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Sunday, April 25, 2021

DC in the 80s reviews the 1991 GI Joe Impel trading card set - part 3

Welcome back to the long-awaited third installment in this series of articles. Why are we reviewing a non-DC trading card set from the early 90s on DC in the 80s? Well, you can find the answer to that here. (For the abridged version: I like trading cards. I like G.I. Joe. Impel was the bomb. Hence, we have a review series.)

As always, I am joined by two other G.I. Joe aficionados: Chris Sheehan (of Chris Is On Infinite Earths and Chris and Reggie’s Cosmic Treadmill) and Aaron ‘Brother Head’ Moss (of Head Speaks podcasts). Also joining us for this round of reviews: Chris Bailey (aka Charlton Hero) from The Superhero Satellite blog (who also happens to be a card-carrying member of the Super Blog Team-Up).

When we last left off, I went down a theoretical rabbit hole trying to figure out who illustrated the cards -- that’s valuable space that could have been spent analyzing more G.I. Joe cards and delving into youthful nostalgia! So, we’ll pick it up from card #111 -- immediately following the Special Missions comic book covers sub-set.

Charlton Hero: Thanks for the invite soldiers! It has been a while since I donned my army fatigues and went through the dossiers on the P.I.T.T.'s computer system, but this Joe is ready for action and from the looks of things this is gonna be WAR! For some background: I am a HUGE fan of the 80s GI JOE: A Real American Hero toyline, comic book and, of course, the animated series. As you will read, I am more of a classic 80s Joe fan and the 90s were considered dark territory for this soldier! My views may be strong on some things, but I am up to the challenge! Let me at 'em..Yo Joe!

Aaron: Charlton Hero, as a fellow Joe fan, I have to agree with you about the 90’s being a dark time…. The mid-100’s of the Joe comic book series got too “silly” and ninjafied, then when the RAH series was cancelled they pulled out that Extreme GI Joe… *shudder*

Charlton Hero: Did you say 'Ninjas'? Did you say 'Xtreme GI Joe'? Surely a company like Impel would not tarnish the characters we all fondly grew up with would they? Boy, Aaron, do I have a ton to say about that!

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Justin: The next sub-set was labeled ‘1991 Recruits’, and I really have no clue why -- the first six cards were vehicles -- and the rest of the subset were GI Joes and Cobras alike. To their credit, four of the six vehicles were being heavily featured in a GI Joe comic book storyline (issues #119 to #123) released close to the time this card set was being sold -- so it would be somewhat relevant.

Aaron: Yeah, Justin. No clue here, why they would call this series Recruits… Though it doesn’t say New Recruits, so technically, I guess they were recruits... maybe...




Chris S: Here’s a character I remember... somewhat fondly, simply as a reminder of my sometimes poor reading comprehension. I had a pal who was a G.I. Joe super-fan and collector, and while I had a nice handful of figures, he had them all... or at least it felt like he did.

We were setting up for a battle on day, probably when we were about 3-4 years too old to do so, and I had this character acting like the biggest jackass... just cursing the other characters out… refusing to take part in missions, stuff like that.

My buddy looks at me like I have three heads, and asks why I’m not including 'air support' for the mission… and I was like "Dude, his name is Major ATTITUDE right?" Well, no...young Chris, it was Major ALTitude. As in height... not demeanor. Still, though… c’mon… you gotta admit he’s got a 'jerk face'.

Justin: I'm about 90% sure this fig came packaged with a vehicle. Ah yes, I managed to confirm on Yojoe.com that he did, in fact, come equipped with a ripcord-powered propeller that shot Major Altitude straight into the air high above your head.

back-of-box art. image source: yojoe.com

Justin: As far as gimmicks go, this was pretty fun. Hell, anything that had you and your friends chasing a propeller-based toy for hours on a summer's day was just plain fun (until it landed on someone's roof or fenced-in backyard). His garish neon green helmet did make him look kind of ridiculous, though.



Justin: Ah! Cloudburst! Part of the 'Air Commandos' action figure line released in ‘91. For those that may not remember (or tried to forget), the Air Commandos GI Joe subset were a select group of GI Joes that came with an air glider. Having a GI Joe included with a little plastic glider is great in theory, and maybe I was weaker then, but I seem to remember the gliders having a little ‘heft’ to them -- probably because they were made of plastic and you really had to put some weight into that throw in order to get the simulation of flight. Good times.

This was when toys were getting a little more ‘aggressive’. Other GI Joes released this year had little guns that fired spring-loaded plastic projectiles. If you thought not losing GI Joe accessories/armaments was difficult before…

Chris S: I remember kids getting their spring-loaded GI Joe missile launchers confiscated at school. What harm could a little blunt missile do… well, not a lot… try taking one of them in the eye though! Nobody’s aiming for your torso with one of these… luckily, they only fired a handful of times before the spring snapped as though it had rusted in the package for eons. There was that satisfying “click” when you loaded the missile… but, it was more of a “cli-cluck” when that sucker gave out.

Charlton Hero: Air Commandos. Where do I start? As a traditionalist of all things 80s Joe, I always frowned upon the gimmicked 90s and things such as Ninja Force, Star Brigade and the darn Air Commandos. These suspect concepts came out way after I had stopped collecting. I did however get my hands on one via a yard sale and the glider itself looked pretty cool but unless you had an arm like "The Fridge" (That's a call back to the William 'The Refrigerator' Perry mail-away action figure for you GI Joe purists) the glider typically nose-dived poor Cloudburst and friends to their well-deserved place in toy box hell.

Aaron: LOL Charlton… I had that 'Fridge' figure… As a Joe and a fan of the Chicago Bears, I liked it. But I again, have to agree with you regarding the 90’s gimmicks… Everything from toys to comics had to have gimmicks… Which gives us the “terrible 90’s comics” that comic fans complain of. But regarding Joe, this was when I started getting out of G.I. Joe. I had moved out of my mom’s house. I was still buying the comic (mostly for nostalgic factor), but I had stopped buying the toys. By 91, I was 21. Had moved away, moved back home, moved in with some friends, and I think, I had moved back home by this time… This was a year before I first got married. So by this point, not only had I stopped buying toys, but I had sold most of my Joe toys, as I needed money, not living at home. I miss my older figures, but I definitely don’t miss this era.

Free "Fridge" promo offer. (circa 1986) original source: unknown

Charlton Hero: I'll bite Aaron... I secretly loved that Fridge figure too!! [Make sure that does not see print, Justin -- it will kill my mainstream GI Joe cred!] Now back to my story. I was fortunate enough to gain a complete full set of the wave 1 original 3 ¾ Joe figures late in my collecting prime in a trade with a Star Wars fan. I lost my Rancor that day but I gained a mint condition Snake Eyes, Grunt, Stalker, Scarlett, Hawk, a Cobra Soldier! So I win..at least in my own mind!

Aaron: For what it’s worth, I consider it a win also. While I love Star Wars (I was collecting those toys before G.I. Joe), getting the original Joes is awesome.




Charlton Hero: I can't let this card pass our radar. I know each one of us has our Mount Rushmore of Joes we love. On every list many may find classic names like Snake Eyes or Roadblock maybe even a Destro but one that is always on my list is General Hawk. You know the one. He was one of the original Joe figures and looked pretty generic I the Marvel comics Larry Hama made this guy The Leader!! I was always a religious follower of all things Hama so even in play..good ole generic Hawk was the leader of my plastic Joe's as well damn it! I was sunper pumped when they finally released a legit General Hawk figure with brown hair and all! So back to the cards...what the hell kind of General Hawk is this?? He looks like he belongs to the Centurions toy line but Ace McCloud he certainly is NOT. I find fault in this entire concept. First Hawk was a ballistics expert (Hence the mobile missile system that he came bundled with as a toy.) Hawk was never a flamethrower expert let alone a pilot. The card names him as General Hawk yet lists his current assignment rank as Commander!!?? Two different ranks folks. The folks at impel need to wave the flag on this one. The card dossier makers were clearly not experts in the field.

Aaron: Yeah, it sounds like someone was definitely asleep at the wheel on that figure. While not a fan like Charlton is, I did like Hawk. But this figure... NEXT!





Chris S: One of those cards (and later, figures) that just boggled my mind. I was kind of "off and on" with the Marvel Comic, so I couldn’t say with any authority how (or if) Low-Light was presented in it.

Though, I did have his action figure... and he was blonde... and clean-shaven! This is like getting that Man-At-Arms Masters of the Universe He-Man figure and wondering just where in the hell his mustache went! Had to draw that damn thing on myself. Didn’t know the Salon at the Joe Command Center did dye jobs… but this card messed up my tiny world more than I care to admit... though, I suppose I just did.

I suppose I could joke here that I made this fella steal from his fellow Joe’s... and maybe pass out drunk during battle because I thought his name was really 'Low-Life', right?

Aaron: Yeah, this look is very different from his original (and normal) appearance. As you said, he was blonde, wore goggles and had a beanie or stocking cap on…

art from the 1986 Low-Light action figure packaging.
photo source: unknown

The card from this series is probably from his DIC appearance…. I could be wrong, but I don’t recall Low-Light sporting that look in the comics, but it may have been near the end of the run, after I fell off…

Maybe because it’s the one I 'grew up with', but I like his original look a lot better.

Justin: Low-Light the sniper. That 'beanie and red ski googles' combo always gave me the impression that he was a renegade biathlon athlete who decided he needed a career change and joined GI Joe. In the Marvel UK GI Joe/Action Force comics he was a pretty important member of the team (being a sniper) and was one of the more 'bad-ass' Joes. I'll agree with everyone here that whatever version being portrayed on his trading card was NOT the best look for him.



Justin: Another Cobra Commander card! But this time, he’s a ‘1991 Recruit’? Why? Because he changed his costume? Actually, that’s probably why. He’s still the same guy (I read the back of the card), but now he has a *red* visor instead of a mirrored one. The red-visored Cobra Commander was a remake of a classic figure produced in 1982, but this time he was given a new sculpt/design and armed with a huge spring-loaded rocket-launcher type weapon (just as Chris S had previously mentioned). Sometimes I wonder out loud if this card set was based on the toyline or the Marvel comic, and I’m seriously starting to suspect it’s more of the former.

Charlton Hero: Now we are cooking with gas -- its Cobra Commander!! The ultimate in terrorist group leaders. To follow up on the comic book question this variation of the Commander did NOT appear (to my knowledge) in the Marvel Comics series. Marvel over the years toyed with the Cobra leader's costume -- sometimes even going off the deep end with awful designs like the Cobra Commander Reborn silver body armor/ helmet-wearing Commander that most notably debuted in G.I. Joe : RAH #58.

For the most part, Marvel toggled between Hooded Commander or, my personal favorite, the silver mirrored-face classic version. This red-masked variant is a creative mess and that metal body corset is just not working for me. Surely an industrial terrorist like the Commander had the finances and the technology to find a better suit fitting of a leader!

cover of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero v1 #58 (1987)


Aaron: Hey Charlton. Let’s not dis the armored Cobra Commander and issue 58... That was the issue and costume that actually got me in to the comics. And we were getting along so well.

LOL

And I agree with your assessment, Charlton, that I think it was toy-inspired (as with all the costumes The Commander had). I don’t recall this one… We’ll see in a decade when I get there on my coverage of the comics. And again, we’re going to differ. While your favorite was the Silver-Mirrored Face, I always preferred the Hooded Commander. Though thinking about it, the REAL Cobra Commander only wore the Armored suit for a couple of issues. The rest of the time is was Fred wearing it, masquerading as Cobra Commander…. Then when the real Commander returned, he wore his mask or silver helmet.

As far as this card in concerned, seeing how I’m talking about everything else but the actual card itself, I guess that tells you what I think of it. (See? Me and Charlton are back to agreeing).


Justin: Ahhh... “Tracker”, best known for 1) having a little inflatable raft being included with his figure, 2) wearing a silly visor and 3) getting killed off in his first ever comic book appearance (it was a Devil’s Due issue, but it still counts). Hey, you can actually see the inflatable raft in the background of his card! Half the fun of collecting these cards was the potential of pulling cards of your favorite joes. How disappointed would you have been to have pulled Tracker? I don’t think he was anyone’s favorite joe.

Charlton Hero: I never cared for anything of the non-Larry Hama variety so anything Devil's Due put out I largely blew off as nothing more than fan fiction. The fact that they were using Joes like Tracker just cements that opinion. I will say I did love figures with visors at the time aka like Snake Eyes but let's be real here: it's gonna take more than a cool visor and running shoes to make Tracker any sort of cool Joe.

Aaron: Hey Tracker was gre… never mind. Yeah, I agree about Tracker being a disappointment. And seeing how Larry is back writing The Real American Hero series, I don’t know if the Devils Due and all those other series count any more... ;)

Chris S: Feels like overkill seeing this fella carrying a gun. I’d imagine his optic-blasts would be more than enough!



Justin: I had to take a second look here, but this is definitely the same Mercer who debuted in the 1987 GI Joe animated film (and was released as a fig in 1987). I wonder how he became a ‘new recruit’ in 1991? Albeit, he has a totally updated ‘look’ now and his action figure came included with a spring-loaded rocket launcher -- so there’s your answer. Ah well. Sgt Slaughter was the best part of the GI Joe film (sorry, it’s true), and anything do with Slaughter (including his Renegades) is, by default, awesome.

1986 Sgt Slaughter mail-away promo

Aaron: Mercer and the other Renegades was one concept I loved. I don’t recall them ever showing up in the comic (or maybe I’m forgetting them). But I liked the toys and the concept of an elite team of the elite team and one of them being an ex-Cobra Viper (kind of like Han Solo).

Charlton Hero: This may be an unpopular comment, but the GI Joe The Animated Movie was very much the polar opposite of the Transformers movie in that I feel it did more harm to the product than good. The G.I. Joe: ARAH cartoon series had done a great job bouncing off of the Marvel comics series but the movie literally turned Cobra Commander in to an actual snake and introduced some of the most maligned new characters in its history. I do enjoy Sgt. Slaughter and the Renegades. Cobra La on the other hand is unforgivable crap.

Justin: Charlton, I'll concede that the GI Joe animated movie may have hurt the franchise as they were moving into more 'sci-fi territory' and introducing new characters that were nary mentioned again, but stating that the Transformers movie was a blessing to the toyline... well, yes, a lot of new, marketable characters were introduced (ex: Galvatron, Hot Rod, Arcee, Kup, Blurr, Wheelie, etc) but I don't think it offset the trauma kids felt while watching some of their favorite G1 autobots getting massacred in the first five minutes. "Cool! Look, mom! It's my favorite autobot: Ratchet!... What?! Ratchet, shoot back! Dodge!... Nooooo!" Apparently the original script was way more graphic than what ended up in the film. 

Aaron: Well, you notice that Larry Hama who brought almost every other toy in to the comics, didn’t even touch Cobra-La. And THAT is why Larry is a god!

Justin: The next subset of cards was labelled ‘Patrols’. It contained twelve characters who were either ‘Sonic Fighters’ or ‘Super Sonic Fighters’. The Super Sonic Fighters action figures (released in 1991) included a gigantic backpack that was almost as big as the action figure itself. The backpack had buttons to emulate really annoying combat noises (ex: ‘pew pew’ or digitized sound of something exploding). Even as a 10 year old I realized these were just gimmick figs -- I didn’t collect any of these.

Rock N' Roll -- Super Sonic Fighter variant. Note the gigantic electronic backpack.


Aaron: As I stated earlier, I had already moved on from buying toys at this point. I don’t remember these cards at all.



Justin: Interestingly, none of the Dreadnoks (other than Road Pig and a posthumous card for Zartan) are present in this set. And I’m only suspecting Road Pig got a spot in this set because he was part of 1991’s new Super Sonic Fighters collection. I say 'interestingly' because the Dreadnoks played a HUGE part in the Marvel Comics series for several years in the mid-to-late 80s, and there’s, like, a good dozen of them. I wonder why they were omitted? Hmmmm… [What was the deal with the Dreadnoks anyways? Was Hasbro trying to exploit the glamorization of Hell’s Angels?]



Chris S: This trading card is quite possibly the ugliest they could have ever hoped to make Road Pig. I seem to remember them actually releasing a repainted red-haired Road Pig action figure that was like impossible to find in my neck of the woods. Oh well, I always liked him better with his cinder-block on a pole weapon anyway!

Charlton Hero: The Dreadnoks for me will always be Buzzer, Ripper and Torch. I bought all three over the course of a month upon their release using change I saved from my lunch money at school! Road Pig was not part of that experience so I have no love for dislike for him as a character. The Dreadnoks were Zartans original personal goon squad this whacky group of bikers were no Sons Of Anarchy. Road Pig arrived on my radar in GI Joe a Real American Hero issue 83 from Marvel Comics in 1989 but looked far different from this card. Obvious what a difference a couple years makes with a characters design elements as his card version is sporting some very 90s era of excess Rob Liefeld-like body armor. The comic book Road Pig looked a little like Marvel's Cable minus every redeemable quality. The trading card makes him look like a 1950s Dick Tracy villain!

Road Pig: the poor man's Cable?


Aaron: I agree with all of you that this card is crap on a stick. And like Charlton, I agree that the original three were the best, as they were the originals. And, Justin, I get more of a Mad Max vibe from them then Hell’s Angels... And I have no clue why they only included Road Pig. At the bare minimum they should have had a Dreadnoks general card, showing all of them. And like Chris S said, I much prefer the Road Pig with his cinder block weapon.


Justin: I used to own Psyche-Out here, and let me tell you, he did not look as awesome in person as he does on this card. The Psyche-Out I owned had an antenna sticking out of his head (which I promptly lost within a week) with a handgun as a side-arm (which I also lost). What did I manage to keep from this little action figure for years and years? His little ‘radar dish’ suitcase that looks neither impressive nor threatening. When I played with my GI Joes, he was either the first to die or an alien/human hybrid that gets captured early in the adventure. Go Joe.



Chris S: True story... growing up I couldn’t find Tomax and Xamot’s action figures... this was back in the day when there weren’t so many repeat figures in every line… you weren’t getting 2-3 Snake-Eyes’ a year... buuuuut, the stores were absolutely lousy with Psyche-Out. So, I got two... gave one of them a little gouge on the cheek, and voila the (blonde) Crimson (err, lime green) Twins were born!

Charlton Hero: Psyche-Out was not in my collection but he will get an honorable mention as one toy that I would pick up if I saw him today. He has my hair from high school with the middle part and semi mullet! Right away I am psyched out if I was a Cobra cause anyone who had the balls to carry that hair you KNEW was CRAZY!! Chris I was fortunate enough to have gotten Tomax and Zamot and treasured them. Despite being “Identical” twins I could tell them apart as my Xamot was disturbingly mis-colored as it almost seemed the paint machines skipped a millimeter and misaligned the hair paint and eyes. Bizzare!

Aaron: I had both the Twins and Psyche-Out, and while I didn’t have the... dislike... that others seem to have for Psyche-Out, the Twins were by far better.

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That concludes our part 3. Check in for part 4 when we examine yet more cards/characters from this card set, delve into the "Famous Battles" subset of this card set, and share anecdotes from our youth about collecting these toys and reading the Marvel comic book series. As always, I want to extend a big thanks to Chris Sheehan and Aaron "Head" Moss for assisting on this one. Additional thanks to special guest Chris Bailey. I really enjoy hearing other people's anecdotes about this influential toy set, so please feel free to comment below. All images in this article were either "borrowed" from yojoe.com or The Trading Card Database. Both are fantastic sites and I can easily spend hours browsing through them. Props to them.

Friday, April 16, 2021

DC in the 80's Five Questions with Michel Fiffe About Superman Red & Blue #3

Everyone knows we at DC in the 80's have a deep fondness for Michel Fiffe. Not only is he the driving force behind COPRA, one of the best comics coming out today, but he is also the cover artist for the first issue of our zine, Baxter Stock. He even came up with the name! Well, when we found out that he was going to have a story in SUPERMAN RED & BLUE #3, coming out May 18th, 2021, we HAD to do an interview with him. Seriously, when it comes out, go to your LCS and buy it. 5 Questions with Michel Fiffe Interview with Mark Belkin is below this totally RAD image from the comic. 

Ummmm yes times infinity.

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Mark Belkin: Question #1How much of a dream job is it to do a Superman story?

Michel Fiffe: This is the first comic book character my little kid eyes ever saw, it's one of the earliest figures I ever drew with my little kid hand. That in itself carries a lot of weight. There's a formative component I couldn't escape even if I tried. So yeah, file under Dream Job.

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Mark: Question #2: Did you specifically request using Booster Gold, Hawkwoman and Cyborg? Why?

Michel Fiffe: "Panic In The Sky" was the crossover that originally inspired me, it got me thinking about what kind of story I wanted to tell. Superman's relationship to his peers is fascinating to me, and squeezing in as many characters as possible was appealing at first. I wanted to tell a tight story, though, not clog my 8 pages for the sake of clogging them. So I whittled it down to a core team, which allowed me to better focus on each member. In a way, that specific roster is a nod to John Byrne's Action Comics run.

Booster showing Superman who's boss.

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Mark: Question #3: Kilg%re is definitely a villain I could see in COPRA. What drew you to using them?

Michel Fiffe: My affinity for the Baron/Guice Flash material is no secret. Plus, I needed an unlikely antagonist with untapped potential. Let me be clear, I had 8 pages to express the totality of what I think about Superman, and I wanted to cover as many bases as possible. Solid teamwork, crisp action, leadership, superpowers, tension, danger, humor, nuance beyond good guy vs bad guy while very much being a good guy vs bad guy story. I wanted to feature Superman's uniqueness but not at the expense of those around him. Plus, I drew my ass off. I'm still reckoning with the filtering of my influences on such a major property. 

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Mark: Question #4: If you could do a Justice League book, who would be on the team?

Michel Fiffe: I like the challenge of context, such as... who are the characters that are available? What's the project, a cool one-shot or the main brand? So many options. Let's just say that with my favorite being the JLI-era, I'd most likely pick a similar line-up. Maybe Extreme Justice, simply to prove that something cool can be done with just about any roster. I wanna draw that Booster armor.

DC, you know what must be done. 

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Mark: Question #5Can we expect an 80's DC Comics Presents type book with Superman meeting COPRA????? 

Michel Fiffe: It's not something I've considered, but now you got me thinking of all the possibilities. Damn you, DC in the 80s!


I could seeee ittttt.

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You can get the Superman Red & Blue #3 at your local comic book store on May 18th, 2021.

You can get COPRA either in your LCS or through Michel online. 

Thanks again homie!!

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You can find Michel Fiffe at:

http://michelfiffe.com/ 

https://www.patreon.com/MichelFiffe 

https://twitter.com/MichelFiffe

https://www.facebook.com/michel.fiffe

The Superman Comic

And on the cover of our first Baxter Stock!!!! CHECK THIS AWESOMENESS!!!




Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Figures Toy Company Q & A

As surveyors of all things DC comics-related and retro, DC in the 80s tends to keep an eye on what's going on in the action figure market. The Figures Toy Company, who've been making waves among collectors -- particularly for their attention to detail in recreating MEGO-sized action figures along with the little cloth outfits that go with them -- has caught our attention for their diverse variety of DC-themed action figures they've been producing. We were lucky enough to get a chance to sit down and talk with company representative, Chris Depetrillo, and get the inside story of how this company came to be and what we can expect to see from them in the future. Enjoy!

Justin (for DC in the 80s): So, most people may not have realized that the Figures Toy Company has been around for a while -- it was originally known as Figures Inc. in 1989 and specialized in selling collectible toys and action figures via print catalogs, magazine ads or direct selling at collectible shows in New England. I understand that back then it was a one-man operation, run by Anthony Balasco.




Chris (for Figures Toy Company): Yeah, at the time it was a wide array of toys and collectibles. Our catalogs featured everything from original Masters of the Universe to vintage Star Wars figures to Kenner and Toy Biz superheroes to wrestling figures. A lot of the items we acquired were deadstock, clearance, and warehouse/factory sale items that we were able to build into an amazing selection of merchandise for the collectors out there. If you had built a collection in those days, there was no eBay or Facebook marketplace to scan for what you needed. Keeping a varied stock of such classic toy lines (and some oddities as well) helped us build the business by allowing fans to fill the voids in their collections or "buy back" their childhood.


Justin: In 1993, Figures Inc. decided to re-strategize itself and focus its' attention on selling Collectible Wrestling Merchandise. This was an important move because it would ultimately lead to the creation of the Figures Toy Company (partnering with Steve Sandberg), the purchase of Figures Toy Company's first licenses (WCW and ECW), the launch of your WrestlingSuperStore.com e-commerce website, and your first manufactured products (WCW and ECW Replica Belts). The Replica Belts were a huge hit with wrestling fans and are now highly sought-after collectibles:


Figures Inc. WCW replica belt (1999). Photo source: www.ebay.com

Chris: When we were acquiring merchandise for Figures Inc., we wound up with a tremendous amount of the WWF Hasbro action figures. We had stock of nearly every character, including earlier releases and the final "green card" wave which was not widely available and features some of the most sought after figures in the entire Hasbro line. Once we had those available they became a huge seller for Figures Inc., and it led to Anthony [Balasco] looking into other avenues to enter the wrestling merchandise market. The only belts fans could buy in those days were plastic toy belts unless they had the money to commission an actual replica, which is of course very costly. We were able to gain licensing rights with both World Championship Wrestling and Extreme Championship Wrestling right as the wrestling industry began to boom, and released replicas of all of their championships at a much more affordable price. This allowed fans who always wanted their own belt(s) to choose from the same titles they saw defended on TV every week.

I'll also note here that it was those WWF Hasbro figures that led to my hiring at Figures Toy Company. Back in 1999, my friend placed an order for a figure through an ad in a wrestling magazine, not realizing that the Figures Toy Company office and warehouse was just minutes away. He called to ask if he could pick the item up, and I took the ride with him. After meeting the staff and engaging in some chit chat, Anthony felt that my fandom and enthusiasm for pro wrestling and pop culture would make me a good fit for the company. I was hired in December of 1999 and have had a hand in numerous aspects of company business. I had graduated high school only a year before and was in my freshmen year of college and managed to land a dream job.

Justin: The Figures Toy Company started manufacturing 'classic 8" action figures and accessories remeniscent of action figures from the 1970s' in 2004. (Which is pretty much saying you were creating Mego-compatible action figures.) Was there a major change to the original Mego designs/molds? Or did you stick to the original designs as much as possible? Also, I'm going to assume that the choice to go with 8" action figures versus, say, 3.75" figures was mainly due to Anthony's love of his Mego KISS action figures when he was younger...

Anthony Balasco with favorite Mego KISS action figure (circa 1978). Source: figurestoycompany.com 

Chris: The goal was to try and recreate as much of the original aesthetic as possible. Our figures were and are very obviously influenced by the original 70's figures and Anthony's love for them (especially those KISS figures you mentioned). We wanted our figures to be able to stand alongside those childhood favorites and also serve as an extension of the format.

Justin: You've picked up a lot of licenses since 2014 (most notably, DC Comics -- which is what prompted today's interview). I've also browsed your website and seen then you've obtained licenses for Evel Knievel, Dukes of Hazzard, Dallas, KISS, Harry Potter, Hanna-Barbera, Three Stooges, Gilliagan's Island, and the US Presidents... can you tell us what other licenses you may have in the works? Also, I've always wondered: how does the whole 'toy-licensing thing' work? For example, if Figures Toy Company purchases the license to manufacture DC Comics figures at an 8" scale, no other company can do the same until you've released the license -- essentialy making the license-holder the exclusive manfucturer of that product while they hold the license?



Chris: Licensing varies on a case by case basis, so there's not really one blanket way to go about it. There are different options and aspects that go into every deal. While I can't speak to anything in regards to new licenses, I can say that new products based on the licenses we currently have, such as DC, are always in the works. With DC especially, we'll always market the cornerstone characters like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, but have done a lot of deep dives into the DC Universe as you can see by our release of The Creeper and upcoming release of Blue Devil and Kid Devil. The goal is to appeal to both the casual collector and the diehard fan, and I think our company has done a great job in finding that balance.

Justin: As a collector of DC action figures, I just want to tell you that I'm really excited with the selection of DC action figures the Figures Toy Company has been manufacturing: lots of DC retro characters, Super Friends, and Batman '66. Now, with a teaser of modern-age DC characters to come [ex: Bane] it really opens up some possibilities:
Bane

Justin: Are you allowed to give us a hint on what new modern figures we might expect to see? I'm also equally impressed with the vehicles and playsets, but these seem to be only be released sporadically and sell out quickly. Are there any plans in development to release new DC-themed playsets? (ex: Hall of Justice, Legion of Doom Swamp, Titans Tower, etc)



Chris: There's so much that's in the pipeline right now, a lot of which was delayed due to the pandemic and the ensuing factory shutdowns. Now that things are up and running, there are so many items in different stages of production that I can't wait to get on our site for fans to collect. Characters from Watchmen, Blue Devil, Kid Devil, Bat-Mite, Hourman, John Constantine, Geo-Force...we've been going to every corner of the DC Universe, looking at hundreds of characters from comic history so that we can give collectors the largest variety of retro figures on the market


Chris: Vehicles and playsets are a different animal. Tooling varies from piece to piece and some items just may not be cost effective. That's not to say there won't be more, because we've had great success with items like the Batcave and the variety of DC vehicles. But that's also why, as you said, they're sporadic in their release.

Justin: Speaking of Geo-Force, I do remember seeing a preview for him and having a bit of a 'fanboy' moment. While Mike W. Barr's Batman and the Outsiders was a comic I remember fondly from my youth, no way did I ever expect *that* incarnation of the team to get the 8" action figure treatment. With Batman, Geo-Force and Metamorpho available, does this mean we'll be getting the rest of the team (ex: Black Lightning, Halo, Katana, Looker) in the near future? If so, can't wait to add that to my collection!


Metamorpho

Chris: We'll be doing a whole lineup of Outsiders, so yes, many of the names you mentioned are already being designed.

Justin: On that note, a very common question among DC action figure enthusiasts who are purchasing your products seem to be "do they plan on making [x] figure?" Some of the more popular requests include 1940s Justice Society of America/All-Star Squadron figs, the original Doom Patrol (Elasti-Girl, Chief, Robotman, Mento, Negative Man and Beast Boy), and the Legion of Super-Heroes.

How do you decide what figs get made next? Do you send a request to DC asking for permission to create so-and-so? Or is it as simple as DC told you that can manfacture ANY character in it's library? (including, say, figs based on Neil Gaiman's Sandman). I mean, Abby Cable (Swamp Thing's love interest) is pretty obscure -- so it would appear that the sky's the limit:



Chris: Everything has to be cleared, from character to the particular design of character. We have to look at it from a marketing perspective to, from the character's popularity to how it fits in with what we're doing to how many requests we have seen the figure get. We pay close attention to the "wish lists" out there and a lot of figures have come from the fact that we appreciate our fans and hear them. The flip side to it is that not every character may be available, or may not be available in the form we'd want to do them in. Certain characters from the Batman Classic TV Series could not be made due to the rights to those actors being unavailable. We're doing our best to ensure that the line stays fan friendly and delivers characters that DC fans have been hoping for.

There's also a domino effect when it comes to brainstorming, because we consider the character appeal on its own, how it would fit in with other heroes on a team/series basis, and which version of the character might be the best choice. A lot of thought goes into our choices because as comic fans and toy collectors ourselves, we look at it from both the business and the fan perspectives.

It's also fitting that you mention Justice Society here, because last March, right when things started shutting down, one of our figure announcements was of a Golden Age Sandman. We've already done Beast Boy as part of the Teen Titans line, but as you can tell by scrolling through figurestoycompany.com, we've done variant versions of characters numerous times.


Justin: I was going to comment on your Teen Titans collection: not only do you have the Bob Haney/Nick Cardy roster (ex: Robin, Speedy, Kid Flash, Aqualad, Wonder Girl), but you also included a few obscure Titans like the original Hawk & Dove and Duela Dent. For the Marv Wolfman/George Perez 1980s roster, you even went to the trouble of including Jericho and Terra. That's how I know there must be some DC comics fans in your company if you're taking deep-dives like that.


Duela Dent (aka: Joker's Daughter)

Justin: Your Super Friends line of DC figs are pretty extensive, too. Based on the Hanna-Barbara cartoon, you guys cover some pretty obscure figs -- like the time Joker was revealed to be a member of the Royal Flush Gang (which only happened in the cartoon) or Superman from that infamous 'Death of Superman' episode.


Justin: I also noticed that a lot of figs, vehicles and playsets are retired after x amount of time. Not counting the Limited Edition products that were only offered for a limited quantities at conventions and etc, are there any plans to bring a few retired products back from 'limbo' for a while? I know a few friends who would probably be interested in purchasing a Dr. Fate fig if they knew it was up for grabs again.



Chris: Some items do return, others don't, but the "don't" could be for a variety of reasons. When something sells out it's not always necessarily a hard "no" that we won't carry it again, because we have restocked some of our most popular items. If it's an item that does well for us and is a hit with the customer base, the odds are in favor of us pushing to be able to release more of them at some point in the future. Limited and exclusive items are just that, but for any of the core Figures Toy Company releases we do our best to ensure that our fans can get their hands on all of the characters they wish to have.


Teen Titans van with exclusive Wonder Girl fig 


Justin: This is great, Chris. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me. I can't wait to see what surprises the Figures Toy Company has planned for us in the future.

Chris: It's been a pleasure, Justin.

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Chris was also nice enough to share a preview of the new Phantom Stranger figure they will be releasing soon:

Check out the Figures Toy Company at www.figurestoycompany.com. Production runs appear to be limited, so if you see something you like, grab it before it sells out.

-Justin