As a boy in the early eighties I had no shortage of fictional villains to rally against, be it on the playground at school or when playing on the floor with my toys. Cinema, television and comics all offered various nefarious types to rally the forces of good against, many of which are now pop culture icons. Megatron, Skeletor, Darth Vader all had their place, but there was one man who for me stood head and shoulders above these on the baddie roll of dishonour…..Baron Ironblood!
The likehood is that if you weren’t of a certain age between 1983 and 1985 and are outside of the UK you will no idea about this man or his villainy.
The Baron was the main protagonist for Action Force, a range of ‘Star Wars’ scale action figures that were spawned from the popular (and larger) Action Man range. Action Man himself was the UK version of what was know as G.I.Joe in America and in the UK was produced and marketed by Palitoy (who also happened to be the distributor for the Star Wars figure range on this side of the pond).
Recognising there was an untapped market for military toys in the scale of the stupidly popular Star Wars range Palitoy shrank Action Man down from 12 inch doll to 3.5 inch action figure and the first wave was released in 1982.
Initially taking a similar approach to their larger cousins these fellas represented generic historical and modern military tropes (including Royal Marine Commando, Pilot, WW2 German Soldier, Desert Rat etc.)
However recognising the opportunity to expand the range the line was reorganised in 1983. With the help of some vehicles and figure sculpts borrowed from the US G.I.Joe line, Action Force was rebranded as an international military team brought together to fight an evil terrorist ‘Enemy’, The Red Shadows.
Action Force itself was split into four ‘arms’:
- Z Force – the infantry backbone of Action Force
- SAS Force – special ops and behind the lines specialists (tapping into the minor pop culture obsession there was with the SAS following the Iranian Embassy siege in 1981)
- Q Force – the naval and underwater team
- Space Force – did what it said on the tin!
Each team and the ‘Enemy’ had a range of figures, accessories and vehicles available.
At the same time the new toy line was supported by a series of comic strips published in the long running weekly boys war comic Battle. This was such a popular addition that the title soon renamed itself Battle Action Force.
By the way, for a full and detailed history of the toys and comics I’d highly recommend you visit the absolutely excellent Blood for the Baron website. Here you will also find comic strip scans from Battle Action Force.
Now eventually things changed, the toy line became more closely aligned with the American GI Joe line (dropping the Red Shadows for Cobra and introducing a new merged Action Force team) and while this was reflected very cleverly in the comic strip for me it was the passing of a golden age.
So here I am three decades later with the opportunity to revisit my favourite toy line on the tabletop. This is something I have been working on off and on for a few years, but with the increased availability of multi-part plastic kits in 28mm, 3D printing and a plethora of modern and pulp rulesets available this is something I have gone back to with a vengence recently.
Watch out Baron, here I come…..
(BTW I am certainly not the first person to approach this subject and blog about it. If you get chance please look at the excellent Action Force vs The Red Shadows by Andy ‘Soapy’ Dormer.)