Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Sammy Steel: The Lost Brother of Mighty Max

The following is a guest post by Mike MacDee of MikesToyBox.net



In the early '90s Polly Pocket started an amazing toy trend: playsets the size of drink coasters, with figures tiny enough to inhabit them. It was invented by a clever and loving man who built a dollhouse for his daughter out of a discarded makeup compact so she could take it anywhere. This begat what I believe to be the most brilliantly designed toy of all time: Mighty Max, the short-lived “Polly Pocket for boys,” which really kicked off the “mini playset” trend of the '90s. Suddenly every licensed toy line was doing it: Power Rangers, Tarzan, Star Wars, Pokemon, Micro Machines, even Goosebumps.

These days, Max is reliving his adventures via night terrors in an asylum somewhere in Massachusetts, blissfully unaware that he has a brother who went on similar adventures: a boy named Sammy Steel.

Okay, all pretensions aside, Sammy Steel vs The Micro Mob was a dollar store knock-off of a popular toy: Warlord to Max’s He-Man. But the fact that this toy existed was amazing to my little child mind, being such a young fan of odd knock-off toys already.

But Sammy Steel wasn’t just a handful of inferior dollar store knock-offs: like Max, it ran for three different series, and each one featured a comic strip on the back of its card. It tried so hard to emulate the source that it’s hard not to admire it a little bit. Every year when I went to the dollar store toy aisle and found another new lineup of Sammy Steels it blew my mind. Stranger still, I discovered official UK variants many years later.


Nowadays the toys are unicorn rare, and really not worth anything, nor are they in demand. But that just makes collecting them all the more fun. I get a rush of excitement whenever I find a new Sammy Steel listing, and I’ve hoarded an impressive collection of the things. I’m pretty sure my site, MikesToyBox, is the only source of info on these forgotten toys anymore.

One major stylistic difference between Max and Sammy is that Sammy never abandoned the cute design motif of Max Series 1, opting for Hanna-Barbara while Max took the Lovecraft and Hammer Horror route. They also lacked the ingenious designs of Mighty Max: the playsets weren’t configured for everything to fit in exactly the right place so the compact could close without trouble. You basically pack Sammy away by jangling the figures around inside until the lid finally closed.

Sammy Steel Series 1 was four sets: Vicious Volcano, Face Mountain, Dome of Doom, and Sinister Saucer. These are the most easily found on eBay and elsewhere, particularly Face Mountain. Sinister Saucer is the best because of its inorganic environment where everything seems to serve a purpose, while the other three were mostly set in the wilderness. The compacts were shaped like mountains or cute flying saucers.




Things get more interesting with Series 2. Club Dread is a water park overrun by terrorists, robots, and giant octopodes. Hurtin’ Safari is set around a Minecraft-like jungle tree fort. Prehistoric Peril takes Sammy to Forbidden Valley to fight Gwangi and other Harryhausen delights. The series climaxes with Star Trap, an adorable moon base that would better suit Polly Pocket than Mighty Max, if she ever went to space. The compacts for these are wonderful, because two are “disguised” as Walkman cassette players, and the other two as Game Boys. I wish they were all the latter, because the screens of the Game Boy compacts are made to resemble LCD games depicting the action inside - an unbearably cool touch. They went nuts with the accessories, too: look at all the stuff you got! Look at that dinosaur with the saddle-crane!





Things end weak as a baby fart with Series 3, which only featured three toys instead of the usual four: Submarine Sandwich, the laughable Tomb of Terror, and Chasing the Mob’s Missile. These playsets came with built-in sound effects, at the expense of figures, detail, and anything else more interesting. A depressing end for a fun little knockoff toy that shelled out more effort than most dollar store ripoffs…in the beginning, anyway.



I occasionally find other Max/Polly knockoffs I never heard of, and it’s always a treat for some nerdy reason. I continue browsing the Mighty Max listings in the hope of finding Sammy Steel stuff. Maybe someday I’ll find someone selling a carded lot, or a piece I’m missing. Or maybe I’ll start collecting Polly Pocket knockoffs next. I still need to buy a house for Max to retire in.

For more Sammy Steel information and photos of additional playsets, packaging and more, visit MikesToyBox.net!

5 comments:

  1. Mighty Max was the coolest (and yes I know that was just a Polly Pocket for boys). First time hearing about Sammy Steel, looks fine, but a bit "cheaper"

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    1. Definitely dollar store quality, but it's hard not to like it for what it is. Most toy lines that copied the Polly/Max mini-playset schtick did a half-assed job of it (check out those terrible Pocket Comics toys from Marvel). This is one of those cases of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery.

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  2. Mighty Max truly was the best designed toy series of all time. I had a couple of the later Sammy Steel's, but they weren't anything in comparison, especially once the Max playsets got cheap re-releases. They're all a mission to find intact though.

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    1. Tell me about it. I'm lucky if I can find an empty Sammy Steel compact, nevermind on with all the pieces intact...

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  3. Man, these are awesome! I will add Sammy Steel to my ever growing list of micro toys from the 90's that I need to track down. I have a little side blog decided to just making a list of the dozens of micro toy lines that were produced.

    Imperial produced some great little gems, including my favorite series of pogs, Slammer Whammers.

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