Top 5: Comic Book Toy Tie-Ins


5. Atari Force

Atari Force follows the adventures of a large triangle as he saves the universe from an evil, dot-firing square. While everything I just typed is a lie, the series does exemplify all the ways that toy tie-ins surprise us and rise above their origins: a book starring the pilot from Galaxia should be utter nothing, but instead the source material gives legends like Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas room to let their imaginations go Berzerk. Apparently, DC’s first graphic novel was a spin-off adaptation of Star Raiders, an Atari game so convoluted it came with its own special controller while still featuring the battle of dots versus dots. We were so much easier to amuse back then.


4. Micronauts

Marvel got the rights to the Micronauts after Bill Mantlo’s son got some for Christmas and he thought they looked cool. Based solely on that random occurrence, Micronauts ended up getting 59 issues, two annuals, an X-Men crossover mini, and characters that Marvel still uses today, despite the fact that Mego stopped making the toy a year into the run. The sheer talent responsible for drawing this book about little plastic blingwads would make you weep.


ROM fights a bear

3. ROM: Spaceknight

Once again, the toy lasted a year. Once again, Bill Mantlo kept the book going well into the mid-eighties. Once again, the book featured the X-Men, as well as so many other guest stars it might as well have been called Marvel Team-Up. All of this springing from almost certainly the crappiest toy you have ever seen to become one of the most bonkers comics of the era. Too bad they’ll never reprint it; you’d love it.


2. Transformers

While some people might say it is not as good as you remember, maybe even people writing this right now, Transformers was nonetheless a comic that grabbed millions of kids by the imagination and didn’t let go. Forty year olds are still buying Transformers comics (and DVD sets, and movie tickets) to this day. It was also a pivotal gateway drug: seeing Black Costume Spider-Man in #3 and wondering what that was all about sent more than a few of us down the rabbit hole.


1. G. I. Joe

As gateways go, however, G.I. Joe was unstoppable. It may not have had talking panel van-bots, but like ROM and Micronauts it had the guidance of a lone writer throughout its multi-year lifespan. Due to Larry Hama’s military experience, it was also realistic at the most surprising and unlikely times… until the bird-men and pogo guns came along, anyway.


  1. Got to give an honorable mention to “Starriors” if only for the Bill Sienkiewcz covers. Also, would “Secret Wars” count as a “toy tie-in”, or did the comic come first and spawn the toys?

    • Also, issue 59 of G. I. Joe was one of the first I ever picked up back-issue bin diving (I started collecting with 64). It was certainly my gateway drug. I didn’t mind the wacky stuff until much later with the Eco Joes and DEA Joes.

  2. They really need to bring back the ROM toy line.

  3. No Crystar, the Crystal Warrior?

  4. Completely floored that Jim didn’t put ROM at #1

  5. I LOVED the first two on your list, but didn’t know the other three existed when I was a young enough man to have purchased them. I’m sure I would’ve loved them, as well.

  6. To this day, I have no idea what is happening in Atari Force, though that may be because I only own the first issue. Besides, I get it and Omega Men confused whenever I try to think of one or the other. But that Jose Luis Garcia Lopez art? I could kiss it.

  7. “The strangest S-F heroes of all!” That stands for shit fucking, right? They need to use that on more covers.

  8. Both Atari Force and Micronauts still have a special place in my heart .They both took the limited material and ran with it .They became something special and of course the art by Micheal Golden ( micronauts ) and Phillipe Garcia Lopez ( Atari Force ) did’nt hurt either .

  9. HELLO…Shogun Warriors??? 24 inches of plastic perfected…

  10. GI Joe is still great with Larry Hama at the helm — check our “RAH” for evidence.

  11. GI Joe is one of the most amazing marketing case studies ever. If not for guys like Hama who really made it their own, it could have been a forgettable generic thing.

  12. When talking about Micronauts:

    “…and characters that Marvel still uses today”

    Which characters?

    • Bug

    • Bug was in Guardians of the Galaxy, and some of the others– Arcturus? Does that sound right?– were in some Skaar-Hulk stories in the last year or so. You can’t keep a good franchise down with a little thing like not having the license anymore.

    • The Marvel owned Micronauts have been re-named the Enigma Force. Arcturus and Marionette appeared in the Son of Hulk mini Jim mentioned–although it wasn’t Skaar, apparently Hulk has ANOTHER son. Presumably other non-toy Micros, like Huntarr or Devil/Fireflyte could appear if anyone wanted to use them.

      And as mentioned, Bug has been running with the GotG, although he’s full sized in our dimension–not sure how that works.

  13. Good list. My first thought was Sectaurs, but it didn’t have nearly the widespread appeal/influence of the titles that made the cut.
    I remember being excited to be able to grab issue one when it came out. Then I remember disappointment when I realized it existed mainly to push a toy line. Yet somehow I think I ended up with some of the toys and some (maybe all?) of the future issues. I must be the target audience, seeing their marketing manipulations and then going right ahead and doing what they wanted anyway.

  14. I really, REALLY want to read ROM.

    • Enjoy back-issue bin diving. Or other means. Or get a silver-tongued devil to talk somebody out of the rights. Or…is there a statute of usage on ROM, as in if the person who has the rights doesn’t exercise them in some meaningful way they are forfeit after so many years? Certainly, whoever has the toy rights has far bypassed such a boundary.

      Honestly, what’s a more frustrating mess, ROM or Miracleman?

    • There’s always the…”digital” option.

    • ROM Essentials NOW please!!!!! great art fabulous guest appearances! damn I want that

  15. Loved Micronauts…had a student give me the first 20 issues or so in the early 90s…loved ’em. Rom was great too…still think the Dire Wraiths would be awesome Marvel villains…

    • Didn’t they show up in “Annihilators”?

    • They did but they were not the same as the Dire Wraiths of old.
      ROM had some fantastic moments. That team up with the Soviet Super Soldiers stands out but I think my favorite was a team up with Alpha Flight Where they tried everything they could think of to save a town from a tidal wave and kept failing.

    • That Alpha Flight stretch was the exact point in ROM when I was starting to say, “Someone needs to do a Tom Katers-style podcast about this nutty book,” and then it just plunged wholeheartedly into bleak despair.

    • ROM brought the full crazy but when it was in gear it was really fantastic.

    • Isn’t one of the universal inhumans a dire wraith queen in FF?…one of Hickman’s five brides of Black Bolt.

  16. I remember Battlebeasts and Air raiders quite fondly.

  17. I still have my smattering of Micronauts issues (and my X-men crossover). I had the toys as a kid, and nobody else I knew had them. Baron Karza was an awesome villain, and he had a horse, Andromeda. Little-kid-me was amazed that you could take them apart and combine them to make a bad-ass space centaur. Somewhat-more-grown-up-me is a little freaked by the implications of that.

  18. Speaking of going down rabbit holes, I can remember wigging way out to Star Raiders, imagining I was actually flying through Space, for hours. Did something just hit the windscreen?

  19. For those who know nothing about ROM check out the covers.

    That is some old school comic goodness right there…

    • Link of the WEEK!! great trip doen memory lane.
      I just love how in issue #7’s cover he dies(??) !!WTF

      think of how awesome he’d be if just had fingers

  20. I also had many Micronauts as a kid. I can only assume they went into a garage sale or the trash with about vintage 50 Megos, numerous 12″ GI Joes, Big Jims, and a bunch of 6 Million Dollar Man action figure stuff. Breaks my heart.

    I had about 6 mini figs, Astro Station, Hydro Copter, Galactic Cruiser, Biotron, Andromeda… Man they were great toys. Somehow, the Andromeda wasn’t sold/discarded, so as an adult, I bought a vintage Baron Karza to make the centaur mode.

    And I loved the Micronauts comics! Man, they were excellent.

  21. Man Marvel had the really great success in this market. I hope that eventually Disney might get those rights back to Marvel and we get more ROM stories. Maybe this might be the thing that give Bill Mantlo some joy.

  22. When I was a kid, Transformers was my 2nd favorite comic book series (after Iron man.) I’m patiently waiting for Christmas when Santa Clause will hopefully send me the first volume of the reprints of that series IDW is putting out so I can relive my childhood.

  23. don’t forget evel knievel and big jim!