsing of various bargain bins at comics shops over the years across the nation is any indication there’s plenty of lousy tie-in comics to toylines.

    The flipside to this, but of course, is how during the 90s and so-on there seemed to be a bit of a “small press comic” action figure boom and bust and you could find, marked down and gathering dust on shelves across the nation, various attempts at that from figures based on a few halfway decent comic titles but others based on more dubious looking books like Nira X Cyber Angel to Shotgun Mary, to something I saw a couple of playsets for called “Stark Raven” which looked like the result of various lousy small-publisher Grim Vigilante Comix cliches of years past put through a blender.

  3. Aberration, The

    who wear goofy-looking suits of elemental themed power armor

    You ain’t even kiddin’. The others look at least marginally inoffensive, but the yellow-and-pink number with the helmet like an inverted Truck Nutz is making me physically ill. Dude, you wear that? On purpose?

  4. Frank

    I’m afraid I’m going to have to offer a gentle “tsk-tsk” on this one. Not so much low hanging fruit as having fallen off the tree onto the ground and been run over by all the cars in the neighborhood. If you’re serious about retiring, you could fill every “Nobody’s Favorites” from here until 2015 with the likes of Power Lords, M.A.S.K., Starriors, Air Raiders, Spiral Zone, Visionaries… all of which had comic books that I bought because I was so so so very gullible as a child.

  5. Kris

    I think this may have been one of the first toy lines of the 80′s that I actively hated as a kid. I seem to recall even then thinking the toys were ugly pieces of crap. I still have that Starriors mini series though, I thought those guys were alright.

  6. bitterandrew

    Frank:

    When I was toying around with freelancing for pay at a certain site, my pitch was a NF spinoff featuring licensed toy comics.

    That never happened (for various reasons I won’t get into), but I’ve incorporated a bunch of the topics into this feature — Spiral Zone, Robotech Defenders, Sectaurs, and Power Lords to name a few.

    Those comics are up there with DC’s direct market “mature readers” sci-fi offerings when it comes to quick and easy Nobody’s Favorites material.

  7. Joe S. Walker

    That artwork looks remarkably like Steve Ditko – and given that this was around the time of his nadir as a work-for-hire comics artist, I’m really surprised it isn’t.

  8. bitterandrew

    James Fry did the first two issues, followed by Jose Delbo on #3 and Carmine Infantino on #4.

    I don’t know whether it was a conscious decision or not, but the licensed Star Comics did possess something of a house style.

  9. Adam

    I tried to slog my way through one of the DVD collections (13 years ago? geez), and it was borderline-torture. I think I was lucky enough to steer clear of the comics, but I’m too lazy to start digging through longboxes to find out for sure.

    As terrible as they look these days, I was obsessed with the action figures circa 1987 or whenever that was. I still love the idea of a gigantic monster whose touch turns people into zombies and has a literal rib “cage”.

  10. Elijah Fly

    Yeah, I was young enough to where this show was nightmare fuel, and it always skeeved me out when I was walking past the giant monster toys.

  11. athodyd

    From Wikipedia:

    “In 2009 Kevin Smith was rumored to be writing a reboot for the Inhumanoids comic series, with George Pratt doing art.[1] In 2010 Smith announced via Facebook that he was in fact not penning a script for Inhumanoids, but stated “It was a killer series back in the day, [it's] a shame it didn’t last longer, had some really gruesome shit that I wouldn’t mind tackling someday.” Nothing has been mentioned since, though it may be a possibility eventually.”

    I think having Kevin Smith seriously consider applying his “Batman Pees His Pants/Stanley And His Monster Are Satanists” revisionary talents to a property is a pretty good criterion for Nobody’s Favorite inclusion.

  12. Mike Loughlin

    Aw, I liked it when I was a kid. I never saw the comics (which look awful), but I loved anything that had giant monsters in it and watched the miniseries faithfully. I’m not claiming the line was a hidden gem cruelly cancelled before its time, but it hit my 8 year-old sweet spot.

    I wanted D’Compose but had to settle for a couple of the smaller monsters. The grey rock guy looked cool but had almost no articulation, and the tiny-limbed tree guy outright sucked. It might have been the worst action figure I ever owned.

  13. Funkula

    I remember that my brother had a D’Compose figure that we picked up at a garage sale. My mom discovered that it was exactly the right size to wear the onesies we’d worn as newborns, so it spent a while in fluffy blue flannel feetie pajamas, to my parents’ great amusement.

  14. JoeGualtieri

    I’m of two minds on this one.

    On the one hand, I’m sure the tv show doesn’t hold up at all and despite the cult surrounding them, the toys were kind lousy, even for the time (trust me, I had all of them).

    On the other, there’s something really compelling about the bad guys for this series that would make me at least look at any reboot (assuming no JMS or Loeb, etc).

    Oh, and Metallar was the lead bad guy, D’Compose was just the freakiest one.

  15. Aberration, The

    @athodyd: Oh my God. Oh my GOD.

  16. Richard J. Marcej

    Well, to give you a different perspective, I designed the packaging for Inhumanoids. During my five years as a package designer/illustrator along with Transformers, G.I.Joe, Cops, etc… I was the primary package designer for this line. I designed the logos, did some final illustrations and came up with the idea to place a window on the top of the boxes, so the light would come through and allow the “glowing” aspect stand out. It wasn’t a hit or anything, had some fun times working on it. There were some really cool monster designs for a second year, but alas, it never happened. Here’s a couple of my design: http://www.baboonbooks.com/portfolio/Package%20Images/Toy%20Packages/toy_packages.html

    BTW, those of us in the Hasbro Art Department had nothing to do with the comic books.

  17. Harvey Jerkwater

    The ads for the toys did have a great jingle: a bombastic choir singing “IN-HUUU-MA-NOIDS! THE EE-VUL THAT LIEEES WIIIIIIITH-IIIIIIN!”

  18. Snark Shark

    ” “D’Compose” (which is French for “Chris Claremont has a lot to answer for”).”

    LOL!

    They look like Masters of the Universe knockoffs!

  19. Frowny

    Most interesting to me-and having nothing to do with the comics-Hector Ramirez, the Geraldo Rivera knockoff of the Hasbro world, acted as a sort of connecting fiber (like Det. Munch) between Inhumanoids, Jem, GI Joe and Transformers. . . making this part of a near precursor to the Tommy Westphall universe.

    http://buzzdixon.com/media/the-many-faces-of-hector-ramirez/

Leave a Reply

Proudly powered by WordPress. Theme developed with WordPress Theme Generator.
Copyright © Armagideon Time. All rights reserved.