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John's Action Figure Column 5/2/96

BENDY, VIDI, VICI

"WHAT BENDY UNLEASHED?" or "ON A BENDER" (I just couldn't
decide -- if you're a Stan Lee fan, go with the former; if you
prefer Jay Ward, the latter.  See, you *can* make everyone
happy....)

I SING THE BENDY ELECTRIC...
     When I was a kid (oh geeze, he's reminiscing again....), one
of my favorite toys was a 5" Captain America figure with which I
just couldn't get enough play time.  This thing not only looked
*just* like ol' Cap, but had an Adamantium/Vibranium shield to
boot!  (Well, okay...sigh...it was plastic.  Do you spend all
your time ruining kids' fantasies, huh?  Do you?)  Man, I loved
this figure.  And one of the things that made it great was how
poseable it was.  Forget about nine points, or thirteen points,
or even *sixteen* points of articulation.  This thing had an
INFINITE number of articulation points.  Impossible, you say? 
Nah.
     Y'see, it wasn't a hard plastic figure such as those that
overrun the shelves at toy stores today.  It was a BENDY.
     Now, I'm not gonna wash my mouth out with soap for uttering
that word.  Cover your kids' ears, if you must, but I'll say it
again:  Bendy.
     Bendy, Bendy, Bendy!  (I feel like I'm coming out of the
closet or something; the toy closet, that is....).  And Bendy
though he may have been, this Captain America figure was my pride
and joy.  I remember watching the Marvel Comics animated cartoons
clutching this figure in my little hand, giddy with glee as those
echoing voices sang the Captain America theme song:

     "When Captain America throws his mighty shield
     Then those who oppose his [something] shield must yield..."

     Great stuff, even if some of it is lost to the hazy mists of
memory-gone.  I guess I was pretty easy to please as a kid, since
I loved the Marvel tv cartoons as well -- though calling them
"animated" is really going out on a limb.  As I remember, the
voices and sound effects were great, but the animations were,
well, non-existent.  It was more like they cut out a panel from a
comic and moved the *camera* to simulate motion.  I saw a couple
of episodes many years later and just had to cringe at the
rampant awfulness of the visuals.
     And the songs, oh, the songs -- let's see, there was one
about Tony Stark and his sex appeal (I kid you not), one about
the "Ever-lovin' Hulk," and probably one about Thor as well.  I
think each program closed with the anthem of the "Merry Marvel
Marching Society," music by Irv Forbush, lyrics by Stan Lee (are
you scared yet?) and I was a devotee.
     But I'm getting away from the focus of this week's words. 
The simple bendy.

BENDY, VIDI, VICI
     Cap wasn't the only bendy I had.  I had a Major Matt Mason,
and two or three of the wonderful, long-forgotten Colorforms
Outer Space Men.  (Though made by Colorforms, these were most
definitely *not* like the rest of the Colorforms pantheon --
totally flat, monochromatic cut-outs that stuck to glossy prefab
settings -- they were Action Figures!  I guess you could say the
Outer Space Men were to the rest of Colorforms what normal
animated cartoons are to those very first Merry Marvel
"animations."  But I digress again....)  Bendies were great!  You
could have them battle and *really* get in close, wrapping their
limbs around each other in what was either a death-struggle or a
prelude to ecstacy (depending on your outlook, and age, I guess). 
You could hook their feet around edges and bars and have them
hang and swing, make their arms grasp wires, or sticks, pretty
much anything.  Bendies definitely had their advantages.
     Now, I know that in today's post-modern, seen-it-all-twice
world, the bendy is a bit of a joke, but with the right
expectations, and needs, bendies aren't bad at all.  I mean, look
at Gumby -- Gumby only *works* as a bendy (well, unless you
fashion one out of green clay).  A stiff, jointed-Gumby would be
just plain silly.

BAS-COMIC-RELIEF
     Alright, let's get to the dark, pulsing heart of the matter. 
Gumby excepted, most of the time, at least today, bendies look,
well, hmmm, what's the technical term?  Oh yeah, "stupid."  It's
as if the manufacturers are *trying* to make them look bad. 
Consider, for instance, the Star Wars bendies, which more than
one rtm-er has spared many more than one poor little kid from
getting from more than one pair of well-meaning but ignorant
grandparents.  Okay, so they look pretty flat (the bendies, not
the grandparents).  And the detail is poor at best.  Didja ever
consider that a little-enough kid might actually *like* a bendy?
     I know, it's a horrifying thought.  But it just _might_ be
true, at least in some isolated cases.  Oh, sure, years later the
kid would be tearing her hair out thinking, "I coulda had the
Dagobah Luke *jointed* figure with the extra-dark armpit stains
and real Aramis cologne, but no, grandpa hadda get me Just-Got-
Rolled-Over-By-An-Imperial-Steamroller Admiral Ackbar...."  Ahh,
youth.
     Or consider the WildCATs bendies, perhaps the worst-looking
example of the genre known to toykind.  I mean, that poor Badrock
looks like it had all the air sucked out of it by some marauding
Tick villain.  And the detail -- hmmm, *what* detail?  As I said,
it really seems as if the manufacturers are *trying* to design
bendies that make the onlooker retch.  Hey, maybe it's an action
feature -- after all, we do live in a world where "Smell My Gack"
is a viable product...
     Maybe it's just nostalgia operating at full force, but I
don't remember my old bendies as being quite so...two-
dimensional.  The Captain America is loooooonnnng gone, having
fallen victim to the scourge of even the best-made bendies: 
kinder-amputation.  You know, where its owner's enthusiasm and
playfulness just goes way past fun and into the realm of, well,
disfigurement.  One fateful afternoon, my bendy Super-Soldier was
swinging back his good right arm to throw a battle-stopping punch
at his nefarious foe (one of my sister's Barbies, if I recall,
brainwashed by the Red Skull and sent in to save the day for
Nazi-kind) when tragedy struck:  the arm swung forward, and
forward, and forward...until it was on the other side of the
room.  And to my utter horror, Cap was left with little more than
a bare wire sticking out of his shoulder.  Medic!  MEDIC!!!!

GENTLE BENDY
     But alas, no M.A.S.H. unit, real or enfigured, could save
poor Steve Rogers from this villainy.  No, his time as a super-
hero was done.  Time to play taps, inscribe the gold watch, lower
the flag to half-mast.  Captain America could fight evil no more. 
There was laughter in Berlin, in the Yellow Claw's Sky-Dragon, in
the Kremlin and even in some parts of Greenwich Village.  He was
a good soldier, and gave his all for his Country....
     What's that?  Oh, okay.  He was a good soldier who gave his
right arm for his country, and would have given a lot more had he
not been relegated to the trash bin beneath the kitchen window.
     Fade to black.

THE BENDY IS DEAD; LONG LIVE THE BENDY!
     But the saying is true:  You can't keep a good rubber figure
skeletoned with wire filaments down.  (Though you might want to.) 
Though Captain America died the real bendy-death, the bendy lives
on.  Why, even today, some of my best figures are bendies....
     ...alright, maybe not "best."  Though it's all relative,
even a bendy-phile from way back like me can't make much of an
argument that the bendy Violator is a better figure than the
well-painted, well-articulated, my-horn-doesn't-look-like-it-was-
stuck-on-with-tape Violator II.
     Ahhh, but what's "better?"  I mean, sure, the Violator II
blows his little bendy brother out of the lava when it comes to
pure appearance, but there's more to a figure than petty surface
appeal.  The bendy Violator is, well, a bendy!  And if his sculpt
makes the casual viewer think that this Phlebaic sibling has a
baaaaad case of anorexia, so be it.  He's evil so articulate he
could give William F. Buckley a run for his money.  Just try to
pose the Violator II in a menacing way.  Hell, just try to get
him to stand up!  Ha.  Can't do it, can you?  But the *bendy*
Violator holds his own!  (He could hold yours as well, but this
is a *family* column, after all).

BENDIES, REST AND MOTION
     Sigh.  Look, I know I'm fighting an uphill battle here. 
Why?  Because sculpt as you will, there is an inherent problem
with bendies that all the wishing in the world won't elude:  they
get in their own way.  I mean, if you make a bendy with a
realistic (and I use that word with my tongue thrust firmly into
my cheek) superhero physique, in most cases its own muscles will
preclude significant poseability.  I mean, it's all well and good
for me to hope for a *bendy* Reed Richards (I mean, c'mon; what
WAS ToyBiz thinking with their "oooh, arms that stretch a quarter
of an inch" Reed?  Puh-lease....), or Plastic Man, or even Jimmy
Olsen on drugs, but a bendy Hulk just wouldn't be able to *move*. 
All the other figures would gather 'round and make fun of him: 
"Hey, Hulk, what time is it?  Can't even see your own watch, can
you...."  (In fact, remembering back to the unfortunate live-
action Hulk tv series, I believe Lou Ferrigno actually suffered
from this very same ailment).  It just wouldn't be pretty.
     But maybe there *is* some sort of compromise position. 
Maybe the toy-powers-that-be could improve the sculpting a bit,
enough to make a new generation of bendies that wouldn't look
like they belong on the eaves of some museum in Washington, D.C. 
And then we'd have figures for whom the word "poseability" would
begin to actually fit....

GET BENT!
     I mean, besides the various super-supple stretchy heroes,
the advantages of bendy-dom could benefit a bunch of figures. 
Look at the recent, much-maligned Medusa.  Instead of the stiff
"spinnin' wheel, got to go 'round" hair, imagine if they'd made
her with a few well-positioned _bendy_ tresses!
     Or a WildCATs Warblade, with bendy fingers?
     How about a Hercules Hydra monster with bendy heads/necks? 
(Actually, since I've been unwilling to fork over the ten bucks
for these poorly-colored figures, I'm not even sure they aren't
*already* bendies.  And while we're on monsters, I've noted
before that I give it even-money that the upcoming McFarlane Toys
Sansker figure will have what amounts to a bendy tail, if only to
allow posing and balance....)
     Ahh, forget it.  We'd probably end up with a thousand "Bendy
Batman" variations, Wolverine with Bendy Claws and Whiskers, and
dozens of Spawn figures, each with a different *single* bendy
limb variation.  We're probably better off as things are.
     Besides, I gotta run.  My Violator II just fell over
again....
Copyright (c) 1996 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

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