Monday, April 16, 2012

The one that got away...

This week's League topic is one that haunts me.
We all collect something. What is a holy grail item you hope to find at a flea market, toy show, or comic convention? What else do you collect?
Well. This will be a little long-winded, but it will seem a little more epic if you know the whole story.

Of all the toys I ever had, one series of them always will stick out more than any other: Kenner's Super Powers Collection. The first four we got (I can't remember which two were first, but I remember that we got them at the Mervyn's in Dublin, California) were Green Lantern, Aquaman, Joker, and Robin. I want to say Green Lantern was one of the very first, but I could be wrong.

At the time, Kenner was already occupying tons of shelf space with its Star Wars collection, but I hadn't seen any DC heroes since being tempted at a random Toys R Us by leftover pegwarmers from Mego. The novelty to the Super Powers Collection, aside from having my favorite heroes (I've always been more of a DC guy than a Marvel guy), each figure came with a mini comic book and a special power action feature. Most were activated by squeezing the figure's legs. It seemed like half of them were a punching action, but Green Lantern would swing up his right fist, Wonder Woman crossed her bracelets above her head, and Robin had a special karate chop. A few had features activated by squeezing their arms. Flash ran (duh), Aquaman kicked his legs to swim (double duh), and Brainiac had a special power action "computer kick."

Brainiac was vac-metallized, so he looked all chromey, which was badass; but this particular figure didn't last very long. One arm squeeze too often, apparently; his arm busted right off.

The first wave of figures covered pretty much the main heroes and villains DC had; I think the most obscure character in that was maybe Brainiac, and only in that I was more accustomed to his green humanoid look rather than his then-current robotic redesigned look. I remember needing Wonder Woman, Hawkman, and Penguin to complete the series right before Christmas. My brother and I freaked out when we opened up the Hall of Justice playset on Christmas morning, and even more ecstatic when those three chracters slid out of the box (my parents had sneaked them in there) when we opened it. We also had the Lex-Soar 7 (which I'm pretty sure I got for my birthday that year), Batmobile, and the Supermobile vehicles.

The second wave of characters came out after we'd moved to Tracy, and I was in junior high school. Seeing an action figure of Martian Manhunter sitting on a peg at Thrifty after school one day was the sign I'd been waiting for that the figures were hitting the stores. I wasn't as familiar with this wave of characters; I'd just been introduced to Jack Kirby's Fourth World characters via the Superfriends cartoon in its penultimate season the year before, but that was just Darkseid, Desaad, and Kalibak. Mantis and Steppenwolf were new to me. But most exciting to me was Firestorm, my newest favorite hero.
And yes, I totally sent away for that Clark Kent figure.

Our first Firestorm figure ended up on our carport roof after the flying mechanism we'd devised went awry. Green Arrow's three or four arrows vanished from his quiver very shortly after he was opened. The vehicles in this wave were all made up; at least the Supermobile and Batmobile existed in the comics in the last wave. We got the hero spaceship, the Delta Probe One, and we got the gigantic villain vehicle, the Darkseid Destroyer. We didn't get the other vehicle, the Kalibak Boulder Bomber until a year or so after the Super Powers series ended -- on the bargain aisle at a Montgomery Ward store in Modesto, of all places. Ten years ago, I picked up another Darkseid Destroyer at Comic-Con, and you can see my adventure putting the damned thing together here.

In these pre-Internet days, we didn't know if and when another wave of figures was coming unless we happened to see an article in a magazine or heard from a friend. Our only recourse was to check out the toy section of any store that had one, wherever we went, especially if we were outside our usual sphere of retail establishments.

I had actually heard about a third wave of Super Powers figures, but we hadn't yet seem them. Once while on our way to visit relatives for the weekend, my parents stopped at Kmart before we left town so they could grab some stuff they needed. It was only going to take a few minutes, so my brother and I were to wait in the car.

"Check the toy aisle!" my brother and I said in unison. It was an ingrained habit. My parents rolled their eyes and headed inside. A short time later, they returned with a few bags, most of which went in the trunk. My mom kept one of them up front with her; I assumed it had snacks for the hour-or-so drive.

"Oh, we got something for you guys," my dad said, gesturing for my mom to open the bag. She produced two figures from the third wave of Super Powers and handed them to us. After a few minutes of geek squeeing, swapping figures, and more geek squeeing, we started chatting about which figures we wanted to get next.

My mom interrupted us by handing us two more third-wave figures. A few minutes later, two more after that. And then one more. We had seven of the 10 figures, and we had gotten them all in one shot! That's still one of my happiest memories of childhood.

Over the next couple of weeks, we snagged the other two. Now this wave was generally more obscure, and I think that was part of why there wasn't a fourth wave. I think they should've spaced out these characters with some more better-known characters. Also, there were two characters that were complete mysteries to us: Cyclotron and Golden Pharaoh.

Let's make those bastards look for something that doesn't exist!
Neither of them were in my issues of Who's Who, and unlike Samurai, who also was not in the comics, they were also not on the Superfriends cartoon (1985 ended the show's long run with the overly long title of "Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians"). They seemed to be completely made up. Cyclotron's power action was sort of the opposite of Red Tornado's: instead of squeezing his arms and his legs spinning, you squeezed his legs to activate his "twister punch." Oh, and he was a robot. With a removable faceplate. And he was "built by Superman and programmed by the Justice League of America's computers."


We were taunted by two things. First, this wave didn't have comic books. Second, on the back of the cards, they showed the All-Terrain Trapper, a weird-looking He-Man-reject-looking vehicle with a clear ball on the front; and the Tower of Darkness, which appeared to be Darkseid's version of a Hall of Justice. No matter how high and low we looked, we NEVER found them. Turns out they didn't make it to production.

Thanks for nothing, douches!

But the biggest pain is that there was only one figure we never got from the whole series: Cyborg.

Oh, yes, you *will* be mine...

To this day I still don't have one. I see them on eBay fairly often, but I can't drop justifying spending up to $300 for one. Over the years I've picked up other figures here and there, as has my brother. But that one figure still eludes me, and my only hope is to either magically be so rich that spending $300 on an action figure doesn't make me physically ill to contemplate or that I find one in a store somewhere for $30 or less.

I actually have only one recurring dream, and I've had it for over 25 years: we go to a store, check out the toy aisle, and we see a smorgasbord of Super Powers figures shining on pegboard. Most of the time there are not only the rare figures like Cyborg, or ones that I needed to replace (Samurai met an untimely death when in a fit of rage directed at my brother, I hurled it against the wall, shattering him. Samurai, not my brother), but figures that they never actually made.

If you want an idea of what that might be like, when I read this story about the near-mythical fourth wave of Super Powers figures, I had that same weird feeling. Or when I saw pictures of this guy's collection.

So while I've been able to procure almost every other coveted item from my childhood, that's really the only one that haunts me.
Morning update to add links from around the rest of the League:

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