Sunday, May 17, 2009

SilverHawks Sunday II: The Toys

The SilverHawks toys don't represent any kind of watershed in action figure development the way some of their contemporaries did. He-Man was groundbreaking in developing a series based on a toyline (immediately after the legislation banning that was overturned) and including action features in each figure. G.I. Joes made serious leaps forward in articulation and accessorization, with countless vehicles and sprawling playsets like the U.S.S. Flagg. ThunderCats incorporated lots of early electronic technology, with light-up eyes and infrared sensors. Even lesser-known lines like Visionaries and Super Naturals experimented with holograms, and Captain Power had vehicles that interacted with the TV series. Most importantly, Transformers gave us giant robots that turned into other things*.

SilverHawks didn't have anything quite so innovative. Most of the figures had a standard five points of articulation (shoulders, legs, heads); there were several vehicles produced, a couple of role playing toys, and most of the main characters got a release before the line abruptly ended. Most of the heroic characters featured shiny metallic paint decos and some decent detailing. Almost all of the toys had action features of some sort, and the villains (at least) were particularly sturdy, hefty figures. I had several of the accessories break over the years--nearly every figure came with a companion bird of some sort, and the talons which held said birds to their owners' arms tended to be pretty brittle--but I've never had any issues with any of the bricklike villainous figures. The main characters' metallic paint had a tendency to chip and wear off in places, which is not only unfortunate, but is also a problem that persisted well into the late '90s (if not longer), as it was a major complaint about several waves of Beast Wars figures.

This is not to say that there weren't several nice things about Kenner's shiniest toys. First, they had some superbly detailed sculpting for that era and size. They don't exactly meet modern standards, but I know there are an awful lot of toylines that wouldn't have bothered with the same kind of detail that went into the SilverHawks' armor and facial expressions. Heck, I'm having a hard time imagining another toyline of the era where simple accessories like Tally Hawk could merit their own paint jobs. Heck, the Sword of Omens that came with Lion-O was just red with some silver paint on the blade and hilt; they didn't even bother painting in the Eye of Thundera. SilverHawks even had their tiny chest emblems painted on!

Due in part to that level of detail, they managed to avoid one of the major frustrations of cartoon tie-in toy lines: figures that look nothing like the characters on the show. Maybe it was just my anal retentivity, but I was always bothered by the fact that the toy Lion-O's claw shield was bright red instead of gold, and that there was no reduced-size Sword of Omens to put into it. It bugged me that if you tried to make Mumm-Ra's headdress fit him like it did in the show, he looked like an idiot. I didn't like that Man-At-Arms had no mustache, or that She-Ra's headdress wasn't smaller and bronze-colored. SilverHawks toys bypassed all this: they looked almost exactly like the characters they were based on, with very few exceptions. Most of those exceptions were with the villains--in particular, Windhammer and Hardware, who look fairly goofy--but those villains made up for the looks by being (as I mentioned) very durable and typically having extra articulation--knees!

I said that there weren't many innovations to the SilverHawks line, but one sticks out (especially since I did some research** for this post). By this point, every toyline and its brother included some kind of action feature to the figures, and the SilverHawks are no different. The basic figures all had cloth wings that attached at their backs and wrists. You push the arms down to the figures' sides until they lock into place, then squeeze the figure's legs, and the spring-loaded arms spread the wings***. Now, apparently someone along the way thought "you know, this action feature is cool and all, but won't kids want to occasionally have the figures, like, punch people?" This in mind, the designers made the arm socket in such a way that the figure's arm could rotate in addition to springing up and locking down--a rudimentary ball joint****, which would eventually become standard fare. You might think that's a small thing, but I've had much more recent toys with similar or the same action features that lacked this basic concept of motion along two axes (Masters of the Universe 2002 Stratos comes to mind, and I believe one of the Batman Beyond figures suffered from this). One consequence of this construction was that the arms were detachable (as was the leg which activated the spring mechanism) and could be reattached with minimal effort. There still aren't many toylines where dismemberment is such a minor inconvenience, but it's been a staple of Transformers toys since Generation 2. Most of the moving parts will pop off and on fairly easily, anticipating the kind of wear and tear children put on toys. I'm not sure how intentional this was, but it certainly made the toys more durable, and that's always a plus.

So while SilverHawks weren't really a pioneering line in most ways, they did achieve a pretty high standard of quality and detail. I'll talk more about them in future posts, to be sure--especially the vehicles and accessories.

*Also, Go-Bots gave us robots that turned into other things. Some of those things were rocks.
**I went down to the basement and played with twenty-year-old toys. I was, frankly, surprised that they were in such good condition. Quicksilver could stand to be repainted and to have his joints tightened up, but pretty much everyone else is in fine shape.
***At least in theory. My research** reminded me that Copper Kidd's arms were very difficult to get into the locking position, largely due to his smaller stature (the wing fabric was bunched up in the smaller space between his arms and body).
****And admittedly, ball joints weren't necessarily new; G.I. Joes used them, but with a very different construction, and some He-Man toys (Sy-Klone, for instance) used a system that mimicked what most modern ball joints are capable of.

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