The 1983 JCPenney “Adventures in Toyland” Catalog is Unintentionally Hilarious

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by Howie Decker @HowardTheDeck

in G.I. Joe, Masters of the Universe, Star Wars, The 80s

We used to dog-ear the pages, circle our most wanted items, and transcribe the catalog contents onto our hand-written lists that were postmarked “North Pole”.

Thanks to the fine folks at Plaid Stallions we have the pages you see below from the 1983 JC Penney Adventures in Toyland Catalog. If you’re a child of the 80s or 70s, the JC Penney catalog was one of the most highly anticipated and visually gratifying annual publications to grace your parents’ coffee table on a yearly basis.

This bad boy regularly weighed in at about 14 lbs and promised a whopping 20+ page toy section. Before the days of the internet this was our only link to seeing all of the new toys that the various manufacturers were unleashing on the public each new season.

My friends and I would drop the book on the floor, gather ’round and rifle through its pages until we reached the Star Wars, G.I. Joe, Kenner Super Powers, LJN WWF Wrestling Superstars, Transformers, and Masters of the Universe pages. We’d even check out the GoBots. Somebody had to. (I know, Go Bots are SO cool now, save it.)

We’d exclaim “Whoa!” “No way!” “Far out!” (no one still said ‘far out’ in 1983 but The Brady Bunch was my favorite tv show at the time so my vernacular was a touch outdated). We finally had some research material from which to compile our birthday and Christmas wish lists. Let the wishing begin!

jc penney catalog star wars

It appears that this particular toy flyer was set up to look almost like a comic book with mini-storylines and such. The action figures are exchanging a little chippy dialogue and self-promotion, which was a cool marketing idea.

What made this concept work is that the characters are conversing in terms that are consistent with the respective cartoons, movies or comics that they came to life in.

G.I. Joe expressing their continued discontent with those jerks from Cobra, Jabba the Hutt bragging about all of the awful things he can do to Han Solo, even the My Little Ponies are sitting around staring at themselves in the mirror and admiring their perfectly groomed pink and mint green manes.

Then you get to the Masters of the Universe page.

[click to enlarge]

heman jcpenney page

What in the hell are these guys talking about? I don’t even know where to start.

skeletor toy

Skeletor enjoyed his trip with his adventure book and record? What is he, seven years old? I hope you didn’t spill your juice box on the Talon Fighter’s new upholstery. You were arguably the most menacing and nightmare-inducing evil arch-enemy of the 1980s and you enjoyed your f’ing adventure book?! Well I’m glad you enjoyed yourself; now that you’re here maybe you can straighten out this asshole He-Man who for some reason is plotting the siege of Castle Grayskull, you know, his OWN base of operations?

By this logic, millions of kids in 1983 must have been turning the page expecting to see the Ewoks violently overtaking Ewok Village.

As we trudge through the slowly disintegrating Masters of the Universe continuum, we see Mer-Man riding He-Man’s loyal and trusty steed, mumbling something about “invading in his Panther Battle Cat”. Wow. Not your cat to invade, guy. Not sure what that cat has been through behind closed doors with He-Man, who judging by his outfits was definitely not above an occasional cat invasion, but still.

mer man battle cat

Mer-Man was one of Skeletor’s TOP henchman! He had a better shot of secretly entering Castle Grayskull by catapulting himself through one of its nostrils than he did of getting within 15 feet of Battle Cat, let alone RIDING him. What’s on the next page? Is Darth Vader just gonna “take the Millenium Falcon for a little spin”?

Not to be outdone, Man-E-Faces continues the ass-hattery with a comment about wiping out the heroic forces, of which he is one. Sure, Man-E had some identity issues when he was in green beast-mode, but at this point it seems like schizophrenia was the least of his worries. He’s got to run interference with Ram-Man and Trap-Jaw while Mer-Man finishes invading Battle Cat. Victory will soon be yours Mer-Man, nobody here is gonna try to stop you.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Joseph Tages December 28, 2011 at 12:07 am

I remember reading those captions as an 11 year-old in ’83 and thinking that the writer had no idea as to who the characters were. It was downright goofy in an “I can better than THAT” sort of way.

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Howard Decker December 28, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Joseph – thanks for reading! I agree, the dialogue between characters is laughable. I would have probably re-posted the page images from PlaidStallions.com regardless, but once I saw those little “vignettes” I had to comment on them in blog form! We couldn’t resist further analyzing them, so we recorded a whole podcast about them- check it out if you’re interested, we broke down all the pages of the toy section. I believe it is podcast EP#15

Thanks for commenting!

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Ryan Hagar February 5, 2012 at 12:43 am

Great, thanks for sharing this blog.Thanks Again.

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Evil Master of Facts April 14, 2012 at 9:57 pm

Early in Masters of the Universe’s run the mythos wasn’t set to what we consider “canon” now. Grayskull started out a neutral ground desired by Skeletor but a still mysterious place that wanted everyone to keep out and wasn’t a home/base to He-Man, who started out a heroic barbarian but was retconned into being Prince Adam with the power sword giving him his might by DC comics or the later Filmation series. There was no Sorceress, but a Goddess that was a green skinned Teela wearing her snake-cowl accessory. Skeletor was one of many beings like him from another dimension.

Mer-Man riding a battle cat? Before he became a specific good character, Battle Cat’s original package showed identical cats being used by the Evil Warriors. See here: http://www.vaultsofgrayskull.co.uk/boxart.html

Man-E-Faces gets no excuse, though. Ha-ha!

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Howie Decker April 16, 2012 at 9:41 am

You really ARE the Evil Master of Facts!! Hands down the most informative, constructive comment on this site yet! Very impressed. You have an open invite to contribute your wealth of knowledge to our site any time! Thanks for the link – that took me back!!

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