The 10 Most Tragically Unreleased Action Figure Lines
By Caleb Goellner
Unrequited action figure collections are one of the most pathetic things in all of nerdom. No matter how hard a collector tries to deny it, if they don’t gather “the complete set” of their favorite action figures, a seething pain gnaws at their tiny heart with ever glance to the phantom space on their toy shelf. This nagging feeling creeps into nightmares and manifests itself in secret spreadsheets, wish lists and on occasion a locked, leatherbound collection of hand-written free verse poetry. That’s why when a toy line is teased at and not delivered, the evening news is littered with reports of spontaneous human combustion. But nerds know better. Each pile of ash represents the remains of a nerd crushed by the allure of what could have been. Read on to regret the toys that could have rounded out many nerdy collections, but be careful not to implode — there are some heart breakers.
10) Iron Man Series 5 and Iron Man Base
Long before everyone on the planet Earth loved Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of the armored Avenger, there was the Iron Man animated series paired with the Fantastic Four in The Marvel Action Hour. While these animated series weren’t exactly A-grade, they did generated dozens of action figures that wouldn’t have been released any other way. Unfortunately, that didn’t include Dark Aegis, the Living Laser or a number of specialized Iron Man armors. The good news is that most of these toys were reused in various X-Men and Spider-Man lines from Toy Biz, though with different heads to portray more significant characters like “Vault Guardsman.” One thing collectors could have really used, however, is the unproduced Iron Man base of operations, which would have nicely housed a few suits of armor and given the Tony Stark action figure a place to tinker and sneak tiny plastic bottles of bourbon.
9) Darkwing Duck Series 2
Like most Playmates releases, the Darkwing Duck toys weren’t everything they could have been. Paint applications were spotty at best, accessories weren’t always useful and sculpts were sometimes disfigured by action features. Still, fans of the show could find plenty to appreciate the healthy number of play sets, vehicles and secondary characters and villains. Darkwing Duck delivered many of the series’ most famous characters, but since there was never a proper DuckTales line of toys, the canceled second wave of toys is the closest fans will ever get to owning a Gizmo Duck action figure. It’s okay, have a good cry, let it all out.
8) Transformers G1 Unicron
Even though Hasbro finally got around to releasing a fairly mondo Unicron a few years back, fans of Transformers: The Movie had to ache for years before the planet-sized destroyer of worlds finally got his toy due. While this original prototype suggests that perhaps it was worth the wait, collectors of the day definitely would have forgiven its lack of articulation and detail for the sheer novelty of a sturdy transforming planet eating planet guy.
7) Ghostbusters II Ecto Charger Pack and Egon’s Lab
While most agree that the Ghostbusters II wasn’t what it could have been, for those young enough to think the franchise could do no wrong at the time, the second film’s proton pack alternatives would have been a welcome addition to an ever-growing arsenal of ghostbusting weaponry from Kenner. Egon’s lab is a different story; with its vaguely medical design and menacing monster hands (that appear to grab only human nards), it would have made a fantastic location for Egon to go Frankenstein on his teammates or the monsters they busted. There was also a line of “Backpack Heroes” and a fire truck in the works, but nothing fans couldn’t do without.
6) The Greatest American Hero
One of the final licensed toylines to have prototypes escape a crumbling Mego, this unreleased line of 8-inch dolls would have included hero Ralph (along with his “magic jammies”), Pam and Bill. Everything looked ready to go, with the toys sporting accurate threads and decent likenesses (for Mego), but “Believe it or not” (*guffaw!*), the toys never quite entered proper production. Only a few of these toys exist, making these toys coveted items for fans of the original television series.
5) Sesame Street
Following the success of Palisades; many Muppets lines, Sesame Street was a no-brainer for the toy treatment. After publicizing the release, Pallisades pulled a Mego and shut its doors before getting around to producing these extremely awesome-looking action figures (other than a SDCC-exclusive Super Grover). What stings even worse is the planned playsets fans will never see. Collectors could have literally found their way to Sesame Street with full detailed displays to reenact their favorite episodes.
4) Earthworm Jim Series 2
Earthworm Jim’s impressive 1993 videogame debut ushered in a brief age of gross-out games perfect for lads and ladies fresh from a diet of Ren & Stimpy cartoons. The Kids WB animated series lasted two seasons and resulted in one wave of action figures from Playmates. While the toy’s accessories angered many with their blatant cost-cutting measures (accessories had little to no paint applications), the sculpting was clever enough to leave fans wanting more – especially villains like Professor Monkey-for-a-Head and Queen Slug-for-a-Butt. Those desires and more would have been met with an additional wave of toys that included Samurai Earthworm Jim (who looked a lot like a Gundam) and a crazy mod of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Pizza Launcher tank, just to name a few. Ah, what could have been…
3) Ultraforce Series II
Some might wonder why a line of characters that reached comic book purgatory in less than a decade would merit a spot on this list. Well, as evidenced by Malibu’s animated and live action (remember the syndicated NightMan show? *shudder*) series, there was apparently enough to the intellectual properties to merit one action figure line from Galoob, but not a second. It’s a shame because the line would have included some cool-looking bad guys like Lord Pumpkin, Sludge and Primevil. Actually, to be real for a second, this line is only included because “Desert Heat Nightman” could have generated so many jokes if only it’d arrived in stores.
2) The Simpsons Waves 17 and 18
Even after producing what seemed like every cast member from The Simpsons, Playmates seemed like it still had a few more tricks up its sleeve. Sure, nobody really needed a Ninja Bart or his near-silent friends Richard and Lewis, but it wouldn’t have hurt to release the traffic reporting Artie Pie or the Stonecutter Hall due in these two unreleased waves. After all, collectors would have been able to put the Police Academy Mahoney action figure at the table, thereby allowing the Stonecutter toys to make Steve Guttenberg a star!
1) Super Powers Wave 4
The post Super Powers timeline was a dark period for most DC Comics toy collectors. Due to the licensing debacle of the early to late ’90s that effectively allowed only Superman and Batman toys on shelves, very few of the company’s supporting characters would make it into fans hands aside from the “we wish we were Spawn toys” Total Justice line. What made this waiting period worse was knowing that Kenner had planned a fourth wave of Super Powers toys and beyond (imagine a Teen Titans free for all in Super Powers style) that would have included Swamp Thing, Blue Beetle, Vigilante and a John Stewart Green Lantern. While Mattel has since rectified the sins of the past with an impressive assortment of DC Universe toys, the 20-year slump between DC hero booms was a woeful time for many.