Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Childhood Memories: Monster in my Pocket


In the early 1990s, THIS was the very face of awesomeness.



In 1990, when I must have been about 9 years old, a new line of toy collectibles hit the store shelves. Produced by the "Morrison Entertainment Group" and distributed by Matchbox (makers of the famous Hot Wheels car collectibles), they came out with a new concept in the realm of toydom. They would release non-action-figure type toys, and instead of having them be based on an existing media property (like the pink M.U.S.C.L.E. figures from the 80s, which were based on Japanese manga/anime), they were based on monsters and other figures from mythology, folklore, and popular literature. These pint-sized doses of pure awesome were known as "Monster in my Pocket" collectively, and needless to say, they were something my young self absolutely had to have. Mind you, growing up fairly poor as I did, I was certainly not the kid to get something just because I begged for it. But I think these toys were a special case, because from a very young age I was an absolute monster nut. It started with dinosaurs, and eventually evolved into a fascination with any kind of extraordinary or monsterous creature. My favorite, as already documented, was Godzilla. But I was a sucker for anything "monsters", and with that came a massive fascination with ancient mythology and other monster-related material. So in a way, I think perhaps my grandmother supported my Monster habit, because she A) knew I was absolutely nuts about it, but in her mind probably more important, B) also knew that I was into something that was at least somewhat educational and informative.



The Beast, from the classic "Beauty and the Beast" tale.



As you can see from the picture above, these little soft-plastic figures were rather impeccably detailed for toys, and while they were certainly meant to be played with, unlike action figures these were meant more to be collected than to be thrown around the schoolyard. Some, like The Beast here, were from popular fiction or classical fairy tales. Others of this sort would include The Monster from Mary Shelly's "Frankenstein", a Mad Scientist straight out of Robert Louis Stevenson's "Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", and the titular character from H.G. Wells' "The Invisible Man". Other characters were taken out of various cultural folklore, such as the British "Spring Heeled Jack", the Russian "Baba Yaga", or even the American "Bigfoot". Yet others were straight out of classical mythology, such as Greek monsters like the Harpy, Hydra, and Chimera. Or the Persian Manticore, the Scandinavian Jotun Troll, or Egyptian Mummy. And there were a few that were even straight out of more contemporary religion, such as the Hindu "Kali", as well as the "Behemoth" and the "Great Beast" from biblical passages. Naturally, there were a few more generic entries, simply called a Vampire, or Werewolf, or Witch, or Zombie, or Skeleton. But all in all, it was an awesome theme, and as a kid I absolutely ate it up. As soon as these things debuted and I got my hands on some, they more or less instantly became my favorite toys, and pretty much remained so until I got into my teen years, where (as most kids get dumb and do), I "grew up" and didn't play with toys much.

The most readily available and most well known set of monsters were the original set, known as "Series 1", where there were 48 in all. There were also more rare "Series 2" and "Series 3" monster sets, though these were not really available in stores, but instead as part of co-promotions with SpaghettiOs, or select cereal brands, or snack cracker brands. As a kid, I managed to get most, but sadly not all, of the original 48 "Series 1" set, and did manage to get my hands on around maybe half of the "Series 2" monsters through the SpaghettiOs thing, but I don't think I was even aware back then that there was a "Series 3" to get. I do remember being rather mad when they didn't put more new monsters out on store shelves, and I honestly think they dropped the ball on that, though as it would turn out years later, I discovered there was some reasoning behind the decline in the original themed monsters. But I'll get into that a bit later. One of the most distinctive features of this toy-line, was that every figure had a small circle somewhere on it (usually the back), that had a given number which that particular monster was attributed with. The Monsters were graded in "power level" from 5-25, with later very rare monsters even being 30 as I understand it. The idea behind this was, there was some kind of "battle board" or something (I never personally saw one), that you could use to play a kind of Pokemon-esque battle game with the monsters. I'm not sure it ever really caught on, but it was still a cool feature, and ahead of it's time (ahead of Pokemon by several years).



Behold, a licensed game that was actually GOOD!!!


Monster in my Pocket, at least for a time, was such a sensation in the early 90s, that it spawned all sorts of media tie-ins. For starters, it seems there was both a board game and a trading card game, neither of which I knew existed as a kid. There was also apparently a 4-issue comic book miniseries by Harvey Comics, which I would have loved to have known existed back then. There was also a (as it turned out) one episode tie-in cartoon, largely based on the storyline of the comics which involved the pint-sized monsters coming to America and the "good" ones joining forces with some kids to defeat the "evil" ones. Apparently, it was supposed to be a full series show, but only one episode ever aired, as a "special", and as I understand it, it wasn't even the original pilot, but the second episode they aired. Both odd, and very sad if you ask me, as I think it would have been a great show, and my young self certainly would have loved the shit out of it.

However, there was a saving grace, and something I didn't miss out on, and that was the Konami produced Monster in my Pocket video game for the NES. Now, back in the heyday of the 8-bit NES, Japanese companies like Konami and Capcom were well known for producing a rarity in the world of licensed-property games, in that most of them were actually GOOD. Both companies did some amazing things with the likes of Tiny Toons, Duck Tales, Chip n Dale's Rescue Rangers, Bucky O'Hare, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Well thankfully, Monster in my Pocket the game was no different. Now, oddly enough for the time, as the Game Boy and Super Nintendo had long since come out, as well as the Sega Genesis and Game Gear, this game only released for the original Nintendo Entertainment System. Which was just fine by me at the time, because in 1992, that's all I had. And let me tell you something, when we walked into the store and I saw that box, complete with that little plastic window that contained a special, game-exclusive monster with it, I pleaded my case like a Hollywood lawyer, and wouldn't you know it, the game (and figure) were mine.



Damn I wish I could read this whole mini-series....


Now, the original series and it's two limited-edition descendents were monochrome, originally coming in only red, yellow, green (olive), and purple, and later coming in neon shades of pink, blue, green and orange. Somewhere along the way, however, there was a "Series 4" which I don't believe came out in America, at least I don't remember ever seeing it or hearing about it, and these monsters, while still mostly one color, had bits of detail in other colors. To me, personally, I liked the monochrome look of the originals, it's classic, and they don't need to be fully painted or anything like that. Eventually, it would seem there was some outcry in the UK from Hindu residents, among others, who did not like to see their religious deities depicted as "monsters", regardless of the fact that while CALLED "monsters", the theme of the toys spanned all kinds of mythology and other literary ground. Mainly due to this, the creators discontinued the original "monsters" line, and instead apparently came out with other "Series" of toys based on a random variety of things, from dinosaurs, to insects, to aliens, ninjas, and even "Monster Wrestlers". Ultimately, within the last decade, it seems they finally brought back the original idea, releasing a new "Series" of Monster in my Pocket figures that are largely rehashes of the first and most famous 48. These new toys have more detail, and I'm not even sure that they're "soft plastic" anymore, but instead look to me like typical harder plastic figures, and are fully painted and colored. On the one hand, it's cool that they have these, but on the other, like many nostaligic things, they're just not as cool (to me personally) as the originals were. But it hardly matters, for as far as I can tell from the official website, they're basically a "UK Only" thing now, as the original creators were from Britain.


You can find the official website to at least check it out here: http://monster.inmypocket.com/



The new 2006 series.


So there you have it. I could go on for days about these things, because I loved them dearly, and I still know much of the history or mythology behind many of the characters. Sufficed to say, this was one of the best toys of the 90s, and to my mind, one of the greatest toy lines ever created. Such a great and unique idea. I decided to share this blog topic now, in honor of the Halloween season, and I think it fits it perfectly well.

So with that, I'll leave you folks with one parting gift: some footage of the great NES game. Cheers!



                                          P.S. This game has some absolutely FANTASTIC music! Just saying.                                         




3 comments:

  1. I never had any of these, but I remember them and all the commercials and stuff for them. I should have got some, because it's something I would no doubt have liked, I think at the time I was heavily into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles though, and that's pretty much all I wanted. I did have a shitload of M.U.S.C.L.E. men, which I still have probably 150 of today. Those were probably my second favorite toys, besides Voltron in my elementary school days, until around 4th or 5th grade when TMNT came out.

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  2. I only had about 3 M.U.S.C.L.E. guys, that I found in the grass in a park as a kid. My grandmother didn't see anyone else around, so she let me keep them. I think I might have also had one Voltron toy that I found somewhere, though I'm not sure. It was small, soft-plastic and blue, and I had no idea what it was from, but I liked it. But Monster in my Pocket was my shit back in those early 90s man. Great stuff. They have the single episode that aired on TV up on Youtube, it's worth a chuckle if nothing else. I tried to find all 4 issues of the comic "around", but could only find issues 3 and 4, which does me NO fucking good! LOL

    Alas. Still, great stuff. If you've never played the NES game, at least get your mitts on that, and experience the greatness that way. The game is hella fun, and the soundtrack kicks ass.

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  3. The old Harvey Comics are so underrated. Hot Stuff especially was an amazing title for it's time.

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