Strangers in a Strange Land
written by Ron Pringle
Children have a strange way of insulating themselves from the rest of the world, swathed as they are in their immediate surroundings. I can remember when my world extended no more than a few blocks from my house; when I didnt know how to get to Toys R Us, other than it took my Mom and a car to make it happen! As we grew older our horizons expanded.
The same is true of collecting Micronauts! While we were busy running to the toy stores to buy the latest cool Micronauts that had hit the shelves, the rest of the world was getting hip to the Micronauts too. Mego had various deals with distributors in other countries, and they had part ownership in some as well. So, unbeknownst to us as children, following in the footsteps of their popular Super Heroes line, the Micronauts got multi-cultural! What follows is a pseudo-tour of these ethnic Micronauts.
Micronauts were distributed in a number of countries. They easily made the trip up to the land of our continental compatriots, the Canadians, more or less in step with the releases stateside. Put more bluntly, for the most part, what you could get here, you could get there and vise-versa, with a few notable exceptions that we will get to in a moment. The Canadian Micronauts were distributed by Grand Toys and all the packaging carries their logo on it, as well as bilingual verbiage, French and English. The instruction sheets were also in French and English. Other than these minor packaging variations, there are no real differences between American and Canadian Micronauts.
There were, however, a few pieces that are Canadian only. The first piece is a kind of anomaly, in that it is neither a figure, vehicle or playset. These are the carded Replacement Wind-Up Motors. This was a set of four wind-up motor/wheel assemblies whose purpose was to replace a child's broken motor that came with numerous Micronauts vehicles such as the Photon Sled, etc. Since these were not toys in their own right, it is widely assumed that they were produced in limited quantities and probably not widely sold or distributed, making them hard-to-find pieces. Adding to this status is the obvious fact that probably most of the motors that were bought, were purchased for the very reason of ripping them off the card and utilizing the motors in place of broken ones! As you can see, this only adds to the rarity of finding this piece intact on card, or even just the card itself. Despite this, the Wind-Up Motors don't garner huge prices, since, after all, they're just wind-up motors.
The second Canadian only piece rates in the category of ultra-rare, as only a few examples are known to exist within the Micro collecting community. This is the generically named Space Vehicle. Space Vehicle is really just a silver and dark blue version of the Galactic Cruiser that was sold as a Ward's Catalog Exclusive in 1980, in Canada only. More than likely these were only packaged in plain mailing boxes, as it is highly unlikely that Mego or Grand Toys would create a new package just for Wards for that one year.
From Canada, we skip across the big pond we call the Atlantic over to our English-speaking brethren in the United Kingdom. Britain provides an interesting chapter in Micronauts history. Mego Micronauts were distributed in England by two different distributors: Airfix, an acclaimed model company still in business; and Lion Rock, who, to our knowledge, no longer exists.
Airfix pretty much held the English distribution rights for the Micronauts during their glory years. That is, 1976 to 1979. It is possible that this extended beyond that time frame as well. Airfix Micronauts are pretty much the same as Mego's versions. The only real difference is in the replacing of the Mego logo with that of Airfix's on the packaging. There are no U.K. only Micronauts that we are aware of. It should be noted that Airfix Micronauts were also distributed on the European continent as well, including Germany and France. In Germany there is a packaging variation of the Solarion, retitled the Scorpion, but otherwise no different (it was rumored that the Scorpion was green in color instead of yellow, but this proved to be untrue). It has been rumored that Micronauts were also distributed in India with Hindu verbiage on the packaging. It is possible that if these exist, they were also Airfix Micronauts.
Lion Rock is another story. Lion Rock was a partly owned subsidiary of Mego. It is not known just how many countries Lion Rock products were distributed in, but at the very least, they were distributed in England and America. Apparently Lion Rock had a few toy designers of it's own and probably even a toy making facility.
We do not know a great deal about Lion Rock Micronauts or how extensive the line was. Apparently the packaging is entirely different from the standard Mego packaging and a great number of the figures are extremely different as well. How different you ask? Well, most Lion Rock distributed carded figures came without ANY accessories! For instance, the Galactic Defender figure came as the figure only; no helmet, no sword, no gun, no jet pack! Even worse, the Antron figure came without any weapons attachments! All that was good about these toys, the accessories that made them interesting, was stripped away, leaving a poor, bare thread figure for the unlucky English children to ponder.
Some Lion Rock boxed toys, most notably the early plastic vehicles such as Warp Racer and Hydra, were packaged in oversize boxes sans the window for the figure, as no figure was included, unlike the original version by Mego.
In relation to Lion Rock, there are a few other things that bear mentioning. Mego produced a line of vehicles for the Pocket Super Heroes toys that were based on some very familiar Micronauts vehicles. These were, in order: Hulk Explorer, based on Hyperion; Spider-Mobile, based on Solarion; Bat-Shuttle, based on Solarion; Robin Shuttle, based on Taurion; a Marvel Shuttle Glider and a DC Shuttle Glider, both based on Solarion. The reason this is mentioned here is because a majority of these were UK only toys, distributed by Lion Rock. The Hulk Explorer, Bat-Shuttle, Spider-Mobile and Robin Shuttle were all UK only vehicles.
Another interesting fact is that Emperor and Megas, both scheduled for a Stateside appearance along with Kronos, Lobros, et al, were never distributed directly by Mego. Instead, Lion Rock (and Gig) distributed these two in the UK and Italy respectively. Emperor and Megas were later distributed in Lion Rock boxes here in the States through Toy Palace stores, a discount toy store on the East Coast. Apparently, Toy Palace bought remaining stock of Lion Rock's Emperor and Megas and only then did they make it to these shores.
From England, we cross the channel to the mainland. Our first stop is Spain, but, alas, it is a brief stop. Apparently, Micronauts were distributed in Spain, most likely with Spanish packaging, but so far none of this is confirmed. These were probably Airfix-distributed Micronauts, but even this we are unsure of.
The next country of interest is Germany! Yes, Micronauts were distributed in Germany by Airfix. While most of the packaging was not in German , it is known that the instruction sheets were printed in English and German. As noted earlier, the Scorpion is the only true packaging variant in the German line.
From Germany, we venture over to a well known country in Micronauts collecting circles; Italy. Italy, along with England, was one of the largest importers and distributors of Mego toys in general and Micronauts in particular. Italian Micronauts, or I Micronauti, were licensed, marketed and distributed by Gig toys. Gig also held the license for Mego's Black Hole toys among others. It should also be mentioned that Gig held a licensing deal with Takara for some of the later Microman toys, namely the Micro Change line. In particular, it has been discovered that Gig marketed at least some of the Gun Robos, such as the .357 Magnum, as wholly different toys in Italy.
Gig's licensing of the Micronauts line seems to have started around 1978. As far as can be discerned, almost every Micronaut toy that was distributed in America was also distributed in Italy where they were a phenomenonal success. For the most part, these toys are identical to their American brethren with the exception of Italian verbiage and the Gig logo.
In addition to the regular American Micronauts, Gig also distributed various pieces that were either produced exclusively for the Italian market or saw extremely limited distribution in the States. These pieces include Ampzilla, Lobstros, Green Baron, King Atlas, Sharkos, Red Falcon and Hyperion, as well as the two horses, Pegasus and Lantaurion. Emperor and Megas were also distributed in Italy.
Green Baron, King Atlas, their two steeds, and Hyperion were all apparently Italian exclusives. These pieces were created and distributed before 1980. Green Baron and King Atlas are identical twin Magno-powered figures. They sport the typical body, but have different, alien-like heads that make them look genuinely evil. Green Baron is obviously green and King Atlas is a blood red color. Their color-matched horses are also twins, both having the strange, alien-looking heads.
Hyperion is a unique little vehicle that Mego came up with in 1978, most likely based on a Microman vehicle. There is also a Space Traveler Timanic vehicle that looks eerily similar! It is assumed that the Hyperion was meant to be distributed in the States, but was nixxed for whatever reasons and picked up by Gig, who couldn't seem to get enough of the Micronauts. Hyperion is a stubby little ship much more reminiscent of Microman than Micronauts.
Another Italian only release were sets of replacement fists for Force Commander and Baron Karza. These were bagged sets of fists for the two original Micro magnetic figures. Most likely they were extra parts Gig had on hand and were part of a mail-in or promotional campaign.
And now we enter the land of "what could have been." Around 1980, about the time that Mego was putting out it's 5th season of Micronauts (which included Kronos, Lobros, Centaurus among others), they were also having great financial difficulties. That year, a number of Micronauts toys were prototyped and presented to retailers and wholesalers as potential additions to the line. Among these were Ampzilla, Sharkos, Lobstros, Iguanos, Equestrion, Emperor and Megas. Apparently the response from U.S. toy distributors and retailers was less than enthusiastic. At this point, Iguanos and Equestrion, probably later prototypes (maybe even as late as 1981 or 1982), were shelved and never saw the light of day, to our knowledge. The rest were produced, but none were distributed here in the States under the Mego name in great quantity. Ampzilla, Sharkos, Lobstros, Emperor and Megas were all mainly distributed in Italy and have all become highly prized Micronauts pieces. Ampzilla and Lobstros were also pitched as evil vehicle creatures in Mego's Pocket Super Heroes line, but were never produced. Ampzilla was intended to be the "Evil Kryptonic Reptile of Lex Luthor" and Lobstros was pitched as "the evil green Goblin's gripping gobbler", the Claw! These pieces never made it to production within the Pocket Super Heroes line.
Though rare, Ampzilla and probably all of the later alien vehicles were distributed in both Canada and America. In America, they were distributed under the Mego name. Since the time of distribution most likely coincided with Mego's monetary problems, it's likely that these later vehicles saw extremely limited distribution. However, while not common, these pieces do seem to show up in Canada with increasing frequency, probably due to the fact that Canada was Mego's dumping ground for excess product from their various lines.
The Italian story doesn't end there!
Later, after Mego's collapse, Gig re-released at least some of the I Micronauti as "New Micronauts." These New Micronauts included Emperor and Megas, Baron Karza and Andromeda, and Force Commander and Oberon. While Emperor, Force Commander and Megas stayed the same as previous releases, the others shifted colors. The New Baron Karza was molded in a midnight blue color and Andromeda took on a dark gray with red highlights. Oberon was molded in red. The boxes were almost identical except for a small blurb that runs at an angle where the "I" in I Micronauti is normally. If you're thinking that the horses sound an awful lot like the Inter-Changeables' Cosmo Steed and Magna Steed, you are correct. Gig's New Micronauts were licensed from and based on Hourtoy's Inter-Changeables line. They were apparently released concurrently with the Inter-Changeables here in the States, starting in 1983.
This was also reflected in the toys themselves. As is widely known, the Inter-Changeables were more cheaply made versions of the Micronauts. Gig's New Micronauts used these same molds and, to some extent, the cheaper plastic as well. This accounts for the color changes in Oberon and Andromeda, although the baron Karza is still a unique variation only available as an Italian New Micronaut. The boxes, too, were based on the heavier, corrugated boxes of the Inter-Changeables line, right down to the cheap plastic tray in place of styrofoam for the insert.
There are a few other things of interest to point out in regard to Italy and Gig. Gig, undaunted by the demise of Mego and it's accompanying Micronauts toy license, produced a new line of figures called I Fantanauti. This translates to The Fantanauts, or in meaning to The Fantasy Micronauts. Apparently, these were produced starting in 1983, the concept being licensed directly from Takara, who holds the original patents on the magno-powered figure concept. The Fantanauts took the magno-powered concept to new imaginative heights. The figures and horses that made up this line consisted of such fantastic characters as a dragon, a unicorn and a barbarian among others! Uragan, the unicorn horse, sports the same basic body style as the regular Micronauts horses, but has a horn in the middle of its head and shields that are mounted on the sides where the rockets usually go. The barbarian Fantanaut sports chest armor, loin cloth, helmet, axe and sword! The helmet is removable as well. These figures can apparently be interchanged freely with any other magno-powered figure, making for some highly interesting and entertaining figure combinations!
Gig also produced a line of magno-powered super heroes, such as Hulk and Spiderman. Other than the similarity in magnetic limbs, these have no relation to the Micronauts line.
Our world tour doesn't stop yet. From Italy, we take a small step east to the mythic land of Greece.
A version of the Micronauts magno-powered figures and horses was distributed in Greece, apparently around 1983-85, by a company named El Greco. Owing to the fact that there is no trademark or copyright information on the boxes or the toys themselves, we can only speculate on their origins. It can be assumed that these were either sublicensed from Gig or that they were essentially bootleg toys made from molds taken from Gig.
The Greek Micronauts were given the name AstroWarriors and an entirely separate mythos was created for them and included on a story sheet. The story sheet only alludes to a small number of AstroWarriors, those being King Atlas, Emperor, Santana, Super Commander, Baron Karza, Pegasus, Orion, Megas, Andromeda and Oberon. While none of these figures are new, some were distributed under different names than the originals. There are three such figures: Santana, a Green Baron clone; Orion, a Lantaurion clone; and Super Commander, a Force Commander clone. There are no color changes in this line as compared to the Italian line. It is not known if any other AstroWarriors were ever made, but it is assumed that the line was limited to the magnetics only.
Besides the figure names, the other major difference between the AstroWarriors and any other type of Micronaut is the box. The boxes for the horses are a good 2-3 times the size of a normal Pegasus, Oberon, etc. box. The boxes feature Greek writing, unique fonts, large product photos and no copyright information at all.
Another major change is the inclusion of the aforementioned story sheet in place of a catalog. This sheet shows the birth and home planets of all the Magnetic Micronauts in the line. Of particular interest is Emperor's seeming birth from the belly of a volcano (or possibly heralding from a planet named Volcano) and Orion's hatching from a large egg! Nowhere on this sheet are any other Micronauts mentioned. It really isn't a catalog, but a story sheet for the Magnetic line of figures and horses.
That wraps up the Micronauts World Tour for now. As the Micronauts collecting community is always digging up new information on our favorite toys, there is likely to be more to this story in the future.
If you have any information or have noticed any errors in the above article that you think might be of interest to the author, please contact him via email at: email@example.com.
For further info and pictures of Micronauts, please visit the author's website, www.micropola.com.
Ron Pringle, 30, is a webmaster and art director for a magazine publishing company by day. He has been collecting Micronauts, Microman and Henshin Cyborg toys for almost 4 years. Ron created and runs the Micropola website, a huge repository of Micronauts/Microman/Henshin Cyborg and related toy information. Ron also publishes the quarterly magazine devoted to Micronauts, Micropola. The first issue made it's premiere at MicroCon '98. For more information on Micropola, please email Ron at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Micropola website <www.micropola.com>.