Page not found | Raving Toy Maniac

Page not found

The requested page could not be found.

John's Action Figure Column 11/28/96


     I'll get to the action figure-related stuff in a moment. 
But first, the occasion of the Thanksgiving holiday has prompted
a few slightly more general thoughts that I feel compelled to
share.  Hell, I long ago stopped expecting anyone out there to
actually _read_ any of this stuff; the mask has been stripped
away and I have no illusions about it anymore -- this is _my_
written therapy, folks, and you can stare at the psychological
car wreck as you pass by (or the gathered crowd of action figure
bystanders) or not.  Either way, I still don't get paid.
     So, on to thoughts of Thanksgiving.  Which are distinct from
thoughts of thanks themselves, which are arguably no less
significant but inarguably a lot less interesting for the reading
public.  Grab a big hunk of leftover stuffing and cranberry sauce
and apply liberally to the following -- if nothing else, it'll
make it a lot tastier!

     American Holidays are almost invariably _not_ really "about"
their ostensible subjects.  They are not about reminiscing, or
dredging or honoring the past; quite the opposite.  They tend to
be a mix of excuses for family gatherings (which have their own
dynamics, good and bad) and rampant commercialization flavored
with polite fictions, a gilding of the merchant lily in an
outpouring of consumerism that is itself its own reward.  And so
Thanksgiving is not really _about_ the Pilgrims, or their
struggle to find a haven away from oppression, or even any modern
echo thereof.  (Granted, it is often about the giving of some
thanks, at least until the feeding frenzy ends and all too many
of us begin wishing we'd been a little less appreciative -- and
hungry -- in our devouring thankfulness and a little bit more
circumspect in our appetites.)  But more on this later.  (Hey,
think of it like those sweet potatoes you gorged on yesterday --
you knew you'd had enough five minutes into the meal, but you
just kept reaching over for least *I* did....)
     No, in the deep emotional sense, our American holidays are
usually all too hollow, days not of memory but of anti-memory.  I
think in part that's because they no longer resonate with the
American character -- and in many cases, that divergence has been
worsening for decades.

     I therefore propose the following "true" American holidays,
days which really would reflect the American character, days
which could be spent in restful contemplation of what it means to
be American, to be "free," to live in a land of plenty
(admittedly, plenty that is not distributed equally, putting
aside the divisive question of whether or not it even should be),
a land where everyone is equal in the sight of the department
store fragrance-sprayers, a land where the pen is mightier than
any ideal of rehabilitation, a land where our sense of identity
is curiously so long-fractionated that most American bird, the
centerpiece of our current jingoist annual feast, is named not
the "Amerikey" or even "USAvian," but the "Turkey."  Go figure.
     Anyway, here are my suggestions for the True American
     Car Day -- celebrating the creation of the personal motor
car, Henry Ford in all his fascist personal glory, Olds,
Chrysler, and Sir GM himself; the most essential American
holiday, dedicated to the machines that really made the 20th
century in north america what it is.  On Car Day, mechanics will
be feted, hoisted upon shoulders and paraded through the main
street of every town in the country, tiny to megalopolitan;
assembly line workers will be given free meals at the nation's
top restaurants, automotive designers will attend star-studded
gala soirees and the rest of us, young and old, will do our best
to follow a government mandate of backseat procreation.
     Money Day -- a celebration of the true god of America, the
modern Mammon, cold hard cash.  Dollar bills will replace long-
abandoned ticker-tape as parades course through our cities, and
at noon everyone everywhere will take five minutes out of their
day, kneel on specially-made carpets stylized as $5,000 bills,
and bow towards Fort Knox.  The day concludes with a 50-state
lottery, where 50 lucky winners get 24 hours to spend as much as
they can, all on the government's chit.
     Super Bowl Sunday -- what the hell, it's halfway there
already; let's elevate the damned day to true and full Holiday
Proportions!  Get Martha Stewart to write a book on cooking and
preparations for the biggest Big Game and we're all set! 
("Frozen Budweiser treats make an attractive and tasty
centerpiece...old jock straps can be recycled into festive and
economical planters....")  Forget about lesser networks trying to
compete, put the fargin' game on EVERY channel!  Get The Artist
Formerly Known As Talented and Alannis to write a couple big game
musical chestnuts, and this sucker is ready for the history
     Election Day -- now this really *is* one of the great things
about America -- and we should celebrate it with more than just
the exercise of our hard-won franchise rights.  No one should
work on Election Day without getting double-time for it; we
should spend the day voting and partying and luxuriating in our
system, with all its flaws, and by evening a humongous feast
should insure that there will not be a hungry mouth in the
nation, at least not on Election Day.
     Sexual Identity Day!  Where "out" becomes "omnipresent,"
this day will celebrate the wonderful ways in which people emerge
as people, in all their confusing and dazzling splendor.  There
are no closets in America on Sexual Identity Day, and as free
condoms rain down from the sky everyone is encouraged to be all
they can be with as many fellow Americans as they can, uh, fit
into a single day.  There's no such thing as a wrong consensual
partner on SI Day, and if you show up at work the next morning
without scratches and a dopey grin, hell, if you show up at work
at *all* the next morning, you're just not a true American!
     ...and of course, my own personal contribution to the
American holiday pantheon, Action Figure Day!  The day where
small plastic personages are elevated to the heights of giants,
spiritual icons for the masses!  The schools are closed and the
post offices stop as Priority Mail Mailpersons and Customizers
are honored and feasted from coast to coast; cookouts and picnics
are the watchword of the day as the outdoor festivities make it
easy for us to all play outside with our toys.  And amidst all
this celebratory joy, *everyone* _has_ to buy at least one action
figure for someone else (hey, this is how we get the shelves
clear of all those ridiculous longpacks and myriad Batmen!). 
Heck, this day has everything but an *anthem*!
     Sigh.  So maybe everyone doesn't share my ideals, or my
ideas.  I think these would be great!  Where's that number for
     But back to the instant holiday, Thanksgiving....

     Ahhh, Thanksgiving.  That wonderful holiday, opening kickoff
in the season of fetes, first salvo in the annual Winter-weight-
gain Home Olympics.  There's nothing quite like it, at least not
in my family.  Try as we might, no other holiday comes close to
Thanksgiving for sheer dionysian gustatory abandon, a throwing of
all culinary caution to the four blustery winds and a cooking and
a dining-in with an intensity unmatched by anything in human
experience...except perhaps the morning-after frenzy at the mall.
     But the mall and even the kitchen are much later
refinements; no one in their right (if overstuffed) mind could
argue about the clear and manifest "meaning" of Thanksgiving.  We
get spoon-fed this series of almost-facts from grade school on,
we see it in parades and animated specials (well, Disney movies,
anyway), a revisionist's revisionist history for generations upon
generations of Americans.
     'Cause let's face it -- however much that first winter meal
may have reflected the charity, openness and hospitality of the
indigenous native population, this holiday is a grand propaganda
manifesto without equal for an America of foreign conquerors that
grew great on the bones of the poor local peoples, whose only
failing (in history's Darwinian eyes) was that they had neither
the inclination nor the social pressure to discover firearms
ahead of the Europeans.  And perhaps as well that they were just
basically incapable of reading the handwriting on Plymouth Rock,
so to speak, the subtle signs of the grand design of the
invaders, who within a dozen generations would supplant the
land's previous inhabitants in a blazing destiny manifest more
for its cruelty and ineluctable momentum than any nobility of
purpose or attitude.
     Don't get me wrong -- I love this country.  I really do. 
(Okay, I'm reminded of the words of a forgotten sage, who opined
in a similar vein that democracy stinks, it just stinks less than
any other system yet ratcheted together by the distracted, easily
hypnotized mind of man).  But you have to admit, if we were to
analyze "modern America" as if it were a single individual, well,
this fella should have been locked up long ago.
     I mean, he lands here, plays nice for a while, but all the
time in the back of his mind, as he is nursed through a few years
whose winters' bestial nature he was just unprepared for, he's
taking lot measurements and wondering which side of that lovely
little (technically occupied, but hey, those are small details)
promontory to build his castle upon.  Then, once he starts
clearing the lovely land of stuff that doesn't quite fit his
vision (like most of the natural resources as well as the natural
and long-standing inhabitants), he starts to go a little crazy. 
He splits himself in two and spends half a decade trying to
destroy himself.  After that nightmare, further Westward
expansion is on the agenda, with an attendant continuation of the
debris- and people-clearing about which he has no reservations
(and plenty of reservations for those who do).
     Oh, sure, he acquits himself nobly (if at the eleventh hour)
decades down the line when the rest of the world starts to take
an express handbasket to Hades, but it isn't long after that that
his psychosis begins to ascend yet again, and in-between
obsessively raising the ante in a forty-year international poker
game with gen-u-ine nuke-u-lar chips, he manages to embroil
himself in a handful of police actions that gained little for his
own except a lot of new local tombstones.  Let's face it -- this
guy needs some _major_ therapy.
     Well, all these thoughts about "Joe America" as I like to
think of the poor schlub, the 800-billion pound gorilla of the
modern world, remind me that while his progeny in the 20th
century have had the luxury and time to create lovely plastic
action figures of characters from comics, books, movies and
television, they have really dropped the musket ball in terms of
making figures that reflect their forefather's multifarious
history in all its tragedy, glory, promise and horror.
     And with that in mind, I started thinking about how
wonderful it is that we have so many different entrepreneurial
entities manufacturing plastic homunculi for the delectation of
the investing masses.  Oh, sorry, I mean the childlike play-
loving masses.  Enough different companies that each one could
grab hold of an historical epoch and give five- to eight-inch
life to its heroes and villains, the men and women whose actions
shaped the fate of a land of sprawling plains, magnificent lakes,
awe-inspiring chasms and mountains, fantastic forests (well,
once), stunning valleys, seemingly endless waterways, oh, I could
go on and on.
     So the question becomes, who should make figures for which
era?  Do you see what I'm getting at here?  Well, I gave this
question no small consideration, and have arrived at a few
logical starting points.

     Even though Thanksgiving exists to remind us of the Pilgrims
(and never mind the fact that they'd probably have had no use for
action figures at all, and would likely have seen them as the
work of Satan), we can start even further back than that.  Cast
your mind back to 1492, as doughty Chris Columbus and his ragtag
bunch of happy go-lucky sailors wend their ocean way West from
Spain to a little spot o' land called....well, it wasn't called
much of anything yet.  In fact, if mapmaker Amerigo Vespucci had
been the one who got the clap instead of his little brother, we
could all be living in the United States of Luigi.  But that's
another story.
     I think the Columbus series figures (and vehicles -- Nina,
Pinta, Santa Maria) should be made by McFarlane Toys.  Now, hold
on a minute, don't get crazy there; forget about monsters and
devils, and babes from Heaven.  McToys brings a level of detail
and design to figures that broke the market wide open four years
ago, and still stand battle-scarred head and broken shoulders
above everyone else.  And I think that level of detail and loving
craftsmanship would really serve the roving Spaniards well.  All-
too often we lose the idea of the men themselves, suffering
scurvy and deprivation and lots of seasickness in their quest for
     Can you imagine "Dandy Chris Columbus" in his finest finery,
kneeling before a resplendent Queen Isabella before he makes his
maiden voyage?  (And let's face it, that voyage was probably the
only thing left in maiden condition by the time he'd sweet talked
the Queen into financing the trip.)  And then a set of "sea-
scarred" sailors, with a lean, hungry, and perpetually nauseous
CC himself (with "retching over the rail" action) all in tatters
and rags, waiting for a glimpse of a glimmer of a hope of a
chance of finding new land?  Awesome!  I think we're on to
     As we move down the waters of time, and hit the early 17th
Century's version of intrepid travelers, I think we hit a
pantheon of figures that would be perfect as envisioned by
Kenner.  That is, the division of Kenner that currently makes all
the myriad Batmen.  My understanding is that the Pilgrims were
basically a bunch of anhedonic stiffs who had little time for
anything more than bare survival (and turning their oppressed
state into an oppressing state, but that came later).  I think
the generic blandness of the Kenner Bat-division would do these
figures perfect justice.  Sure, they'll shortpack the indians,
but at least we'll have more pilgrim clones than you could ever
hope to melt in one lifetime....
     On to Revolutionary War times, and here's where I'd put Toy
Biz in the mix.  Lots of great historical personages, battle
sets, desperate and idealistic guerilla soldiers, haughty
redcoats, and a one-per-case Betsy Ross.  What more could you ask
     As we reach Civil War times, Playmates comes to the fore. 
The Blue and the Gray done in impeccable detail, and so what if
the canons and sidearms are chartreuse and puce?  Sure, the
articulation is weird and awkward, but hey, that just makes it
all the more fun to blow up entire battalions in the basement!
     For the "Westward Ho!" era of cowboys and injuns, I'd call
on the Kenner "Star Wars" group.  Fine detail in smaller figures,
all the heroes and desperadoes in polymer glory, with lots of
horses and vehicles to play with.  Yee-HA!
     As the century ticks over and World War I comes over the
horizon, I'd throw convention to the wind and award the license
to Trendmasters.  Their tortured facial sculpts and multi-figure
sets would well serve this era of horrendous, awful battle.  And
when the figures begin to collapse under their own weight, you
can just ascribe it to post-traumatic stress and shell-shock.
     For World War II, I'd do an end-run around the bigger
figures and go with Galoob -- they've already demonstrated a
facility with military sets, so why not turn 'em completely loose
and go for broke!  This last epoch of "pure" American glory will
be handled brilliantly by Galoob, and since the real heroes were
the lowly grunts, the absence of larger "individualized" figures
won't detract from the whole.
     As America moved on from the victories of the forties,
things began to get a lot muddier.  From Korea to Vietnam we went
through a terrible national identity crisis, and I think the
company that could best represent the tumult and turmoil of these
periods would be McFarlane Toys.  From the gusty and stomach-
turning realism of MASH unit figures and Southeast Asia
combatants, to the acid-drenched burning hopefuls of Our Hippies
At Home, McToys would bring exquisite detail and unique (if
brittle) sculpts.  Heck, if nothing else, repaints of the flower
children would make perfect day-glo sense.
     And lastly, for the latter quarter of the 20th Century, with
all its leaps forward and shufflings backward, what better
company to bring in than Bandai?  Just look at their Tick
figures, and you know in an instant that no one else could do
justice to the political scene, the entertainment scene, hell,
even the sports scene.  With Bandai's Tick sculptors at the helm,
I think this last run of figures could be the breakaway hit of
the whole historical gamut.

     Well, we're out of room, so I guess I'll have to wait until
next year to give my recipe for Roasted Cy-Gor (getting the
stuffing in is the real trick).  I know all this has been a lot
to think about, but if you're at all like me, whether from
digestive shock or shopping overload, sitting around and thinking
is the watchword of the day (heck, it's about the most I'm
capable of).  I hope everyone's holiday has been and will
continue to be pleasant and satisfying, and remember, if
Thanksgiving means one thing and one thing only, it's this:
     TRU is open now from EIGHT to MIDNIGHT!  Yeaaaa-HOOOO!
     Now _there's_ a holiday, every day!
Copyright (c) 1996 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

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