If you’re a regular reader of Newsarama, then it should come as no surprise that I’ve collected toys for a long, long time. I co-wrote the Super-Articulate column that we had on the main site, and I continue to do Super-Articulate posts since we moved it to Blog@. These days, my sons really enjoy action figures, and they enjoy helping the old man find stuff for the big shelves in the basement. In fact, as we were making a find at the store last night, their genuine excitement reminded me of a particular instance from 1985. That instance was directly related to one of the most beloved toy lines of all time, the "Super Powers Collection."
1985!: “The Cosby Show” ruled TV. “Back to the Future” was the biggest movie of the year, though Stallone held down both #2 and #3 with “Rambo: First Blood Part II” and “Rocky IV”. The #1 song of the year according to Billboard was “Careless Whisper” by Wham!, while the #1 album was Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” And yes, the Super Friends were still going strong on TV with “The Legendary Super Powers Show”.
On the date of the story I’m about to relate, I think that I would have been about 11 years old, although there’s a very dim possibility that I was 12. Regardless, it’s one of those rare “figure find” moments that collectors have, and that stick with them because it reminds them of a simple joy, or perhaps a simpler time.
At any rate, I was at a Kroger grocery store with my mother. Typically, I’d go over with Mom to haunt the spinner rack. Mom’s kind of a slow shopper, so I often had time to read pretty much everything on the rack. By the time she was done, I’d have a few comics to take home; team books were pretty much my purchasing staple then.
Occasionally, I’d drift over to the smallish toy aisle. Kroger toys still maintain a minute toy section; technically speaking, it’s often only about four feet of shelf space wide. In 1985, the Kroger in north Terre Haute, Indiana had one that was a touch bigger, and I would sometimes find new figures there before finding them at K-Mart or Hills.
In those pre-internet days, I usually found out about new figures from one of three sources: TV commercials, ads in comic books or catalogs, or by simply stumbling across them in the store. I had been big into G.I. Joe, Transformers, and Star Wars, but I’d gotten really excited the previous year with the arrival of the Super Powers line. It’s not that there hadn’t been super-hero toys in my house before; I had several Megos. I just thought that it was a great line all-around.
One thing I enjoyed tremendously was character selection. The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman . . . those were great! In fact, I started with the “second-tier” guys, and later received Superman, Batman and Robin for Christmas that year. I had (and still have) the Hall of Justice. And it took me FOREVER to find Wonder Woman.
By 1985, the first wave of 12 had been out a while, but I had no awareness of a follow-up that I recall. It may have been that the second “Super Powers” comic mini-series with Kirby art was on its way or already out, but I don’t properly remember. So it was that I was in Kroger, and I walked into the aisle and saw, with no small disbelief, Martian Manhunter. Youngsters today won’t understand what a big deal this was, as they’ve seen J’onn in several cartoons (or even on “Smallville”) and repeatedly in toy form. However, at that time, it was a HUGE surprise. As a regular reader of “Justice League of America”, I’d always been disappointed that J’onn hadn’t made it to “Super Friends”.
But now, there he was. I grabbed him off the peg, and was even more stunned to see DR. FATE right beneath him. They were the only two new guys present, but I absolutely couldn’t believe who else was on the back. Green Arrow? Firestorm? And more? INSANITY. I promptly tracked down Mom and tossed them into the cart. As I recall, finding the second series was more of a pain than the first, and the less we speak of the pain of finding the third, the better. (One great related note: on one of the DVD extras for either “Legendary Super Powers” or “Galactic Guardians”, Mark Waid recounts making his family stop at a K-Mart on vacation because he had a feeling that he’d find the elusive Cyborg. And he did. Damn you, Mark Waid.)
The thing that sticks with me though is the singular thrill of discovery. There’s that mixture of surprise and enjoyment, that bit of simple happiness amid any life that grows more complicated with each passing year. I enjoy seeing that when my kids find a new “Batman: The Brave and The Bold” figure that they need, or when my older boy diligently explains the character backgrounds to his little brother (“Mantis works for Darkseid, and Guardian lives in Metropolis”).
I might give up collecting some day. Certainly, the sum total of what I collect has dwindled down to a couple of lines (and even then, not all of those). Nevertheless, I think that over the years, my love of comics has powered the other hobby, and vice versa. Still, it’s fun to be able to include the kids, and if the look on MY face was like the looks on the faces of my KIDS . . . well, no wonder my hobby was supported for so long. That’s not the kind of smile that you trade easily.