Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Kenner's Aliens

You didn't honestly think I would miss the chance to talk about the Alien franchise in some form on Alien Day, did you? Yes, I didn't put up anything for a bit because I have, in fact, been prepping for this article. I have quite honestly been shaking with anticipation to finally share my thoughts about the Alien franchise for quite some time. It has always been one of my favourite things, going all the way back to my much younger days when people didn't judge me for loitering in the toy aisle. Yes, there was an Aliens toy line and it was amazing.

God damn, do I love old card backs to toys.

From the now defunct toy company Kenner, known primarily for their many Batman and Real Ghostbusters action figures among many other lines, produced this line to coincide with a cartoon that was set to appear on Fox Kids in Fall 1992. Sadly, that cartoon never actually materialized beyond a pilot that has never been made available outside of a boardroom. The only hints we have of it come in the form of some Operation: Aliens products that managed to make it to shelves before it's cancellation and a series small still images showing off some pretty solid Korean animation that actually reminds me of some of the better "boys" shows from that same era (i.e. Exo Squad, X-Men, Pirates of Dark Water, etc). It was cancelled likely because Alien 3 was poorly received and because someone in charge started thinking that kids might not get into this concept.


I don't know, I'm pretty sure kids would've ate this shit up. I know my friends and I would have.
But, despite the show never coming out, the toyline with clear ties to it did. It wasn't what you might expect though, as it wasn't really a sequel to Aliens or even really as kid-friendly as you might assume. No, what it actually was was re-imagining of the concept, giving us what almost feels like G.I. Joes fighting acid-blooded Xenomorphs. And there was death too, being that creatures were still propagating at an impressive rate. I mean, you'd expect it anyway, as it's hard to have a series about monsters if they don't behave monstrously. A major plot point in the show would've been new Xenomorphs being made as they'd impregnate various animals that would then result in a new type being born.

Toys like this were literal crack to me as a kid. Every taste I got only made me want another hit.
Now, I still think this concept is beautiful and cool as hell. I can't be the only one either, as it was an idea that has been revisited in comics and in movies. Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem gave us the gnarly Xenopred hybrid, the result of a chestburster coming from a Yautja (Predator). The other big takeaway with this alternate reality take on the Aliens story is that it allowed them to use deceased characters from the film Aliens, rather than attempt to make a gaggle of new characters to fill those slots. We had Apone, Drake, Hudson, and Vasquez returning to the land of the living to join the survivors Ripley, Bishop, and Hicks in the fight against the alien menace.

I guess Hudson's game wasn't as over as he thought it was. He must have picked up an extra life.
Now, the articulation on these figures is about what you'd expect of the early 90s. Five points, no ball joints in sight, and the weapons were all about gimmicks. Spring-loaded missile launchers, backpack catapults, and even an extending accordion-like weapon. It was campy but also pretty interesting. The characters were redesigned to have less uniform-like appearances, instead giving them individual personality inspired looks. Apone was particularly groovacious with his cybernetic arm and bright yellow shirt that proclaimed proudly "NO BUGS". Of the entire line, only two of the figures had the Colonial Marine armoured uniform, one being hicks and the other being one of the few new characters, O'Malley.

It's more shocking that they didn't put giant shamrocks all over him rather than him being able to hold that thing one hand.
Now, all of them were pretty damn cool, especially if you're a kid who already digs something like G.I. Joe. To be honest, these toys were closer to what I actually wanted out of Hasbro's Star Brigade subset in G.I. Joe. Makes you wonder what would've happened if they'd gotten the Aliens license instead. The idea of G.I. Joe Xenomorphs makes me salivate in ways I cannot even put into words. As it was though, despite these not being built like them, they were only slightly bigger than the G.I. Joe's 1/18 scale, meaning the Xenomorph figures could easily be used to give Snake Eyes and company a hard time. I remember siccing Ice Cream Soldier on some as a kid.

Yes, this really exists. No, I won't be making fun of it. I actually loved that toy.
Along with O'Malley, the aforementioned Irish Colonial Marine who seems to have mastered the art of holding unwieldy weaponry with one arm, we got what may be my favourite Aliens figure in the entire line: Atax. Yes, the one that Nostalgia Critic joked about in one of his commercial specials. Look, I get it, the name sounds a bit silly. You know what other names sound silly when you think about them? He-Man, Lion-O, Tall Man, and Solid Snake. You wouldn't fuck with any of them though and you definitely wouldn't want to tangle with Atax. He's a heavily armoured soldier whose armour is designed to somewhat mimic the appearance of a Xenomorph Queen. The basic idea is that he can infiltrate a hive and take it apart from within. I quite like that whole concept because it makes sense that they'd try to do something like that. It'd save lives and be far more tactically sound.

Plus, he's a guy wearing friggin' Alien battle armour! Like, holy shit, that is jawsome.
The line lasted from 1992 all the way to 1994, with some getting re-released complete with new paint jobs at Kay-Bee toystores in 1996 as Aliens vs. Marines. The Aliens line didn't really end though, as it actually lead directly into the Aliens vs. Predator line of toys, which were similarly badass. This is reflected in something I haven't yet went over, which is that the figures all came with mini-comics that told a continuing story about our heroes struggling against the monsters who give dentists hard-ons. These comics were a large part of why I loved these toys, because it gave you this backstory for everything, letting you see each character's personality and highlighting who they are as a member of the overall group. It's also pretty cool as it's quite likely the mini-comics reflected what the Operation: Aliens cartoon would've been like.

Not that there weren't other pieces of merchandise around to do that as well.
In the aftermath of it all, the toyline wasn't completely forgotten. I've seen others talk about their love for it and you can still track the stuff down on eBay if you have the money, which I sadly do not. There were some truly cool other things related to it too, like plaster casts sets, a board game, knock-offs that looked like they could easily fit into the line, and there was even a sort of sequel line in 1998 called Aliens: Hive Wars. It referenced Hicks' acid-based scarring by giving him a missing eye (along with some new cybernetic bits) and a new android character called Integer 3 to aid him. There was even a Yautja (Predator) tossed in. Overall, the toyline as a whole was a well-made fun entry into the many toylines of the 80s and 90s. It was clear that the people working on it had some creative ideas and a love for the franchise. Sadly, with lines like G.I. Joe seemingly dying, I feel like fun lines of this nature are simply a thing of the past that may never be repeated. Fun show concepts like a group of colourful space Marines fighting aliens just aren't "with it".

Fun shows aren't popular. Ones that end on teeth-grinding cliffhangers that cause people to get incredibly angry on social media are.
Thankfully, collectors do still exist and some companies do like to court them like a horny teenager might attempt to court...well, anyone willing to fuck him. NECA has gone out of their way to pay homage to the Kenner Aliens and Predator figures, doing variant figures based on Xenomorphs and Yautjas alike. I will fully admit that my desire to own a Cracked Tusk figure is quite powerful, because the only thing cooler than a Predator with tusks is one who has a tusk broken in half. I actually had the original figure of that too, because I wasn't stupid. All the cool kids should own the Cracked Tusk Predator, I thought...actually, I just liked the figure a lot. I didn't care about being cool then in the least.

But dammit, I was pretty cool though. Why is it you never realize things like that until later?
NECA even made my eyes fall out of my head and roll around with what they released today. You see, they released Ripley done up in her Operation: Aliens look, giving us the classic toy with much better everything. I can't afford much, but you can bet I bit that bullet without thinking twice. I personally hope NECA continues on that road too. I'd love to see them do the whole cast and would eagerly buy every single figure. I don't even really collect figures, but I would collect the hell out of those. And hey, other companies do still make Alien stuff. Funko, Super 7, Gentle Giant, they all keep that Alien love machine going. But nothing will ever replace the series of toys that really spoke to me as a kid who just wanted to imagine adventures of Marines fighting off Aliens. I hope I was able to properly share that love with you here today. Later days, bleeders.

Am I the only person who would totally buy a cyborg Michael Biehn figure?

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