Page not found | Raving Toy Maniac

Page not found

The requested page could not be found.

John's Action Figure Column 7/11/96


     Okay, you know you're a true collector when you start to
know the sequence of songs on the toy store music tapes.
     The first time this happened to me, I was wandering one of
the local TRUs trying to put the strains of an old (but no less
annoying) Madonna song out of my conscious hearing when I
suddenly caught myself humming the Beatles' "Got to Get You Into
My Life."  I stopped still in the aisle, wondering why that
particular song would surface, when the Madonna tune ended,
followed immediately by...Paul McCartney's voice singing "I was
alone, I took a ride, I didn't know what I would find there...."
(by the way, who knew Paul was a toy collector?).  The thought
that some deep part of my brain had memorized even a part of the
TRU music-tape sequence gave me chills.
     And you know you've been collecting a l-e-e-t-l-e *too* long
when you stop noticing the muzak at all -- because it's been
saved to the permanent mushy disk in your cranium (it's some kind
of optical-holo wetwork storage -- don't think too much about it;
it's like staring into your blind spot -- you'll just give
yourself a headache).  Which is probably even more horrifying.
     Anyway, all this started me wondering what it must be like
for the poor souls who actually have to hear this stuff _all_
_day_ _long_ -- those hardy folks who labor away in the toy
stores of America.  So I asked some of them.

     "Ya get sick of it _real_ fast."
     "You kind of zone out on it after a while..."
     "It sucks.  And it can drive you crazy."
     I was not surprised.  In addition to soft-rock, Kaybee's
musical selections include "kiddy" songs, silly nonsense songs,
songs with zany sound effects and songs about clowns pouring
kool-aid down people's pants -- think of it as a soundtrack for
Congress.  Anyway, just when one of these goofy happy tunes
starts working its way into your inner ear like the cold tip of a
psycho's ends.  And up comes a theoretically
inoffensive 70s/80s numb-pop number to soothe your weary
purchasing bones.
     Kaybee's music is apparently shipped to the stores monthly
on a weird multi-track tape that plays in a loop without ever
needing to be flipped.  And as if the music itself weren't bad
enough, the Kaybees apparently get weekly written imperatives
"from the corporate home office" (that come through with the
force of God's edicts to Moses) commanding the employees to do
things like set up displays of leaping "Bumble Bolters" which in
turn set up an extraordinarily dissonant (and insistent, and
irritating) thumping counterpoint to the soft pop music.  Hanging
around these displays for longer than a minute or two leads to a
pounder that makes a Slurpee migraine feel like a walk in the
park.  I count my lucky stars this staccato "responsive pounding"
hasn't crossed chain lines to TRU...yet.
     On a side, uh, note, I know that the music stops (thank god)
at the end of the day, when the employees turn out the lights and
lower the giant riot gate across the gaping Kaybee entrance.  And
I know it begins again when they open in the morning, because I
was there one morning when they started it up.  Apparently, the
volume knob had gotten bumped some time during the morning set-
up, because when one of the clerks casually flipped the player
on, one of the clown songs came blaring out of the sky like the
promised trumpets of judgment day.  The virginia and I jumped
about a foot in the air before we realized it was benign.  Well,
nearly.  So yeah, at the Kaybee the music starts up each morning,
and stops each night.  As opposed to TRU....

     ...where the music apparently just plays and plays...and
play...endlessly.  Forever.  I kid you not -- when I asked if
anyone had to change the tape, if the music ever stopped even for
a moment, the employees I chatted with explained that it doesn't
stop *ever*.  When the last person closes up at the end of the
night, locking the doors on a store bereft of human intelligence
(no jokes, please), that music is still playing away, floating
through the air like an anaesthetizing mist.
     And somehow, the idea of all those TRUs across this great
nation singing softly to themselves in the darkling night, hour
by hour, their doors shuttered, their lights dimmed, set me upon
a train of thought almost too horrible to board:  I think they're
_alive_.  The stores, man, they're alive!
     Think about it.  The human operators are just part of the
life-cycle, guiding the trucks that bring the boxes that other
humans unpack, aiding the digestive process until individual toys
are excreted out with the aid of still other humans, who nourish
the store-creatures further with cash and credit in the process.
     How do they reproduce?  Obviously the generative vector is
kept out of the sight of mere mortals; I hypothesize a humongous
dark airborne machine that lowers to earth periodically to
extrude a fully-formed new TRU, punched out in a cookie-cutter
process to settle perfectly into the appointed strip-mall spot,
the entire operation so precisely ordered that not a lick of
paint is disturbed on either side.  The new store-organism takes
its place as if it had always been there.
     And that music starts playing before the dust even settles.

     Meanwhile, perhaps the most nightmarish musical toy-
experience is to be found at FAO Schwartz.  So far as I can tell,
their auditory offerings consist of a single tune.  If you've
ever been in an FAO Schwartz, you've heard it.  Heck, if you've
spent more than five minutes in one, it's inescapably ingrained
upon your musical memory.  I probably need only write:

     "Welcome to our world..."

And you're already cringing, right?  I thought so.  The employees
at FAO Schwartz truly have my sympathy.  In my opinion, having to
endure that monotonous melody day in, day out, week after week,
qualifies them for combat pay.
     In fact, that's probably why FAO has to charge so much for
toys -- to cover the rampant disability payments for their clerks
and managers, who no doubt need their cochleas replaced every six

     By the way, after running this musical gauntlet, sampling as
it were this sequential corridor of sonic gloom, I dashed home to
the only antidote I knew for certain would relieve my beleaguered
ears of the multi-tonal torment they'd suffered:  I popped some
vintage Frank Zappa into my computer's CD-ROM drive and let it
work its magic through my sound card and speakers as I settled in
to chronicle my auditory odyssey.  (And, by the way, Ulysses had
it right when he ordered his men to plug their ears with wax;
them sirens is dangerous, on Greek isles or in TRU aisles alike!)

     Just when you thought it was safe to go into the toy store. 
The horror is just beginning.
     No, I'm not talking about living TRUs, Independence Day's
Supreme Commander, or any undead Spawn-related monster.  The evil
I speak of is far worse.  I'm talking about...Barney.
     Yes, it happened just as I was leaving TRU this afternoon. 
Why, oh why couldn't I have just taken my usual path out of the
store?  No, I had to try a new aisle to see if there were any new
Fisher-Price dragons out.  There weren't.  (If it were a movie,
young girls in the front row would have been screaming "no, don't
go there!" over their greasy popcorn and sticky cokes).  So there
I was about to leave, when I noticed a Bargain Bin at the end of
the aisle containing what looked like carded bubbles.  Ah, more
action figures, I thought, veering off to explore this
unannounced bounty.
     Hmmm, even from a distance I could see that these were too
small to be Maxxes, the cards didn't look like Toy Biz, and I
don't remember any other figures with purple skin.  A tiny voice
in my head was emulating those imagined adolescent moviegoers but
I ignored the quiet "go back, go baaaaaacckkkk," and moved
closer.  Even feeling my skin crawling backwards as fervently as
it could didn't dissuade me.  As I neared the bin, a horrified
fascination kept me moving forward until I could make out the
signature shape of...Barney.
     And not just one Barney -- which would have been bad
enough -- there were *dozens*.  A veritable Barn-ucopia, a
plethora of puerile purple pup-squeaks.  I should have run,
should have dragged myself away screaming, but something unholy
compelled me to actually *touch* one of the figures.  I picked up
the bubble and turned it over.  Yes, my fears were true:  there
were *three* different Barneys available, as well as three
"female companion figures."  The females were all variants of
"Baby Bop," whoever that is -- an unadorned Baby Bop, a ballerina
BB and a "beddy-bye" BB.
     As for the Evil One himself, there was the regular demon, a
Top Hatted-version, and something my too-hastily scrawled notes
seem to indicate was a "Bonebreaker Barney?"  Nah, it can't be. 
Maybe "Berserker Barney?"  I guess my fright had me trembling,
because I can't for the life of me make out from my scrawl what
the description was for that final Barneyzebub figure. 
("Benihana Barney?"  I just can't tell....)  It's probably just
as well.  Who knows -- it could be like Beetlejuice:  if I wrote
out all three names, the infernal amaranthine varmint might
appear before me, singing treacly tunes at the top of his lungs
and lumbering around trying to do-good everywhere.  [Hey, what's
that screaming?  Oh, it's only me.]
     By the way, the folks to blame for these cloying cuddly
cthulus-in-mauve are a company called "Child Dimension," which
seems appropriate to my thinking, since the big "B" himself can
only have come from another dimension (preferably one very far
from our own).  And you thought the elder gods were scary....

     Speaking of signs of the approaching apocalypse, so far
McFarlane Toys has given us something on the order of no less
than THIRTEEN Spawn figures.  I don't mean "figures from the
Spawn line," I mean actual characters-who-are-Hellspawn figures. 
(For the record, my counting goes Spawn, Medieval Spawn,
Hamburger Head, Commando Spawn, Pilot Spawn, Ninja Spawn, Future
Spawn, Spawn II, She-Spawn, Exo-Skeleton Spawn, Viking Spawn,
Toxic Spawn, and Nuclear Spawn).  Sure, some of them are only
slightly-changed repaints, or old figures with new bones stuck on
'em, but the fact remains that in three short years we've seen,
um, a *helluva* lot of Spawns.  (I'm not even counting the gold
Spawn, the blue Spawn, variant two-pack Spawns, etc., or even the
emergent Spawn-with-new-head Spawn).
     And there are no less then five *more* Spawn-as-Spawn
figures slotted to come out before the end of the year -- Alien
Spawn, Chameleon Spawn, Battleclad Spawn, Wolf Spawn and Zombie
Spawn.  The first several Spawn assortments generally had only
one or two Spawn-proper figures in them; as the line progresses,
this ratio appears to be rising.
     Now, don't get me wrong.  I *like* Spawn figures.  The
attention to detail is simply wonderful, and whatever his
shortcomings as a writer (and longcomings as ego-tripper), Todd
McFarlane has a terrific eye for design, and detail.  And this
shows with unquestionable clarity in his figures.
     No, my problem is having a half-decent memory.  Because I
remember way back to the early issues of Spawn, when it was made
clear that Spawns are pretty rare creatures.  We were told they
only get, well, "spawned," once or twice a millennia.
     Then that rarity was progressively truncated, such that we
might expect to see Spawns every two or three hundred years, and
then perhaps even more frequently.
     A shell game?  Well, remember, this is the comic book where
it was originally a major plot point that the hero had severe
limitations to his power; you'll notice that that is no longer
mentioned.  (After all, this is also the book where having a
furshlugginer _shoelace_ removed rates a five-month superhype
build-up and a double-sized "actually pencilled by God" would-be-
landmark issue!)
     Anyway, going by the comic, at this point Spawns may well
get spawned as much as once a century.
     But going by the toys, my word -- we seem to have Spawns a-
borning every twenty minutes!  "Every time a bell rings, a Spawn
gets his wings...."  (Or neural parasite costume, as the case may
     It's a Wonderful (after-) Life.

     Well, I've adjusted -- to a proliferation of Spawns as well
as a power level that varies as needed by the plot of the hour.
     I'm just starting to get worried where McToys goes from
here.  I mean, there has to be an upper limit of grimy, creepy,
menacing Spawns.
     What if Al Simmons decided to give up on the whole good/evil
dialectic and opted instead for a safe, sensible career position? 
"Accountant Spawn!"  "Bartender Spawn!"  "Gynecologist Spawn!" 
"Lawyer Spawn!"  (Oops, that one would be redundant).
     Or the "Spawn through the Ages" theme might pick up where
Viking Spawn leaves off and give us "Round Head" Spawn,
"Renaissance" Spawn, "Robespierre" Spawn (to be followed of
course by "Napoleon Spawnaparte") and "British Raj" Spawn.
     And then the whole "New World in America" line -- "Pilgrim"
Spawn, "Settler" Spawn, "Wild West" Spawn, "Railroad Baron"
Spawn, and "Doughboy" Spawn.
     Which would naturally lead to the "Hall of Presidents"
Spawns -- yes, all your favorites, no child's toy collection
would be complete without Abe Lincoln "Stovepipe Hat" Spawn,
Teddy Roosevelt "Roughrider" Spawn, FDR "Wheelchair" Spawn, and,
of course, "Two-Faced Tricky Dick" Nixon Spawn.
     Heck, we'll probably eventually see "Day of the Week" Spawns
-- you know, Monday's Spawn, he has no face; Tuesday's Spawn, he
carries Mace; Wednesday's Spawn is full of woe (aren't they
all?); Thursday's Spawn has far to go, etc.  Followed by
"Monthly" Spawns -- January Spawn, February Spawn, March Spawn,
et al.  (Leading, of course, to the limited edition "Holiday
Spawns" -- Easter Spawn, Xmas Spawn, and a champagne-dipped "New
Years' Spawn").
     My next-to-worst fear is that McTodd will recognize the only
true competitor to the Spawn figures for creating sheer retail
frenzy, and we'll end up with -- you guessed it -- "Starting
Line-Up Spawns."  Combining horrific detail with MLB-approved
uniforms, each pre-season will bring us figures so realistic
you'll scream, so desirable you'll cry, and so hard-to-get you'll
never even *see* what they look like.
     And my ultimate McFear is, we'll just end up with a world of
Spawns.  "Spawnworld, where everyone and his damned brother have
become hellspawns."  Every action figure will be a Spawn of one
sort or another; you won't be able to spit without hitting one of
Malebolgia's shock troopers, supermarkets and highways will be
thick with angels trying to keep the peace, and suddenly toys of
actual *human* beings will be the rage.
     And they think no one will be interested in Sam and
Copyright (c) 1996 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

Comments? Drop me a line....
Return to John's Action Figure Column Home Page