Now that Big Jim had a new rugged look, futuristic costumes, high-tech gear, and a properly equipped support team, he needed some kick-ass villains to do battle.
In all the early years of Big Jim, there were no villains or conflict except a few animals to capture: a gorilla, rhino, a clam, and a tiger. Although it should be noted that Big Jim’s tiger was almost twice the size of the bobcat sized white tiger; which Hasbro gave the much larger GI Joe. Mattel often reused tooling, so that same tiger from Big Jim later became green with envy to join He-Man as Battle Cat.
In the final US years of Big Jim, there was finally a true villain. This villain was Zorak who had a fun feature. If you wound he arm, then pressed the button on his back, the figure’s face inside a hood would flip to become mean. This figure was sold internationally for several years.
In the pirate theme of Big Jim/Carl May, Mattel used the same tools and created Captain Drake. This version wore blue pants and a red sash. One face looked like snotty Englishman; however, when you wound his arm and pressed his button, the face was replaced with a terrifying skull.
In Big Jim’s Spy years, Mattel created a very sinister looking villain – Professor Obb. One of the subtle parts was making him a little taller than the rest of the figures by hiding the height of the head with the long beard sculpted into the neck. So Professor Obb has the clear distinction of being the tallest figure in Big Jim’s world.
It was interesting that they chose to use a more yellowish skin tone, and slightly Asian features. This detail may seem like a small, but Mattel standardized their skin tones to save money in production. There was only three colors across all dolls (Big Jim, Barbie or baby dolls). These official skin tone colors were “pink,” “Suntan” and “African American.” In those years, you had to obtain special permission from a Vice President to use another molded skin tone. In the case of a Big Jim figure, this was a very big deal as it required developing several plastic colorants that matched across the many plastics used to make a single figure. The first plastic was PVC (liquid) for the rotocast head, then ABS for torso, limbs, and feet. There is a different injection molded PVC (solid pellets) for the soft skin of Big Jim’s arms to allow the muscle flex. The hand are molded in Polypropylene or a very hard durometer PVC. The Mattel engineers were smart and used ABS instead of the cheaper Styrene on the bodies where it touches the PVC heads. PVC contains plasticizer in it to keep the PVC plastic soft. Plasticizer also makes Styrene soft. If you look at a Marx Thunderbolt horse (Styrene) that has been wearing its saddle and bridle (very soft PVC) for a long time, you will see that it looks like those parts melted into the horse. For many years, I was convinced that was true that our horses melted one year in our very hot Arizona attic along with many toys. We soon learned you could not put any styrene toys in our attic. It was not until I was at Mattel that I learned that truth.
One funny side story, after I had been at Mattel for about eight years, I was in the office of the head engineer for Girl’s Toys. We were discussing the details of how best to make a new toy I was presenting and needed to have the engineering facts straight; I needed to do my homework. At one point, I mention, “Then we will have to make the body with ABS, so we don’t get the ‘migration of plastic’ from the PVC head.” The engineer plopped back into his chair, and gave me a funny stare with one eyebrow up, then announced, “I wish I could get all my engineers to remember that!” then we went on with the conversation.
If you look at the twelve-inch figures that Kenner sold for the original Star Wars line in 1978, the hands and heads of many of those figures are now chemically melted together. It is especially obvious on the stormtroopers and Boba Fett.
Every evil mastermind villain needs a henchman. For the figures, the designers cleverly reused the head from Dr. Steel of Big Jim’s Pack but painted on a metal head plate. The snarl and scar on the face gave him a decidedly villainous face. For a fighting feature, the engineers took the punching arm from Torpedo introduced in year two of Big Jim’s pack. The final touch was adding a grey chauffer’s uniform.
For the final space years of Big Jim, the designers raised the intensity of the villains. Although he was no longer as tall, this new version was sculpted to have a short beard, a Mohawk haircut and menacing scowl on his face. This villain had more to wear than only pants, boots, and a hood and a short cape (which is probably what made Korak so mad by being cold). This Obb wears a deep scarlet jumpsuit with an armor chest plate and curiously shaped helmet. His weaponry includes a futuristic knife, a wrist communicator and an entirely different villain laser rifle. All the gear was in black, so just in case you were confused whether he was a hero or a villain. He also wore a gear belt to hold a laser pistol and the knife.
This villain was made to fight in the jungles. One of the really cool aspects of these costumes as compared to earlier Big Jim was the textures of the fabric. Baron Fang’s shirt is a heavy polyester mesh. Up until that time, all the costumes were constructed with flat poly/cotton or the occasional polyester flat knit. If you were lucky, you might get a camouflage print or stripes printed on it. With this set of figures, the soft goods designer, Carol Spencer, was directed to break from the past and follow the textures on the input drawings.
The head has a decidedly samurai look with a wild scowl and proper hairstyle. The helmet has ridges and lights facing forward to navigate the dark forests. He also wears a chest plate which extends onto his back and has locations to add colorful labels to make it look like high-tech gear. His knife and pistol are black. This figure carries a rope and a grappling hook in his gear belt. Completing the samurai look is his futuristic machete to hack his way through the jungle… or a hero.
This villain is equipped for battle in space. Similar to the hero Astro, he wears a one-piece chest plate and helmet which snaps into two-halves for removal. The clear visor does flip up and down for added play (like having a hero tug it up so he can no longer breathe in space.) Making the opening of the helmet only large enough to show the eyes, made Vektor look badass. On the subject of fabric texture, his shiny jumpsuit had quilting type stitching to make the suit look very full and techy. He wears a similar gear belt to hold the pistol and knife they had all been issued. For extra firepower, Vekor is equipped with the standard villain issue laser rifle. Like Astro, he also has fabric gloves, but his gloves are big and black to match his black boots.
One fun surprise – There was a plan for a Big Jim Alien. I do not know its timing for sure, but I assume it was planned for year three of the last space adventure due to its highly detailed look. The evidence is a fully sculpted head, torso and arms, that was found as a hard copy. This detailed of sculpting would take about a week for a sculptor to make. So, this was not a test whim. Check out the details; it bulging eyes, vampire-ish sucking mouth and mechanical implants for hands. Two of these exist in the collector community. This model shown is fully intact, and the only other one I saw had a broken hand. I was typical at that time for a figure to be sculpted with no joints and for those joints to be added in during the tooling engineering stage.
In the end, Big Jim had some great villains.
Who is your favorite Big Jim villain?