Archive for the 'Fantasy Toys/Playsets' Category

Warpo’s Legends of Cthulhu Action Figures Transcend Trite Retro Fad



The problem with today’s obsession over all things ‘retro’ is that it’s a cultural dead end. Middle-aged geeks continue to fawn over and “repop” variations of the painted plastics they first unwrapped 30 plus years ago, but who’s going to make amazing new stuff for their kids to enjoy with the same kind of passion?

Enter Warpo Toys, a Chicago-based indie that launched its first Kickstarter last week. While the company’s owners—Bryan Katzel, Eric Lefeber, and Tommy Baldwin—are themselves toy collectors and diehard fans of ’70s and ’80s pop culture, they’re “not interested in remaking or reissuing old toys or licenses.” They aim instead “to create brand new product and tell brand new stories that haven’t been told before.” Thank the Great Old Ones!

So, while the Legends of Cthulhu line is billed as retro and marketed to adults (it had to be both to get off the ground), it’s far too beautiful, literate, and original to be lumped in with the tired mash-ups and retreads on display at every con and geek-nerd-retro-comics-superhero site from coast to coast. For starters, it’s the first time anyone’s had the balls to base a toy line on H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos. Second, the design and execution are as brilliant as the idea itself—no small feat. And third, the narrative is just the sort of thing precocious youngsters would rally around: it’s dark, it’s supernatural; it’s full of monsters, adventure, and mystery. Actually, it’s an open-ended universe, and just the sort of thing lasting franchises are made of.

Not surprisingly, Warpo’s initial Kickstarter goal of $65,000 was funded in a matter of days. As we speak, the company is just a few hundred dollars away from its second stretch goal of $90,000. Do check out the details (specs, concept art, prototypes, biographies, business philosophy) and the incredible amount of work and love the guys have already put into their potential game changer. Legends of Cthulhu will be the first Kickstarter I back. It’s just a matter of how much I can afford to pledge.

Oh, two more things. Eddy Mosqueda, who worked as a sculptor on the original TMNT and MOTU lines, is on the Warpo team; and the legendary Ken Kelly painted the front and back of the blister cards. Dear every major and start-up toy company today: this is how it’s done. Bow down to the cult of creativity, or face the shrieking and immemorial lunacy of cosmic irrelevance—not to mention bankruptcy.

1986 Schaper Toy Fair Catalog: Animax






Decadent! Derivative! But look at that Bridge of Doom Playset and tell me you wouldn’t lock yourself in a room with it for hours on end, running your cheeks and fingers along the… Sorry, where were we?

Read the Animax story and see more amazing pics at Mel Birnkrant’s Animax page.

Dragonriders of the Styx Action Figures (DFC, 1983)

Dragonriders Wizard 1983

DOTS Ragnar 1983

Dragonriders Knight 1983

DOTS Guliz 1983

Dragonriders Demon 1983

DOTS Dragon Man 1983

Dragonriders Wizard 1983-2

Dragonriders Card Back V2

As I wrote in a previous post, I believe that DFC’s Dragonriders of the Styx Fantasy Playset (1981) is the first traditional playset to be released in response to the popularity of D&D. It must have sold decently, because (1) DFC subsequently released a number of playset variations on the fantasy theme, (2) Dragonriders appeared in major department store catalogs, and (3) a line of action figures followed in 1983 bearing the Dragonriders name. The action figures were released the same year as LJN’s AD&D action figure line. I don’t know which line hit the shelves first.

As you can see, the figures are not terribly impressive, though they’re undeniably campy and historical. All of the individually sold figures are included above. (The Wizard figure also came in a black hat/robe.) All other figures and vehicles will be posted separately. The names of the figures appear on the card back only, which I thought was strange. Obviously they were produced hastily (“The Wizard”? “Dragon Man”?), probably in an attempt to beat LJN’s AD&D line and capitalize on the debut of the D&D animated series in September of 1983.

UPDATE: I’m adding a second version of the card back that includes a typical epic fantasy backstory. I’m also adding some price tags below.

Dragonriders Price-1

Dragonriders Price-2

HG Toys: Godzilla Battles the Tricephalon Monster Play Set (1979)

HG Godzilla 1979-3

HG Godzilla 1979-2

HG Godzilla 1979

As far as I know, this is the only traditional playset featuring Godzilla produced by an American toy company in the ’70s and ’80s, and it’s interesting for a number of reasons (other than the one just stated).

First, it marks the only appearance of Tricephalon, an obvious attempt to mimic King Ghidorah without paying for the license. The box art depicts a mecha-hydra, anticipating both Mecha-King Ghidorah from Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991) and Hyper Mecha-King Ghidorah from a 1997 Japanese TV series called Godzilla Island. (There was also a three-headed robotic dragon in the NES game Magmax, first released in 1986)

Second, the destroyer in the set is “missile-firing” (see warning on box) at a time when toys firing projectiles were being hastily recalled.

Third, the box artist is likely Earl Norem, who painted the cover for HG’s Buck Rogers Galactic Play Set from the same year. It looks very much like Norem’s color scheme and style. An expanded version of the playset art was used for a large Godzilla jigsaw puzzle, also issued by HG, also from 1979. The detailed human faces on the lower panel further convince me that Norem is the artist.

HG Godzilla Puzzle 1979

Check out The Sphinx (who makes the same point about Tricephalon anticipating Mecha-King Ghidorah) for close-ups of the Godzilla and Tricephalon molds, and for a listing of the set’s full contents.

(Images via Materialist Zen and The Sphinx)


HG Toys: Sword & Sorcery Playset (1982) and Weapon Sets (1983/1984)

HG Sword & Sorcery 1982

HG Sword & Sorcery 1982-2

The set seems to be a rip-off of both DFC’s Dragonriders of the Styx (1981) and Miner’s Dragon Crest/Mysterious Castle (1982) Playsets. HG also made a Sword & Sorcery Castle Mountain Playset, which looks as flimsy as it is massive. The base set first appeared in 1982. Here are both sets in the 1984 HG catalog.



HG had a Sword & Sorcery line that included weapon sets—very similar to Placo’s 1984 AD&D weapon sets. The Power Bow is listed as a new item in the catalog, so it’s possible HG beat Placo to the market. Neither line sold well.

It’s hard to believe HG managed to trademark the name “Sword and Sorcery,” a phrase coined in 1961 by Fritz Leiber to describe Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories and the genre they spawned.



(Catalog images via Parry Game Preserve)

Diener Industries: Mythological Creatures (Circa 1980)

Diener Mythical Creatures

Diener Medusa

Diener Minotaur

All of the info I have on the set, as well as the photos, come from Little Weirdos, a cool site focusing on mini monster figures.

We don’t know when they were first produced. I suspect they were a response to the popularity of Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings and D&D, which would put them around ’79/’80, same as the Space Raiders and Space Creatures figures.

Does anyone remember them? Is the Medusa wearing a bra?

DFC Toys: Demons of Castlelon Fantasy Action Playset (1982)

DFC Demons 1982

DFC Demons 1982-3

DFC Demons 1982-2

DFC (Dimensions For Children) put out at least six fantasy playsets in the early ’80s. You’ve seen Dragonriders of the Styx (1981), probably the first to be released, and the only one I’ve seen in a major catalog. This is the first time I’ve seen Demons of Castlelon. There’s another version called Dungeons of Castlelon—same figures and playmat, different box.

DFC Dungeons of Castlelon

As others have noted, the green snake figure looks suspiciously like David Sutherland’s Naga from the first edition Monster Manual.

Sutherland Naga

At some point, DFC started producing the figure without facial features or ears, no doubt due to copyright issues. UPDATE (1/19/14): Here’s a photo of both versions of the Naga, courtesy of Little Weirdos/Flickr.

DFC Naga

Other known sets include Fires of Shandarr, The Tower of the Night, and The Forest of Doom.

DFC Fires of Shandarr

DFC Tower of the Night

DFC Forest of Doom

DFC Forest of Doom-2

I’ll do separate posts on each set as I score better photos.

(Image credits: Demons of Castlelon: eBay seller The Lost Item Carousel; Dungeons of Castlelon: Tales from the Big Board; Naga: James Brady; Fires of Shandarr and The Tower of Night: Virtual Toy Chest; The Forest of Doom: Action Figure Archive)

DFC Toys: Dragonriders of the Styx Fantasy Playset (1981)

Dragonriders 1981

Dragonriders 1981-2

Dragonriders-2 1981

Dragonriders-3 1981

Dragonriders-4 1981

The coolest, and maybe the earliest, D&D-inspired fantasy playset I’ve seen so far. (I don’t count Warriors of the Galaxy, which is more of a MOTU-chasing spacy-fantasy.) The set is huge, first of all: it’s almost as big as the kid laying next to it on the box cover. Second, the figures are a good, creative mix, even if the dragon mount looks kind of like a Tauntaun. Third, I dig the maze with the gold prize in the middle, the obvious place for the green dragon to crouch.

UPDATE (4/6/14): As I said here, my assumption now is that Dragonriders is the first playset to be packaged and produced in response to the popularity of D&D.

‘Dragonriders’ was likely taken from Anne McCaffrey’s popular Dragonriders of Pern trilogy, released under that name in a collected edition in 1978. The Styx is a river in Greek Mythology running into the underworld. It’s also the name of a rock band—you’ll remember them from the 1983 hit single “Mr. Roboto.” Paradise Theater, the band’s only album to hit #1 on the US charts, came out in January, 1981.

Here’s the set—pretty expensive, compared to Castle Greyskull—in the 1982 J.C. Penney catalog.

Dragonriders Catalog 1982

Read a firsthand account of someone who owned it at Two-Bit Nonsense.

DFC also released an action figure line of the same name starting in 1983. I’ll talk about that in a future post.

(Images via eBay and Wishbook/Flickr)

Miner Industries: Dragon Crest (1983) and Mysterious Castle (1982) Playsets

Dragon Crest MPC

Dragon Crest MPC-2

I ran across the Dragon Crest playset at toyranch’s Flickr. I found nearly the same set, renamed Mysterious Castle, in the 1982 Sears Christmas Catalog. The date on the Dragon Crest set is a guess. At some point in 1979, Multiple Toymakers ceased operations and Miner Industries partnered with Union Major. Many or all of Multiple’s molds fell to Miner, much like Mego acquired various Marx Toys’ molds in ’79. It was the year that marked the beginning of the end for the traditional playset.

Sears Catalog 1982 pg608-3

Sears Catalog 1982 pg608-2

The big addition to Mysterious Castle is the cheesy dragon and his/her lair. The mat is also a little different. Beyond that, it looks like all the pieces have been recycled from previous Multiple sets, including Castle Attack and Castle Warfare (1964), Battle of the Knights (1965), and Carry Case Castle (1969). The “fiend” figures are from the famous Pop-Top Horrors designs first produced in 1964.

Marx started putting out medieval sets in the ’50s, but Dragon Crest marks the first time the traditional knights/castle theme was combined with monsters, including dragons, thanks to the booming fantasy/D&D market.

UPDATE (4/6/14): I’m now betting that DFC’s Dragonriders of the Styx Fantasy Playset (1981) was the first to present a theme inspired by D&D. That would mean Dragon Crest was released at some point after Mysterious Castle. I’m changing the date on the set from 1981 to 1983 for now.

Marty Toy: Warriors of the Galaxy Electronic Fantasy Action Playset (1983)

Warriors of the Galaxy 1983

Warriors of the Galaxy 1983-2

Warriors of the Galaxy 1983-3

Warriors of the Galaxy 1983-4

warriors of the galaxy-3

warriors of the galaxy-4

warriors of the galaxy-5

warriors of the galaxy-6

warriors of the galaxy-7

Who needs Masters of the Universe when you can have the much cooler knock-off, Warriors of the Galaxy? The playset format was nearly obsolete by ’83, and that’s probably why I’ve never seen this thing before or heard of Marty Toy. In 2013, however, the set is a real beauty, and I badly want to hear the “6 electronic battle sounds.”

I don’t know why our golden heroes and galactic demons would want to swing a mace when laser cannons are available, but I find it endearing. The figures have a unique design, too, and they’re super detailed. I love it all.

(Images via eBay and Action Figure Archive)




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