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John's Action Figure Column 4/18/96


     Well, as pretty much everyone has noticed, it's a *very*
slow month for toys.  And while an infant-sized handful of new
product is showing up in some places, for the most part the
retail cupboards are empty.  The only new stuff to show up around
San Francisco are the Dragonheart figures (figurines, really),
and though the catapults and other medieval implements of small-
scale destruction are interesting, the puniness of the figures
themselves just turns me away (we won't even mention the price,
but I guess those war machines are what drives the tag up, up,
and awayyyyy).  And while some stalwart collectors report finding
new Man of Steel and even BTAS figures, since the flurry of new
ToyBiz stuff hit the Targets around here there's been nothing new
or noteworthy.
     This being the (lack-of-) case, I figured I'd cobble
together a few odds and ends for this week's epistle.  We'll
start with, of all things, a short movie review (hey, it relates,
'cause it's animated and I *WANT* figures from this thing!),
followed by a heart-wrenching melodrama about my recent dental
misfortunes, and conclude with the tail end of my review of
Tomart's first-half review of the 1996 Toy Fair figure releases. 
Phew!  Seat belts on, please....and should we experience
turbulence and decompression during the flight, oxygen masks will
erupt from your keyboard.  Please place the masks over your
nearest figures *before* you put on your own....

     Timing is indeed everything, as Aristotle once said.  I
happened upon the tail end of "At the Movies" last Saturday, and
Galactal Gene and Ramblin' Rog (hmmm, figure possibilities?) were
nearly swooning over a new-to-America Japanese anime feature-
length cartoon called "Ghost in the Shell."  Well, the short clip
they showed looked pretty cool, so, contrary to my usual practice
of seeing one movie a year (whether I need it or not), I decided
to throw caution to the winds and see if this sucker were playing
out here.  Indeed it was -- and all of three blocks from my
office!  Well, I don't need more of a sign than that:  I resolved
to see it the night of my next day at work -- and did.
     I have this theory about criticism:  I call it "John's
Inverse-Hype Law."  Basically, I believe the greater the hype,
the greater the disappointment; the less the hype (regardless of
how much the entertainment in question might deserve it), the
greater the room for being impressed.  Siskel & Ebert praised
"Ghost" pretty highly, so despite my best efforts to resist
John's Law, I was indeed a bit disappointed (ya can't fight city
hall, especially when you erected it).  But this is the important
part:  I was disappointed by the arc of the film's action, the
resolution of its conflicts and character entanglements.  The
animation, however....ahhhh.... how do you spell epiphany?  (No
fair, you looked).
     The animation in "Ghost in the Shell" was a combination of
several modes -- computer imaging, rotoscoping, freehand drawing,
and more.  About the only technique *not* represented in "Ghost"
was stop-motion.  And what technique!  This movie had hands-down
the finest animation I've ever seen.  No contest.  Just
fantastic.  I believe in this estimation so much that I would
even argue it as an exception to the otherwise invariate "John's
Law."  No matter how much I praise it, you will still be
impressed.  (Okay, I guess I could go too I'll stop).
     Ahhh, and the reason this mini-review is here at all is, and
yes, you probably saw this one coming a mile away, the characters
would make GREAT figures!  The heroine, Kusanagi (aka "The
Major") is a stunning, dynamic, brilliant and brutal cyborg who
can bench press a Sherman Tank and literally leap tall buildings
(though in successive vertical bounds); her sometimes partner,
another cyborg named "Batteau," looks like a cross between Frank
Miller's Marv and Ranxerox (those odd little eyesocket-emplaced
eyeglasses) and would make another awesome fig, along with their
vaguely asiatic boss, the enigmatic leader of Section Six (or was
it Section Nine?  Talk about a byzantine plot....).  There's also
the human sidekick who resists cyberization -- an ex-cop who
couldn't be corrupted, several villain types, a mysterious
"Puppet Master" arch-villain who runs around changing bodies like
they were shoes (great action feature), and perhaps most figure-
able of all, an incredible "spider-tank" that'll knock your socks
off and then devour 'em for supper (assuming you've somehow kept
them on through most of the movie's frenzied kinetics).
     Anyway, I wouldn't be surprised if these figures already
existed in Japan (or if they didn't; I don't really know how the
figure market works over there), but we could definitely use 'em
over here -- just to get *something* on the bare-bones
     So.  Though "Ghost in the Shell" is not necessarily for the
kiddies (it contains some extremely graphic violence, as well as
partial nudity -- though no real eroticism), it is a great,
fun ride.  Expect to be massively disappointed in the conclusion
and, well, maybe you won't be too massively disappointed.  John-
Bob says, check it out.

     I was going to give you chapter and verse on my recent bout
with a particularly vicious episode of root canal and associated
ailments, but upon reflection, having one of us hear about (much
less suffer) this malady is more than enough.  Thus, we'll just
move right along to more pleasant topics.  If you're really a
sadist and want details on the saga of "John vs. the Endodontist
From the Hell Planet" (with apologies to Art Spiegelman), come
find me on "!"  I'll
be waiting for you, Obi-Wan....
     [P.S.  Anyone got any oatmeal I could buy?  I'm looking for
the limited edition Quaker Oats with brown sugar ribbons; of
course, the guy pictured on the box has no panties....ow!]

     And so to the balance of miscellaneous stuff engendered by
Tomart's recent issue -- didja see the Martian Commander from
"Mars Attacks"? -- not bad, the figure has a real "vintage" look
to it.  Love that oversized brain (and the oversized helmet
containing it).  The guy's body reminds me of this hard candy my
Aunt always used to have out on her coffee table....  Plus, I
noticed the photo of the "prototype packaging" from Trendmasters
on the new Youngbloods line -- guess they're the ones picking up
where McFarlane left off.  Kinda hard to believe *anyone* would
pursue this line...anyone want my extra cruise tickets for the
Titanic II?
     And how 'bout those "Independence Day" figures from the
Puzzle Zoo ad -- oooh, scary!  Yet another "Aliens" variation,
but a good one for all that.  (Hey, speaking of Mr. Happy-go-
lucky H.R. Giger, whose designs have been perennially ripped off
and passed forward as Nightmare of the Year since 1979, here's an
idea:  new 7-8" Dune-based figures, designed by Giger!  Whaddaya
think?  I've always thought he was *born* to draw Baron
Harkonnen, and his sandworms would be outrageous!  Just
     As for the ID4 figures, the detail in the arms and legs
looks great, although the prices look pretty steep!  And I'm not
crazy about the seam running through the heads dead-center --
unless of course that's the way they look in "real life" as well
(maybe it's one of their evolutionary advantages -- as we puny
humans stop to laugh at their seams, they slice us into
nanopieces....).  Let's hope $13.99 isn't a wave of the future
(look out, McF will issue "Mission Disks" (whatever they are) and
follow suit....).  The humans look a lot less interesting; then
again, they're "only" nine bucks (ouch!  Well, those *are* PZ 
prices...).  If this movie isn't stupendous, I expect that at the very
least those human figures will be challenging Dragonheart for 
peg-sitter of the year awards.

     More open biases here:  I should note that ToyBiz is my main
squeeze, action-figure-wise.  While my wallet may well belong to
McFarlane, my heart belongs to ToyBiz.  Sure, Kenner sometimes
comes a close second, but Marvel/ToyBiz are the ones with the
preponderance of Kirby/Ditko characters (though I think I'm glad
no one's making "Mr. A" figures....).  So, that said, let's leap
ahead to...
     ...Spider-Man!  Tomart's shows assortments VII, VIII and IX
(or 7, 8 and 9 if you've never been to Rome), and while lots has
been said about these figures, a few more words couldn't hurt
(they might somnolize, but I guarantee you will feel no pain....).
     Lot seven is already out; 'nuff said.  Lot eight is a mixed
bag (hmmm, what isn't?) -- the Black Cat looks pretty good, and
Dr. Strange looks great (would it have *killed* them to put the
pattern on the cloak?  Though I suppose they get credit for
getting the shrouding "hood" part right) -- love those eyes, and
the angular facial hair.  And the hand-poses...straight outta
Ditko.  Makes me want to duck, or be turned into a Newt.... 
Speaking of the 'Cat, by the way, I could be wrong, but I think
this figure presents the most decolletage torso ToyBiz has molded
to date (and I bet most of my male figures would shoot their
action feature early at the thought of a date with her).  Pity she
looks so much like she's got implants....
     But the rest of the assortment -- hoo-boy.  Hydroman *looks*
cool, but would appear to have a whopping total of *three* points
of articulation (four if his waist swivels).  I don't play with
my figures *that* much, but I do like to be able to pose them at
least a bit (which helps to keep my BTAS purchases to a
survivable minimum...).  One might argue that this Hydroman
figure doesn't lend itself to much posing anyway, and one would
actually be right.  Despite some interesting sculpting, mostly
what this fig does is make me crave a Sandman, which rumor has it
will be unavailable because of an ongoing rights dispute...sigh.
     The "Cyber-Spider" is perhaps an inescapable character
variation at this point -- we're seeing "cyber" versions of
pretty much everybody and his brother (hmmm, think there's a
human-form C3PO in the works?  I'm holding out for "Cyber-Aunt
May with elbow-mounted Knitting Needles of Doom").  This one
combines similarly overused "battle ravaged" elements with the
perfunctory roboticized arm and one hella-big shoulder-mounted
cyber-pincer.  Add a high-tech eye patch and what looks like a
portable 3D projector on the other shoulder, and voila!  "Top
Heavy Spiderman."  Sorry, but this one looks to me like the cyber
version of the little drummer boy -- all it's missing is a
shoulder-slung drum & a fife accessory.
     The last figure of this assortment is the Doppleganger
Spider, for which I applaud ToyBiz:  everybody needs a rip-
roarin' good laugh now and then.  And this figure provides it,
and more.  If the head wasn't silly enough, the overdone "Popeye"
type arms and legs go right past silly and well down the road to
bizarre.  Maybe I'm missing the point, but I presume this figure
is in the set just to break the monotony and provide some comic
relief after you prowl store after store unable to find a Black
Cat or Doc Strange.  Aw, stop it, ToyBiz, it *hurts*!

     Assortment Nine is a bit of a disappointment.  Aside from
the Disco Rhino and the (finally) canonical Spider-Woman, the
other three figures are pretty much a wash.  Who's Rhino's
tailor, anyway?  Fred Flintstone?  He just looks plain silly. 
Hope he comes with a mirror ball and passes to Studio 54....
     Jessie looks okay, if a bit simplistic.  And what's with the
chrome gun?  I mean, anything's better than the fishing net
throw-webs, but a gun?!?  ToyBiz should have taken a hint from
rtm and put magnets in her hands and feet.  Anything but a
gun....  As for Spidey 2099, zzzzzzzz.  And the "new" Spider-Man
seems equally uninspired.  "Jell-O Venom"?  No thanks, I'm trying
to cut down....

     I guess the "Venom, Planet of the Symbiotes" line belongs
here, given that it's a Spidey-spin-off.  Most of these are
interesting at first blush, but not really figures I'd expect to
see myself buying.  Not even "Scream," and I'm usually a
certainty to spring for a female figure (and talk about
*implants*; sheesh).  No, oddly enough, "Lasher" is the only one
that intrigues me from this set (probably because of the flying
Wallenda bioplasm streams).  "Hybrid" kinda reminds me of the old
Beetle (now *there's* a figure that should be made!), "Riot" is
an awfully apt name, and "Venom-The Madness" seems like Phalanx
taken one step too far.  Oh well, not every line can be a winner.

     Ah, but some lines *can* be, and the "Gen X Sophomores" look
like likely candidates.  Interesting surprise here -- the two
figures I thought would be sure-fire hits look the worst: 
Banshee and the White Queen.  Banshee just looks a little, well,
squat, and his hypno-cloak (or whatever the heck that thing is)
is a fine example of a feature that looks *much* better on paper
than in the real world.  His phiz is right out of "You, Too Can
Be A World Dominator," and what's his action feature --
constipation?  As for Ms. Frost, I quite like the overall design
of the figure -- it's the particulars that get me down.  What
kind of facial expression is that, anyway?  It's a cross between
hypnotized and sodomized, no?  Great outfit, but that face ruins
the whole picture.
     Mondo, Marrow and The Protector, on the other hand, all look
great!  Okay, so Mondo gets his clothes from the Thing III's gym
(as well as much of the overall design) but what the heck -- it
works for him.  Marrow looks just plain scary, and the Protector
looks amazing!  This is a set I'm surprised to be so excited
about, but hey, I'll take it.

     Nope, not a typo -- I think this line looks mahhhvvalous. 
From the fairly authentic Abomination to the cartoony appeal of
the Grey Hulk, as the old Barker used to say, "every one's a
winnah!"  I'm still not sure how the Banner figure is packaged
with the Hulk, unless he actually fits into the back of the Hulk
figure (the photo in AFNTR of the Hulk-in-package shows no
Banner, though the copy insists they come together).  This
remains to be seen.  But both figures look great -- and I can't
wait.  My Hulkbuster Iron Man is just *itchin'* to get into it
with ol' Greenskin.  Good detail, though -- sigh -- poor
articulation, but ya can't have everything (as Stephen Wright so
aptly notes; "where would you put it?"  Though, if you ask
Tracey, it's obviously already *in* our apartment....).  Nice
teeth, Hulk -- and Banner's aren't bad, either; is Doc Samson
moonlighting as a dentist?  Always thought the Hulk's Clay
Quartermain had the best teeth in the Marvel Universe, for what
it's worth....
     Yeah, these all look like winner figures, even the She-Hulk
(who, judging by appearances, may have *no* articulation at all,
though I suppose her shoulders and neck *must* move....).  My
only concern is, given that they're all somewhat large, or have
large accessories (She-Hulk excepted, unless it's just not
displayed....what?  Those *aren't* "accessories" -- go wash your
mind out with soap, buster!), I wouldn't be surprised to see
these figures pushing the ToyBiz price point upwards.  Ah, "the
more things stay the same...."

     Not a ton of X-figures in Tomart's (or AFNTR), but what
there are, are interesting.  And if they're also somewhat
laughable, hey, it *is* entertainment.  Starting with the "Deluxe
Mutant Monsters," I have to give a HUGE hooray for Sugar Man -- a
figure I can really enjoy for its own sake, and then -- finally -
- customize into a Kray-Tor from the Starlin/Warlock story in
Strange Tales 180 (he only appeared that once, at least alive,
and is one of my *favorite* characters of all time -- "in his own
mind, evil though he was, he still believed he was doing good..."
-- garbled quote, but hey, I *love* it!).  Anyway, he looks like
Modok's bad-ass nephew or something, whoever he is (I don't read
the comic) but no less terrific for the similarity.  Party on,
     Actually, it may have been one too many parties that account
for the other two figures in this set.  The bestial Wolverine
just looks off, I dunno, kinda runty; and the "Dark Beast" seems
just a bit too Rasta for my tastes (can those *truly* be
dreads?).  Again, I'm not familiar with the source books, but
this one's gonna master in the fine art of peg-sitting, IMH (and
admittedly ignorant) O.

     For the X-Men "Light Up Weapons" set, things look a bit
better.  These actually *all* look good, with the exception of
"just accidentally put my toe in an electric socket" Wolverine
(oh, boy, was the fastest sculptor alive rushing just a wee bit
too much *that* day!).  That evil grin on Nightcrawler is just
perfect; Psylock and Gambit look tremendous (though the former
looks a bit too caucasian, as several commentators have pointed
out).  I don't mind Juggernaut's pumped-up proportions; it's a
helluva lot closer to the Kirby-ideal than that first Jugs.
     I do worry a bit about the "light up" components, for two
reasons.  One, it seems that ToyBiz may have sacrificed a
considerable portion of poseability to get the electric stuff to
work, and two, I just don't like batteries in my figures.  It's
trouble, and also asking-for-trouble (in the years down the line
sense).  But these do look terrific -- finally, a decent looking
Gambit (or quite a bit more than decent, at least by the photo)
and a Nightcrawler I might actually be able to afford!  Yowza!
     And speaking of long, long-overdue figures, let's hear it
for Colossus II!  Yee-hah!  Also maximally hyper-steroided out,
but a darn sight better than that wimpy little Colossus I (who
definitely looked like he could *not* lift that megaton barbell,
plastic or not).  A very "adult" looking cast, thank god.  And,
what's this?  Why, he may even have arm joints!  What a
     The AoA Beast looks so much better than his Dark counterpart
I barely know what to say.  Except maybe "thanks" (and heave a 
hefty sigh of relief).  The face looks great in every way the "Dark"
Beast's visage looks overly Disney-fied.  Well, the outfit's a
bit hokey, but what can you do?  Not sure I like the silver
shoes, either, but I'll accept that they must fit with the comic
and let it go at that.  Archangel and Lady Death Strike are okay
(hey, *eat* somethin', girl!); it's the "Patch" Wolverine who's
the laugher of this set.  Maybe it's the vertical-action
ponytail, or the "shiver-me-timbers" grimace, but this figure
just looks plain stupid.
     Like we really needed another Wolverine variation anyway. 
ToyBiz, how about making some of the variations we really could
use -- like a Warren Worthington Angel with *real* wings?  Or a
Mimic?  The Vanisher?  Unus?  How 'bout the Stranger?  (yes, he
also shows up in FF 112 or thereabouts, and the Silver Surfer,
but I believe his first appearance was wayyy back in X-Men 20 or
so -- anybody have the proper cite?)  Some Morlocks?  Ms. Marvel?
(a nice counterpoint to Rogue, oh, I'm sorry, Rouge)  Oh, there
are soooo many to choose from....
     Back to the subject at hand.  As for the light-up features
themselves, well, I say "lose 'em."  They range from bad to
worse, though I bet the kids'll like them.  Well, I suppose they
should get a chance to play with toys, too.... <grin>

     Well, I'd wanted to hold forth on the new Star Trek figures,
but (a) I don't collect them; (b) after the 1,701 debacle, if I
had collected them I wouldn't any longer, and (c) really, I've
gone on enough already for this week.  But, (b) and (c) aside, a
couple of the upcoming figures look great.  Given that my roots
are in the original ST series, I have a special fondness for the
Talosian, "casual Kirk," "Cage Spock," and "Vena, Orion Animal 
Woman" (a *very* special fondness for Ms. Orion....).  But hey, I 
know I'll take heat for this, but why couldn't they make the *Mugatu*
the 1,701 "Stupid-Pack" figure?!?  [Insert cranky old man voice
here:  "I didn't like him on the show, and I don't like him in
plastic...okay?!  And who hid my medication...."]
     It seems funny to me that Playmates could be so oblivious,
and even crass and insulting in their response to the 1,701
situation -- and yet be responsive in other areas (like making an
original Bridge playset, or new original series figures).  Go,
uh, figure....
     So that's about it.  Have a great week-end, and maybe take a
moment some time soon to say a quiet prayer to the gods and
goddesses of the toy pantheon to see if they could, possibly, if
the occasion presented itself, and if it weren't too much
     I feel *much* better now....

     And btw, my apologies to fans of GI Joe, Johnny Quest,
Tarzan, Power Rangers, Godzilla, Flash Gordon, I Dream Of
Jeannie, SLUs, Mighty Ducks (?!?), Hunchback of Notre Dame,
Dragonheart, Highlander, Ultra Force (can they *really* be
continuing this line?!?  And AFNTR waxes enthusiastic about their
collectibility -- strange, passing strange....), Space Jam, and
Star Wars -- I just don't feel expert enough to comment on these
lines.  (Interestingly, I *don't* collect Star Trek figures, and
yet feel compelled to mouth off about them; I *do* collect Star
Wars stuff, but in such a weird loyal to the first movie alone
kind of way that I don't think I'm a good choice to evaluate the
other stuff, though that "Luke in Imperial Guard Disguise" fig
looks mondo cool).
     And while I'm similarly (or simian-ly) in the dark about
"Space Monkeys" (weren't they bizarre little pseudo-creatures you
grew in water in the late 60s?), I do have to say, as a BIG
gorilla fan (in both senses), that the "Gormongus" figure looks
*killer*!  I might actually buy a Mattel toy for the first time
in decades <g>.  Hoo-hah!  Carmine Infantino, eat your untamed
heart out!
Copyright (c) 1996 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

Comments? Drop me a line....
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