Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Ten things Obi-Wan never told you about your Robo Force (but don't feel bad-he never told me, either)

Becoming a fan of any old dead toy robots line nowadays is nowhere near as easy as jumping on the Transformers bandwagon. They aren't exactly pumping out the Robo Force t-shirts at Hot Topic if you know what I mean. I'll bet there's a couple obscure robots fans out there who would kill to be disgruntled about a movie where Megan Fox gets leg-humped by their favorite Zybot. Alas, there are no Michael Bay movies keeping the GoBots alive and hated. There are no toy companies pumping out countless rehashings of the same five color schemes in an endless merry go round of recycled roboplastic redundancy as Hasbro so lovingly does for Transformers. We can only wait in joyful hope for the day some teenage girl writes slashfics with Maxx Steele sexing Hun-Dred. Alas, such perks of popularity are afforded only to Optimus Prime and his associated transforming Volkswagen cohorts. Mostly I lament the severe lack of Wikipedias dedicated to toy robots not co-starring in movies with Shia LeBouf. This is because now that I've jumped on the Robo Force bandwagon 26 years too late there's no place I can go to find out some things I want to know, but I guess on the plus side there is no place I can go to find out some things I never wanted to know.


And so questions gnaw at my soul about historically significant unsolved Robo Force mysteries like how many different colors of plastic did the bad guy robot's guns come in. They must go unanswered. There will never be an archeological expedition to excavate lost playgrounds of 1985 in the hopes of finding previously unknown Robo Force plastic color variations. Apparently professional archaeologists have better things to do and to make matters worse, I'm not having any luck with my eBay keyword searches either. I have come to accept that there are just some things in life about Robo Force that we are not meant to understand-answers to mysteries buried so deeply in the past (or in somebody's garage) that the truth will never be known. And I don't mean dumb stuff like can you use a Robo Force robot to unclog your toilet. I mean substantial mysteries for which I am certain there will never be answers because I waited two and a half decades before I figured out the questions. Here then in no particular order are the top ten conundrums of the Robo Force fan, the ten unknowable things perplexing Robo Force-ologists today, the Hun-Dred questions for which there are no answers...


If the crusher arm is the swivel arm battle grip of Robo Force then the gripper base is the O-ring. Just like GI Joes that shared the same structural innards, Robo Force robots had identically molded lower bodies with the only difference being that the color of the base changed from robot to robot. So from the waist down all Robo Force robots were essentially the same-all of them that is, except for Maxx Steele. Maxx's gripper base isn't the same design as any of the other robots. Maxx just has a simple suction cup tacked on to his bottom. If you were to remove the gripper base from any other Robo Force 'bot you'd be taking away a full third of the figure's height. Yet Maxx without his suction cup would still look like a complete robot. Why was Maxx so radically different downstairs from the rest of the bunch?


The Revenge of Nazgar was Robo Force's one shot at animated immortality so why didn't it have a proper opening? Instead of a uniquely animated intro it got a bunch of cobbled together scenes from within the show set to an orchestral accompaniment. It's strange because the show is otherwise fantastically animated throughout. How was it that Ruby Spears produced a cartoon with so much attention to detail and craftsmanship but then totally overlooked creating an original introduction segment? Where was the rockin' anthem set to a memorable montage of robot mayhem? Where were the inspiring hair metal lyrics about Maxx Steele having the heart and the motion to dare to be right in the eye of the storm? Why'd all Robo Force get was 30 seconds of instrumental followed by a chipmunk sounding chorus singing "Robo Force"? Sheesh even GoBots did better than that!


Every toyline from Star Wars to Transformers to GoBots had mailaway offers. Robo Force would not be left out! If you bought three figures and sent in the proofs of purchase before March 15, 1985 you'd get a Robot Shuttle Sled for your Robo Force-ians to ride around in. You can see a scan of the bottom flap from Robo Force boxes containing the offer over at Branded in the 80s. I asked Roger (webmaster of the OFFICIAL Robo Force Page) what exactly the sled was and he explained it was the same one that came with the Fortress of Steele. I was a little sad. As a kid I only read the front of the boxes, never inspecting the box flaps to see what the sled looked like so I grew up all these years thinking it was some awesome one robot vehicle like the Robocruiser until Roger clued me in. Plus I don't remember a single instance during my time on eBay of ever seeing an an auction for this particular mailaway, unlike mailaways from other 80s toylines that can be found somewhat frequently. So it was only until very recently that I figured out what the thing was since I'd neither seen nor bid on one still in the mailer package. Unfortunately the whole line died around the same time as the mailaway deadline, consequently I don't know if anyone ever sent in their three proofs of purchase in time and got one in the mail. Honestly I don't know of anyone who got more than three Robo Force figures in the first place.


In an era where robot cartoons and other associated media were essentially toy commercials, why did the crusher arms and gripper bases of the toys get totally overlooked in the show and comics? Those were the strongest selling points the robots had! Yet there wasn't one scene, one panel or one picture in any story showing off the features that made Robo Force robots different from other toys in the first place. They never came across an empty aluminum can that could really use some crushing or a floor needing vacuuming or any other situation where the characters could mimic what the toys were designed to do. If I wrote the show it would be about one robot's journey to win the Robo Force arm wrestling championship where robots combat arm wrestle while suspended from the ceiling while lasering each other to death. But we never saw any of that! It's like the Transformers never transforming or Prince Adam never turning into He-Man or nobody ever getting shot in G.I. Joe! Or at least nobody ever getting aimed at in G.I. Joe. Now that I think about it, those floors on Zeton were pretty spotless. UPDATE-MYSTERY SOLVED! In the pack-in comic "The Adamantium Heist" we do get to see the only use of crusher arm action in the Robo Force mythology.


Easily the greatest Robo Force mystery of all concerns the status of the '85 line. In 1985 Ideal debuted what was to be the second year of Robo Force toys at Toy Fair in February. The unveiling of the additional robots was even reported in newspapers covering the show. The new robots would have been named Arsenal The Devastator, Fangar The Conspirator, Plundor The Pulverizer, Tiltor The Changer, Ripper The Anti-Robot, and Opticon The Interceptor. Some of these figures even made it into the '84 cartoon. The Zetonians and Nazgar also had figures lined up. But then the line was canceled. Or was it? I found an ad in the May 19, 1985 issue of a Washington paper called the Tri-City Herald which may be proof that the '85 Robo Force line wasn't as unreleased as I thought it was. It's from a store called Pay 'n Save and it contains line art of two previously thought unreleased Robo Force toys-Fangar and Arsenal. How did the store get this line art and was it indicative of actual product available? Did the 1985 Robo Force line see a very limited release before it was canceled? Do newspaper ads exist with actual pictures or product assortment numbers of these unreleased figures? Why haven't I come across more ads with these figures from later on in '85? This is yet another example of a truth that will be nigh impossible to uncover, a roboplastilogical mystery that may never be solved, a lost ark that will go unraided. I may not have to journey to the Canyon of the Crescent Moon and fight snakes and Nazis to solve the fate of the unreleased robots, but it may as well be impossible. On the other hand I guess one advantage I have over Indiana Jones is that if I ever do come across my Robo Force holy grails I can probably pick them up for under five bucks at a garage sale. UPDATE-MYSTERY DEEPENS! Since I wrote this I have found another instance of an unreleased '85 Robo Forcer making it into an ad-and this time there's a pic of the actual toy!


Finding out how well Transformers or GoBots did during 1984 is pretty easy because Hasbro and Tonka were very willing to share the specifics of their successes that year. It's not the same with Robo Force. I've been unable to come up with hard numbers on how poorly the line sold. There is an article from the April 21, 1985 edition of the Dallas Morning News where it's stated that Robo Force ended up third behind Transformers and Go Bots. Knowing what I know about GoBots all I can guess out about Robo Force was that it must have made less than 50 million in wholesale orders. Maybe way less. It's hard to tell because all indications were that at the beginning of the year Ideal was impressing all sorts of people with the line at Toy Fair. In one Wall Street Journal article from February 17, 1984 one buyer named Thomas Castle who worked for Broadway Department Stores of Los Angeles was reported as having "decided to put $400,000 -- nearly 10% of his entire 1984 toy budget -- on one line: Maxx Steele and the Roboforce." The article goes on to state that Ideal planned to spend $8.4 million in advertising on the line. It does not go on to state whether or not Mr. Castle still had his job in 1985.

BJs 12 December 1985


Sometimes toylines like He-Man and GoBots featured a number of regular figures packaged together in special sets, usually these were store exclusives. I once found an ad in an Anchorage, Alaska paper that led me to believe this may have also been the case with Robo Force. Stores in Alaska usually charged a couple dollars more per figure compared to the prices in the continental US but the price in this ad for "Robo Force Action Robots" was a whopping $14.88, on sale from $19.99! That's more than twice what Robo Force figures went for at other stores in Anchorage like Carrs who ran this December 22, 1984 ad selling them for $5.99/reg $7.99. I think maybe this ad isn't for a single figure but some sort of special grouped together gift set which would explain the price. In late 1985 at a time when most other retail stores were clearancing out their stock of Robo Force it just makes no sense that one store would charge more than twice what the retail was for one figure.


Perhaps the most frustrating unsolved mystery of Robo Force is confirming how many pack-in comics there were. I get the idea from reading ToyFare's interview with Robo Force comic artist Paul Kirchner that there has to be more than what I've found. He said in the interview that there were "ten characters, and they each needed a comic book to put in with the toys" but I have only ever found three comics. Each book has from 2 to 3 robots featured it but there still remain some robots that didn't make appearances in the comics I have. I call it the most frustrating mystery because it's theoretically the easiest, most definitively answerable of all mysteries to solve, yet the final number eludes me still. I have written before about mysterious numberings on the back of the books that lead me to believe there must be at least two more out there. Unfortunately my extensive research (which consists of bribing people, checking eBay and Googling a lot) has unearthed no more of these lost dead sea scrolls of Robo Force-ology. UPDATE-MYSTERY SOLVED! Thanks to my fellow Macrocranian known only as Necronomitron I did finally track down the last two Robo Force comics-"The Adamantium Heist" and "Ambush in Celestia!".


Back in 2008 I came across a Robo Force toy in the dollar bin of an old antique store in Rapid City, South Dakota that really put the "red" in Hun-Dred. What tripped me out about it was that his head lasers weren't grey like I remembered, but red instead! It turns out there's all sorts of crazy color variations in the Robo Force line but I haven't found anywhere on the internet cataloging them all. I did find one message board conversation about Robo Force variations so I know there are people out there with the resources and knowledge to pull it off, but again, there's not much interest so I doubt anyone will ever make a definitive listing.


If this were any other obscure and forgotten old toyline I wouldn't for a second entertain thoughts of a relaunch over 26 years later. Incredibly enough, stranger things are happening. A company called Moonstone Books is actually resurrecting the other of Ideal's ancient toy robot properties, the Zeroids. They're getting a comic this August and a possible toyline from Captain Action Enterprises. Most incredibly of all, Zeroids is on Facebook. Zeroids predated Robo Force by almost two decades so to see those come back with a comic pretty much means anything is possible. The question ultimately is who owns the rights to Robo Force today? Although it was an Ideal toyline, I know Ideal was bought by CBS Toys two years before Robo Force debuted. That's why both company logos are on the toys and packaging. But what happened to CBS and who owns Robo Force now? In an effort to answer this question I tried following the trail of Ideal's ownership using this timeline of toy companies. It ends up going something like this-in 1982 Ideal is bought by CBS, then in 1985 CBS sells Ideal to Viewmaster International. Viewmaster is then acquired by Tyco in 1989, who is in turn bought by Mattel in 1997. (Mattel interestingly enough launches a toyline called Max Steel in 1999 wherein the hero fights the evil DREAD Organization.) The timeline then goes on to state that in 2003 "Poof Products, Inc. acquired substantially all of the assets of Ideal Toy" which may or may not mean they're the ones that own Maxx Steele and the Robo Force, unless Mattel still has a stake in it. So Robo Force lies with either Mattel or Poof but I doubt either would care to do anything with the property in the next few years. Who knows? Captain Action Enterprises being able to reboot the Zeroids means anything's possible. Well, except for that Maxx Steele/Hun-Dred slashfic. That's never gonna happen. (I hope.)


Jack said...

The worst crime of all is that Nazgar was never released. He's cooler than all the other robo forcers put together. He blows my mind with awesomeness. If he were two feet tall, he'd be cooler than any jumbo shogun warrior.

Evil King Macrocranios said...

Nazgar is evil disembodied re-embodied brain done right. How anyone could take such a brilliant concept and screw it up is beyond me. It's a no-brainer! I'M LOOKING AT YOU, KRANG!

bbird said...

I received three or four Robo Force figures and the giant land vehicle for Christmas '84, which was an incredible surprise since that was the first time I'd ever seen or heard of them. My older brother got a bunch of Starriors--looking back I realize this was probably because our mom was very, very pregnant at the time and our dad would have been left to do the shopping, and I bet he found what he thought was an amazing clearance deal.

Anyway, we sent away for and received an air sled. It came in a tiny white mailer and was just like the one that came with the headquarters but was all-black.

Evil King Macrocranios said...

Thank you thank you for that information. Thanks to people like you contributing their memories I've been able to solve a couple of these Robo Force mysteries. I never imagined there were people out there still fond of the line who remembered so much about its place in their childhoods.

Funny you should mention Starriors. I've been doing a lot of Starriors research lately and also updating the Starriors section of the Vintage Space Toaster Palace. I've got a bit more to go and it gets really boring but reading your comment gives me motivation to continue. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

I remember seeing ads featuring the images of the second series of Robo Force figures, then going to the store and they didn't actually have them. (I think the store was Yard Birds, in Olympia, WA.)

Evil King Macrocranios said...

Thanks! That's a great first hand observation. It's so hard to find not just people who remember Robo Force, but people who remember being fans of it enough to tell stories about their experiences tracking it in stores. Your memories definitely help in fleshing out the puzzle. I think Google has some newspapers from the upper northwest in their archive so I will check those for ads. Thanks for the lead.

In the time since I posted this list a few of the mysteries have been solved but this one remains the most confounding. I'm choosing to remain skeptical about the release of wave 2 unless an Ideal employee publicly confirms they were sold at retail. That these unreleased robots got featured in ads briefly drives me absolutely insane. I don't know what finding more ads would prove but I'm excited that more are out there.

John K. said...

The line art ads shouldn't be looked at as proof that the second series was released, at the very least.
I was lucky enough to be in contact with one of the ad execs at Ideal (not one who worked on Robo Force, unfortunately), and he sent me a copy of the line art for Rocks and Bugs and Things. It was basic cut-and-paste line art, with numbers in a specific font to make print ads.

I'll post it up on my blog when I find it.

Evil King Macrocranios said...

I'm going to keep the faith because I believe this and other ads are at least circumstantial evidence that these things got made and released. The key here I think is to figure out how stores that got the '85 figures and line art were supplied with those materials for their ads.

There are some really rare toys out there and I can't write off the possibility that some '85 RoboForcers were released in however small a quantity. It reminds me of the Micronauts Gyrotron-Marty Abrams says 10,000 were ordered and shipped even though none have ever surfaced. I haven't heard from anyone I'd consider a credible authority on what Robo Force figures did or didn't get released. There's still no concrete denial from an official source-only speculation on both sides (but at least I'm coming up with evidence).

John K. said...

Steve, I checked my computer and I actually had contact with one of the copy managers at Ideal - and he gave me a bunch of info about line art books. I'll let you know when I post it (with the scan of the line art book page from RBT):

Evil King Macrocranios said...

That's great because line art is still one of the big mysteries to me. Its existence and production are something I think is fascinating and needs to be understood better.

John K. said...

Alright! Finally found the paperwork and scanned it in.
Unfortunately for your interests, these are the pages from Rocks and Bugs and Things, another Ideal line from that year. But one thing I can say for sure is that if we had the full art book, it would match the potential releases from that year.

I'm hoping I can reach this individual again to see if he still has the catalog.

Evil King Macrocranios said...

Well it's still interesting for my interests! That the employee still has this line art book is wonderful news. Just knowing at least one still exists out there is comforting.

If you do get back in touch he'd make a fantastic interview for your blog. Good luck!

Shawn Robare said...

Hey Steve,

Been working on a set of "should have been" Robo Force cards and was doing research on your site. While re-reading this piece I noticed the bit about the RF toys selling for $14 at BJ's. Not sure if you have those around you but they are warehouse-style (Costco, Sam's) stores that only sell toys seasonally and usually only in gift sets. So I'd be willing to bet they there was a RF gift set (probably just two-three figures repackaged in a bundle.



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