Saturday, August 27, 2016

Plastic Swampy: Kenner's Swamp Thing Toy Line, 1990-1991

Based off the very short lived Swamp Thing Animated Series (Fox, 1990-91), Swampy, Anton Arcane, and the rest of Louisiana swamp crew were reproduced in a glorious 5’’ plastic action figure toy line, each complete with multiple accessories and varied features. Created by Kenner Products, a toy company best known for their original Star Wars toy line and its many spin offs, the Swamp Thing cartoon ran for just five episodes with the corresponding Kenner toy line featuring twelve figures, three vehicles, and two playsets.



Six different Swampy action figures were released to coincide with the animated series; all with different features, color schemes, and battle actions for kids to imagine and play with. Bio Glow Swamp Thing featured a glow in the dark body and wielded an axe and mace when you squeezed his legs together. Snap Up Swamp Thing sported a neon color scheme and could be broken down into connected pieces of his body supposedly resembling logs.

Snare Arm and Capture Swampy both featured similar battle actions and were probably the best looking and executed figures in the entire line. They also looked the most like Stephen Bissette and Alfredo Alcala’s 1980-90’s rendition of the Swamp Thing.


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Capture Swamp Thing came packaged with an “organic net” and a “Cypress club” to apprehend and then pummel his Evil Un-Men foes into submission. The Snare Arm figure had a retractable arm which could drag enemies into the reach of his “monster trap”. Climbing Swampy featured a length of string wrapped around his torso which could winch him across obstacles, his accessories included the “Bayou Staff” and “Shield of Reeds”. Camouflage Swamp Thing changed color under cold water and was packaged with quite a cool looking vine snare weapon. This figure was released with two, albeit minor, color scheme variants. Two allies were created for Swamp Thing as well, Tomahawk and the Vietnam veteran, Bayou Jack. There were several unreleased figures that were teased in a spring 1992 Toy Fair catalog, including the Alligator and Constricter Swamp Things and one additional Un-Men, the Scorcher. At least one additional Swampy was put into prototype but unfinished. See John Boylan's Roots of Swamp Thing for more.


Arcane’s Evil Un-Men consisted of the voodoo-snake doctor Deemo, Weed Killer, and the undead Skinman. Each were packaged with a “BioMask”, a rubbery monster head which fit over the figure’s head, transforming them into terrifying apparitions of various sorts. Arcane was packaged with a skull tipped cane and spider themed BioMask. Weed Killer was armed with a chintzy looking gardening instrument and the Bogsucker BioMask, whilst Skinman wielded a pickaxe and came with the FangBat BioMask. Dr. Deemo had a serpent themed mask and was packaged with the coolest accessory of any of the figures in this entire line, a miniature Swamp Thing voodoo doll.


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Swamp Thing’s Bog Rover and the larger Marsh Buggy were the most recognizable vehicles, the latter of which was complete with “giant grabbing claws” to snatch up all of Arcane’s mutants. The bad guys had the Bayou Blaster at their disposal, a weaponized beach buggy and armored airboat.


The playsets designed by Kenner for the Swamp Thing toy line were some of the most well designed of their time. The Transducer Bio-Mutator playset which appears in the animated series, “changes men into monsters”, allowing Arcane to transform his Un-Men into a giant mutant mantis (included with the playset) by strapping a figure onto the table, closing the chamber, and then rotating the “Geno-Fluid” container to lock or unlock the Transducer. A separate port allowed the owner to “recharge” the BioMasks. The final and holy grail of the produced toy line was the Swamp Trap; Swampy’s hideout and a living organic weapon. This playset could hide one Swamp Thing figure inside and was complete with a hidden elevated platform which could raise him through the playset itself to ambush any foes, a giant venus fly trap, and vine snare to drop captured Un-Men into the venus fly trap.
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Though ultimately underwhelming in terms of overall sales, Kenners’ Swamp Thing line was still moderately popular with kids upon release in 1990-91 and remains endearing to many collectors around the world today. This toyline extended itself to various memorabilia, including a board game, a rather hard to find Nintendo (NES) cartridge, school supplies, clothes, and Halloween costume. As Swamp Thing himself says at the end of the cartoon’s first episode, “I have turned their fear, into friendship”.

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