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John's Action Figure Column 11/21/96


     I have for several weeks had in mind the following open
letter to toy manufacturers:

"Dear Sirs/Madames:

"As a card-carrying member of the bewhiskered subsection of the
male public (well, my driver's license photo should qualify,
though upon seeing it most people think I've stolen the i.d. from
Lech, the lead butcher at Sofia's Polish Sausage Shop), I wish to
protest the relative paucity of beards among your action figures. 
Though bearded men are by no means a majority in the world today,
we nevertheless make up a solid and vocal minority, and should
like to see our proudly-borne badges of hirsute allegiance
reflected in our toys.
                         Sincerely, John Gersten."

     Heck, forget beards; what about figures with mere
moustaches?  What have the manufacturers got against facial hair? 
Is this some kind of subliminal political agenda seeking to
infuse the youth of tomorrow with an aversion to beards?  (Side
note:  To a young New York City table waitress, I once ill-
advisedly commented that she appeared to have "a pronounced
aversion to boxing"; she retorted quite indignantly, informing me
that she was "not any kind of a virgin at all!"  And no, despite
all evidence to the contrary, I did not manage to get a date out
of the exchange).
     Okay, okay, I know that the real target of this complaint
should be the comic book companies whose feeble group minds
actually create the characters that trickle down with varying
speed to plasticized likenesses on the toy shelves.  And I know
not everybody likes beards (thankfully, my wife is one woman who
does.  On _men_, pal, and watch it!).
     On the other, uh, cheek, a good number of people are quite
partial to beards.  Heck, some people are partial to partial
beards.  (My father, for example, had a long term relationship
with five o'clock shadow, said scraggliness appearing for him
much earlier in the day, say, soon after his morning coffee.  Try
as he might, that blue-black facial sandpaper would plague him
every morning, darkening through the day, until by evening his
"hi, I'm home kids!" kiss would rub you raw in a second.  But we
got by...and those plentiful packets of bubble gum cards did a
lot to assuage the admittedly transitory pain).
     If you look at it in a mathematical sort of way, taking an
individual male's facial hair status as a weighted average of
their follicle growth (commencing at zero with the morning shave
and taking the mean tendril length at sunset as the upper end of
the curve), pretty much everybody past puberty and possessing a
"Y" chromosome has something of a beard, however fleeting and
faint, every darned day.  (A digression's digression:  look, I
originally grew the beard to appease Tracey, but I'm going on
four years keeping it, primarily because of how much joy I derive
from _not_ shaving.  Yee-hah!)

     I ask again:  where are all the bearded action figures?  I
mean, some variations are better bereft of hair, but heck, even
Viking Batman is clean-shaven (and a neat trick, that -- "can't
pillage today, honey, gotta head over to Monsieur Robert's Salon
for a quick trim...."  I don't _think_ so....).
     Okay, okay, there are a few.  George Washington Bridge. 
Bishop.  Sentinel.  (Hmmm, is there a pattern developing...?)
Well, Nick Fury and Dash Rendar at least have that shadowy inde-
terminate-but-nevertheless-observable gristle....  I seem to
recall a G.I. Joe with facial hair ("life-like," if I remember
correctly, a scary phrase indeed if you think about it) from my
youth, but today's Cotswold G.I. Joe Catalogues have not a beard
in sight (though "Ty" has a moustache that looks like a fast pass
to a role as lead singer for Queen...but hey, I don't mean to
judge anybody....).
     Who else?  I don't think a Bantha counts; nor should
variations of Beast, Wookie, Werewolf or Cy-Gor.  So let's see. 
Alright.  In the moustache category, you've got Dr. Strange, the
Leader, Grey Gargoyle, Forge, Lando, Mandarin, Tony Stark,
Corsair (how 'bout that -- Toy Biz, "Land of the Moustache," with
Kenner sneaking in quietly).
     Then you've got your figures with "sort of" beards -- you
know, bits and pieces.  Like, some variations of the Freak have a
little Zappa thingy (and hey, talk about McVariations -- bearded
variations would be *perfectly* sensible, in the way that so many
other paint variations are not -- I refer you here to the
calculus of daily growth offered above).  Ras al Ghul has those
down-arrow wisps, and the Curse has his little chin-cover.
     In the way of "true beards," well, we can start with Worf
(various figures), Riker (also various figures), Xanatos, and
Obi-Wan Kenobi.  Then, hmmm, there's the Hercules Centaur, the
Wingless Wizard, the Mongol Warrior & Shiwan Khan from the
Shadow, and from there we move into thicker territory with the
Outcast, Trevor Fitzroy, the Age of Apocalypse Cyclops, Aquaman,
of course (who has a beard but no hand -- is the only trade-off
possible for a caucasian hero wanting a full scruff?), Dragon
Blade, and Viking Spawn (now *there's* a _beard_!  This guy could
be a rabbi if he ever gives up the wanton slaughter 'n mayhem
game!  Now we're talking, oy....)
     You know, uh, come to think of it, there are *lots* of
figures with facial hair!  Even some heroes, though I was
thinking at first that only villains would be allowed a full
furry growth.  Who'd 'a thunk it?  And to think, it's all because
of my little letter....  Proud, I tell ya, darned proud.

     We all know that change is the only constant in life.  As
much as we might hate certain things about this here hobby of
collecting action figures in the late 1990s -- shortpacks,
competition, profiteers, to name a few -- there are of course
other things that we love about it.  Levels of detail unheard of
in ages past, some figures appearing by the hundreds of
thousands, growing responsiveness to collector preferences, even
the occasional manufacture of obscure or even forgotten minor
characters.  Ahh, but even those things we like at present will
surely evolve with must we all.
     Let your mind relax now as, through the miracle of fiction,
we take a short journey down the corridors of time, to see what
action figure collecting will be like fifty long years in the

     "Hi there, 'zens, Johnny-the-Gee comin' at you, live from
Sector 7C at Teearyou City, Golden Gate Province, California
Nation.  I know this zap is squibbing backwards, reverse-time-
capsule-like, so I'll try to stick to the franca I reck from my
youth.  Heck, even though I'm in my 80s I haven't reaganed yet,
so I should be able to comm right crystal for y'all.  You
download that?  Synch!
     "I'm toolin' through the figure District as I think/type; my
powerchair jams righteous, so I have no glitch keeping up with
any recal juvies muscling in on my action...figures.  Ha!  I
forget, you won't scan the "juvies" bug.  Y'see, during the
midlands collapse of '17, when the old You-Ess got repartitioned
and reformatted, lotsa artafers moved west.  I mean *lots* -- the
hobby really shroomed in the early 21st, and collectors increased
like bacteriabots.  End result, well, Jared's been First Sage of
the Cal Republic ever since Eric-the-Gray abdicated.  (Heh,
that's just our pet name for the _first_ First Sage, "Repaint"
Myers; comes from what happened to his 'doo after that awful
incident when the roof fell in on the Super Powers museum on Luna
back in, what was that, '25 or '26?  Anyway, when he saw what
explosive decompression had done to the only surviving Mister
Miracle figure, well, color drained out of his hair overnight.)
     "Anyway, 1stS Van's (hey, I'm old; I can abbreviate all I
want) first piece of official legislation was the Carded Figures
Act, or as we like to ark it, the 'Booby-Bubble Bill.'  No, wipe
that id about fem figs; the BBB did away with those awful
security tags on figures, and at the same time set things up so
that once the virtabucks transfer and a fig is purchased, a
little timer starts running.  If the figure isn't decarded within
fourteen suns (uh, two weeks, your time), Ka-BOOM!
     "S'okay, new implosion tek insures no injuries (heh heh,
make that sound effect 'MOOB-aK' I guess), even if you could
manage to swallow the figure -- card, bubble and all, and don't
think some of the old FVE's didn't try it.  But it does get the
figs off the cards.  The preserver's lobby was pretty synched
against it (even made a 'deal with the Mally' with the FVEs in
the senate to try to laser it down), but the First Sage convinced
'em that the resealing cases looked even better mounted than the
pack bubbles, and that was that.
     "What's that?  Fee-eecies, I'm sorry!  'FVE' is zip for
'Figure Value Enhancers.'  Yeah, no society's ever perfect, and
the scalp-- er, I mean the FVE lobby grew stronger and stronger
in the first quarter of the cent, and one result of what I always
thought was an unholy coalition between them and the collectors
(only way we could trump the manufacturers and get the 'Figures
On Demand' bill passed) was that it became illegal to refer to
anyone as a....well, this thing's going in the past, before the
law, so I suppose it's okay to say 'scalper.'  Hey, you know,
it's been a long time....scalper, scalper, scalper!  That feels
     "But the upload is, we have to refer to the folks who try to
profit from reselling new figures as 'Figure Value Enhancers.' 
Yeah, it makes me sick, too.  But that coalition meant I got all
my Jack Kirby figures made, from the Forever People to the Black
Panther, and all my Ditkos, too.  Ahhh, it was worth it.
     "So anyway, where was I?  Oh yep, me and the Metron (that's
what I call my chair) are just scanning our way through the part
of Teearyou City that I call the 'heroes borough,' pretty much
what used to be the old downtown financial district.  North
section is for PacRim stuff, lotsa antique anime and virteem
stuff; down here in central is more superhero stuff.  Fifteen
square blocks of it!  Heh, drives Tracey crazy, but ever since I
retired I spend most of the daytime cruising the streets, uh, I
mean aisles (they're so much bigger than the old streets that
sometimes I retcon), waiting for new figs to be pegged.
     "Yep, that's a laugh:  they still peg the figures, even
though the 'they' have been robo-clerks ever since the late
thirties.  We just never could tank the corruption in the ranks,
not when the manyous started getting around the longpack statutes
with variant figure packs containing exclusive feelies on
empacked holochips.  Going to robos was the only way to avoid
further bloodshed.  Thank god Crawfonomics actually worked -- bet
no one back where you are would ever believe a govdole can
actually make for a paradise.  Heh heh heh.
     "Anyway, since my ubernet connection is hard wired to the
ol' cranium, I've got a permalink to all my artaff buddies -- oh,
hold on, uh, ha, all of you say hi to all of you (no, Marcia, I
cannot tell Marcia to invest in _any_thing) -- which has turned
trading into an instant thing.  It was weird at first, having the
newsgroup in realtime, but you get used to it.  Hey, I think I'm
gobbing the old lingo straight crystal!
     "Anyway, I guess I should say something about economics in
general these days.  Yes, we do still have money, although I
haven't seen an actual bill in decades.  It's all bits and chits,
and even though the 'dole takes care of everyone's food and
housing, any work you elect to do goes for luckses, uh, luxuries. 
My books keep me in action figures, though I have to admit it was
that Picard I stashed that put little Cassady through Harvard. 
Thank god for it!
     "A lot of you are probably wondering when the crash came. 
Uh, will come.  Heh heh.  They warned me about fraggin' history
with a reckless word, so I have to be a little scatter, but don't
worry -- next time you see someone credding, I mean, buying n-
squared Holiday Barbies, you can enjoy a _really_ satisfying
laugh.  Trust me.
     "God -- I just realized -- you can all probably still
_return_ figures to the store, right?  Ha, enjoy that while you
can.  Today, they go after specks who try that excrete even more
avidly than beefleggers -- and you _know_ that must be serious!
     "What else can I tell you?  Oh yeah, the most popular line
today is -- this'll floor ya -- Star Trek *Original* Series
figures!  I'm not strippin' your archive bit, it's cherry.  See,
back in the early teens when they perfected the retscan, it
became possible to create wholly new vid programs using the sound
and image masters from old shows.  And when Perfect Holo (tm)
came along shortly after, it was too easy to fold all that old
stuff in.  Result?  "Star Trek: The New Original Series" has been
the number one show for over two decades!  It sure didn't hurt
that MKS Productions has been turning out first-rate scripts
throughout.  By the byte, that's "Marty/Kevin/Scott" and they're
awesome.  I think they used to do something besides vidscript
writing, but third and fourth careers are meta-common these days.
     "And for those of you who might be worried, there are still
comic books!  In fact, they're the only viddables still printed
on paper.  Got an "antique crafts" exception from the Universal
Recycle Mandate of '25.  So we can still read all those nifty
adventures of all those heroes -- god, I remember 'em all from my
childhood:  Flash-Spawn, Bat-Spawn, X-Spawn, and my all-time
favorite, Super-Spawn.  They'll all produced outta the McFarlane
Confederacy in SoCan, one of the neo-provinces.  Some folks say
their proximity to the deadlands is what gives 'em their
creepazoid ideas, but I think they're just having fun.
     "I guess that's about it.  Time's a-wasting, and I think I
see a droid putting out a new case of "Alien Friends" figs.  No,
not the Sigourney Weaver-Stallone gruesomes, the figure line
based on the _aliens_, you know, The Friendlies, the ones that
came to Earth in the early '30s and invited us into the Pan-
Galactic Union.  Didn't I mention that?  Down!  I _am_ getting
     "Well, here's how it went -- frrzzzkatt; zznggzizzrbbggg --
razzmirrat, rf$4##llterr, --adonna kid goes in, f^^&[email protected]@llter, oh
man, plattertrash, think I^## (*@@ing the sig((~~~.... Xkllo,
Xkllo, 9r% *^ff $#tting thr**[email protected]?  Xkllo?  X5ff(+++...."

     Oops, guess that's all we'll get from up the line.  Probably
just as well....
     Anyway, see you all next week!  Happy holiday!  And don't
take any wooden turkeys....or tofu birds, if that's your
Copyright (c) 1996 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

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