Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Let the Action Begin

QUESTION: When I was a kid, my friends and I used to sit on the porch and read comic books. We especially loved those featuring the Super Heroes, such as Superman, Batman, and Aquaman. Naturally, we were thrilled when the first comic book action heroes came out. We all had a selection of them from a company called Mego. I had the biggest collection. Recently, while moving, I came across several boxes of these action figures. My interests have moved on to other things—now I have my own kids—but I’d like to know more about them and how this phenomenon got started.

ANSWER: You aren’t the only one. There are thousands of men out there reliving their childhood through these action figures. Only now they collect them and must have them “mint-in-the-box.” While collecting these action figures has been popular since they appeared in the 1970s, it’s only through the T.V. hit show “Big Bang Theory” that their popularity has risen to the stratosphere. And these little playthings aren’t only popular with “nerds.”

The Mego Corporation was a toy company founded in 1954. Originally known as a purveyor of dime store toys, the company shifted direction in 1971 and became famous for producing licensed action figures, including its long-running "World's Greatest Super Heroes" line.

D. David Abrams and Madeline Abrams founded Mego Corporation in 1954. Originally, they imported dime-store toys until advertising costs forced them to switch directions. In 1971, their son, Martin, became company president, and, as often is the case, the younger generation had other ideas.  Under Martin’s leadership, Mego began producing action figures with interchangeable bodies. He kept costs low by mass-producing generic bodies from which an endless assortment of figures could be created using different heads and costumes.

In 1972 Mego secured the licenses to create toys for both DC and Marvel Comics. The popularity of this line of 8-inch figures which it called "The World's Greatest Super Heroes," created the standard action figure scale for the 1970s. The line featured both superhero and villain action figures, including Batman and Robin, Superman, and Aquaman. Early on, the company released the figures in a solid box, but fans soon began tearing the boxes open to see the figures inside, so Mego changed the design to a box with a window that showed the figure. It produced the line from 197s to 1983.

The company began to purchase the licensing rights of films, T.V. shows, and comic books, enabling it to produce action figure lines for Planet of the Apes and Star Trek: The Original Series.

In 1976, Martin Abrams made a deal with Japanese toy manufacturer Takara to bring their popular lucite 3-inch fully articulated “Microman” figures to the U.S. under the name "Micronauts." This lead to even more licenses to hit shows like Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and hit films like Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

To reduce costs, Mego began producing a line of smaller plastic action toys called “Comic Action Heroes” in 1975. These had costumes modeled onto the figure, eliminating the cost of creating them. In 1979, the company re-released the line under a new name, “Pocket Action Heroes.”

The Star Trek line was by far Mego’s biggest success. The first wave of figures included Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty and a Klingon, soon joined by Uhura, later followed by a Star Trek Bridge playset with a “transporter” room—a revolving platform that allowed kids to simulate the dematerializing of the characters.

The second and third series of figures featured alien adversaries the Keeper, Neptunian, the half-black, half-white Cheron, the Gorn, Talos, the Mugato, and Trek baddies Andorian and Romulan in outfits that approximated what they wore on show. A second playset, Mission To Gamma VI, featured a dragon-like temple and four small alien primitives.

Although Mego produced action figures for such T.V. shows as Happy Days, the Waltons, and The Flinstones, their sci-fi figures were their biggest sellers. The company based another figure line on the animated series Flash Gordon which included Flash, Dale Arden, Dr. Zarkov, and Ming the Merciless.

Even the robot dog, K-9, and villains like Cyberman and Giant Robot from the long-running BBC series Doctor Who came alive in Mego action figures.

Although Mego produced thousands of action figures, their value continues to rise because the company went bankrupt and closed its doors in 1983. And with increased demand, especially for mint-in-box figures, comes higher prices in today’s collectibles market.

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