?I believe there are four tiers of action figures. The first is the big names: your Batmans, your Snake-Eyes, your Darth Vaders. These guys sell, constantly and consistently, and nearly every wave of these toys has one of them in some guise. The second tier is the more obscure figure, the one that isn’t Batman but is still cool and something you’d want for your collection; this is your Harley Quinn, your standard Marvel villains, or your IG-88.
Then things get weird. Third tier is figures that are invented just for the toys and might pop up in the TV show or comic at some later point; this is most of the ’80s G.I. Joe line. And finally, the fourth tier is toys so obscure that only die-hard fans could care about them, yet someone felt they had juuuuust enough love to be immortalized. Here’s 10 of the oddest niche toys that saw the light of day.
10) Aunt Beru, Star Wars
?This may be the most well-known of all the figures on this list, because she actually had some lines and is fondly remembered, even if she didn’t really make an impact until she was a charred-up husk. There was a reason why Aunt Beru didn’t get a figure in the original Kenner Star Wars series; she’s boring. Kids weren’t clamoring to reenact the talky scenes from A New Hope or create the new adventures of a middle-aged aunt on backwater Tatooine. But there was a reason why she got a figure in the Power of the Force toyline — because after a decade, Hasbro would make any Star Wars character, as long as they had a frame of screen time. Fans would buy her simply to complete their collection, but only the hardest of hardcore fans would actually want a Beru figure.
9) Mo-Larr, Masters of the Universe
?If you’re a fan of Masters of the Universe AND happen to be a fan of Robot Chicken AND you’ve seen the seen single 2 minute, 18 second sketch that Mo-Larr appeared in during RC’s five seasons and you really, really liked it, then this toy makes sense. I don’t think it’s a bad idea, actually it’s kind of cool, but man, you need to know your stuff for this guy to make sense. The Venn diagram of nerds who meet all the above criteria must be pretty small. It’s really the equivalent of packaging a Roadblock figure with a sound chip that yells, “BODY MASSAGE!” You kinda had to be there.
8) Matt Trakker, G.I. Joe
?M.A.S.K. is a well-remembered TV show that combined a neat action figure/vehicle concept with abysmally bad animation. It was the ’80s, whatever. The show lasted a little over a year with limited syndication afterwards, so if you weren’t alive then, you probably missed it (at least until the DVD release last year). So the nostalgia factor for M.A.S.K. is pretty limited. But that didn’t stop Hasbro from releasing “Specialist Trakker” as part of a G.I. Joe wave in 2008… 22 years after the original cancellation. M.A.S.K. fans, starved for merchandise and desperate for any hope of a new toyline or series, went apeshit. Everyone shrugged.
7) Brad Goodman, The Simpsons
?I wanted to find a choice obscure Simpsons toy that would fit into this list, and I think psychologist Brad Goodman fills the criteria. The show is notorious for some amazing one-off characters that never appear again, but generally, they’re not worthy of plastic immortalization. And, for all intents and purposes, neither is Brad here. He appeared in one episode in season 5, where he had exactly 40 lines, most of which boiled down to “Bart is great! Be like Bart!” Mildly memorable, but not really, but somehow he still got a toy. At least now Albert Brooks can play with himself.
6) James McCullen IX, G.I. Joe
?Thank God they’re making a new G.I. Joe film, because the first one was a let-down. But at least the movie spawned some neat toys, and fans could play with Duke, Baroness, Cobra Eel, or… James McCullen IX. He was Destro’s ancestor that you saw in a flashback at the beginning, where he got a steel mask locked on his head and then disappeared. He had virtually nothing to do with the story, but he was pretty cool for the few minutes he was on screen. But you had to either really like those few minutes or be a hardcore Joe completest to justify buying this San Diego Comic Con exclusive.
5) Wonder Bread He-Man, Masters of the Universe
?If there’s one thing I want remembered about me when I die, it’s that I wrote the definitive article on Wonder Bread He-Man for the now-defunct ToyFare. What it boiled down to was a brown-haired He-Man figure that circulated in the mid-’80s that no one was sure where it came from. Bootleg? Prototype? Accident? Mail-away offer from Wonder Bread? Even Mattel didn’t know, which is why it became a He-Man urban legend among the kind of fans who sit down and discuss He-Man urban legends. But that legend grew and grew until finally we got Wun-Dar, the official Wonder Bread He-Man release, as the 2010 Masters of the Universe Classics subscription bonus. He came with a tiny loaf of bread.
4) Golden Pharaoh, DC Universe Classics
?The original Golden Pharaoh was made for the original Super Powers toyline in the ’80s and never appeared anywhere else — not the cartoon, not the comics, nothing. By all rights, that makes him forgettable. But not to someone at Mattel, who resurrected this no-show in 2010 for DC Universe Classics… despite the fact that he still hadn’t appeared in a comic, a cartoon, or anything. Thus another generation of kids was able to go to toy stores, run to the action figure section, and ask, “Who the fuck is Golden Pharaoh?”
3) Willrow Hood, Star Wars
?I’ve covered the absolute inanity that is the Star Wars Expanded Universe here and here. Willrow Hood was included in the first link, as the dumpy guy that runs past the camera in Empire. For years after his release, no one cared about the unnamed extra in orange, but after some sharp-eyed fans noticed he was just carrying what looked like a vintage ice cream maker, he then morphed into “Ice Cream Maker Guy” and took on a whole history of his own that you wouldn’t really get if you weren’t on Star Wars forums in the early 2000s. But art imitates life that obsesses over art, and Willrow Hood was canonized as part of the Lucas Legacy with a figure in 2009’s Legacy Collection.
2) Frank Stallone, Rocky
?He’s Sylvester Stallone’s brother. He’s got a tiny cameo in Rocky as a singer. He’s actually a singer in real life and has 64 acting credits to his name. He got the role in Rocky because he’s Sly Stallone’s brother. He got an action figure because everyone thinks Frank Stallone is funny. Still, I can’t even imagine how much you’d have to love Rocky to want to purchase a Frank Stallone action figure.
1) Star Wars Holiday Special Boba Fett
?For decades, Lucasfilm disavowed the incredibly awful Star Wars Holiday Special specifically because it’s the worst thing ever made. Bootleg copies of the broadcast were all you could get, so the audience for any Holiday Special-themed products was limited to people who had obtained this stinking heap of film second-hand, and clung to the cartoon segment as the only part of the special that didn’t make them want to kill themselves. Which is why the world was shocked when “Animated Debut Boba Fett” actually made it to shelves in 2007. Not a hallucination! It was recognition on a small scale, as the Holiday Special part was left off the packaging. Still, it’s an Easter Egg on the Blu-Ray…