In 1983 model kit maker Revell threw their hat into the exploding and expanding world of action figures. Enlisting the help of author and artist Wayne Barlowe, Revell released one of the most mind bending and odd alien infused toy lines ever produced, Power Lords – The Extra-Terrestrial Warriors.
The History of Revell & The Action Figure Market
Founded in 1943, Revell was started in Hollywood, CA by Lewis H. Glaser. Glaser, an entrepreneur, founded a plastics molding firm called Precision Specialties. Contracted by other companies to make products, Precision Specialties first foray into toys were HO scale trains and accessories. The company later changed their name to Revell which came from the French word reveille meaning “new beginning”.
In 1950 Revell released their first model cars or “Planned Play” toys. They were replicas of the 1911 Maxwell and 1910 Ford Model T. By 1953 Revell was making model kits for battle ships, planes, tanks, and a plethora of different automobiles. They became the innovators of the model world with many companies repackaging their designs. The company prospered until about 1980 when sales fell drastically and Revell was bought by French toy company, Generale du Jouet. With new ownership and in an effort to capitalize on the budding and the ever growing action figure market Revell attempted their biggest gamble ever.
The term “action figure” was first coined by Hasbro in 1964, to market their G.I. Joe figure to boys who would not play with “dolls”. By the early ’70s Mego began licensing and making American Marvel and DC comic book superhero figures, which had highly successful sales.Mego eventually lost control of the market after losing the license to produce Star Wars toys to Kenner in 1976. The widespread success of Kenner’s Star Wars toy line made the newer, smaller size the industry standard. Led by Star Wars-themed sales, collectible action figures quickly became a multimillion-dollar secondary business for movie studios.
At the dawn of the 1980s, Star Wars still remained the top seller in the action figure market. But with the final film in the trilogy, Return of the Jedi on the horizon many toy companies were readying sci-fi and fantasy worlds of their own to fill the expected hole left in the marketplace after Star Wars “ran its course”.
Those Wild & Wacky ’80s
With the release of The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 and with a planned release of Return of the Jedi in 1982 Kenner had a firm grip on the action figure marketplace. With a success never seen before with the Star Wars films and marketing machine a lot of other toy companies tried to capitalize on the booming toy landscape. In 1981 Hasbro returned to the action figure world that they created two decades earlier with the reintroduction of G.I. Joe. Now utilizing the new standard size of 3 3/4 inches, G.I. Joe returned with colorful characters, backstories, cartoons, and comic books. The G.I. Joe line would continue until 1994.
1982, the stage was set for other companies to pounce onto the success of the Star Wars toy line thinking that with the release of the final film the toys would loose momentum. Mattel released the Masters of the Universe toy line in 1982, coupled with a syndicated weekday cartoon series the toy line found success with its blending of Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Hasbro, who was still finding success with their G.I. Joe line of toys and cartoon series also brought a popular toy from Japan to America called Transformers. Again, with a successful cartoon and comic book to help advertise the toy, Transformers gained in popularity along side the other breakout toys of 1982.
With evidence that many different toy lines could populate and prosper the same landscape the struggling Revell began work on one of the most bizarre toy lines of the ’80s.
The Creation of Adam Power and the Power Lords
The creation of the Power Lords began in 1982 when Revell hired famed toy creators Ned Strongin and Len Mayem to help them create a new line of action figures. The duo then contacted Sci-Fi and Fantasy author / artist Wayne Barlowe to help create their new toy line. When they first approached Barlowe the duos intention was to create toys out of Barlowe’s famous book “Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials”. Barlowe did not own the rights to the aliens featured in the book, but he began to create new and unique aliens and creatures for Strongin and Mayem. Earning the moniker “Audubon of the Otherworld” from his beloved book, Barlowe went all out while designing the Power Lords toy line for Revell. Some would say too much so…
With aliens, heroes, and creatures straight from Wayne Barlowe’s own creative and off kilter imagination, Revell went straight to work producing the Power Lords toys. The main hero from the line was Adam Power, an Earthling who was given the cosmic Power Jewel to protect the galaxy. When Adam used the jewel he would transform into Lord Power, an Omni-powerful being with blue skin and red veins of energy coursing across his body. To simulate the effect of transforming the figure had a button that when pushed would cause the torso to spin from back to front. Adam would be the front of the toy, while Lord Power was the back of the toy. When viewed from a profile the toy looked to have to faces and to add even more weirdness to it the hands had to thumbs on either side of hands.
To say he had a striking resemblance to Mr.Slim Goodbody would not be out of the question, or that could be how I viewed it as a child because both kinda gave me the creeps. Slim more so.
First, in Adam’s small band of heroes, was Shaya the Queen of Power. At face value Shaya looks as normal as Adam does before his transformation. But if you were to lift up her helmet you would see that she sports a third eye. Her third eye is the most normal thing about her though. Instead of having a spinning action like Adam/Lord Power, Shaya’s figure had to be simply turned around and her cape moved from back to front. Behind that cape hid a horror show because when Shaya transformed she turned into a blood red humanoid with pulsating musculature instead of skin and one central eye on her featureless face. She looked more akin to something out of Hellraiser instead of your normal Sci-Fi damsel in distress. Something else that was a bit distressing was that she had feet on either side of her forms and that ended up looking very surreal.
The third member of the Power Lords team is by far the most normal, well for me anyway. Sydot the Supreme looks kinda like an anthropomorphic Ōsanshōuo (or Japanese Giant Salamander), except for his large squared off teeth. His bio says he is a scientific genius but what makes him Supreme? In honesty he got the short end of the stick. When his team mates are transforming into hideous humanoids with super powers, he has a hinged jaw and a darting tongue. I guess in some ways that could make you supreme at things…like eating ice cream cones.
For as much as I joke I do enjoy the designs of the heroes of Power Lords. They were truly unique and turned the “Heroes = Beautiful People” trope upside-down. It wouldn’t be until a few years later when gross was cool and weird was king at the toy store.
The Sleepless Evil of Arkus
To match the heroic heroes of the Power Lords was The Evil Dictator Arkus and his villainous henchmen. Arkus was hatched at the center of an unknown red Birth-Sun. He is the most evil of all beings in the galaxy and feeds off of the anguish of his victims. Because of this he never has to sleep or eat and never tires or gets fatigued. In appearance, Arkus looks like a large purple humanoid mosquito. He weapon of choice is a wrist mounted laser. He was designed brilliantly by Barlowe and was always my favorite character visually.
Also on the side of evil is Arkus’ right hand man, Ggripptogg – The Four Fisted Brute. This large, red, barrel chested, four armed fiend was once the tyrannical force that held the galaxy in a grip of fear before Arkus came along. Akus took the power away from Ggripptogg and made him his slave and head general. Ggripptogg now exists as a mindless yet hateful follower of the Evil Dictator. I always found it odd that he truly doesn’t have four arms, he has four forearms as they are connected at the elbow.
To end the first wave of figures in 1983 was Raygoth – The Goon of Doom. Raygoth was a warrior and shock trooper bred by Arkus. Bred to follow all commands and be ruthless, Raygoth was the feared commander of Arkus’ troops. He ate a steady diet of silica crystals and housed them in his chest to help reflect deadly laser blasts.
The Second Wave & The Beast Machines!
The second wave of figures that followed only added two more allies to the side of goodly might. Both of these friends of Adam Power were part of the more freaky Beast Machines line of figures. Along with Adam’s new cybernetic pals came two more evil creatures for Arkus to control. The blond haired Nordic (and very He-Man like) Savor and the Red skinned and mustached Thrash joined the Power Lord team while the deadly robotic Warbot and Red, devil-like EVOL fell into Akus’ ranks.
These Beast Machines were really weird if you think about it. They are giant humanoids that have sacrificed their limbs and had them replaced with tank treads and weapons. Do they have a little exhaust port where they poop from? Anyways, the Beast Machines were not created by Wayne Barlowe but instead created by Pasquale Gabriele, famed comic artist and wrestling promoter.
Along with the Beast Machines Arkus had four more vile villains aiding his cause of totally galactic conquest. In the second wave released Revell really upped the ante with the figures having “special features”. They also took a new approach to their color palette, adding brighter colors to try and catch consumes eyes.
Bakatak – The Brutal Backstabber was the ultimate weapons expert in Arkus’ army. With his interchangeable “war” arms he had a weapon for any situation. Also equipped with a dangerous back full of barbed quills that could be launched off his back, he was ready for any fight.
Tork – The Turning Terror was an odd character that was crescent moon shaped, two faced, and had a kinda weird placement of a clawed (?) appendage. He was mutated by his planets gravity and uses the mutation to his benefit. He was able to spin to attack his foes, unlike most toys at the time he spun up to down opposed to left to right. Because of his power, he believes he should be calling the shots.
Drrench – The Savage Soaker lives on an icy, frozen planet. When Arkus came to recruit him, Arkus asked for Drrench to demonstrate his power. The three legged Drrench sprayed his icy blast at Arkus, freezing his wings. They have been bitter allies ever since. Utilizing a bulb in his body, Drrench was able to suck in water and spray it out when the bulb was squeezed.
Disguyzor – The Deadly Deceiver had the power of disguise. Equipped with four faces and size altering Disguyzor could always count on his Cosmic War Club to get him out of any jam his disguises couldn’t.
Vehicles & Volcan Rock
If the figures for the Power Lords toy line were unique, than the vehicles were down right crazy. in the short life span of the toy line four vehicles were released, two for each side. Going completely techno-organic these pieces were unnerving and weren’t something kids flocked to like the vehicles of G.I. Joe or Masters of the Universe.
One of the most simple (and lacking creature bits) vehicles was the Power Patroller. The Power Patroller was your pretty typical sci-fi flying scooter or sled type vehicle. It’s usually touted as the rarest of the Power Lord vehicles to find. It was motorized and fired “safety tipped” missiles. Another advertised feature was that it had a secret storage area.
Next is the Power Ship which looked kinda like a cockroach crossed with a speed boat. This red shelled vehicle had a couple neat features like an antenna like steering wheel, spring loaded blades that came out of the sides, and a clear hood that opened to reveal a laser cannon. This piece is very popular and goes for a pretty penny online.
With how “normal” looking the vehicles look for Adam Power and his crew, Arkus’ forces had the most odd and thought provoking. Arkus had a trusty steed named Trigore. Trigore was a green bug like creature that also shared some traits of a horned chameleon. It had pinchers that could extended and grab its prey and a nightmare inducing hatch that opens on his back for a cockpit (?). OK, riding it I get but crawling inside a living being to pilot it…gross. I guess it’s okay because Trigore’s organs are on the outside and presented in vivid detail. People complain that figures rarely fit inside or atop this creature but who cares when it looks this creepy.
Arkus’ other ship was named the Spyzor, it also had the nickname of “Adam Smasher”. What I like about this vehicle is that it looks like a slug type critter with large spiky balls for eyes. Like the Power Patroller, Spyzor was motorized and fired “safety tipped” missiles. Another advertised feature was that it had a secret storage area.
Like all self respecting ’80s toy lines, Power Lords had a pretty awesome playset. Power’s was so tough that he didn’t need a castle, he hollowed out a live volcano and set up shop. Volcan Rock was Adam Power’s secret lair and yes, it just happened to be a volcano. Volcan Rock was a palace of power that the heroes and villains fought over constantly. The playset had a working elevator, hidden front door, computers, and space age sci-fi zigzag ladders. With how awesome yet generic Volcan Rock was it would have been a great alternative play area for He-Man and his homies to hangout.
Licensing of a Power Lord
As with most toy lines of the ’80s, Revell tried to get the Power Lords name out to the masses. Adam Power and his merry band of Extra-Terrestrial Warriors appeared on everything from board games to coloring books.
Lets first take a look at the only television commercial Revell made for the Power Lords.
Aside from the really weird animation, it’s just a pretty typical action figure commercial circa 1983.
Here is a sample of some of the items that weren’t on the shelves for very long.
Comic Books by DC Comics
Which were illustrated by the great Mark Texeira
And the rarest and most prized of the Power Lord collectibles.
Here is some footage of the game from the ColecoVision version.
There were some other items like Halloween costumes and stationary items like pencil toppers and stickers. These items are also very rare but they are not as sought after as the other items above.
The Fall and Rebirth of Adam Power
Due to poor sales and a lack of penetration in the ever growing action figure market, Power Lords didn’t last very long. In total the line only lasted 2 years. Without a cartoon to anchor the toy line and to give personalities to the crazy and vivid characters, it was hard for Revell to compete against industry giants like Kenner, Mattel, and Hasbro.
In an old vendor advertisement, Revell really thought they were going to make a splash in the toy world..
To this day the Power Lords toy line has retained a more nostalgic fan base in France and parts of Europe because of the involvement of Revell’s parent company at the time, French toy company, Generale du Jouet.
Fast forward to 2013, Four Horseman Studios picked up the master rights for Power Lords. They teamed back up with Wayne Barlowe and released Power Lord to a new generation of collectors. Instead of going with the twisty transforming feature of the original figures, Four Horsemen went with creating separate figures for heroes such as Adam Power and Power Lord. The figures looked great and came with a ton of customizable items and features. In a sad state of the past repeating itself, Four Horsemen Studios stopped production of the new Power Lords toys in 2015.
From what I seen the figures looked great and they added a few new things to the mythos like soldiers for both sides of the galactic war.
All in all, Power Lords (new and old) was a great toy line that could have really gone places if given the chance. Most of the advertising money went to print ads (which has been nostalgic in it’s own right) with little money spent on TV ads or the creation of a cartoon. If only they would have done a things a little differently, Power Lords could have a place in the hallowed halls of toy fame next to greats like Masters of the Universe, Star Wars, and G.I. Joe.