Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

More On The MEGO Revival and a quick look at Action Jackson

The PopCult Toybox

The much-ballyhooed revival of MEGO action figures was supposed to hit Target stores nationwide on July 29, but thus far (as I write this) it has not yet arrived in all Target locations (including Charleston). However, some of them did show up on Target’s online store (and eventually all of them did), so I ordered a few, just in case they somehow managed to bypass our local area (or wind up intercepted by local scalpers).

Today we’re going to look at Action Jackson (right), a reissue of the very first MEGO 8″ Action Figure. This is a callback to the original figure, and it’s cool to have it included in “Marty Abrams Presents MEGO,” which is officially the new company’s name. Marty being the man who ran MEGO during its heyday.

Before we jump into the review, we have to be brutally honest about the vintage MEGO figures. The main appeal of them was that they were inexpensive and included a lot of cool superhero figures that had never been made into toys before. It was the DC and Marvel superheroes that put them on the map, and along with their excellent Star Trek and Planet of the Apes series, that is what built their legacy.

But they were never “perfect” toys. The first generation of bodies broke easily, which is why they refined the design over the years. Tailoring for such a small scale figure intended for mass production presented a series of challenges with choosing fabrics that were durable enough to work on toys while accurately reflecting the costumes of the characters they represented.

A lot of MEGO figures cut corners when it came to accuracy. My favorite MEGO figure from my childhood, Captain (don’t call him “Shazam”) Marvel didn’t have the right boots or cape, and his headsculpt didn’t look anything like the comic book character. In fact, I believe they just re-used the headsculpt they’d produced for a Peter Parker/Spider-man secret identity set. Either way, it didn’t look much like Peter Parker, either.

Much of the nostalgic charm of vintage MEGO figures was the high cheesiness factor. Tarzan’s flesh-colored bodysuit was one example. Over the years, as collectors grew up and acquired skills, customizers poured into the hobby and showed just how detailed and elaborate they could make figures in the MEGO scale. This really raised the bar on what the new MEGO had to do.

You can see some of the amazing Star Trek work of local customizer, Tony DiTrapino, at the left.

But back in the 1970s these were toys for kids that had to be produced cheaply in order to get them into stores to compete against higher-priced products. So with the vintage MEGO figures, a lot of the clothes look clunky, the face sculpts range from pretty good to pretty bad, and figures with rooted hair (most of the female figures) get tangled and messy-looking as soon as they’re removed from the package.

There’s also the matter of licenses. Back then it was fairly easy for MEGO to corner the market on superheroes, with deals in place with DC and Marvel. However, as the line progressed, MEGO took a bit of a “throw everything against the wall and see what sticks” attitude, and created figures based on The Waltons, Happy Days, CHiPs, Wizard of Oz, and others as well as a whole host of non-licensed “World’s Greatest” figures based on cowboys, knights, pirates and monsters.

The big challenge facing MEGO today is the fact that Marvel and DC, which were MEGO’s bread-and-butter during their original run, are tied up with other toy companies (with the exception of the DC figures that MEGO is producing in the unusual 14″ size). Faced with that, and with a wish list from Target, MEGO has had to rely largely on “Television Favorites” for the first wave of new product. With Dr. MEGO, Paul Clarke, helming a talented team of sculptors and seamstresses (who are credited on the package, which is a wonderful development), the quality is vastly improved from the vintage days.

The question is, “how are the figures?”

I cracked open Action Jackson for a quick look. I will address the packaging later, but I will point out that it was easy to open with a hobby knife. If you don’t care about keeping the backing card, you can just rip into it. If you do keep those things, be prepared to cut the gold foil sticker off the blister bubble, if you want to store it flat.

The figure is tight and well-made. He’s more solid than any vintage MEGO figures I’ve encountered. The headsculpt is a perfect recreation of the vintage Action Jackson, which looks suspiciously like a young Marty Abrams. The shoes are removable (one gripe I had about the vintage Star Trek figures was that they’d molded the boots onto the feet in a cost-cutting move).

The body itself is a slightly-improved recreation of a later-generation MEGO body, and poses very well. The joints are tight. The hands are molded in a position that makes it a little tricky to get them to hold the gun that comes with the set, but once it’s in position, it’ll stay there.

The jumpsuit is well-stitched, with velcro closures rather than the snaps that the vintage figures had. The belt looks good on the figure, and the “AJ” emblem is a good reproduction, but is a bit smaller than the original, which both looks better, and makes it easy to distinguish from the original.

Which is not to suggest that people will try to pass these off as vintage figures. I’ve bought vintage 45-year-old Action Jackson figures still in the package just recently for what I paid for this guy.

Action Jackson was originally released as a lower-priced alternative to the 12″ GI Joe, and despite having a robust advertising campaign, he didn’t catch on. It was because MEGO was stuck with a warehouse full of Action Jackson bodies that the deals were struck with DC and Marvel to use them for the first wave of “World’s Greatest Superhereos” figures.

So it’s cool that they went back to their origins for this figure. It’ll be interesting to see if he manages to sell out of his initial production run of 10,000 figures. Vintage figures and uniform sets are still floating around at ridiculously-low prices. These could wind up as peg-warmers, or they might be heavily-sought-after by customizers and folks looking to refurbish other vintage MEGOs. The body is compatible with vintage MEGO heads (correction: it’s not entirely compatible. See the comments).

The packaging for the new 8″ MEGO single figures is pretty nifty. The card fronts have diagonal stripes, which makes for an eye-catching display when these are on the pegs in the stores (I’ve seen photos). The bubble on this blister pack has a distinctive shape, which allows the figures to be stacked face-to-face in the package without any slippage. The bubble is also where the gold sticker with the limited edition number is (each figure is numbered from one to ten-thousand). This card features the original Action Jackson logo, artwork from the vintage package and word bubbles coming from the character. The latter being a cute touch.

The card back (seen left) shows a photo of a vintage figure, along with some hype copy, a MEGO trivia question, an explanation of what MEGO was and who Marty Abrams is, along with a small photo of Mr. Abrams, and coolest of all, credits for Dr. MEGO as “Consultant,” along with Sean Samson, Cynthia Woodie and Andy Covalt as “Sculptors” and Nicole Wilson as “Seamstress.”

This is the first time I can recall seeing sculptor and seamstress credits on a mass-market toy, and it’s a welcome and long-overdue development.

As a reproduction of a classic toy, you have to give Action Jackson an A-plus. He looks like the original, is more sturdy and posable, but the improvements do not detract from the nostalgia. He is the only figure in this line that is not a well-known licensed character (although they did have to license the name from David Lee, who had picked up the trademark for his Cast-A-Way toy line a while back).

As for the MEGO line as a whole, there is a very good chance that these could catch on with casual collectors and take over where Funko left off with their Pops line, which has been losing steam recently at retail. With the ablility to do more recognizable representations of the characters they depict, MEGO has a real chance to take off.

One of my gripes about Funko Pops is that, much of the time, I don’t know what the hell they’re supposed to be. A guy in a suit with that weird generic big head/blank pupil look could be Agent Mulder, Don Draper, Agent Dale Cooper, Saul Goodman or any of dozens of other characters. MEGO has a much greater capability of capturing a reconizable likeness, which should appeal to fans who have burned out on Pops.

It’s great to have MEGO back, and exciting to see where they go from here.

4 Comments

  1. Jim Bumgardner

    Great article and review! Very informative and fun to read. The only note, the vintage heads are not compatible with the new bodies without an alteration to the neck plug. Still a great read! #WeAreMego

    • rudy panucci

      Jim, thanks for the kind words and the correction on that. I hadn’t actually tried a head switch yet.

  2. Thomas Wheeler

    Thanks for the review, Rudy! Action Jackson is definitely on my radar, since I never had the original one as a kid, and I had a LOT of Megos. I’ll be interested to see how this line fares. Many of the licenses, with the exception of Star Trek, strike me as very odd. I do find myself wondering if there’s much demand for action figures based on Cheers, The Facts of Life, or Married With Children. So far, my only visual quality gripe is that I have yet to see a Mirror Universe Capt. Kirk figure that didn’t have inexcusably sloppy paint around the eyes. Mego needs to tighten up the quality control a bit.

  3. Chimalpahin

    Very nice review overall. Since I don’t have nostalgia for mego dolls, way before my time, I do know them from Robot Chicken &
    So I find them charming. However I don’t get the limited articulation on them, in today’s market they really should have at least 22 points. Heck the made to move Barbie’s at 12″ at 14.99 have that much now, so there’s no excuse. Barbie can finally do more poses than Dinah-Mite! But she still can’t stand on her own.

    so really in today’s market they’re more of a competitor to Funko Pops really, like funkos they’re cheap, modular & customizable & the eclectic choices in licenses mames me wonder who the target audience is.

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