Thursday, October 12, 2006
TOYBOX MEMORIES: BATTLE BENEATH THE SEA!!!
When I was little I LOVED bath time, that too brief piece of my busy kid's day when I could be in water and play with my cool water-related toys (I'm a Cancer; put me in water and you'll have a hard time getting me out). Some kids had their rubber duckies, others their plastic tugboats and seaplanes with a motorized propeller, but I favored sea monsters and sci-fi vehicles. I'm sure that comes as a shock to you.
I had an assortment of plastic fish, frogmen and sharks for realism — the featured "extras" in my waterplays — and a plastic ship or two, even a fully-loaded Noah's Ark, and the boats would of course be attacked by a multitude of deep sea creatures. Sometimes the antagonists would be giant sharks with hungry maws agape, other times they would be aliens from inner space who were striking back against mankind for harming their aquatic environment, and every now and then I'd break out a large rubber octopus, a wiggly black horror, and have it kick ass on orders from its equally tentacled masters. (By this point, the comics geeks among you may have detected a distinct Sub-Mariner influence, and you'd be dead right. )
Anyway, when shit got too thick for the surface-dwellers, The President (always nameless and unseen) would send out the most powerful submarine in its super-scientific arsenal, the Seaview (of VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA fame), and the battles would be fierce, complete with waves splashing out of the tub, much to my harried mother's dismay. Once in a while the Seaview would save the world, but where's the fun in that? More often than not these scenarios would culminate in the utter decimation of the surface forces (providing the endings I always wanted in the Godzilla movies), and once I was dried off the action would spread to my room and the cityscape built from blocks, Tinkertoys, Legos and Lincoln logs, and the carnage only escalated as space aliens, revived dinosaurs and giant robots got into the act of literal/imaginary world-beating ("King Ding" was my favorite among the giant robot bruiser brigade). I'm tellin' ya, those were good times.
Looking back on all of this from the perspective of an avid toy collector, I wish I still had my favorite playthings from my bathtub "movies," for reasons of sentiment, and because some of my faves have become some of the rarest toys out there.
In the late 1960's, Colorforms — a company best known for those sets of flat plastic characters that could endlessly be rearranged on backgrounds that they would stick to —issued a series called THE OUTER SPACE MEN, a stunning group of alien characters meant to compete with Mattel's impressive MAJOR MATT MASON line of beautifully detailed space toys. These figures were "bendies," rubber molded over a wire armature, and I preferred them most other toys because they were fleshy, betraying no seams where joints would have been plainly visible on dolls (yeah, I said it!) like G.I. Joe and Captain Action. Each of the Outer Space Men hailed from one of the planets in our solar system — Terra being the notable exception, but I guess that was covered by Major Matt Mason and his crew of Earthling colleagues — and all were colorful and equipped with helmets or weaponry which inevitably got lost.
My favorite of the lot was Astro-Nautilus,"the man from Neptune," a majestic sea creature with a human torso and legs, surmounted with four tentacles that coiled about a trident which I imagined as both a symbol of leadership and as some kind of energy-projecting weapon.
Whoever came up with the concept for the character must have had a clue that the toy would appeal to the youngster who loved monsters and sci-fi adventures, as well as idolizing Jacques Cousteau. Check out the copy from the back of the packaging:
"Deep beneath the stormy seas of Neptune, great cities loom majestically in the shimmering twilight of a vast and beautiful water world. Here the mighty Triton people live. Not content to see the sun as but a glimmer and the stars as tiny ripples floating on the surface of the sea above, Astro-Nautilus and his band of Triton mariners venture forth to sail and chart that greater ocean, Outer Space. Often visiting our planet they land, secretly, without all human knowledge, in the very depths of Earth’s great oceans."
How the hell could a kid like me not fall instantly in love with such a gorgeous extraterrestrial?
For Astro-Nautilus' point man in striking back against the air-breathers, my choice always went to Kretor, the green half of the Kretor and Zark set from the SEA DEVILS line (that's Zark that I'm playing with in the photo at the top of this post), an undersea sister to the Matt Mason toys, also produced by Mattel.
Billed as the leader of the Sharkmen (whoever the hell they were) I favored Kretor for his being the obvious choice as a Sub-Mariner stand-in; he pretty much was just like Subby, what with his swim trunks and pointed ears, but he differed from the Sub-Mariner by being bright green, somewhat scaly, and having large webbed hands and feet. In my bathtub scenarios, he'd usually enter the narrative by being out in the middle of the ocean somewhere, engaging in tests of strength and getting into wrasslin' matches with giant sharks or octopi, when Astro-Nautilus would show up and ask him to help in kicking the navy out of the ocean in general. Then it was on, motherfuckers!
Meanwhile, the US Navy had the mighty Seaview at its disposal, and that was nothing to sneeze at!
As a fan of the VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA TV series, I saw the crew of that sub take on a staggering amount of undersea monsters, so they were the obvious choice to attempt to handle the forces from the depths. Plus, the toy actually fired a missile, so that added to the overall drama.
And these toys that I've just shown you? Astro-Nautilus in mint condition is a very expensive collector's item; if you can find one out of the packaging, even minus the trident, expect to pay at least five or six-hundred bucks up front, and the one time I saw it mint in the packaging it went for two grand. The Seaview was on eBay a while back and the then-current bid was around sixty bucks when last I looked, so that's reasonable. But Kretor... I had attempted to find any info or even a picture of him online for years, coming up with nothing but a name, and then I looked under SEA DEVILS on eBay once and there he was. No joke, he's one of the rarest toys out there, and the auction that had him was the first time I'd seen a Kretor — to say nothing of his companion toy, Zark — in thirty-six years. I looked into bidding on him, but was stopped in my tracks by the then-current bid price, namely $150. Too rich for my blood, but maybe someday I'll find one again.