great robots & toys
from the space age



planet zero

In the late '60s came Ideal's Mighty Zeroids, "the workers of the future". These great robots originally cost five bucks, and later even less, and ran on tank treads powered by motors from Ideal's line of Motoriffic cars. Originally they were a trio: Zobor the Bronze Transporter, Zintar the Silver Explorer, and Zerak the Blue Destroyer. Originally they were individually packaged in clear plastic boxes with a yellow reversing ramp. Zobor had a cosmobile, Zintar a lunar sled, and Zerak a control station, each of which formed the back of the plastic box.
There was also Zemo, a rare Zeroid made of various parts from the others. Later came Zogg, the Zeroid Commander, who could activate various devices. For the many variations and fascinating history of the Zeroids, check out James Gillam's Space Toys of the '60s, which also covers Mattel's Major Matt Mason and Colorforms Outer Space Men (see robot links).

I got Zintar, through an auction on eBay for around $150, about 300 times what he originally cost (and that's good for a rare robot). The only problem is that his two parts won't stay together, so you'd have to tape him together to run him. Zerak was a great deal at around $50, a great price for a Zeroid with treads intact. He has the small plate at the bottom missing, and a few other small things. He was also loose, without the box. For display purposes, however, he's great. Often Zeroids are found with pieces broken off or the treads torn. Because of this, some replacement parts are available (see Wild Toys and The Big Red Toy Box in Robot Links). Zeroids came in clear plastic boxes, packaged with a variety of color and design on the outer cardboard box. There was no padding, and the plastic cases are often found cracked.

Below left: The diorama was made from cardboard packing pieces from a toy box, with stickers from the Mantech Terrorizer tank. The background is from a poster of the Horsehead Nebula. In the foreground is a small statue in a series by Vincent Di Fate called The Age of Exploration, "an artist's vision of the settlement of space" that I got at a liquidator store. This sculpture is about five inches high and is called "The Outpost on Argaeus".

Above center: Zobor with Micronauts Micropolis Interplanetary Headquarters by Mego. Every great toy is built around some idea. The Micronaut sets are built around the plastic hinge, now used in flip-top shampoo bottles, but when introduced, Popular Science magazine raved about the amazing hinge that "never wears out". In the Mego sets white square pieces were joined by gray hinges in one of two ways: snap it in one way and the pieces hinge; the other way and they're rigid. Mego billed Micropolis as "the building set that never stops growing" and it formed a home for the 4" Micronauts.
Above Right: The intrepid Zerak advances, from a transporter, or maybe a CD rack.

Above: Zogg, the Zeroid Commander.  Left: His hands are plus and minus signs, showing the positive and negative poles of power with which he could activate the Command Station and other Zeroid accessories.  Center: Zogg came with a lazer (also spelled "laser") which he held. Flip the switch  on the back of his clear torso and the lazer lights and blinks. Right: Flip the switch the other way and his torso lamp lights and blinks. Were they made today, Zeroids would no doubt have LEDs. In the '60s, however, Zogg's two AA batteries lit flashlight bulbs. His six eyes appear to be lit because they are translucent and transmit some light from his torso.

Top L: This great art is from the Zeroids issue of Playset magazine (see Robot Links). R: Lil' Android, a four inch tall remote controlled robot from Radio Shack holds up a Zeroids motoriffic motor. Like Zeroids, Motoriffic cars ran on two AA batteries whch, like the motors, were snapped into the motoriffic chassis. Assorted car bodies could be snapped onto the chassis. The motor also ran the Botariffic line of boats.

Star Team

Above L: The last days of the Mighty Zeroids, after endless rehashing into countless packaging variations, came not with a bang but a whimper. Zogg lost his head (literally), and the rest of him became the Red Zeroid shown here. Gone were the motoriffic motors, the reversing ramps, Zogg-powered accessories-- everything in fact but the name. The non-motorized Red Zeroid shown here came with the Star Hawk space ship, and the Blue Zeroid was available separately. All these zeroids do is blink a dome lamp when you turn them on.

While these Zeroids may have lost something in play value, they are still of interest to collectors. If you had an extra Zogg head, you could paint it with a silver paint marker, attach it to a Red or Blue Zeroid, and have a custom silver Zogg. He wouldn't have a motor, but the motors usually don't work on Zeroids anyway, because the plastic gear trains weren't built to last. What do you expect for a five dollar robot? Zogg is marked Hong Kong, 1968 on the bottom, and forty years later, you can still find Zeroids in good shape. A little chrome touch up paint and voila! Le Zeroid! Not only that, but they're poised to make a comic book comeback in 2009 from Moonstone Books and Captain Action Enterprises.

Below R: The Star Hawk space ship is the recolored Zem XXI Zeroid Explorer Module (and it does look better in red and gray than in lime green and purple). Now Zem 21 became the name of a green-headed alien Star Team scout (shown on the comic at right). The Star Hawk still has the very cool "motorized" wind-up Hatch from the Zem XXI. Press a lever and the hatch slowly opens, and the landing pods and exit ramp drop down. Originally this also activated a Zeroid inside, which would emerge and motor down the ramp. Closing the pod door winds a spring, which cleverly ticks slowly back when you hit a lever, and once the door opens, lowers a ramp. The Star Hawk is nearly always found in better shape than this one, which is about grade -10, with a beat-up box.

Top R: The best part of the Star Team was a free handout, 5 X 7 inch comic book, and you didn't even have to buy anything to get it. Raiders of the Black Nebula was actually a 16 page Marvel comic, written and drawn by their staff artists. In Space Toys of the '60s, James Gillam explains how Ideal faced a lawsuit due to the similarity of the Star Hawks to Star Wars: the Knight of Darkness suggests Darth Vader, and Zem 21 and the red and blue zeroids seem similar respectively to C3PO and R2D2. Ideal was able to show that all their toys preceded the movie, which may explain why the Star Team alien has the same name as the former Zeroid space ship, the Knight of Darkness is a remodeled Captain Action, and other oddities. This is a fantastic book about all things Zeroid, Major Matt Mason, Mattel's Man in Space, and Colorform Aliens (see Robot Books).

Above: is the creator of the great new CGI Zeroids movie, "Return to Planet Zero" (see Robot Links). L: This scene from the film shows, left to right, Zobor, Zerak, and Zogg. R: CGI depiction of the original Zeroid trio: Zobor and cosmobile; Zerak and control station; and Zintar and lunar sled. James Gillam, the many- talented author of Space Toys of the '60s did the screenplay (see Books in the Robot Store).

Above: The dazzling masthead of the new Zeroids comics series (See our review below).

Zeroids: The Return #1. Moonstone Comics, 2010. A review.

Ever since teaser post cards were handed out at the San Diego ComicCon in 2008, we've been waiting for the new comics from Captain Action Enterprises/ Moonstone Entertainment. Now that the first issue, Zeroids: The Return appeared in 2010, how does it rate?

On the plus side, Roberto Castro provides stellar cover art of a rampaging  Zintar on cover variant C (shown here). Aaron Schaps provides a postlude, "Here come the Zeroids" in which he hits the high points of planet Zero history, launching the comics series with "Join us for our journey into the Future, alongside the coolest robot toys in history."

On the plus side, Roberto Castro provides stellar cover art of a rampaging  Zintar on cover variant C (shown here). Aaron Schaps provides a postlude, "Here come the Zeroids" in which he hits the high points of planet Zero history, launching the comics series with "Join us for our journey into the Future, alongside the coolest robot toys in history."

He's listed for "story", and has managed to round up Zem 21, Zintar, Zerak, Zobor, Zogg, and even Zemo for the cast, and artists Castro and Craig Henderson have kept true to the original Ideal designs.

On the minus side, however, it's not for kids. The mix of Roswell, zombies, and rampaging robots also  includes an obligatory helping of college co-eds whose lines consist entirely of stereotyped Valley Girl cliches and cussing. Why don't we show the rest of the cover? We've shown you the best part, and the cover artist's forte for drawing realistic robots doesn't extend to the female form, or perhaps he just can't draw clothes.

Once more, the innocence of comics has been hijacked for "uh-dult" graphic novels, as if such gratuitous language and graphics somehow improved them (it doesn't), or lent versimilitude (it doesn't). All it does is limit the ranks of readers and shrink the potential audience.

It gets worse, as the back pages promise Buckaroo Banzai gets the same treatment. Fans waiting for the film sequel instead will get "a titilating mix of particle physics, rock'n'roll, super-sonic speed, beautiful women, and villians beyond redemption." I can only imagine Honey West, the female sleuth from the TV show spun off from Burke's Law as a "Sexy noir blend of Marilyn Monroe and Mike Hammer" as the back page comic ad promises.

If anyone wonders why kids' comics from long ago are still collected while graphic novels of today don't live past their publication date, I've got an idea. Today's publishers have forgotten the magic ingredient that makes us remember the innocence of an earlier era of toys and comics. When they again find that, the real Zeroids will return.


Planet Zero