April 20, 2011

Surely two hundred dollars should afford me a micro house in the sand…

Filed under: Collectible of the Day, micronauts — fairplaythings @ 2:53 am

Before I begin, I feel I need to confess something. Unless like many of my peers, I was not really into Star Wars toys. Oh I had some favourites that I would have loved to have had in my collection - the AT-AT, a Slave-One, a Snowspeeder, and an Imperial Tie-Fighter come to mind. But I didn’t have the collect-them-all mentality with Star Wars. I suspect it was a combination of what my friends were playing with (GIJoe) and a love of detailing (those early Joe vehicles had awesome plastic work!), but more than a little bit of it was the lack of articulation of Han, Luke, Leia, and crew. Simply put, I wanted my figures to have a waist and elbows and knees. GIJoe had this in spades, and Hasbro was smart enough to include a figure with most vehicles over the $10 price range (something, interestingly enough, it now does more and more with Star Wars vehicles now that it has the license).

But before GIJoe was, there had to be something else that held my attention, something that sealed the deal for a love of the Joes. And that thing was the Micronauts (not exactly as shown)! I loved the detail of this line, just as I loved that I could pick up a vehicle and it would come with its pilot (a big deal when you had only an allowance) and the figures had articulation. The only thing missing was friends to play Micronauts with, but I made due with the pieces I had - Repto, the Battle Cruiser (broken the first Christmas morning it was opened), and the Warp Racer and Photon Sled I purchased for myself. These Micros were loved hard and, though I still have many of their parts, they have seen better days.

Decades later, having rescued the remains of my Micronauts from my parents’ basement, I’ve set out acquiring pieces here and there. In the 1990s, a large find at the Great Glebe Garage Sale led to my possession of most of the Mobile Exploration Lab. A few years ago, at one of the many toy shows organized around Toronto, I was able to return to my nostalgia for all things innerspace, and pick up a fresh Battle Cruiser (in original package), a Giant Acroyear set, and a Hornetroid for $20 each. Along with a number of Palisades reissues acquired in the middle of the last decade, including the likes of Baron Karza and Red Falcon. So I’m always looking for a chance to add to the collection, chances that don’t come up as much as I would like owing to the vintage of this particular 35 year old toy line from a defunct toy company.

So you can imagine my reaction when, looking up from the now-manhandled Tyco Transformers train set, I looked to my left and saw boxed Micronauts…

Caution: This box rockets!

Caution: This box rockets!

And not just any Micronauts either…

Rocket Tubes!

What a beautiful find. And it is impossible for me not to get swept up by the sheer size and condition of the box. Expecting a huge price point, I inquired on the cost, and was shocked to be told the Rocket Tubes could be mine for $20. $20. That’s apparently $30 less than they retailed for almost 35 years ago (or $250 less than their after-inflation cost.)

The modern day leaning tower.

The modern day leaning tower.

Now the set has its drawbacks. It does not include instructions, making it hard for me to reassemble the piece (though I did quite well I think based solely on box art). The plastic does not hold together as well as it could (but this could be simply my unwillingness to force 35 year old plastic). And obviously the stickers are fraying badly. And although the engine works, and can actually send its empty cars forward through the inner tubes, the engine is weak and the cars do not go very far when piloted by a GIJoe stand-in.

But it’s white, it’s complete and it’s mine!

Preconstruction Microhomes

So Rocket Tubes. And right under the Rocket Tubes? Oh yes, it’s the Interplanetary Headquarters. I’m just chomping at the bits to try my hand at putting this one together, to see how the honeycomb-style panels actually work, but I’m waiting for a chance to do so as part of a more permanent arrangement of my Microverse. And the price once again? $20.

Now I should mention before I get too far ahead of myself, that you will notice these boxes are bilingual. As such, it means they are examples of Micronauts, as marketed in Canada by Grand Toy, a toy distributor of some renown. And somehow quite appropriate to add to my collection.

...and the rest!

And there was still more! The gentleman also had a Betatron for $15, the oddly-shaped, Fisher-Price looking Star Searcher for $12, and a vintage Biotron in box (missing cover flap) for $25. Now Biotron I have, having picked up the 2000 Takara reissue, but I was too far gone at this point, and so Biotron also came home.

And I was over the moon. But the best was yet to come…

September 17, 2010

The Fall of Micropolis

Filed under: collecting, comics, micronauts — fairplaythings @ 1:35 am

Can the Microverse Recover?

Guns blazing at the reader. In more ways than one.

Guns blazing at the reader. In more ways than one.

Today at the Silver Snail, I accidentally bought a comic rich with nostalgia that opened the wound that is the first part of this post. The comic was the Enigma Force and this is what it means.

Late in 2009, with much fanfare, it was announced that Hasbro was reviving the Micronauts line. And while the announcement came with much speculation about future toys and media releases, it was noted that it was made possible by an agreement between Takara-Tomy, Hasbro and Marty Abrams, the former President of Mego, the company that first brought the Micronauts to toy shelves in the late 1970s.

What was missing from the commentary (although alluded to in the above mentioned piece from Rockettubes) is the absence of a key player in the Micronaut mythos: Marvel Comics.

Back in the day, before President Reagan allowed for the introduction of cartoon’s based on toy lines in 1983, the main cross-marketing tool for toys was comics. This was of course during the time in which comics were overwhelmingly sold at grocery and convenience stores, in the days before comic book store were considered viable enterprises. It was also a time when comics were aimed at kid rather than the adults who can afford them today. Suffice to say, if you wanted a good way to get kids interested in a toy line, you put out a comic book. And Marvel Comics did just that, with a five year run of the first series, and a shorter, direct-to-market series called “New Voyages”.

It was a pretty good series and introduced a bounty of new characters directly into the Marvel Universe. While it served its need to introduce the toys to its buying audience, bringing the likes of Force Commander, Baron Karza, Biotron and the Acroyears to the printed page, it also introduced new characters that never made it into toy form. Marionnette, Bug, Commander Rann, and others, these were characters who helped to flesh out a toy line and turn a toy tie-in into a viable read for its original 57 issue run.

Mego, on the other hand, was not long for this world. Interestingly the comic’s second series wrapped up about the same time as Mego, beaten in its efforts to reclaim its former glory as the greatest of toy companies from upstart Kenner and its “accursed” Star Wars line, declare bankruptcy and slip into the mists of toy history.

Nostalgia Dies Hard

Should have known it was too good to be true.

Should have known it was too good to be true.

There have been a few efforts to reboot the Micronauts for a new audience. There was an aborted attempt at a new comic series in the late 1990s. There was the attempted launch of Micronauts: Evolution in 2005, which was reported and somehow buried for reasons unknown to me. And then there was the modest (in that the effort actually materialized in stores) and complicated efforts by Palisades and Devil’s Due to put forward a new line of reproduction toys and comics, respectively.

The Palisades effort was the more successful of the ventures. The line won praise from fan for their efforts in return fan favourites and rare overseas renderings to the shelves. There was even talk of new toys for a third series. But, owing to production problems and popularity, the line never made it past the second wave of toys and Palisades itself was soon out of business. Devil’s Due, on the other hand, was handcuffed from the start. Unable to secure the rights to broader family of characters created by Marvel, the 2002 comic book was forced to create new characters that could fill the gap and interact with the Micronauts character that originated from Mego and for which they held the rights. It was a bit of an empty shell as a result, and the first series lasted 11 issues. A second attempted in 2004 lasted just three comics.

Meanwhile, Marvel, never a company to leave its properties alone, would ever so often come to return Rann, Marionnette and Bug to the comic page. Deprived of Baron Karza to fight, the renamed Microns took the fight to Thanos and old nemesis Psycho Man in the pages of Captain Marvel, Cable and Earth X. More recently, Bug has come to join the new Guardians of the Galaxy with such oddities as Rocket Raccoon and Starlord.

Marvel Bloody Marvel

About the right size at least.

About the right size at least.

But Marvel couldn’t stop with these minor appearance. Having used Bug successfully in the Guardians (and earning him his first toy ever in the form of a Hero Click), Marvel has decided to bring the team back in grand fashion and in its own book to book, as part of its “Incredible Hulks” storyline.

Which brings me to how I ended up with a copy of issue one in my hands.

I knew this book was coming out and was quite curious about it, but I hadn’t expected it this week. I’d originally intended just to pick it up to look at, and make a decision from there. No such luck though, as I promptly forgot it in my hand, and only realized my purchase when I got to the car.

It’s one way to figure out if it would be any good, I suppose.

Now I’ve not been following any of Marvel’s galaxy tales, as I haven’t been a Marveloid for some time. But I know the Micronauts and, worse, am a fan. So this cannot end well. And it doesn’t. First, they have to contrive some weird teleport way to bring Bug back into the fold. It isn’t particularly convincing. Worse,  unable to use any of the Mego characters, Marvel creates this new character called Carl, who looks like Force Commander, acts like Biotron with a bit of Microtron’s lip and might be intended to serve the Acroyear role. I really can’t say, but I can say this - it’s bad.

But the real harm is that this story is like so many series in comics these days, suffering from the phenomenon that is really hurting the allure of the medium - too much backstory. For a book that must be designed to appeal to the older fan, does it make sense to sticks the mini-series into a side story of the Incredible Hulks, so that no one could have any idea what is going on?  No I didn’t think so either. So we’re left with a story where the villain of the story seems to be another member of the crew (also a new character and possibly a Huntarr fill-in with brain powers), and the villain of the arc has no resonance.

Oh, and the power of the Enigma Force is severed.

Can I wait to find out what happens next? Can I wait for a car crash? Probably. I will probably out of morbid curiosity check out the next two issues. But I won’t be happy about it. I just hope that Marvel and Hasbro can get together somehow and bring back what a great pairing.

And save us some good characters.

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