While doing a little research for my 2-part Dungeons & Dragons article (which , I stumbled across some other fantasy inspired toy lines that I forgot about. Some of this mislabeled toys made it onto eBay listings, Dungeons and Dragons fan sites, and other fantasy toys blogs.
No harm, no foul but it did get my mind spinning over all the little fantasy toy lines I used to have or played with. Some of these toys came with hefty pedigrees that still couldn’t help them hold water, while others were creations directly from someone’s imagination and cast into plastic. No matter the backstory these were the toys that allowed us to bring swords and sorcery to our bedrooms and backyards.
So without further to do, here a 5 forgotten fantasy toy lines of the ’80s.
1. The Other World (Arco, 1982)
When I saw a picture of these very weird “action” figures I was instantly taken back to when I was six year old. I was at the local Woolworth with my mom when I first laid eyes on The Other World toy line. The figures must have been cheap enough because I left the store with one, well two. They came packed in twos with a little odd looking dude that I recently discovered was named either Jib or Mog.
What really made these figures weird was the fact that they were bendy figures. They had no articulation at all but at the same time they were super poseable because of their wire framed “skeleton”. They had tons of weapons (which is always a bonus) that fit into holes in their closed mitten like fists. And the most mind blowing thing of all was that the weapons glowed in the dark…”BOOM, OWNED!”. When the series released their second wave of figures they added features like helmets, armor, and dude (who looked like a werewolf) with a whole weapons rack.. AWESOME. As a whole the “good” characters were very generic barbarian types, the “bad” characters were much better, and the creatures were downright nightmare inducing.
For an idea that seemed a bit half-hearted (and would be found in a Dollar Store nowadays), The Other World had a good amount of monsters and creatures that had some action features or could be used as mounts. They even produced a castle playset that was definitely no Castle Greyskull, but at least they tried.
2. The Lost World of The Warlord (REMCO, 1982)
This takes me back. The Lost World of The Warlord is a toy line made by REMCO and based on the kick ass DC comic of the same name. The story is about Travis Morgan, an Vietnam vet who passes through a hole in the Earth’s crust and becomes trapped in a world of sword and sorcery.
The figures strike a strong resemblance to the Masters of the Universe toy line but were of a much lower quality. But for me these figures were still awesome because of their comic book roots. They were the figures you were treated to while at Kmart because the He-Man figures were to expensive. I think I had all of these figures and even though they were based on some great comics I probably resented them a little for not being He-Man.
Oddly the line also included Arak, Son of Thunder and Hercules which were other DC titles that bear a similar sword and sorcery theme. Arak made his first appearance as a back-up story in the Warlord comic book but other than that they all are not related in any way.
3. Willow (Tonka, 1988)
Released in 1988, Willow was George Lucas’ follow-up to the original Star Wars trilogy. The film was released to mixed reviews but held its own during its theater run against other “hits” at the time Crocodile Dundee 2, Rambo 3, and Big. Willow is a great fantasy film that still bared some resemblance to the “Lucas Magic” we fell in love with, with Star Wars.
The toy line that accompanied Willow did nothing to capture the same fantasy action and adventure seen in the movie and applying the term action figure to them was a gross injustice. The Willow toys were nothing more than figurines or over sized and stylized army men. With the Star Wars line of toys Lucas set the new standard for action figures and accessories, with the Willow toy line he was too preoccupied about making “E.T. money” as he was quoted with saying, and it showed.
When searching out the Dungeons and Dragons toys online for my article, I came across a great deal of the Willow figures being mislabeled as D&D figures. I guess that goes to show that a lot of the newer toy dealers out there either don’t know about the existence of the movie Willow or to them a sword is a sword. And to be honest General Kael shares a resemblance to Warduke. The Willow toy line was a defined “blink and you missed it” scenario with poor sales driving them off to secondary markets quickly.
4. Blackstar (Galoob, 1983)
The history of the short lived Blackstar cartoon series and toy line is deep and twisty enough to write a whole article about (and I might still one day), but for now it appears here because it get its fair share of misidentification. The Blackstar toys will pop up on He-Man listings as well as D&D toy listings, sadly so because these toys need a spotlight all their own.
Blackstar started as a cartoon series that lasted only 13 episodes in 1981. The show was about John Blackstar, an astronaut that crashed landed on the planet Sager. Created by Filmation, Blackstar paved the way (and shared most of the same creative team) for Masters of the Universe in 1983. With the popularity of He-Man, Blackstar toys were released a full two years after the shows cancelation just to ride on the Eternian’s coat tails. It did have a couple of mounts, a Trobbit blimp, and a castle playset along with it’s good amount of figures, but it never really went anywhere without marketing and a second season of its show.
I have to be honest, I loved these figures. The villains were always my favorites and with the added sparking feature in their chests (laser light) they seemed very groundbreaking at the time. Each figure came packaged with either a Trobbit or a demon depending on if they were heroic or evil. Inspired by Thundarr, Blackstar is an unsung hero in the toys and shows that it ended up inspiring in the future.
5. Dragonriders of the Styx (DFC, 1983)
First released as a set of fantasy inspired “army men” with a play mat and accessories, Dragonriders of the Styx was a truly mind bending and imaginative fantasy toy line. It was one of the first toy lines inspired by Dungeons and Dragons and that fact did not go unnoticed as TSR sued Dimensions of Children for their use of certain names in their other playsets released along side the Dragonriders set.
In 1983 Dimensions for Children (btw, what a weird company name) took there plastic “army men” into the world of action figures and released their Dragonriders line the same year as LJN released the Dungeons and Dragon figures. In their haste to get to the market they produced cheaper figures with very unimaginative names, but the designs are pretty neat with some that will haunt your nightmares. Like Fantar, a black horse with flaming hooves and a human face (WTF). Along with Fantar there were other demonic vehicles and a handful of figures in the line.
A lot of these figures get roped into Star Wars listings with their size and simple articulation (even though they bent at the knees) as well as being misidentified as D&D figures. I have to say I love some of these figures and their designs but I never had any as a child. If I did, I know they would freely hang out in the Mos Eisley Cantina and clash swords against their larger D&D brethren.
Of course there are tons of other fantasy toy lines that have come and gone over the years. This is only a spattering of what is out there and I may do another post on some of the others on day. The problem I’ve have found is putting a name to some of the toys that filled my toy box back in the day. A ton were cheap knock-offs, peg warmers, or Eastern imports.
I leave you with one final picture I found online. It’ll make you look at the dragon from Willow, Eborsisk in a whole new way.
and if I’m the only one who sees what I see…I’m a sick, sick man…