The Mystery of the Good Knight and the Scary Bad Knight
by Tate Blackmore
Photos by Alex Bickmore
If you played with action figures in the 1980s, you had them. Even if you didn't know it, they were there, lurking in a plastic grocery bag filled with other miscellaneous knights, goblins, and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Hook action figures. I'm talking about two figures, which many kids too young in 1983 and 1984 to remember their real names called them the good knight and the scary bad knight.
Everyone on my block had the good knight and the scary bad knight. Even the redheaded Catholic kid whose strict parents wouldn't let him play TSR fantasy games had them. Most often they were loose, without weapons. Not even faint notions of the blister card or the trip to the toy store that acquired them could be remembered. In fact, I knew one kid that saved his receipt from every toy he had ever purchased (the numbskull thought they too would be worth something), and could claim tickets for every figure he had except these two.
For most of my childhood these figures haunted me. They sat on my shoulder like a good angel and a bad angel, arguing about whether or not I should buy the stupid toys, like the Star Wars Bend 'Ems. When I hand selected only a few figures from my collection to display around my computer at college, the scary bad knight miraculously found his way at the bottom of the shoebox, strategically placed under Catwoman from the Batman Returns line.
Some quick research reveals that these figures in fact, had names and were part of the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons line based on the cartoon and the TSR role-playing game in 1983 and 1984, produced by LJN. The good knight is Strongheart and scary bad knight's name is Warduke. Let's take a look.
The stout Strongheart is a great example of classic toy making. He is intricate, yet playable. He is the classic hero with gigantic veins and muscles almost popping through his rock-solid armor. The colors and details are crisp, making it easy to see why he was a big seller, despite existing in a time where anti-heroes like Boba Fett and Han Solo were the "it" thing. The only complaints (besides the non-twisting waist) are that his sword is very flimsy and could be easily bent, and his cape is only hanging on by a weak thread. All complaints aside, he's still fine example of toy making from the early 80s.
Warduke could easily be mistaken for a Ringwraith figure from the Bakshi LOTR line with his bat-winged helmet and black void for a face. His head is masterfully sculpted, but the rest of his body leaves a lot to be desired. Simply put, his outfit is downright goofy. He has this punk rock/ wrestler thing going on that doesn't quite work. Pants with only one leg?!? What's that all about? The main problem with his outfit is that with all of the thin belts and chest straps the color separations weren't always clean. Also, his right leg looks like it is literally pouring into his boot and threatening to spill over. On the accessory side of things, he comes with a cool shield with a highly detailed skull insignia punched out. Though, his fat sword makes him look like the slightly slow warrior who needs a thicker sword in order to hit things, kind of like how dumb kids use the big red Whiffle ball bat instead of the skinny yellow one.
The rest of the D&D line was made up of a cast of colorful figures, who like Warduke and Strongheart bordered on hokey and cool. The initial wave featured twelve figures, while the second featured eighteen, although eight of which were first wave figures retooled with Battle-Matic Action. In addition, there was a series of beasts and mounts. Check out some choice picks from the rest of the line below, or go straight to ToyArchive.com, where Alex Bickmore has the complete 4-1-1.
And while many of the figures are quite forgettable, Warduke and Strongheart will always manage to stand out. Why, even this summer as I packed up to head to graduate school I found one of Strongheart's beefy legs at the bottom of a grocery bag full of miscellaneous toys. Like good and evil, they will always be there.
Photos © ToyArchive.com and used with permission. Article © 2003 MillionairePlayboy.com