Friday Flashback: MICRONAUTS Toys & Comics

Friday Flashback: MICRONAUTS

I have to admit, I had this one in the back of my mind when I did last week’s installment about toys of the late ‘70s.  Clearly, this topic was big enough to do on its own, particularly because it involved an intersection of comics and toys that still resonates with fans.  Of course, we’re talking Micronauts.  Though the concept was born in Japan in 1974 under the Microman name, the U.S. arrival, via Mego, didn’t happen until 1976.  Therefore . . .

1976!: Just after the United States celebrated its Bicentennial, Jimmy Carter was elected the 39th president.  Bruce Jenner, now a reality show presence sadly more known for being a celebrity step-dad, won the gold medal in Decathlon at the Summer Olympics in Montreal; his performance set a world-record in number of points scored at the time, leading him to be named Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year.   Apple Computer Company formed; not to be outdone, Microsoft registered with the Office of the Secretary of State of New Mexico.  Viking 2 landed on Mars.

1976 in Music:  This turned out to be an earthquake of a year in music.  The Ramones put out their first album.  The Clash and U2 formed.  The Sex Pistols released the “Anarchy in the U.K.” single.  Disco was in full swing.  The song that stayed number one the longest was “Tonight’s the Night” by Rod Stewart, but acts as diverse as Steve Miller, The Bee Gees, Chicago, KC and the Sunshine Band, Diana Ross, Wings, Barry Manilow, Ohio Players, and Bay City Rollers also touched the top spot.  And yes, Ken Johnson, one of those was C.W. McCall, with “Convoy”.

Movies and TV:   The biggest hit of ’76 was “Rocky”; other notables were “Taxi Driver”, “Network”, “The Outlaw Josey Wales”, “All the President’s Men”, “The Omen”, the Jeff Bridges/Jessica Lange “King Kong”, Dirty Harry installment “The Enforcer”, “Logan’s Run”, and “The Bad News Bears”.  On TV, big programs included “Happy Days”, “Laverne and Shirley”, “M*A*S*H”, and “Charlie’s Angels”. The top “genre” programs were “The Six Million Dollar Man” and “The Bionic Woman”.

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And now . . . Micronauts:   Created by Takara, Microman was a hit in Japan upon its 1974 release.  When they hit the states two years later, it was still a full year ahead of the toy-redefining Star Wars line.  The irony is that the regular action figures (like Space Glider) would debut in the 3-3/4” scale that Star Wars would later cement as an industry standard for many years.  It bears noting that Mego’s 1975 Comic Action Heroes and Fisher-Price’s Adventure People (also 1975) used a similar scale, making that three significant lines that pre-dated Star Wars’ use of the scale.

The first series of Mirconauts in the U.S. contained a wide variety of expressions.  From the giant, motorized Biotron to the aforementioned Space Glider and the Galactic Cruiser, you could get giant robots, action figures, and big vehicles.  One of the big selling points, aside from the cool overall look, was the fact that the line was, for the most part, interconnectable and interchangeable.  Biotron, for example, could be broken down into parts that made other vehicles; in his large robot form, you could put a figure (say, Time Traveler) in his chest.

I had a number of these from the earlier days, including the Biotron and Battle Cruiser (an all-time favorite).  I also loved the Astro Station, a series one vehicle/playset that had some swell rocket launchers, seating for several figures, and, a personal favorite: the personnel launcher.  That accessory would literally launch a figure out of the tube, frequently to hilarious result.  I remember that my dog did NOT like it.

Into Comics:  The first comics iteration of Micronauts came from Marvel, and it arrived in late 1978 (cover date, January 1979).  The story goes that writer Bill Mantlo loved the Micronauts that his son got for Christmas in 1977, and convinced Jim Shooter (who was, at that time, Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief) to get the license.  Mantlo and artist Michael Golden made terrific use of the toys, creating detailed backstories and introducing other new characters.  They elevated Baron Karza (present in the toy line from 1977) to elite villain status.  Some of the surface similarities to Star Wars probably didn’t hurt the enterprise, but the richness of the universe and the fact that readers could already be familiar with (or already own) the toys sure didn’t hurt.

For a variety of reasons, namely Mego’s financial situations, the toy line ended in 1980.  However, the original comics series ran until 1984; that same year, it spun into a new series, “Micronauts: The New Voyages”, and continued for two more years.  Though Marvel let the license run out and other publishers would attempt to give it a whirl (none for long), the original characters like Commander Rann, Marionette, and Bug would occasionally pop up in Marvel books.  In fact, Bug remains active to this day, currently serving as a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy (another in the laundry list of reasons to love that book).

So then, readers, who among you had Micronauts toys?  Who followed the comics?  What about the crossovers that the diminutive heroes had with the likes of the X-Men?  Speak, denizens of the Microverse!


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