Long before there was Funko and its uber-popular POP! series of character collectibles, there was Mego. This much beloved toy company began in 1954 making dime store toys. It hit its stride in the early ‘70s when it began creating action figure dolls based on popular comics titles under the blanket product name “World’s Greatest Super Heroes.”
The removable cloth costumes and the sculpted, comic accurate plastic faces made these figures an extremely popular toy for disco era children. Much like the POP! line, there were many collectibles to choose from but, in this writer’s opinion, the following ten figures are the absolute coolest that Mego had to offer.
No discussion of heroes is ever complete without talking about the character that is arguably the first superhero, Superman. The costume is cloth with an attached cape and removable hard plastic boots. The “S” shield is a small sticker and it changed size over the years with the re-releases of this one. The sculpted head had the perfect spit curl in the center of its forehead.
What made this figure particularly interesting to me as a young child is that it had versatility. With a single striped bread tie you could make a passable pair of eyeglasses. Add to that a very kind aunt who made me a small blue suit and suddenly my Superman could spend part of his time as Clark Kent!
A departure from the other comic and cartoon centric figures, the Isis figure is based on the live action Saturday morning Secrets of Isis program that spun out of the popular Shazam! series. One of the few female figures in the line, she is outfitted in a small white dress with neck, belt, and wrist pieces that are detailed with golden hieroglyphics. She also wears removable Grecian sandals. On her forehead, you will find the headdress of Hathor and the Tutmose Amulet around her neck. That allowed her to transform from school teacher Andrea Thomas to the mighty Isis.
Tarzan is one of the most ubiquitous of all the characters on this list having been featured in numerous books, movies, television shows, comics, and animation. His figure is also a humorous example of ‘70s modesty. This former Lord Greystoke is wearing a full neck to toe costume that is flesh colored over the arms, legs, and chest. It is essentially a footie pajama set for the Lord of the Jungle. Stitched into this outfit is a vaguely caveman like printed covering that is very unlike the waist only loin-cloth that is the common “outfit” for Tarzan.
This is even more humorous when your consider that the entire outfit is removable. That said, if you look close you will notice that, stuck into the non-existent belt, there is a small plastic knife. This makes Tarzan one of the few Mego figures from this line that carries a weapon. The sculpted head has slightly unkempt hair as a jungle man would which is also a first for an action figure of this type.
Shazam is one of my favorite characters of all time. This figure of the original Captain Marvel was also a favorite, although it lacks a few of the specifics of the comic incarnation upon which it is based. Due to legal reasons with rival Marvel Comics, the character is publically known as Shazam! This figure is clothed in the classic red cloth costume with yellow cuffs at each wrist and it’s adorned with a simple gold belt.
In the comics, even in his earliest incarnations, these ornamentations are actually ornate gold gauntlets and a gold sash. The removable costume here comes with a set of removable gold plastic boots. Like the Superman figure, his chest lightning bolt is a small sticker. The disappointing part of this figure though is the cape. It is a simple yellow cloth on a rubber strap. In the comics, it is a white, side cape held by a golden rope with golden accents and a fold at the collar, giving it a vague drum major feel. I feel the cape was a missed opportunity. The face of the figure though looks more like his Saturday morning television incarnation rather than his initial Fred McMurray inspiration. Even with these limitations, any incarnation of Shazam makes me happy and dare I say, this one is still a little magical.
The only African American figure (and one of only 11 Marvel figures compared to DC Comic’s 26), Falcon is an interesting figure that stands out in this series. He is one of the few that is smiling and his lips are a bit exaggerated as a result. His mask is sculpted to his head but the costume is cloth like the rest of the line. His wings are attached to the cloth arms of the figure unlike the bare arms in the comics.
What sets him apart from many of these figures is the fact that his chests is bare as his costume is open to the waist. His red plastic boots are trimmed in white. Surprisingly, his white gloves are also missing, leaving him with bare hands but cloth-covered arms. The stylized feather accents on his tunic and the golden bird at his brow are additional, interesting parts of this figure.
The much-maligned King of the Seven Seas, Aquaman still makes a very cool figure. Covered from neck to toe in his cloth costume, he is one of the few figures who arrives without boots. He is also one of the few that is completely accurate to the comics in color and design. Instead of plastic boots, they gave him a pair of large but removable green plastic gloves. Also he has two tiny green plastic fins attached to his costume at the top of his thighs. This little accent made the figure special. He also holds the distinction of being one of only three blue eyed and blond haired male figures in the line.
The Incredible HulkReleased 1979
The Hulk figure is a departure from many in the line and a departure from the modesty of the other figures of the ‘70s. The Hulk only wears a ripped pair of purplish pants. The figure is bare armed, bare chested, and bare footed. This may be because he is all green and the fact that he is considered a monster. It could also be that he was released later than the others. His is a very heavily muscled character and his teeth are clenched in a permanent growl. What I always found odd about this figure is that even though he was the same size as all the other figures and the the character he represents is supposed to be huge, this figure always seemed smaller. Not any less fun to play with, just smaller.
The ThingReleased 1975
The ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing figure is equal parts silly and endearing. The face is sculpted fully in an orange rocky hide and his mouth is open in a yell, probably after the Human Torch has just pulled his latest prank. His hands are equally rocky. The funny thing here is that the rest of the body is covered in a removable cloth outfit that serves up a simulated rock pattern. The only break in the patter is the standard pair of blue Fantastic Four shorts that he wore in the comics. I’m not sure if Aunt Petunia would approve, but he was an oddly designed figure and, like the Hulk, seemed a little small.
In addition to being the mighty God of Thunder, Thor is one of only two male figures with “real” hair rather than simply having the hair sculpted as a part of his head. The hair was so full that his winged helmet seemed to barely fit on his head. His costume is quite accurate to the comic including the unique upper cuffs of his boots. His red cape is stitched onto his removable outfit and his (surprisingly) bare arms are accented with two red cuffs. Included was Thor’s trusty magic hammer Mjolnir. The designers did a very smart thing. They left his belt as a separate stretchy piece that allows you to place the hammer there leaving Thor’s hands free. The costume is a perfect match to the early costume and included the six small blue “shields” that are also attached.
Green ArrowReleased 1975
The Green Arrow figure is the coolest Mego for me because the character is simply the coolest. At this point in the Arrow’s development, he was the formerly rich, bored, playboy playing hero we’ve always know. The wrinkle is he has now become a fighter for the common man. He is a street level hero who was more interested in the local drug dealers than alien invaders and it made him a much more interesting character. He became staunchly liberal and seemed to care about everything. While the color scheme here was a little off on the first figure, it had the elements that made the character great. The distinctive green domino mask, blond goatee and shock of blond hair beneath the green Robin Hood style hat. Here, as in the comics, he is instantly recognizable. The quiver connected to the costume by the belt and shoulder straps were the smartest design I have seen from these action figures. His bow could fit both in his hand and over his body. He also had the standard hard plastic boots that most figures had. This is my favorite character of the Mego Hero line.
While maybe not the first or even the best representation of these heroes, the Mego toy line were my first superheroes and are touchstones to my childhood. They took the images that I loved and pulled them off the two dimensional comic page fully realizing them in three-dimensional plastic and cloth. It was a childhood where hills became raging volcanoes, shrubs became deep forests and a cardboard box with computer screens drawn on the walls became The Hall of Justice. Not a bad childhood, all and all and I appreciate Mego for joining me for those adventures!