Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The 1984 Ideal Toy Fair catalog starring Robo Force PART 3: STEELE'S WHEELS

Every action figure has that one big iconic vehicle-the one that sticks in the minds of fans as the ultimate preferred mode of transportation for their little plastic people. For Micronauts it was the Battle Cruiser, Star Wars had the Millennium Falcon and for G.I. Joe it was the Skystriker. But move outside of the 3 3/4 inch scale and giant mega vehicles become rare. Although Robo Force robots were 5 inch tall giants compared to Star Wars and GI Joes, Ideal didn't let that stop them from making appropriately scaled playsets and accessories. Since Robo Force was more of a traditional action figure line it too had its big iconic vehicle, which was unusual for a robot themed line at the time because other toy robots back then usually turned into vehicles instead of drove them. So while everybody else was transforming into Volkswagens and Lamborghinis, the Robo Force was arriving in style in their giant four wheeled space tank-the Command Patroller.

Robo Force Command Patroller Vehicle No. 48077

Master Robot Transport Vehicle and Base Station

NEW This master vehicle/action playset is the ultimate in Robo Force excitement! Freewheeling, with the special "Omni-Directional Steering" for super battle maneuvers, this giant vehicle features a working hatch with telescoping robot lift arm, revolving airlock bay doors, a 360 swivel laser tank turret, front mounted battering ram and laser cannon mounts. Transports 3 Robo Force Action Robot Figures. Of course, it accepts all Robo Force Action Robot Figures. For ages 4 years and up.

Pack: 6 pcs. Wgt: 18 lbs. Cube: 7.2

A quick comparison of the photos in the Ideal Toy Fair catalog and the actual production model (a couple good pictorial reviews can be found at X-Entertainment and The Red Wood Connection) shows that the one used in the Ideal catalog is a prototype with major differences that did not make it to the final version. The most significant are the steel colored tank turret and laser cannons. They almost look like they're unfinished die cast metal! Also the black paint on the section immediately behind the capture claw didn't end up on the final toy.. The loss of the black paint on the production version is especially disappointing because it brings out the accordion like detail of that front section, which mirrors the accordion like arms of the Robo Force robots. It's a small consolation but these prototype colors did make it onto the box art and were how the Command Patroller was depicted in the Robo Force storybooks.


Children's Palace 11/11/84
If the Robocruiser and Dred Crawler were the sleek sports cars of the Robo Force vehicle line, the Command Patroller was the Cadillac. Whereas the other two were little more than souped up sleds one robot stood on top of, the Command Patroller was a full blown tank that had enough room to transport at least five Robo Force warriors. For about the same price as Megatron or Optimus Prime in 1984 you could buy this giant, 23 1/2 inch long behemoth of a robo transport. It was the Millennium Falcon of the Robo Force line-the biggest vehicle ever made for Maxx Steele and the good robots and it absolutely dwarfed the other vehicles and figures in the line. Heck, it dwarfed vehicles and figures from other lines. It is not unusual to read stories online of people who would use the Command Patroller as a vehicle for their Transformers or He-Mans or other larger than 3-inch scale figures. It even made the top-of-the-line Fortress of Steele seem not as grand when placed next to it. The world wouldn't see a hunk of rolling robot related plastic this big until Fortress Maximus was released in the Transformers line three years later.


One crazy thing about the Command Patroller's portrayal in the various Robo Force media was that it was just as likely to be seen flying through the air or in space as it was rolling along the ground, despite not having any discernible wings or rockets to propel it. Most of the time the artists just drew giant plumes of fire emanating from the back of the Patroller as if there was rocket propulsion back there. They could get away with this more believably in the case of the smaller Robocruiser and Dred Crawler but when the Command Patroller flies through the air it just looks silly, especially with those four huge tires hanging there. And just like the Robocruiser was always getting demolished, the Robo Force guys managed to crash the Command Patroller in the book "Robo Force and the Mountain of Burning Ice". Unlike the Robocruisers and Dred Crawlers that had multiples flying around at any given moment, it's not clear if there was only one Command Patroller in the Robo Force fiction. I'm also not sure if the Command Patroller itself was a sentient being. In all the books I've read there's only one shown at a time and it never talks. But what is clear is that in the world of Robo Force, unless he turns in to a car you shouldn't trust a robot with your keys.

Playworld 12/16/84
LaBelle's 12/19/85

Unfortunately Robo Force got canceled before Hun-Dred and the evil robot empire could get their turbo robot megaship the Conquest Destroyer made into a toy. Although that sucks, Robo Force did at least get its Millennium Falcon in the Command Patroller. The best vehicles in an action figure line will evoke the theme of the line with their design. They will capture the spirit of the franchise with their style and appearance and the Command Patroller did exactly this. It screamed 'Robo Force' with its Max Steele color palette and boated, balloony shapes. Yet it would not be entirely out of place in any sci-fi action figure line that could use a good giant futuristic looking flying tank. It's a little sad to see ads from stores where the last command this robo rocket rod had was to patrol the clearance bin. It is perhaps the greatest overlooked, unremembered iconic vehicle of the Toy Robots Wars of the 1980s. Even robot loving kids who did have one at the time probably were disappointed it wasn't a Transformer and they didn't appreciate it. But their Skeletors probably did.

Monday, April 26, 2010

THE RETURN OF 25 YEARS AGO IN TRANSFORMERS: The 1985 Hasbro Toy Catalog part 1! OR: The road to Hell is paved with good Insecticons

I do oftentimes lament the current state of the toy robots scene and feel bad for the children growing up in my country where they can buy any toy robot they want as long as its a Transformer. When I was a kid there were many different toy robot lines with all sorts of varied themes in a slew of different sizes, shapes and colors. Now I do appreciate how Hasbro today is doing a great job of introducing a multitude of different kinds of varied toy robot designs, but my idea of toy robot diversity isn't being able to choose from multiple iterations of Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Megatron or any of the other half dozen color schemes they call characters. So the question arises-how did it get like this? How did we go from a country of stores with shelves full of GoBots, GoDaiKin, Kronoform, Transformers, Voltrons, Zoids, Robotech and Robo Force to multiple generations of children living homogenized Hasbro childhoods where the only choice is what kind of big red truck is Optimus Prime turning into this year? I'll tell you whose fault it is-his name is 1985!


If I were to take one year, one lineup of toy robots and present it as possibly the greatest of all time-if a really pissed off angry Jesus were to come down to earth and stand in judgment of mankind and ask me for one reason, one thing that proves humanity has made the most of its time on earth-I would proudly hold up to the heavens the Transformers lineup from 1985. These were the toy robots united under Hasbro's banner that destroyed all other toy robot competition, setting the unrivaled standard for several generations of how great toy robots in America could be, etching forever into the pop culture consciousness the defining characters of the Transformers mythos and ultimately setting the stage for Hasbro's domination of the global toy robot market in the future. The Transformers that came out in 1985 were perhaps the greatest toys of all time, which is why even if I feel like Transformers has been blogged to death it is my duty to do a page by page look at the Transformers pages of the 1985 Hasbro toy catalog. It is the line that birthed many a roboplastic historian and it deserves great tribute, even if it is the dawning of the roboplastic apocalypse and its success ultimately led to a) the eradication of toy robot consumer choices in America and b) that time Bumblebee peed on that guy.


Unlike the pages that opened the Transformer section of the 1984 Hasbro catalog, no artistically rendered airbrushed battle scene art was used to introduce the Transformers section for 1985 (see below). Instead, a diorama of various actual Autobot and Decepticon toys are shown posed amidst a simulated volcanic backdrop. I guess the inference here is that these toys are hot? The volcanic background theme carries on throughout the rest of the pages and is in marked contrast to the grid pattern motif established in the '84 catalog and echoed on the toys' packages. Even the 1985 pack-in catalog used the organic backdrops but in subsequent years the pack-in books would go back to neutral or non-existent backgrounds with the toys seemingly floating in space next to their descriptions. The Toy Fair catalogs would continue to use organic or diorama backdrops for the Transformer photoshoots but this would be the last year that the Transformer section opened up with an introductory two page spread like this. And now let's look at the four paragraphs Hasbro used to entice toy buyers at the wholesale level to carry their toy robot product:

The Transformers! More Than Meets The Eye
Ages: 5 & Up

The Transformers-incredibly powerful, "living" robots from a far away planet-continue their search for life-giving fuel and energy here on Earth. Evil Decepticons and heroic Autobots fight for control by transforming their bodies into vehicles, creatures, weapons and more!

I think a big part of The Transformers' success was the way Hasbro explained the concept to toy buyers at the wholesale level in their toy catalogs. I've seen a couple toy fair catalogs from the 80s and I've noticed that oftentimes the manufacturers would spend so much effort explaining what their action figures did that there was not much space dedicated to explaining the positioning and concept of the line. Hasbro's reiteration of the Transformer story right off the bat is a brilliant marketing stroke that left toy buyers with the impression that it was a more complete, well thought out franchise than other robot lines out there. Even if retail chain representatives didn't quite understand what the heck a Decepticon was in the first place, they could at least be confident Hasbro had it figured out.

Number 1 in America
Since their introduction in 1984, The Transformers have developed into the leading boy's toy robot-action concept and license. The theme involves evil Decepticons planning to drain Earth of all her precious energy sources while the heroic Autobots strive to defend the planet. The 1985 line extensions feature exciting additions including new vehicles, planes, dinosaurs, insects, a microscope and a radio. All transform into robots and back again.

Montgomery Ward 11/13/86
Here's another reason I love Hasbro marketing. Stating that they were number one in toy robots in 1984 is a brilliant spin on their sales numbers. In terms of wholesale orders Transformers still fell behind GI Joe, Masters of the Universe and Cabbage Patch Kids in '84. Even if you narrow down the competition to just boys' action figure lines they're still no better than third place. But skew the perspective so that the competition is only other robot action figure lines then they were at the head of their class. Even then that was only in terms of millions of dollars (which is all that mattered anyways I guess). Tonka sold more GoBots figures in '84 than Transformers but since they were cheaper per unit they didn't come close to Hasbro's sales. It's like Ideal saying Robo Force were the best selling robots with accordion arms and suction cup butts. You know that joke about coming in first at the Special Olympics? It applies here.

A Unique Line With Distinct Advantages
The Transformers combine the play value of three toys in one: durability of die cast vehicles, the fantasy of extra-terrestrial robots and the intrigue of puzzles. In 1985, each character includes a "secret" liquid crystal labels to identify them as true Transformers. Individual personalities and Tech Spec ratings for each character encourage collectability of the entire line. Kids also save Robot Points from each package for special Transformers premiums.

They somewhat stretch the truth here again. While there was a lot of die cast in the line, the robots were hardly durable. I was always breaking my Transformers mostly because the plastic parts like car windshields and jet tailfins were very fragile. I'll give them credit for the alien robot fantasy and the puzzle angles. Die cast alien robot puzzles could also be used to pimp GoBots, though, so it was with their next few product features that Hasbro really differentiated themselves from every other transforming robot line of the day. The rub signs, Tech Specs and Robot Points truly made a toy robot a Transformer. It's like how naked slutty bimbos are a dime a dozen in trashy porn magazines but give her Tech Specs and all of a sudden she's a classy centerfold in Playboy magazine. This was essentially what Transformers did for me as a kid. Hasbro transformed me from just another 10 year old nerd playing with toy robots to the Hugh Hefner of toy robot Volkswagens. And the Transformer lifestyle was very much like that of a millionaire porn publishing magnate-I walked around in my pajamas all day with my playmates. I guess the only difference between a boy and a man is which side of your underwear you keep your Dinobots.

Advertising and Promotional Support
The Transformers are supported by a multi-million dollar advertising campaign which features special computer-generated effects. The Transformers' four-issue limited series comic book was so popular Marvel plans to continue the series. Kids can enjoy a weekly animated TV series and will look forward to two upcoming mini series. The fall of 1985 brings a daily after-school Transformers' TV show.
The Transformers' 1985 advertising campaign was a legendary onslaught unlike anything I've seen. Transformers were everywhere-television, magazines, commercials, celebrity endorsements, comics and a million other places and there wasn't even a movie like nowadays. The final paragraph of the Toy Fair intro is a bit of an enigma, though. I don't remember any overtly computer generated special effects during the 1985 Transformer advertising campaign so I'm not sure what they were talking about. And the bit about "two upcoming mini series" has me really stumped. It sounds like they planned something along the lines of the G.I. Joe cartoons with the five part standalone miniseries (like how Five Faces of Darkness opened up Transformers season 3) but instead they went headlong into season 2 with a bunch of unrelated episodes. It sounds like two miniseries were planned at some point before season 2 went daily in syndication but I may be misinterpreting things. So a lot of what was meant in this last paragraph is real big mystery to me.


I was at TRU the other day when I came across Hasbro's reissues of the Insecticons and Perceptor and it got me thinking about Transformers 1985 again. I was wondering what could possibly be said or written about this line that hasn't already, but this is such a big birthday and I wanted to commemorate it. Ironically these robots who have been written about to death are going to end up uncelebrated on this the 25th anniversary of their finest moment, their greatest year. I guess that's why I'm doing this retrospective. '85 remains my favorite robot year and Transformers is a big part of that. Although the big 25th anniversary Transformers celebration took place last year, this is the year that I think there's really something to celebrate. It is the 25th anniversary of the toy robot lineup that cemented the Autobots and Decepticons in pop culture history. Although there's really nothing earth-shattering or interesting in this Hasbro catalog that's noteworthy to hardcore robot fans and there are no previously unknown prototypes or anything that would make these pages newsworthy additions to the toy robots wikipedia articles, it is Transformers and it is the 25th anniversary of 1985. That alone is enough. It's really just wild speculation on my part that without 1985 there may not have been Michael Bay Transformer movies today, but I can guarantee without 1985 there would be no Roboplastic Apocalypse. So let the celebration begin!


Saturday, April 24, 2010


The tenth seal of the Roboplastic Apocalypse breaks like so many of your ribs as Hun-Dred crushes you with his crusher arms while forcing you to listen to this, the RoboForceTastic Podcastalypse!

Or download it directly


TV Guide Youngstown-Erie, PA 12/13/84
The Robo ForceTastic Apocalypse comes to its crushy, grippy end with this Robo Force themed edition of the Podcastalypse! Alas, my Robo Force themed week long series of blog posts did not result in an announcement from Michael Bay about an upcoming Robo Force movie trilogy but maybe it's for the best. In the meantime we can all watch the Revenge of Nazgar on YouTube and listen to me talk about why an obscure cartoon starring a bunch of giant talking Mad Max vacuum cleaners may just be the greatest American robot show of all time.


  • Opening poem-"The Roboplastic Podcastalypse" (RoboForce'd Up version)
  • Huggy arms and suction cup butts-a winning combination!
  • The magical pre-1985 era in the U.S. before the big robot explosion
  • Robo Force-A lot better than you forgot it was
  • Finding robo feces in your collection
  • Get me a comic, I'll pay you a Hun-Dred
  • Robo Force Adventure series books and why you need them
  • Comprehensive list of all Robo Force comics (in my non-comprehensive collection)
  • Cassette tapes-the cure for appreciation deficit disorder
  • Synopsis of the Robo Force mythology
  • Two men named "Fury" who are actually quite well behaved
  • Why is Hun-Dred so an-gry?
  • Saying "gentlemen" when you really mean "creepy cyborgs"
  • Deena Strong-the hot Han Solo
  • Robo Force "Expanded universe" (a nice way to say "silly books for 1st graders")
  • Robo Force tropes present in "The Battle at the Fortress of Steele"
  • The evil robots are not in the Robo Force, they're just wearing the t-shirts
  • Fortress of Steele's secret location that everyone knows about
  • Evil robot empire of four robots
  • Mark Fury, creator of Robo Force (but not the bad ones wearing Robo Force shirts)
  • Richard Fury-not a Sparkplug, but still pretty bright
  • The Revenge of Nazgar-Flint Dille's first robot show
  • Some T.R.o.N airdates courtesy Google newspaper archive:
  • A brief email conversation I had with Flint Dille about his Robo Force memories
  • T.R.o.N.'s parallels with Transformers cartoon
  • A brief setup of the premise of T.R.o.N.
  • Robo Force-The last great American sci-fi robot idea
  • Turn the tape over!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Revenge (of Nazgar) is a dish best served 26 years later

TV Guide 08 December 1984

It is a momentous day my fellow Robo Force-ians! I have uploaded the one shot Robo Force cartoon special "The Revenge of Nazgar" in three parts unto YouTube.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3


When the time comes for this week's Podcastalypse I would like for everyone to know what I'm talking about and get all the references so if you would watch it I'd appreciate it. Thanks!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

GET YOUR CRUSH ON!-The Fiction of Robo Force CONCLUSION: The Robo Force Storybooks!

Although Robo Force did not last beyond its initial debut year, Ideal was still able to commission a decent amount of fictional material exploring the Robo Force mythos. There were Robo Force stories in a variety of formats including the comics that were included with the figures, storybooks that were sold separately and also in the premiere (and only ) issue of Robo Force Magazine. I don't have a complete Robo Force collection so I don't know what all exactly is out there but I would like to give a brief overview of the stories contained in the various books I do have. In this last of two parts we'll take a look at the Robo Force storybooks, including the two game books and the Robo Force Adventure series.

While the Robo Force pack-in comics that came with the toys were a good place to start, those eight page stories weren't able to really flesh out the mythology of the Robo Force universe. So, like many other licensed toy properties of the 80s, Robo Force had a number of different series of storybooks written for children with different levels of sophistication and reading comprehension that would further the adventures of Maxx Steele and Hun-Dred. So far I have found two distinct types of Robo Force books-a game genre set which consisted of two books and three other books all of which were subtitled "A Robo Force Adventure". I will call the second type "The Robo Force Adventure Series" for purposes of this post.


"Robo Force and the Giant Robot" and "Robo Force and the Mountain of Burning Ice" were two Choose Your Own Adventure style storybooks written by Seth McEvoy and beautifully illustrated by "Penalva" and "Courtney". I don't know why the artists only chose to go by one name but it's a trend that continued throughout most Robo Force storybooks. This game book series is written for very young children so there isn't much depth to the stories and they're about as complicated as the pack-in comics in terms of plot, but with more pages and fantastic art. This is strictly for the little kids, though, as the decision making involved is mostly unnecessary and the majority of the time making the wrong turn will inevitably lead to an ending with a second chance, telling you to go to the page you should have gone to in the first place. There's even very little page navigating. In fact, you could read straight through the first 29 pages of "Robo Force and the Giant Robot" before you encounter a page that would be out of sequence with the story. At times they hardly feel like game books at all, but that is probably because they're aimed at very young readers. They're very much worth reading, though, as they do have their moments of classic Robo Force goofiness like the unforgettable line "Make up your mind, jerk-circuits!"


Synopsis: Doctor Richard Fury and the Robo Force discover Andor, a lost civilization that stored all their advanced knowledge of medicine, technology and war in a vast underground supercomputer before going extinct. When his son Mark falls ill with a rare disease, Dr. Fury desperately hopes the knowledge in the computer can save him, but Nazgar and Hun-Dred also know of the discovery and have different plans in mind.

The Adventure Series is where Robo Force really shines and fulfills its potential as a the kind of sci-fi space robot war I could get into when I was 10. The storytelling in the books of the Adventure Series is slightly more serious and a bit darker in tone, which I really like because they seem like they're more set in the same universe as The Revenge of Nazgar (the one shot cartoon). The comic pack-ins and game books have a way more kiddy feel than the Adventure series. Instead of short plots with little character and background development, the Adventure series books attempt a more thorough fleshing out of the Robo Force universe than you'll get in any other books. In The Treasure of Andor we get to learn a little more about planet Zeton and what Doctor Fury does when he's not building robots. Then it breaks out into crazy robot war halfway through and gets a little hard to follow. My favorite illustration is one of Hun-Dred busting the door down, beautifully rendered by story artist "Fernando". What's awesome is how Hun-Dred's holding his laser like a 1920s Tommy gun in a surprise attack on Maxx and the other members of the Robo Force.


Synopsis: Doctor Fury invents a machine to kill Nazgar called the De-Nazgarator but the rare element he needs to power it can only be found in one place: UNDER NAZGAR'S FORTRESS!

This is classic Robo Force silliness in a very people powered Robo Force story. Much of the action is centered around Dr. Fury, his son Mark and Councilwoman Deena Strong. (Oh god Deena strong is so hot thanks to the artistry of Juan Gimenez.) Robo Force takes a bit of a back seat during the story in which the human trio of good guys storm Nazgar's Fortress in an attempt to secure the element "Ryton". In a short email conversation I had with Flint Dille (who wrote The Return of Nazgar) he commented "I remember they were searching for something called Ryton. I remember that sounding like the hippie phrase, 'right on'." I thought Mr. Dille's observation was funny. In my head I had been pronouncing it like 'rye taun' but I was off. I really thought this would be the book that wraps the series up but the ending was not as decisive as I was hoping for. It's hard to make a timeline of Robo Force canon because every story in every book is pretty much stand alone, but this one could serve as the finale depending on how the ending is interpreted.


Synopsis:Maxx gets kidnapped by Hun-Dred and taken to Nazgar's fortress for some reprogramming, but once again Hun-Dred has underestimated his foe.

Pretty straightforward plot here-Maxx is kidnapped and the Robo Force has to get him back. But this is Maxx Steele we're talking about so the reader is left with no doubt that the ones in trouble are really Hun-Dred and his crew. There's a funny moment where even Nazgar shows his frustration with Hun-Dred's inability to recognize the situation is worse for the kidnappers than the kidnapped. Personally I am really tired of Hun-Dred always losing to Maxx. Maxx is so overwhelmingly great and smart and powerful that I find myself cheering for Hun-Dred all the time. At least in this book there is actually a moment where even Maxx thinks there is a possibility-however small-that he might get reprogrammed into a slave of Nazgar. Another book beautifully illustrated (this time by artist Mones) in a large 9x11 inch format. The two other Adventure series books are small, 5x5 1/2 inch squares so the great art really looks good in the bigger size here.


There are two more pieces of Robo Force fiction I have yet to cover-the read along adventure "Battle at the Fortress of Steele" and of course the long lost cartoon "The Revenge of Nazgar". But fear not my fellow Macrocranians! I'll get to those in this week's Roboplastic Podcastalypse!

The Robo Force Punch-Out Toy Book CONCLUSION: No Sax Please, We're Zetonian

Last time on the RoboPaper Apocalypse I assembled the Maxx Steele and Hun-Dred paper models from the Robo Force Punch-Out Toy book. All that was left were the other two paper robots, Coptor and Blazer. The way I see it, the choice of characters included in this book supports my theory that Blazer was originally intended as a bad guy. If you could only choose four robots from a toyline in which the theme was two opposing factions fighting a robot war, then the most logical choice would be to take two robots from each side, right? Or maybe it is also possible that Blazer really was intended as a good guy and the pop out book creator figured he'd be a good choice because Blazer really steals the show in the Robo Force pack-in comics with his saxophone playing skills. I think my first hunch is right, though, because the pop out book unforgivably forgets to include a paper saxophone accessory for everyone's favorite sax playing pyromaniac.

I don't have a "real" Blazer or Copter but these paper models are decent stand ins. They're only millimeters shorter than other Robo Force robots and make really good representations of the characters. Paper Blazer's water cannon doesn't have the ability to swivel like the actual toy but paper Coptor does have rotating copter blades on top of his head. All in all I think the robot choices made for the book were pretty good because if you're really into Robo Force each of these guys stands out in some way in the fiction. Maxx is the star of the line, Hun-Dred the main villain, Blazer the sax lover and Coptor in the cartoon at least has significance as the first of the good Robo Force robots to be built, plus it really sounds to me like he was voiced by Peter Cullen. I love the paper models from the Robo Force Punch-Out Toy book both for the character choices and the quality of the builds and I'm really glad I got it (even if it is missing a saxophone).

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Art of Steele, Tales of Dred-The Fiction of Robo Force PART 1: The Robo Force Comics!

Although Robo Force did not last beyond its initial debut year, Ideal was still able to commission a decent amount of fictional material exploring the Robo Force mythos. There were Robo Force stories in a variety of formats including the comics that were included with the figures, storybooks that were sold separately and also in the premiere (and only ) issue of Robo Force Magazine. I don't have a complete Robo Force collection so I don't know what all exactly is out there but I would like to give a brief overview of the stories contained in the various books I do have. In this first of two parts we'll take a look at the Robo Force comics I've been able to find so far, including three of the pack-in mini books from the figures and also the five page comic story in the magazine.

Robo Force stories were told in many formats but the most commonly accessible were the short mini comics that came with the toys. The mini booklets that came with each Robo Force figure and vehicle were 14 pages long and included a robot roster, a Maxx Steele bio page, an eight page comic and a brief product catalog featuring the other vehicles, playsets and non-figure merchandise in the line. They had wraparound covers and were illustrated by cartoonist Paul Kirchner. I don't know the exact number of comics produced but I think there may have been more than just the three I have because the back of each book has a number that appears to be sequential from book to book. The ones I have are numbered 2L-2947-0000, 2L-2947-1000 and 2L-2947-4000. I suspect there may at least be two more that would end in -2000 and -3000 but I don't know for sure, nor do I know if there are any beyond -4000. (UPDATE! Thanks to fellow Macrocranian the Necronomitron, I was supplied with the last two Robo Force pack in comics!) There is also a five page comic in the Robo Force magazine, which was written by Jay Itzkowitz and penciled by the late great Frank Springer, who also drew the first four issues of Marvel's Transformers comic.


Character Appearances: Maxx Steele, Hun-Dred, Blazer
Other Toys Featured: Dred Crawler, Fortress of Steele
Synopsis: Hun-Dred discovers the secret location of the Fortress of Steele while Maxx is conducting a delicate memory enhancement experiment on Blazer.

My Thoughts: In this comic we discover the Robo Force story takes place on a planet named Zeton and Hun-Dred is a robot whose only purpose is to destroy Maxx Steele. Other interesting character traits are revealed, like that Blazer likes to play the saxophone and Hun-Dred only has one sense: the ability to sense fear in others. Yeah, it's corny but that's why I like it. We also learn that Maxx is a super bad ass and while Hun-Dred really tries his heart out he's still no match for Maxx. In fact you kind of get the idea that Maxx is annoyed by all this. Even on the cover it hardly looks like Maxx is concerned as he only slightly tilts forward after being shot in the back by Hun-Dred's laser at point blank range. This is comic 2L-2947-0000 and it firmly establishes that Maxx Steele is super awesome and Hun-Dred is a bit of a hater but it fails to answer more important overall questions like why the robots fight each other and how they don't have mouths but can still play the saxophone.


Character Appearances: Wrecker, Wrecker's Air Bot, Cruel, Hun-Dred's voice (over the radio in the Dred Crawler)
Other Toys Featured: Dred Crawler, Robocruiser
Synopsis: Wrecker is on a mission to recover selenium ore from a wrecked space freighter when Cruel launches a surprise attack.

My Thoughts: If you didn't already know who the good and bad guys were then the actions of the robots in this story would have you confused. Wrecker is essentially looting a derelict ship when Cruel shows up and starts sucker punching him from out of nowhere, destroying Wrecker's Robocruiser in the process. Then during the course of the battle, Wrecker carjacks Cruel's Dred Crawler and prank calls Hun-Dred. This is comic 2L-2947-1000 and it firmly establishes that both sides in the Robo Force war are willing to win at all costs but it does not explain why these robots have nothing better to do all day long than be total douchebags to each other.


Character Appearances: Blazer, Blazer's Air Bot, S.O.T.A., Hun-Dred
Other Toys Featured: Dred Crawler, Robocruiser, Command Patroller, Fortress of Steele
Synopsis: S.O.T.A. and Blazer discover Hun-Dred in the act of melting a jungle with a satellite based laser weapon and set out to stop him.

My Thoughts: It's the return of everybody's favorite saxophone playing pyromaniac as Blazer goes up against Hun-Dred's heat ray. You may think eight pages isn't much but the action and toys are jam packed in this one. Every Robo Force vehicle and playset are featured even if it's just for a few panels and the Air Bot even gets a line or two in! Yet another Robocruiser bites the dust and there's a great scene where S.O.T.A. totally punks Hun-Dred from a million miles away with his sniper scope. This is comic 2L-2947-4000 and it firmly establishes that Hun-Dred is the Wile E.Coyote of robot villains and it still doesn't explain how a robot can play the saxophone but by this time you realize Robo Force is the greatest space robot war story of all time.


Character Appearances: Mark Fury, Maxx Steele, Wrecker, Blazer, Sentinel, Coptor, S.O.T.A., Hun-Dred, Vulgar, Cruel, Enemy
Other Toys Featured: Robocruisers, Command Patroller, Fortress of Steele
Synopsis: Hun-Dred has a death ray and a space mirror. Unfortunately he just gave the Robo Force the space mirror and he's still stupid enough to try to use the death ray on them. Hilarity ensues.

My Thoughts: Ever wonder what would've happened to the Death Star if Alderaan had a gigantic space mirror? Hun-Dred actually manages to get all the guys on his side killed in this one. That's not a spoiler because if you haven't realized by now that Robo Force is the Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner show in space with robots then you aren't paying attention. It's a real treat to see Frank Springer's take on the Robo Force universe as he elevates the subject matter with subtle touches like NOT drawing each robot's name on their torsos. Just for a moment the art tricks you into thinking you might actually be reading a SERIOUS saxophone playing alien robot war comic. Unfortunately no subtle touch could mask the absurdity of scenes like the following where human hero Mark Fury pilots the Robo Force's open air, cabinless flying car through space-without a space suit on!


Although these are all of the Robo Force comics I could find, the ridiculous stories don't end here. Tune in next time when I go over the rest of the storybooks in the Robo Force universe, featuring some of the most incredible illustrations I've ever seen but also some of the most incredibly silly stories I've ever read.

AIR FORCE! Secrets of Robo Force's crusher arm technology revealed!

S.O.T.A. takes one for the team in this examination of the inner workings of the Robo Force's crusher arm feature. If you're like me and you've spent the last 26 years without the foggiest clue how those Robo Force robots do that crazy crushing action, then check this video out! Or if you're like my wife you probably figured it out the first time you saw a Robo Force figure, in which case this is hardly the incredible engineering mystery I've been making it out to be. But for the rest of us who don't have degrees in Air Powered Robot Pump Recognizing, there's this video!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The 1984 Ideal Toy Fair catalog starring Robo Force PART 2: Assortment 48076-The Robocruiser and Dred Crawler!

Robo Force was structured more like traditional action figure line instead of a robot figure line like Transformers or GoBots. This meant the Robo Force figures were the core of the line and would exist entirely at the entry level price point while the more expensive items would be vehicles and playsets. This is the way most non-robot action figure assortments like He-Man or G.I. Joe were structured in the 80s, with the mid and high level price point items being extensions of the brand the figures could interact with. Transformers and GoBots were able to circumvent this pattern by initially just offering larger robots to fit the various pricing tiers. The downside was that when they did experiment with vehicles and playsets, the robots were in so many different size classes that not all of them interacted well with the other toys. But from day one Robo Force had the action figure advantage where all of the figures were guaranteed to work well with the playsets because there were no scale conflicts. In order to fill the mid and high price points, Ideal just made bigger and bigger Robo Force vehicles. And for only five bucks more than a figure you could get the least expensive vehicles in the Robo Force line-the Robocruiser and Dred Crawler.

Robo Force Vehicle Assortment
No. 48076

Robo Force Robocruiser

This "good guy" robot action vehicle features a unique air activation system: insert the special "Air Bot" activator into the nozzle on the vehicle, squeeze, and the vehicle starts to move! Air is the secret. The "Air Bot" pumps up a balloon that makes the motor start and the periscope rise, indicating the fuel status. There's a working robot transport lift that picks up robots plus laser swivel cannons and more. The vehicle accepts all Robo Force Action Robot Figures. 2 "AA" batteries required (not included)
For ages 4 years and up.

Pack: 12pcs. Wgt: 1.4 lbs. Cube: 6.2
Robo Force Dred Crawler

The enemies of the Robo Force attack in this motorized action vehicle, which features a unique air activation system: insert the special "Air Bot" activator into the nozzle on the vehicle, squeeze, and the vehicle starts to move! Air is the secret. The "Air Bot" pumps up a balloon that makes the motor start and the periscope rise, indicating the fuel status. There's a working pincer attack clawand laser swivel cannons. Accepts all Robo Force Action Robot Figures. 2 "AA" batteries required (not included).
For ages 4 years and up.

Pack: 12pcs. Wgt: 1.4 lbs. Cube: 6.2

Although the Dred Crawler and Robo Cruiser were designed to hold any Robo Force figure, the Toy Fair catalog and packaging would depict them being piloted by the leaders of the respective Robo Force factions, Max Steele and Hun-Dred. The color schemes of the vehicles compliment those two figures so well that I wonder if they were not designed with these drivers specifically in mind. On a minor note, once again what we get with the vehicle descriptions in the Toy Fair catalog is only a vague allusion to robot war, with one side described as the "good guys" and the other their enemies. But what was not vague was the exciting description of the vehicles' propulsion systems-a bizarre combination of pump action and battery powered motorization. I really like the idea of a starting mechanism different from the traditional on/off switch other battery powered toys had. And although the Dred Crawler and Robocruiser had the same propulsion system they were two totally different designs, with the Crawler being the more sleek and low to the ground of the two. I am so sorely tempted to get myself a Dred Crawler off eBay just to figure out the specifics of how the propulsion system works because it sounds so fascinating. It is both ridiculous and brilliant how Ideal combined the concepts of air power and electricity within a theme of advanced robotic technology.


The Air Bots struck me as very similar to the Astromech Droid concept from Star Wars, except in Robo Force they actually contributed something important to the function of the vehicle toys beyond just sitting in them. You actually needed the Air Bot to start the toy. If you look closely at the catalog pictures you may notice that the Air Bots differed greatly in design from the actual production versions. You can see the final production versions in the excerpt above I've scanned from a Robo Force promo ad that appeared in Robo Force magazine. (Check out the entire ad here.) Although they're the same design used in both vehicles just colored differently, the prototype Air Bots shown in the Toy Fair catalog have a much more bloated look to them. Strangely enough both Air Bot variations appeared in the Robo Force books, with the pack-in comic "Showdown in Space" using the final production version and the prototype showing up on the Dred Crawler being piloted by Hun-Dred on the cover of "The Maxx Steele Trap". Although they appeared by default whenever a Robocruiser or Dred Crawler was shown in a Robo Force book, the Air Bots didn't get much characterization. "Showdown in Space" is the only instance of the Air Bots being featured on their own outside of a vehicle in any Robo Force book or comic I've ever found, with the Air Bot from the Robocruiser piloted by Wrecker even getting some speaking lines!


Actually even the Robocruiser isn't used much in the Robo Force fiction beyond very brief appearances. While the Robocruiser may have dominated when it came to newspaper ad appearances, by far the most common of these two vehicles in the Robo Force media was the Dred Crawler. Dred Crawlers are constantly featured in almost every Robo Force book. They're the main mode of transportation of Hun-Dred and his crew and consequently they're seen almost every time the bad guys show up. It's almost as if there were a concerted effort to push the Dred Crawler over the Robo Crusier in the advertising materials. I don't know why this would be necessary given that I think the Dred Crawler is the cooler looking of the two. Ideal may have felt that the bad guys wouldn't sell as well as the good guys, or maybe it was just that with the addition of the Command Patroller the good guys had more vehicles and less space to devote to each of them. Whatever the reason, there is a definite imbalance between the frequency of Dred Crawler vs. Robocruiser in the Robo Force fiction, with the bias totally in favor of showcasing the Dred Crawler. In "Showdown in Space" Wrecker even pilots a Dred Crawler after his Robocrusier is blown up!

Playworld 11/15/84
Playworld 12/02/84
Playworld 11/14/85

Perhaps the biggest advantage to Robo Force being based on completely original sci-fi robot designs is that its vehicles couldn't be criticized as being out of scale with the rest of the line. Oftentimes with toys like Star Wars' AT-AT or the Millennium Falcon compromises had to be made to fit the figures while still making the vehicles in a compact scale so proportions would look a bit off. But with Robo Force there is no preordained idea of scale, proportion or what the vehicle was supposed to look like, so everything looked right! I don't think the GoBots ever reached this level of figure/vehicle integration with their Sky Hawk and Power Suits, and the Transformers wouldn't come close until they became more traditional action figures with their Action Master line over 5 years later. But until then it was Robo Force that would find the perfect balance between action figure and toy robot line, melding perfectly the sci-fi robot with a variety of accessories and environments to interact with. Although Robo Force may have gotten laughed at for being robots that couldn't turn into vehicles at a time when everybody else was doing it, they had at least one advantage. The difference between Robo Force and Transformers is when Maxx Steele's car dies he has it fixed. When Sam Witwicky's car dies he has a funeral.

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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.