By Jonathan Alexandratos
If you read toy magazines in the ’90s, you probably picked up Tomart’s Action Figure Digest. They didn’t have the humor of ToyFare or the scattershot editorializing of Lee’s Action Figure News & Toy Review, but they made up for it with their reporting and pictorial deep-dives. Not one for puff pieces, Tomart’s often hit readers with images and short descriptions of upcoming toys sometimes so far in advance that prototypes and/or never-produced concepts made it into the mix.
Recently, I revisited my stack of Tomart’s, nostalgic for the era of print toy news and maybe getting a box of G.I. Joes by mailing a letter to a stranger in Tulsa who placed a want ad in the back of the monthly periodical. Most of the issues delivered more or less what I expected, except one. One edition featured story after story of surprising, speculative, and even baffling reporting, all supported by their pics-or-it-didn’t-happen-and-maybe-even-with-pics-it-still-won’t style. It was a Toy Fair issue with pages bursting at the seams with new reveals. It was and is a time capsule of a year of crushed dreams and shocking hits. It was given to readers all for the low, low price of five bucks and an hour of their time. It was: 1993.
Now don’t get me wrong. None of what follows is to shame Tomart’s. They were doing what we do. They were looking at upcoming toys, applying history, and predicting an outcome. The only reason I can look to their work with a critical and somewhat snarky eye is because I’m armed with hindsight. In the interest of fairness, I offer my own writing to anyone who wants it in 27 years to pick apart, demolish, and prod. But for now, check out this massive flub:
This is Tomart’s 1993 description of a little, sure-to-fail line of incoming toys called Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. Back then, they likely received a press release leading them to think that all the Dinozords would be sold separately (hmm…imagine living in that world…*cough* Hasbro *cough cough*). This, plus the implication that the product was just too complex for the toy-buying public to handle, makes the last line laughable all these years later:
“It will be hilarious watching parents standing in the toy aisle trying to sort all this out without the benefit of the toy demonstrator [from Toy Fair] and a 20 minute presentation.” In fact, the real story of these toys was less a comedy and more a mystery, as parents searched far and wide for one of the most in-demand toys of that era. Understocked in most places, the scarcity drew people to Toys “R” Us, the one spot that actually bought a sizable chunk of product. Even so, my uncle still paid a hundred bucks in a parking lot for a 12-inch Blue Ranger that wound its way into my sweaty mitts for a very, very merry Christmas.
Here’s the full-page ad. It’s interesting to note that Goldar is listed as “Dredwing,” here. Power Rangers names changed frequently before the pilot was aired, so this isn’t too surprising. The switch was probably smart, though. “Goldar” sounds more like what he looks like, and it isn’t associated with the name of a Decepticon. But if there was light-hearted jabbing at a soon-to-be popular kids show, there was outright skepticism over a toy line that has remained profitable to this day…
If you think about Jurassic Park without knowing, well, Jurassic Park, it does make sense to assume the line wouldn’t work. There were tons of dinosaur toys, and a little “JP” mark doesn’t sound like enough to make these specific pieces worthwhile. But the exact opposite happened. The “JP” emblem plus the film’s success skyrocketed these action-packed toys into the iconic status they still hold today.
To answer those questions at the end: Yes, Yes, No, WTF?, and Kenner won. Actually, it probably can’t be said that other dino-related toy lines didn’t benefit from the success of Jurassic Park (though I can’t quote any numbers). There were others, both before and after Jurassic Park, and they generally did fine. Plus, the whole fad turned out to be big enough to kick the ubiquitous Troll dolls down a few pegs, a battle that is still being fought, as both Jurassic Park and Trolls are currently on shelves, though we have yet to see a T-Rex embroiled in anything like the Poppy scandal. If we’re downplaying Jurassic Park in ’93, though, it’s just as interesting to see what we’re talking up…
Oh, remember SeaQuest? I loved SeaQuest. Even that wacky final season they did after Scheider called it quits. It was a great show. I had crushes on basically everyone on that sub because, in the future, apparently only hot people get recruited to handle our deep sea problems. I’m pretty sure I was even crushing on the sub itself for a while! Yeah, I don’t blame Tomart’s for thinking most people would have the pseudo-fetishistic reaction I did. But people didn’t. They had their hands filled with Jurassic Park and Power Rangers, turns out. Now, collectors are mostly kept busy by another entry into the Tomart’s 1993 line-up…
1993 was the year of all this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles goodness. Regardless of how you feel about the characters, you are looking at what turns out to be some of the most valuable toys in the line. Scratch isn’t even really there. He’s just an illustration. Even in 1993, you couldn’t get him, even if you were the company that made him!
And look at this Party Wagon Mech Suit! While the Auto-Mutations line did come to fruition, the transforming van never did, leaving this issue one of the few places where it’s preserved in all its hopeful glory. However, that was not the only idea that was left on Toy Fair 1993’s cutting room floor.
Despite the brief and 1940s-era reporting, this line actually sounds really cool. The comics existed, but the toys never made it past prototypes. Check out the art:
Sure, they totally look like She-Ra repaints, but I’d buy every single one. With lines like DC Super Hero Girls and the latest She-Ra series, it might be time to revisit this idea. Just sayin’. And speaking of Stars…
Thankfully, all of these toys did get made, including that Bridge Playset, which Tomart’s compared to a movie miniature, and I can’t disagree with them. The eventual “Diagnostic Data” wound up with a slightly different look (the head didn’t break away quite like that), but companies have generally had a tough time with that character. Galoob ended up making head variants, and Playmates would later design an absolutely horrifying prototype action figure for Data when they worked on the First Contact toys. Check it out…if you dare.
But all in all, Playmates knew how to keep the plastic Star Trek universe growing, and their 1993 offerings demonstrate that well. Other products were not so lucky.
The Biker Mice from Mars didn’t even show up, though their toy line would go on to be a childhood favorite of mine. Now, many of those figures fetch a decent price on the secondary market.
And remember when “Star Wars is BACK!” meant Bend-Ems? Dark times. Though I guess when you put them above toy versions of enslaved-person-owning generals and Native American stereotypes, they don’t look that bad?
And on top of all that, Tomart’s 1993 issue just spoiled the Dick Tracy movie. Okay, Playmates technically did that, but only in Canada!
So, basically, according to Tomart’s, 1993 was filled with underestimated hits, unreleased awesomeness, soon-to-be rarities, and Guinan (thank the gods!). The only thing that would complete the loop, here, is some good ole fashioned, possibly unintended but probably totally intended sexual innuendo. And I’m glad there’s nothing like that to see here folks…