By Adam Crohn
There was a time in the 80’s where oil prices were so big that it made all our toys smaller, and smaller. Hasbro was one of the toy companies leading the charge in shrinking action figures when they re-introduced their 12” GI Joe line of the 60’s and 70’s as 3.75” scale figures and accessories for a new, not well-oiled generation of little plastic consuming monsters. And I was absolutely one of them. By the mid 80’s the minifigure craze had caught on and most toy lines were kept under 4 inchs, with very few exceptions (He-Man, Centurions, Inhumanoids all over 5”). That’s when Hasbro took another swing, and unfortunately missed, with their 1986 Air Raiders line.
I love Air Raiders, and when I describe them to folks that aren’t familiar with the property, I tell them it’s a mix of Mad Max and the Road Warriors fighting over guzzoline, and Kevin Costner and Denis Hopper’s search for dry land in Water World, with the swashbuckling of Robert Urich’s merry men in Ice Pirates minus the space herpes. Hasbro created the world of Airlandia where the Air Raiders battle the Tyrants of Wind for clean air. It’s really that simple. But what wasn’t simple were the designs of these toys. The amount of detail packed into the 2” figures is remarkable! And this was decades before digital modeling, where every single hose and helmet was sculpted by hand. At heart I’m a toy designer (see my work @actoydesign), and my appreciation for the craftsmanship that went into not only the figures, but the vehicles and playset is endless. Another trend of the 80’s was to have an interactive feature with the toys that kept kids engaged beyond the amazing imaginations we had. And for Air Raiders this came in the form of a small hand pump that could, in theory, propel the vehicles and missiles across the floor or into your dad’s eye as he tried to read the instructions as you prematurely launched one of these projectiles into the air before everything was snapped together.
But you all are here for the comics, right? And in sticking with the traditional 3-pronged approach of 80’s toy marketing (toys, comics, cartoons) Hasbro decided to half-ass 2 of those prongs and totally leave one of them out completely. So, we didn’t even get an Air Raiders spork. As I mentioned earlier, the toy line was ultimately a miss. It was short-lived and not promoted well, which could have been helped with even a small, 13-episode cartoon. But unfortunately, the only animation for Air Raiders was the brief action scene in the toy commercial, which was awesome, and shows the potential left on the table by Hasbro. However, Marvel did license the property and published a 5 issue Air Raiders mini-series that started under the (also short-lived) Star Comics (1984-1988). In 1988 Marvel abandoned the Star Comics imprint which moved the series over to Marvel Comics proper, causing a decent delay between the last issues. This was another misstep in marketing for the line and sucked the wind right out of the Air Raiders’ sails.
Between the box art and the toy inserts there was a decent amount of lore established for the toy line. But for an 80’s comic with way too much exposition and dialogue that even Harrison Ford wouldn’t say, the comic series is actually really good, especially the art! Written by Howard Mackie and James Rose, with art by Kelly Jones, the story follows the Air Raiders as they fight tirelessly against the Tyrants of Wind, constantly thwarting their oppressive grip on the oxygen of Airlandia. In issue #1 we’re introduced to most of the main cast of the story. We see General Rokk, Lt. Noble, Admiral Fury, and Eeleta of the Air Raiders. All of which got figures in the toy line with the one exception of Eeleta. In true 80’s fashion Hasbro left out the only prominent female character because boys don’t like girl toys. On the Tyrants side issue #1 gives us General Kronax, Sgt. Bolt, and the pilots of the various vehicles. For the most part these characters line up with what’s presented in the toy lore, but the comic, for just being 5 issues, greatly expands on the characters and storylines.
Aside from the Transformers, GI Joe, and He-Man comic series’, which have become comic investment mainstays, we’ve recently seen a bit of a renewed interest in other, smaller 80’s toy-based comics with Thundercats, Siverhawks, MASK, and Micronauts all having rumblings or news of movies or animated features on the horizon. I feel like Air Raiders would be a bit of an undertaking for live action, especially considering how movie studios seem to cut as many corners as possible. That said, Hasbro is desperately trying to master the movie biz, and with the new Dungeons and Dragons movie bringing talent like Chris Pine (people like him, right?) to the property, if it’s a success it could open the door to other toy to movie properties, no matter how terrible the Snake Eyes movie was or how absolutely bananas it is that they can’t get a GI Joe movie right. I mean, it’s just an army movie with cool costumes! Just do Zero Dark Thirty and leave out Marlon Wayans. But I digress.
If Air Raiders ever gets a rebirth in any form, you can expect to see these Star/Marvel issues to get a boost in popularity and price. But that won’t last as I don’t see the property going past more than a movie and/or a brief animated series, most likely to promote a new toy line, which would be great! What I’d really like to see, and from an investing standpoint, is to start small and test the waters with a new comic book mini-series. But Hasbro does love giving its properties the Marvel Legends treatment (Star Wars Black Series, Power Rangers Lightning Series, Fortnite), and I for one would be all over a 6” Air Raiders toy line. Can you imagine a 1/12 scale Air Raiders Command Post? A kid can dream.