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John's Action Figure Column 06/08/97


     I'm not the kind of person who paranoiacally decides that
aliens are after him, or that strange, more local individuals are
telepathically tapping his soul.  Really, I swear it.
     That said, however, a lesser-balanced person than me would
find it difficult to put aside the notion that Toy Biz is reading
my mind.
     Because after years of producing an overabundance of second-
rate characters (Ha! _Third_-rate in a lot of cases), they're
suddenly concentrating on the core of the first-stringers, or at
least second-stringers who _should_ be first-stringers.
     I mean, we go for _years_ with one lousy Storm figure, which
Toy Biz then has the cold temerity to repaint again and again --
a spindly, rickety, feeble Storm (sorry, Eric, I know she was
your first) as it happens.  Then we get characters like
Bonebreaker and Kylun, and about fifteen Cables, but as far as
members of the revamped team that started it all off the second
and triumphant time around, we have to limp along with *one*
Colossus, *one* Nightcrawler, basically _no_ "plain" Jean Grey,
     And as for the "original" original team, while the
occasional Cyclops looked a little bit like his old 60s self, if
you wanted the rest of the gang you had to content yourself with
a very boyish post-snowman Iceman and the singularly action-less
Professor X figure (though his Shi'ar hoverchair was sort of
     Then came 1997.

     Well, 1996 and 1997, actually.  Last year saw the release of
the first "sophisticated" Iceman, a light-blue post-possession
Bobby Drake, replete with icy spikes and a levitating ridge of
frosty shoulder armor.  I thought this figure was terrific...
     ...and then Toy Biz upped the ante again with the "Muntant
[sic] Armor" Iceman, a semi-faceless extension of the same idea,
Iceman-on-acid if you will, a darker blue human glacier.  I also
liked this figure quite a bit -- okay, so he's got no mouth, but
his ice-appendages are larger, more threatening, and he comes
with two nifty (if goofy) high-ice-heels.  A glorified repaint,
this Iceman nevertheless captured my fancy, even if something in
his expression put him across as a bit more villainous than his
pale cerulean predecessor.
     And then 1997's Water Wars assortment hit, with "yet
another" Iceman.
     Except that _this_ Iceman propels the character into a whole
new stratum of coolness (if you'll pardon the expression).  From
his pedestal-legs to his arcing crystalline appendages, this
figure seems to me nothing less than a breakthrough!  Oh, I know,
purists and articulation-lovers could have a field day with its
shortcomings in those regards, and Toy Biz didn't help much with
their still-lame bio on the card...but I think this figure is

     Think about it.  Forget silly Bobby Drake and his "practical
jokes."  Take an unbiased look at this "Ultimate Iceman," and see
if you don't see the stunning, elemental demi-god I see.  I love
the inhuman-ness of this figure -- he looks as if he were carved
from diamond!  So his head's just a clone of the Muntant Armor
iceman with a plastic dunce cap grafted on, so what?  Those arms,
with their fanning ridges of crystal splendor, are extraordinary,
a triumph of evocative sculpting and design!
     Aside from its relatively diminutive stature, this figure
could have slid off the racks at McFarlane Toys (still the
industry's standard-bearer in terms of exquisite and ground
breaking detail, IMHO)!  Putting aside the fact that, as far as
the young'uns are concerned, this figure is also a _water_
pistol, fer Galactus' sake, its got lots of appeal for adults as
     For I see the Ultimate Iceman as a primal creature, life-
below-zero, a being that would be as comfortable in the
interstellar cold as it would be on Earth long after the sun goes
dark.  From his huge, glittering hands to tips of his ice-blade
shoulders, this figure rocks!  (Well, crystals).  Even the crouch
hearkens to me of a spritely, primal elementalism.  It's "Iceman
from the End of Time," a tale of powers gone mad....
     Okay, I will admit that, if you put his right arm "down," he
does look as if he's a member of a refrigerated chorus-line
("...hey, pal, are you doing the cha-cha, or are your teeth just
chattering?"), but even so, I think he looks amazing!  I see him
less as a legless skier, and more of an almost mythic archetype
of the frozen steppes.  This figure's huge ice-hands don't need
to be snapped-on; he's _become_ the ice beast the others merely
pretend to be!  I love it!
     And when you put the three most recent Icemen together --
watch out!  There's a synergy that's really quite striking.  I
mean, you've got the first one, a kind of pale blue, with his
frosted boxing glove and his come-hither enlarged right
hand...then you've got the mouthless dark blue Mutant Armor
Iceman (I guess his ice is his armor, yes?), for whom the
attaching ice-hands have become angular and sharp, larger, much
more menacing (though his elevator-shoe ice boots do leave a
little something to be desired, like, balance)...and then you've
got the "Ultimate" Iceman, who looks more like some kind of ice-
demon "creature from the Id" than any mere Marvel character
(well, except for maybe that Wee Willie Winkle pointy head, which
does make him look like the lost fourth Rice Krispy guy).
     Stand them all side by side, and you've got the first wave
of the Frost Giants from Ragnarok (no, they're not a hockey
team...though y'know....).  A terrific assemblage.
     Frankly, I think Iceman has in general gotten unforgivably
short shrift from Marvel.  He's a _great_ character, with
compelling powers!  There was no reason to shunt him into
perennial "goofball" status.  The fact that it took something on
the order of demonic possession to expose the true extent of his
might is just shameful.  Although I suppose I should be thankful
that Marvel didn't just keep him as "Bobby the Snowman" all these
     Make Mine Icemen!

     I opened seven old figures the other day.
     I'll admit it -- I was bored.  I was sitting around the
house, I just couldn't read anymore, I couldn't listen to another
CD, didn't feel like taking a walk, just wasn't up for any
Internet surfing, and tv -- let's face it, television is _crap_.
     So what was I going to do?  Well, inspiration struck as an
adjunct to the above Iceman piece.  You see, while I'd just
bought and opened the "Ultimate" frost dwarf, and had last year's
Iceman still-open and displayed on one of my admittedly few
display shelves, I had never opened the "Mutant Armor Iceman"
though I'd bought it when it first came out months and months
     And I realized that while memory often does serve -- at
least satisfactorily, even as it stands and waits (or grandstands
and weights, but that's another kettle of fish) -- it could only
positively enhance my complete report on the crystalline cohort
to have all of them right there before me.
     So, stopping only to grab the well-hidden key and a
flashlight, I descended to brave the dusty cobwebs and precarious
box-pilings that have lately taken over our basement storage

     Am I the only one who never quite seems to be able to
remember how damned many boxes of figures I've got put away? 
Every time I make the journey, and put my straining shoulder to
the stony slab of the sepulchral vault (actually it's just
plywood and it opens very easily), I am astonished at the
profusion of boxes and bags (overflow, y'know).  Do they _breed_
down there?  I'd swear I only had a dozen (actually, I _did_
swear I only had a dozen, to Tracey, just a week or two ago). 
Er, wait, make that two dozen.  Okay, thirty, tops.
     So where did these _fifty_ boxes come from?!?
     Well, though I know my fellow local collectors' love for me
is leviathan, it does not, at least thus far, extend to their
surreptitiously sneaking bundles of unasked-for toys into my
cellar (at least not to my knowledge).  No -- sigh -- all these
boxes got there through the labor of my own two hands, like it or
not (or "afford it or not," more accurately -- and
distressingly).  I just tend to forget the smaller trips
downstairs.  It's the day-long, catalogue-everything-in-sight
forays that stick in the mind.
     Okay, fine, so all these boxes are mine, and they all
contain action figures.  No problem -- I've still got that
miraculous list I made seven months ago in a frenzy of colonic-
withholding order-obsession.
     Except that I've bought a fair amount of toys since then,
catalogued with all the precision of a bull's rear at fly-time --
which is to say not at all.
     Sigh.  Time to start trudging through boxes.
     The down-side of this was that it was going to turn what
might have been two minutes' effort into a long, tiring,
frustrating afternoon's pursuit, as box after box turned up no
sign whatsoever of this shiverer-in-sapphire, Bobby Drake III (or
IV, depending on how you count the first two popsicle-boys).
     But the up-side was that I got to tour through dozens upon
dozens of minty-fresh basement-resident figures!
     Granted, it wasn't like any of them presented much of a
surprise (I do mostly remember what I buy) (uh, mostly), but even
so, it was a blast to make this safari-in-plastic.  Almost as fun
as finding them all at once at the toy store -- and I didn't have
to pay a dime!  (Well, not this time).
     So, yes, sometimes I come across a figure that gives me
pause, as in, "I bought...this?"  But for the most part, it's a
delight, and gives me great joy as I canvass all the figures that
just don't fit on two slender den bookshelves.  (Ha, this
hyperabundance of homunculi wouldn't fit in two fat _dens_, even
if they had shelves from floor to ceiling.  But don't tell
     And even given my severely limited display space, as I
turned over figure after figure, I realized, "I have _got_ to
open some of these, bring them upstairs and let them see the
light of day!"
     And I did.

     By the time I found the Iceman, I'd run through about a
dozen boxes.  And, given my unique and ultra-sophisticated
storage scheme (like, "okay, this fits in this odd space --
almost -- so there it goes!"), the toys I was scanning came from
epochs both recent (1997) and distant (oooh, 1995), providing a
nice mix of what for me are the "then" and the "now."
     When all was said and done (though actually, being alone and
at least somewhat healthy, I didn't say much), and the dust had
settled (yeah, right -- there's so much loose particulate matter
down there, it probably won't all settle for another week), I had
all the boxes restored to a semblance of order and had that deep
blue middle ground Iceman firmly in my grip.
     And six other figures in a neat little pile, all awaiting
liberation and display.
     Ahhh...opening.  Y'know, in some cases, the disparity
between how a figure looks on the card and how it looks loose,
opened, is truly amazing.
     Which is to say I had a few surprises in store for me in
this miniature orgy of bubble-release.
     For example, despite all the bashing the figure received, I
discovered to my great delight that the "Rampagin' Hulk"-series
Abomination is a tremendous figure off the card!  Big, menacing,
well-sculpted, imposing, I love it!  Even his oversized, dorky,
day-glo gun somehow looks right in his hunkin' right fist.  Oh,
sure, there's a definite paucity of articulation, and his left
arm is crooked in a funny way that makes me think he's trying to
scratch gamma-irradiated super-fleas off his ribcage, but I was
quite pleasantly surprised to find I really _like_ this figure,
much more than its carded aspect had made me think I would.
     (This begs the question, of course, of "why did you buy it,
John, if you didn't think you'd like it?") (Don't beg -- it ill
becomes you) (But in thise case, I've always liked the
Abomination, right from his Gil Kane-pencilled first incarnation,
and even the inane ravages of several decades of second-rate
auteurs could not diminish my youthful affection -- nor should
it.)  Goofy lightweight soft plastic be damned -- this thing
looks great on the shelf!  I haven't decided whether I like it
better with or without the tattered black cape (Tattered black
cape?!?  For the Abomination?!?  Gee, that makes sense...and
while you're at it, why not give the Hulk a dinner jacket and a
cummerbund!  Oh yeah, they did that....) but like it I do.
     Similarly, though without the same initial reservations, I
found that "Night Armor Iron Man" is a terrific loose figure. 
Sleek, dark and stealthy, he looks wonderful out in the open air.
     On the other hand, not all revelations are happy ones.  For
it was with great dismay (bordering upon outright disgust) that I
released my Black Cat from her plastic prison.  What a
disappointing figure!  Oh, sure, I loved the way she looked on
the card, but loose, eee-yucch!  A prime example of the kind of
over-sculpting that ruins a figure.  So pose-specific is her
design, you cannot move her limbs away from the "design stance"
at all without arriving at awkwardness incarnate.  Meanwhile, no
matter what position you attempt, she cannot stand.  This is a
figure that looks great -- left on the card.  If you've got a
carded Black Cat somewhere, LEAVE HER THAT WAY!  Whatever you do,
DON'T OPEN HER!  You won't be sorry.
     The rest of my, er, openings were less dramatic, but
ultimately fairly satisfying.  In brief, I freed a Vault
Guardsman (great design, solid B+ figure, though the color scheme
leaves one a keeps reminding me of the
"Guardsman" from early 70s Iron Man comics), and an Annihilus and
a "transforming" Human Torch from the late, lamented FF line.
     I wasn't crazy about the Torch, but the Lord of the Negative
Zone appealed to my sense of nostalgia.  Ah, so he shambles a bit
more than any self-respecting Kirby creation should, so what? 
He's still pretty cool, and you can humble him in an instant by
"pulling away the curtain" and revealing his diminutive
insectovoid true self.

     And even though this Torch was disappointing (too little
detail, too little flame, _really_ stupid accessory stand), it
did give me a great idea, one that Toy Biz approached but never
quite hit head-on:  Why not a "Fantastic Four: Transformations"
     The nature of the FF fairly screams for such figures! 
Imagine, a half-invisible Woman, a Mr. Fantastic with his arms
stretched forward (much as they are in the wonderful, oft-
overlooked, 2" die-cast metal Mr. F), a _new_ sculpt of the half-
aflame Johnny Storm (let's face it, it's much-needed), and a Ben
Grimm in mid-change to his rocky form.  I know Toy Biz is
generally loathe to make new sculpts when they can beat existing
ones into the mercantile ground, but who knows?  If this year's
"Classic X-Men" set really takes off, maybe Toy Biz will really
push into a new-sculpts-for-collectors market!
     It could happen....

     Interestingly, and tying this whole thing up in a neat
little knot (imagine that!), I discovered yesterday that Toy Biz
is about to release a "Fire & Ice" two-pack, exclusive to Toys
'R' Us stores.  This double-bubble consists of the aforementioned
half-aflame Human Torch side-by-side with the also-aforementioned
Pen-ultimate Iceman, a retread of the Mutant Armor Icy.  From the
black and white photo in (ugh) AFNTR (proudly read and _not_
purchased from the newsstand, although "read" seems a singularly
inappropriate verb, given the relative lack of content; how about
"browsed"?), it was hard to tell, but it seems like both are
"repaints."  The Iceman appeared as a dull, matte-finish sort of
pewtery-thing, while the Torch -- well, I couldn't really tell
how the Torch is going to look.  But it doesn't matter that much,
to me.  Because in all likelihood, I'll be buying it for the
Iceman alone.
     Oh well.  I think I'll go surprise Tracey by stashing the
Ultimate Iceman in the freezer....
     Heh heh heh....
Copyright (c) 1997 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

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