Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Reach For The Stars

[Opening Card: cue the super-space theme song]
Written by GL

I never really wanted to go to space. It was a heck of a lot more convenient to see space on television or on postcards. However, the illusion of space never faded away, especially for a kid like me growing up in the 80's. Space was a lot of things to a lot of kids, and action figures and cartoons helped to shape that; take Bravestarr or Silverhawks for example.

One of those really cool cartoons was Starcom.

[The Cartoon: the more gear you have to carry around]

Starcom: The U.S. Space Force appeared in 1987 and it brought with it a full-on motorized toy line franchise that did especially well in Europe and Asia. Of course, it was Mattel who designed 'em, despite that fact that it didn't do too well in the U.S.

The Starcom story went like this: the evil members of Shadow Force, led by Emperor Dark, were trying to take over the cosmos (as most evil-doers do), and it was up to Starcom to stop them. Col. James 'Dash' Derringer, an ace Starcom pilot, was the star of the series, and several of his teammates were family members. He was also supported by the resourceful ace pilot John 'Slim' Griffin, whose niece also another Starcom pilot. Other heroes on the Starcom side included Col. Paul 'Crowbar' Corbin and Admiral Franklin Brinkley. Together, the members of Starcom fought Dark’s legions of robotic minions, flying into battle in a fleet of advanced spacecraft.

['Slim' Griffin, Col. 'Crowbar' Corbin and Col. 'Dash' Derringer: being multi-racial is cool]

Like many 1980s toys, the Starcom line was developed as part of the merchandising for the cartoon.

Starcom: The U.S. Space Force debuted on TV in 1987, and the toy line hit stores around the same time. There was plenty of variety to choose from: the complete series of Starcom toys offered 23 figures, 6 playsets, and 13 vehicles on the Starcom side, while the Shadow Force was represented by 15 action figures and 11 vehicles.

[Original Packaging: too cool]

The action figures were two inches tall and came packaged with a backpack, a weapon, and identification cards that explained who they were and what their equipment could do. Like the figures, the vehicles and playsets benefited from a sleek, attractive design.

[ID Cards: real toys came with ID cards]

The most unique and the coolest aspect (the one's that help us to remember them the most) of the Starcom toy line was its use of Magna-Lock technology. Basically, the action figures had tiny magnets implanted in their feet. Not only did this allow them to stand on the vehicles and playsets without falling off, but it also activated cool-beans gizmos in the playsets.

[Col. 'Dash' Derringer: 2 inches tall with magnetic feet, what else could a guy ask for?]

For example, if you placed a figure in the elevator of the Starbase Station playset, its Magna Lock magnets would cause the elevator to rise to the top by itself. By itself !

On the same playset, if you put a figure in one of the cannons, the Magna Lock magnets would activate a mechanism that made it turn and fire its rockets. Fire by itself !

[M-G Railgunner: a bad mother of a machine before and after Magna-Lock]

The vehicles and playsets also delivered Power Deploy features, which uses automatic wind up mechanisms that allows them to perform multiple actions all in a touch of a button, without the use of batteries. For example, with the touch of a button, the Starcom StarWolf unfolds its front, and both its wings. All in all, they offered plenty of moving parts (hidden compartments, cannons, folding wings, etc.).

[Starbase Command: I had this! Awesome!]

For sure, the Starcom toys were one of the best action figure lines of its time, offering advanced designs with a variety of cool features that didn’t require batteries or electric power, and I had so many.

The toys were successful in Europe and Southeast Asia only after becoming listed under Mattel label. Mattel removed the US flag and NASA details from the original, that were designed by a company named Coleco (Coleco would later be bought over by Hasbro), and launched the toys with a second line of promotions in the early 1990s.

Needless to say, Starcom is now a collector's feature. For, as soon as you see 'em, you're force to remember the sheer coolness of 'em. I can still see myself pushing those little buggers around.