Mr. T occupies a unique place in American pop culture. What is he? Is he an actor? Is he a celebrity? Is he a boxer, a bouncer, a superhero, a wrestler, or a former special forces operative? He is all these things and more.
Mr. T falls into in a special category: Eighties Character Celebrities. These are characters who had a life of their own outside their respective television shows or movies; they had a certain presence in the so-called real world. There are only two other people in this category: Jim "Ernest P. Worrell" Varney and Paul "Pee-Wee Herman" Reubens.
T is more person than character, but there's no denying that Mr. T built himself up as someone larger than life during the '80s. And while Pee-Wee became a living joke to most people, Mr. T seems to be the beneficiary of an abiding fondness. Really, who doesn't like Mr. T? He's the archetypal tough guy with a heart of gold. He's got a great biography. He beat cancer. He's got a great sense of humor. He's religious, but not pushy about it. He wears many pounds of gold jewelry and has a mohawk. He makes drinking milk cool.
I won't wax too philosophic about Mr. T, but the T experienced something of a renaissance a few years ago. For no reason at all (other
than perhaps a general wave of '80s nostalgia), there were the Snickers ads, the World of Warcraft Night Elf Mohawk, and even a short-lived comic from UK publisher AP Comics. It was actually his second comicbook and... it wasn't bad. Really. It was written with an older audience in mind - those in their 20s and 30s who remember Mr. T from their childhood - but it was still good clean fun. I'd hoped that once the city streets were safe, we might see some more adventurous plots - maybe Mr. T ends up in the South American jungle, being hunted by some rich jackass in the umpteenth retelling of The Most Dangerous Game. But the book only lasted two issues and the company is out of business, so... yeah, no. In 2008, Mohawk Media released 4,000 copies of the Mr. T: Limited Advance Edition Graphic Novel, but nothing more seems to have come of it.
Anyway, there have been several Mr. T action figures over the years. The most famous is probably the 12" doll, made famous through its appearance on You Can't Do That on Television and other media. The first Mr. T figure, however, was not of Mr. T or even of his A-Team character, B.A. Baracus,
but of Clubber Lang, the boxer he played in his acting debut, Rocky III. (Research seems to suggest there were two different toy lines from Rocky III - one from Phoenix Toys, the other from knock-off kings Remco. Both were obviously inspired by the then-mega-popular Masters of the Universe toys, but the Phoenix Toys line seems to be much more of a collector's item, judging from the eBay prices.)
I'm not interested in 12" figures (now more often referred to as "sixth-scale figures" so as to confuse people so they don't realize you collect dolls rather than action figures), and a figure of my hero in nothing but a pair of sweaty shorts doesn't really appeal to me, so for me, the best Mr. T action figure out there is from Galoob's 1983 A-Team line. Technically, it's an action figure of B.A. Baracus, T's character on the show, but since the character had the same Mandinka haircut and wore the same 100 pounds of gold chains, I think it's safe to say this as much an action figure of Mr. T as of B.A.
I managed to score one of these off eBay. He was still in his package, though he'd lost his toolcase, his gun, and most of his tools. But that's fine - such sissy accessories are for B.A. Baracus, not Mr. T! Mr. T just needs his fists and fearsome demeanor to deal with his foes.
This toy is nearly 30 years old, so it's only fair to judge it by its contemporaries. Sadly, even in that arena, the packaging doesn't hold up. Toylines such as Masters of the Universe had volcanoes exploding behind the figure, with rocks flying everywhere, and on the back was usually some very nice comic-style art depicting the character. Similarly, GI Joe often had the same sort of comic art and explosive imagery.
Here, we just get some plain red and white graphics and, on the back, a bunch of black-and-white photos of the other figures (or rather, the actors). Dull, Galoob - very dull. Even the "bullet holes" in the card seem like they were made by a particularly large hole-puncher.
However, there's one interesting thing about the card - the way it identifies the figure: "Mr. T as B.A. Baracus." If you look at the back, none of the other actors get their real names mentioned - just Mr. T. Further proof of the blurring between the man, the myth, and the TV character who refuses to fly unless drugged.
Again, it's only fair to judge this figure by 1983 standards - and by that measure, it does pretty well in the sculpting department. The figure looks like Mr. T, which is more than you can say for many licensed properties of the period (David Hasselhoff, anyone?). Mr. T has his signature gold chains and rings, and his trademark, Mandinka-warrior-inspired mohawk. The Converse shoes and stylish orange socks are all present. Yes, this is indeed a plasticized idol of Mr. T.
The paint applications are hit-and-miss. The
body's fine, for the most part - T even has the little orange shoulder stripes on his outfit, and I like the shiny gold used for the chains. But the black paint on the mohawk is a little shabbily applied. My prediction for the Hong Kong factory worker responsible for this shoddy paint application? Pain.
The A-Team toyline was clearly inspired by Mattel's Masters of the Universe, which ruled the toy market at the time (T even has a puffy rubber head). But Galoob does Mattel one better in the articulation department. Mr. T has swivel joints at the shoulders, waist, neck, and hips, and hinge joints at the knees. It's no Marvel Legends, but it gives Mr. T some flexibility, and it's more than many toylines of the period had (GI Joe excepted).
My particular Mr. T had lost most of his accessories in the 22 years between arriving at the toystore and being purchased
by me off eBay, but here's what the lucky kids in 1983 got for their parents' hard-earned money: an M16 rifle (with strap), a hinged toolbox (with strap), a removable tool belt, a tote tray, bolt cutters, a power drill, a ball peen hammer, a crescent wrench, a socket wrench, a hacksaw, a screwdriver, and two other things I can't identify from the tiny photo on the box [a set of sockets and a set of drill bits --ed.]. Well, he is a mechanic (B.A. Baracus, that is). For 1983, though, holy crap that's a whole lotta accessories!
This is a 28-year-old toy and when I got it, I couldn't stop playing with it. How can you resist having Mr. T kick the crap out of your Marvel Legends and Street Fighters? What's that? You think Sagat would take down the T? You obviously aren't familiar with Mr. T's track record.
For the time, this was one "helluva" action figure, and even now, it's a fun toy. And until NECA decides to give us the super-poseable 6" Mr. T his fans demand, the Galoob figure is the only game in town.