Hugging Robots Unite!


By Shawn Robare

So I meant to post about this a week ago, but I finally found an insanely well-stocked vintage toy shop in the (more or less) Atlanta area.  It’s called HD Comics and Toys run by a couple of swell gentlemen, Billy and Steve.  They’re located about an hour north of Atlanta in the Pendergrass Flea Market (a kind of neat place where you can get anything from rebel flag bikinis and nun-chucks to bootleg toys and candy cigarettes by the carton.)   I hadn’t been by the flea market in a couple years and I was always sort of bummed by the fact that there weren’t any decent places selling vintage 80s era toys and stuff, but on a trip a couple weeks back I stumbled into Billy & Steve’s shop (it’s actually a store inside the huge flea market building) and my jaw literally hit the floor.  Filling three pretty decent sized rooms from floor to ceiling were hundreds upon hundreds of pegs filled with in-original-packing toys from the last 30 or so years.

At first I thought it was mainly superhero figures (they had all sorts of DC and Marvel stuff dating back to the late 80s, early 90s), but as I started looking closer I realized that these guys have almost every decently popular toy line that I could remember.  Just some of the lines I spotted included the original Batman movie figures, Robotech, Voltron, Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, the Tick, The Shadow, Indiana Jones, G.I. Joe, Bravestarr, Doctor Who, Go Bots, Star Wars, Supernaturals, Food fighters, Starriors, M.A.S.K., Lone Ranger, Thundercats, Silverhawks, Masters of the Universe, and even Welcome Back Kotter dolls in the original boxes.

It’s everything that I’ve been looking for in a vintage toy store.  They currently don’t have a website, but if you’re in the Atlanta, or North Georgia area I highly suggest you stop by and check out their store.  The prices are reasonable (e.g. lower than eBay), and you can’t beat the experience of finding vintage toys on the pegs.

While I was there I picked up a couple of toys, and the one I was happiest to find was an in-box Robo Force figure…

 

They had four or five different robots in their original packaging, but the one that caught my eye was Enemy, the Dictator, a villain from the Robo Force line.

 

A couple years ago I did an episode of the Saturday Supercast podcast with Jerzy Drozd and our friend HooveR, and we got on the subject of Maxx Steele’s Robo Force.  We’d all had the toys and were both nostalgic and perplexed by their built-in robot-arm-crushing mechanism, which we all sort of agreed was more of a cute hugging action.  When I saw this guy I had to have him…

 

You can see on the packing above that the hugging action of these guys in intense.  Robo Force was released in 1984 by Ideal, most likely to horn in on the coming plastic robot craziness in America.  Tonka’s Go Bots had hit the shelves at the end of the previous year and were selling like hot cakes, and Hasbro’s Transformers line was gearing up as well, and even those these guys didn’t transform, my guess is that Ideal saw the trend and wanted on-board.   I’m not sure if the figures were just re-issues of a Japanese toy line or if they were born and bread in America, but in playing with the figures, it sure feels like the latter. 

Honestly, though these guys look cool, and I actually dig the concept behind the story, I’m less than thrilled by the playability factor.  Seriously, aside from a chest plate that drops open to reveal some awesome lasers, all these guys can really do is lightly hug your finger or another small toy.   They’re also kind of fragile, in particular the mechanism that moves the arms, as noted by my experiences with my original figure (I stretched out my old toy’s arms past the point of hugging), and the warning note that was slipped into the packaging…

All in all the fact that you could find these guys for about $4 back in ’84 (a huge thanks and shout out to Steve at the Roboplastic Apocalypse for putting in the hard time to collect all the great vintage toy robot ads from the 70s and 80s) must have been awesome considering that Go Bots sold for around the same price and the Robo Force figures are litterally huge in comparison.  The figure in the box looks pretty darn impressive too, so Ideal managed to get that right.

Getting back to the story for a second, did you read that flavor text on the back of the box?  Enemy can decimate an entire world with the laser sticking out of the back of his head!  That’s stupid awesome.  He doesn’t even have to look back to see the carnage he leaves in his wake, that’s how evil he is…

The figures also came with a mini-comic in the vein of the Masters of the Universe (which I hope to get scanned in and posted sometime this week.)

 

Long live Maxx Steele!

  • Esteban

    Wow Shawn this is a really crazy coincidence! I\’ve been slowly gathering Robo Force material lately and halfheartedly working on updating the Robo Force page of the toaster palace. I\’ve even had an idea for a Robo Force themed podcast. But as you know it\’s a lot of work and I found my own motivation waning because after all, who really cares about Robo Force? (Well, besides Jerzy.) I don\’t think you could possibly know how inspirationally motivating this post it. So I\’m going to tell you. Strangely enough, you wouldn\’t believe how much Robo Force has been popping up in my life lately. I\’ve had an idea for some Robo Force themed content but I couldn\’t really get the motivation going to work on it. But then Robo Force started showing up in the wierdest places! First there was that recent Art&Story Extreme where Jerzy was talking about being mad at his dad for causing him to miss out on the Robo Force cartoon special. I listened to that and thought how weird it was that from out of nowhere he\’d bring that up, especially since the Robo Force ideas were percolating in my mind. Then one night I was passing out on my sofa watching Sesame Street with my son when they had a sketch with Robo Force robots in it! I passed those first two off as coincidence but I figured if a third occurrence of Robo Force happened then it may just be the universe trying to get me to do something. And now you post this! Oh and thanks for the thanks. A couple years back when I decided to expand the scope of my ad collecting beyond just Transformers I figured stuff like GoBots and Robo Force probably wouldn\’t be appreciated as much by the internet but I loved them anyways. Sure enough, you\’re the only feedback I\’ve ever gotten from anyone appreciative of that Robo Force section. Inspiring motivation sure comes from the strangest places. I will have to do a Sesame Street style outro to my show where I say it was brought to you by Shawn Robare, Jerzy Drozd and Big Bird.

  • Esteban

    I guess there would be pressure if this was a toyline with an insane and rabid online following but Robo Force is hardly that. There are advantages to exploring dead franchises like this-anything you come up with is bound to be new and interesting to most everybody else. Plus the lack of a die hard fandom means very little nitpicking or criticism. But on the other hand if I was trying to incite topical conversation then lack of a die hard fandom means very little nitpicking or criticism. It cuts both ways I guess. It should be a lot of fun because I’m going to concentrate talking about the mythology of the Robo Force universe. Roger from i-mockery.com and the official Robo Force website already has the toys covered well so I wanted to go somewhere not explored much online-the fiction. I want to review the choose your own adventure style books, the regular storybooks, the character bios from the boxes and even the read along book and tape/record set. It’s been fun reading all this stuff and seeing how this line went in a very different direction from Transformers and GoBots. I think it’ll make for a good 30 minutes or so.

  • Esteban

    This is so awesome to have someone to correspond with while I\’m all engrossed in this stuff right now. In your post you bring up some good observations. The first is that the toys have a very American feel to them. They were indeed American designs by the Ideal toy company, the same company that in 1968 launched another toy robot line called the Zeroids. I\’ve blogged before about how Robo Force and Zeroids share many aesthetic elements. They\’re only vaguely humanoid looking and have proportions that make them seem more rather rotund and squat. I call it the American R2-D2 school of robot design that was born with Robbie the Robot and died with Robo Force. I think once the more humanoid Japanese toy robots invaded in the late 70s they marked a significant evolution in the way sci-fi robots were perceived in the states. Robo Force is sort of the evolutionary end of the road for what was up until then the American idea of what robots were. Actually Ideal got blindsided by the transforming robot craze of \’84 and had the Robo Force line in development independently of GoBots and Transformers with no clue that those other lines were coming. There was an interview with some of the Ideal team in an old issue of Toyfare in a Robo Force article they did. I wish I could remember which one it was so I could point you to it, but it was an interesting look at their side of the toy robots wars of the 1980s. I\’m sure there was something else you wrote that I wanted to get to but I gotta get back to working on the ads. I\’m almost halfway through. The Robo Force page of the Vintage Space Toaster Palace should be a lot more user friendly and several times larger than it is now. Just gotta stay motivated.

  • Esteban

    AHA! I found a post at the He-Man.org forums that captured the ToyFare article before it was purged from WizardOnline!

  • Esteban

    I just listened to the episode! It was great. I was using it as background audio while I put together the Robo Force punch out paper models I got over the weekend. I also finished the overhaul of the Robo Force page at the space toaster palace last week and now it\’s insane with something like 100 Robo Force newspaper ads. Boy was I feeling burnt out after that, but hearing you on Extreme got me motivated again. My idea of just talking for 30 minutes about a couple of Robo Force books has ballooned out of control. I just kept finding stuff online that I thought would be cool to write about, plus during my research I happened to find out the name of the guy who wrote the Robo Force cartoon. So I sent him an email with some questions about it. Hopefully he\’ll remember something. I think I\’ll have enough material to do a whole Robo Force themed week. It\’s still a ways off, though. I\’m busy with other things for the immediate future.

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