Command 'em! Collect 'em!
Sometime in 1974 I was introduced to Mattel's "Heroes in Action" line of (somewhat) poseable toy soldiers and toys. I was 5 years old at the time and Military toys, as one might expect, were kind of on the down side at that time since the (unpopular) Vietnam War was still going on. Even Hasbro's "G. I. Joe" had started to show some pacifism by dropping his mean green attitude and adopting the motif of "Adventure Team" whereas Joe took up adventuring and tomb raiding rather than mercenary employment and clandestine wetwork. I'd been playing with Marx toy soldiers and any of a half-dozen types and brands of "green army men" when I saw these toys for sale and it was love at first sight ... that big action display showing the figures, the demonstrator figure on its stand where you could move the tab on the base and here the "click-click-click" which, with a little bit of imagination sounded just like small arms fire.
Okay, maybe it didn't.
Maybe it sounded like some cheap Halloween noise maker but moving that lever made the figure move, if only his torso and the figure would swing his torso from left to right and back again, spraying the enemy (whoever that was) with machinegun fire.
To say that, at the time, these guys were cooler than penguin nuts is an understatement and I eventually had a bucket full of them. They were my first introduction to small action figures that not only could be posed but which also came with accessories and weapons that could be swapped between figures. The Mattel "Heroes in Action" henceforth abbreviated simply as "HIA" in this post, were my first introduction my love affair of what would later evolve with the Kenner "Star Wars" action figures. Mattel's "HIA" were so cool that they didn't even need an enemy ... you could just fight ... whatever ... with them and they would kick so much ass that no trace of the enemy remained.
The bases were always my favorite parts of the toy since they were so detailed ... we're talking Geoff Darrow detailed ... splintered wood, rubble, debris, strewn ammunition belts, broken open wood boxes with handgrenades spilling out ... detail.
The "HIA" were an interesting lot ... there were basically four upper torsos and three lower sets of legs (standing, squatting and sitting). By rearranging the torsos with the legs, Mattel presented us with 12 different initial variations of figures including an officer with a soft cover ("cap" to you non-jarheads). At first the "HIA" seemed to be intended for World War II but one quick look at the weapons showed that these were Vietnam era combatants. Weapons included grenades (which slid onto the figure's hand), M60s, M3 "Grease Gun" SMGs, .45 Colt automatic pistols, bazookas, and flame throwers (complete with backpack fuel tanks!). One of the weirder offerings was a soldier with a removable gas mask (that was hella cool!) who had a M60 with a rifle grenade on the end of it.
Even at that early age I understood that you couldn't shoot a rifle grenade off the end of a M60 machinegun!
The figures were sold individually, each variation came in a simple carded blister pack with accessories like a single weapon. The officer came with a .45 Colt automatic pistol and a walkie-talkie. The grenade guy came with a grenade and a M3 "Grease Gun". Most of the expressions of the figures were their "war face" ... either that or they were terribly constipated from the K-rations. There were mostly white guys (or really tanned guys) and a few black guys.
Larger offerings included three playsets - each with two figures included on a much larger, dual clicker base with accessories. These were represented by the heavy machine gun crew (one guy sitting and firing a tripod mounted .50 HMG while the other threw grenades and gave covering fire with his M3 "Grease Gun" or M60), the Mortar Team (again two guys manning a crew served weapon) and the Anti-Tank Gun Team (two HIA with a Recoilless Rifle). I had all three of those playsets and one other ... the "missile artillery" which was a trailer mounted missile (replete with classic 1970's white and black checkered stripe color scheme) that you could launch about five to eight feet across the room. There was also a Jeep that I never had, a howitzer that I never had and a really heavily gunned helicopter gunship that I remember buying at Wilson's in Jackson, MS (Wilson's would later become Service Merchandise). The helicopter had a number of unique features ... spinning main and counter rotor, a place for a figure to stand in the back and be a door gunner, wing mounted air to ground missiles, a rocket pod, two .50 heavy machine guns, a gatling gun and a weird laser cannon with antenna ... because I distinctly remember US Air Cav gunships, namely the Hueys, having laser cannons during the Vietnam War. I think there was a winch as well but I can't be sure as time has made that memory fuzzy. I played the hell out of that copter with my "HIA" figures ... I had a sandbox and I crashed that copter and half buried it and had my "HIA" figures do rescue attempts and recovery operations. I played with it until the decals started to peel off and the parts vanished one by one.
Mattel's "HIA" became "SWAT" - Special Weapons And Tactics - and green became blue while obviously trying to pick up on the TV show of the same name's (then) wild pop-culture popularity
Sometime in 1976 ... Mattel took the olive drab "HIA" and colored their uniforms an urban semi-police blue and reissued the "HIA" as "SWAT" ... possibly because at that time there was a police / crime drama show on TV named "SWAT" that was really, really popular and had that catchy theme song that was a number one hit for the group "Rhythm Heritage" and was playing about every fifth song on the radio back then ... Unfortunately the "SWAT" version of the "HIA" didn't really hit it off and the toy line folded shortly thereafter, especially in the blistering arrival of "Star Wars" on the big screen.
For what it was worth and while it lasted it was a grand time to be a kid and Mattel made it wonderful.
Shortly after Mattel's "HIA" entered my life another small line of action figures entered my playtime as well ... Fisher Price's "Adventure People." The scale was close enough to warrant interaction between the two toy lines but like I began this post with ... talking about the Fisher Price "Adventure People" is going to have to wait for another time.