Sunday, February 05, 2012

I WANNA ROBOTIX ALL NIGHT (and RoboForce every day)

The 39th seal of the Roboplastic Apocalypse is erased from existence like the brain of your giant talking robot Tyrannosaurus bulldozer! Yes it's a Robotixciting edition of the Podcastalypse as guest co-host Colin from and I fire up the GoBackaTron 1984thousand to talk about the intriguing early years of the part robot, part action figure, part construction set toy line Robotix. Was the interfacing of humans and robots in Robotix the inspiration for the Transformers' Powermaster engines? Was Herb Trimpe the Bob Budiansky of Robotix? More importantly, is Paul Stanley the Stan Bush of Robo Force? Find out all this (or don't) in this I'M SO ROBOTIXCITED AND I JUST CAN'T HIDE IT edition of the podcastalypse!

Or download it directly


Before I got on with the Robotix portion of the show I wanted to share a couple ads that support my theory that Robo Force wasn't immediately cancelled in 1985 but lived long enough that at least a few cases of the 1985 assortments depicted in the 1985 Ideal Toy Fair catalog made it out. So I spend a couple minutes on the show discussing the two ads below from a store called Dart Drug that use line art and descriptions of the "unreleased" 1985 Robo Force figure assortments. It would kind of help me out more if Dart didn't put a picture of bad guy Hun-Dred in its ad for the Heroic robots and do-gooder Maxx Steele in the ad for the Defiant robots. But hey if the supporting evidence were totally solid it wouldn't be a good conspiracy theory.

Dart Drug 01 December 1985
Dart Drug 10 November 1985
The case assortment numbers in these ads match the assortment numbers listed in the 1985 Ideal Toy Fair catalog


Note the early box art for the first two Robotix sets
What happened with this show is I started recording it back in October during a bike ride to the comic shop near my house, on a hunt for Robotix #1. Snagging the book was a crucial part of my preparations for not only this episode but also for a convention I went to later that month. Although it was more of a Star Wars con, I was really excited about going and getting to meet one of the guests who also happened to be the artist/writer that worked on the Robotix comic book, Herb Trimpe. He rarely comes down south and although Texas is 1,300 lateral miles from my house, based on his appearance alone I bought tickets and went over there hoping to see him and maybe ask a couple questions about Robotix. The first 25 minutes of this show were recorded before I went to the convention when I was all hyped about the con. It was a time of high hopes which of course were dashed the first day of the convention when Mr. Trimpe couldn't make it because he missed his plane to Texas. Although I'd recorded 25 minutes of show, my enthusiasm for completing it alone waned. Then one day action figure customizer/toy robot blogger/giant Robotix fan Colin aka "Commander X" got in touch and said hey, let's do the Robotix show! So my huge thanks go out to him for rescuing this idea from the abyss of my hard drive and making my Robotix episode dream come true. Without his expertise and catalog page contributions this show may never have come out and definitely wouldn't have been as good.


What I find fascinating about Robotix is that it began as a construction set and stayed very true to that concept in its first year of release in 1984. The sets came packaged with G.I. Joe scale pilots in astronaut suits and no reference was made to the actual constructed machines as independent, sentient entities. Then with the 1985 release of the line the boxes get redesigned with dynamic painted artwork, the line gets a cartoon tie-in where a sci-fi fantasy adventure background is established, and the machines are all given character names. You can see how what began as a simple construction set idea got shoehorned into a more mainstream action figure line with the marketing of the day, even though the sets themselves weren't as action figure like as depicted on the show. Colin believes Robotix would have worked great as a crossover with G.I. Joe where the Robotix vehicles would have had Joe pilots. I wonder if this idea was ever considered by Hasbro/Bradley back in the day because it does seem like the Robotix vehicles would have made awesome bad guy monster machines for 3 3/4 inch figures.


Just last night I was in Toys R Us in the Transformer aisle when I overheard a lady ask a TRU employee if Transformers were the only robots they had. "These are all robots but they don't do anything. I need a robot that moves by itself." I watched as they both searched the action figure aisle for a couple minutes but I knew they wouldn't find anything. Robots just don't move by themselves these days. I went to the construction toys section to see if the concept of Robotix has survived in some form and I found one single solitary robot kit that I think was a Lego Technic set. It was kind of sad to see how the once vastly diverse selection of robots and robot based construction vehicles from the 80s has withered down to its current sad state where you can have any robot you want as long as its a Transformer. Transformers are great but long gone are the glory days of motorized walking robots like Trypticon, Sky Lynx and Omega Supreme. That poor lady was in the right aisle, but just the wrong decade. I say judge not a society's scientific and technological greatness on what they have put into outer space, but judge them by what they have put in their motorized robot toys aisle at Toys R Us.

Maybe trying to market Robotix as a traditional action figure line wasn't exactly a perfect fit with what the product actually was but it sure was an interesting try. In 1985 sentient robots were all the rage. I can't blame them for trying to say each set was actually a robotic character. The problem is those astronauts the Robotix sets came with. It's hard to come up with a convincing argument for why a sentient robot needs a human pilot. We discuss that a little in the show. Should Robotix have been spun as a more G.I. Joe/Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors type concept or was it truly a GoBotty, Transformery one? We'll explore these ideas more thoroughly in the next Robotix themed Podcastalypse when Colin and I go over the Robotix cartoon.

ToysRUs 12/04/85
ToysRUs 12/11/85


Of course no Podcastalyptical look at a toyline is complete without some mention of what was going on in the newspaper ads of the day. I tend to describe Robotix as "obscure" a lot during the show because it seems that way in the lack of mainstream action figure fandom its garnered over the years. But back in the day Robotix was actually very prevalent as evidenced by all of the different stores that ran ads for it. Robotix ads could be found in the circulars for the big toy discounters like Toys R Us, Children's Palace, and Lionel Playworld in addition to running in the circulars of retail chains like Bradlee's, Venture, and even rocery stores like Osco. (I posted some additional Robotix ads from many of these stores at the Robofacial Bookocalypse.)

GemCo December 9, 1985


This Gemco ad illustrates why Robotix wasn't as collector friendly as the other action figure lines it was marketed alongside. Jetfire up top was the highest price point Transformer in 1984, with a regular retail of anywhere from $25-$30. But spending that much only got you the lowest priced Robotix set. Marketing Robotix as a more traditional action figure line was like asking people to collect only the most expensive Transformers. So imagine watching the cartoon as a kid and wanting multiple Robotix sets because of all the cool looking robots, only to find owning just four Robotix-Venturak, Tyrannix, Bront and Argus would end up costing more than $180 1985 dollars! (That's $360 2010 dollars.) The Toy King ad snippet below right is from November of 1986 when the popularity of the line at retail was on the decline and stores were beginning to liquidate their Robotix stock. Even with discounts of $15-$30 off regular retail they were still on the expensive side for action figures, but those are pretty good prices for motorized construction sets with so many pieces.


Toy King 11/26/86

Bradlee's 12/08/85
  • The hunt for Robotix #1
  • There's enough 1985 to last a lifetime
  • BREAK-Robotix Commercial
  • The robotastic aspects of Herb Trimpe's career
  • BREAK-Robo Force Commercial
  • Did Paul Stanley sing the Robo Force commercial promo?
  • The beastification of Robo Force
  • Fangar line art in a newspaper ad (and Mary Fury & Deena Strong, too)
  • The case for the cases of Robo Force asst 48273
  • Live by the grocery store ad, die by the grocery store ad
  • You better go and cry now
  • My homogenized Hasbro childhood
  • My massive abyss of Robotix unknowledge
  • 80s attempts to combine robots with construction sets
  • Milton Bradley's reputation before Robotix
  • Colin's Robotix introduction
  • Colin's disappointment with owning the non-cool Argus box
  • Robotix on the secondary market
  • The 99 cent Argus on eBay
  • The evolution of the line
  • Robotix concepts preceding similar ones in Transformers
  • New Robotix still being sold online
  • The high price points of the original line
  • Toylines that start with one backstory and change it later
  • Star Brigade, Star Command, Legion of Power, Bionicle and other Robotixish lines
  • Robotics and Things Robotix Dog
  • Toyline attempts to explain sentient robots with human pilots
  • Logical inconsistency in Robotix cartoon
  • What if we had Robotix conventions?
  • Herb Trimpe fleshing out the Robotix universe
  • Asking Peter Cullen about character motivations in Rainbow Brite
  • Why can I haz Michael McConnohie at conventions?
  • Another Robotix-tastic podcastalypse in the future
  • Robot Japan Summit February 18th
  • Don't Rocket Punch your friends!


John K. said...

As much as I would love for it to be true that the 2nd series Robo Force snuck out, I think we would have seen them by now, somewhere.

Still trying to get a copy of that line art catalog from Ideal, but the guy who I had received the RBT scans from so long ago must have changed his e-mail address (or is simply ignoring me).
The fact that the stores could create their own ads from the line art would lead to what we see here - the humans listed with the description for the robots, etc.
This ad also helps us disprove the previous ad you dug up with the physical pics of the second series figures - there had to be some type of pics sent out that could also be used in ads by Ideal.

Evil King Macrocranios said...

I don't think the picture of Tiltor in that other ad was some sort of Ideal produced photography but more likely it was an example of a toy sample either loaned out or given to the store for use in their ad photography. Like the prototype Jetfire in the Venture ad, what was in the photos was probably not reflective of what the store actually had. So I've lost hope that the evidence I've come up with was very solid in that instance.

I'm still not willing to totally write off the possibility that some of the robots may have made it to the shelves, mostly because I don't know for sure what's out there. I think the line is obscure enough that not many people are consciously looking for these things and the few that made it out may just have gotten lost in time. There are some toys like that today. I think it could have been a case of really tough to find tail enders disappearing before anyone had a chance at documenting them.

Captain Rufus said...

Nice to hear about Robotix. I think I mentioned last year getting a few sets, none of which work. Dunno if its the motors, the cables, or the control box, or the battery boxes.

Sigh. I have enough to make some cool stuff otherwise.

Evil King Macrocranios said...

Thanks! I always think about a comment you left a long time ago that Transformers are cool but other robot toylines really get ignored. I feel like you really get what I'm aiming for with the show. When I do an episode like this I feel like I'm doing what I set out to do and talk about those other lines and hopefully fulfill the promise I made to you and other listeners.


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Evil King Macrocranios was voted king by the evil peoples of the Kingdom of Macrocrania. They listen to Iron Maiden all day and try to take pictures of ghosts with their webcams.