Ho, ho, ho and a Yo, Joe!
With Christmas approaching fast, I decided to spit out a limited series from now to Dec 25th. I shall shine a spotlight on some of my favorite Toys as a Generation X kid, like many if not most of you.
This specific article was published during the last days of Talkbacker.com (RIP) and now I have rebooted it for your pleasure. Enjoy!
Tag line: “They came from Inner Space “.
“A long time ago (1974) in a land far, far away… (Japan)”
What began as an innovative Toyline, courtesy of Japanese Toy Manufacturer Takara, became something of an overnight sensation when their American Counterpart, Mego Corporation had licensed the Micromen for domestic distribution. Mego had immediately changed the name from Micromen to what many of us know as “Micronauts”, Space Warriors with interchangeable vehicles, Robots and Playsets.
The interchangeability factor from the toys was more than just some “novelty” instead, the line had allowed kids to expand their imagination as they build new and fascinating constructs from various parts.
I remember spending hours upon hours creating new vehicles, Robots and playsets and the toys without a doubt, are the action figures’ answer to constructive based toys like the Lego line.
The figures however, were very unique at the time some such as Space Glider, Acroyear, and Galactic Warrior were mostly made of Die Cast Metal and equipped with operable gear and weapons (Wings that retract and guns that fire spring loaded Missiles). While generic like figures, Time Traveler in particular- bared some transparent aesthetic, while other versions had an opaque finish.
The Micronauts’ main nemesis was the warrior like Acroyears and then a few Alien creatures designed after insects, Reptiles, Lobsters and so forth.
While many kids were into Lego when it came to construct based toys, Micronauts was the real deal as the figures and vehicles had given a bold new spin in customizable toys.
Despite the Toyline’s success, what the Micronauts lacked was an actual backstory or synopsis that would bring the characters to life and boost sales especially after the hugely popular Star Wars figures by their competitor, Kenner.
“One small step for the little guys, one large step for Comicdom!”
In an ironic twist of fate, Bill Mantlo of Marvel Comics approached Mego with the proposition of a Comic based on their Toyline. Mantlo’s first exposure to The Micronauts came about when he saw his son playing with the toys that he received as a Christmas gift.
Bill was immediately impressed and pitched the Comic concept to then Editor in chief of Marvel and the rest is history. The story, synopsis and dialogue was handled by Bill Mantlo while the designs and artistic chores was handled by highly acclaimed artist Michael Golden (who I happen to be a huge fan of his art).
Synopsis: The Micronauts originate within the Microverse, a microscopic series of diverse habitats that are linked together in the fashion of molecule chains. The original team comes together in response to the threat posed by former academic and now murderous dictator, Baron Karza. Commander Arcturus Rann (returning from a thousand-year deep space voyage in suspended animation) and Biotron, his robot co-pilot, return on the HMS (Homeworld Micro Ship) Endeavor, to discover Karza has slain the royal family, who are in fact Rann’s parents. What follows is an epic war across the Microverse with Rann and his newfound allies against Karza.
Among the’nauts are Princess Mari (Marionette) of Homeworld, who, with her brother, Prince Argon, (Force Commander) are the only survivors of the slaughtered royal family. The warriors Acroyear and Bug (Galactic Warrior) also join Rann’s cause, and although completely different – one a stoic and noble warrior prince while the other, a wisecracking insectoid become the closest of friends among Rann’s (Space Glider) group.
The series was the first to include toy and comic crossovers thanks to encounters from Man-Thing to the X-Men.
Part of the comics’ appeal was elements based from the classic Television series Land of the Giants. (The protagonists were actually 3′ inches when entering our universe.
Besides having the very first Comic based on Action figures, Marvel had taken the franchise to heights many have never witnessed from some “toy tie in”.
Alongside the action and space operatic scenarios, there were also a few Social commentary undertones such as Class Warfare, racism, Unscrupulous Organ donor policies and Genocide. And this was during the first eight issues. After Golden’s highly successful run on the series, Artists Pat Broderick and then Butch Guice under the stewardship of Bill (Mantlo) had continued on with the series until its inevitable conclusion.
Ironically, prior to the release of Star Wars, 20th Century Fox had approached Mego with the proposition of manufacturing toys based on the upcoming Sci Fi Epic. However, Mego being unaware of the Film’s potential success along with strong sales from the Micronauts, had declined Fox’s offer.
This was a very unfortunate decision because Kenner taking the deal, made Millions while sales figures for the ‘nauts had plummeted to the extent of Mego canceling the line and eventually, the Company went out of business.
The Comic had continued publication until 1984, long after Mego ceased production of the Toys.
In closing, Micronauts was revolutionary in terms of ideas, design and needless to say,presentation
Although the toys was esclipsed by that of Kenner’s Star Wars’ massive popularity, Micronauts not only predated Star Wars, but in my opinion, a superior toyline that gave children the ability to create almost anything without limits to their imagination.
- Micronauts was the first action figure to utilize the 3 inch scale method which has now been used for Kenner’s Star Wars, G.I.Joe: A Real American Hero among a few other Action Figure product lines. It was also the first successful comic toyline tie in that set the standards for other Toy based comics such as G.I.Joe, ROM the Spaceknight, Masters of the Universe, etc.
- In 2002 Palisades Toys bought the rights to manufacture Micronauts, assuming that the original tooling and molds were available.
- On November 5, 2009, Hasbro Announced plans to relaunch the Micronauts with the cooperation of Takara.
- In Terry Gilliam’s 1981 film Time Bandits, the protagonist’s bedroom has parts of the Mobile Exploration Lab (which is seen in large scale during the film’s climactic battle).
- The combined form of Baron Karza and his horse Andromeda served as inspiration for the Mortal Kombat producer John Tobias to create the centaur Motaro from Mortal Kombat 3.
- In November 2009, Hasbro announced that director J.J. Abrams was negotiating to produce a film based on the Micronauts.
- In a March 2013 IGN interview Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick said they were working on a screenplay and the film was on Paramount’s list of possible productions.
Now you know.
And knowing is half the Battle!
On a not too happy note, Bill Mantlo sustained a serious a Brian injury that has left him unable to accomplish the Day-to-day tasks that many of us take for granted. Needless to say as of this writing, I’m unsure if Marvel has donated anything to Bill’s healthcare expenses, but they have to be heartless pricks if they didn’t. After all, this is the Man who not only wrote some of the greatest stories, created memorable characters such as Rocket Raccoon, but also the very first to create a Comic based on Toys!
Without Mantlo, there may not have been a G.I. Joe or a Transformers Comic and so forth.
Bill is another unsung hero who needs your help. Donate if you can!
Here is a great collection of artwork. Some are Fan art and the rest are courtesy of legendary cover artist (Creepy and Eerie magazines.) Ken Kelly!