The Magazine Rag I
SITES FOR SORE EYES Conventional wisdom holds that a picture is worth a thousand words. Though moving into its adolescence, the World Wide Web is anything but conventional (especially if you're accessing it on your first computer -- though it's easy to get jaded fast, the Web is an extraordinary meta-entity). As far as toys go, we action figure fans have been treated with some regularity to advance promotional photos of upcoming figures on various commercial web sites (Tomart's Action Figure Digest, Spawn, most notably). Don't get me wrong; I think these pictures are great, and create a powerful enthusiastic buzz (if you'll pardon the pun) for new product. However, I just got a hold of the newest issues of Tomart's AFD and Lee's Action Figure News & Toy Review, and I have to say that the pictures therein, printed with care on high-quality glossy paper stock, blow the previous digitized images out of the, uh, ether. In terms of shot, angle, pose, etc., most of the images are identical to their earlier web counterparts; it's the *quality*, the sheer visibility and clarity, that has undergone an electronic sea change. Early on in Neil Simon's play "The Odd Couple," Murray the Cop is criticized for dealing out a poker hand too slowly. He retorts, "Whaddaya want, speed or accuracy?" This indeed is the crux of the difference between snagging up-to-the- nanosecond web photos and waiting the extra weeks or even months for high-res hardcopies to inch their way across the country at the proverbial snailmail's pace. For the web images are available with effective instantaneity, once word of their uploading trickles down to the legions of browser-ready fans; although I suppose some folks check the sites regularly, I haven't the time or the inclination and am content to wait and heed another Columbus' cry of Eureka! (and I bet you didn't know ol' Chris was a scholar of Ancient Greek). Tomart's and AFNTR, or even catalogues from Playmates or the Spawnshop, must still rely on the patient -- if comparatively plodding -- efforts of those couriers, the swift completion of whose appointed rounds shall be stayed by neither (a) rain, (b) snow, (c) sleet, (d) gloom of night, nor (e) disgruntled ex-co-workers with too much military training for anyone's good. (By the way, noting that I am a conditioned product of my youthful environment, every time I type the word "Playmates" I get the image of a bunch of retired Hefner Bunnies cranking out toys as a way to boost their sagging, uh, careers. Am I the only one? "Time for your estrogen, Mr. G....") WILL HE EVER GET TO THE POINT? What all this preamble is heading towards is the following observation: for weeks I've pored over all the hot new web scans I could find of 1996's upcoming action figures, and made considered evaluations based upon same. Now, having finally obtained the April issues of the hobby's premier tout mags (eliding for the moment over what that portends for the state of the hobby), in the words of the sage Johnny Nash (and Curly, once Moe's fingers were removed from his eyes), "I can see clearly now." Which is to say, however regretfully, some of my heartfelt opinions based on those early digitizations have changed dramatically. It's kind of the inverse of the feeling that Wordsworth memorialized in the intro to his "Ode: Intimations of Immortality" (hey, it's virtual space -- if you don't like the expansion/digression, move right on ahead to that next posting; I believe it's a beautifully worded and much-reflected-upon ad for "Priapus-Headed Spawn figure, a steal at $35..."): There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream The Earth and every common sight, to me did seem Apparelled in celestial light, The glory and freshness of a dream. It is not now as it hath been of yore-- Turn whereso'er I may, By night or day, The things which I have seen I now can see no more. Uh, yeah. What he said. Or, rather, the opposite: the web photos generally look murky, or (at least on my 15" monitor) are quite small, offering little in the way of detail. Yeah, you can tweak them with various photo display programs, but at heart they remain possessed of minimal detail, shadowy and dim. Whereas the magazine photos, situated though they are amongst ridiculous price-inflation rhetoric, convey a comparative wealth of visual richness, bright, clear and stunning. Which, *finally*, brings us to the meat of this discussion, to wit, updated, and revised ruminations upon the selfsame 1996 prospects in the dizzying world of the action figure. Ahhhh. Oho! One further caveat: as both magazines point out, their April issues reflect only half of the plethora of plastic product purveyed so pleasingly at the New York Toy Fair; this being the case (or half-case), in the words of every station break card ever aired by Johnny Carson's late, lamented Tonight Show, "more to come." STILL TIME FOR SOME SLAPSTICK Ohhh, I'm such a tease -- here I am, about to launch into my reconsideration of the 1996 Spawn offerings, when something on the page three splash photo in the Tomart's catches my eye and just won't let go. I'm speaking, of course, of nothing other than the larger- than-life-sized Bananas In Pajamas! Now why weren't *these* gallant fellows displayed on a web page months ago?!? My word, let's remember, "they're coming down the stairs, they'll catch you unawares, grrrmumble mumble mummmmm...." (kinda makes the Wordsworth stuff sound like crap, huh). As if these things weren't scary enough in the 15" scale.... Given this twinned apparition (not to mention the giant living Smurf on the left hand side of the selfsame page -- "the horror, the horror...") it was several long minutes before I could contain my terror sufficiently so as to render me capable of turning the page. (And in doing so I first came upon the Puzzle Zoo ad containing the first images I'd yet seen of the Independence Day aliens, which appear to be little more than revved-up tweaks of the original H.R. ("Make my nightmare") Giger alien from "Alien," but we'll get back to these in any event). Okay, Tomart's, page 6. If you think promo shots are boring, is there anything *more* boring than some fool's *comments* thereupon? Probably not. Hey, if you want excitement, try waiting in the aisle for new figures in San Francisco on truck day. We're fighting insomnia here, and these people are in *pain*.... JUST A SPAWN IN THEIR GAME The Spawn gallery. Ahhhh, finally. Taking it from the top (or left, as the case may be): the July 1996 line. Not only are these photos great, but Todd and the Gang have snuck in a figure or two we've never seen or even heard of before (not to mention the first actual prototype shots of the "Total Chaos" line, which had heretofore appeared only in sketch form)! For my money, the big revelations here concern Tremor II and Vandalizer. Maybe it was their color schemes, or even the backgrounds, but these two figures were represented with stand- out muddiness in the web photos. Now revealed with greater clarity, Tremor looks even better than I'd thought before! Yeah, the portable air conditioner on his back is still silly as all get-out (all of you, get out, right now!), but the detail in the hands and claws is terrific! I'd hire this guy to lurk under my bridge *any* day. As for Vandalizer, well, I have to applaud this figure -- for so well-illustrating the proposition that the more you see ain't always the more you like. I didn't much care for the black-on-black side-shot of this puppy in the Spawn web shots; now, in his full-frontal crudity, I'd have to say he looks even worse. Don't get me wrong: the detail is quite good. It's just the overall scheme of the figure that I find uninteresting. I guess if he were an Orc or something I'd be more interested, but I think Todd created a "type" of nightmare creature with the Violator and the Vertebreaker that was really extraordinary -- unique and atypical -- and this fella just takes a giant, shambling step back from that. Nice armor, great face, but other than the obligatory back-spike, this fella just doesn't look like something from the Hell Todd Made. (Maybe I have it wrong in the premise -- is the Vandalizer not one of the Phlebaic Brothers? Yeah, I know, technically Vertebreaker is like a second-cousin or something, but consanguinity is consanguinity, however tenuous, no?). Anyway, Mr. Vandy-pants just doesn't thrill me. Which may turn out to be a good thing, if he's the shortpack of the lot. Interestingly, AFNTR had slightly different shots of these figures, and their photo of Vandy-Man is somewhere in-between the profile shot from the Spawn page and the full-on shot from Tomart's. Unfortunately, this third viewpoint doesn't enhance the figure's appeal, at least not as far as I can see. The elongation of the snout, which was dimly visible in the web photo, appears clearly here, though that clarity does little to heighten its appeal. A PAUSE FOR QUALITY IDENTIFICATION Generally, I'd have to agree with the rtm consensus that Tomart's is classier than AFNTR; though AFNTR did have some angles in the figure photos that Tomart's passed up in favor of straight-on shots, they had far fewer photos in all (gotta make room for that ridiculously out-of-touch and egregiously inflationary 27-page manifesto of swollen, dealer-aggrandizing figure costs, er, I mean dispassionate, reasonable and intelligent price guide) and their written coverage was...hmmm, anybody *find* any written coverage in AFNTR? I mean, there's a paean to scalpers that goes by the misleading title of "Toy Fair '96," but that's about it. Oh well.... SPRING HAS SPRUNG Back to the photos. The other four figures from this series looked somewhat better that the first two on the Tomart's page, but not especially different that the earlier phosphor-dot depictions. But oh! We have just received word of a non- cosmetic update: according to Chet Jacques of McFarlane Toys (you know, the guy who gets the dubious pleasure of reporting on McF toys to us, but who never gets any real input on anything -- I believe he once said they keep him chained in a cellar and he never gets any of the good pizza slices with the gobs of stuff on 'em -- though they do let him out to do the occasional trade show) for various reasons the "Wildstorm" figure is now going to be called "Widow-Maker" (though in that outfit she oughtta be called the "Merry Widow-Maker"); the Tiffany figure from the Fall assortment is going to be called "Thresher," Dozer II is now "Mendoza," Grail II is now called "Assassin 1," and Dane II is "Driver 8." And from now on Chet is going to be "Todd 22/7" and Todd is going to be "Louis the XIV"; "Spawn" will be renamed to "Eckie, Eckie, Eckie A-Wing Kaow Paing, The Creepy Ghoul With No Skin" and my wife is now to be referred to exclusively as "Amoretta, Empress of Passion." Pay attention here, things change pretty fast.... And moving therefore right along... FALL FASHIONS FROM TODD (McFARLANE, NOT OLDHAM) ...the Fall line. Again, several of these look pretty much like their digital forbears. The exceptions are the Superpatriot (please, somebody, get this guy a hyphen!) and the Alien Spawn, both of which look better for the move to paper. I like the Patriot's gear, and I have to say (again) that this mechanized (or is it armored?) flag-waver is my pick of the litter. And dig those groovy specs, Maynard! Though the clarity which print brings to the Alien Spawn makes this beast a close second. Okay, so the limbs look like a direct slice from the Cy-Gor mold -- I *love* the Cy-Gor! So "Alien" is the Exo-Boned Monkey From Planet Zero -- it works for me. BUT YOU CAN'T PICK YOUR FIGURES' NOSES The real surprise here is "Chameleon Spawn," a figure of which I'd not heard, uh, hide or hair (of which he appears to bear neither) before opening this issue. Quite stunning -- tortured, distended limbs caked in what looks like burnt adobe clay, a pulpy peach-colored almost-face which appears to ooze downwards from a hole in the chest (leading me to guess that this baby will be nicknamed "Booger Spawn"), weird glowing green translucent back spike attachments -- wow. Which is not to say I particularly like this figure -- I don't. But you can't complain about a lack of detail, no sirree. And I like the fact that McToys held this promo back for a bit. I was initially nonplussed to count *seven* figures on this page -- were we to wait for one to drop out of production, or was the shortpack coming back for a return engagement as collector- haunting marketing strategy? I'd chalked it up to "only Todd knows..." until Chet Jacques' recent announcement on rtm that Booger Spawn was going to be a "premium" figure, priced a buck or two more than the other McF toys a la Future Spawn (which I thought he'd earlier said was something they weren't going to do again, based on the fact that the Future Spawns were flying off the racks so fast they were leaving burn marks every *except* a basement Woolworth's in New York, that latter location being the single place McFarlane conducts their market tests -- but what do *I* know?). Well, so be it. And from Mr. Jacques' comments on the "Collector's Club" special figure ("Necroplasmic Spawn" with glowing green plastic) I assume that the frozen-sneeze backpack on this guy is more of the same Yecchh-toplasm. Bet the kids just eat it up, uh, love it.... Ahem. HELLZAPOPPIN! Turn the page and...my god, total chaos! (Oh, not the magazine -- one of my cats just decided to sneak up on another of the brood, and was successful enough in its silent dispatch to cause the target animal to scream and posture sufficiently to rouse the third feline, sleeping next to the figure shelf, with the result that she screeched, panicked and leapt for the high ground, clearing every figure off the two display shelves in the process. Hang on a second, I've got some cleaning up to do....) ...there, that's better. Okay, *now* let's look at Total Chaos from the McFarlane shop. By now I guess everyone knows that these figures are notable for preceding the marketing tools that generally make figures sell -- that is, comics and/or animated television cartoons. Well, and perhaps they're notable as well for their unconventionality...or not. (And frankly, I'd feel better about the whole thing if Tomart's didn't go to the trouble of noting that these things are "designed only to make good toys and collector items." But then, if the asymmetric exo- armored-boot fits....) HUMDRUM... Basically, I see it as a split of three and three, or maybe three, two and one -- three of the figures are fairly standard, two are rather outre (sorry, can't put the accent in on the basic ASCII set), and one is perilously close to trademark infringement. Thresher (nee Widow Maker) is your basic McFarlane "Zoftig Femme Fatale with Attitude" whose distinguishing feature is she appears to have had a *very* bad experience at her local Red Lobster restaurant. And kept the trophies to prove it. Uh, okay, but what exactly is the point? Maybe it's a satire on the folks who crusade against cruelty-to-crustaceans. "That broiled lobster died for *your* sins, pal...." Then you've got Dragon Blade, and a more basic Knight figure I couldn't imagine. Not that that's bad, and it is gratifying to see McF & Co. giving their standard treatment to characters other than monsters and buxom females. (Heh heh, the best thing about Dragon Blade is his utter customizability into any of a dozen classic Fantasy heroes, from Elric and Corwin to Holger Danois and Sir Gawain). The third somewhat-conventional figure is "Al Simmons" (and a more fearsome and evocative eponym I've never encountered -- sends shivers down my spine just thinking of it...). Now, just because he's got two arms and two legs doesn't mean I don't fancy him. Quite the opposite: I've got a fondness for high-tech armor (remember, I'm the guy that bought *every* Iron Man variation -- sob, while they still made them....) and ol' Al certainly fills the bill. This looks to be a pretty cool member of the club; that helmet in particular is very appealing (though it reminds me of the Time Travel suit from "Buried in Time"). "Hey, Al -- you got some snot dripping from your arm-gun." That Al -- helluva soldier, not much for cleanliness. ...AND REDRUM! Then we get to Gore and Thorax. Talk about twisted! Cross Notre Dame's Quasimodo with Captain Hook (and perhaps a dose of mania worthy of Melville's Ahab) and you've got Gore. The pretty, multicolored cyber-parrot on his, uh, flesh-heap protuberance is a particularly macabre touch, but what the hell. Not my cup of tea (Gore, not the parrot, who makes the set almost desirable) but the monster fans might like him. As for Thorax, uh, this one is truly indescribable (but what the heck). "Thorax" is defined as "the part of the body between the neck and the diaphragm"; I find this a curious sobriquet for the figure, since it ostensibly *has* no such body part. That Todd, such an ironist. Anyway, Thorax appears to have cyber- feet, vaguely saurian carriage (imagine the progeny of Future Spawn and a raptor), who gets his scale color from his uncle the Incredible Hulk (on his mother's side). Certainly different. Not sure I'd have opted for the lurid green, but you gotta love that mechanical mouth.... HORNING IN ON THE ACTION The last figure is pretty interesting. I'm starting to get the feeling Todd McFarlane is reading rtm, since he's obviously concocted his own version of the debatably ultra-collectible Rhino from ToyBiz. It's "Sergeant Rhino from the 1st Armored Division of the Jungle Corps," and a meaner, tougher, um, hornier blackguard you've never seen. The detail on this figure is quite appealing, though I'm tempted to deduct points for lack of originality. Then again, it's pretty cool looking...if Thorax weren't so much bigger, and if Todd-through-Chet hadn't indicated a leaning away from shortpacks, I'd have put my money on ol' Hoof being the hardest to get. Ah well, given that there's no release date indicated for these figures, we may be waiting quite a while for them, during which time they may well undergo further McMutation. Xmas 1997 perhaps? Stay tuned, loyal Chaosians.... TOTAL PARTIAL COVERAGE Wow, where does the time go? Lessee, I think I'll take on Total Justice, a nice counterpoint to Total Chaos, and call it a day. Guess we'll visit ToyBiz and Playmates next week. Okay, Total Justice. (Help me here: what would Partial Justice be like? Justice with just a smidgen of corruption? The O.J. Trial? What?). Well, I'm pretty conflicted about these figures. On the one hand, they have a pretty decent level of detailing, especially for Kenner. On the other hand, they look to have *no* articulation. On the third (and therefore bionic) hand, they did pick some interesting characters to initiate the line. On the fourth (removable hook) hand, they went with current (read: lame, lame, lame) variations thereof, at least in some cases. But let's get down to "Fractal Tech" tacks.... Batman: best of the bunch shown, especially in his full- blown "Fractal Techgear" snap-on armor (though somehow I don't think "techgear" is going to make it into the lexicon, at least not this year) with infrared visor (I hope it's infrared, otherwise we're in the Territory of the Incredibly Stupid, not visited since Luke Skywalker donned a "blast shield" to battle blind against a test droid in Star Wars; "sorry I crashed the spaceship, Han; I saw an asteroid coming and donned my blast shield just like it says in the Manual...."). SIDEKICKS & SPEEDSTERS Next best is a tie between Flash (yay!) and Robin. Maybe it's a function of there just being so damned *many* Batman clones, but some of the best figures coming out of Kenner lately are Robin figures. Who'd of thunk it?! This Robin's chest harness looks just about perfect -- one of those rare instances where something that would look great in a comic book *also* looks great on a 3D figure. Okay, so I could do without the spear and shield -- or is it an Olympic-tie-in discus launcher? Snore. And I'm not sure the "TJ" logo adds anything -- makes him look like "Bargain Boy" from TJ Maxx.... "98...99...100! He did it, class! The Flash just spun 100 times on his finger in one second!" (My favorite unbearably stupid moment from all comics, all-time; a scene from Flash #100 where a grade school class witnesses the aforesaid event, COUNTING TO 100 IN A SINGLE SECOND! Ever try it? I've always thought it was the kids who deserved a medal here....) And perhaps this best sums up the oeuvre of our friend the Flash. Incredibly neat power, but for all the decent stories, many were pretty lame -- if you'll forgive the expression. Though I have to say I had a weakness for the perennial "Flash vs. Superman" contest for the title of "Fastest Man Alive." But I digress.... The Flash figure looks great. But part of that may derive from the fact that there just plain *is* a new Flash figure. (And I don't care who DC says it is; he's Barry Allen to me). I mean, I have to say I like this figure in *spite* of its appearance. Like, those silly yellow shoulder wings/rockets/ what-have-you are, well, silly. But then in the smaller photo beside the main one where the scarlet speedster appears *without* them, the pose looks utterly ridiculous (it's "oooh, I'm running on hot coals and my protective aura is on the fritz Flash"). Which makes me think that for all their inanity, those yellow water wings give the figure a sweep of design that is, perhaps regrettably, aesthetically pleasing. Nice that they gave him a sheath for his relay race batons.... And whose idea were the grunge-chic stomp boots? It's Mosh Pit Flash, with fractal tech vomit.... Anyway, despite all this, I like it. What can I say? Eye of the beholder and all that.... THE UGLY, THE BAD, AND THE WORSE Which leaves us with Darkseid and two other figures which the captions insist are Green Lantern and Aquaman. I beg to differ, but I'm an old-timer, a purist -- perhaps there's no room for me in this lightspeed digital world. I mean, the Darkseid's okay (kinda petite for the beyond-horror Ruler of Apocalypse, but we don't want to frighten the kiddies I guess; and there've been numerous complaints about his face but I just can't tell from the photos one way or another) but please, that's just *not* Green Lantern! The *real* Green Lantern had perhaps the single best costume of any DC hero -- simple, elegant, bold, imposing. It's just not the same. I mean, even the *mask* on the new fella is idiotic! And what's with the straight-from-Charles-Dickens fingerless gloves? Makes him look like super-powered Fagin! Sheesh.... And I'm too sorry, but what's the so-called "Aquaman" doing with the She-Dragon's wig? Not to mention the "Jesus of the Seven Seas" beard/moustache combo? And if you're gonna give a guy a hook, why on, er, under Earth give him one that's about as frightening as a bent paper-clip?!? "Oooh, don't spindle me, Aquaman, though I could use some help cutting the packing tape along the side of this trade box...." P.S., Hey Artist-Ravaged Aquaman: Flash Gordon wants his Destructo-Cannon back.... Like the Good Book (contradiction in terms but I won't belabor the point) says, "How are the mighty fallen...." TOTAL SUMMING UP All in all, the lack of poseability (well, I suppose the shoulders move, and possibly the nostrils) makes these otherwise imposing figures a disappointment. Maybe my opinion will change upon actually seeing them in the plastic. If not, they may be Totally Stunning at first, but will ultimately become a Total Bore. And hey -- it's time for me to go before someone gets the idea of characterizing me that way.... Stay tuned for further dissection next week, same Bat-group, same Bat-thread.... ("Da na na na na na na nah, da na na na na na na nah, Logorrhea Man....")
[Copyright (c) 1996 by John Gersten (except for the bit from Wordsworth, which I obviously didn't write, although, heh heh, I certainly *wish* I had...and maybe one or two other little cribbed quotes). All rights reserved (except for those in the aforementioned poem-and-other-bits, which rights are, I believe, yours to use as you see fit. Scribble 'em on your newspaper, tattoo them on your posterior, heck, spray paint them on a subway wall -- and wouldn't the world be a much better place therefor....).]
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