Last week we talked about the very first STAR WARS figures. Or to be more precise, the lack of figures right after the first movie hit. Well, this week's look back at a bigger toy line actually ties into Lucas' grand ol' space opera. That's because it was Kenner's new STAR WARS action figures that eventually killed the mighty toy giant known as Mego.
Before we get to the company's demise, let's start at the beginning. Around 1971, a small toy manufacturer named Mego decided to get into the action figure market. The huge success of Hasbro's big-honkin' G.I. JOE figures had Mego seeing dollar signs. So the company decided to tap into that market by producing smaller, less expensive figures. With a set design at some 8 inches tall, the company released its first action figure: ACTION JACKSON.
The real fun, however, started soon after when Mego obtained the license to comic book, movie and TV characters. So you had everything from SUPERMAN to THE FONZ to CAPTAIN KIRK, all in an 8-inch scale. Most of the figures' bodies were of the same mold, meaning Mego only had to make variations to the heads to create different characters. By giving each figure removable cloth clothes, Mego not only saved on cost (less sculpts to make), but gave fans something extra: interchangeability.
By far, the coolest and most popular of Mego's lines was the WORLD'S GREATEST SUPER HEROES collection. It wouldn't be until roughly three decades later that Marvel and DC Comics' characters would ever cross over again (and only in comic book form). The WGSH line consisted of both Marvel and DC's best and brightest characters. BATMAN. THE JOKER. CATWOMAN. BATGIRL. RIDDLER. GREEN ARROW. SPIDER-MAN. CAPTAIN AMERICA. THE LIZARD. THOR. IRON MAN. You get the picture.
With over 30 figures produced (though sadly no FLASH or GREEN LANTERN), the WGSH line was easily Mego's largest collection. Perhaps that's why today's toy collectors go gaga over old Mego superhero figures. Recent years have seen prices on these puppies skyrocket. Mego even produced a line of TEEN TITANS figures, spotlighting DC's young sidekick set. SPEEDY, KID FLASH, WONDER GIRL and AQUALAD all made their debut in the mid '70s, though at a 7-inch size.
A monster in the toy industry, Mego finally did itself in by passing on one particular toyline. That license? Well, it just happened to be a little diddy of a movie called STAR WARS. Mego showed no interest, and passed on it. So Kenner picked it up and started a whole new legacy with 3 ¾" action figures.
Oddly enough, Mego tried copying STAR WARS' success by introducing some new action figure lines in the 3 ¾" and 12" scale. There was the POCKET SUPER HEROES, small versions of characters like SUPERMAN, BATMAN, SPIDER-MAN and HULK. But poor sculpting, very little articulation and average paint jobs just didn't do the trick. Slightly cooler was the COMIC ACTION HEROES line, which featured even stiffer action figures of BATMAN, ROBIN, WONDER WOMAN and company, all in a sort of squatting position. The playsets, however, were actually pretty neat: a Batmobile set with a bridge that you can actually blow up, the HALL OF JUSTICE (though it was called the Fortress of Solitude) with lots of tiny chairs for your heroes to sit in, and even a Wonder Woman set with an exploding tower.
Mego hit it big with its line of MICRONAUTS figures in the late '70s, but sadly the company was in dire straits. More and more celebrity lines just tanked on toy shelves (like anyone really wanted a J.R. figure from the DALLAS line...), and the company dumped a ton of money into a hand-held electronics game division, which also failed miserably. By 1982, the company finally packed it in and declared bankruptcy.
So no, Darth Vader didn't directly wipe out the Mego corporation. But who knows what the future would've held for Mego had it snatched up Lucas' license. Guess the Force just wasn't strong with that one...