REVIEW: G.I.JOE MANIMALS
The year was 1994. It was the 30th anniversary of G.I.JOE, but it had become known that it would be the last year, for the foreseeable future, of the 3-3/4" G.I.Joe line.
Sadly, any number of products intended for that year were scrapped before they hit the stores. Among these were two teams -- the Ninja Commandos, and the Manimals.
And the Manimals got so close to release that they actually had shelf price tags at Target and K-Mart. It is these unusual creations that this Flashback Review will discuss.
In 1994, Hasbro introduced the mysterious LUNARTIX ALIENS into the Star Brigade segment of G.I.JOE. A lot of people hated them. A lot of people hated Star Brigade in general, saying that it went too far astray from the core concept of G.I.Joe as a military team.
I resoundingly disagreed with this assessment, believing that G.I.Joe, in the 3-3/4" size, had become more of a classic struggle of good vs. evil, Joe vs Cobra (and a few other enemies), much as the Transformers focused on that same good vs. evil foundation with the Autobots vs. Decepticons.
G.I.Joe had its military roots even into 1994, but it had branched into other areas before, with varying degrees of success. Ninja Force, Eco-Warriors, etc. Cobra wasn't even the only enemy the Joes had faced. There had been the drug-pushing HeadMan and his HeadHunters, and Destro had formed his own team known as the Iron Grenadiers. The Lunartix were one more enemy force. They just happened to come from other worlds.
The three Lunartix -- Predacon, Lobotomaxx, and Carcass, DID come out -- barely. They turned up at Target in late 1994 on the same shelf pegs originally intended for the Manimals.
The Manimals -- didn't make it. In late 1994, it became known that a handful of production level sets did exist, and through means that I honestly don't know about, came into the hands of a few collectors. Thanks to some help from some friends, one in particular, and some money that I only wish I had the likes to make use of these days, I was able to obtain one complete set of production-level Manimals.
In a sense, it's easy to see why the Manimals didn't make it. They were distinctly larger than G.I.Joes. Even the Lunartix, as strange as they were, fit into the same scale. Now, I'm not one to comment on alien life, so it's reasonable to assume that the Manimals were technically in the same scale as the Joes -- but that would make these characters very large aliens, proportionately seven to eight feet in height if they existed in real life.
They were described as hunters and mercenaries, and each one had the ability to transform in some way into a far more ferocious form. They are as follows, with their actual file card information!
WARWOLF - ALIEN MUTATION EXPERT Primary Specialty - Manimal - Bounty Hunter/Mercenary Seconday Specialty - Alien Arms Dealer
After mutating into his evil monster personality, this planet-stomping Lunartix alien will bite anything that moves, and almost anything that doesn't! His poor vision once led him to swallow a fallen meteor that he'd mistaken for a glowing mound of space algae. Soon thereafter, WARWOLF began to expel the contents of his stomach, coughing up an entire tail section of a Cobra Invader. Talk about hungry, when this guy gets hunger pangs - RUN!
Obviously we're not talking an intellectual property such as Star Trek here, people, but let's try to suspend our disbelief and have some fun with the concept. And clearly, the Lunartix and the Manimals were just as big a threat to Cobra as they were to the Joes.
Warwolf was probably the plainest-looking of the Manimals. In his basic form, he was certainly the most humanoid. His face had recognizable features, almost like a futuristic simian in a space suit. The colors of his outfit were a very pale purple and a dark burgundy. He looked, really, like a very bulky humanoid, as much as anything. But tip his head back and his monster form was revealed, as his chest opened up to reveal a huge fanged mouth! Yeah, this probably could chow down on one of those Cobra Invader ships!
SPASMA - ALIEN STEALTH COMMANDO Primary Specialty - Manimal - Bounty Hunter/Mercenary Seconday Specialty - Intergalactic Arm Wrestling Champion
SPASMA is a battle-thirsty warrior who "alienates" everyone he meets. He loves picking fights with innocent Venutian or Martian star traders by spitting his toxic saliva at them. "I just don't like anyone who lives so close to planet Earth!" he gripes. Ever since DUKE stopepd him from demolishing a mineral-rich asteroid belt, SPASMA has carried a grudge ahainst Earth people in general, and even fellow Lunartix who associate with them. Luckily he stays on his side of the universe most of the time and mutates into his evil form only when provoked - or hungry!
You know, if you wanted to use a little creative logic here, if you combine some of these file card statements with some of those from the other Lunartix and even the basic Joe and Cobra Star Brigade characters, a case could be made that the events of the G.I.Joe Star Brigade team actually take place in the future, with certain characters just carrying over the names of their ancestors.
Anyway, Spasma is probably the Manimal with the most minimal (no word-play pun intended) transformation. In his basic form, he appears to be a tiger-skinned alien in yellow with brown stripes, with green trim and an all-covering black helmet with a gold visor. But push the button in his back and that visor pops open to reveal an alien head, that if dipped in water beforehand, sprays water. Not exactly "toxic saliva", but disgusting enough...
SLYTHOR - GALACTIC ATTACKER Primary Specialty - Manimal - Bounty Hunter/Mercenary Seconday Specialty - Star Cruiser Pilot
Roaming the universe, searching for villains to capture, this beastly bounty hunter has the strength of ten ordinary men - 20 after mutating into his evil alter ego. He's one Manimal no one wants to mess with, not even the other Lunartix aliens will approach his star cruiser when he's armed for battle and frothing at the fangs! Luckily, the Joes are out there to protect Earth from Lunartix like SLYTHOR, but still the threat remains. WATCH OUT!
This guy's transformation would probably win him lots of friends among the forces of Cobra. In his basic form, Slythor appears to be a bulky, red-skinned humanoid with black trousers, and two large white claws emerging from the backs of his hands. But when he transforms, a multi-sectioned piece arises from his chest that becomes an immense snake head with a long neck! It's easily one of the creepier Manimals, especially since whoever designed this figure saw fit to sculpt a visible spine and rib cage at the back of the chest cavity.
IGUANUS - STELLAR STALKER Primary Specialty - Manimal - Bounty Hunter/Mercenary Seconday Specialty - Large Prey Hunter
Thought to be a mythical Lunartix creature of ancient cosmic lore, the entire universe was shocked when IGUANUS recently appeared on the planet Mastodon hunting its giant creatires and eating them raw - horns and all! A part-time bounty hunter and full-time meat eater, nothing can escape his capture afer he locks onto its scent. If you're going to explore a star sector near Mastodon, take along plenty of lasers and set them all to full power!
In my opinion, Iguanus is easily the coolest of the Manimals. The figure is certainly the most highly detailed of the group. If you see an Iguanus figure, note the detail around the boots that actually look like hands gripping the lower legs. This scaly varmint is done in black with white and grey trim, which somehow makes him look that much more sinister. His transformation is essentially identical to Warwolf's -- tip back his head and a frightening mouth appears from his chest - complete with articulated tongue! Definitely a cool figure.
ZIGZAG - MUTATING ALIEN WARRIOR Primary Specialty - Manimal - Bounty Hunter/Mercenary Seconday Specialty - Freighter Pilot Stalker
When hungry for a snack, ZIGZAG has been known to grab freighter pilots right from their canopies and toss them into his gaping mouth before they even have time to signal for help, Since there are no sounds or odors in space, you never know when he'll sneak up on you. But when down on a planet's surface, you can smell him coming from three trisecs away. ZigZag's bloated body smells like rotten Lunartix eggs and the odor becomes quite toxic when mixed with the stench of his blood-stained breath -- yecch!
I know we're supposed to be having fun with this, but don't even get me started on whoever wrote this having the nerve to throw in scientific information like "no sounds in space" with the rest of this description. It's also not entirely true that there are no odors. Astronauts have commented that their spacesuits pick up a very distinctive ozone-like scent after they've been floating around out there for a while.
Anyway, as for ZigZag -- well, they can't all be winners. This guy is unquestionably the goofiest of the lot, and his transformation is just asking for double-entendres. You basically turn this figure over, rotate his arms around to become legs, his legs become arms, and then you push down on his original head so that his second head pops out from underneath. Make your own jokes about that one, folks. I try to stay away from the really obvious ones...
VORTEX - PLANETARY PUNISHER Primary Specialty - Manimal - Bounty Hunter/Mercenary Seconday Specialty - Weapons Expert
A bounty hunter who always gets his alien, VORTEX has captured more convicts than any other Lunartix Manimal in the universe. In star sectors west of the G-2 galaxy, where he was hatched, his reputation as a bounty hunter keeps most criminals away for fear of being captures and thrown into jail. Although he puts a lot of space scum into the slammer, he does it strictly for the cash - exactly the opposite of G.I.JOE forces.
Almost get the impression that that last sentence was thrown in because Vortext started to sound too good?
This figure unquestionably has the coolest and most intricate transformation of the entire group. In his standard form, he appears to be a somewhat bulky humanoid figure with a bright green and dark blue spacesuit with grey trim. But the upper half of that suit splits open in multiple sections to reveal a little bright orange work-like alien inside, with tiny arms poised on levers. Almost looks like he's smiling.
There is some assorted additional information about the original Manimals. It's been reasonably well confirmed that even had the Manimals reached the stores, Vortex would not have been among them. His more complex transformation also made him the most fragile of the figures, and he couldn't quite pass safety tests, so the story goes.
And there's one mystery that I've always wondered about with regard to Spasma. His hands, which are fairly small in comparison to the rest of the figure, are ABSOLUTELY IDENTICAL to the hands found on 1995's SGT. SAVAGE figures, even though the rest of the lower arm is different.
This raises the question -- at what point was Sgt. Savage developed in comparison to the Manimals? The Sgt. Savage line, short-lived in and of itself (deservedly), was NOT compatible with its 3-3/4" predecessor (although oddly, some of its vehicles were), and it certainly didn't have anything to do with aliens. There's a level of crossover here that I'd love to hear an explanation for one of these days.
The Manimals, for a time, became the stuff of legend within the G.I.Joe world. A handful of sets were known to exist, and some of them (obviously) got out. A carded Vortex was auctioned by Cotswold Collectibles for over eight thousand dollars in 1994. I didn't pay that for the entire set of six, but then mine were loose, which was fine with me.
An attempt was made to finally release the Manimals a few years ago, as a K*B Toys Exclusive. The original package was duplicated, with minor changes. The first set of three included Slythor, Iguanus, and Warwolf. For the sake of the few collectors that had original sets, the new ones were recolored. It wasn't really an improvement. Slythor was molded in olive green, Warwolf mostly in dark blue and purple, and Iguanus in dark blue and silver.
Sadly, the release of these Manimals was "too little, too late". Interest had waned, and the toys were a failure. The second assortment was never released, and there have been reports since then that ZigZag would not have been among them anyway.
Interestingly, a handful of production level "second generation" Spasma and Vortex figures have turned up on eBay, and the color schemes are interesting. Vortex is distinctly not an improvement. His outer suit has been redone in a color that is a truly sickening shade of green that I can only describe as "dried puke". Spasma, on the other hand, traded in his yellow skin with brown tiger stripes for a distinctly improved black outfit with silver stars sprayed on it. A very cool rendition of this Manimal!
But overall, interest in the Manimals has waned from ten years ago. Even in the originals. Even if I were to sell my set -- which I don't want to do -- I couldn't get anywhere near what I paid for them. I do not regret that purchase. I had the money at the time, and I am pleased to own these unusual and highly rare figures.
Would they have succeeded had they been released ten years ago? I don't know. I'd like to think that they would have, but I am not sure. They might've attracted kids that didn't know from G.I.Joe per se, but liked the oddball alien characters.
But that is mere speculation. Ultimately, the MANIMALS are one of the strangest chapters, and certainly among the strangest figures, in the 40-year-legacy that is G.I.JOE!