The Story of When It Was Cool - Toy Fun From the 1970's to Today 

By: Karl Stern (@dragonkingkarl, @wiwcool,

Tonya from When It Was Cool returned home from work to discover me turning our kitchen counter into a giant toy battlefield.  This might seem abnormal considering I am a man in my mid-40's but such are the peculiarities of a husband and wife running a retro themed website.

"Why are your toys all over the kitchen?" might be something you'd ask a toddler but the answer to today's question was actually, "I'm shooting some photos for the website."  So, like a good trooper, she pitched into help and soon an epic battle was raging in our kitchen encompassing fictional warriors from the 1970's until today.

I told her, "I think it will be cool to a lot of people to look at these and find the little Easter eggs throughout the scene.  Some people are going to say, 'Hey, there's Stalker from G.I. Joe, I had him as a kid!' while others might gravitate to the Star Wars figures, or maybe remember an old comic book from when they were a kid."  Anyway, for guys it's probably going to take them back to a simpler time and bring back some cool memories.

"Where are the girl toys?", she asked.  "I suppose that will be an article for you to write since the only point of reference I have for girl toys is stepping on my sister's Barbi dolls when I was a kid."  I look forward to reading that article and seeing those pictures because I bet Tonya will include some stuff I will remember from growing up with two younger sisters.  But for today, it's about the guys, or at least, that's to whom they were originally marketed.

In this segment of our fictional and imaginary battle field we look down on Big Boa, the Cobra hand-to-hand combat instructor squaring off against Brock Lesnar.  

There are several G.I. Joe elements in this scene and I began collecting G.I. Joe figures and comics in 1982.  I have also been a pro wrestling fan since the early 1980's and I included a 3.75 inch Brock Lesnar in this battle as an homage to that.  

We also see the invading army of Universal Monsters lead by Dracula, flanked by Marvel Comics Ghost Rider (whose side is he on?) facing off against the Sorcerer Supreme of the Marvel Universe Dr. Strange and his DC Comics counterpart Dr. Fate.  They are backed by the Green Lantern, The Flash, Iron Man, and Captain Marvel as an homage to my love of 1970's-80's comic books.  The G.I. Joe M.O.B.A.T. tank driven by Steeler sits prominently as a reminder of a golden era of boys toys in from the early 1980's.

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Next we look down on a martial arts stand-off between G.I. Joe Snake Eyes (a modern version of the classic visor version of the figure) and his rival Storm Shadow (another modern take on the classic figure) with Ryu from Street Fighter joining in.  I was also a big fan of the mid-1990's martial arts fighting games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat.  I thought the character designs were a great mash-up between the Kung-Fu movies of my childhood in the 1970's and pro wrestling.

The vehicle front and center is actually the first G.I. Joe action figure and vehicle I ever owned, the V.A.M.P. with Clutch.  I loved everything about having a sturdy plastic Jeep with a freakin' machine gun mounted on the back.  This V.A.M.P. is pulling a recent acquisition of mine, the Howitzer machine gun, manned in this scenario by Stalker.  Observing the ninja stand off are two representations of the same character- Roadblock.  On the left is the G.I. Joe 25th Anniversary version of the figure and on the right is Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson from G.I. Joe: Retaliation.  The inclusion of The Rock is another homage to my life as a pro wrestling fan.  

Center frame a 1983 Cobra soldier is approaching the V.A.M.P. but coming up behind him is the Lone Ranger.  This is actually a custom figure I made from a modern era G.I. Joe Wild Bill action figure.  The Lone Ranger television show with the great Clayton Moore was well before my time, however, I saw the reruns of the show later on and fell in love with it.  The simplicity and morals of the show I think are great.  I also pay homage to my love for the series in the open music of my DragonKingKarl Classic Wrestling Podcast by including the line, "Nowhere in the pages of history can one find a greater champion of justice!  Return with us now to those thrilling days of yester-year!"

Top and center we see my first sci-fi/fantasy television love- the Six Million Dollar Man!  Steve Austin is prone on the ground as the Bionic Bigfoot prepares to throw a log down on him.  This scene is not only an homage to that great series but I also love the modern, yet retro, styling of the 3.75 inch figures which very accurately depict the old 1970's toys.  Also, this is another pro wrestling homage as well- Andre the Giant played the original Bionic Bigfoot in the series.

In the upper right hand corner we have a 1977 Darth Vader in a lightsaber duel with a modern era Bespin Luke Skywalker while the famous droids C3-PO, R2-D2, and newcomer BB-8 look on.

Superheroes and comic books have always been an important part of my journey.  I learned to read on comic books.  Some of my favorite childhood memories are of thumbing through the comics on the spinner rack while my mother shopped for groceries.  In the 1970's I loved the big team up books where I could get the most superheroes for my buck.  Team-up books like The Defenders, The Avengers, and Justice League of America.  For my 35 cents I could get a wider variety of characters than in the solo books.  

In this section of the battle we see a few of my favorite heroes from childhood like Captain Marvel (Shazam, now-days, though to me he will always be Captain Marvel), Superman, Lex Luthor in his Legion of Doom outfit paying homage to the Super Friends cartoon series.  Black Adam, the arch-rival of Captain Marvel stands with Doomsday who killed (for a minute) Superman in the 1990's.  The Hulk has been a staple of growing up in the 1970's until today.  The TV series starring the late Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno was a big part of my childhood.  The classic version of Thor from how I remember him in his comic series and The Avengers backs them up.

Towering over the battle are Galactus and the Great Mazinger.  In the 1970's, giant monsters and robots were all the rage.  I have always loved the imaginative cosmic beings of the Marvel Universe and there is probably none better known than Galactus.  Here he is joined by his herald the Silver Surfer with Dr. Doom plotting something in the background.  Directly below them and to the right is another look at our Star Wars scene where we get a better glimpse of our favorite bounty hunter, Boba Fett.  Also creeping around is a modern version of the classic Storm Trooper.

I love how Great Mezinga (sometimes spelled Mazinger and adapted in a U.S. animated series as Tranzor Z) towers above it all.  I didn't have Mazinger as a child.  The only character I had from the Shogun Warriors set was Godzilla and I always wanted this iconic robot.  A few years ago Tonya from When It Was Cool got it for me for a special occasion.  It is still, to me anyway, the centerpiece of my collection.

As a little Easter egg, a few characters from Alice in Wonderland look on in homage to Tonya who is a fan of that property.

Finally, we look at our battle from one last angle where we see the 1970's Shogun Warriors Godzilla looking out over the scene.  I knew several kids who had this Godzilla back in Elementary school.  For some inexplicable reason his fist shoots off when you press a button.  Even as a kid I thought that feature was unnecessary because it has a really cool fire breathing feature.  We also get a look at a full size Maskatron from the old Six Million Dollar Man toy line.  He is dangling Bruce Willis (Joseph Colton from the G.I. Joe: Retaliation Movie line) in his claw hand.  Two more superheroes lurk in the background- DC Comics Batman in his classic 1970's blue and grey color scheme and Marvel Comics Spider-Man who, obviously, was a huge staple of my childhood.

I hope you have enjoyed this fun, quirky look at the action figures and pop culture from my youth in the 1970's into the 1980's.  Here is a short audio show I recorded talking about a lot of these elements.  Feel free to pass around this article and podcast.  Post it elsewhere, share on social media, or whatever.  Help us spread the word about

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