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John's Action Figure Column 04/03/97


     You'll have to forgive me; I'm a little deaf this morning. 
Yes, the old guy decided to run with the young wolves (er,
bucks?) last night and check out the Kula Shaker concert at the
newly revamped Fillmore (well...perhaps not so-newly revamped;
ever since the Dead, uh, died, I don't get out to concerts
     Great stuff, actually -- sort of a mix of pop rock (no, not
the kind your nephew will die of if he eats too many of 'em at
once) and neo-apocalyptic Indian sounds and rhythms.  And just to
keep things (however tenuously) related to the world of action
figures -- well, comics -- for reasons unknown to your humble
narrator, Kula Shaker's first album sports a gorgeous cover by
famed comics artist Dave Gibbons, he of "Watchmen" fame.  (Kula
Shaker apparently has an obsession with the letter "K"; their
logo is an intertwined circular figure composed of four K's over
four more K's...meanwhile, the cover art consists of a plethora
of images of things beginning with...the letter "K": famous
personages, symbols, etc., and this design was repeated on large
risers on each side of the Fillmore stage, very cool stuff!)
     Anyway, the show was great, and I urge anyone who might be
interested in the intersection of Western rock and Eastern non-
rock to check out their album, or even a concert if your area
happens to be graced by these fine, high-energy English fellows
any time soon.
     (By the way, and for the, er, record, if you suspect you
might have an affinity for slightly "westernized" Indian music,
but aren't sure where to start listening, or prefer foreign
rhythms and sounds "filtered" through a sympathetic Western
sensibility, I cannot sufficiently recommend another album, Jai
Uttal's "Beggars and Saints," probably the most exquisite single
record I've heard in the last five years.  Absolutely gorgeous,
mesmerizing music....)
     Action figures?!?  What on Earth are they...?

     I imagine that the way people arrange their figures for
display must vary in pretty much direct proportion to the number
of collectors itself.  Oh, sure, we probably all repeat a few
basic patterns, approaches, arrays, and to a great extent our
displays needs must be dependent on the display space available,
both volume size and shelf depth, wall area, et cetera.  But
within those constraints, the displays themselves, their
composition and combination, are as individual and different as,
well, as each of us surely are.
     And lately, in part because of my own limited shelf space,
I've taken to what is for me a new form of figure presentation: 
The two figure tableau.
     You know, just two figures, mano a mano, silly accessory a
silly accessory, posed to give every indication of a battle about
to start, or perhaps even just concluded (via the familiar "Hey,
now that I realize this was all just a misunderstanding, we can
be friends after all!" -- since no figure but an Ultra Force
figure ever looks like they've actually _lost_ a fight).
     In case I haven't managed to adequately convey my meaning,
what I'm talking about is something as simple as this:

     Example 1: The 6" Green non-stupid looking Hulk (i.e., the
one without the ridiculous crew-cut and the butt-compartment for
puny Banner) vs. Doctor Strange.

     From the moment I opened my Doc and stuck him before the
Hulk, I knew I was onto something.  The two of them facing each
other like that look just perfect -- like something right out of
an early issue of The Defenders.  Just the two of them, posed
with the, uh, Ruby Credenza of Agamotto between them.  Or
whatever the hell that thing is....
     Or how about Example 2: McFarlane's Scourge, going up
against none other than the ever lovin' blue-eyed Thing (in his
workout togs).  Something about ol' spikes 'n marrow going toe-
to-toe with Benjamin J. Grimm just gives me shivers.
     See, my limited shelf space tends to force me to overload my
displays, and it isn't until I thin things out and give room to
literally a mere couple of figures that some of their strongest
appeal shines through.  There's something about just seeing two
figures posed head-to-head, without a surrounding peanut gallery
of auxiliary heroes, that reminds me of why I love all these
crazy homunculi to begin with.
     Of course, not all one-on-one pairings work.  Some just do
not show off each figure to its best advantage.  For instance, I
had to scrap the Angela vs. Tourist Tick scenario -- just too
silly.  ("Let's hang ten for -- ooomphhhhhh!  Argh!  Oik!").
     Similarly, AoA Magneto vs. the Titanium Man just didn't work
for me (I blame the T-Man's silly newfangled armor).  And
somehow, something like Hawkman vs. the Super-Skrull just wasn't
my cup of tea (for the record, my cup of tea is currently Orange-
Mango Zinger, yum!).
     But you put Combat Belt Batman up against the Scarecrow, or
Fang-costume Wolverine claw-to-heels with Gladiator of the Shi'ar
Imperial Guard, and now you're cookin' with microwaves! 
(Incidentally, as in that last bout, displaying the figures in
twos like this can often redeem an otherwise lackluster figure; I
didn't care much for Gladiator until I had him posed in the
aforementioned donnybrook, at which point I thought, man, that
was $2.99 well spent!).
     And I simply cannot _wait_ for an Absorbing Man and Thor to
put together (with Loki lurking atop a book up on the next
     Posed figure pairs -- it's a good thing.
     Now if only that custom Martha Stewart figure would arrive;
I can't wait to put her up against Galactus....(even money on
that bout, by the way; while I tried my best to convince those
Vegas guys that the Devourer of Worlds was more than a match for
the "Elseworlds Stalin-as-Caterer," they pointed out that
Galactus would have no idea how to make a buffalo meat dinner for
eight while sandblasting grandma's dentures to a lovely shine, or
to turn athlete's foot fungus into a decorative centerpiece. 

     Y'know, it's funny.  I spent much of my late adolescence
"daydreaming" about Star Wars.  But for all my hopes, I never
actually had a genuine asleep-in-bed dream in that world.
     Until, 20 years later, one night last week...
     ...where I was dreaming, and found myself smack dab in the
midst of an oneiric mix of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of
the Jedi!  (Quite an irony for someone who detests that last film
more than scalpers....)  It was totally cool!  Lasers were
blasting everywhere, there was 3PO all smashed up and strapped to
Chewie's back, Han and Leia running around shouting, Imperial
Troops up the wazoo (rather an uncomfortable situation for the
ol' wazoo, but hey, if that sort of thing persists, you can
always consult a specialist from the clinic on Hoth), no special
effect spared.
     But what I found supremely hysterical, just telling beyond
any conscious analysis I could make of my orientation vis a vis
Star Wars, was this:  just as the scene settled into full focus,
and I had a choice of following Chewie in one direction or Han
and Leia in another, or going off in a third to find Luke... I
turned to my right and suddenly noticed a bunch of boxes beside
me in an alcove.  I moved to examine them...
     ...and damned if it wasn't the Empire's secret stash of old
Marvel and DC Comics from the distant future!  (Don't ask me how
they got 'em back to a long-ago, far-away galaxy, I'm no
scientist)  Carton upon carton of loose, unbagged, clearly
read-and-loved issues of the Fantastic Four, Justice League of
America, the Legion of Superheroes, Batman, Spider-Man, and a
whole bunch of crossover issues I'd never known existed!  It was
incredible, a treasure trove beyond imagining (well...actually,
just within imagining, but no less wonderful).
     Of course, I settled in and started combing through the
boxes, at first only grabbing a few precious issues to read, then
realizing this opportunity might never come again -- and loading
up thereafter in earnest on dozens and dozens of the things!  I
was in heaven, it was amazing, flipping past all kinds of silver
age wonders, gorgeous and silly cover after gorgeous and silly
cover, then into the cosmic late 60s/70s stuff, ohhh, it was
heaven, bliss, I was suffused with pure hyperphoria.
     And it wasn't until I woke up that it hit me:  I'd finally
gotten my one chance to run around and play Jedi knight in the
Star Wars Universe, fire some blasters, pilot the Millennium
Falcon (anyone ever wonder just _what_ "millennium" that's
supposed to refer to?), kill me some Ewoks...
     ...and instead I spent the time looking through Darth
Vader's old comic book collection.
     Sigh.  And I wonder why I stopped collecting POTF2
     And of course, once I woke up, I spent a good fifteen
minutes wondering where the hell all those comics I put in my bag
went to.  Heckfire and Darnation, I hate that....

     If you're not a Marvel comics-figures fan, you may not pay
much attention to the outpouring of brightly-colored formed
plastic from Toy Biz (and they do outpour, yes indeedy), but if
you're any kind of female action figure fan, you might need to
start.  Because say what you will about some of their recent (and
regrettable) male figures like the Spider-Man "Web Splashers" or
the new 5" Hulk line, in their two most recent X-Men figures
assortments, Toy Biz has upped the ante on female figures in the
five-inch scale almost beyond belief.
     What I'm talking about here are the new Storm figure from
the X-Men Robot Fighters, and the new Mystique from the Monster
Armor set.  Abso-freakin'-lutely magnificent -- visions in
polymerized organics.
     Let's start with the Storm.  What a figure!  Action figure,
that is.  Okay, so the "Spinning Weather Station with Lightning
Projectile" is sort of lame, forget about it -- it's just an
_accessory_ (spoken like a true accessory-hater).  But the
figure, oh, the figure is a dream come true (no, we will _not_ be
discussing the details of *that* dream in public.  Ahem.).  There
isn't a thing I don't like about this figure (well, except maybe
the marketing strategy, but more on that below).  From her snazzy
90s costume (Bare shoulders!  Gold glove cuffs and belt! 
_Lightning bolt earrings, fer Stan's sake!) to her shock of
brilliant white hair, from her ghostly eyes to the tips of her
boots, this figure rocks.
     Okay, so she's outfitted with arguably ridiculous high heels;
and so the costume, design aside, wouldn't be much protection against, 
well, against much of anything (heck, at least as goddess of weather 
she doesn't have to worry about excessive cold), the figure just looks 
tremendous.  I love the ball-joints in her shoulders, and while you may 
protest about a relative paucity of articulation, well, I don't care!
     See, I've never been a huge proponent of articulation.  If
that makes you cry out in shock or pain, well, sorry.  But it's
the truth.  Maybe if I were still actively playing with my
figures, I'd be more concerned about poseability, but when, as
here, I'm presented with a figure that actually comes posed in a
faithful, engaging stance (as opposed to Kenner's Total Justice
"Agony Statuettes"), my needs for articulation grow minuscule. 
(Of course, you don't have to look so far as Kenner to find an
example of the other end of the pre-posed spectrum -- the Robot
Fighters "Pagliacci" Cyclops, caught in the last few stanzas of
his dramatic Caruso (Enrico, not Robinson, ahem) imitation, is a
sterling example of the overwrought and effectively unredeemable
in frozen silliness).
     Plus, though I may be on somewhat shaky ground given the
high heels (frankly, were I in high heels any ground would be
shaky), I applaud Toy Biz for sculpting this Storm in a
relatively restrained way, pulchritude-wise.  While she is amply
proportioned to be sure, her design is a far cry from the rampant
excesses of design of many other action figure females.  (Of
course, in the case of Ororo, one might well argue that that very
same degree of excess would at least be faithful to the character
as nearly-originally conceived by John Byrne (no offense to
Doughty Dave Cockrum who truly-originally pencilled her fine
lines), however oppressive those proportions of, say, the new X-
Men's first visit to the Savage Land might have been (Issue #107?
108?  Hey, someone out there must actually have their X-books in
the same part of the country they are....).
     Anyway, this Storm is simply fabulous.  And while I'm not
crazy about the idea of an instant "repaint" with shorter hair as
Toy Biz has threatened, er, promised (frankly, the photo I saw
made her look like she was playing "Heidi" in a road company
production of the little alpine lass's story), heck, I don't
_have_ to buy it.  I don't.  Really I don't...
     And just so you don't get the wrong idea about San
Francisco's desolate toy environs, no, I did not find this figure
here.  I was fortunate enough to be the continuing recipient of
some unabashedly wonderful toy charity from rta-f's own 6P$x3=
5%!!?&H (sorry, name scrambled to avoid having him unduly
burdened with pitiful, plaintive toy-beggings -- only _my_
pitiful, plaintive toy-beggings get to his saintly ears!),
without which my only shot at a Storm from this line would be to
fork over three to four times retail to a foul scalper.  How bad
is toy shopping in and around San Francisco?  I'll tell ya how
bad: The *white*-costumed third-time-around "repaint from Hell"
Storm from last year never lasted on the pegs more than a day,
maybe two!  Now _that's_ ridiculous (but true, alas).

     Moving right along, thanks to the bountiful generosity and
selfless toy hunting of yet another net-angel, my good friend
U7%#! +*@@dII3 (sorry, but I had to encode that too, or you'd all
be besieging her for figures as well, and then where would mine
come from?), I recently became possessed of the new Monster Armor
Mystique.  And from the moment I ripped open the box and set eyes
upon this figure, I was dazzled.  Enraptured.  Smitten.
     Goddess, what an action figure!  Forget about the silly
monstroid add-ons, forget about more high heels -- this figure is
simply extraordinary!  Stupendous!  Magnificent!
     First off, the likeness to the character in the comics is
perfect.  There were seemingly no concessions lost to three-
deification (a most appropriate term in the case of both these
females, the first because she _is_ damned near a goddess, and
the second for the divinity of her form and formulation) --
Mystique looks _exactly_ as I remember her from the funny papers!
     Then you've got the details -- the hair (remember the Robot
Fighter Gambit?  Obviously, when they want to, Toy Biz can make
just wonderful hair on their figures!).  The flesh tone, that
eerie creamy blue.  More ghostly eyes.  The pose.  And that belt
of skulls!  Just sensational.  Not to mention the additional
skull holding her widow's peak.  Magical, just magical.
     Interestingly, the paint jobs on both of these figures were
also just perfect.  I am duly impressed.  Toy Biz -- A+ on these.
     But!  Yes, but.  I know they'll give us marketing statistics
and purchaser age data until we're all blue in the face (and
arms, and legs...hey, do you think...ah, never mind).  "Little
boys don't like female figures."  Pfagh.  Ptooie.  (Sorry,
where's my hankie?)  All I can say is, that had _better_ be true. 
Because packing these exquisite figures at 2 per case is a
travesty.  And in both cases, the longpacked Wolverines are over-
decorating TRU and Walmart pegs from one end of this great land
to the other.  Now _that's_ a travesty (no offense, Marcia, and
all the other Logan-lovers out there).  Sigh.  Don't they
understand that I'd happily pay a slight premium to mail order
particular figures right from Toy Biz?  Obviously not....
     Toy Biz.  You gotta love 'em, you gotta hate 'em.
     And watch out, McFarlane Toys -- your preeminence as female
figure sculptors extraordinaire (certainly in the wake of the
demise of Playmates' -- ironic company name, that -- late Savage
Dragon and WildCATs lines) is rapidly being eroded.  Guess you'll
just have to push the line further....
Copyright (c) 1997 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

Comments? Drop me a line....
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