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John's Action Figure Column 5/16/96


     Usually it's fallen, disarrayed action figures that surprise
me as I stumble bleary-eyed out of the bedroom into the early-
morning light each day, but this morning the cats, local seismic
fluctuations and perhaps gremlins arranged (or disarranged) a
much different apparition for my too-early delectation.  Grinding
night's detritus from the corners of my eyes with still-shaky
fingertips, I crossed the cool carpet from the bedroom to the
living room and in a half-slitted gaze, terror mounting, saw
something no mind should have to encounter, at any time of day or
night.  A raspy scream erupted from my throat as with horror I
     ...a mountain of huge shoes.
     Okay, maybe shoes don't sound very horrifying to you.  But
these things were ENORMOUS.  Titanic.  Gargantuan.  Surely no
human feet could require such Brobdingnagian pediments.  All the
more terrifying for their haphazard piling, this mound of giant
footwear struck a chill to the core of my being; there was no way
I could view it other than as an omen of direst portent, emblem
of ill meaning freighted straight from the nethermost region of
Hell itself.
     Now, if it isn't clear by implication, let me note that
these were clearly NOT my shoes.  I wear a size nine, thank you
(eight-and-a-half if we're talking classy manufacturers) and
these pontoons were at least twice that size.  (And no smart
remarks about the wife; her petite feet barely stretch into a
men's five).  No, these were the leavings of nothing less than a
Sasquatch.  A latter-day Troll; a Twentieth-Century Orc.  The
infernal creature must have blustered through our abode in the
middle of the night and left his sneakers, boots and sandals
behind for some arcane mystic sign my pre-breakfasted brain could
little comprehend.  Think, John, think; *some* culture must have
a mythos in which discarded shoes figure in as some kind of
ominous mark of a particular and twisted destiny...
     ...was a Chthonic demon lurking barefoot on my threshold?
     ...might an outsized poltergeist have caught its
insubstantial but no less malevolent paws in the fabric of my
     ...or was I just being stalked by a disgruntled podiatrist?
     What the heck was going on, anyway?
     As alertness began to trickle slowly back into my sunrise
mind, a glimmer of understanding started to tickle the event
horizon of my consciousness, rosy-fingering a dawning awareness. 
Ahhhhh, yes.  Of course.  Gigantor had not dropped off his boots
for cobbling; Paul Bunyan's ghost wasn't looking for a quick
cheap shine.  It was just Billy.  Panic subsided as rationality
rose to the fore.  Ha ha ha.  Just ol' Billy.  Silly me.

     Perhaps all is not yet crystal clear.  For instance, "Who's
Billy?" I hear you asking.  Well, in the interests of staying
true to the "[LONG]" proviso in the header above, and keeping
myself from having to amend it to "[INCREDIBLY, RIDICULOUSLY
LONG]", I'll try to render Billy in a nutshell (though a nuthouse
might be more appropriate).  Y'see, Billy is this old friend of
mine, a truly unique fellow who combines a frame of no less than
Olympian scale with an inversely proportioned disaffection for
any conceivable social more or cultural pigeonholing considered
remotely "normal."  Billy is in his mid-40s and has never to my
knowledge held what anyone could possibly consider a "job."  He
is a *much* larger-than-life character, a raging misanthrope who
would rather spend hours screaming at Rush Limbaugh on his
equally (and aptly) huge television set than just about anything
you could imagine.  He smokes like a Rastafarian, eats half a
pound of bacon for breakfast every morning, beef for most other
meals, and avoids vegetables like the plague.  (Oddly, he rarely
gets sick, and never touches sweets).
     Take Victor Buono as mild, pre-bonk-on-the-head-into-King
Tut egyptologist, balding, bearded, and add a ponytail and about
100 pounds, 2 feet, and a case of Testosterone (in Tall Boys, no
less), and you begin to approach the psychological and physical
proportions of Billy.  Frank Zappa once wrote a song called
"Billy the Mountain;" to this day I believe Billy was the direct
     Anyway, continuing to make a long (and tall, and wide) story
short (and short, and narrow), if Gilbert Shelton (he of the
"Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers" fame, or in-fame) were hired to
write and draw Marvel's Incredible Hulk comic, you might end up
with something very close to Billy.  He is a hippie Colossus for
the late 20th Century, a rampaging sui generis Buddha of bombast,
like Shakespeare's Falstaff, a rogue "out of all compass," half
paragon, half paranoid, half paradox (yes, I know that's three
halves -- that's Billy), a Raging Bull in the china shop of
modern life, a figure cut from broadcloth you could drape over
the entire Haight-Ashbury (I believe he tried it once in the late
60s, prefiguring Christo by decades).
     He is also one of my best friends in the world.  And when I
say "world," I mean _World_, for although he has spent most of
the last thirty years in California, he has traveled to more
places than I even knew there were *places*, and currently
resides amidst the rocky peaks of a fabled mountainous isle far,
far away -- "Hong Kong," I believe the locals call it.  A
distance that even his seventies-league boots cannot cross
without airborne assistance.
     Which brings us back to the very pedolithic monstrosities
that began my day, and this writing.  What I had literally
stumbled into were none other than several pairs of Billy's

     How did I come to be the dubiously honored possessor of this
Goliath's footwear?  (Putting aside for a moment the questions of
how these boats-that-walk-like-a-man's-feet got strewn into our
hallway in the second place, and what any of this has to do with
toys).  Well, you may remember a few weeks back my referring to a
rare instance on my part of moviegoing which brought to my eyes
the hyperkinetic animated spectacle of "Ghost in the Shell."  I
attended this stunning animation with none other than (wait for
it)... Billy himself, in town for a few fleeting days on a short
vacation from Britain's rapidly-shrinking toehold on the Orient. 
And, when he dropped me off at home after the show, amidst
various rants and roarings about the state of humanity, its
rampant destruction of the terrestrial home, and the degeneration
of electronicized sound it currently calls its rock music, Billy
snuck in an uncharacteristically quiet request for a favor: 
would I hold a pair of new shoes he'd just bought until he got
back in the Fall?  Sure, I said, barely thinking.
     Well, Billy's thought process apparently was that a
tentative "yes" on a single pair was tantamount to an emphatic
"absolutely!" when applied to half a dozen, because before I
could say "geeze, Bill, these things are ENORMOUS," he'd piled
multiple doubles of various fantastic footgear on my outstretched
arms, and as he sped away in a cloud of dust and smoke, wheels
screeching and voice roaring off into the distance, I found
myself laden with enough new shoes to open up a local Florsheim -
- if the locality in question was Kyklopes Island near Ancient
Greece, or perhaps England's Cern (of Rude -- and titanic -- Man
     I dropped the absurdly outsized things into a pile next to
some bookshelves in a corner of our dining room and rested from
my exertions, thoughts of myself having completed the first of a
modern Hercules' twelve labors flitting through my head.  And I
just could not stop staring at those immense foot-things (I
hesitate to call them shoes).  Even in the glare of late-night
incandescence they were unnerving; weeks later, in the dimmed
light of earliest morning, they were downright terrifying.  They
didn't look like clothing; they were just too damned *big*.

     So I started thinking.  What could you use shoes this big
for?  Serving platters?  (Hey, they were brand-new, no fungus in
residence).  An indoor pool?  Gerbil habitats?  In case of
another wrathful deluge, one-family Arks?  Storage units for
loose action figures?  Quite possibly.  After musing a while in
this line, and shaking my head in frank admiration for the sheer
energy required to lift each of these things at the end of one's
legs with every step, I finally turned my back on the ponderous
peds and returned to my regular life, already in progress.
     And basically forgot about the damned, huge things, until I
came upon them laid so incongruously in my morning path.  I was
angry in the way you can only get when something incredibly silly
has scared the bejesus out of you, and immediately began
composing threatening ransom notes to Billy off on the verges of
the Middle Kingdom:
     ...We hAve yoUR sHOEs...
     ...iF yoU eVER wanT to SEE tHEm aGAIn
     ...sEND CaSH noW....
But I hate tearing up good magazines, so that ended that.

     You know, I'm glad you asked that.  I suppose we could take
a moment to think about Billy as an action-figure (think Duke
from Doonesbury, enlarged to Blob proportions -- though I should
be clear in noting that Billy is not particularly fat, just HUGE
in all directions), but that wasn't where I was heading.  No,
it's less Billy that I was focusing on, and more that part of him
he left behind in San Francisco.  Not his heart, people: his
     My first action figure, heck, perhaps the world's first
"official" action figure, was a G.I. Joe.  And amidst the
diverting paraphernalia of his jet pack, helmet, footlocker,
guns, two uniforms (one a mesmerizing silvery space suit), hats,
knives, diving suit, and jeep, I vividly remember his boots. 
Remember hooking my little digits into them, the cool feel of
their thin plastic contours, letting my fingers do the space-
walking on the outer surface of his marvelous space capsule.  And
I remember how damnably difficult it was to get his *feet* into
those furshlugginer booties.
     And there's the rub.
     Actually, there are two rubs (and there may even be a dub-
dub lurking somewhere around the periphery...).  The first is
that accessories like boots can be so hard to actually place on a
figure.  Sure, they look great once they're on, but the process
can be agonizing...and infuriating.
     And the second is that these days, let's face it, boots for
figures are basically a thing of the past.  Relics of a bygone
era.  Just *try* and find a figure with removable shoes.  As a
kid, it seemed to me that nearly every figure toy had boots, or
shoes, or even heels or sandals (my sister's Barbies, for
instance).  Nowadays, pffft.  Nada.  The closest you come are
probably the add-on vacuum metallized boot-fronts for the ToyBiz
Iron Man series figures -- and even they barely count.
     For the mainstream-comic figures, that's probably a
necessity.  Given characters with form-fitting costumes and boots
like Batman, or Spider-Man, you'd *never* be able to get them on
even if they did make them.  And even for characters like Spawn,
with his hella-big clodhopper stompers, there's no percentage in
making the boots removable.  Shoes jest ain't *cool*.
     (By the way, am I the first person to notice that Mod Todd
McFarlane apparently has some kind of foot fetish?  Several of
his characters not only have outrageously outsized boots, they
don't wear anything like the same shoes on each foot!  (Spawn II
and Angela, for instance).  What's more, while invariably "stuck-
on," (well, except for the Vampire) McFarlane Toys produces the
most distinctive footgear in the action figure world.  (Werewolf,
Future Spawn, Cy-Gor, and She-Spawn all spring to mind).  Face
it, folks; the guy has a *weird* for footwear....)

     Poor, poor shoes.  They are treated so shabbily in the
action figure world.  One might argue they are all that separates
us from the beasts (and one would be quite wrong, but in my book
one has the right to make a fool of one's self in any way one
likes, short of injuring another) (hey, I've been doing it for
sixteen weeks now, like clockwork <g>).  And yet for the most
part shoes are given shortest shrift in today's action figure
world, relegated to the dim background and left for naught. 
(Heck, I'm staring at Super-Skrull as I type, and his boots are
     Now, I'm not saying that every figure should come with an
assortment of clogs, dockers, loafers and pumps worthy of Imelda
Marcos, but would it have killed ToyBiz to give the Tony Stark
figure *full* boots instead of those aerated halfies?  Poor guy -
- in combination with that silly half-helmet, you turn him around
in costume, he looks like he's "Halloween Iron Man."  ("Trick or
treat, Mandarin, and one of us is going home *without* any
candy....").  And how about ol' Nick Fury?  Now *there's* a guy
ought to be able to yank his boots off at the end of a long day. 
Ahh, never happen.
     Sigh.  And we'll definitely never see the few figures that
*really* deserve specialty footwear:  Batroc, the Leaper.  Stilt-
Man.  The Toad.  The original Hank McCoy (remember those flip-toe
Doc Martens the walking dictionary used to sport?).
     Thinking about all this footwear vis a vis action figures
led me quite naturally to some of the distaff members of the
crowd.  And while I'm not knocking your Phoenixes, your Voids and
your Elisas, your Phantasms and your She-Dragons, if you've got a
thing for furry hip-boots there's only one figure screaming to be
made:  Barbarella.  Yeah, I know, TRU would bounce it from their
shelves faster than you can say, "hey, Timmy, that brassiere is
transparent!"  But oh, what a shot in the arm for action figure
footstuffs!  (Though Malibu "earring" Ken might well try to steal
the things when Barbarella was busy in the orgasmatron, and
parade around in borrowed glory in the wee hours of the

     So what were Billy's shoes doing out in the hallway at
daybreak?  You know, heh heh, there was a very simple
explanation.  They, uh, weren't.
     Y'see, in my half-awake haze, I kinda got spun around after
letting His Feral Highness Pufinstuff-the-cat in from the
balcony, and in thereafter breaking up an early catfight, with a
squirming cat in one arm and pushing two others away with my
feet, I stumbled from there into the wrong half of the divided
hallway.  And all four of us froze in our tracks the moment we
were confronted by...The Shoes.  Simple mistake.  Any
contortionist-cum-peacekeeper could make it.  And the shoes were
where they have been since I first dropped them.
     But staring at them in the dawn's early light, I realized
one thing.
     I know where Sam Keith got his inspiration for the Maxx's
sneakers.  Uh-huh.  And I thank god in her heaven that Billy has
fingers instead of claws, and no purple in his wardrobe at all. 
We can *all* sleep a lot safer.

     NEXT WEEK:  Action figures and their gloves.  (Just
Copyright (c) 1996 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

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