Who are The Outer Space Men?

This weekend, the Four Horsemen announced the acquisition of their first license, The Outer Space Men. The 4H provided some images of the figures in the line and, as usual, amazed us with their work. While we were looking at all the pretty pictures though, we realized we weren’t quite sure what we were looking at. Who were The Outer Space Men? We didn’t have much more than a passing awareness of them, so we hit the books. And what we found out only made the 4H versions more awesome.

How old are The Outer Space Men?

The OSM were conceived by Mel Birnkrant and released by Colorforms Corporation in 1968. Now, we at IAT thrive in a world of toy nostalgia, but The Outer Space Men were largely unknown to most of us. I’m turning thirty this year, and the OSM figures came and went over a decade before I was born. For my part, I didn’t know about them until a member of our forums brought them to my attention a few days ago and one of my collaborators was able to expound on this “new to me” toy line. I’d like to think I have a good knowledge of old toys, but these guys are older than Stretch Armstrong & Big Jim, from before Lite Brites & Spirographs. Heck, The Outer Space Men had been around the block before anyone thought of the Pet Rock! That’s serious street cred.

What are The Outer Space Men?

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The origin seems simple enough. In the sixties, space wasn’t the cold, lifeless place we know it as today. It was red hot. NASA was working its way to the Moon and every one seemed to have space fever. Space exploration was influencing everything: film, music, literature, comics, fashion, food, and yes, toys. Hasbro sent G.I. Joe into space. Mattel made their first attempt to crash into the boy’s market with Major Matt Mason. And The Outer Space Men were introduced by… the Colorforms Corporation?

Yep, Colorforms. If you’ve never had a set, Colorforms are essentially reusable vinyl stickers that you apply to a backdrop to create your own scenes. Throughout their sixty-year existence they’ve been available in a variety of licenses. I remember a cool Batman set that featured Super Powers art.*. If you’re not sure if you’ve played with one, you probably have.

* – Must… resist… urge to check eBay…

But long before I picked up my first Colorforms set in the late eighties, there were the Colorforms Aliens, a.k.a. The Outer Space Men.

The first wave of figures featured characters from the different planets in our Solar System. Mercury & Earth representatives were excluded from the first wave, though it could be said that Mattel’s Major Matt Mason was ostensibly the Earth agent. Placing Matt next to the OSM, it’s clear they were intended to be compatible with the space adventurer. In interviews, Birnkrant even states that a Mason figure was used to help promote the OSM line.

Now, I generally believe that toys have gotten better throughout the years. DC Classics & MOTU Classics are dream toy lines. And just yesterday, I was stoked to hear that a 25th Anniversary Low-Light was shown at JoeCon. I’ll be buying. But looking back on the old toys, I have to pay tribute to one thing they tend to have over their modern counter parts: creativity.

What I mean is, updated toys, while being overall better in my opinion, generally have to borrow the creativity from their old counterparts. I just picked up a pristine vintage Sy-Klone on Thursday. Looking at him on my desk, I think two things: one, the 4H-sculpted MOTU Classics figure is going to blow him out the water in terms of construction and playability*. But, two, it will be an update of this imaginative design from twenty-five years ago. While the modern figures live up to my expectations, it’s really the creativity of the vintage figures that capture my imagination.

* – By He, he’ll be the first Sy-Klone figure to have working/articulated shoulder joints…

That’s what happened to me while researching for this article. I know that the 4H will wonderfully execute the modern versions of these characters, but the life they have, the creativity involved, will go back to their very roots. I saw it while researching this article. I don’t find that many old action figures to swoon over, but looking back at the OSM originals… well, this is cliché, but I’ll say it anyway. Mel Birnkrant was ahead of his time.

Who are The Outer Space Men?

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The first wave consisted of seven figures: Alpha 7 (Mars), Astro-Nautilus (Neptune), Commander Comet (Venus), Colossus Rex (Jupiter), Electron+ (Pluto), Orbitron (Uranus), Xodiac (Saturn). Each figure had a unique look and size, included a character specific accessory, and had an official bio.

I’ll post some links at the end of the article so you can see the old toys up close, but strange as it sounds, I most enjoyed their mixture of uniformity and uniqueness. The overall look, with the accordion like joints, is out of necessity for the bendy figures to work and matches in style to the Matt Mason figures. But after that overall design is in place, the seven figures go in wildly different directions. Being familiar with the Glyos system*, it will be interesting to see how the unique looks are incorporated into the final product.

* – More on that in a minute…

Another aspect that really struck me was the hope and open-endedness conveyed in each of the bios. Maybe it’s just because I’m still rationalizing the complicatedness of Keldor’s struggle against oppression or that the 6” War Machine’s card back had a small movie spoiler on it, but I find myself really enjoying the possibilities for these guys. The OSM could have easily been conceived as villains for Matt Mason and maybe they were by some kids, but they didn’t have to be. They could be just about anyone you wanted them to be.

The bios range from telling us that Xodiac “can tune his Staff to play upon the great rings” of Saturn, to letting us know that the very Greco Commander Comet visited the Grecian Isles millennia ago.* Colossus Rex’s bio is hopeful that’s he a good guy because he’s rather large and menacing, not to mention invincible. Birnkrant says that these bios were written as a quick afterthought, but they’re impressive nonetheless. I wonder if the modern takes, if they receive updated bios, will be similarly free.

* – Leaving us to wonder what impact he might have had on the ancient humans he met in the OSM universe.

Sadly, the second wave of OSM was never to be. The moon was conquered in 1969 and apparently found lacking. For a time, space became less and less interesting and its influence over pop culture waned. Even a name change from The Outer Space Men to World of the Future was not enough to drive interest in a second assortment. Continue to Page 2…

48 thoughts on “Truetorial:
Who are The Outer Space Men?

  1. Great article, Noisy! It answers a lot of questions people might have about the product and what all is involved.

    1. I know, right? LOL

      But good luck to us both! Unless we’ve got a spare several g’s lying around . . . 😉

      1. It’d be cool to own some old ones, but considering how traumatic it was for me to open my RAH Space Capsule for the first time (I’ve had it for 15 years) despite it not really being a high dollar item, I don’t know if I could get toys that old and not freak out while handling them. LOL

        I’m looking forward to some comparison pics when the 4H release them though. 🙂

        1. It’s a good point.

          Especially if they were intact, the original OSM would feel far too much like museum pieces for me to really be able to enjoy.

    1. It’s from the 1994 RAH Original Action Team. Hasbro released the main four (Army, Marine, Navy, Air Force) in single packaging and as key chains, but the Astronaut was only available in a large 5pk that included the space capsule.

      I had never opened it, but the space capsule was too good to pass up for the last pic.

  2. Fantastic article. I’m really excited by this line and I didn’t know about it until the Four Horsemen announcement either.

    1. They featured a guessing game on their FANtastic Exclusive website throughout April by showing little snippets of pictures and I didn’t have a clue. Even when it was discovered, I was “okay, who’re they?”

  3. good stuff IAT crew!! y’all don’t mind if i post a link to this on myspace do you? i know, DR’s using the relic social networking site, BUT it’s still names and faces baby…

    1. Of course. Spread the links!

      LOL – Is that too overt for one of our headers? Maybe we can use a pirate toy so it’s funnier.

  4. Thanks for the details about the OSM, Noisy! These toys are way before my time and I had no clue what they were. They sound really interesting, though. VERY creative concepts! 🙂

  5. man… these guys are going to kill me… I hope these are comparable in price to the glyos figures… and they don’t come out too often… I need a break here… and a better job… *sigh*

    1. Man… it’s still hard for me to grasp that they’ll be that small. I know I took the last picture, and I know they’ll be in that scale, but it still seems weird.

      I think in 1:12 scale apparently.

    1. The distribution system for FanEx was pretty good, I think. It’s just that there ended up being more people that wanted Mynotheceans than there are Mynotheceans. At the time of release, it wasn’t terribly difficult to get most of them.

      But based on my past experience with 4H figures, I think we’re safe.

  6. Fantastic article, Noisy. Always good to see the old stuff getting some love.

  7. Thanks for the info. My first toys were ninja turtles, so these were well before my time. They do seem really cool.

    1. Wow… you’re making me feel old.

      I’m gonna pretend that you were raised by toy-hating parents and you didn’t get toys until you were 18 and out of the house… is that okay? 😀

  8. I don’t know why, but the basic little astronaut suits look really groovy.

  9. What I think is weird is that old cardback artwork looks like something you’d find from that era, but the toy themselves don’t.

    I hope we see more of the current crop soon.

  10. What I’ve heard is that these OSM toys will be produced at the same factory that creates the Glyos toys, so the toys should be just as durable as my Pheydens, Buildman, Callgrim, and all of the other Glyos toys. I can’t wait to get a ton of OSM so I can use those parts in customs.

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