Perhaps I was a weird kid, or maybe I just got caught up in a lot of the cartoon merchandising hype, but I remember playing with a wide array of odd toys throughout my childhood, in some cases, crap that you rarely hear about nowadays. I of course had my main staples like the Ghostbusters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, He-Man, and my Star Wars stuff but there were a few toy franchises that made it into my playtime repertoire that were a bit more madcap. It’s important to note that I had a lot of toys as a kid, hell who am I kidding, I still have a lot of toys! I just never really grew out of the toy phase and though as time went on I gradually played with them less, I’ve always harbored an appreciation for cool and interesting toys. That being said, my collection throughout the 80’s and 90’s gradually became an eclectic mix of freaks, weirdos, and mutants and I’d like to share just a few of those lovable misfits with you now along with my thoughts on what made these toys so cool.
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes– Yes this was a line of toys based on the B-movie parody of the same name, well actually it was based on a cartoon which was derived from the sequel to the B-movie parody of the same name, but let’s not get technical.
What can I say about Attack of the Killer Tomatoes? I remember the cartoon series being highly ridiculous and entertaining, I’d be really interested to watch a few episodes now to see just how it holds up. Overall this was just a zany concept and back then, as today, I love well executed, self aware, crazy humor. I remember renting the movie around the time when the cartoon and the toys were hitting it big, and though I might not have quite understood all the jokes (or the actual concept of the movie for that matter) it was able to spark some awkward kind of devoted fandom within me. Maybe because it looked like a movie that I could have been able to produce as a kid. Whatever the reason I was tomatoes obsessed for quite some time. It didn’t help that my father is notorious for growing tomatoes which kept me supplied with a surplus of actual tomatoes to perform various mad scientific experiments on.
I remember going through a scientific phase around this same time where many of my toys and action figures were put through the rigors of various medical experiments, generally resulting in their detriment. Now that I think about it, it’s probably good I didn’t go with a career in science, I’m sure we would have all been destroyed by cyborg-zombie toenail clippers by now.
Anyway, these Killer Tomatoes toys, brought out by Mattel, were simplistic and insane and I owned all the main tomatoes from the show. The best part was that these toys could easily be integrated with most of my others in order to create such exhibitions as Turtles VS Tomatoes or the Tomatoes Take Tatooine!
Food Fighters – Seriously though, I for one loved these things. These guys were like playing with G.I. Joes during an LSD trip at a Denny’s. You want to talk about ridiculous toys, look no further. The tagline for Food Fighters was “Combat At Its Kookiest!” Verily I say!
With names like Burgerdier General, Taco Terror, and (I’m not making this up) Mean Weiner how could you not love these crazy bastards? These were around during my elementary school years and I only ever actually owned but one Food Fighter, Short Stack, the angry looking stack of pancakes topped with butter, syrup, and an army hat. I did however have a couple of friends who had some as well and we’d do battle on the lunchtime playground.
There were two divisions of Food Fighters, the Kitchen Commandos and the Refrigerator Rejects. Short Stack was a member of the Refrigerator Rejects, who apparently were the bad guys but I ask you, how can a stack of pancakes be menacing?
Whatever the story line was for these guys they had great designs, and were just all around cool and interesting toys. One question though, why did they have human arms and legs? We may never know. The toy line also had a few vehicles that were amazing, one in particular was a tank made from an egg carton with a bottle of ketchup strapped to the top. Unfortunately there was never any type of media outlet for the Food Fighters and as a result they were only around for a few years which make them all the more alluring, an unexplained flash in the pan (pun intended) which had a lasting impression on my school days. Sadly Short Stack was stolen at some point in elementary school, and was never heard from again
The Toxic Crusaders – This show was right up there with Rambo and Robocop for the worst source material to derive a cartoon from. The original Toxic Avenger movie produced by Troma was full of gory deaths, boobs, sex, and more gore. Troma isn’t known for their wholesome, high quality, family entertainment but somehow somebody got it into their head that these guys could be the next Ninja Turtles. I mean a mutant’s a mutant right? It’s all the same.
The Toxic Crusader toys were produced by Playmates, the same company that made the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures and as a result they were very compatible in scale and design to the Turtles. Toxie and his pals fit in quite nicely. Even as a kid I knew the Toxic Avenger movie was forbidden fare, spoken of only in hushed tones and cryptic riddles. I recall some friends trying to rent it for a sleep over but being denied by the video store clerk when they took it to the counter. Though it wasn’t until many years later that I actually got to see the Toxic Avenger in all its ultra low budget glory, I always felt that I was pulling one over on my parents by owning these toys, because my folks had no idea what the Toxic Crusaders were. As far as they knew Toxie was just another one of those weird Ninja Turtles, and I felt like some kind of ten year old rebellious badass with such clandestine contraband in my possession. Dork.
Barnyard Commandos– The ceaseless battle between the P.O.R.K.S. and the R.A.M.S. for control of the farmstead was given form, the result being Barnyard Commandos. Pigs and sheep armed with military equipment, what more is there to say? Any badass street cred I received from my Toxic Crusaders figures was completely evaporated by owning these things.
These came to my attention when one was given to my grandmother (who loves pigs) as a gag gift. It was obviously one of the P.O.R.K.S. commandos, Sgt. Shoat N. Sweet, who came with a machine gun barricade. What really got my attention was the small “Code Book” that was included with the figure. Inside the code book were instructions on how to speak Pig Latin, which I quickly became fluent in, there was also some general information about the pig side of the fight, and a bit of history about why the pigs and sheep were warring. Well I am a sucker for a good toy narrative. Simple in design the Barnyard Commandos were soft plastic pig and sheep figures that had removable weaponry for which to do battle against the opposing faction. Not very complex at all.
I guess what I found so great about the Barnyard Commandos was the back-story. Unlike most toys of the time the manufacturer didn’t take sides, neither the pigs nor the sheep were portrayed as the “bad guys”, the whole thing was just portrayed as ridiculous.
Each character had a file card on the back of their packaging with a brief history and such, and the code books were just cool little pamphlets that really added something to the toys. A friend of mine had several sheep and I had three or four of the pigs and we had some good battles with those goofy farm animals until they lost their limited appeal and then abruptly the war was over. My pigs had a hard time readjusting to civilian life but they found cameos in some of my other toy adventures and I remember them regularly floating around my toy landscape even after the height of their coolness.
One question remains though, what was in the R.A.M.S. code book? If you have any answers please let me know, because I don’t think I ever got to look at one!
Monster in My Pocket – Monsters in every sense of the word, Monster In My Pocket was a collection of small rubbery monster figures with varying point values assigned to them depending on how tough and/or epic the creature was. Something like a run of the mill Witch was only worth 5 points, while monsters such as the Great Beast of Revelation were worth 25 points. Apparently there were at least two board games that were compatible with Monster In My Pocket but I never got that deep into it.
These guys were another holdout from my elementary school days and at that time we would rather make up our own rules for playing with toys, instead of letting the man tell us how to do things! We would just keep our monsters in our pockets as it were, draw one at random, compare the numbers and proceed with battling them out as deemed by our imaginations and the point values. Ironically it was not all that different from what would eventually become Pokemon, right down to the obsessive collecting element of it all. Funny story, these guys are the reason Pokemon is called Pokemon in the USofA and not simply Pocket Monsters as it is in Japan.
Matchbox found a real winner in Monster in My Pocket which went on for several years and involved cartoons, games, and comic books. The monsters had partners in the earlier M.U.S.C.L.E. Men who were basically the same thing except instead of monsters they were extreme wrestlers. To me it seemed like Monster In My Pocket was able to compile a complete list of every monster, ghoul, cryptid, and mythological creature ever known. More importantly the figures informed me, with what I assumed to be complete accuracy, which monsters could defeat the others.
I learned a great deal about new and interesting monsters and my encyclopedia of horror was expanded exponentially. Unfortunately I made some bad investments in the Monster In My Pocket stock exchange, and over the course of several bad trades I lost most of my monsters. Today I am left with but a handful of low point rejects like the Phantom of the Opera and a mummy. Oh well, I learned quite a bit from my time with those tiny pocket monsters.
Battle Beasts -Sounds exciting doesn’t it? To be honest I have absolutely no idea what the story was with Battle Beasts. What I do know is that they had a crazy mix of animals from lions and apes to crows and anteaters, all dressed in high-tech futuristic suits. Often the Battle Beasts would have hands, or entire arms replaced with some sort of blunt force weaponry like morning stars or scissoring blades like Edward Scissorhands. Most importantly the Battle Beasts were marked with thermal activated stickers like those found on the old Transformers toys. Once you placed a finger over their chest you would be able to discover what elemental power individual Battle Beasts possessed, water, fire, or wood.
Of course you can figure out how that works out.
Much like Monster In My Pocket and Pokemon much later my friends and I would put together teams of Battle Beasts and line them up for individual battles revealing at the last minute which elemental mark each beast bared.
I still have quite a few of my Battle Beasts; the stoic faced little creatures remain awesome to this day. Unfortunately due to the constant rubbing of their element signs, many of my Battle Beast’s thermal stickers have fallen off (good thing that doesn’t happen with everything, am I right? Zing!), but other than that they are still in pretty good shape.
It’s been awhile since I’ve sorted through my BB horde, but I remember having some goofy ones; the frilled lizard and the three toed sloth come to mind. Really? A Sloth? Though I suppose it’s no stranger than a stack of pancakes wielding a gun or a pig with a flame thrower.
Perhaps in the near future I will go over to my parent’s house and round up some of these crazy toys and see just what I have left and take inventory and some pictures of the ol’ gang to share here on the blog, until than . . . . .
That is all!