The modern action figure industry may have been born in the United States, but it's an international hobby. But many of the most popular action figure lines are U.S.-based and often only available in the States, forcing overseas fans to pay a premium to get that elusive Destro or Skeletor figure (the exception to this, of course, is Japan, who makes everyone -- including the U.S. -- pay for their awesome toys).
Yet once in a while, for various reasons, a few figures from a U.S.-based toyline are released overseas -- but not
in the good ol' U.S. of A. And sometimes an entire toyline is released internationally, but not here. And sometimes that toy or toyline is totally awesome, and it's the Americans who have to pay a premium to get that toy goodness, even they're even aware it was released -- for many of us, it took the advent of the internet to even know these things existed, and, more importantly, that we couldn't have them without spending hundreds of dollars on eBay. Anyways, here are 10 examples of times foreign peoples got cool toys and America got the shaft.
You're going to see the name Glasslite on this list a few times. Glasslite is a Brazilian toy company that produced numerous American toy lines for the South American market in the 1980s and 1990s. While many of their toys were fairly identical to their American counterparts, occasionally they would create toys that didn't have an American analogue. One of these was a 3 ¾-inch figure of escape artist extraordinaire MacGyver, which came out just a year after the show was canceled in 1993 (which means it was probably in its second season in Brazil).
Okay, so he's a pretty generic, lame looking-toy. He's still the only official MacGyver action figure in existence, and, well, he's a lot better than Glasslite's other MacGyver toy -- the "multitool,"
also known as a paper clip, which features this delightful inscription on the packaging: "MacGyver - the only tool you'll ever need."
9) Galaxy Rangers
Though largely forgotten today, The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers
was one of the first Western cartoons to incorporate stylistic elements of Japanese animation. A space western with elements of sword and sorcery, the show had the standard 65 episodes necessary for syndication, but -- in the U.S., at least -- no toys.
Galoob had plans for a toyline, but when Galaxy Rangers didn't prove to be a hit, the line was quietly dropped. However, some of the figures made it to stores in Europe in 1986. While the figures aren't too expensive when they pop up on eBay (a loose figure might sell for $30), they're still fairly hard to come by.
8) Attack Armor Batman
Since Mattel first got the Batman license in 2002, they've gone through a number of iterations of their comic-based DC figures: Batman, DC Super Heroes, and then DC Universe Classics. The early Batman figures had standard cut-joint articulation, while DC Super Heroes introduced a number of ball joints and an innovative "H-hinge" hip joint. The bridge between these two lines were two excellent figures released only in Europe and Australia in 2004: Bat Signal Batman and Attack Armor Batman.
Bat Signal Batman came with a light-up Bat Signal, and this sculpt (minus the Signal) would eventually be released in the United States as a Toys R Us exclusive. But Attack Armor Batman, who featured excellent articulation (including the first appearance of the "H-hinge" hip), a distinctive light blue/dark blue color scheme, and a tiny head reminiscent of the art of Simon Bisley, has never been re-released in any form in the U.S. No 6-inch Mattel Batman since has had quite this same color scheme or look, making him one of the most valuable Mattel Batman figures made so far.
7) El Capitan Rayo, Super Powers
Kenner's Super Powers line was one of the most memorable superhero lines of the 1980s. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, some South American toy companies purchased the molds for the Super Powers figures and put out their own versions of the line in Columbia. I don't know if these figures were officially licensed by DC Comics or Mattel...but I'm guessing not.
One of the companies decided to spice up the line a bit by adding their own character: El Capitan Rayo. He's a repainted Superman with the Flash's chest symbol. According to the bio on his packaging, he can fly, blast lightning, and his alter ego is one Francisco D'ardoine. His enemies include Captain Squad, Tigerwoman, and LX230. What's perhaps most shocking about all this is the fact that El Capitan Rayo and his enemies have yet to be brought into the DC Universe proper as part of some bizarre storyline by Grant Morrison
(on a side note, there was an exclusive Super Powers Riddler as part of the Argentinean "Super Amigos" line, but El Capitan Rayo is way more fun).
6) Laser Power He-Man and Laser Light Skeletor, Masters of the Universe
The vintage Masters of the Universe toyline more or less died in 1987, slain by a combination of over-production, a terrible live-action movie, and the fact that all fads tend to die out unless properly tended to. But while the line's popularity fell precipitously in the United States, it was still popular enough in Europe to make it worth releasing a few last products in 1988.
Two of those products were Laser Light He-Man and Laser Light Skeletor.
As the name suggests, both figures had a light-up "laser" feature. Channeling electricity from one AA battery in their backpack, each figure's weapon -- a sword for He-Man, the Havoc Staff for Skeletor -- could light up (Skeletor's eyes lit up as well). The heavily sci-fi look of the figures hinted at the direction Mattel was going with the MOTU concept, as the "Laser" figures are, stylistically, arguably more similar to the 1989 New Adventures of He-Man series than the earlier line.
Dinosaucers was a short-lived cartoon in the late 1980s. It was based closely on the Transformers mold, featuring two warring alien races -- in this case, bipedal dinosaurs -- who land on Earth and immediately take up the fight again. The show made it through 65 episodes and would later run for years in syndication. Believe it or not, you can watch it streaming via Amazon right now.
The good guys were called the Dinosaucers and were led by Allo, an Allosaurus. The bad guys were the Tyrannos, led by Genghis Rex, a compsognathus (kidding--he was a T. Rex). There were also some annoying human children "sidekicks" who somehow never got eaten.
Galoob developed a toyline, but apparently the show wasn't successful enough to produce them. So, like many companies before them, they simply sold the molds to Glasslite, who produced five of the eight prototyped figures almost exactly as Galoob had planned, except in Brazil. Most of these ended up in the hands of kids rather than collectors, making them particularly hard to find today.
4) The Blank, Dick Tracy
It's been so long since I saw Dick Tracy
, I can't remember whether finding out that Madonna's character, Breathless Mahoney, was the "the Blank" was a good twist or not. But there's no question the Blank was one of the more interesting characters and designs from the film, so for the five or six kids who liked Playmates' Dick Tracy toy line (myself included) wanted a Blank to complete the set.
The story goes that the Blank was initially held back from the first toy release because it had a removable mask, and would therefore give away the plot twist. However, when the toyline didn't become the hit Playmates was hoping for, they canceled their plans to release the Blank at mass retail in the United States. Ultimately, the Blank was released as a Canadian Sears exclusive in 1990, and was allegedly limited to a mere 3,000 pieces -- making it one of the more sought-after, yet hard-to-find exclusives on this list.
3) Tytus and Megator, Masters of the Universe
While Laser Power He-Man and Laser Light Skeletor are rare, two even more popular European exclusives from the same period are the two "giants," Tytus and Megator. Both of them were intended to be a part of the "Powers of Grayskull," a Masters of the Universe sub-line set in a prehistoric Eternia which also featured dinosaurs.
The heroic Tytus was to have been an ally of He-Ro (the sorcerer counterpart to He-Man in "Preternia"), while the green-skinned Megator was Tytus's mortal enemy. Both figures were huge, with the vintage Tytus standing at a whopping 16 inches (four inches taller than last year's updated "Classics" version). And you could only get them in Europe, making them two of the most prized MOTU figures in existence.
2) Yak Face, Star Wars
Only in geek circles would hundreds of dollars change hands for a thing called "Yak Face." Legend has it that when Kenner shitcanned their Star Wars line in 1985 after declining sales (due to two years without a new movie and stiff competition from He-Man, Transformers and G.I. Joe), Yak Face -- one of the many weirdos/drug addicts who hung around Jabba's pleasure palace -- had already been put into production. Rather than destroy existing stock, Yak Face was shipped out to the European market (and possibly Canada). Obsessive American collectors were out of luck, and some didn't even know about the figure's existence until they came across it at conventions.
Nowadays, Yak Face -- whose "real" name is apparently Saelt-Marae -- commands a hefty sum on eBay, even without his rifle or electro-broom or whatever that thing is.
1) Vlix, Star Wars Droids
Chances are even if you consider yourself a fairly knowledgeable Star Wars
fan, you have no idea who this fat bastard is. And yet, due to his incredible rarity, even a loose Vlix can go for several thousand dollars on eBay.
There are many Star Wars fans, myself included, who didn't watch the 1980s cartoon Star Wars: Droids
and therefore don't know a thing about it. The fact that only a few episodes have been released on DVD, rather than the entire series, suggests Lucasfilm isn't exactly in love with this particular piece of SW history.
was new Star Wars media, and Kenner wasn't about to lose an opportunity to make even more money on the license. They released an initial wave of figures and had plans for a second, but when Droids
was canceled after thirteen episodes, the second wave was scrapped. However, the mold for one of the second wave characters, Vlix, somehow made it to -- you guessed it -- Brazilian manufacturer Glasslite, who produced the figure in 1988. Years later, Star Wars fans would give him the tongue-in-cheek last name "Oncard," a reference to the holy grail of many a Star Wars collector - "Vlix on Card."