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John's Action Figure Column 03/27/97


     If you've stopped by a Toys 'R' Us lately, you may have been
lucky enough to spy one of Toy Biz' new 24,000 "Limited Edition"
two-packs of "Famous Couples" figures.  This one, following hot
on the heels of "Unmasked Spider-Man and Mary Jane," consists of
"Age of Apocalypse Gambit and Rogue," and while I wish I could
say it's terrific, it's...well...okay, I guess.
     The Gambit is actually a much-awaited remainder from the
original "Age of Apocalypse" line of figures, pulled for obscure
reasons from the first (and only) AoA series.  I had really
looked forward to this figure ever since spotting it on the
cardbacks and in promo photographs...unfortunately, the much-
delayed reality of the figure leaves something to be desired --
like a decent head-sculpt, first and foremost.  Ugh -- this one
looks like the artist was going for a "Timothy Dalton-goes-to-
Superman's-barber" kinda thing (and the all-black eyes don't
help).  The body's alright, I guess, no articulation in the left
arm because of the snazzy "energy snot throwing" action, but
otherwise a typical Toy Biz corpus.
     Rogue, on the other hand, is a shameless-if-colorful repaint
of Gen-X's White Queen, with a strange green frock thrown on for
a dainty homespun touch.  Sort of a "Ninja-Homemaker" look, if
you like that sort of thing...
     ...and all in all, I have to say that this set is a bit of a
disappointment.  Frankly, the two of them look like imposters,
ardent fans all gussied-up for a Halloween costume contest.  Then
again, for all its faults I'm happy to finally have the AoA
Gambit, and I do have a certain weakness for Rogue.
     And you do have to love the description on the back of the
box:  "...Whether they're battling the Sentinels or walking side-
by-side in the park, Gambit and Rogue know that there is nowhere
they'd rather be than together...."  Somebody at Marvel would
obviously rather be writing "Young Love" comics, that's for sure.
(In all fairness, with copy like that the thing really ought to
come with a barf bag).
     But it's not what this "Famous Couple" _is_ that gives me
pause.  It's what is _isn't_.

     Forget about Reed and Sue Richard, Betty Ross and the Hulk,
Mantis and the Swordsman, or even Norrin Radd and Galactus;
really, wouldn't _Stan Lee_ and _Jack Kirby_ be Marvel's most
famous couple?  Think about it.  (Sure, Steve Ditko probably
deserves nearly as much credit in terms of creating half of a
mansion of style, but for one thing, he's long been nudged gently
but firmly out of the window of fame; for another, no one knows
what the heck the guy _looks_ like, fer bog's sake, so making a
figure likeness of him would present significant design
     But Stan and Jack -- those humble visages have graced dozens
of issues of various and sundry Marvel comics over the years. 
Okay, so maybe they never made the _cover_ of anything but "What
If?"; these guys just _have_ to rate as the most Dynamic Duo of
all-Marvel-comics-time.  And so what if they didn't quite get
along as the decades rushed onward -- some of the most
interesting couples are made up of people who wanted to make war,
not love (think of Sonny & Cher, Michael & Priscilla, even George
& Martha).  And I think a two-pack of stubby little Jack, with
cigar and drafting board, and loopy ol' Stan (I see him with a
Vodka gimlet and the contract for Spider-Man rights he spent most
of the late 70s exchanging it for).  Now that would be
     I know, I know -- (all together now) "the kids wouldn't
_buy_ 'em!"
     Who cares?
     I'm serious.  In this late 90s world of two-per case, one-
per-case, hell, even 1/2 or 1/10 per case, kid-appeal is not the
only thing that sells figures.  Forget about case packs -- we've
seen lots of _other_ ways to sell figures (even crappy figures). 
Just limit the infernal things.  Either make 'em execrable
"Wizard Toy Fare" mail-in specials (you think the _molten_ man
went fast?) or just something like a 30,000 limited box two-pack
like Rogue and Spider-Man, Gambit and Mary Jane (hey, I'm just
tryin' to shake things up a bit).  I think they'd fly off the
shelves -- there'd be burn marks on the pegs, skid marks in aisle
7C.  Definitely!
     Meanwhile, y'know, Reed and Sue isn't a bad idea, hey? 
Especially if (I know, I know, again, in unison -- "special
figures are _repaints_ only!") they would do a new sculpt for Mr.
Fantastic, get rid of those lame frustrating non-stretchy
stretchy arms, and replace 'em with pre-posed stretched-out arms
like those of the 2" die-cast Mr. F.  And look, Sue Storm
Richards is _the_ primordial female of the Marvel Universe -- she
deserves a new sculpt as well!  And this time -- in addition to
making her look _human_, thank you -- make her half-clear!  That
effect looked soooooo cool on the legs of the
think Jack's ghost _likes_ knowing that a two-bit "B" character
has a better design and look than the mother of all Marvel super-
heroines?  (Figuratively speaking, of course; while Reed
undoubtedly had some rather unique boudoir gifts, innumerable
progeny were thankfully not any of them)  Pshaw.

     Five-inch figures.  Six-inch figures.  Eight-inch figures. 
*Two*-inch figures.  Name a size, I can probably find you a
figure in it.  But the profusion of variable scales in figures is
_not_ necessarily a good thing.  Particularly not when one or
another company, in its oh-so-finite wisdom (some might even say
non-existent wisdom), decides to take a line of figures that's
been happily trundling along for years, and _suddenly_ alter the
basic figure size, just for the hell of it.
     Well, to be more accurate, it isn't for the hell of it. 
Usually, quite ironically, what filters down to us plebeians is
that such a change is made to "spark life" in the line.  And that
irony comes in when, in general, the result is actually the
diametric opposite.
     Take the Star Trek "First Contact" figures -- or don't;
almost no one else did.  Or the upcoming Avengers line from Toy
Biz.  Now, granted, at least judging from the pictures, the
sculpts are kind of a joke for the most part, anyway; but would
it have _killed_ them to make figures that are inherently tied to
the *rest* of the Marvel Universe (from which 5" figures have
been drawn for going on seven years)?!?
     You may notice that I have *not* included 1996's Incredible
Hulk line in this condemnation.  Well, I didn't forget those
figures -- quite to the contrary; I _liked_ the fact that most of
those figures were 6 inches tall -- the Hulk is _supposed_ to
tower over everyone else in the Marvel universe.  Hell, this is
one of the only things they've gotten right in the "Heroes
Reborn" line of stories.  Similarly, I don't have a problem with
the Abomination, the Leader, or any of the Hulks being so large;
it makes _sense_.  Even the bow-legged, aggressively-poorly-
sculpted She-Hulk is at least somewhat reasonable in an elevated
     But six-inch Avengers?  A six-inch Captain America?  Pfagh. 
A pox upon them.

     I know the rest of the Avengers are a few months away (if
they come out at all), but I just got my Captain America today
(incongruously present in the new Spider-Man assortment -- oooh,
that makes sense....).  Yeah, I've got my problems with the
figure, but hey -- it's Captain America!  My first figure of all-
time, a bendy from the mid-60s, was a Captain America.  How could
I pass up the 90s version?
     I couldn't.  But that doesn't mean I can't trash it a little
bit in the process <grin>.
     First of all, eeyuck, the scale.  Look, however you slice
it, Cap is far from the tallest fella in the World That Stan Made
(well, inherited in Cap's case).  Oh, he's no Wolverine, or
Spider-Man (the feisty little guys that could), but neither is he
Thor.  Part of Cap's appeal for me was his underlying "average-
ness" -- a 4F Joe who just happened to be in the right place at
the wrong end of a sharp little needle at the right (some might
say "right-wing") time.  I know, I know, the Super-Soldier
formula added pounds and inches to his slight frame, but I never
thought it added _eighteen_ inches to his height.
     But enough height-bashing; there are lots of better things
to criticize on this figure....
     Like the pose.  I'm too sorry, but Captain America is a
_hero_, yes?  Perhaps _the_ Hero.  And I've always been taught
that heroes stand straight, erect and proud.  Well, apparently
not this one; this sculpt gives Mr. Rogers a definite hunched-
over quality for his neighborhood, and a markedly downward tilt
of his head worthy of a mad scientist!  Honestly, if I didn't
_know_ it was Cap, and if it weren't for the manifest patriotic
design to his pj's, I'd think this figure had to be a _villain_,
just from the pose, and the grimace.  Sigh.  Captain America
should be _smiling_, dammit.  Brrrr.
     Now, I do like some things about this new Cap:  The paint
job on the torso and legs is masterful (though of an inverse
quality to that of the arms), and I love the fact that the
sculptors remembered to include the chain-mail mesh part of his
uniform on his chest.  Unfortunately, the paint job is one of the
only good things about this figure's legs; he suffers from what
I've come to think of as "Age of Apocalypse Magneto" rickets --
the legs are designed such that if you straighten them, Cap can
barely stand at all (and leans forward at a ridiculous angle). 
Oy.  How are the mighty fallen -- easily.
     And I know it's not fair to judge a figure by its cover, or
cardback, but in Cap's case the copy is egregiously laughable.  I
mean, not only does Toy Biz miss the boat on giving Cap a
_motorcycle_, an accessory he used over the course of five
_decades_, thank you, but the "Hover Jet" they do give him looks
totally like a Batman reject.  And if that wasn't bad enough,
they then tell us that "Wing flips down transforming Hover Jet
into a laboratory table!"  Now, I don't know about you, but just
what would ol' Cap need a lab table for?  "Well, Bucky, heh heh,
looks like it's time for another prostate exam, you frisky young
feller...."  Boggles the mind....
     Hey!  Maybe it's _not_ really a "lab" table -- maybe the
hover-whatsis actually doubles as a _massage_ table!  I know, I
know, its sounds crazy at first, but if you let the concept
settle in, this could be a whole new approach for Cap!

CAP:      "Well, Baron Zemo, your twisted plan to conquer the
          world's fine fast food restaurants and transform them
          into some bizarre 'McNazi' chain will not succeed while
          these hands remain free!"  (Cap turns away to quickly
          refold his hoverjet into a small table)

ZEMO:     "Bah, you freedom-sucking fool!  My 'Burger Fuehrer'
          shops vill destroy capitalism as you know and love it
          -- and reduce calories from excess fat by over 27%! 
          And our Apfelstrudel vill _stay_ hot and crispy, unlike
          your verdamnte soggy and cold so-called ersatz
          Apfelpies...vait!  Vhat are you doing?!?"

     [Before Zemo can react, Cap has thrown him face down on the
     table and is working on his shoulders and neck with strong,
     knowing fingers]

ZEMO:     Schweinhund!  Baron Zemo will never succumb to
          imperialist tricks, you cannot... Ohhhhhhh...
          Captain... yah, right zhere, ohhhhh, okay, no, a bit
          lower, to ze left, yes, ohhhhhh, yah, zhat is gut! 
          Ohhhh, nnnnnnn, not kvite so hard, ohhhhh...yah, ze
          neck, yah....mein gott, zis is phantastiche!  By ze
          vay, vhat are your rates?  Uh, vould you happen to know
          Shiatsu?  Ohhhhhh....

CAP:      Bucky!  Quick, lad -- the hot towels!  And the scented
          oils!  And hurry, that's my boy....

ZEMO:     Ohhhhhhh...Ze Red Skull has got to try zis....can I use
          your phone?

     And so it goes.  Hey, you never know.
     But back to the figure...
     Finally, we come to the shield.  Sigh.  Perhaps the most
important component of Cap's entire oeuvre.  Originally more
medieval-looking, Cap's shield went through several evolutions in
the comics before becoming the simple, round icon we all know and
love, that countless villains schemed and plotted to steal.  And
thus the Captain America figure should have a shield that's the
envy of every other figure on the shelf, not some farcical,
stubby, light-up suppository.  Oh, the shame of it....
     The worst of it is, all over the card, there are pictures of
Cap with a _normal_ shield -- you know, one large enough to
actually be useful _as_ a shield.  Sob....are they just trying to
torment us?  Have they no heart?  Do we not bleed when they prick
us?  (Sorry, got stuck thinking about that lab table again....)
     Enough.  Captain America, you deserved better -- and so did
we.  But tomorrow ...tomorrow is another figure....
     I'll tell you, though:  if someone out there figures out an
inexpensive way to produce _authentic_ looking Cap shields, I
think they'd be smiling all the way to the bank.  Hell, I'd pay
another $4.99 just to get one....even if it wasn't made of that
special Adamantium/Vibranium compound (though if it's an
     See ya next week!
Copyright (c) 1997 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

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