If you were a kid who grew up on the comics, movies and shows of the 60s, 70s or even the 80s and still follow it today, you’ve made it to the “age of miracles”. Today there are media platforms of all sorts and a mountain of merch from every company for every character and line you can think of. If it doesn’t physically exist yet, you can bet someone’s already snapped up the rights to develop it. It’s available everywhere from special order via your local shop up to mass distribution through the mega-retail chains.
Before this gold rush, options were much more limited. Actual hero and franchise-derived toys were seriously coveted. There wasn’t a lot to be had, so you were a pretty big deal in your circle of friends if you had anything; and everyone in the neighbourhood knew about it. For some of you, this is probably flashing you back to your G.I. Joe, Transformers and He-Man stuff. For me it goes a little farther back-to Mego dolls.
These plastic 8-inch dolls with cloth costumes (and those crazy “oven-mitt” gloves) were awesome. There’s too many to list here, but google “Mego” and you’ll find some beautiful sites that have galleries which display them in all their glory. Mego had dolls for almost all the major Marvel and DC heroes along with a handful of villains. I remember some kids getting their moms (unfortunately, sewing wasn’t my dear old ma’s thing) to make alternate costumes to transform some dolls into characters that weren’t available – if you have any old photos of these, we’d love to see ‘em! At their height, Mego was doing dolls for live-action properties, including Star Trek, Planet of the Apes and even the CHiPs television series. A holy grail for some collectors is a prototype for The Greatest American Hero that was never mass-produced; it has been known to command and receive asking prices in the five-digit range! They even expanded to a line of 12-inch dolls of the most popular characters, but for those who remember, the original 8-inch versions were where it was at.
We all remember that one kid who was the local “toy mogul” growing up. You know who I mean (unless it was you!). That one spoiled little boy or girl who seemed to have all the hot toys and got new ones all the time, while your folks told you to be “thankful for what you have”. Tough wisdom to swallow while someone you know sits bored on an ever-growing pile of toys which you’d kill to get a shot at playing with. For me, it was two brothers in my apartment building, Robbie & Danny. These guys had everything, including those Megos. I had only seen them in catalogs or on the shelves of higher end toy stores and these guys had them lying all over the place. Even if you hated them for having it all, every guy my age kissed their ass if it meant actually getting a chance to play with those Megos. I was at their mercy – until the year I turned seven and went to toy heaven.
Even though I didn’t get a lot of toys as a kid in general, somehow through some great birthday and Christmas hauls that year, I got Batman & Robin, the Riddler, Spider-Man and the Lizard. I even got Spidey’s “vehicle”, the Spider-Mobile! True story sidebar: the powers-that-be at Marvel of that era instructed the Spider-Man creative team to insert it in a comic story for marketing purposes. Thankfully, they complied in a way that had the Spider-Mobile gone as quick as it got there. Look it up, I swear this farce actually happened! Since I was a kid enjoying life in the moment, with no thoughts of preservation for the future, I played the hell out of my little collection. By the time I finally lost interest, everything was partially or totally broken.
Flash-forward to adulthood and aside from the odd yard sale, or maybe in a shop’s out-of-the-way toy display cabinet missing a few costume pieces or accessories, I hadn’t seen or thought of Megos in years. Then I started to hear about them popping up on e-bay and such, and a few friends were even starting to re-acquire them. Now a “grown-up”, I had the toy collector’s version of a “first-world problem”: while yes, I now had a job/disposable income/final buying power instead of mommy & daddy, how much could I deem as reasonable to spend on recapturing my childhood while there are bills to pay and other family obligations and priorities? It’s hard to even justify going into the hundreds when it can easily hit the thousands. Sure, you can make compromises but who wants a lower-grade version when you see a shiny & new one, or get just a few when they’re all in front of you begging to be purchased?
I should point out that while I’ve always enjoyed good merch or apparel as much as the next fan, I have always first and foremost been a comics guy. I can’t imagine the pain taken on by those who have declared themselves hard-core toy collectors. Where do you draw the line and decide what’s “authentic” and where to stop? If, for example, you’re a poor devil who collects Star Wars, are you just collecting original toys issued for the first trilogy (more than enough of a challenge and financial burden) or do you feel you need everything that has come out for over the last almost 40 (!) years and never really stopped?
When Mattel started producing DC-themed “Mego-style” dolls (incl. a variation on the original packaging) I decided “good enough for me”. They still cost, but they didn’t break the bank. Along with the return of some old faves, there are even some new heroes and villains who have never seen doll form until now outside of wish lists. Going one step further, DC has teamed up with Figures Toy Company to re-issue Batman hero and villain dolls (with plans for more, incl. the original Teen Titans, still authentically shorter than their adult counterparts!); and although Mego is no longer in the mix, they are using the same old head and body molds, and replicating the original costumes down to the last detail.
As I make room for these on my shelf (I’m not lucky enough to have the space to devote an entire room to my stuff like some of ya), I’ll date myself again by going back to the retro well. The slogan for a tape company from the 70’s & 80’s was “Is it live or is it Memorex?”, meaning the copies it made of sound were so good you’d find it impossible to distinguish them from the originals. With this doll situation, I find myself asking if I’m really “collecting” or cheating via this route of buying brand new (and significantly cheaper) replica versions. Maybe Transformers fans can weigh in. Does it have to be an original Optimus Prime, regardless of condition or is one of the many re-issues/reduxes of him and his brethren put out over the last 25 years acceptable as the real deal?
But before we dig that deep (hell, we haven’t even touched the “should you keep it sealed in its’ package?” or “are they toys or display pieces?” debates) maybe we need to step back and boil it down to the first essential question in this discussion:
Does seeing and owning a newer version of something put the same smile on your face that the original gave to you as a seven-year-old?
For me, the answer is yes.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!!!