StarCom: The U.S. Space Force was a 1986 action figure and vehicle toyline by Connecticut-based toymaker Coleco. The toyline was supported by a 13 episode half-season of a cartoon by DIC, which was co-developed with NASA's Young Astronaut Council. Despite incredibly complex engineering providing for a wide range of play features, the line floundered in the cutthroat market of 1980s toy advertising, resulting in many unique sets being sold only in Canada and Europe after 1987. Coleco's failure to launch a new hit toyline after the loss of their electronics division in 1985 resulted in the company' bankruptcy and subsequent purchase by Mattel. Mattel continued to produce and release StarCom for the European market until 1990, albeit in very small numbers.
At the heart of this near-future sci-fi toyline were two primary design features: Magna Lock and Power Deploy. All of the 2-inch action figures featured permanent magnets embedded into the soles of their boots, allowing them to stick to metal plates attached to vehicles and playsets. The vehicles and playsets also featured magnets, often on the bottom of aircraft or cranes to lift other vehicles. The Power Deploy feature of vehicles and playsets involved spring-loaded or motorized transformations, often with a sort of mechanical resistor that produced a distinct whirr noise as components slowly rotated into place. The clockwork motor and resistor mechanisms were purportedly developed by Japanese toymaker Tomy, who featured wind-up motors heavily in their popular Zoids line. While some features were simply spring loaded and popped open, the whirring motors and resistors gave an impression of the weight and power of a real-life machine. The Power Deploy features of most smaller vehicles involved them converting into a portable "pod" of a standard size and shape, each with a metal plate on the top center for magnetic lifting. These pods could then be fit into compartments on larger vehicles orstacked with magnets.
The line portrays two factions: the evil Shadow Force Starmada with its Robot Drones, and the heroic StarCom, divided into the service branches of Astro Marines, Star Wing, and Starbase Command. All figures and vehicles bear a corresponding branch logo: crossed rifles in an orange roundel for Astro Marines, an eagle in a blue roundel for Star Wing, and an eight-pointed star in a blue roundel for Starbase Command. The first two waves of vehicles (1986 and 1987) included unique pilot or driver figures, and additional figures were released on blister pack cards with weapons and backpacks. Later vehicles sold in the UK and Europe did not have exclusive drivers, but were sometimes packed with a random figure selected from the carded assortment. The figures were highly detailed for their small size, with ornate tampograph decoration on the chest, head, and arms, unique face molds, and seven points of articulation. Most figures (excluding robot drones) included a small pivoting visor that clipped over the helmet.
Unfortunately, all but the first two waves (those released in the US) are quite rare. Furthermore, many of the sets feature white plastics that rapidly yellow with age and UV exposure, and the tiny gears in the Power Deploy units crack or slip easily from rough or even normal play and use. Those samples that remain are valued by collectors for their clever design and intricate and realistic decoration. Despite comparisons to Kenner's MASK , few toylines have ever achieved the level of interchangeable play features demonstrated on StarCom.