By Jim Beard
[Welcome to Make Mine Marvel, a bi-weekly series of articles devoted to all the things we've loved about Marvel over the past 60 years. From toys to video games, movies to trading cards, Underoos to stamps and more, we embrace it all. Kick back and enjoy Marvel's merry past with us.
It's 1972. Imagine a young child walking through a K-Mart with his parents on a sunny Saturday afternoon. He rounds a corner in the toy aisles, naïve and innocent, and is smacked upside the head with the glorious and unexpected sight of Mego's World's Greatest Super-Heroes action figures. Cosmic rays or gamma explosions couldn't have affected a more permanent change in the child. He is beautifully scarred forever.
The sight before him is a glorious display of 8" plastic figures with cloth costumes, in boxes with Day-Glo colors so bright they burn holes in the young child's retinas. But he doesn't care. He has found manna in the wasted desert of his life. His favorite heroes represented like never before and able to come home with him for adventures beyond his imagination. The child is seven years old and he is finally complete. Mego has saved his life.
The still-young Mego Corporation may have exploded onto the toy shelves in '72 with four DC action figures, but Marvel characters were planned from the get-go. According to a tale told by Tomart's Action Figure Digest and MegoMuseum.com, when an excited Mego toy executive brought the early prototypes of the DC figures home for his young son's opinion, the first words out of his shrewd child's mouth were "Where's Spider-Man?" Needless to say, the Marvel license was snatched up toot sweet and the rest is toy history.
In 1973, hot on the heels of the first series of World's Greatest Super-Heroes, Mego released the much-desired plastic representations of Spider-Man and Captain America. This was unprecedented. Aside from the Spider-Man outfit available for Ideal's Captain Action figure in 1967, there had never before been fully articulated three-dimensional toys of Marvel characters. Mego had stepped up to the plate and corrected a grievous error on the part of the toy industry, providing Marvel fans everywhere with their favorite wall-crawler and shield slinger in an easily-portable and highly-playful package. Superhero playtime had hit the big leagues.
If having Spider-Man and Captain America weren't enough to set their world ablaze, the winter of 1974-75 would impact children like a nuclear blast of spectaculosity. Turning a page in their favorite Marvel comic, a child would find a full-page Mego ad for the company's newest assault on kids' enthusiasm and parents' wallets: a fresh series of figures devoted almost exclusively to Marvel characters. The Green Goblin! The Lizard! Falcon! Iron Man! And perhaps one of the greatest Mego figures of all time--The Incredible Hulk! There was swooning and fainting across America. The kids were indeed alright.
This was an epiphany of galactic proportions. Mego knew their little consumers loved and needed more Marvel heroes and also knew those self-same heroes needed some Marvel villains to beat the crap out of. The Green Goblin, as Spidey's famous foe, was a shoe-in. The Lizard was a somewhat strange choice (over, say, Dr. Octopus), but the figure was produced accurately at least. Iron Man was another obvious choice, and the Falcon was a particularly gutsy move for Mego, as African-American action figures weren't exactly standard fare at the time (Falc was most likely chosen for his role as awesome two-fisted partner to the Captain America figure). And when it came to the Hulk, Mego graced ol' Jade-Jaws with the ultimate accolade: an entirely new body mold to encompass the jolly green giant's massive proportions. He also came complete with shredded purple pants.
In addition, Christmas of 1974 gifted kids with what would become one of Mego's rarest and most-sought after treasures, the Montgomery Ward's exclusive "secret identities" figures. Peter Parker, alter ego of the Amazing Spider-Man, took an honored place among three DC secret identity figures and created a Mego legend, spoken about today in hushed reverence throughout the toy collector community.
From that point on, there was no stopping Mego, and the parade of new Marvel action figures was not only imaginative, it was downright kick-ass. The entire Fantastic Four soon followed, and though understandably limited in their illustration of powers (Mr. Fantastic didn't stretch, the Invisible Girl was entirely visible, the Human Torch did decidedly not burst into flame and the Thing wore a cloth costume in lieu of his rocky exterior), they were welcomed by children everywhere and declared "far out!" The Mighty Thor (with his rooted golden locks) and Conan the Barbarian (then a Marvel property) brought up the rear and placed an exciting capper on Mego's 8" Marvel offerings.
Spider-Man fared best of all the Marvel Megos, having his plastic adventures fleshed out with vehicles and playsets. Curiously, Mego never did stop tinkering with his web-printed leotards, producing several variations of imprint. There were various international versions of the Marvel characters, too, as Mego spread its charms to kids across the globe, along with numerous other sizes of Spider-Man, Captain America and Green Goblin figures, ultimately clocking in with 3¾", 12" and metal installments.
Was there a downside? Ask any child of the time to try and describe the sickening, stomach-lurching, queasy horror of the moment when your Mego 8" Spider-Man broke. Those little rubber bands that held him together inside weren't meant to last forever and when they snapped, Spidey went to pieces, literally. Good thing Megos didn't cost that much--though your parents may have felt differently…
Today, the Mego Marvels are a source for fun, frivolity, and satire in the pages of Twisted Toyfare Theatre
, but once upon a time in the savage landscape of 1970s toys, they were a godsend. The shelves are filled to bursting in this post-Millennium world with Marvel figures of every stripe, but for a little kid in the early to mid-'70s, Mego's Worlds' Greatest Super-Heroes felt like your birthday, Christmas, winning the lottery and a surprise gift from your crazy Aunt Rose all rolled up into one. There was nothing like them before, and frankly, for many Marvelites, there has been nothing quite like them since.
Special thanks to Brian Heiler, Scott C. Adams and Joe DeRouen from The Mego Musuem for helping us out with all the great Mego images you see here.