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John's Action Figure Column 03/20/97


     I don't usually devote an entire column to a single action
figure.  It just doesn't seem to be an efficient use of time in
either the writing (on my part) or the reading (on your part --
you _are_ reading this stuff, aren't you?  Hello?  Anyone?  Is
this thing on....?  <phwup phwup phwup...>).  But thanks to the
design genius of McFarlane Toys, and the unceasing generosity of
one or two rtaf-ers who provide me with toys when San Francisco
does not, I have recently become possessed (hmmm, better watch
that phrase) of the Spawn VII "Scourge" figure...
     ...and my jaw has been trailing on the ground ever since. 
(Don't try this at home, by the way, unless you want to discover
all the undefineable matter that your vacuum leaves behind; I
_don't_ recommend it.... <sputter, cough>)
     I know there are hundreds of action figures out there
--possibly thousands if you count all the lovely variations --
but of all the figures in all the lines in all the world,
Scourge, this bony little avatar of viciousness and antediluvian
carnage, has blown my socks past off, right unto Kingdom Come,
and the appeal shows no sign of letting up.
     What a figure!  From his incredibly detailed skeleton
(forget about "points of articulated evil" -- I count no less
than twelve separate vertebra, another dozen discrete ribs, and
horned ridges damn near everywhere, to say nothing of the
incredible detail in his head, hips, jaw, feet, tarsals, hands
(er, "paws?"), carpals, et cetera) to his intrinsically ferocious
aspect, this figure RULES (uh, no offense intended towards ol'
potbellied King Malebolgia).

     Okay, okay, I have to say that I was not originally
particularly keen on the Scourge figure.  The photos I saw were
kind of dark, and at the same time the body itself seemed rather
plain -- just shows you what "weathering" paint can do for a
figure.  But once I opened that unassuming Priority Mail box and
held the carded Scourge himself in my hot little hands, I was
blown away.  Tremendous pose, exquisite sculpting, beautiful
conception -- absolutely incredible.
     One of the things I love about Scourge is that it really
isn't the least bit dependent on its source material (what little
of that there is -- basically the paragraph on the back of the
card, and some implicatory matter from the comics).  What I mean
by that is, you don't ever have to have read a Spawn comic book
to appreciate Scourge.  Heck, you don't ever have to have read
_any_ comic book -- it might even help.  If you were to stumble
onto Scourge for sale in an unusual place -- a museum shop or a
book store, for instance -- you would probably be even more
mesmerized by it.  (I think most of us are at a point where we
only half-see new toys.  We precondition ourselves with advance
descriptions and photographs, so by the time the figures are out
on the pegs they have lost much of their power to capture our
attention.  Besides, most of the time we know that we need to
strike quickly, and without hesitation -- if we took the
appropriate time to stand back and marvel at something like this
figure, in all likelihood another less appreciative collector
might well swoop in to capture the prize -- so we don't really
have the room to kick back and just take in the aspect and
attributes of any new figure on the peg.
     And what a figure to take in!  If you didn't see Scourge on
a Spawn card, I don't think its appeal would change at all. 
Heck, if I saw this thing lying on the side of the road, _after_
I convinced myself that it was not a harbinger of a larger
invasion, I'd grab it up in an instant.  This is not a figure
that requires a "history" to create interest, or appeal.  It
stands on its own (more on this later).
     And so far, by the way, I'm basing all of this on the
_carded_ Scourge.  I'll be opening him up in a few moments, and
then I'll add any further aesthetic tidbits as they surface.  For
the moment, though, and having had some unfortunate dissonant
pre-opening/post-opening experiences lately, I want to fully
enjoy him in his restraining polymer sheath (hey, get your mind
out of the gutter, pal!).

     "Scourge."  Scourge.  Okay, I have to admit, the name
doesn't do much for me.  "Scourge."  Nope, doesn't strike fear
into my heart, no particular resonance at all.  (As opposed to,
say, "Vertebreaker," which between its neolinguistic verve and
its will-to-punning psychic discomfort really floats my
nominative boat).  Why "Scourge?"
     Well, I believe Chet informed us many moons ago that the
figure was originally to be called "Vivisector," but that in
light of that little "suitable for Ages 5 and up" notice on the
card itself, a figure called "Vivisector" just wouldn't quite cut
it with parents (er, probably a bad choice of words there).  Or
censors, for that matter.
     For those who might not know (or might not want to know),
"vivisection" is "the act of cutting into or dissecting the body
of a living animal, esp. for the purpose of scientific research."
(this courtesy of the American Heritage Dictionary, which should
also probably thus have a warning label, no?) (Okay, and since
I'm already being pedantic, let me add that "vivisect" in turn
comes from the Latin, "vivus," for "alive," and "sectio" for "act
of cutting" -- now isn't that logical?)
     Thus, a "Vivisector" would be an entity which enjoys slicing
up presently-living creatures in pursuit of scientific
excellence.  Now, we all know that in the Spawn mythos (jeeze,
did I really just write that?  Talk about dignifying the
seemingly undignifiable....), scientific exploration is not high
on Hell's "recommended activities" list.  On the other, uh, hand,
and more informally, vivisection would probably be quite a valued
pastime in Hell -- assuming anything there were truly alive, a
rather abstruse philosophical point.  But, you set one of these
"Vivisector" puppies on _earth_, and now you're _talkin'_!
     The card copy indicates that "Scourge" was one of the
infamous Phlebaic brothers, a "prehistoric nemesis to Spawn." 
Well, that sort of makes sense -- if you think in terms of
prehistoric things looking skeletal.  But that's only because
bones are all we have _left_ of them, Michael Crichton's
amber-to-sequencing-to-cloning musings notwithstanding.  What I'm
getting at here is, okay, fine, prehistoric Scourge looks like an
impressive, scary pile o' bones -- but then so would prehistoric
Spawn!  Obviously, this isn't a problem at the moment, since we
don't _have_ a prehistoric Spawn, but heck, it's worth
     Anyway, back to "Scourge."  Okay, so I understand the
rationale for a name change...but "Scourge?"  "Scourge?"  I mean,
first of all, half of us don't even know how to pronounce it (for
the record, it's "skerge," rhymes with "verge," not "scoarge"
like "gorge"), Jack Kirby's phonetics-r-fun eponymous character
from the late 70s aside.  For another thing, just what is a
scourge, anyway?  At least with "vivisector" you knew in your gut
this was something that regard, "scourge" seems
like something you'd have to use steel wool to get off your

     According once again to the American Heritage Dictionary,
that dangerous and seditious little book (why, it's positively
_full_ of upsetting words), a "scourge" is "1. A whip used to
inflict punishment.  2. A means of inflicting severe suffering,
vengeance, or punishment.  3. A cause of widespread and dreaded
affliction, such as pestilence or war."
     Well, okay, the sensibility here is appropriate.  But it
still doesn't rock my world.  Historically speaking, people used
to call Attila the Hun the "scourge of the gods" (which is
actually curious, since my impression is that most of his
widespread and dreaded afflicting was directed against "mere
mortals"); Christopher Marlowe referred to Tamburlaine as the
"scourge of God" (again, can anyone really afflict god?);
Shakespeare, in a characteristic flight of figurative language
(good ol' Willy), wrote

"See what a scourge is laid upon your hate,  That heaven finds
means to kill your joys with love."

(Romeo and Juliet, V.iii.292ff)  Now, scholars are still trying
to figure out exactly what the Bard _meant_ by this; the point
is, scourge is just not a name to conjure with.
     Coming at this from another direction, in rather apt
counterpoint to Scourge's origins, the word is also mentioned in
the Bible, where it is written:  "When he had made a scourge of
small cords, he drove them all out of the temple."  (The Gospel
According to St. John 2:15).  Not to get lost in theology, I am
curious about the obvious anachronism here -- I mean, c'mon,
2,000 years ago, nobody had a car big enough to drive everyone
home in.  And besides, it _had_ to be illegal to drive inside a
temple.  Heck, you could lose your license for less....
     Anyway, while "scourge" has some impressive antecedents,
"Vivisector" it ain't.  For better or for worse.

     On the other, uh, part of the tongue, you could call this
figure "Mitzi Powderpuff" and I'd still be scared.  (Well, I'd be
scared of you, first and foremost, but the figure would give me
the willies, too).  What's in a name, anyway?  "Crutch by any
other name would stink as rottenly...."  And so whether it be
called "Scourge" or "Archie's Pal Betty Without Makeup," this
bonnie bony creature would be every bit as hellacious.
     With all that in mind, I think it's high time we liberated
this wee sleekit never-timorous beastie from its plasticene lair. 
Hang on a second...
     ...okay, got the plastic cut, lifting it off the card...
     ...there now, it looks just -- YEEEEOWWWWWW!!!
     Uh, sorry.  I could have sworn it moved by itself....
     No, really, I'm okay now.  It was nothing.  Just a stray
breeze.  And, uh, I'm just gonna put a few more lights on....
     And here stands Scourge, in all his gory.
     Yes, I said "stands."  The first thing I notice about it is
that happily, Scourge does not fall prey to the recent
regrettable trend in action figures of having "instant topple"
action.  He maintains his erectness just fine.  (Would
that...nah, nevermind).  Now, the lack of knee joints may well
explain this, but I don't mind trading those joints for
freestanding pride.  Heck, my Violators stand so poorly I've had
to prop them all up with bits and pieces of plastic, and odd RAM
chips, so it's a delight to have a McMonster that stands proud.
     Okay, both arms up, chest plate down (with little Nutnik
tucked safely inside), jaws wide -- fantastic.  Just incredible. 
What a figure!  From his broken spine to the extraordinary detail
in his bones, every nook and cranny lovingly sculpted, this
critter is just perfect.  I love staring at it and imagining what
it would look like fleshed.  Much less of a snout than any of his
brothers I can recall, wider hips, that extra pair of arms --
just beautiful.  Uh, well, you know what I mean....
     Yep, just magnificent.  The only thing I could think of to
improve this figure would be to have it in 13" size.  Or maybe
three foot size.  Nah, that'd scare away the neighbors (and clear
all the nearby lawns of jockeys, and flamingoes, etc.).  But in
7" scale it's still terrific.  A vision of horror....
     And think of all the fun uses of a Scourge!  Most action
figures don't really lend themselves to relocation beyond the
display shelf, or the computer desk.  But Scourge -- you can
leave this baby nearly anywhere, and what hijinx ensue!  Try
quietly depositing it on the dashboard of a city bus if you don't
believe me.  Or drop it in the strawberry bin at the local
market.  Hee hee, just kick back and wait for the screams.
     Frankly, I'm tempted to find the nearest paleontology dig
and bury my lil' Scourge just a foot or so under the surface. 
Oh, sure, eventually the joints and "Made in China" imprint will
spoil the fun, but for a little while you'd have dreams of a new
prehistory dawning (and Charles Darwin spinning in his tomb).  If
I had kids, I'd insist they take Mr. Scourge to school for first
grade show and tell.  Heh heh heh, I'm pretty disturbed, it's
true.  But you could make a fortune in sominex resales over the
few weeks following....
     Well, them's me scourge-thoughts.  I really haven't enjoyed
a new figure so much in months.  Even without an action feature
(Nutnik doesn't really count, though he is cute) Scourge is
perfectly delightful.  A rhapsody in bone and gristle.  The
applecore of my eye....
     One slight problem, though.  Every time I put him up on
display and leave for a while, I come back to find that all my
other figures have moved to the other side of the shelf....
     Ahh, it's probably just minor tremors, aftershocks of last
week's quake.  Nothing to be concerned about....
     Hey!  What was that noise...?
Copyright (c) 1997 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

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