The Ballad Of Stretch Armstrong

Welcome back to Rotten Ink! I am sure you readers are as excited as I am for Christmas, which is just around the corner as is my Christmas Eve special! For this update, I decided that I was going to take a look at a toy that started in 1976 and is still going strong today, Stretch Armstrong! I am sure if you’re an older reader or a younger reader to this blog, you either had a Stretch Armstrong figure, know someone who did, or at least know who he is. It’s crazy to think that Stretch Armstrong, as of the posting of this update, is 43 years old and has faded in and out of toy stores over those decades and has now finally made it to an update here on Rotten Ink as one of my countdown to Christmas Eve updates. So sit back and pour yourself some eggnog, and let’s talk about the one and only blonde muscle-bound stretchable hero known as Stretch Armstrong and enjoy this flashback down action figure lane.

Jesse D. Horowitz developed the concept of Stretch Armstrong (originally called Stretch Man) for Kenner, and he had two different directions they were going to look at with one being a muscle blonde man and the other a large sumo wrestler. They went with the muscle bound blonde to keep costs down as the sumo was just too bulky. They brought in Bill Armasmith to develop the figure once Kenner loved the idea. When the figure went into production, they used a liquid sugar gel to give the figure his stretching ability and it became a hit with youngsters. And this also sparked other figures in the Stretch Armstrong series that included bad guys that he could fight with. The original run for this toy series lasted from 1976-1980, and those are now major collectors’ items as many of the originals now are long gone to the toy chest in the sky thanks to them degrading. In the 1990’s, Cap Toys got the IP of Stretch Armstrong and tried a come back to the world of toys to once more capture the attention of the kids and become a must-have toy. They added a new villain as well as a dog sidekick called Fetch Armstrong, and this once more has a short lived run in toy stores before once more fading away. And from then on, off and on many more Stretch Armstrong remake figures have been released to stores, but have never captured attention like the original did in the late 70’s and has never made it back to the must-own figures on Christmas lists. Who knows what the future will hold for Stretch Armstrong and his conquest to once more dominate the toy aisles, but one thing is for sure, those youngsters from the past who owned one sure did enjoy playing with it and he will forever live on in their minds.

As I stated above, Stretch Armstrong had his own set of villains with the most popular being Monster Man who was a green skinned reptilian like humanoid who was released in 1978 and is our heroes most popular baddy. Monster Man is also worth lots of money as many of the original figures have not made it undamaged to this modern time. In 1977, the see-through alien Stretch X-Ray was released and was a strange looking guy who grossed out youngsters with his appearance of being able to see his guts and organs. He as well is very rare and the original sales for lots of money. Vac-Man was released in 1994 and was the newest of the Stretch bad guys and was also unique as he came with a pump that allows you to suck the air out of the toy and that made him stretchy. Vac-Man is a red skinned alien who was one mean creature. Growing up I remember the same kid who had Stretch Armstrong also had Vac-Man and all of us kids took turns playing with this figure! One thing is for sure, Stretch Armstrong had one kick butt rogues gallery that I would have loved to have seen in the pages of a comic book series when I was a kid and should have been made by Star Comics in the late 80’s or even early 90’s! Check out the pictures below to see his foes in all their evil glory!

Really quickly, we should talk about the clones of Stretch Armstrong as this figure series had its fair share of imitators that tried to cash in on its popularity with youngsters. Some of the most popular were Mego’s “Elastic Heroes” that started in 1979 and featured DC Comic heroes Batman, Superman and Plastic Man and from Marvel they had Hulk and Spider-Man. They would later add cartoon characters Casper, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Growing up, I always wanted the Hulk one but never could find one used at one of the antique stores in Waynesville or at a garage sale. In the 1980’s LJN decided to get into the game and made “WWF Stretch Wrestlers” that were stretchable pro wrestlers and in the line was Hulk Hogan, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Paul Orndorff, Randy Savage, George Steele, Junkyard Dog, Ricky Steamboat and King Kong Bundy. I knew one kid who had one of these and I can remember of the playground a lot of us kids stretching the heck out of Randy Savage! Also released in more modern times is a stretch Scooby-Doo figure that is sure to please fans of this classic cartoon character and collectors of stretchable action figures. And these toy series are just a drop in the hat of figures that were inspired by Stretch Armstrong showing that he was a major player in the world of toys and was pretty innovative in its stretchable feature. Check out the pictures below for a look at some of these inspired toys.

Like I said, as a kid I never did own a Stretch Armstrong and only played with them when my friends brought one to school or over at my cousin’s house when they had one for a short time…until they decided to cut him open and see what he was made of. Well I am proud to say that in 2018 I finally got myself a Stretch Armstrong, and best of all he is called the World’s Smallest! And while he is super small and does not stretch as far as the normal larger sized one I would say this that he is single handedly the worst Stretch Armstrong figure ever made! He is made just of rubber and has a hard plastic skeleton and a vey cheap paint job…no joke when opened I was 100% disappointed in this figure and after only stretching him for a few moments I placed him on a shelf and that’s were he has sat for over a year now. So this is just a warning if you want a Stretch Armstrong don’t go cheap and just order a normal sized one like I wish I did.

Hasbro, who now owns the rights of Stretch Armstrong, decided that they wanted to develop the toy property into movies, comics and TV shows and for years talk went around Hollywood about a big budget movie when Disney bought the rights and wanted to make a family comedy film that had many different scripts written and even stars casted including Tim Allen and Danny DeVito at one point being cast in the title role. But Disney failed to make the movie and then the rights went to Universal and it has well turned out many scripts. They wanted actor Taylor Lautner to play Stretch, but Universal as well dropped the ball and never made the film Relativity Media picked up the rights and before anything really went too far the film was scrapped once again. And the last rumor going around I have heard is that Paramount is now the ones who have the rights to make a movie and have as well just sat on the property with no movie set for production. But in 2017 Hasbro and Netflix decided to team up and make a kids cartoon based on Stretch Armstrong and called it “Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters” that would change the age and nature of Stretch and would has him be a young man and his friends who mutate into stretchable heroes! The series is still going now and is the first of Stretch Armstrong media projects to ever see the light of day.

So while Stretch Armstrong never did get his big screen flick, as you have just read, he did get his streaming show in the forum of a cartoon and because of this cartoon we also got a comic series that made this update possible! And while I wish this comic mini series was based on the original figure or even the 90’s one and not a kids show with a younger Stretch, but beggars can’t be choosy and this is was IDW has given us. I want to thank Mavericks Cards And Comics and Lone Star Comics for having these comics in stock and need to also remind you all that I grade these comics on a star scale of 1 to 4 and am looking for how well the comics stay to the source material, it’s entertainment value and it’s art and story. So if you’re ready I am ready to have an adventure with Stretch Armstrong and see if he can bring some fun to this holiday season.

Stretch Armstrong And The Flex Fighters # 1  **
Released in 2018       Cover Price $3.99     IDW     # 1 of 3

Jake Armstrong along with his friends Nathan and Ricardo become superheroes Stretch, Wingspan and Omni-Mass respective and go by the team name The Flex Fighters. They are now in the city fighting a massive praying mantis that has emerged from the ground attacking workers for a drilling company. The Rook Company lead by Mr. Rook who is responsible for training The Flex Fighters has ground troops also on the ground being lead by Malcolm Kane who can use force if the super team fails to get the mantis under control. The Mantis is strong and is given the powered teens a run for their money, but they are finally able to use extreme sound to knock out and capture it in order for Mr. Rook to study it…but their giant insect is taken away when The Extreme Hazard Unit a government agency takes it away with plans to burn it to death. But while this is going on Omni-Mass has Stretch and Wingspan follow him into the whole the mantis came from and find that its filled with babies and she was only attacking to protect them, and the team now make a pact to save the mantis mom from death.

This very kid friendly comic captures the silly nature of the NetFlix cartoon series and delivers a pretty good middle of the road read with this first issue. The plot has Stretch Armstrong and the rest of the Flex Fighters taken on a massive insect all the while getting orders to capture it alive and protect all civilians while being heroes, and for Stretch to be dealing with the pressure of time schedules his father gives him. Stretch Armstrong is a teen who has lost his mother and has an over baring dad who pushes his son way to hard, and unknown to his father Stretch is also a super hero who has the same powers as Plastic Man and Mr. Fantastic. Stretch seems like a good kid with lots of stress and just wants to do the right thing as well as not disappoint his father. Mr. Rook and Malcolm Kane are the heads of a private group that do good deeds and try and use what they uncover to help mankind, good guys with good values. The Extreme Hazard Unit I am not sure about as they appear when the danger is neutralized and take the creature away with the promise of killing it….I think they have other plans. Wingspan is a teen with flying powers and Omni-Mass is a teen with the power to make his limbs grow massive and kind of has a rude attitude. The Mantis is just a giant mantis who fights to protect her babies and really is not bad at all. Over all not much to say about this first issue as I feel it does a great job of capturing also the atmosphere and style of classic superhero books of the 60’s and we get a little backstory on most of our heroes. The cover is pretty great and eye catching for fans of the cartoon series and the interior art by Nikos Koutsis is really good and has a very modern style of what I would think if Star Comics was still around would look like. To sum it up a pretty good first issue and does make we wonder what is going to happen next in issue two.

Stretch Armstrong And The Flex Fighters # 2  **
Released in 2018       Cover Price $3.99    IDW     # 2 of 3

The Flex Fighters are in the tunnel with all the baby mantises and make a call to their boss Malcolm Kane who shoots down their idea and plan to save the giant mantis as he reminds them that their authority runs only through the city. This does not stop them as Stretch and Omni-Mass head to the Extreme Hazard Unit base and Wingspan stays behind the babysit the little ones. Stretch and Omni steal some haze mat suits and enter the lab and set free the giant mantis and as they are about the escape they are stopped by Agent Rathjani who is the one in charge at the Extreme Hazard Unit and uses her tech to capture Stretch, Omni and the Mantis…but to the rescue comes Wingspan and the baby mantises who free their mom and friends and they all try to get away with the Extreme Hazard Unit on their tails.

The second issue the pressure and heat is turned up on the Flex Fighters who want to save a momma creature from being killed and taken away from her babies as well as must disobey their own bosses to do so! In this issue we get more of the backstory of Nathan aka Wingspan as he is from a large family and often feels as if he is over looked and never listened to. And while he is creeped out by the baby Mantises they seem to really like him and is able to lead them to help in their mom’s rescue. Stretch in very confidante that he and his friends are doing the right thing in saving the giant creature and even does a good job of trying his best to lead his friends on this rescue mission. Omni-Mass does what he does best and that’s be ready for a fight and have an attitude doing it! The Giant Mantis and her Babies seem to understand when they are being talked to and offer support and help when they can on this breakout. The Extreme Hazard Unit are jerks as is their boss Agent Rathjani as they really don’t care about leaving babies orphaned and claim they have to kill the mantis for mankind’s safety. As a reader and the cliffhanger ending of the Flex Fighters as well as the giant Mantis and her babies being stuck in the lab of The Extreme Hazard Unit with armed troopers all around! The issue still captures a real kids comic feel and delivers a simple yet entertaining adventure that helps bring more life to our hero characters. The cover is pretty great and eye catching and Nikos Koutsis interior art is great and is truly a through back to classic kids comics of the late 80’s and the 90’s. So with that let’s see what issue three the final issue has in store for us and let’s see how they wrap up this tale.

Stretch Armstrong And The Flex Fighters # 3  **
Released in 2018       Cover Price $3.99     IDW     # 3 of 3

The Flex Fighters and the giant creatures are making a run for it and Omni-Mass is holding off all the armed guards by smashing the ground around them. Once outside they are faced with tanks and it’s up to mama mantis and her babies to take them down, but while this is going on Agent Rathjani captures Stretch and informs him that he and his team are trespassing on their land and that they are going to be in very big trouble! That is until Mr. Rook shows up and informs everyone that he has bought the land and it now falls under Charter City rule and that the The Extreme Hazard Unit has 30 days to move their base and now the Mantis and her babies fall under their care! Mr. Rook and the Flex Fighters end up taking the creatures to an island Rook owns and allows them to live their life there. But as they good guys are about to leave they are being watched by Monster Man who has plans to experiment on the mantises once they leave and so ends this mini series with a cliffhanger for another that is clearly not ever coming.

Stretch Armstrong And The Flex Fighters is a mini series that has a story that could easily been wrapped up in two issues but they needed three in order to make a graphic novel to make a little extra money on licensing the IP. The story of the Flex Fighters fighting and then saving a massive mantis all the while thinking back on their personal life moments that fit for this mission at hand really does have a Saturday Morning Cartoon vibe mixed with a Star Comic issues from the 80’s. In this issues we get to learn more about the life of Omni-Mass and find out that his parents move from town to town and its been hard on him to make friends and even trust people as they are never in his life long enough, we also see he fears letting people down. Stretch and Wingspan take a back seat in this issue and just react to the battle going on around them, but they are fighting the best they can in order to save a life. Mr. Rook is the real hero who out smarts the Extreme Hazard Unit by just buying the land from under them and making their jurisdiction smaller and further out! Super smart move and a way to show up Agent Rathjani who is a pretty mean spirited government worker who loves that she has power and has no remorse for her bad actions and behavior. Another cool aspect of this series is that the giant mantis understands English and does her part in the escape and tries to not only protect her babies but as well as her new human friends. Sadly we get very little of Monster Man as he is on the island and has experiments he wants to do, but never once does he fight a Flex Fighter making the cover very misleading, but to be fair comic companies have been doing this for decades. The art for the series done by Nikos Koutsis is great in this issue as well and I would like to see him at sometime take on doing a comic based on the old Nickelodeon show Doug. Over all this kids comic is nothing special but is very well done and I am sure young readers who watch this show would also really enjoy this silly adventure. While I wish this had been a comic based on the classic Stretch Armstrong this is the series we were given and after reading it I am ok with it as I originally thought this was going to be terrible and poorly written and it really did turn out to be not that bad. Below is a look at art from this series so you can see the style of Koutsis.

So while I am sure that Stretch Armstrong will get his chance again in the world of comic books, I do think it will be many years away and will not be based on the Flex Fighters. And will a live action film based on Stretch ever be made…I am going to guess no and if he does ever show up it will be in a crossover film done by Hasbro in something like G.I. Joe or Transformers. But with this update done the next one will be my Christmas Eve update and originally I was going to cover “He-Man & She-Ra: Secret Of The Sword” in honor of the live action film that was slated to be released by Warner Brothers this holiday season, but they dropped the ball and did not get the film into production in time so I decided to take a look at something super silly and fun and that’s video game icon Earthworm Jim! So until next time drink a glass of eggnog or two, spend time with your family and as always support local business this holiday season. See you in space with a mechanical suited worm very soon!

 

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