Friday, May 9, 2014

Stuff About Me - And Also Playsets

Today you’re going to be treated to a bunch of babbling nonsense because tomorrow is my birthday, I’m working all weekend and don’t get to celebrate, and I didn’t have time to take pictures of the Spider-Man figure that was supposed to get reviewed today. 
Plus, (and this is Wednesday night now – I wrote all of that Tuesday during the day) I got called into work tonight and still didn’t have time to take those Spidey pics. This piece turns into kind of a bummer at the end, and I’m pretty down on 2014 right now so I don’t know if this re-write is going to make it worse. So be prepared.


I don’t like battle damaged action figures.

I’m not sure exactly where this preference came from. I also don’t like figures with overly expressive faces or parts sculpted in a pose. For example, if there’s a cape or long hair or whatever I don’t want it waving in any particular direction. I also don’t like figures or parts of figures to be in permanent “dynamic” poses.

As you can imagine, the 90s were a difficult time for me as a collector. I think the hardest thing for me to deal with was GI Joe: Extreme. Those were just a nightmare. After a decade of highly poseable, fun army guys Hasbro put out a bunch of crappy figures that were barely a step above the original molded plastic Army Men.

As far as faces go, if a figure comes with an extra head you can slap any old face you want on it – angry, happy, pooping; whatever – as long as there’s a neutral head. For the capes and whatnot, the reason I don’t like posed sculpts is because no two capes or hairdos or bandannas in any toy line have ever been posed with the wind blowing or the characters moving in the same direction and they end up looking stupid when you put the figures together. Why is Batman’s cape fluttering off to the right while Superman’s is billowing out behind him?

Well, it’s obviously because the Man of Steel just floated an air biscuit and his flatulence is stronger than any gale Mother Nature can generate, but that’s beside the point.

The point here is that I want figures that can be posed in a neutral manner on the shelf. Or in a base. Or wherever. This is not collector me talking, this is how I’ve been since I was a kid. I think it’s some kind of resistance to being told what to do. 
Don’t you tell me that Roadblock has to be forever squatting down, firing his ridiculous cannon, and screaming. Sometimes Roadblock cooks soufflés and that is not a reasonable pose for soufflé cooking.

Don’t give me a Darth Vader figure that can only stand in a wide-legged pose with his lightsaber pointed off to one side. Sometimes Lord Vader just stands there. Sometimes he sits crisscross applesauce in his meditation chamber. Sometimes he raises his sad, mismatched fists to the sky and yells, “NOOOOOOO!” Don’t limit me, Hasbro.

Don’t you get all cocky, Mattel. You and your Total Justice.

Shit. Wait – Kenner had the DC license back then. And Kenner is part of Hasbro now.
I’m sitting here thinking that Mattel – who generally pisses me off more than any toy company except for around SDCC time when Hasbro offers their Exclusives which you will never, ever be able to get unless you go all the way out to San Diego and spend the entire weekend standing in their stupid line or can spend 72 straight hours doing nothing but looking at their website the week after SDCC to see when they list their Exclusives – has generally avoided dynamically posed figures. They have definitely released some pathetically articulated figures over the years, but for the most part I think they have avoided the “squatting and screaming” style.


If we’re talking minifigures and statues all of that stuff is fine. Make a character squat, crouch, kick, jump, dance, scream, make a kissyface, concentrate, or have that sort of sassy stance with their hands on their hips and their head cocked to the side.
All of that is fine for minifigures and statues because...

I don’t know. I guess because those collectibles are generally trying to capture one specific point in time as opposed to really being played with. Going back to when I was a kid, I needed to be able to tell stories with my figures. Lots of different stories. And when one is permanently posed or has a specific expression, that’s just one story. 

I miss the heck out of playsets and am concerned that vehicles are going the same way.
There are a lot of factors involved in the disappearance of playsets from toy aisles, but I feel like the biggest culprit is Walmart. I said as much in a post entitled Boycott Walmart. I did that for a while, but it proved difficult and I lapsed. I need to try again. Every time I see their pathetic action figure aisle it fills me with rage.

And now I have to worry about Target – the place where I have bought the bulk of my non-NECA toys over the past several years – closing. I love Target. Not just because they have a tendency to get toy lines in before anybody else around here, but because they have pretty good quality stuff at reasonable prices. Not that I’m any kind of style person or whatever, but pretty much everything in Target fits my sensibilities a whole lot better than what Walmart carries. Plus Target has a much lower shitbag quotient than Walmart. The problem seems to be that we are a nation of shitbags and if you don’t aim at the lowest common denominator you are going to be in trouble.

Dammit. I don’t want to get all sociological here. Let me get back to playsets.

Given the choice, I’d much rather display my Star Wars figures on the Death Star or a Sandcrawler or a Mon Cal cruiser than on a shelf. It’s why I spent a lot of time and a little money to buy the various figures needed to assemble the bar from Chalmun’s Cantina (which, holy shit, I guess isn’t Chalmun’s Cantina anymore):
I had to have that bar when I found out it existed. It was produced in the years when I wasn’t actively collecting Star Wars toys. I found one piece of it on clearance somewhere and had to track the rest down. To me, this seems like a perfectly reasonable way to release playsets or dioramas. Granted, Mattel tried it with their Young Justice line, but those figures were way overpriced and the diorama left a lot to be desired.

The recent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Sewer Lair playset (which I never got around to reviewing) made me extremely happy. Me and Lil’ Troublemaker spent a day putting it together and playing with it and in the end I gave it to him because he loves the Ninja Turtles way more than I do right now and he actually plays with it as opposed to just letting it sit in a corner.

Just for fun, here are the best playsets I remember from my childhood:
The Death Star Playset – I played with this more than any other playset. It was everything from the Death Star to COBRA headquarters to the USS Enterprise to the Ghostbusters firehouse. Every inch of every level of this thing was awesome. It might be the best playset of all time.
The COBRA Terrordrome (which I recently reacquired; well – most of it) – Or this might be the best. When this thing came out I switched over to COBRA’s side. I’m only just now remembering this, but my pre-Terrordrome play habits were to basically have the Joes constantly out on missions to hunt down COBRA agents. But once I had this mighty fortress, COBRA started its true plans to rule the world. I started to identify more with Cobra Commander and Destro. They were now the protagonists and the instigators.
The GI Joe Mobile Command Center – The original Joe HQ – the silver one – was an awesome playset. I loved that thing. But the Mobile Headquarters was a thing of beauty. Now the Joes could operate from anywhere. I liked this thing even more than the Flagg. I’m still kicking myself for not buying the retooled version a few years ago when Toys R Us had it.
The Ewok Village – Such a stupid locale, and yet such a good playset. Don’t get me wrong – I love the Ewoks. But their little village was hardly the coolest location for Star Wars action figure play. Compared to Chalmun’s (it’s going to be really hard for me to stop calling it that), the Death Star, the Star Destroyer, the Millennium Falcon, Cloud City, or even the Emperor’s bathroom; pretty much any locale in the Original Trilogy would have looked more awesome than some platform stuck in a couple of trees. But this thing had a bunch of features and was just fun to play with. It was kind of a lame spot, but it was a great toy.
The Dagobah Playset – Speaking of lame spots, who the heck really wanted Yoda’s hut? But once again the geniuses at Kenner packed a ton of play features into what should have been a ridiculously lame environment. Recreating scenes of Luke’s incessant whining was so much more fun with a little foam swamp, floating boxes, and a hut you could jam a bunch of figures into.
The Dungeons & Dragons Snake Face Dungeon Thing – This thing got a lot of play. I think we got it at a yard sale and I didn’t know what it was until years later. Thusly uncategorized, it became the adventure destination for pretty much every toy line I ever owned. With its traps and treasures it was an obvious forbidden zone. It was never aligned, either – always chaotic neutral. Neither the good guys nor the bad guys called it home; most often there was a race to recover whatever exotic secret it might contain (just like every GI Joe miniseries).

Boulder Hill from MASK – I didn’t get this until later in my youth when one of my friends lost his fucking mind and gave all of his toys away to the rest of us. Somebody else claimed the Transformers before I could, but I managed to snag all of the MASK stuff. My mom wouldn’t let me keep it until she checked with his parents to make sure it was okay. At the time I was outraged, but now I understand. So in one stroke I went from owning one MASK toy – the Condor with Brad Turner – to owning almost everything that was out. It’s easily the greatest toy windfall of my life (I mean, other than all of the stuff my parents bought for me).
The USS Flagg – This is often hailed as the greatest toy of all time. For me, the Flagg holds bittersweet memories. It was my big gift the last year that Santa came. To me the Flagg will always signify the end of innocence and of an era. Despite the fact that I never really stopped collecting toys, the Flagg symbolizes a certain portion of adulthood that came crashing down on me. While I had hours and hours of fun playing with it, I’ll never love it like some folks do just because of all the baggage it represents.

That’s it for playsets, but I have one more thing to share here about the Flagg.

On top of all of that other baggage, it carries the burden of representing loss. When I returned to my parents’ home after years of being away, I wanted to retrieve all of my old toys. Mom had always said that I should save my toys for my own kids – even when I denied the possibility that I would have kids or that if I did that they would want to play with my toys – so I was expecting to find all of my Star Wars, GI Joes, MASK, and everything else boxed up and safe.

I was told that everything was up in the attic. I went up and the first thing I saw as the Flagg. It was in pieces, scattered about the attic floor. And worse, those pieces were all warped and deformed from the hot Georgia summers. I pulled them all down, but nothing would fit back together. This was the case with all of the toys that remained. I say “remained” because my mother had, over the years, gotten rid of a huge portion of my childhood collection. Gone was everything that wasn’t GI Joe or Star Wars; and huge portions of those collections were missing.

I blame myself. There were years where things were bad between me and my parents and they probably weren’t sure I’d be back home. There were times when Mom would call and ask me if I wanted to come and get my things, but I lived in apartments and didn’t have room to store toys. There’s only so long they could reasonably be expected to take care of those things or let them take up space. 
So now I go to places like Billy’s Toys and look around and think, “I used to have that,” over and over again. I’m sure most collectors my age experience the exact same thing to one extent or another, but there are a lot of painful and unpleasant memories tied up in all of that. I feel like it’s not just the toys I lost, but years of something else. A huge gap of misunderstanding between me and my family that the right few words, or just a little more effort, or just a little more patience could have undone. 
Unfortunately for us all I got my stubbornness from them and I don’t think the scars from those years will ever go away. And no – it’s not about the toys. The toys are nothing. It’s all the ghosts that I see when I look at them that bother me. 
Maybe that’s why I’m such an avid collector now. I’m trying to replace those things with new ones. Forget what was in the past and focus on what I have now. To an extent it’s what I’ve done with my own family. And I’m doing my best to take care of all of the things I have now better than I did back then.

Well that got fucking depressing. Let’s hope all of this is the end of 37 and not the start of 38. Geez.

I’ll be back on Monday with another stupid toy review. Or maybe a sad poem.

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