Tuesday, July 19, 2011

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK #94: V Enemy Visitor Action Figure (LJN; 1984)

Way back in 1984, Kenneth Johnson's mini-series V took America by storm.  The four hour program (which aired over two nights) was not just a ratings winner, it was a TV event. 

I remember being in middle school at the time, and attending class the day after the first part aired on NBC. 

Everyone -- and I mean everyone -- was talking about the incredible (and horrific...) scene in which a Visitor suddenly removed his human "face" to reveal a reptilian visage, and then promptly ate a live animal.  I think it was a gerbil...

Today, those special effects don't hold up very well.  But at the time, this moment represented a kind of electric jolt.  I still recallmember those visuals vividly, and the considerable impact they had on me.

Given the spectacular success of V on television, I expected a lot of V toys to hit the market; spaceship models and play-sets, action figures...the works.

Alas, that wasn't really the case.

One happy exception, however, was LJN's V "Enemy Visitor" action hero.   This 12-inch alien soldier was the embodiment of Visitor evil, hiding beneath a human face (and sun glasses...), wearing his spiffy red uniform, and carrying a deadly laser weapon.

Designed for ages four and up, the Visitor figure's box came emblazoned with the legend "THEY'RE NOT WHAT THEY APPEAR TO BE!

A graphic below the figure revealed that youngsters could "unmask the Visitor to reveal his lizard face," and made note of his "extendable [forked...] tongue."  

On the back of the box, LJN notes "The Visitor keeps his true identity hidden behind a human face.  Unmask him and reveal the lizard creature!"  It reports too that "The Human Mask is worn whenever you want to disguise the Visitor's true identity.  To remove the mask, grasp one corner between your thumb and forefinger and gently pull off."

The box also suggests: "To make the Visitor's tongue move in and out, push the hidden button on his back." 

Beneath this legend is a circle with three "Proof of Purchase V points," which would have been useful, I presume, to buy other V toys or products.  But were there any?  I have the vaguest memories of some V puzzles, and maybe a toy machine gun emblazoned with the V logo.

Although V was actually remade recently, it was done so by people who didn't truly seem to appreciate, let alone understand the iconic imagery of the Kenneth Johnson original. 

There's still something fearsome (and vaguely fascist...) about the classic red uniform and cap design featured on this toy, especially when coupled with the propaganda posters the Visitors plastered on every wall (and which also appear on the figure's box).  These posters maintain the Visitors are "our friends."  But of course, we know better...  

Once upon a time, these aliens were really scary, right down to the swastika-like emblems on their chests.  And when they weren't scary, they were fun in the way that classic monsters like Dracula, The Wolfman or The Mummy are fun.

Whatever the relative values of the re-imagined new V, it certainly wasn't very much fun, and it was rarely if ever frightening.

Looking again at this figure from the 1980s original, I miss those qualities all the more.


  1. Oooh! I have this guy. I can't recall where I got him but it was in the last five years. He's unboxed, no sunglasses or blaster, can't recall if he's got the boots---he's in a box in the closet right now---but he's got the mask and the tongue action is really cool!

    If the mask is on him 'just right', it is possible to create the effect of the tongue coming out of the human mouth. Delightfully goofy.

    I really wish I had been into action figures back then--I still have the several early Star Wars figures and a couple of Battlestar Galactica figures, but the ones I liked the best were the clothed figures, like the Star Trek Megos or the GI Joes. I never got into any other Megos or the Joes when I was a kid, but now, thanks to collectibles shows and eBay I've acquired a number of original Trek Megos, and repro Joes/Action Man and have developed a real interest in the 12-inch action figures over the last few years (picked up the Hasbro Astronaut Taylor from The Planet of the Apes in the tube, for example). That's why I grabbed this guy when I saw him. Total coolness!

    I remember that V was a real event piece, too. I was in high school, a senior, involved in some activity after school that would run several hours and I couldn't wait to get home to watch it! I liked both miniseries, but was rather disappointed by the one episode of the regular series that I saw. I noticed the books, but wasn't into the show enough to acquire them (or look for merchandise like the action figures).

    I think that the miniseries did so well because of the interest in science fiction that came about because of the Star Wars phenomenon. Also, I have the sense that the promos showed some of the battles between the humans and the Sirians. SF projects were now big events--witness how Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century started strong in the ratings before fizzling out. But both miniseries were strong, critically, on their own merits.

    And, of course, it had the great Kenneth Johnson behind the scenes. I am thinking that the gentleman's work needs a book, like what you've written. Besides his incredible work on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman and The Incredible Hulk and V, he was involved with Alien Nation and Seven Days; he's written & producted & directed, including some episodes of JAG; dabbled in diverse characters such as Sherlock Holmes and Dracula and the officers of Adam-12; directed the theatrical movie Short Circuit 2 and the tv movie Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century. And two remake series based on his works-- Bionic Woman and V. He's even got his own website: http://kennethjohnson.us/

    Gordon Long

  2. Brad Baranet4:55 AM

    I was also very surprised there were no toys from this - especially since they had them IN THE MOVIE! I remember watching the kids play with the little shuttle and figures on t.v. and thinking I couldn't wait to see them in the store. Alas, unlike the Visitors, they never came.

    I'm also shocked that the horror writer didn't take the opportunity to mention Robert Englund's pre-Freddy appearance in this series!

  3. PDXWiz:

    I share your respect and admiration for Kenneth Johnson. I just wish he had been allowed to shepherd both the original V series and the recent remake. Both programs would have been richer for his involvement.

    Also, it's incredibly cool that you own this guy as well. He's a great action figure, and a great bit of nostalgia from the 1980s.

    Hi Brad!

    Yes, I remember that scene in the mini-series with Kenner-sized action figures and a toy of one of the Visitor shuttles. Man oh man, did that scene create a desire for V toys. I'm still shocked that relatively few were forthcoming.

    So you expected me to mention Robert Englund, huh? Well, I probably should have! :)


  4. That reminds me about an interview I did with Robert Englund during 90s ( think). He actually preferred the relative anonymity for Freddy Krueger, with the mask on, instead of his more visible role in V. I don't recall what he said about it, but it surprised me. I did think that he had more acting range as Willie than as Freddy (having seen just the first Nightmare, with my first wife the horror fan), but he apparently genuinely enjoyed being Freddy! And he's got millions of fans who appreciate him in that role.

    Gordon Long

  5. Anonymous11:24 PM

    Hehehehe My brother got this doll on hi 8th birthday! Thanks for bringing back memories!