We're still mining the rich vein of GI Joe knockoffs with this here installment of Cheesy Knockoffs, and this time we're just going to look at the first offerings from a mysterious company that arose from the Far East and bedazzled us Westerners with their strange ways and exotic behavior. At least until they settled down and started making some pretty cool stuff that isn't too hard to find. We're looking at M&C Toy Centre's "Power Team" (not to be confused with the bodybuilding evangelists).
A few years ago, when this company first entered into the meaty field of GI Joe knockoffs, they were an enigma. Their first few offerings began to show up in the strangest places--Texas convenience stores, Food Lion Grocers, flea markets, and ...UGH..eBay. But the thrill of the hunt added to the excitement. I paid way too much for my first one, and then ordered extras from Greg Brown after I was able to track down a distributor that would sell them to him. (Besides, Greg is a great guy who deserves all the free plugs he can get, even if it's only in a cheesy knockoff column-http://www.flash.net/~eklyps/index.htm). People who were lucky enough to live near the rare retail outlets that carried these guys had the fun of scouring the area, which can be one of the more fun facets of the toy collecting hobby.
What made these figures stand out was not simply the fact that they were cheap, came with a generous amount of accessories, and were working genres that nobody else was doing at that point--no, the most interesting thing about these guys was the headsculpt. On top of a sub-par imitation of a Classic Collection GI Joe body, was perched a near-perfect, but scarless recreation of the vintage GI Joe head. It was very close. Closer than the Cotswold "Jake" head. Aside from the missing scar, the only real difference was the presence of more detail sculpted into the hair.
Customizers went nuts ordering these, only to be disappointed when they discovered that the body pretty much stunk, and the neck post was incompatible with any other body on the market. Still, this was a great find. And the attached neck post, which connected inside the chest, had an Adam's Apple--a detail that had not been seen before on a 12" action figure.
The problem, of course, was that there was a great demand for these figures, which spurred the manufacturer to make a few improvements. First, they had to lose the headsculpt. There was no need to incur the wrath of Hasbro by continuing to market such an obvious rip-off. Then they made vast improvements to the body, changing it from a scrawny, sub-par Classic Collection knockoff to a beefier body, more along the lines of the current Action Man bodies.
As for why these were so hard to find, my guess is that this was the first attempt at such an action figure line by the folks at M&C Toy Centre in Hong Kong. Previously, when they were just making generic toys, they had only dealt with rack jobbers and regional distributors. However, after the initial splash of these guys, they plunged head first into the market, and showed toys at the Dallas and New York Toy Fairs, and broke out of the funky little stores into bigger markets.
Now you can find the newly renamed "Power Team Elite" at certain Kay Bee stores, Dollar General, Canadian Toys R Us stores, and in the Penney's Christmas catalog, which carried the extremely nifty UN House playset. They've got a line of vehicles and several accesory sets and the new body is really good. That stuff is pretty cool, and no longer really cheesy, but it's not what this column is devoted to. Currently, the "Power Team Elite" is a second-tier 12" action figure line, slighty superior to Lanard's Ultra Corps, and cheaper than most everybody else. They have graduated from the ranks of the cheesy knockoff.
But this column is about the first offerings of the "Power Team" line. Why? Well, the fact that most of them had the obvious rip-off of the original GI Joe head makes them a knockoff worth examining. The outfits and accessories were, with a few exceptions, pretty darned good. But the thing that makes them cheesy----the names: "Hunter Man" and "Astronaut Man" (there's also "Military Man" but he doesn't have the interesting headsculpt). What astoundingly STUPID names! Even if they are pretty darned descriptive.
I suppose it was just a case of M&C not being too well-versed in English. It's forgivable, but that doesn't mean we still can't laugh at it! I've heard that they also did Police and Firefighter figures, but I've never seen them. So I don't know if they did "Policeman Man" or "Fireman Man". Although I've heard that they did do "Hunter Woman", so maybe that's why they felt the need to make the distinction.
"Hunter Man" came with a great outift (available in tan and green) of shorts and a shirt with socks and a bush hat. He also came with a Dalmatian and an eagle. In addition to a really cheap-looking rifle, he had a mess kit, binoculars and a canteen, as well as a pretty lame belt and knife with a sheath. The bush hat, eagle, knife, mess kit, canteen, binoculars, and sheath seem to be copies of old Hasbro Hall of Fame accessories. The shorts, shirt, socks and hat were so well-done that they immediately got transferred to a vintage Land Adventurer, where they remain today. This set punched many a nostalgic button among Adventure Team fans.
"Astronaut Man" came in a variety of different styles of space suit, none of them with a helmet. Mine looks like it would be perfect for Michael Rennie in "The Day The Earth Stood Still", while others have been used as uniforms based on the original "Lost In Space" TV show. He also came with a decent laptop computer, and a ton of unwieldy space weapons.
Since these guys appeared, the initial excitement over the headsculpt has sort of died down. Hasbro has released a slew of terrific Timeless Collection figures, and that's left the nostalgic collector fairly well sated. The fact that the heads were a genuine pain-in-the-arse to transplant didn't help matters any. In fact, most people who are still looking for these guys want them for the outfits, not the figures.
Still, for their time they were wonderfully cheesy and seemed proud to be a very close knockoff of America's Movable Fighting Man. In this case, a cheesy knockoff has spawned what may well be the sixth or seventh best line of 12" action figures out there!