Was there a late 80's rock craze that I somehow missed out on? Were kids spending more time thinking of adventures they could act out with stones than action figures? No? Then someone please explain to me the reason why there were two action figure lines that decided to incorporate heroes that could turn into rocks.

I realize that might sound pretty cool, like Ben Grimm from the Fantastic Four -- a powerful superhero with a stone hide. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about dudes who could disguise themselves as rocks. It seems like a coward's tactic to me. In a toy box filled with pro-active heroes sporting all manner of guns and swords, here are these guys, only good in a fight if someone is there to throw them really hard at someone else's head. They're also great for skipping across ponds.

In 1986 the Rock People were added to the Masters of the Universe toys, while the Go-Bots introduced the Rock Lords characters in their animated feature film, aptly titled Go-Bots: Battle of the Rock Lords. Normally, I'd choose anything He-Man-related over the Go-Bots (destined to be picked last in the gym class of the toy world), but this is one battle where Tonka just completely dominated Mattel.

Frankly, the Rock Lords were better designed toys. They pretty much looked like actual rocks when in rock form, which was something the Rock People couldn't boast. Rock People looked like Rock People bent-over. Not cool. There was also more support from Tonka for a full line of Rock Lords and accessories, whereas there were only two Rock People produced by Mattel for He-Man, Stonedar and Rokkon.

The Go-Bots theatrical film (featuring Rock Lords voiced by Margot Kidder, Telly Savalas, Michael Nouri, and Roddy McDowell) was a great way to introduce the new toys and get kids excited enough to wring a few more years out of the dying Go-Bots line. The Rock People made their inauspicious debut in a mini-comic that would accompany each Masters of the Universe toy. The He-Man cartoon wasn't producing new episodes at the time, so these toys aimed at boys were shuffled off to appear on a cartoon aimed at girls, She-Ra.

On that show, Stonedar and Rokkon are space-faring peaceniks that transform into meteors so that they can find a new homeworld (their's is about to explode). They settle on Etheria, the home of She-Ra, but hide deep in a region called Spikeheart, away from the constant fighting between She-Ra and the evil Horde. Conscientious objectors in the He-Man universe? Points for originality, but it's almost as if Mattel didn't want these guys to sell.

Meanwhile, the Rock Lords had a story like every other toy line--larger-than-life good guys squaring off against badder-than-bad bad guys. The leader of the Rock Lords, Boulder, fought for the fate of planet Quartex, leading a group of heroes into battle against the world-conquering Magmar and his cronies. It's simple and formulaic, but it made it a heck of a lot easier to come up with your own Rock Lord adventures as a kid than the Rock People's hippie-tastic backstory did.

I would be doing a huge disservice to the Rock Lord line if I didn't mention the Narlies. These are a kind of plastic alligator covered in bushy, colorful fur, with tiny wheels on the bottom of the toy so that the jaws would snap open and closed as it rolled. They make for a truly weird addition to an already strange line of toys. I'm not even sure why they were part of the collection, since they weren't rock-like and they didn't transform, but they were surprisingly fun to play with. The same can't really be said of Stonedar and Rokkon.

I'd love to find out what was going on behind closed doors at these toy companies that brought us two lines of faux-stone toys during the same year. I really want to know who thought transforming pebbles would be as cool to kids as transforming vehicles. Did they have rocks in their head?

categories Features, Sci-Fi