Synopsis of Toy
Thanks largely to the juggernaut that was Star Wars, action figures became an important part of any self-respecting sci-fi/action movie or show in the 1980's. Any decent show or movie would have its own toys, and plenty of not-so-decent ones got in on the act as well. The quality varied in the toys as well, but some were so well-designed, they managed to outlive the fame of their own inspiration. For a solid example of this phenomenon, one need look no further than the Starcom toy line.
Like many 1980’s toys, the Starcom line was developed as part of the merchandising for a cartoon. Starcom: The U.S. Space Force was a syndicated series that depicted the adventures of an American astronaut brigade as they fought off attempted invasions by Shadow Force, a nasty collection of aliens and robots led the nefarious Emperor Dark. The heroes on the Starcom side included ace pilots John ‘Slim’ Griffin and James ‘Dash’ Derringer.
Starcom: The U.S. Space Force debuted on television screens in 1987, and the toy line hit stores around the same time. There was plenty of variety for the pint-sized empire builder to choose from: the complete series of Starcom toys offered 23 figures, 6 playsets, and 13 vehicles on the Starcom side, while the Shadow Force was represented by 15 action figures and 11 vehicles. The action figures were two inches tall and came packaged with a backpack, a weapon, and identification cards that explained who they were and what their equipment could do. Like the figures, the vehicles and playsets benefited from a sleek, attractive design.
The coolest thing about the Starcom toy line was its use of Magna Lock technology. Basically, what this meant is that the action figures had tiny magnets implanted in their feet. Not only did this allow them to stand on the vehicles and playsets without falling off, but it also activated nifty gizmos in the playsets. For instance, if you placed a figure in the elevator of the Starbase Station, its Magna Lock magnets would cause the elevator to rise to the top by itself. On the same playset, if you put a figure in one of cannons, the Magna Lock magnets would activate a mechanism that made it turn and fire its rockets.
The vehicles and playsets also delivered Power Deploy features, meaning they offered plenty of moving parts (hidden compartments, cannons, folding wings, etc.). All in all, the Starcom toys represented one of the best action figure lines of its time, offering handsome designs and a variety of cool features that didn’t require batteries or electric power, and all at a reasonable price.
Starcom toys never caught on in the U.S. due to poor promotion and the fact that its parent show only lasted a year in syndication. They were discontinued after two years but ended up doing very well in Europe, where both the show and the toys continued to be popular long after the American toys. Today, the Starcom toys remain popular among toy collectors thanks to their combination of slick design and unique features. Their enduring ability to command the attention of toy fans proves that a well-designed toy will endure no matter where its inspiration came from.