Sunday, December 14, 2008

Vault Extra - Big Jim's P.A.C.K

So I was glancing through an issue of Fantastic Four cover-dated January 1976 (which means it came out in late 1975 sometime), and an ad caught my eye for Mattel's Big Jim toy line. I'll get to the ad eventually, but first, some background.

Big Jim was Mattel's answer to Hasbro's G.I. Joe action figures. First sold in 1972, during the final years of the Vietnam War, Mattel decided against making Jim any kind of soldier or adventurer. Instead, Big Jim was a sports-themed doll, with outfits available for all manner of sports, from baseball to football to karate.

When I was a kid, I actually preferred Big Jim to G.I. Joe. Big Jim was better sculpted and designed. G.I. Joe was a hideous creature, with his scarred face and grotesque scarecrow's body, barrel chest and skinny arms with bulbous joints and exposed metal screws. Joe's hands were arthritically contorted into painful shapes that only looked right when holding a weapon. Joe was the ultimate soldier.

But Big Jim (ironically named since he was 2 inches shorter than Joe) had a handsome Ken-doll face, a muscular sculpted torso and naturally proportioned limbs (more natural than Joe, anyway). His knee joints were cleverly designed to hide any connecting hardware, and his arms were covered with a soft plastic sheath that concealed a mechanism that made his biceps flex when you bent his arm.

Joe's grotesque veteran's body only looked right in uniform. Big Jim was explicitly designed to go shirtless, and in fact was sold wearing only a pair of gym shorts. After a hard day of throwing baseballs or breaking boards with his patented karate chop action, Big Jim could lounge around the locker room in his orange shorts, doing curls with a dumbbell and flexing for his shirtless buddies, Big Josh the lumberjack and Big Jeff the Australian and Big Jack the Black Guy and oh my God do I have to draw you a freaking map to where this leads? Jim was simply the Gayest Toy Ever.

Kids apparently thought so, anyway, because in no time at all, Mattel was retooling the line to make Jim more action-oriented. They introduced a line of spy gear and a bad guy in the form of Dr. Steel, a bald Asian with a metal hand and a dragon tattoo on his bare chest.

And in 1975 (only three years after his introduction), they retooled the line again. Shirtless buddies Josh and Jeff and Jack were gone, and the sports outfits were history. Now Big Jim was leader of an elite paramilitary squad called the P.A.C.K. That's the ad I mentioned at right. Other members were Warpath, the Whip, and Dr. Steel (who in a Heel-Face Turn worthy of Dragonball had gone from Jim's greatest enemy to his right-hand man). No longer a pretty Ken lookalike with a great throwing arm, Big Jim had now morphed into a Kirby hero (who else could have drawn that ad?).

Didn't help. Big Jim was never able to find his place in the world of action toys and faded out of the U.S. toy market in 1976, after only four years. He apparently hung on in Latin America into the early 80's, like the original Volkswagen Beetle, but is now long gone.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I loved the Big Jim Dolls. I let my sister play with the Barbies. I was more tomboyish. I had all 4 dolls, the brown camper and other items I dont all remember. As a teen, I gave all that stuff away. But, in my late 20's decided to try and recollect it again. Took quite awhile going to toy shows. I did finally get the 4 dolls and camper. But, I also found Big Jim with a "wolf" tattoo on his arm. I never saw that in the store. Just recently at an antiques shop, I saw a Big Jim doll with a Dr Steel doll. I was not familiar with that one. In my little search tonight, I have found a lot that I did not know. They must not have carried those dolls at the store where I got the other ones back then. Because, I would of had them. I appreciate learning more about them. But, I do proudly display them and the camper. Sincerely, Kay