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John's Action Figure Column 04/21/97


     I was walking to the market the other day when I spotted a
mime across the street.  It was actually kind of funny (about the
only time I've ever found a mime funny) because the mime was not
acting like a mime -- he was standing beside a "no parking" sign,
upon which he'd hung his dry cleaning, and apparently waiting for
a ride.  Indeed, moments later, a van pulled up and the mime
grabbed his dry cleaning and walked towards the van.
     It was at this point that I noticed the driver of the van.
Odd, her complexion seem extremely pale as well -- my word, _she_
was also a mime!  And then, looking over at the passenger seat, I
swear on a stack of Robin Dragsters, it was _another_ mime!  I
had stumbled onto some kind of mime movement!  A secret cell of
the Mime Resistance.
     The first mime had by this time swung open the side door of
the van (white, by the way, which I found even more amusing) and
jumped in along with his laundry.  And with that, the Three
Mimesketeers drove off in a puff of -- you guessed it -- white
     Now, admittedly, as unusual as this convergence of mimes
was, it wasn't inherently _that_ funny.  No, my true chuckles
didn't start until I started imagining them trundling down the
road, trying to run a red light (pretty much the prevailing means
of personal expression in San Francisco), and ending up in a
little fender-bender.
     I mean, can't you just see it?  Imagine you're the driver of
the other car.  You feel that sickening bump from behind, and you
take stock of yourself and realize that you're okay, that it was
just some schmuck driving poorly, no bad injuries or anything.
Alright, so you grab the registration from the glove compartment,
and swing open your door to confront the posterior orifice who
was driving the offending vehicle...
     ...and see that she's a mime.
     Now, okay, it's _possible_ that the mime would drop
character and act normal...but unlikely.  Let's face it, these
people are _ill_.  So there you are, angry, in the right, and up
steps a joker in a Charlie Chaplin outfit and white pancake make-
up, gesticulating wildly and making extreme sad faces at you.
     Y'know, suddenly all those gun control laws start to make
sense.  I mean, I'm a peaceful guy, but if it was _me_, and we
didn't have those laws, and if the other mimes got out of the van
and started cavorting as well, well, there'd be shell casings
littering the highway before you could say -- well, before you
could too-cutely refrain from saying anything.
     But okay, imagination (I thought to myself), I'm not in a
car, I'm just minding my own business, walking to the grocery
store to pick up some chicken and vegetables for dinner.  What
else ya got in there in the way of mime-based fantasies?
     Heh heh.  The next one was the real doozy.

     Because if there can be a van full of mimes driving around
on a city street (especially a San Francisco street, down which
most locals would not raise an eyebrow at pretty much _anything_
being driven on a given day), then there could be one of those
tiny little cars filled with circus clowns, couldn't there?
     And if there's a tiny little car filled with circus clowns,
well, then, statistically, it is _possible_ that the aforethought
accident might occur not between a normal, law-abiding citizen
and those awful mimes, but between the *circus* clowns and the
     Imagine that one, folks.
     The mimes leap out, mugging and striking desperate, pained
poses, faking tears and generally figuring to pull focus from
their victims, seizing the moment through disconcertion and the
promulgation of the bizarre...
     ...until the occupants of the other car start to emerge...
     ...and emerge...
     ...and emerge...
     ...and emerge...
     ...until there are a dozen clowns in the street, red-faced
around their red noses and fit to be pied (and squirted, and
dusted, and clobbered, etc.).  The clowns make a tight circle
around the mimes, who suddenly wish they were off in a park
somewhere, irritating powerless pedestrians and not a bunch of
angry, unsympathetic bozos (and I use that term in the nicest
possible way).  A crowd gathers around the tableaux, and as the
clowns close in for what can only be some serious violent
     ...not a voice is heard in protest.  Not a cry goes out, and
even the police car trolling down the road in search of fine
pastry just keeps on going.

     Because let's face it:  everyone hates mimes.  You have to
wonder if even _mimes_ hate mimes.  And this being the case, I
have to give mimes one heckuva lot of credit for going ahead and
becoming mimes in the face of this universal antipathy.  It
really must take some guts.  Very well, credit to the mimes,
these undersung heroes of modern society.
     But I still hate 'em.  I don't know if it's the pasty white
makeup, or their stubborn insistence on silence in a world of
sound, or just their consequent exaggerated gestures and
postures, but they grate on my nerves.
     Which feeling is what brings us back around to action
figures.  I know this may sound crazy at first, but I found
myself wondering about mime action figures.  Poseable, well-
designed, well-painted mime figures.  Why, you may enquire?
Quite simple:  it's the child in me.  A particular child....
     The child that around age 11 used to delight in sneaking
down to the basement with a pal and a book of matches, and
setting our little green army men on fire, just to watch the
droplets of flaming plastic burn their way to the ground in a
glorious cometary path of last motion.
     Y'see, I want mime figures so I can _burn_ 'em.  Heh heh
     Now, I'm not usually a violent man.  Heck, I'm not _ever_ a
violent man.  (Er, well, except for a few isolated moments behind
the wheel of my car, when someone else decides that red lights
don't apply to them, or that pedestrians are targets, or that
generally they are above the rules of traffic).  But there's
something about mimes that just makes my blood boil.  And -- in
effigy, so that of course no one ever gets hurt -- I'd like to
return the favor.
     I can even see myself branching out -- after the sport of
making molten men out of a few choice mime figures, I think I'd
finally indulge my more medieval instincts and try some creative
redistribution of limbs, a la Doctor Frankenstein.  Who wouldn't
chortle with glee upon passing a display of several mimes cut off
at the knees, or lying defenseless before a Violator or a
Darkseid (maddened by his own manual disfigurement)?  Or perhaps
the simplest and most satisfying custom of all:  placing a fine
mime figure inside a real glass case, against which he or she
could theoretically carry on their "ooh, I'm stuck in a glass
booth" pantomime to their heart's least until the
air ran out...
     ...or was pumped out....
     Okay, it's not nice.  And it's not pretty.  But hey, as my
only active practice of discrimination, it's fairly benign -- I
mean, no one is _born_ a mime.  It's a choice, and an ugly one.
     If I was in charge of the world, aside from shortpacks being
a crime punishable by the enforced and compulsory watching of
incessant "Hee-Haw" episodes, it would be completely unlawful to
discriminate against anyone on the basis of anything, anything at
     ...except that unfortunate compulsion to dress in black and
paint the face white and generally piss the hell out of everyone
around by being a mime.  As far as I'm concerned, you want to
deny mimes benefits, go ahead.  You want to segregate them in the
back of the park, that's fine.  Round 'em up for resettlement in
the east, okey-dokey.
     I don't mind clowns.  Jesters are fine, Harlequins,
acrobats, tumblers, pantomime horses, even Gallagher is okay in
my book.
     But Mimes...eeeuuughhh [shudder].
     There ought to be a law....
     Oh-oh...that's probably the Mime Anti-Defamation League
right now.
     At least they don't generally say much....

     Okay, there's these cards.  Old cards.  Not ancient, but
pretty darned old -- Fourteenth, Fifteenth Century-type stuff
(with possible antecedents dating back even further).  Maybe
you've heard of 'em?  "Tarot cards."  They're wayyyyyy cool.
Some folks use 'em for fortune telling; others see them as an
hermetic compendium of arcane and mystical knowledge, including
being a mnemonic storybook of the legendary Grail story.
Intense, fascinating things, these cards.  Aside from being the
inspiration and basis for our conventional playing cards, they've
inspired innumerable stories and fantasies, from Roger Zelazny's
incomparable "Amber" series to Tim Powers' "Last Call."
     But the content and uses aside (I think here of Steven
Reich's old joke, "We played poker last night with tarot
cards...I got a full house and four people died...."), the cards
themselves are remarkable things.  And while many people know
only the "standard" Rider-Waite tarot deck (iconic images dating
to the early 20th Century), there are dozens of easily obtainable
Tarot decks.  You can usually find these at alternative book
stores, record stores, even comic book stores -- in fact, though
(grumble, sigh) I missed it when it came out a couple years back,
DC's Vertigo Press actually printed a Tarot deck with Vertigo
characters in place of the older, standard Tarot images.
     Which is half my springboard here today, the other half
being a wonderful suggestion I first read in Antero Alli's "Angel
Tech" book, that of creating one's _own_ Tarot deck based on
images that resonate personally and individually for the designer
(I have since encountered this idea in several other places --
which makes sense; wonderful ideas should and do tend to erupt
multiply and concurrently).  One of the ideas behind using Tarot
decks is that as one uses a deck more and more, the deck begins
to resonate with the spirit and energies of the owner.  If this
is true, then think how much more resonant a deck is when it is
_designed_ by that owner!
     And with this in mind, consider then the idea of a Tarot
deck designed around images of ACTION FIGURES!

     If you aren't familiar with the structure of the Tarot deck,
here's a quick overview.  There are four suits -- Cups,
Pentacles, Wands and Swords (which correspond to the four hallows
of early Welsh mythography and are similar to the clubs,
diamonds, hearts and spades of our familiar playing cards) and 22
"trumps," singular cards taken to reflect primal forces and
essences in the universe (and it was these 22 "story" cards which
along with the Knight cards, were gradually disintegrated from
the Tarot deck by the medieval Church authorities, who understood
just enough of the encoded truths to realize that they comprised
a revolutionary and subversive anti-papist primer without equal).
     And as noted, there are 22 trump cards in the Tarot deck.
These cards consist of:

     0    The Fool                 11   Justice
     1    The Magician             12   The Hanged Man
     2    The High Priestess       13   Death
     3    The Empress              14   Temperance
     4    The Emperor              15   The Devil
     5    The Hierophant           16   The Tower
     6    The Lovers               17   The Star
     7    The Chariot              18   The Moon
     8    Strength                 19   The Sun
     9    The Hermit               20   Judgement
     10   Wheel of Fortune         21   The World

     I don't really have the space to go into the meanings
associated with each card/image (especially since most sources
disagree to some extent, which makes the whole thing rather
involved), but suffice it to say that most of them correspond at
least to some degree with the general kinds of meanings the names
would connect -- with a few subtle corrections (for instance, the
"Fool" is not someone addled or idiotic, and actually represents
the proper condition in which one should begin any new endeavor
-- without preconceptions and certainties which would preclude
any actual learning, growing, etc.  Another popular misconception
is that "Death" literally means death, when in fact it marks an
abrupt change of any kind, and not just a precipitous shuffle off
of coils of the mortal kind.)
     In any event, these rich and historic images struck me as
holding enormous potential of being reassociated with newer
images, specifically those of some of our favorite plastic icons,
action figures.

     The "suits" are easy -- if only because there are only so
many "incessant multiples" to choose from.  In other words, I see
the suits as being Batmen, Spawns, Wolverines and Iron Men.  So
there'd be the Ace of Batman (probably "Combat Belt," for the
sake of versimilitude), the two of Batmen, three, etc., right on
up to the Page, Knight, Queen, King and Ace of Batmen.  And the
same for the others -- Ace of Wolverines, Nine of Spawns (Future
Spawn?), Knight of Iron Men (War Machine, for sure).  I could
have gone with Invisible Woman repaints, or maybe even Spider-Men
(the six would have to be the six-armed, of course, for you,
Ben), but those'll have to wait for a later incarnation of the
     As for the Trumps, I'll start by jumping around a bit (in
the list, not in front of my computer, although you'd be
surprised how much that helps jog the imagination some times) and
take the most obvious connection first:  That devil card just
screams "Malebolgia," right?  I don't know that anyone could
really argue that one.  (Well, actually, I know several people
would could and would argue pretty much anything, just for the
sake of dissention, but let's leave that aside for now).
     The Fool?  Well, there's probably a lot of possibilities for
this one.  I think I lean towards the Tourist Tick -- but your
mileage may vary (and remember, constructing one's own deck is
the whole point of this; I'm just providing my personal approach,
as a guideline).
     The Magician?  That'd have to be Dr. Strange, although Adam
Warlock was a very strong second.
     Here's my conceptual set in its current totality:

0  Tourist Tick (Fool)             11   Superman (Justice)
1  Dr. Strange (Magician)          12   Cable (Hanged Man)
2  Warrior Nun Areala (Priestess)  13   Hellspont (Death)
3  Blood Queen (Empress)           14   Void (Temperance)
4  Dr. Doom (Emperor)              15   Malebolgia (Devil)
5  The Beast (Hierophant)          16   Deathstar (The Tower)
6  Cyclops/Phoenix (Lovers)        17   Cosmic Angela (Star)
7  Batmobile (Chariot)             18   (The Moon)
8  The Hulk (Strength)             19   (The Sun)
9  Obi-Wan Kenobi (Hermit)         20   Redeemer (Judgement)
10 Psycho Man's Emotion Wheel      21   (The World)
     (Wheel of Fortune)

     I need to "cheat" on three cards:  for the Moon, I'd want to
use a classic 60s shot of the Watcher's base on Luna; for the
Sun, some nifty Jack Kirby starscape; and for the World, a from-
space picture of "Counter-Earth" seems appropriate, since all
these characters come from a variety of counter-Earths.
     There were of course several close calls (I had some other
ideas for "Strength," but after all, "Hulk is the strongest one
there is..."; Peter Parker and Mary Jane as the Lovers, Ming for
the Emperor, etc.), but for the most part I think this is a great
start.  I'd love to turn these into an actual set of cards...
imagine what a hoot it would be to offer to do a Tarot reading
for someone, and then whip out these babies.  "Oooh, you've got
the Batmobile, reversed, along with the five of Spawns and the
Seven of Wolverines, reversed...uh, I wouldn't make any long-term
     Hey, there are worse things I could do with my time....
Copyright (c) 1997 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

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