Thursday, May 9, 2013

Remco Randomness: The AWA Variants

I make no bones about it, I love the Remco AWA action figure line.  Admittedly, I came to the party a bit late.  Though there is home video tape footage of an AWA program being on the television in my presence as a child, the WWF *was* wrestling in my house growing up.  That being said, when I came across a box of AWA figures at a flea market in the early '90s, I not only knew most of the faces, I was downright ecstatic.  I may have thought that the Jimmy Garvin figure was Steve Williams and didn't have a clue who the Curt Hennig figure was (can you blame me with that likeness?), but I was amazed that Larry Zbyszko, Stan Hansen, and others that I knew from the magazines and limited WCW viewing actually had figures.

As I grew, my collection did as well.  In 2013 I'm finally to the point where I'm only two figures shy of a full basic set as well as missing some accessories and variants.  The latter is what we'll be exploring today.  While I'm not usually that interested in action figure variants, the Remco AWA figures had some very fascinating differences that tie into the whole mystique of the line.  Although they had the AWA license, these figures, like most Remco toy lines, were only a few steps above being discount store toys.  It's not that they weren't made well, but they capture the primitive toy making techniques that were state-of-the-art a decade before the AWA line hit shelves.  This point is driven home by the fact that the line had only a couple of different body types for every figure, crude packaging art, and so many variations that it's almost as if each figure was handmade by a different person as opposed to being a mass-produced product.  It's these negatives that combine to make a giant positive: the finished product was awesome.

Beginning with the famous "muscular" or "fat" body types, you have to go no further than one of the many gems of the line, Terry "Bam Bam" Gordy.  The "Fabulous Freebird" brawler is a favorite Remco of many due to the fantastic facial likeness of the late star.  Where the body types often lacked, the incredible facial likenesses made up tenfold.  Looking past a few questionable examples such as the aforementioned Hennig, many of the facial likenesses are better than the scanned figure faces of today.  Gordy's face is perfect and the "fat" body type was aptly chosen as "Bam Bam" was a thick grappler.  At some point during the run of the line, Remco also produced a "muscular" version of Gordy.  Since the heads of these figures can be removed with some effort, years ago it was not uncommon to come across a collector questioning if "muscular" Gordy figures actually came from Remco factories.  Enough of these have since surfaced for that to no longer be in question.

I'm a much bigger fan of the "fat" Gordy, as the figures with that body are also taller than the "muscular" body figures due to the style of the former having longer legs.  Another example of figures in the line being produced with both body styles are Jimmy Garvin and the tag team of The Long Riders.  Brothers "Wild" Bill and the late Scott "Hogg" Irwin were a biker tag team that are actually more remembered these days because of their inclusion by Remco as opposed to their days in the AWA.  No matter the body type, this tag team came equipped with some great accessories including sunglasses, caps, duster jackets, and a black vest for Scott. 

Going back to the great facial likenesses, Remco actually made a running change to then-AWA Champion Rick Martel.  The original Martel facial likeness captured his personality to a "T."  The exciting youngster had yet to become the arrogant "Model" remembered by so many WWF fans, so a smiling face and well coiffed hairstyle was just the ticket.  After awhile, Rick Martel figures began shipping with a similar yet different face.  In fact, he began to look a helluva lot like Jim Brunzell.  The long standing story is that since Brunzell had moved onto the WWF and his "High Flyer" partner Greg Gagne was now teaming (both in the ring and on the action figure shelves) with Curt Hennig, the company was left with a surplus of Brunzell heads.  Instead of having them go to waste, Remco began painting the Brunzell heads with the dark brown paint of the Martel design instead of light brown.  Presto, a different looking Rick Martel figure began to appear in stores.  Whether or not this story is exactly true, there are plenty of Rick "Brunzell Head" Martel examples out there.

There's at least one more Martel "head" variant out there, and he has a Zbyszko variant to keep him company.  Most of the standard AWA figure heads are soft and can actually be squeezed a bit with some light pressure.  While it isn't one of the more talked about variants, there are at least Martel and Zbyszko figures out there made of a harder plastic as opposed to the rubbery substance of most.  The detail on these harder heads is also a bit sharper and helps capture the likenesses a bit more.  It's currently unknown when these changes happened, but I would venture to guess that these are earlier versions.

All Remco AWA discussion has to end with talk of the infamous "Mat Mania" series.  This was the final series of figures to be produced and the only one to feature single carded figures.  The Rockers, Buddy Rose, Doug Somers, Nord the Barbarian, Boris Zhukov, and Sheik Adnan Al-Kaissie were all new to the line, but four older figures were also re-released on single cards under the "Mat Mania" banner.  These re-releases were Ric Flair, Nick Bockwinkel, Paul Ellering, and referee Dick Woehrle.  Worhrle had previously only been available in the boxed "Battle Royal" playset.  Most, but not all, of these "Mat Mania" figures included an "All-Star Wrestling" copyright stamp molded onto their body below the usual Remco stamp.  After owning many different examples of almost every AWA figure throughout the years, I have seen this stamp on versions of Flair, Bockwinkel, and Woehrle leading me to believe that these "stamped" variants are indeed ones that were released on "Mat Mania" cards.  Seeing as that some of the "Mat Mania" exclusive figures don't always include that "All-Star" stamp, I'd venture to declare that's it impossible to decide if all of the single carded re-releases actually had the stamp.

Is all of that confusing enough?  Just another day in the life of a Remco AWA collector.  Another fun day, that is.  Collectors of other Remco action figure lines love these toys for the exact same reasons.  It's a charm that is completely missing from the toys of today and will never be recreated.  That is unless we get a "retro" wrestling figure line somewhere down the line.  Don't scoff at the thought!  An independent company recently began marketing a line of "fantasy" figures as a direct homage to Remco's legendary 1980's toys.  The company even used some of Remco's original sculpts.  The line is called "Realm of the Underworld" and stars a heroic figure aptly named "Hercules."  Taking a look at that figure, you may just recognize the head.  It's none other than a remolded and adjusted Nord the Barbarian!  Maybe my dreams of a Remco-styled Verne Gagne figure will still come true after all!


Anonymous said...

I loved the Remco wrestlers. As kid being able to combine them with my "Masters of the Universe" collection was great. Remco also made some other figues which were the same size like a Hercules one and a Tarzan looking figure, etc,. So my roster was huge.

I only had a few WWF LJN. Never cared for them. I still have my Remco guys with all the accessories. My kids enjoy playing with them at times. None of them are mint so I don't mind.

Anonymous said...

I had to look it up real quick, so I should of added those other Remco figures were from a line called "Lost World of the Warlord". The Hercules one looked a lot like Kerry Von Erich. They also had a Pirate one which must of been a different line name that had a bandana that I used as my Randy Savage figure.

Great times in the 80's for sure.

J\/\/ said...

Great memories! It's those "Warlord" figures that the "Realm of the Underworld" figures I mentioned in the entry are a homage to. I remember getting a figure of "The Warlord" in a lot of loose Remco figures as a kid and using him as you did.

Rusty said...

I wish I would have had more foresight when I was a kid, as I like you JW, followed mostly WWF, only followed AWA via wrestling mags. But I did go into an old Woolworths and bought Remco figure set Ric Flair vs. Larry Zbysko and the old wooden AWA ring, but they had many more at the time. I thought though that LJN were so much better looking than these...oh

J\/\/ said...

LJNs are great, too. Can't really compare the two lines anymore, apples and oranges, but both have their own charm...and of course Jim Brunzell and Rick Martel made it into both!