What’s the most ambitious, well loved and famous of all Joe playsets? The USS Flagg of course. What’s that got to do with the Toxo-Lab? Absolutely nothing. Well, truthfully it does to me.
In my whacked out Joe sensibilities, I like to root for the underdog. I value things like fun and toyetic concepts as much as cool characterizations and timeless designs. I guess there’s a part of me that still really likes the old Marx army men, you know the kind that were made famous for today’s age in the Toy Story films. Those old non-poseable figures are to me the grandfather of GI Joe. There’s an interesting facet of those old toys that most of us haven’t experienced, and that is the playset. The 50’s and 60’s were the golden age of the playset for the 54mm figures of the day. Don’t believe me? Check out this Ben Hur deluxe playset. This thing was the USS Flagg of its day. Most folks my age probably had a bucket or two of army men and maybe a tank or jeep here and there when they were little tykes, but the big playsets were long gone by the 70’s and 80’s, much like our own generation’s golden age of playsets is now gone.
The Toxo-Lab represents the last hurrah of the vintage Joe playsets. Of course it doesn’t compare in a head-to-head match up against the Flagg. But what it does, it does effectively, and darn if it’s not just plain fun. It incorporates the gimmick of the time, the water squirting weapon. All of the Eco Warrior figures were adorned with paint that changed color upon contact with water. So how do you go one better than just squirting your toys with water? Dunking them in water, of course. What’s even better than dunking them in water? How about dunking them in water that’s bubbling and frothing like some kind of horrible radioactive waste? The “plasmatox” inside the vat was simulated using baking soda tablet technology, the same type that powered many a cereal box prize submarine in days of old.
Sure, it’s not a mammoth set on the order of the Flagg or even the Joe HQ, and yes it’s not even a complete environment with four walls and a floor. It certainly begs for more than a little suspension of disbelief, and that’s one of the things that endears it to me. It screams, “I’m a toy!!”
From a collector standpoint, it’s a crazy concept executed in the fashion of the fad of the day. As a pure toy, there’s enough play value and fun in the Toxo-Lab to satisfy those who’ve stayed in touch with the little kid inside who loved to break out the army men and wage epic plastic wars on the living room floor.