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Collecting the Visitors: A Look at Sci-Fi Series ‘V’ Memorabilia

by James Burrell (04/11/12).

From classic literary works, like H.G. Wells’ 1898 novel “The War of the Worlds,” to films such as “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956), “Independence Day” (1996) and last year’s “Battle: Los Angeles,” to the “Halo” video game franchise of the past decade, the invasion of our planet by hostile alien races has long been a popular theme for writers, filmmakers and video game developers. Likewise, television has also been adept at showcasing tales of malevolent extraterrestrials on the attack, with series like “The Outer Limits” and “The X-Files” featuring episodes with belligerent beings from outer space. Of television’s numerous “alien invasion” efforts, perhaps one of the most memorable has been “V.”

Two fondly remembered early 1980s mini-series, a subsequent weekly series and a recent re-imagining, “V” tells the story of reptilian creatures who come to Earth disguised as human-like beings. Merchandising from these series are now very collectible.

A franchise consisting of two fondly remembered early 1980s mini-series, a subsequent weekly series and a recent re-imagining, “V” tells the story of reptilian creatures who come to Earth disguised as human-like beings and offer us solutions to our environmental, energy and health dilemmas in exchange for assistance in helping manufacture chemicals needed for the survival of their race. However, despite their claims of coming in peace, these “Visitors” actually intend to drain our oceans and lakes for their own water supply and use us for food. It’s up to a small band of resistance fighters, led by news cameraman Mike Donovan (Marc Singer), medical student Julie Parrish (Faye Grant), and later, ex-CIA operative Ham Tyler (Michael Ironside) to sabotage the creatures’ insidious plans. Along the way, they are pursued by the Visitors’ evil science officer and second-in-command, Diana (Jane Badler), who engages in human experimentation and enjoys employing sadistic brainwashing techniques on unwilling subjects.

The creation of writer/producer/director Kenneth Johnson (who had previously helmed “The Incredible Hulk” TV series), “V” ironically began life as a decidedly non-science-fiction project called “Storm Warnings.” Inspired by the 1935 novel “It Can’t Happen Here” by author Sinclair Lewis, Johnson pitched his script—which depicted the rise of a fascist regime in the United States and the efforts of a resistance force to go up against it—to NBC executives. The network, however, deemed the concept “too cerebral” and asked that sci-fi elements be incorporated to make it more palatable to audiences.

Thus, the fascist authoritarian figures were altered to become aliens with reverberating voices who gradually stamp out scientific and medical communities while taking control of the police, army and government. The World War II German SS-like design of the Visitor’s uniforms and the Swastika-inspired design of their emblem further illustrated the underlying sinister intent of the creatures. Broadcast over two nights in May 1983, “V” garnered both high ratings and favorable critical reviews. A three-part sequel, “V: The Final Battle,” would air to similar success the following May. Budgetary disagreements with NBC would force Johnson from the second mini-series, however, and he would not be involved with the short-lived one-hour weekly series that followed in the fall of 1984.

A pack of V trading cards, manufactured by Fleer Corp in 1984. Value $3-$4 each.

A VHS copy of V-The Original Miniseries, released in 1995 by Warner Home Video, value $4 each, and a DVD set of V-The Complete Series.

Two V paperback novels, “The New England Resistance” and “The Florida Project,” published by Pinnacle Books in 1985. Value $3-$5 each.

Two V paperback tie-in novels: “The Oregon Invasion” and “Path to Conquest,” published by TOR Books in 1987 and 1988. Value $3-$4 each.

Although the series would last for only one season (19 episodes), its unusual alien characters, spacecraft, costumes and weaponry made it a natural to be marketed, and a fair amount of merchandise was manufactured—including books, puzzles, stickers, toy guns, trading cards, lunchboxes and more. One of the earliest items to be produced was a 12-inch Enemy Visitor Action Figure, released by LJN. Sporting the trademark red military uniform with black boots, belt and emblem seen on television, the toy came complete with a “laser weapon” blaster gun accessory and innovative miniature human mask and sunglasses, which allowed kids to “. . . unmask him and reveal the lizard creature!” The figure also came with an extendable forked tongue, which could be activated by pressing a button on its back. The only action figure to be released domestically (a series of smaller, 3 ¾-inch scaled figures and vehicles were also planned, but never released), the toy’s beautifully illustrated box art and relatively easy accessibility help to make it one of the most popular of “V” collectibles.

In 1984, Aladdin Industries released a “V: The Series” lunchbox and Thermos set. Trimmed in red and featuring embossed images of the cast of the television series (which included new additions Jennifer Cooke, Jeff Yagher and June Chadwick) along with a mothership, various sky fighters and a Visitor with his reptilian face exposed, it is one of the rarer “V” items, with mint condition specimens selling for hundreds of dollars. The same year, Gordy International released four sets of puffy stickers, each featuring different images from the TV show; and Arco Industries put out an inflatable 42-inch tall “Bop Bag.” Similar to a punching bag and made of heavy plastic, children could poke at the gun-toting Visitor depicted on the bag.

Also that year, Pinnacle Books would publish several paperback novelizations including the succinctly titled “V,” “East Coast Crisis” and “The Pursuit of Diana.” Additional novels would be released the following year, including “The Florida Project” and “The New England Resistance.” A different publisher, TOR, would later pick up where Pinnacle had left off, publishing five more books throughout 1987 and ’88, including “Path to Conquest” and “The Oregon Invasion.”

A set of V Puffy Stickers, manufactured by Gordy International in 1984. Value $10 approx.

A V comic book (Vol. 3), published by DC Comic Inc., in 1985. Value $2-$4 each.

A V Enemy Visitor 12-inch figure, produced by LJN in 1984. Value $40-$60.

In addition to its previously released Bop Bag, Arco also turned out numerous other “V” products, including several toy gun sets. These included a Resistance M-16 Sound Rifle; a Resistance 45’ER Sound Pistol & Holster, which featured a “ricochet sound” effect when the trigger was pressed; a 45’ER Action Set, complete with gun, grenade, compass and binoculars; a Resistance .38 Cap Pistol Set with holster and ID card; and a Resistance P.38 Target Game Set that featured a gun, suction cup darts and a target board that was printed on the back of the card. Many of the sets are difficult to come by today and are highly sought-after by collectors.

Other “V” products released in conjunction with the series included a set of four puzzles by Maruca Industries; a set of Walkie Talkies; a comic book line (consisting of 18 issues) from DC Comics; a series of reference books entitled “The V Files,” by author James Van Hise; a set of 66 trading cards and 22 stickers from Fleer; and a video game (designed for use with the Commodore 64 system) released by Ocean Software in 1986.

Surprisingly, a number of items were also made available internationally, including several story and activity books from England, the most popular being the “V Annual.” Published in 1985 by World Distributors, the 64 page book included colorful photos, puzzles, information and illustrated comic strip story. Additionally, numerous toys would be produced in Argentina, including a set of four miniature vehicles (comprised of a motorcycle, helicopter, van and sky fighter ship) by Galco; non-posable 3-inch rubber figures of Diana, Julie, Mike and a reptile-faced visitor; as well as a ray gun and mini rocket ship.

A V Promotional hotel key card. It was presented to hotel attendees during the 2010 San Diego Comic Con to promote the new series.

A V 2011 wall calendar by Day Dream Publishing. Value $10 approx.

In the years that followed, the only licensed “V” merchandise to be released were the various VHS, laserdisc and DVD releases from Warner Home Video (with Columbia Home Video putting out volumes of the weekly TV series in the late 1990s), and a few soundtrack CDs of composers Joe Harnell and Dennis McCarthy’s scores. A large number of fan-made items have been produced over the years however, including resin prop guns, rubber masks, busts, uniform costumes, model kits of the Visitors’ space ships, T-shirts, posters, embroidered patches, hats, keychains, magnets and more.

A promotional still of actress Jane Badler as evil alien Visitor leader Diana in V.

Twenty-five years after the debut of the weekly television series, a “re-imagining” of “V” hit TV screens in November of 2009. Starring Morena Baccarin as the beautiful and charismatic, but quite evil alien leader Anna, and Elizabeth Mitchell as her nemesis, FBI agent Erica Evans, the new incarnation followed a storyline similar to that of the original mini-series, and even managed to make several nods (such as the inclusion of an alien baby) to them. However, this time the Visitors had already been living amongst humans for decades (there are no red military uniforms this time around), and their plan for world domination was not as clear-cut as it had been in the previous version. Despite strong ratings early on, viewership for the new “V” would soon slide and following the end of its second season in March 2011, ABC announced it would not renew the program for a third year.

Collectibles-wise, very few items were made available for the new show. Apart from a 2011 wall calendar from Day Dream Publishing, a white ceramic coffee mug and a shot glass inscribed with the tagline, “We Are of Peace Always,” no toys or other licensed collectibles were produced. A few promotional items were manufactured—including posters, flyers, a kite, hotel key card, a pinback button, tote bag and temporary tattoos—for distribution to attendees of the 2009 and 2010 San Diego Comic Cons.

Though it’s been nearly 30 years since Kenneth Johnson’s original mini-series first aired to startled audiences, “V” has managed to hold up surprisingly well. Although the advancement in special effects technology has made the program a little dated looking in spots, “V” still works because of Johnson’s solid writing and serious presentation of the material. The themes presented in “V” remain as chilling and thought-provoking now as they did in 1983 and that alone is the hallmark of a true science-fiction classic.

James Burrell writes about film, pop culture and collectibles for a variety of publications and online sites, including Rue Morgue and Canuxploitation! A life-long collector of vintage science-fiction, fantasy and monster-themed toys and movie memorabilia, he resides in Toronto, Canada.

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