Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

Back Inaction

The PopCult Toybox

It’s been a while since I’ve had the time to do a good, in-depth photo essay/toy review, so I’m going to jump in with a review of the recently-released “Back In Action” set from Mattel Creations.

This was a limited edition that sold online only and is no longer available. I’m going to be as generous as possible with this review, but I’ll tell you upfront that I’m more than a little cynical about this set of three action figures.

It’s pretty clear that this set only exists to allow Mattel to keep their hold on the trademarks for three of their classic action figure lines.

The packaging for this set is fairly elaborate and very clever. Each of the three figures is on a blister card enclosed within a shallow box, and those three boxes are held in a slipcover. This doesn’t totally compensate for the fact that the figures themselves are pretty lackluster.

Let me give you a little history first: Back in the 1980s, Mattel secured the rights to Marvel’s Super Heroes for a line of action figures and came up with “Secret Wars,” a line of toys integrated with a company-wide crossover of all Marvel Comics.

Mattel’s deal to produce Marvel action figures was a direct response to Kenner’s success with their Super Powers line, based on DC Comics’ heroes. While Kenner and DC offered up line of 4 1/2 inch tall figures with high detail, lots of articulation and special action features and accessories, Mattel and Marvel produced a slightly taller figure with only five points of articulation and limited detail, with no accessories.

In fact, many of the Marvel Secret Wars figures just used the same body, with a different head and paint job. About eight years ago Fresh Monkey Fiction started the Amazing Heroes line, done in the style of Marvel’s Secret Wars figures, and while I got a couple of them, I didn’t collect the entire line because, well, this type of action figure sorta sucks. Lately, Fresh Monkey Fiction has decided to do a figure line, in the style of Kenner’s Super Powers.

I’ve always found the Kenner Super Powers figures to be vastly superior. and kids and collectors in the 1980s obviously agreed because Kenner’s line stuck around in stores much longer than Mattel’s Secret Wars did.

Which begs the question, why did Mattel make these three figures in the style of one of their least impressive action figure lines? Some folks even call it an “inaction figure” due to the lack of articulation.

The only explanation I can come up with is, it was cheap, they could do it quick and it’d allow them to secure these trademarks without making much of an effort.

In fact, these figures were meant to be sold in 2020 and bear that date on their molds and backing cards. I don’t know if they were delayed by COVID or if Mattel was having second thoughts, but full production sets of these three figures were being sold by Chinese vendors  on eBay (for embarrasingly large amounts of money) two years before they officially went on sale from Mattel Creations. It sure seems like these guys lived in a warehouse in China for a couple of years.

The three figures included in this set are Major Matt Mason, Big Jim (in his P.A.C.K. guise) and Pulsar. The figures pretty much suck, like all Secret Wars-style figures. There are NO accessories.

I’m glad I got these, simply for curiosity’s sake, and also to maybe convince Mattel to do more with these characters. I’m not going to bother opening them. They’re more knick-knacks than action figures.  Seriously, they’re like Funko Pops with normal-sized heads.  I’ll tell you more about each character in the captions below the photos, which start now…

It was very clever of Mattel to mark the outer shipping box with the Secret Wars name, and mimic the look of a case of vintage figures.

The very sharp-looking slipcover, with the inner boxes exposed on one side. As action figures go, these are well-suited to stay on your bookshelf.


The real reason for this set.

Big Jim, on a blister card, housed in a nearly-identical box. It’s very cool to see Jack Kirby’s package art from the mid-1970s used here. Big Jim was a 10-inch tall competitor to GI Joe that focused more on athletics and hunting than war and adventure.  In 1975 he was re-branded as the leader of “Big Jim’s P.A.C.K.” in an effort to grab some of MEGO’s superhero market share. Even with Kirby designs and insert comics by John Buscema, the line didn’t click.

The figure looks sorta like Big Jim, standing in the patented Secret Wars “man I really gotta use the bathroom” pose. It’s really cheesy to have all his webgear printed on him.

Pulsar was a huge, over 13-inch tall figure released in 1976 in an attempt to compete with Kenner’s Six Million Dollar Man line. He had a clear chest which let kids see his organs. A button let kids make his organs pulsate. He’s pretty obscure.

They did a deent job of recreating his likeness with the headsculpt, but the clear chest simply has organs printed inside, and they do not move.

A closer look at that headsculpt, a good copy of the original, which looks like it might have been done by the same guy who went on to sculpt He-Man.

My main reason for gettng this set was the inclusion of Major Matt Mason. In the mid-1960s, MMM was THE cool space toy. A six-inch tall bendy figure with tons of accessories and vehicles based on NASA’s designs.

This is the one figure that I wanted to see outside of his extra box. As it turns out, the front of the card looks pretty much like the box.

The back of the blister card has a short blurb and some vintage package art, and not much else (aside from the all-important trademark info).

The figure itself has a pretty decent approximation of MMM’s original headsculpt. The spacesuit details, painted on here, are so cheesy that they’re almost charming. At the end of the day, if you’re a die-hard MMM fan, you don’t really need this. He doesn’t even have a space helmet, for Christ’s sake.

And that is our look at the Back In Action set. It’s really cool to see these three characters back in action figure form, and the packaging is great, but the figures themselves are underwhelming. To me, forty bucks was acceptable, but your milage may vary.


1 Comment

  1. Greg Stitz

    Thanks for the review.

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