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Official Article

The Legend of Karate Man-Man

My only brother is 17 years older than me and when I was born in 1982, he had already lived through a world of pop culture from the 70s and early 80’s that I had no concept of.  When I was 6 he graduated from college, got his own place and as a result, I moved into his room. As a part of this acquisition, all the toys he had stashed away in the closet became mine as well. Today I’d like to share with you the tale of an awesome Retro-Inheritance unknowingly gifted to me by my brother, that inspired The Legend of Karate Man-Man.

Part 1: A Man Named Joe

A year or so after settling in to my new digs, I remember scavenging through the closet and finding a box filled with scruffy looking male Barbie dolls. From what I could tell “Ken” and his friends been through many battles in their day with missing patches of head fuzz that appeared to have once been beards and conservative hair-dos. A few were missing limbs, while others had been hastily repaired with Scotch tape surgery. I had no idea that these were the original version of G.I. Joe.

To me G.I. Joes were little 3.75” plastic warriors with sci-fi weapons and the occasional ninja thrown in, but these generic military men were a whopping 12 Inches tall. Eventually I came across the Tomart Action Figure Collectibles guide and was astonished to realize what I had in my possession. I didn’t really play with them much, even with my newfound respect for this plastic platoon of 70’s soldiers. Luckily, grizzled veterans of playtimes past weren’t the only thing in that box.

Part 2: Karate Man-Man Begins

Buried beneath the bodies dressed in brown and green fatigues was shirtless, mythical being in purple pants who looked to be a renegade from a Bruce Lee film. This peculiar toy was bald, with a single black pony tail and painted with very heavy, Sophia Loren style purple eye-shadow that gave him a suspicious appearance. The most striking feature was the massive, purple bird-like tattoo that covered his lean, but muscular plastic chest, which distracted from the fact that his right hand was just a Captain Hook style nub. This was obviously a very dangerous customer.

He actually had an action feature which was activated by pressing a button on his right side, that caused his arm to flail up and down in a chopping motion. I had no idea who this tough guy was, but he had my attention and I instantly dubbed him Karate Man-Man. I even gave him his own theme song, which was just a parody of “Particle Man” by They Might Be Giants. His mere presence was enough to strike fear into the other toys in my collection, but eventually I decided that to be a true “Big Boss” he needed an upgrade.

Part 3: Fearsome Upgrade

I had the decapitated, limbless remains of an old Voltron toy which I’d hung onto longer than necessary and in a fit of hot glue-gun fueled madness combined man and machine to create a martial arts cyborg monstrosity. It was just Karate Man-Man’s head on Voltron’s torso combined with the legs and gun from a busted Transformers G1 Shockwave figure, but to me it was glorious.

I actually used Karate Man-Man 2.0 to film “Action Figure Movies” with other custom figures of comic book characters I created called Trion Squad 1. As you can see above, it was a fairly lackluster affair, but at least he got his 15 minutes of fame on an old VHS adventure. He stayed in my toy collection for a few more years until the glue started to break down and the once mighty machine-monster fell apart piece by piece. Ultimately he was relegated to the garbage pile, but have I've always wished I could have somehow restored him to his former glory.

Part 4: Secrets Revealed

For 20 years I never sought out the true origin of this mystery martial arts master. That is until writing this article when I reached out to the master “nostalgists” over at Mego Museum/Plaid Stallions on Twitter (Thanks again for your help).

It turns out he wasn’t a martial artist at all, but a murderous pirate named Hans Sprungfeld, er, I mean, Cap’n Hook from the 1973 Matchbox toy line called Fighting Furies. A pirate? I did not see that coming. I was at least hoping he was the villain from a failed line of Shang-Chi, Master of Kung-Fu action figures. Seeing him in the striped socks and yellow sash belt really makes me view this once feared tyrant in a whole new light.

Part 5: Fall of a Legend

I mean sure, he still has that ripped, “Action Flex” body, but the fact that his action feature was meant to facilitate throwing a plastic cutlass and not chopping men in half with his Iron Fist is a bit disappointing. If I could go back in time I would pitch Matchbox my own origin story for Karate Man-Man complete with mini-comic that matched the accompanying Saturday Morning Cartoon series. Then you could buy the upgrade kit to add his cybernetic limbs, which would tie-in to a revival cartoon series in the 80’s that would have played right after Silverhawks.

So yeah, sometimes the truth hurts and we realize that our childhood imaginations are better than anything some 40 year old in an office dreamed up for the “kiddies”. But The Legend of Karate Man-Man has now been told and is ready to be passed on for generations.

Did you ever have a toy of unknown origin in your collection that you loved? What kind of personality or history did you attach to the character? Did you ever learn its true origin?

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Vaporman87 Posted on Apr 28, 2016 at 07:38 AM

So have their people call his people? Got it. LOL. I hope he's got some room in his clearly crazy schedule.

Hoju Koolander Posted on Apr 27, 2016 at 11:12 PM

Call Karate Man Man's agent to book him for the Halloween special ;)

Vaporman87 Posted on Apr 27, 2016 at 10:35 PM

Karate Man-Man 2.0 is awesome!!! I would totally pony up $30 bucks for him and the upgrades! LOL.

Karate Man-Man would make an excellent villain in any toy line, but especially in the ninja world of Dutch and Hamato. He makes way more sense there. "Have at thee, lazy couch ninjas!"

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