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John's Action Figure Column 8/15/96


     Ahhh, repaints.  You know, reissues of figures unchanged in
detail or accoutrement except for their paint jobs.  You try
ignoring them.  You try hating them.  You try buying them.  You
still end up with -- recolored action figures.  To paraphrase
Churchill, repaints are a duplicity wrapped in a redundancy
covered by a superfluity.  (Try saying *that* three times fast.)
     First of all, I don't think repaints are so bad.  Biggest
reason:  they get more figures to more people.  If some buyers
get caught up in "gotta have 'em all" mania, that's their trip. 
Given the premise that some manufacturers are going to trickle
out their supplies to maximize the hype (and in turn, to their
minds, the ultimate sales as well) the chance to get a particular
figure *at all* is hugely improved by repaints, and that can't be
bad.  Sure, some repaints get pounced upon as rapidly as the
originals (can you say "shortpacked females?"  I knew you
could...), but most of them linger substantially longer (the gold
Cy-Gor would be a fine example of this principle).
     In this sense, repaints aren't so bad.  I mean, if you look
at it from a different perspective, it's characters who wear the
same garb day in, day out, who are anomalous (demands of
recognizability notwithstanding).
     Heck, do you wear the same outfit every day?  (Not talking
to the scalpers out there <g>).  I always loved those peeks into
Superman's and Spider-Man's secret closets where we'd see their
spare pret-a-porter uniforms dangling from a few wire hangers.  I
guess in Superman's case I'm thinking of one of those mid-60s
multiple-costume silly season stories, since indestructible
Kryptonian cloth would presumably never wear out.

     Talk about a side issue -- does Superman actually sweat?  I
could see this one going two ways -- either his solar-powered
corpus would be somehow above animal sweating, or else he'd exude
a stench that would burn the nose right off your face.  So would
Kal-el use a Kryptonite-based Speed Stick?  Or would he have to
go to a Kandorian dry-cleaner to get super-stains out of his
     Besides, Superman's not the only costumed do-gooder working
his (or her) derriere off in the hot sun (or the heat of the
night, for that matter) for truth, justice, etc.  I mean,
fighting crime *has* to be a strenuous business, so we're talking
_major_ ring around the collar, no?  I can just see it
now..."Geeze, Batman, ya don't need to hit us -- the stink alone
makes us want to surrender.  Give my bruddah a call, okay?  He
runs a dry cleaner in South Gotham...."
     I think someone stands to make a *fortune* running a by-the-
pound "Wash 'n Fold" catering to super-heroes.
     Now, where were we?

     Whatever you think of repaints, you can't deny the simple
economics of profit-by-repaint.  I mean, how much clearer could
it be?  Same designs, same molds, a bit of new plastic, change
some paint ratios, presto!  Slightly different figures, with
power-enhanced marketability.
     Well, some of the time.  There are two things that can turn
"gee, these cost nothing to design, talk about profit!" repaints
into shelf-bricks extraordinaire:  One, they can be overproduced
(think Savage Land Wolverine).  Two, they can just, well, suck
(think black card Ultraforce -- or regular Ultraforce).
     Overproduction is a danger for "first run" figures as well
as repaints -- remember all those Blacklashes and Mandarins last
Winter?  Or the current deluge of Light-Up Bowels-Down Wolverine
making aisle 7C a dark purple grimacing blur?  But to overproduce
a repaint can be doubly bad, particularly when it causes a toy
manufacturer to turn around and say, "See?  We were better off
when we made too *few* figures; at least then we didn't lose
money on all these peg-blocking extras, which are then leading
some retailers to reduce their future orders...."  I guess that's
the toy world corollary to the idea of "always leave 'em wanting
     And Lousy figures are lousy figures, and when manufacturers
repaint lousy figures they are all-too-baldly revealing their
lack of interest in what the buying public really wants.  So much
of *all* the manufacturers' design strategies is hit or miss --
have these folks really never heard of *focus* groups?!?  Heck,
I'll volunteer the Bay Area Toyboys to any manufacturer that
wants a real-world road test of upcoming figure designs and
prototypes (we've even got a coupla kids to throw in the mix for
a truly wide-ranging sample).  Not that we're anything special;
that "Ultralame" line wouldn't have gotten past a blind,
scrofulous collector from Latveria, fer chrissakes.

     But back to repaints.  Now, not every "repaint" reveals its
re-colored nature forthrightly.  Take Kenner's Batman: The
Animated Series line.  In a sense, the hero figures in this line
constitute an entire *line* of repaints!  Oh, sure, there are
myriad accessory and cornball-name variations as well as color
and epaulet/boot/belt adjustments, but at heart the Batman lines
have what, a handful of different faces among a couple dozen
barrelfulls of figures?  (And though different unto themselves,
the various movie-derived lines have their own signature mugs as
well -- which have their own problems; you've heard of "Bette
Davis eyes?"  Well, "Val Kilmer jaw" has turned me off more
figures than the word "Galoob.")  Thank god Kenner recently
decided to give Batman a new face with some *character* -- those
grimacing Dark Knight figures are the best thing to happen to the
line since reissued villains!
     Which brings up another point:  while Todd McFarlane, Grand
High Poo-bah of the Repainters, tends to send his redecorated
creatures along mere weeks after the originals, there's nothing
wrong with striking well after the iron has had a chance to cool. 
Witness Kenner's Bat-villains redux of a few months ago -- though
technically "reissues" and not "repaints," those were terrific! 
And I don't know about your town, but out here those villains get
sucked up *instantly* each time they reappear.  My god, bring on
the *rest* of the line, Kenner!  More villains!  More villains! 
All-villain cases!  All-villain lines!  Bwah-hah-hah-hah-hah....
     Heck, Batman isn't even the most suitable character to have
infinite variations.  Though Bats did occasionally ring out some
hastily-constructed Bat-sled or Bat-Pogo-Stick necessitating
appropriate alternative raiment in the comics, more often than
not he wore the same gray and blue duds to strike fear into the
hearts of bad, mad, dangerous-to-know felons.  No, there are
*other* characters for whom variations of costume are much more Iron Man.
     Now, granted, the Iron Man of the comics I remember didn't
change outfits all that often.  But given the nature of Tony
Stark's creation -- a powered exo-skeleton chock full o' energy
weapons -- having innumerable, situation-specific outfits makes
total sense!  (And, ultimately, Marvel did finally stumble onto
the idea of Iron Man having multiple suits on purpose, rather
than as an "oh gosh Ultimo just destroyed my armor what'll I wear
to the ball?" expedient; of all characters in the comics world,
multiples for Iron Man fit perfectly with the nature of the

     I know I said something above about repaints being the same
as their original figures except for the paint; this is
(thankfully?) changing in some cases.  It appears that McFarlane
Toys is starting a new practice of issuing repaints which differ
in accessories from their originals.  Ahhh, but are you a
good which, or a bad which?
     Some might say this is "good," in that it provides an
additional rationale for buying a second of a particular figure
(if a different color scheme isn't enough by itself).  You know,
buy the repaint, get the vac-metallized colostomy bag, or the
Bat-Unicycle with retractable hair-dryer.  Sounds okay, no?
     Well, if you subscribe to the theory that the repaints exist
to get hard-to-find figures into the hands of them-what-couldn't-
originally-find, then this would be "bad."  Because people who
can't manage to beat the collecting, scalping and (ptoooey!)
investing hordes to the retailers the first time around will not
only be deprived the snazzy "original" paint jobs, they'll miss
out on the "original" accessories as well.  (Not to mention that
repaints with qualitatively different add-ons may well lure in
scalpers nearly as much as the "original" figures did).
     Or will they?  If you saw this months "Tomart's Action
Figure Digest," you may have noticed some production repros from
McFarlane Toys on page 26.  There is a photo of "Spawn III"
pictured next to a low, menacing Wolf figure, with the marginal
notation "Wolf comes w/repaint."  (Hmmm, then does the Wolf Spawn
repaint come with a small human figure?)  Now, if this note means
that the _repaint_ version actually comes with an accessory that
the original _doesn't_, I think McFarlane may actually have
stumbled onto something quite positive for the hobby.
     You see, if the original Spawn III comes all by itself, and
then a month or two later the repaint comes down the line along
with a nasty-looking red-eyed wolf, then folks who have to rely
on the repaint for their only dose of Spawn III may well be
pleased that though they got version "b," at least they got a
consolation prize for their patience.
     Of course, if Spawn III is shortpacked or even merely
lowpacked, then this gimmick stands to make the second version
disappear just as quickly as the first.  (My word, McToys
couldn't want *that*, now, could they?)  Lots will depend on the
actual packing and production ratios.
     And second-of-course, this note in the Tomart's photo may
mean that the repaint comes with a wolf, while the original comes
with a leopard, or a tiger -- or even a necroplastic bunny (with
big, sharp, pointy teeth).  Heck, we're talking about *McFarlane*
here -- for all we know, all six figures in the Malebolgia-damned
assortment may come with wolves.
     And I'm still gonna hold out for a Todd McFarlane figure,
the repaint of which will of course come with a small Chet
Jacques-with-keyboard accessory.

     So, as far as repaints in general go, my feelings are pretty
much mixed.  While it's good to have more of a particular figure
out in the market, I fear that a reliance upon prospective
repaints allows manufacturers to short initial runs of figures
from what they might otherwise be.
     And repaintings of course are not the only variations
manufacturers make of their figures; let's not forget Kenner,
with one "Giving the Finger Han Solo" while the other one is
"Making a Peace Sign," figures with short noses and figures with
long noses (c'mon, we know what message they're *really* trying
to send... "You know, Charlene, I used to date that short saber
Luke, but ever since I met long saber Luke I don't even give him
the time of day.  And I just *feel* so much better about
myself....").  And don't even get me started about "body parts
switchers 'r' us"-Playmates.  Or Toy Biz, the company with
"Accessory Swapping Action."
     Yep, variations are here to stay, I believe.  Which is why
I've taken up a kind of a repaint strategy of my own:
     On Mondays, I shop as "John the completist maniac with green
polo shirt and blue jeans."  On Thursdays, I'm "Calm Cash-Only
John with khakis and a white Gap button down."  And on weekends? 
Heh heh...remember the original Angela figure?  Yep, stay away
from me on the weekends, 'cause on weekends I shop as PARTY JOHN.
     In TRU, no one can hear you scream....

     [Good ol' once-netless Jeff recently e-mailed me the
following rumination on the world of toys.  Though he reportedly
has obtained net access, in the best of newbie practices he will
likely be lurking for several weeks before appearing on his own. 
In the interim, however, I'll toss a bit of him squarely into the
fray with this (approved) squirt of wit and wisdom....]

     Do you know what the most frequent question my friends ask
me whenever I tell them about various toy-hunting exploits?  Once
in a very great while, I'll get, "what's a shortpack?" and
"scalpers?!?"  Upon occasion the question even arises "action
figures?  What are *they*...?"  But on a regular basis I get,
"Tee-arr-you?  What the *hell* is Tee-arr-you?"
     "Tee-arr-you -- 'Toys 'R' Us."
     "Oh. Toys 'R' Us."  Pause.  Pause.  Pause.  "Huh."
     "No, nothing. I just can't believe someone would shorten
Toys 'R' Us."
     "Well, it gets redundant quick and we're always talking
about different stores so---"
     "But it's only eight letters.  Total.  Eight.  Three words."
     "Yeah, but see, location is more important.  You never just
say *the* Toys 'R' Us, it's always 'TRU Colma,' or 'TRU Ninth
Street -- '"
     "See?  There you go again.  Tee-arr-you takes almost as much
time and effort to say as 'Toys 'R' Us.'  Same number of
syllables, actually.  You really aren't saving anything."
     "Well, the esses drag out the length of the words."
     "My god, 'Tee-arr-you.'  I could understand Kay-eff-cee from
'Kentucky Fried Chicken.'  But Tee-arr-you?!?  Sounds like a
medical procedure...."
     I could go on and spin this off into an Abbot and Costello
routine ("K.B.?  What's that short for?") but I am sticking here
to cold hard reality.  The above conversation, three times, three
different people in the last month alone....
     No point here, of course, other than fetishists can only
make their objects of desire palatable to a limited extent. 
After that, we are on our own....

     ...secret to ultimate happiness.  Just that.  And it never
     So; where were we?  Ah, yes.  End of yet another column. 
Excellent.  Glad to see you stayed through to the end.  Hope to
see you all right here next week, same BTAS-time, same POTF2-
station.  Avanti!
     And if someone you know misses this column here on rta-f,
don't worry; it'll be on my web site in a few days -- in bright
blue!  (And then bright yellow, then chartreuse, then gold, then
Copyright (c) 1996 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

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