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Marx Mexican Johnny West

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Johnny's Adventures South of the Border

Marx Toys' Johnny West (Marx stock #2062) isn't just your average cowpoke.  In fact, he's quite well traveled, it seems.  In addition to his historic appearances in the UK, the US and Canada, Johnny has even been produced in a number of interesting variations in the Republic of Mexico.

Stewartsattic.com lists four distinct versions of the Mexican made Johnny.  The figure examined on this particular page appears to fall somewhere between the third and fourth versions, but it is highly possible that he actually belongs in yet a fifth category, since he seems to have characteristics from more than one of the known types of Mexican produced Johnny West sets.


This Mexican made Johnny is very close in color to vintage US made caramel body JW figures

The first Johnny West action figures were produced in the United States in 1965.  Marx's western series of sixth scale Old West themed toys was so successful throughout the late 1960s and early 70s, that it was perhaps only natural that the line would prove lucrative in other countries as well.

In Mexico, Johnny was first sold under the Plastimarx brand name.  The early Plastimarx Johnny figures featured first issue red bodies or second issue blue bodies, both of which are now somewhat rare (outside of Mexico, anyway).


There you have it, folks! This Johnny is "Made In Mexico"

The Mexican manufacturer didn't even bother to remove the "Made in U.S.A." stamp on Johnny's back

Mexican Johnny's skin is a good deal more pink that his vintage US counterpart (at left)

Later versions of Johnny West made in Mexico, like the one pictured here, are now generally referred to as "reissues."  These figures don't technically have a Marx stock number, and most are of somewhat lower quality than similar figures manufactured elsewhere.  These toys began production in around 1996 and were part of an assortment of Marx characters under the collective title, Atrevidos Dinamicos.

Stewart's Attic documents that the third version figures had a gray body, while the fourth version was a mustard or tan color.  Interestingly enough however, the Mexican reissued Johnny being examined here was cast in a caramel color very similar to that commonly used for Johnny West figure sets when they were manufactured in the US, from 1965 to about 1974.


There are several important differences between vintage US & reissue Mexican Johnnys

Mexican Johnny has darker hair than his red headed American counterpart

Mexican Johnny not only has unpainted rivets, but his collar is cut low in the back

These guys really appear to have been cast from the same series of original Marx molds

Despite the fact that this Mexican Johnny appears to have been made from pretty much the exact same series of molds as the vintage original American made Johnny pictured at left above, there are of course a number of telltale signs that his caramel colored figure is not only a reissue, but is a pretty good example of the kind of lackluster manufacturing standards commonly seen with like items made south of the border.

The back of Mexican Johnny's collar has been shaved away for some odd reason.  Other than that, the body is almost identical to the vintage American caramel colored Johnny used here for comparison.  Also, if you look closely, beyond the fact that the Mexican Johnny has unpainted rivets and features a considerable amount of "flash" (or, rough, untrimmed bits of plastic edging left over after the various cast pieces have been separated from the mold), there is something quite odd about the color of the Mexican Johnny body.


Even the plastic that is left over on the collar is rough & looks scarred & otherwise distressed

This is the trademark Marx caramel color, but it appears darker & is full of odd little specks

All those odd little grayish specks or flecks that can be seen when you look closely at the body of the figure really make me wonder.  Maybe the caramel color, which admittedly just looks a slight shade darker than the vintage American caramel Johnny, actully just shows signs of bits of semi-transparent poly plastic that didn't have a chance to be properly mixed with the caramel dye before it was poured.

Now there's a thought!  Other than that however, this Mexican Johnny seems quite solidly built.  He somehow feels just a tad bit lighter than the vintage American version (which is something I've seen other collectors comment on), but there's not enough of a difference in the weight between the two figures to merit much more than a mere mention of the fact.


The inner elbow ball joints of Mexican Johnny are smooth, not furled like his vintage counterpart

The rounded rivet heads are curiously missing from the Mexican Johnny's knee joints

But the figure itself is actually the nicest piece in this reissued Mexican set.  Yet the accessories included with this Johnny are definitely a mixed bag, to say in the least.  A few are more or less as good as vintage Marx, but some are in simply appalling condition and look like bottom of the barrel factory rejects.  Most have some type of untrimmed flash or another, but by far the very worst piece is the black, soft vinyl reproduction canteen pictured below.


Mexican black, soft vinyl on the left & brown, vintage soft vinyl on the right

The Mexican canteen is the saddest looking Marx mold made JW accessory I've ever seen

No, I did not break this strap. It presumably came from the Mexican factory just like this.

So, what have we to blame this sad desecration of the usual quality of the Marx series of vintage action figures on, pray tell?  For starters, the history of the Marx toy company gets somewhat complicated after 1972, when co-founder Louis Marx sold his once highly successful business to The Quaker Oats Company for a reported "$54 million ($246 Mil. in 2005 dollars)."

Things apparently just got gradually worse only four brief years later, when Quaker Oats sold their Marx assets to a struggling British toy manufacturer known as Dunbee-Combex-Marx.  Apparently, rising labor costs in western countries like the UK and the US is ultimately to blame for the eventual closing of the last Marx plant in West Virginia in 1980.  Either way, Dunbee-Combex-Marx eventually filed for bankruptcy, and the Marx assets were sold off to various companies in the early 80s.

There have of course been various attempts to resurrect the Marx Toy Company over the years, but thus far, none have proved to be particularly successful or long lasting.  So... that leaves us with the vast majority of new Johnny West figure production being done with the original Marx molds in Mexico.


In full body profile, front and back, Mexican Reissue Johnny West is ready for wild west action!

But let's get back to our assessment of this particular Mexican made "re-issue" Johnny West, shall we?  As with all JW figures cast from original Marx factory molds, he cuts quite a figure (if you'll pardon the pun) when all duded up with his trademark accessories.  Mexican made accessories that have been released since the late 1990s have reportedly been made of hard poly plastic, and are usually colored either dark brown or cream.

This particular Mexican made JW figure however, does come with quite a few vinyl accessories.  So is he a fourth version Mexican figure or even a more recent fifth version not listed on Stewart's Attic?  I tend to believe that he is indeed a more recent version.  He may even be a collection of factory rejects for all I know!

After all, his accessories were actually produced in a mix of four different colors (cream, light brown, dark brown and black) and interestingly enough, there are a couple of extras that were not usually included with the standard 24 piece vintage JW sets.


The black vinyl gun belt is actually a very nice touch & seems every bit as good as a vintage item

Unfortunately, all the cream colored accessories for this Mexican JW are cast in hard poly plastic

The hard poly plastic Mexican vest seems bigger than vintage & is both hard to put on & remove

"Back in the day," Marx mostly produced durable, high quality toys at affordable prices, but some of their highly detailed sixth scale accessories, cast in soft vinyl plastic, are delicate and tend to break quite easily when exposed to regular kid play.  A perfect example are the beautifully sculpted and ingeniously designed chaps first worn by Johnny West (but also issued with several other Marx western figures).

As a result, when collecting Johnny West, you're almost certainly going to end up with set after set of broken chaps.  In fact, if it's thick enough, the vinyl these items are made from is very, very durable and long lasting - but not unfortunately, when the design of a specific accessory calls for the item to be very thin and narrow, as is definitely the case with the four tassles on Johnny's trademark chaps.


These Mexican made chaps seem an almost perfect re-issue of the vintage Marx versions

The design of Marx chaps is actually pretty ingenious when you think about it, but the material used to bring the design into fruition isn't quite such a marriage made in Heaven.  Luckily however, if your Johnny West happens to have broken vintage chaps (or even worse, he's... well... CHAPLESS) you can always get a pair of wonderfully accurate reproduction chaps from the good folks at Circle X Ranch/Marxman Bros. Creations.

Though not always an exact size or color match, most soft goods accessories from CXR make excellent replacements for lost or damaged vintage Marx items.  Naturally, they come in a variety of colors, and their chaps in particular, are arguably one of the finest Marx Toys reproduction items to yet be offered to collectors.

Apparently, even the chaps of the vintage third and fourth versions of Mexican Johnny West are made of hard poly plastic.  Luckily, this particular JW set comes with a pair of beautiful made light brown vinyl chaps that seem every bit as good as vintage Marx chaps.


The chaps are in fantastic shape, as are the spur straps, but the spurs are quite rough in the back

A lot of excess flash had to be trimmed from the spurs just to attach the straps

Unfortunately however, many of the other accessories that are included with this Mexican made Johnny are not quite as nice as the soft goods chaps, hat and gunbelt.  The strongbox, for example, is so rough and edged with flash (excess untrimmed plastic) that it will not close at all.  What you see pictured here is as far as the lid will close without being forced.  It probably just needs a good trimming, but for the time being, I've decided to leave it the way it is.


Only 2 sacks of gold came with this set, & the strongbox won't even close properly

The addition of brown, cavalry soldier gloves is curious, since these were never Johnny West items

I've also noticed that with the Mexican produced Johnny West sets, there are not only extra items thrown in for good measure, but these items are mostly nothing more than duplicates.  In this JW reissue set, there is an extra derringer, which is a thoughtful extra item to include, I suppose, but neither gun is especially well cast.  Neither looks anywhere near the same quality as the vintage derringers typically were, but the idea seems to be that you should be happy because you're getting bonus stuff.  "Quantity over quality" seems to be strongly suggested, in this particular case.

Most of the other hard poly plastic accessories look rather poorly made, as well.  The 1873 Colt Peacemaker Caliber .45 pistol is a bit mangled looking upon close inspection, and the L and M branding irons have a lot of extra plastic at the flat rounded ends.  Likewise, the frying pan and cup both have lots of excess flash not properly trimmed from the plastic tree the items were originally molded with.  In fact, the cup almost looks like it has the same sort of little rounded extension that is part of the silver Quick Draw Johnny West pistol.  What's up with that?


The QD Peacemaker (L) has a nub that plugs into the hand, but what's that sticking out of the cup?


"Nice sombero you got there, Johnny."

"Si. Muchas gracias, amigo."

The cream colored hard poly plastic neckerchief stays on well because of its original design, but the clasp in the back simply will not remain closed the way every other vinyl vintage neckerchief stays put when the tab is inserted into the female end.  Oh, it will stay closed for a second or two, but that's usually about it.  Once again, the neckerchief does stay on however, and thankfully, it isn't really noticeable that the clasp won't stay closed.

The poly plastic vest is a bit of a challenge to put on and take off the figure too, but it's not nearly as difficult as you might think.  Sadly, even surprisingly, a lot of the wonderfully sculpted original detail of the vintage Marx items seems to be lost with these Mexican poly plastic accessories.

I can hardly imagine owning a Mexican made JW with 100% hard poly accessory items (even the chaps!), but I won't turn down a set like that if I ever come across one.  Johnny West, after all, is still Johnny West, and I sure do appreciate good only Johnny - whether he happens to be more or less poorly made in Mexico or not.

All in all, I still consider this Mexican made, reissued Johnny to be one of my favorite items from my Marx toy collection.  The set is by no means perfect in every way (and is quite far from it, in fact), but deciding just exactly what is and isn't done right with these south of the border figures is actually kind of fun.

The biggest bummer for me with the figure however, by far, is the way the collar is roughly shaved down behind the neck.  For some odd reason, this bothers me more than even the crappy canteen with the broken strap.  After I first got the figure and noted the curioulsy mangled collar, I thought, "If only I could just swap out the figure for one that hasn't been butchered."

But that's never going to happen, so I decided to try to get another Mexican made Johnny figure from eBay.  There's only one problem though.... I came across the figure from Mexico pictured below, and wouldn't you know it... if you look closely at the back of the neck, it really looks like the collar on this figure has been cut down in a very similar fashion to the one that I already own!


Photo courtesy of "the_spider-woman"

I quite fancy the idea of owning some silver Mexican made accessories like the ones pictured above though, so I'll most likely try to win a figure like this at some point in the future, be it near or far.  For now however, I do love the reissued Mexican Johnny I already own.  Of course it'd be nice to find a replacement for the crappy black canteen, but when it comes to collecting action figures, I've found that patience is definitely among the greatest of virtues.

Below is a complete list of the items my Mexican made Johnny West reissued figure came with.  I was a bit bummed out when I saw that there were only two sacks of gold, and even more so perhaps, when I discovered that the cream colored sacks were poorly made poly plastic versions of the always soft vinyl gold sacks that came with every vintage JW set, but... oh well.  I did get an extra derringer, after all, right?

Three sacks of gold fit perfectly in the strongbox, however.  Two sacks... just tend to roll around in there.  Well, like they say, I guess you can't always get what ya want, huh?


Not a flawless accessory set, but the chaps at least are identical to vintage

I count 28 accessories in this Johnny West set.  Again, not all of these pieces are all that well made or even necessary.  The cavalry soldier gloves, for example, are pretty much useless, since they don't really fit or even look correct when tucked into Johnny's gun belt.  After all, the faux plastic gloves were made for the Marx soldier sets, such as General Custer, Captain Maddox and Zeb Zachary, and really just make an odd little addition to the standard JW equipment list.  This particular Mexican made set includes the following:


Mexican Johnny sure would look a lot better with a neckerchief that doesn't match his vest

1Model 1873 Winchester .44-40
    
- Johnny's trusty range rifle
2 - Range Hat - Johnny's "sombero"
     (as listed in the 1965 Johnny West
     Equipment Manual)

3 - Neckerchief 
4 1873 Colt Peacemaker Caliber .45
     - Johnny's trusty revolver
5 - Cartridge Belt
6 & 7 - .41 Caliber Remington
      Double Derringer
- Johnny's mini pistol
8 - Chaps 
9 - Coffee pot
10 - Coffee cup
11 - Frying pan
12 & 13 - Strongbox - 2 parts
14 & 15 -
Sacks of gold - 2 poly
     plastic sacks

16 - Vest - Hard poly plastic
17 & 18 - Branding Irons - LM Brand
19 - Canteen - This item is in
     very sad shape!

20 - Bowie Knife
21 & 22 - Spurs - 2 poly plastic spurs
23 & 24Spur Straps - 2 soft vinyl straps
25 & 26 - "Spurs" - 2 poly plastic sheriff
     stars, erroneously identified as spurs
27 & 28Gloves 2 poly plastic pairs of
     faux cavalry soldier gauntlets

On a final note, even though my own personal Action Figure Universe index of Johnny West action figures features title cards with the Marx Best of the West trademark backdrop, this marketing campaign was not the only one used by Louis Marx & Company to promote their western toy lines.  Similar lines that featured essentially the same or quite similar casts of western characters were marketed under other titles, such as Fort Apache Fighters and JWA (Johnny West Adventure).  And of course, Mexican made Johnny West figures were certainly never part of the Best of the West marketing campaign.


"Who says I'm not the BEST OF THE WEST?"

CLICK HERE!

   

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