I have often wondered what goes through the heads of those aunts who seemed to give you the most random toys for Christmas every year. You know the ones I’m talking about–they seem to be able to find the last remaining Star Wars figures five years after anyone stopped collecting Star Wars figures, or hear you like He-Man and buy you a figure from a completely different line of toys that sort of looks like He-Man but isn’t. During my childhood, I had several of these relatives, both aunts and great aunts, who bestowed upon me figures, vehicles and playsets from toy lines that were out of style or had never really been heard of. It’s how I wound up with the Castle of Lions playset as well as much of the Panosh Place line of Voltron toys. And It’s also how I wound up with several vehicles in the Legions of Power.
Put out by Tonka around 1986, the Legions of Power was a series of toys that you assembled yourself to form the various outer space combat vehicles featured on the box. The basic pieces–“backbones” of the spaceships, if you will–were usually a dull gray but you could accessorize them with glow-in-the-dark pieces that were kind of like headlights; and legs, wings, and other pieces that were painted either blue or red. More importantly, certain pieces were motorized and if you attached wheels, tires, legs, and other things to said pieces, you would be able to actually make your vehicles move like in this commercial, which I never remember actually seeing (but thank God for YouTube):
The blue pieces were the “good guy” team and the red pieces were the “bad guy” team. Tonka had constructed some sort of elaborate back story involving a spaceship that dumped a bunch of technology on the surface of two planets, one good and one bad, igniting an interplanetary civil war. Honestly, though, I don’t think that anyone who actually owned this line of toys ever paid attention to the backstory because it wasn’t a weekday-afternoon or Saturday-morning cartoon.
Now, like I said, I am pretty sure that I got them from one of my aunts at Christmas and the mentality they had when in Play World or whatever toy store they visited at the time was probably, “Hey, this has space on the box and Tommy likes space and lazers and action things. I’ll buy it.” Oh, and it was probably marked down, but I’m not going to make that assumption considering I had a particular uncle who would have bought me the Holy Freaking Grail of 1980s toys but was stopped by my parents.
Anyway, I was never one to open a present on Christmas Eve or Day and when seeing some toy I didn’t recognize, say “What the fuck is this?” and throw it in their faces, so when I unwrapped the Legions of Power, I said a polite “Thank you,” which I was sure negated the need for a thank-you note (alas, this was not true, something that my mother would remind me of constantly during my childhood. You’d think this would make me the world’s best thank-you note writer but I have, always have, and probably always will completely SUCK when it comes to writing thank-you notes) and moved on to either opening my next gift (which inevitably would be a sweater that I’d wear all of twice), watching my sister open her gift, or running back upstairs to play with my cousins’ huge new stash of toys.
After Christmas Day, the random toys would get played with once or twice (especially if it were Christmas Eve and I didn’t have any other new toys to play with) and then get shoved to the back of the toy closet and forgotten or mixed in with my action figures to play a role like standing at a computer console in the G.I. Joe Battle Platform or Cobra Terror Drome. The Legions of Power, however, wound up being a regular feature when I would play, even when I had my friends over–and they had never even heard of the toys.
I think that what made the toys more appealing than any of us thought they would be is the build-it-yourself aspect. The toys didn’t come preassembled, so you built spaceships and other vehicles like you would use Construx or Legos. There were even small figures that went in the cockpit of said vehicles, but they were lost within a day and never really became that important, especially when my friends and I discovered that we could build machines that were big enough to take on Transformers and G.I. Joe. Like I’ve said before, compatability and cross-play were vital to the survival of most toys when I was a kid. I mean, I don’t want to come off as a spoiled kid, but I had a lot of toys and a lot of different types of toys and I liked to take as much out as possible at once (which I think is where my son gets that from), so if I could play with all of those toys at once without it looking awkward, that was a huge plus.
To bring Legions of Power into the battle between the Rebels and the Empire or G.I. Joe versus Cobra, my friends and I decided that these vehicles were usually unmanned drones or artificially intelligent vehicles that were sent on missions to either recon or destroy the other toys. The Autobots could be chillin’ by Optimus Prime’s trailer and suddenly a giant blue-winged ship shows up and starts blasting the crap out of them. Then it’s time to transform and roll out, take down the ship and find who sent it–usually the Decepticons (though I didn’t own Megatron, so it may have been Skeletor for all I know). Did Emperor Palpatine just land at the Terror Drome, kill Serpentor, and remind Cobra Commander who’s really in charge? Well, the Joes want to reduce casualties, so it’s time to send the motorized vehicle to shoot the place up.
Well, if we could get the motorized vehicle to work. Usually we had the gears in the wrong place or the batteries were dead or we were missing the right wheels, so our Legions of Power ground forces were a little bit lacking, but the air war? Oh, they rocked in the air war. In my first year or so with my two or three Legions of Power sets, I made all sorts of planes and spaceships that were inevitably shot down by Cobra’s antiaircraft.
But then came The Guardian.
The Guardian was a giant spaceship that I built using as many Legions of Power pieces as possible that stayed together for at least a couple of years, until I more or less gave up on toys altogether and turned my attention to Nintendo, comic books, and whatever girl on which I had a hopeless crush. The backstory was that G.I. Joe had decided that it needed a superweapon to send at Cobra as a first strike before they sent the actual forces in after taking out Cobra’s defenses. So, they created The Guardian, which was equipped with an enormous amount of weaponry and even a thermonuclear missile (to be used as the “knockout punch”). It was one of the best weapons they ever had and the Joes dominated Cobra for months afterward … until something went horribly wrong.
I think I actually plotted this out as a movie with my sister–The Guardian, one day, decided to annihilate all life and started massacring everyone in Stuffed Animal Land (it was common that Stuffed Animal Land was being defended by He-Man or the Joes or the Rebel Alliance) and then turned on both G.I. Joe and Cobra. So, everyone had to team up and take The Guardian down. It was a long, bloody battle and many lives were lost, but in the end the machine was destroyed and the world was saved.
That is what made being a kid–especially in the Eighties–so awesome. I don’t think that if I wasn’t able to use my imagination and maximize my enjoyment of random toys, they would have sat in the toy closet in pristine condition rather than sitting in the toy closet after having the crap played out of them. Legions of Power may be a toy lost to time, but I have to say that we definitely had a time.