This is the story of a time long ago. A time of myth and legend, when the ancient toys were gimicky and crude, and they plagued mankind with suffering. Only one toyline dared to challenge their power- Hercules!
OK, in reality this toyline was just as gimmicky and flawed as a lot of the other toys to come out in the mid 90s- poor sculpts, cheesy action features, and terrible paints apps ruled the market back then. By today’s standards, these toys would by reserved for Dollar Store Knock-Off bins, but back when 46 points of articulation was a designer’s crazy dream, this was as good as things got. And I’m not gonna lie either- I love toys like these.
Before I go to far, for those not up on their cheesy 90’s television shows, let Professor Stranger school you. Hercules: The Legendary Journeys started as several made-for-TV movies (yes, that used to be a thing before the wonders of DVD) starring Kevin Sorbo as the heroic, kind-hearted Hercules. The movies were a retelling of the old Greek myths of Heracles- taking the basic idea of a half-man, half-god adventurer who went around fighting monsters and saving the day, but adding present day ideas and thinking to modernize the character for audiences . By the time the actual TV series started in 1995, the Legendary Journeys version of Hercules had taken on a life of his own, severing all ties to the mythology that inspired him, and became the only version that audiences really cared about (think Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine). Sorbo’s Hercules was joined by his best friend/partner Iolaus (played by Michael Hurst) as he ” journeyed the Earth battling the minions of his wicked stepmother Hera, the all powerful queen of the Gods”, a faceless evil that would only appear as a set of menacing eyes, and the series played out a lot like He-Man meets Star Trek, every week seeing Herc and his little buddy Iolaus facing off against a new monster, evil army, or self-absorbed deity. It was a show destined for toy stores.
Herc’s success immediately spawned countless merchandising opportunities, and Toy Biz was ready to jump on the band wagon. Before the end of it’s first year, Toy Biz had released it’s first wave of HLJ toys- 7 basic figures and 3 oversized “monster” figures. 2 additional waves would be released the following year along with some more monsters, but at first all kids had to play with were 3 versions of the titular hero himself, his go-to guy Iolaus, the soon-to-be spin-off star Xena, and two baddies- the Minotaur and Ares, as well as the three deluxe boxed figures- The Hydra, Echidna, and Cerberus. I seem to be missing Ares (pulling up eBay as I type this), but the rest of wave one is represented in the picture along with the She-Demon and the Centaur from wave 2.
I know somewhere in the attic there’s a loose Hercules, a Cereberus, and maybe even an Iolaus floating around, and if I can manage to find them I’ll snap some quick shots of me playing with them, but for some reason, some extremely inexplicable reason, 12 year Stranger thought it was best to keep these guys in the boxes, and honestly I’m glad I did. Just look how cool these cards are! Everything on these packages, from front to back, is reminiscent of the source material- even if you didn’t know what HLJ was all about the layout of the packages just screamed action! The cardback shows the full line-up and is brimming with cheesy taglines like “BE A HERO!” and “HALF MAN! HALF GOD! ALL HERO!”. This right here, folks, is what toys should be!
The toys themselves were very standard for what was hitting the market at the time. The likenesses were weak but recognizable and the paint apps were a minimalists dream. If you’ve ever owned a Marvel or DC toy from the mid-to-late 90’s then you know exactly what to expect from these guys. Cuts at the neck, shoulders, hips, elbows and knees were all you got, but it was enough. I can’t remember at what point we couldn’t live without ball joints and interchangeable parts, maybe somewhere around the middle of the McFarlane age, but back when I was starting out 9 points of articulation was all you needed to send a figure on an epic adventure.
Each one came with an action-featured weapon like Hercules II’s bow and arrow set or Iolaus’ spike ball…launching…backpack… Obviously the weapons didn’t make much sense, but in a way I miss that about old toys. Just because Iolaus never pummeled anyone with giant steel spheres of doom in the show doesn’t mean he would never need to, and at the core isn’t that what toys are supposed to be about? Make your own adventure? The show was all about ignoring the norm and doing whatever it could to be fun, so was it any surprise the toys would follow suit? Besides, it should be totally fine if, in my own home, Batman uses a giant spring-loaded “BAT”ering Ram against a suction-cup-booted Peter Venkman. They’re my toys, dammit!
I’m so glad I found these in mess of boxes that store my childhood. To me toys like these, the ones that bring that wonderful feeling of nostalgia, are what collecting is all about. I’ll take a rocket launching Xena over a super-realistic Master Chief any day of the week. I can’t wait to see what else is waiting for me up there.