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John's Action Figure Column 03/13/97


     Well, I've decided to trek once more into this wilderness, go
un-gentle into that "good-day, squire," and spout forth some
lighthearted opinions and convivial, trivial observations, all in
the name of good, clean, plastic fun.  I know they don't belong
anymore in "this is not your father's rtaf," but what the hell,
kick off your shoes and put down your mace, and join me, won't

     I stopped in at the local comic/toy shop yesterday to pick up
a couple weeks worth of comic books, and decided to finally pursue
an urge that I'd first had a while ago, to actually purchase my
very own copy of the Diamond "Previews" rag.  Hey, at $2.75 it
seemed a little pricey at first, but I'll tell you, I spent more
time reading it than I did the _other_ $18 worth of comics I
snagged, for _sure_.  And actually had a pretty good time.
     For those of you who might not know (as I did not until,
well, three or four weeks ago <grin>), "Previews" is a ponderous
(400+ page) sprawling tome published monthly by Diamond Comic
Distributors containing upcoming release information (and a
remarkable profusion of advertisements) for comics, cards, books,
magazines, and even toys (although the focus on toys is rather
limited, and brief) and other merchandising, pretty much anything
and everything one could want to buy (or want to avoid) in the
realm of comic book and sci-fi paraphernalia.  Between the
"official" catalogue listings and the paid advertisements, there
is an incredible amount of repetition, and the whole thing is
immense enough that it really is dizzying to slog through the
infernal thing.  Probably not something I'll be repeating any
month soon.
     How-ever, for a one-time perusal/tour, it made for some
interesting time-passing, and spawned a plethora of ruminations
and heavy-duty ponderings (don't try this at home).

     I'd actually heard about "Diamond Previews" a couple of
months back but didn't really look into it (they're also on the
web, by the way, if that's your preferred modality, at, uh, hold
on, lemme check.... http:// (say, does _anyone_ use the "http://"
part anymore?  I was astonished to discover that my browser
doesn't require it....  Sigh, these youngsters with their crazy
newfangled ideas....) I haven't checked
out their web incarnation yet -- hell, I'm still reeling from the
monstrous "Comiconomicon" version....
     So it starts with a couple hundred pages of comic book
listings, and comic book ads (they're pretty much mixed in
together, an assault on the eyes worth of "Wired," and kind of
like a Wizard magazine on DMT), and then more comic book ads, to a
point where you wonder if you ever want to read another comic book
again....although I have to admit there were a few very exciting
tidbits buried among the mountainous chaff -- did you know that
Alan Moore will be writing and Dave Gibbons drawing a few issues
of The "New" Spirit (with covers by Will Eisner himself!)?  I'd
give you more info on that pearl, but alas, this thing is so
voluminous and bizarrely organized (and _no_ fargin' index,
grrrr!), once you pass something you can never find it
again....kind of like hunting for action figures in San Francisco,
if you're _ever_ lucky enough to find anything here in the first
     In fact, the sheer _number_ of comic books out there is truly
overwhelming.  Judging from what Previews lists -- which
admittedly is a lot more than any given shop is likely to carry --
there are _so_ many that some _truly_ extraordinary things like
Slave Labor's "Action Girl" and DC/Vertigo's "The Invisibles" can
almost get lost in the shuffle (so make sure you go get 'em, early
and often, and avoid the rush -- these two books should not be
missed!  And you heard it here, well, maybe not first, but....).

     And hell, since I'm mentioning some comic books, and more
specifically one by Grant Morrison, I need to vent my feelings
about _another_ of his books -- the "new" Justice League of
America.  Now, look, JLA is no Invisibles (how could it be), but I
have to say that Grant Morrison is doing a fine job with that book
as well.  Howard Porter's art, on the other (mangled) hand, is
really a disappointment.  It's not like the guy is completely
untalented, but there's something about his style that makes every
character look like they've been wrapped in cellophane or
something.  All glitz and no substance....though the hyper-snazzy
coloring doesn't help....
     ...and say, now that we're on _that_ subject, when did
coloring become something done only by huge teams of computer-aided 
panchromatic maniacs?  You can't spit in a comic book these
days without finding a battalion of nameless hue-makers crowding
every darned page!  My theory is that these folks work in huge
black and white sweatshops with poor lighting, each person
assigned to one crayola crayon (from the *big* box, we're talking
_sardines_ here) and sitting around waiting for that glorious
moment when "periwinkle" is shouted out by the lead color artisan;
they run forward from their uncomfortable stools, splash a little
light blue on the page, and then retire to their dank, foetid
corner again, waiting for another rare moment of duty....aren't
there _laws_ about this sort of thing?!?  Anybody ever heard of
the bill of rights?!?  Where's my congresswoman, I want action,
     Uh, sorry.  Got a little carried away again.  Guess now I'm a
little burnt sienna in the face.... (and who burns the sienna
anyway?  Do they do it in batches?  Was it a mistake one day, some
of the regular sienna got spilled into the fireplace, and suddenly
that 63-crayon assortment hit the two-to-the-sixth-power high
water mark and history was made?  And how about "raw sienna?"  Is
that something formerly used for sushi?  Don't you need to worry
about worms?  And is it really so damned hard to cook the sienna
properly in the first place?  Amateurs....  And what kind of a
color is "wisteria," anyway?  Doesn't that sound like an unhealthy
state of mind, like the way one feels after reading fifty or sixty
"no, vote for _my_ rfd!" "No, _mine_..." messages?  "I'm suffering
from an aggravated case of wisteria, help me, doc...."  Sheesh.
     Or maybe it's a small mid-European nation, long forgotten
except in the mind of Stan Lee -- "I am Gynecologist Doom,
despotic ruler of Wisteria...."  Salmon -- now _there's_ a color
that ought to be named "cooked salmon!"  Cornflower....who makes
these things up, anyway?)

     I'll tell you one thing that really, uh, leapt out at me: 
the incredible profusion of X-rated comic book materials.  And not
just on the _inside_ of the books -- many publishers proudly list
their special variant "Nude" cover versions (all of which also
bear the odd note "not available in Hong Kong" -- are the Chinese
against sex?  Do they think comic books _cause_ sex?  Frankly, my
experience always led me to believe that they mostly worked in the
_opposite_ fashion -- "...oh, you read _comic_ books?  No, I'm
busy Saturday night...._every_ Saturday night...."  Sigh.  If only
the HK authorities had checked with me first, I could have saved
everybody a lot of trouble....)
     Now, don't get me wrong -- I'm not opposed to rampant sex on
comic book covers (though " hurts my back when I slide
off...."), but the extent of this stuff is truly staggering.  Then
again, when you think about the truly offensive and regrettable
way in which Marvel and Image (and DC, to only a slightly lesser
extent) have been gleefully promulgating images of women with
mammalian protuberances so ridiculously large they'd give an
_implants_ surgeon nightmares, the sleaze factor in non-mainstream
comics is very understandable -- if no less offensive.  Sigh.  I
don't want to go too far afield on this, but I really wouldn't
mind seeing a comic book heroine or two with reasonable, "human"-
sized breasts.  I mean, c'mon -- the only "wonder" about Wonder
Woman is that she can stand without falling over!  And the
same is true of innumerable other conceptions of characters as
varied as Sue Richards (I mean, that Christmas cover -- jee-sus!),
Angela, and Catwoman...., speaking of Catwoman, these previous criticisms aside,
Previews does show a listing (and illustration) for a truly heart-
stopping Catwoman statue (based on designs by Jim "Boobs 'R' Us"
Balent, so you know what to expect), beautifully executed by
William Paquet.  But at $195 apiece, wayyyyy too far out of my
range.  Sigh.  Awfully compelling though....

     Okay, in a more specifically action-figure related vein,
Previews does at least mention a couple of new lines, Toy Biz'
upcoming Spider-Man Web Traps series (tiny pictures, but nothing
ostensibly remarkable) and the X-Men Water Wars figs.  Other than
that, the "official" listings only show a smattering of individual
vinyl and pvc figures.  So much for catalogued toys.  Then again,
it never claims to be a toy magazine....
     The ads, though, are a slightly different story.  Since
several of the new young turk action figure companies are
"starting small" and marketing to comic shops (presumably in an
effort to develop large enough ordering bases to go "national" to
toy stores thereafter, at least in some cases), it does make sense
for them to advertise heavily in Previews.
     Which is why you get full-page ads for stuff like Palisades
Toys' upcoming Ash figure, Extreme Toys' Prophet figure (which
anyone who's had the misfortune to glance at any of several Image
books of late has seen numerous times, to very little effect) and
certain "bad girls" of the action figure world from Antarctic
Press, like a revised and whitewashed Warrior Nun Areala, Hellina,
and Shotgun Mary.
     The Shotgun Mary looks decent, very much in the same design
style as the Warrior Nun Areala.  The Hellina, on the other, er,
hand, takes that silicone-induced neo-archetype of "nothing
succeeding like excess" and goes several cup sizes further.  The
shaping of this figure is truly ridiculous, and the ad copy even
goes so far as to say "She's SEXIER and MORE DETAILED than ever"
[emphasis in original].  I mean, c' transparent can you
get?  Darned things oughtta be packed with kleenex....
     Stepping back to the Prophet figure for a moment, I have to
take exception to the ad copy from "Extreme Toys" which notes that
the figure is not only "incredibly detailed" but "fully poseable." 
Now, putting aside the question of how incredible _anyone_ else's
detail can be in this post-McFarlane world of design, as far as I
can tell from the full-page photo of the Prophet figure, it has
_no_ elbow or knee joints.  Just how "poseable" do you think that
makes it?  I mean, really -- has Extreme Toys no shame?
     (Speaking of "no shame," Diamond surely falls within that
designation as well; in addition to hyping pretty much every damn
book listed like it was the second coming of literature and art in
the Western world (or second cumming, in rather too-many cases),
they have a listing in the Magazine section for Lenny Lee's Action
Figure News, "spotlighting" the rag, and then noting that it is
"one of the most accurate and trusted guide [sic] to action figure
prices in the hobby."  Puh-lease....I guess Lenny has been leaping
from lunch with Playmates execs to lunch with the Diamond
execs...what a life....)

     Interestingly, there are no listings _or_ ads for any Kenner
products.  Yep, no Star Wars stuff (although I have to say that I
find that omission incredibly refreshing <grin>), no Batman stuff,
no TJ, and also no Playmates stuff at all!  I suppose this is
because the mainstay of those merchandisers is not lone comic
shops but rather "the big boys," monster chains like TRU and
Target, Walmart, K-Mart, etc.  Still, very pleasant to _not_ see
some stuff I've just been hearing far too much about lately.
     At the same time, it does seem odd that Previews doesn't list
any Spawn figures (given their extensive coverage of Image
Comics), and even their Toy Biz report is scanty at best.  I think
the lesson here is that the catalogue just isn't geared to toys,
and mentions the few it does in passing.  But hey, after seeing
rack upon rack of common figures in stores lately without even a
glimpse of any hard-to-finds, a minimum of hype on hot new figures
is actually a relief of sorts.

     There were a few other things I thought noteworthy.  For one
thing, there is a set of three "Dune" figures listed for sale for
$35 -- Feyd Rautha, Baron Harkonnen and Stilgar; nice to see these
even if they do seem a bit pricey.  (Brant, are you reading this?)
     For another thing, there is a very intriguing listing for
"Blank Resin Model Kits" toward the end of the issue.  Just plain,
unadorned male and female figure kits.  These are rather steep at
thirty bucks apiece, but for customizers, they're almost a dream
come true.  Now, I say "almost," because they aren't poseable
(though they do apparently come with a selection of four different
upper arms and hands).  Still, they do seem like a great way to
start in making some custom visions -- though at eight inches tall
they'll be out of scale with all but the largest of McFarlane
figures for the most part.  Now if only someone would take this to
the next logical step, and start making _articulated_ "blank"
figures in a basic 5" that'd be something to write
home about (and buy by the dozens....).
     The last thing I wanted to note was the stunning (if also
satisfying) absence of all things Marvel from the catalogue.  Now,
this is explained as being a result of Marvel's sledgehammer
distribution practices in the past, a situation that is well on
its way to being remedied as, presumably, Marvel's rapid
financial/sales degeneration (can you say "crash and burn?") (not
to mention their generally piss-poor product -- oops, I _did_
mention it) has led them to reconsider their highwayman
ways....but even so, if you'd told me ten years ago that the
preeminent distribution catalogue for comics and comic related
stuff wasn't going to have anything from _Marvel_ in it (other
than the aforementioned sprinkling of toy stuff), I'd have laughed
until I was cerulean in the face.  How are the mighty
fallen...however deservedly....
     All in all, I found trudging through Previews to be a very
enjoyable experience.  Hell, if nothing else, I found out that for
two hundred and fifty bucks, I can be the proud (if addled) owner
of a Jabba the Hut cookie jar!
     Hey, shouldn't that have its own newsgroup?
     See ya in the catalogues....
Copyright (c) 1997 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

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