Giving Thanks For Substitute Toys
A while back I wrote a post called Knockoffs in Disguise about a Go-Bot that I had when I was a kid. Thinking back, it was sort of ridiculous that I owned what was basically a knockoff of a knockoff. In the ’80s there were so many successful toy lines that getting “scabs,” of He-Man, GI Joe, and Transformers was very common. Remember back in school when you had a substitute? The day could go either way. Either the sub was young, cool, and just waiting for the bell to ring OR they were an overachiever and pretended to be a real teacher for the day. Substitute toys had the potential for the same conflicting possibilities. Substitute toys were sometimes cool because NONE of your friends had anything like the freak sub, but most of the time BAD because they were just completely wrong in every way.
Before fans of superheroes, toys, and collectibles were referred to as “geeks,” a term which I still don’t buy into, I was just a normal kid who collected toys like most of my friends. As many of you can relate, growing up in the ’80s was pretty cookie cutter in that most of your friends owned and took part in the same exact crap that we all did. I had a box of Star Wars figures and 2 laundry baskets full of WWF LJN figures. My friends had nearly the same haul, but perhaps not as many. We all had the basic Masters of the Universe and Thundercats figures, as well as G.I Joe’s. What was always different in my world was that I had several severe gaps in my collections.
Vehicles and playsets were always more expensive and usually I had to angle my requisition strategically. My burning desire for the Millennium Falcon and other larger ticket items didn’t carry the dangerous red flag that Ralphie’s Red Ryder BB Gun did. The memory of staring at the box of the Kenner Millennium Falcon on the shelf in a store with my parents and telling them that I wanted it so bad is as clear as Crystal Pepsi in my mind. I never did get the Millennium Falcon because my parents said it was too expensive. Now that I’m an adult I don’t blame them, although I don’t remember the exact price of the Falcon in the post ESB, pre-ROTJ era. For some reason it was a piece of cake to con them into buying me enough Star Wars figures that equated to the price of 2 or 3 Millennium Falcons through those few years.
Since I never had what Luke called a “hunk of junk,” I had to envy other peoples. My Dad did buy me a consolation ship though. You’re probably thinking it was the X-wing, A-wing, Y-wing or any number of other ships from the Kenner Star Wars collection. Actually, the ship he got me wasn’t made by Kenner, heck, it wasn’t even a Star Wars knockoff. The ship he got me was intended as a replacement for not getting the Falcon and let me tell you…it wasn’t anything like the Falcon. This generic silver ship with orange plastic cockpits was more along the lines of an X-wing which was what I typically used it for because you guessed it, I didn’t have the X-wing either. The idea that I had to use a replacement toy would be a stretch for other kids I knew, as well as a lot of kids nowadays. A replacement toy meant that I had to grudgingly incorporate it into my storylines while I sat and drooled at the toy catalogs dreaming that someday the real thing would be mine.
Another substitute toy that still sticks out in my mind was the race car stand-in I had for the Kenner Super Powers Batmobile. A couple of my friends had the Super Powers Batmobile and they really beat it up. I couldn’t believe a kid could have such an awesome vehicle yet not care that they broke the plastic windshields off or that the entire battering ram part was completely missing. Toy abuse if you ask me. I remember that I received a green toy race car for my birthday one year that resembled a futuristic formula one car. I really liked it, but rarely played with it. I never made a huge scene about not getting the Super Powers Batmobile because in this instance it wasn’t an issue of it being too expensive, there was actually no trace of it in any stores in my area. I let my parents slide for that one. As another consolation my Dad did something pretty damn awesome as a surprise for me.
One day my Dad said to me “I bet you’d really like to have that Batmobile for your Batman and Robin figures” and I said “yeah I would!” Next thing I knew he handed me what looked like my old green race car but it was spray painted to resemble the color scheme of the Super Powers Batmobile! I couldn’t have been happier with it. I wound up playing with that car more than I ever did the entire time I owned it. Years later, when we heard about the upcoming ’89 Batman movie, my Dad sprayed the car all black which extended it’s life until I got the Toy Biz Batmobile.
Toy Story 3 pretty much summed up every thoughtful sentiment that ever existed about toys. More than an emotional attachment, the most important function that toys and figures had in my life was sparking my imagination. Whether I was simply setting up my collection or having an intense space adventure, wrestling a main event, or a battle for the power sword, ultimately I was being creative. A hunk of plastic doesn’t really mean a damn thing until your mind makes it come alive. If George Lucas could CGI and superimpose different characters and landscapes into and out of the Star Wars films, there’s no reason why a child’s young mind can’t do the same thing with their own imagination. Getting used to that generic silver spaceship was uncomfortable at first, but after a while I grew to love it as if it was an official Kenner toy. It comes down to being thankful for what we have and also realizing and appreciating the fact that fun can actually exist in what you don’t have. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to replicate the feeling of excitement and anticipation of getting the real toys that I had been yearning for all year from Santa Claus! Always remember that what you own now is plenty and while you may have some gaps in your collection, someone else might be overwhelmed and delighted to have what you have.