A couple of weeks ago I brought you a list of Forgotten Fantasy Toy Lines of the ’80s. Now, I summit for your approval a list of Forgotten Sci-Fi Toy Lines of the ’80s. The difference between Sci-Fi and Fantasy can be a wide chasm -or- a minuet nuance that blurs the division. Both genres mean a lot to me and both genres have turned out fantastic books, movies, comics, and toys.
Like with most things, the cream rises to the top and remains a strong part of the cultural lexicon. Sadly, others fall away and get lost over time. To the fans these toys are not forgotten, they are a life style.
1. Spiral Zone ( Tonka, 1986)
First released in 1986 ahead of its cartoon series in 1987, Spiral Zone was one of Tonka’s first foray into the world of action figures and cartoons. Like many companies before it, Tonka hope to capture lightning in a bottle and earn a big payday like their parent company Hasbro did with G.I. Joe and Transformers. Using a license from Japanese company Bandai, Tonka used some of the designs of suits and vehicles from a short lived action figure line produced by Bandai. Conceptualized by Gundam mecha designers Kunio Okawara and Kazuhisa Kondo, the Special Force Group Spiral Zone toy series depicted a team of special operations soldiers fighting a war in the early 21st century. The line only had 12 “parts” including figures, vehicles, and accessories.
For the American counterpart Tonka pretty much started from scratch and created new characters and an original plot line. In Tonka’s storyline evil scientist Dr. James Bent drops Zone Generators onto Earth. These Zone Generators create apocalyptic zones across the Earth that emanate out in spirals. Within these Spiral Zones the people have become mutated zombie-like creatures that have yellowed eyes and red patchy growths on their skin. Bent-now known as Overlord, controls these people with his gang of villains called The Black Widows. With the capitals of the world overtaken, the world’s leaders have banded together and formed a special group named the Zone Riders. These specialized soldiers are outfitted with special suits and vehicles to fight Overload and his Black Widows.
In the first and only wave of the toy line Tonka released 5 Zone Riders and 5 Black Widow 7″ figures, their vehicles, 6 cloth uniforms, and 6 equipment sets. A second wave was announced but the line was cancelled before they were released. the show also generated one full season of 65 episodes that ran in syndication. DC comics also released a 4-part mini series written by Michael Fleisher with art by veteran artist Carmine Infantino.I for one loved these toys, show, and comic and it stands out in my memory more than it should. The figures had a ton of articulation and real cloth uniforms that their body armor went over. they all had helmets, cool future tech gear and weapons, boots, and holsters. I wish this toy line and cartoon would have caught on.
2. Steel Monsters (Tonka, 1986)
Since I got the ball rolling with Tonka I thought it would easy to go into another short lived toy line from the construction vehicle toy giant. Steel Monsters were an awesome toy line that only lasted two years but the envy I had for anyone owning one still remains 30 years later. Sure to pop up in a future “Toys I Wish I Had” post, Steel Monsters were a George Miller fantasy come to life. Taking inspiration from the Mad Max movies, Tonka brought the war machines of a post apocalyptic Earth to your kids toy box.
Totally 5 (maybe more, not sure) huge and well constructed vehicles and 8 “Star Wars” styled action figures, Steel Monsters were a perfect blend of tough trucks with G.I. Joe styled action. With characters like Viking, Metal Face, and Punk the goodly Survivors and the evil Marauders were at home in your Star Wars cantina or Cobra barracks.
With no cartoon or real exposer to help sell the Steel Monsters, they quickly died in the clearance aisles of stores everywhere. The only backstories that were given were with mini comics that came included in the vehicles and separate carded figures. Sadly not a lot of information can be found about this toy line. They go for a very pretty penny on the collectors market since the toys had a very low original production run. The only real memories I have about these great toys was that a kid down the street had like all of them. He hardly played with them and his mom gave them away shortly afterwards…not to me I might add.
3. Starcom (Coleco, 1987)
Released along side an animated series, Starcom was a pretty cool toy line. The show only lasted 13 episodes but the toy line spawned 23 figures, 6 playsets, and 13 vehicles on the Starcom side, while the Shadow Force was represented by 15 action figures and 11 vehicles. The figures were only 2 inches tall but they had a very cool feature, they had Magna Lock technology.
Magna Lock technology were tiny magnets that were housed in the figures feet. The magnets allowed the figures to stick to their ships and also when placed near “action” areas they would engage things like shooting cannons, opening wings, and other features. The ships, ground vehicles, and playsets all had really nice designs that seemed to be very grounded in “reality” unlike other toy lines at the time. I really liked this toy line and the figures fell in line with others at the time like Dino Riders and M.A.S.K in size.
The cartoon was created with the help of Young Astronauts Council to help get kids interested in the NASA Space Program. The show never seemed to reach its target audience after being canceled after one season. The toys only lasted two years before ending. The toys and show seemed to find their audience in Europe and Southeast Asia only after coming under the production and promotion of Mattel Toys. The company removed the U.S. Flag and NASA details from the toys and packaging from the Coleco originals and found success well into the ’90s.
4. Robo Force (Ideal, 1984)
I can’t think about toys of my childhood without remembering Robo Force. Created by Ideal Toys in 1984, Robo Force had to be one of the simplest designs but offered many hours of enjoyment. Hero Maxx Steele and his heroic Robo Force fought the evil Cult of Dred lead by Hun-Dred: The Conqueror. To be honest I don’t even think at the time I knew there was a story or the characters had names. To me they were just great robots that had cool features like suction cup bases, crushing arms, and snap on attachments.
Robo Force worked well when paired with my G.I. Joes, Transformers, He-Man, or Star Wars figures. They were either heroes or villains depending on the adventures I dreamed up. And to be honest they almost matched the generic robots from those shows.They were awesome by themselves too. I remember playing with them in the tub so I could stick them to the walls of the shower.
In 1984 Ruby Spears Productions released a one shot cartoon called “Robo Force: The Revenge of Nazgar”. The show was left open ended to usher in a series, but due to a lack of interest it was never made. In 2013 Toyfinity bought the rights to Robo Force along with Ideal’s other toy lines Zeroids, Manglor, and Rocks & Bugs & Things. Aimed at the collectors market, Robo Force made a limited splash on the market.
5. Starriors (Tomy, 1984)
As a kid I first learned of the Starriors through the Marvel Comics mini series. After reading the comic (which was Part 2 outta 4) and being bombarded by Starriors advertising, I wanted one so bad. Knowing what I now know, Marvel did there job. The Starriors were created by Tomy in association with Marvel. I bought it hook, line, and sinker but I’m not to hard on myself because these toys were awesome. A little plain, but awesome nonetheless.
Based on Tomy’s popular Zoids toy line which had a rabid following in Japan and started making waves in America, the Starriors were given a totally new storyline and world to themselves. In the future, solar flares threated life on Earth, so Earth’s scientists built three Classes of intelligent machines, Protectors, to restore the Earth , Destructors, to ward off alien invasions, and Guardians to protect humanity after they go into a hibernative state underground. The brains of the Starriors, called control circuits, are crafted in the human image. The leader of the Destructors, Slaughter Steelgrave, becomes enraged at the thought of deactivation upon the restoration of the humans, and enslaves the Protectors after what he believes to be a successful attempt to destroy all of the Guardians. Eventually, the human race and the mission to save them is forgotten and regarded as a myth. When a human skull is found a band of Protectors sets out to release the humans from their overly prolonged hibernation.
What the Starriors lacked in articulation they made up with awesome action features. Using a simple “wind up” mechanic the had awesome things like guns, augers, and buzz saws. Each of them also had a cockpit with a little gold or silver dude that sat in them. Another cool thing was the robots could be taken apart and reassembled using arms and legs from others in the toy line. They even came with a mini comic! Sadly compared to Transformers or even Gobots at the time, Starriors were seen as a uninspired toy line and was a commercial flop. We only got one series of figures but 8 more were released with zero fanfare.