Poe Ghostal here. As many noted in the comments on my last list, The Ten Most Controversial Action Figures of the Modern Era, there were a number of toys that didn’t make the cut. This was mostly due to my criteria of only including toys that someone had written a professional article about regarding some sort of “controversy.”
The rules are a bit looser this time around; I’m including toys that perhaps didn’t merit much attention in the press, but collectors were certainly aware of them. I’m also expanding beyond action figures into toys of all types.
Of course, I could easily fill a dozen of these lists if I just went through every item on Reverend Rose’s “Warped Toys” lists from the 1990s and early 2000s. But few of those toys merited much attention aside from those lists, so let’s focus on the stuff people (or at least collectors) were actually talking about.
10.) “Party” Angela
At this point, Party Angela deserves some sort of Lifetime Achievement Award for appearances on toy-related Topless Robot lists.
Geeks have always been attentive whenever a female action figure is made with an accidental variant in which the factory forgets to paint the crotch area and leaves it flesh-colored. While there are plenty of actual figures of porn stars with sculpted genitalia, it’s these variants of mainstream figures that catch collectors’ notice.
The first and still most famous example is “Party” Angela, who has appeared on Topless Robot lists twice before. Spawn’s angelic adversary was released in 1995, back when the adult action figure market was exploding and the slightest factory variation would send a figure’s price skyrocketing.
A few years later, a Stephanie McMahon figure from JAKKS’ WWE line had the same sort of wardrobe malfunction, which was a bit creepier in that the figure was based on a real person (well – 99% real, 1% silicone).
Nowadays, all toy guns are brightly-colored or, at the very least, have an eye-blindingly bright orange tip at the end of the barrel. But back in the day, you could buy your kid a black-molded toy gun that could easily get them shot by police. Such was the realistic design of evil Transformer villain Megatron’s alternate gun mode.
The alt-mode was so realistic it was used at least once to hold hostages at gunpoint. Later releases and reissues of the toy added an orange cap to the end of the barrel. Heck, in Australia today, you can’t legally own Masterpiece Megatron without a license and a lockable gun cabinet.
8.) Swearing Baby Smurf
In 1997, a mother in Ontario claimed the Berry Lovin’ Baby Smurf doll she bought for her grandchild made three sounds: it laughed, it cried, it said, “Who gives a fuck?”
Manufacturer Irwin Toy claimed the toy didn’t swear and that people were simply mishearing the words “I want to hug you.” Listen for yourself and decide. Whatever it’s saying, one thing is clear: that is one crappy voice feature. That shit is so garbled it could be saying anything.
7.) Wanking Tarzan
Can you guess why this toy was controversial?
His official name was “Rad Repeatin’ Tarzan.” The gimmick was that he could record you saying things and then repeat them back. Evidently he was also supposed to raise his hand to his mouth to do his famous call. However, lowering the arm just a little bit resulted in a far different gesture.
It’s not clear whether this toy was ever actually recalled or banned, although due to its notoriety on the Web, plenty of eBay sellers are happy to tell you it was and is therefore RARE HTF!
6.) Black Canary Barbie
With a leather jacket-underwear combination that covers most of her torso and fishnet stockings, Black Canary is arguably one of the more fully-dressed female superheroes in comics. But when Mattel released a version of Barbie in Black Canary’s outfit, some people were not pleased. The media called her “S&M Barbie,” and the religious group Christian Voice claimed that “a children’s doll in sexually suggestive clothing is irresponsible – it’s filth.”
5.) Harry Potter Nimbus 2000 Electronic Broomstick
More than one vibrating toy was considered for this list, but ultimately we decided to go with the Harry Potter Vibrating Broomstick. It’s a toy broomstick for children that vibrates. Y’know, to simulate…uh…the way flying broomsticks vibrate when they fly? Because they do that, I guess?
As always, people saw that the toy could vibrate and immediately made the leap to an alternative use for this item, i.e., sticking it up your nether regions for the purpose of sexual stimulation.
4.) Road Rage Al Snow
The aforementioned Reverend Rose was all over this one. In 1999, wrestler Al Snow had a bizarre gimmick in which he took advice from a decapitated mannequin head (it started after he took another wrestler’s advice to “get a little head” a bit too literally). JAKKS Pacific produced an action figure of Snow with a decapitated head accessory, but Walmart pulled the figure from shelves after a college professor complained that the figure glorified violence against women. If that’s the case, then an awful lot of brothers who took the heads off their sister’s Barbies have some explaining to do.
3.) The Endowed Hulk
A young girl goes to county fair, wins a Hulk doll, notices an odd lump in its pants, pulls down the Hulk’s pants in a fairly innocent show of adolescent curiosity and discovers…a green schlong.
It was a cheap plush toy created by a Spanish toymaker called Play by Play – not a mass-produced item you could find at your local Toys ‘R’ Us – so it didn’t reach media saturation, but it did make the U.K.’s Sun.
2.) Shape Shifters Punisher
Holy shit. I mean, HOLY SHIT. What were they thinking when they made this toy? Sure, shifting the parts around to give Frank Castle an enormous missile-firing chub isn’t precisely following the prescribed transformation instructions, but when you do get him transformed into a “Power Pistol,” he looks like something designed by Robert Mapplethorpe and H.R. Giger. What kid would want this anyway? When I was a wee one I know I’d rather have had a regular Punisher action figure and a regular toy pistol – I didn’t need them to be mashed together to create something that looks a particularly severe punishment from Dante’s Inferno.
1.) Battlestar Galactica Missiles
One of the more famous stories among action figure collectors is that the original Boba Fett action figure was supposed to be able to fire a missile from its backpack. Shortly before the figure came out, however, the missile was glued in place due to safety concerns after a child choked to death on a missile.
Over the years, the choking child story has taken on the color of an urban legend. But the truth is that on December 31, 1978, a four-year-old boy in Georgia accidentally launched a 1 1/4″ red plastic missile from a Battlestar Galactica toy into his mouth and choked to death. The parents sued, and within days Mattel recalled the toys (eventually replacing them with non-missile-firing versions) and issued a mail-in recall for all the plastic missiles from toys that had already been purchased, offering Hot Wheels cars to anyone who sent them in.
Missile-firing toys were never quite the same in America after this. According to the story, the incident gave Kenner cold feet about their Boba Fett figure and hence the red rocket was glued into the backpack. To our knowledge, the story has never been officially confirmed, but the timeframe is just about right, so it’s plausible.