Robots In Disguise..at The Gas Station?

There was just something about toy promotions in the 80s. Really there was! These days sure they still have some at your local fast food chain from time to time but usually they are stiff, immovable, licensed throwaways. The 80s however was a giveaway bonanza! You don’t have to look far on the Retroist site to see the many fabulous gems that were freebies back in the early days of collecting. I loved my Burger King Movie Glasses and Posters! I loved my Wrestling Stickers in specially marked bags of chips, I very much enjoyed that great giveaway in the bottom of a box of cereal! Giveaways came in everything! Hell even Gas Stations had cool giveaways in Canada!! That’s right Gas Stations!

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The mid eighties between 84 and 86 ESSO gas Stations while jumping on the Transforming Robot craze that was exploding with Transformers and Go-Bots decided to entice kids to pressure their family to visit ESSO!

While rummaging through my toy bins for my kids in the basement I uncovered an old gem that I had forgotten about and it made me think back to 1985 and a visit to my local ESSO. Yep with one 20 dollar or more fuel up you could get one of these bad boys free! Or buy ’em straight up for 1.99 if your parents were frugal like that!

The signs all over station boasted their latest HOT giveaway..This time it wasn’t a free bottle of oil or windshield wash it was the very Transformers / Go-Bot inspired ESSO ROBOT RACERS!

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The Robot Racer series contained 8 transformable robots mainly vehicular in nature and were repainted versions of a Japanese toy called Change Robo.

The series as mentioned above consisted of 8 unique Robot Racers each with their own name and body style. The toys transformed from Robot form into such fun vehicles as..

  1. Liftor Red/yellow Toyota 4Runner Crane Truck
  2. Mighty-Man – White Mazda RX-7
  3. Dromo – Red/yellow Toyota 4Runner Cement Mixer
  4. Surf-Finder – Yellow Volkswagen Beetle (Bumblebee Rip Off!)
  5. Command Van – Red/yellow Toyota 4Runner Missile Truck
  6. Wagon Master – Red Honda City Turbo
  7. Excelor – Red Nissan 300ZX
  8. Pro-Ton – Red/yellow Toyota 4Runner Pickup

Robot Racers featured the pull back and go motion and I recall that these things could really move! Their Robotic form left a little to be desired as they were light in the articulation department but fit seamlessly into my Go-Bot collection! I only have two of these left in decent condition but Robot Racers left an impression on me as a kid! You never know where your next childhood memory will come from! Who would have known it would be a gas station!
Till next time Heroes!

Fries of Steel: The Superman French Fries story!

Hello Retroist fans it’s the Charlton Hero again spending some time sharing my memories with you fine folks. This time I tackle a subject crazy merchandise crossovers gone horribly..RIGHT!!

So the Man of Steel flew into theaters this year to a great box office reception! Superman finally was cool again! DC comics even found a way to re-launch all its titles almost 2 years ago and freshen up the legendary comic book icon! So it only made sense to fill comic book shelves with new Superman comic books. Toy shelves were filled with new action figures, animated movies and posters you name it! There is money to be made! Well if history rewrites itself this wasn’t the first time that people have used the Son of Krypton for a quick buck.

Even though many Canadians were deprived of fun merchandise often seen in old comic book ads strictly due to geographical availability. Canada could brag that we had an item in the 1980s not often seen across our border…Superman French Fries!! Canadian food maker Canadian Fancy acquired the exclusive rights to produce the Superman French Fry line and I remember them fondly. These were not widely available but could be seen from time to time in specialty SUPERmarkets (Pun Intended). So the question is, were they any good? The answer was YES! I am sure it was the packaging that created my fry bias but these things were the best thing in Fry heaven for the few months they were available in my home town! Best of all they even tied in with the extra cool Super Powers action figure line.

If you bought Superman French Fries you could own your very own limited edition mail order Clark Kent figure! Now how cool is that!

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The packaging was a big drawing card for me combined with the awesome pic’s of the Super Powers collection. There was also a Superman peanut butter which is a blog post for another time..in the mean time..it’s a bird..it’s a plane..it’s Superman French Fries! Really who could not love that!

Finding Pulsar: The Ultimate Man of Adventure..

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Occasionally we tend to surprise ourselves when we dig through some old boxes, photos, files etc. At times we see a special something in those pictures that reminds us of a cool place we visited, that special T-shirt, that awesome Xmas morning or your meeting with Mickey Mouse! All good times..right? There are also those moments where you have absolutely no recollection of events you may be pictured in, or where you go what the heck is that? This is my story of a toy I apparently I owned as I have had vivid memories of a large action figure that’s body was see through and it was a circulatory system!

For years flashes of my memories would always come back to this weird figure that I vaguely recall being in my collection. Conversations with friends trying to explain at length about this memory of a toy I had as a kid to which most responded with either confusion or a sense I was delusional I began to question myself if this figure did indeed exist or did I create it in my consciousness. Scary right? Random Google searches yielded no results that I was looking for. I was about to make peace with myself that I was losing my mind and that it would be my secret. One night while I worked away at my regular blog I was researching an article when in image searching the Bionic Man a random image of this toy popped up! I WAS STUNNED!

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Here was the elusive toy. I was sane after all. Still I had no idea what it was, let alone its name. Like an amnesia patient I uncovered all I could about this figure. Finally I found my answer..my old toy collection as a child included very briefly PULSAR The Ultimate Man of Adventure!

The figure was very distinctive. He had a very distinguished middle-aged man’s head with bright white hair! The torso itself was clear and you could literally see all of Pulsars vital organs. A button on his back would activate his vital system! His lungs worked, blood flowed through his body and his heart pounded. He also came equipped with an amazing red black and white jumpsuit, which for some reason had no recollection of ever owning. I continued to piece together my investigation.

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His face lifted upwards to insert mission disks as well! This figure was jacked! During my search for info I discovered that Pulsar was created in 1978-79 about 3 years after the debut of Kenner’s 13” Bionic Man action figure line. This was Mattel’s answer to the Bionic Man! It’s one of those bad ideas in hindsight that never hit the mark of the original concept. Pulsar was not Bionic..He was… well? See through! This toy was downright weird.

Pulsar was not alone like some abandoned franchises; his nemesis was Hypnos, an alien, also had a removable face mask and a sparking, noisy hypnotic wheel in his chest.

Image via Retroland

Image via Retroland

As I dug in deep I realized that the amount of info on this figure was quite limited but there were a couple of YouTube Gems that helped my cause..

No Bionic Man Knock Off would be complete unless he had his own knock off play set!

We really were not sure if Pulsar was Bionic, if he was a cyborg or even an alien. Not much about this toy and his bad guy counterpart is know. One thing was for certain there are many more questions to be asked to get to the bottom of the origin of PULSAR: The Ultimate Man of Adventure! Any Retroist fans out there have any memories or background on Pulsar feel free to share in the comments section!
Till Next time Heroes!!

ROM: The Strange Journey of a Space Knight

When a company who deals specifically in board games decided to step outside of their safety net often times the results are less than favourable. Parker Brothers the world-renowned games creators of such hit’s as Scrabble, Master Mind and Pay Day, decided it wanted to dip its toes in the lucrative action figure toy market.

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The result was COBOL. COBOL would be a large 13 inch robot equipped with various accessories filled with numerous flashing lights and space sounds! A sure-fire hit. Well COBOL itself never made it to store shelves as prior to its release as Parker Brothers decided that COBOL (Named after the computer programming language) be replaced with the new moniker of ROM which rolled of the tongue easier but retained that computer reference in its namesake.

ROM The Space Knight toy would not be the smash hit Parker Brothers would be anticipating. Regardless the toy itself did boast a number of great features not common to toys in that time. ROM was powered by a single 9 volt battery featured several accessories including a translator, an energy analyzer, a neutralizer, and rocket pack! The figure itself was very basic in its articulation with only three points that could move. One visible flaw was that the toy itself was a standalone product, there were no extra accessories, vehicles, or even companion figures to use in conjunction with ROM. Heck ROM didn’t even have an enemy counterpart to combat.

ROM was alone but Parker Brothers felt to assist in the Toys marketing it would commission Marvel Comics to created a comic book named after the ROM action figure and create a back story for the character. It would be a great idea as Marvel took ROM higher than the Toy line could do and the comic far outlived the action figure. The TV commercial offered very little about the characters origin and revealed that ROM was from the planet Galador which had been invaded by an alien race known as the Dire Wraiths. The Wraiths were an energy based alien that constantly disguised themselves as humans. This would lead to many storyline arcs in the series as humans were in constant fear of ROM who appeared to disintegrate other innocent humans when in actuality it was a Dire Wraith in disguise!

Marvel actively incorporated ROM into the central Marvel universe and he crossed over with other Marvel Superheroes on a regular basis. Marvel retooled the concept of ROM being an alien rather than a Robot as he was originally conceived by Parker Brothers. He was from a race of human like aliens known as Galadorians. When his planet was invaded by Dire Wraiths, ROM offered himself up to be bonded by the Plandanium armor. Parker Brothers went only as far as to describe ROM armor as “Gun Silver”. Other liberties Marvel took were to give ROM a love interest. ROM is inconspicuously introduced to Brandy Clark who like everyone fears and questions ROM but stays by his side for the remainder of the book.

The title lasted 75 issues and ROM would encounter many of Marvels big guns like The Fantastic Four, The X-Men, and even the world eater Galactus! ROM would revisit his home world many times and eventually complete his mission on Earth and return home. In his final issue ROM would shed his “Gun Silver” metal armor to return to his human like Galadorian form and wed Brandy Clark.

Marvel wrote the character out of the books permanently when ROMs then changing his name to Prime Director Artour was captaining a spaceship which would be attacked by a Wraith Knight destroying the ship leaving ROM presumed dead.

There have always been rumblings of ROM returning however legal and trademark disputes have prevented that thus far. There have been a number of “ROM sightings” or creative Easter Eggs on many occasions. ROM has popped up on shows like South Park during its Imagine Land 3 part episode, he is also seen hanging out on ROBOT CHICKEN. One of the cooler sneak peaks is in the Silver Surfer Animated Series in the episode Learning Curve. Look carefully as Surfer walks down the street a familiar Space Knight is visible at 4:55 of the video!

I never owned a ROM Action Figure and as a kid I was truly never impressed with the toy itself. The head always seemed way too big for the toy plus the weird articulation was always troubling. Years later my appreciation for the toy has surfaced and my hunt for ROM has been ignited once again. I ran into a ROM action figure at a local comic shop in my home town some 25 years ago and was impressed that it was mint in box. The owner wanted only 50 bucks. Sadly however comic book sales were non-existent for this shop and before I could gather together some money the shop closed down. My one chance at getting my very own Space Knight was lost forever.

One thing we did learn from ROM the Comic book series is to trust no one as they just maybe a Dire Wraith attempting to take over our planet! Always have your Neutralizer close at hand because you never know. Looking back there was this one boss I had at work that acted kinda..nahh..

Till next time Space Knights!

Star Wars The Marvel Way!

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We all know the story of a Galaxy Far Far Away..We know the names Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Many of us have purchased a VHS set or DVD/Blu Ray set or maybe one of each. We may have a T shirt or a few action figures as well. Yes Star wars has been a part of many people lives since after the mid 70s. Us Star Wars fans think we know quite a bit about Star Wars huh?

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Well did you know Han Solo once had help from a Green Rabbit and a Jedi named Don-Wan Kihotay who sported a fancy PINK Lightsaber?

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Did you know that one of Luke’s own love interests named Shira would, after the death of Darth Vader would become the new Dark Lord and hunt Luke and Leia across the galaxy?

If this doesn’t ring a bell it’s because all these stories were told in the late 1970s Marvel Star Wars Comic book series. The series ran from 1977 to 1986 ending quietly with issue 107. The series is fondly remembered by much of comic’s fandom and revered for its early expanded universe stories and new characters. The series outlived the typical licensed franchise stereotype and grew to become its own piece of Star Wars lore.

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The book itself was filled for much of its run by big names in the comic book industry doing the creative footwork. Names like Roy Thomas (Avengers), Howard Chaykin (Conan) Al Williamson (Gold Key), and Walt Simonson (Thor). The interior art work for the majority of the series was far above what was on most store spinner racks at the time.

So what makes these books memorable or worth buying? The adaptations of the movies, especially Empire Strikes Back and Return of The Jedi were top notch translations of the movies. The original stories they told as well were amazing. Two original arcs in particular are especially well written. The search for Han Solo which ran directly after the Empire Strikes Back adaptation was especially well handled and looked at the Star Wars casts efforts to take down the Carbonite frozen body of their beloved friend. (Storyline begins in issue 68) Next was the Pariah storyline which involved Luke and his new love interest Shira who he believes he accidentally played a role in her accidental death in the heat of space battle, on to have Shira betray him and return as a dark lord. This story would begin in issue 60-63 and returns as a Dark Lord named Luymia in issue 88 and her story continues right up till the final issue 107.

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Aside from the great art work and storylines the book was also blooper reel. More so in the early issue of the book the creative team were in charge of doing an actual movie adaptation of Star wars without actually seeing the movie. Supplied with only a handful of still of the characters and some posters the artist went to work and put his own spin on things.

Classic mistakes were made such as giving Luke and Obi wan Red Lightsabers which are the specific weapons of the Sith, the bad guys of the Star wars universe. Mis-coloring was almost common in the early books. Issue number one contained so many coloring errors it was outrageous. Han Solo wore a Orange jacket instead of his classic black vest and white shirt, Princess Leia was dressed a purple gown rather than her classic white garb and immortalized forever on the cover is a great looking Luke with a nice Red Hot Lightsaber.

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Some of the more famous mess ups were the inclusion of the famous cutting room floor Luke and Biggs scene that fans of the movies have clamoured to be released and has only recently been officially released as part of the latest Blu-Ray set of the original trilogy. Well fans in 1977 got it right away if you were a fan of the comic, as the creative team had no idea what was kept and what had been cut from the script so they adapted the story directly as it was written. So there you had it Biggs and Luke bonding well before any DVD extras pulled it from its waste basket in the cutting room. Issues on through six as well were notorious for not having the best artwork. Issues one and two are specifically rough and characters and space ships were not well defined like they would eventually be later in the series.

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The same issue would be repeated again in the adaptation of The Empire Strikes back as artists did not have an accurate depiction of characters like Yoda to work from and the final interpretation was quite interesting. As with the original movie the creative teams did not have the final film to view to see how their interpretation compared to the actual movie so they worked from production art , still and concept descriptions to imagine the Star Wars universe. The art would be corrected in subsequent reprints after the movies release.

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Overall this was one of my favorite comics as a kid and just let my imagination in regards to the Star wars universe go wild. There were not limitations in those days of Prequels that could inhibit your use of a character in the series. It was a clean open book and Marvel carved out a better universe than either of the Prequels did in my opinion.

I remember the sense of pure sadness upon picking up the final issue from the store the day it came out in my town. My comic that I had grown up with..the movies I had watched over and over again were finished. I was certain in 1986 I would never see Star Wars again..and part of me as a comic fan died that day. Check out your local comic book shop and book store and grab yourself some of this vintage Star wars retro fun. May The Force Be With You.