Monday, February 20, 2012

Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

You know what I’m NOT that into? Toys.

I’ve just never been one of those guys that collects toys. You think I WOULD be, what with everything else I’m into. Video games, role playing games, comic books.

I’ve just never been one of those guys that goes to Toys R' Us and picks up the entire LINE of the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures as soon as they came out. You know? And I’m not talking about having an action figure on the hood of your car or something cute like that.

You KNOW the guys I’m talking about. With T-O-Y-S. Lots of them. Complete with little accessories and everything.

I’m not quite sure if I get the appeal. Actually, maybe I get the appeal and it scares me. I mean, to me, what I love about fantasy is usually to take it very, very seriously. Buying toys as an adult seems the antithesis of this, to sort of recapture that feeling you had as a kid.

Not that that’s wrong, I suppose.

Now, that being all said, we're definitely living in a second renaissance of toys and debatably a first renaissance of superhero toys. If I WAS into toys I suppose it’d be a good time for me to be a collector.

I’m always kind of surprised that these days it’s harder and harder to find Dungeons and Dragons in your local comic store while you can get Watchmen action figures galore there.

I think I was a kid JUST when that first renaissance hit it’s stride. I mean people forget there was so much to love about Star Wars. The music, the games, etc. But it was the TOYS that sold that movie. George Lucas was no dummy. Not only did Darth Vader action figures sell like hotcakes (remember with that little plastic light saber that slid in and out of his arm?), it also sort of spread the Star Wars myth around.

Think back: does anyone even SAY the name Boba Fett in Empire Strikes Back!?

I SWEAR I don’t think there’s a line with his name in the movie! But everyone knew that was his name when the movie was out.

How? Well, because everyone wanted to get their hands on Fett’s badass action figure. With his cool little jet pack and everything.

If you ever take the time to look up how Kenner got their hands on the contract for Star Wars figures, it’s interesting and worth your time. Lucas actually had other bids, but the only people who could sign the deal for the opposing company were away for the weekend. So he went with Kenner, than a small-time kind of deal. True story! (probably in the top ten business moves of all time, category: toy related)

So people loved the Star Wars toys because they left you with this sense that you were learning about the movie. And in that sense, it tended to pull kids in on two different fronts: A. get the toys and B. watch the movies. A perfect marketing circle.

G.I. Joe and Transformers hit the scene not long after this and it was the same kind of thing. There were so MANY of these toys, but you were kind of left with this sense that you could sort of learn ABOUT G.I. Joe and Transformers by getting the toys.

Remember they had those little descriptions on the back of each guy, like their history, personality, etc.? And Transformers had those read-out things, with the piece of red that you put over it? I’m not being articulate, but you get what I’m saying, right??

Now, Marvel--surprisingly--never seemed to hit it hard with the toy line. I remember the Secret Wars figures and I remember actually READING Secret Wars when it was out. And I remember being very confused because the two didn’t seem to have much to do with each other. And they had this whole hologram-shield thing happening that just wasn’t working for me.

DC, on the other hand, took an early lead to get entrenched in the hearts and minds of schoolchildren everywhere in the 80’s with that Superpowers line. Remember those?

Simple stroke of genius. Each figure came with a tiny comic book (and like a little squeeze-their-leg and their fist moves kind of thing). It’s no wonder that Marvel hit the marketing HARD in the 90’s and beyond.

There are a few others tucked away in here that people remember (Thundercats. TMNT. Dinosaucers…okay, inside joke) and some that people DON’T remember but would be excited if you saw (you remember those knight guys that had holograms on their shields? Or…something? Someone out there tell me what I’m talking about…).

Than what happened?

Well, like a lot of markets, things got flooded, it seemed. Flooded with terrible ideas for toys.

I remember things had reached critical mass when I walked into a store during my teenage years and realized that TMNT had a line where the turtles transformed into cars. And I just thought “WOW.”

Well, long story short, there are more and more sort of adult-designed TOYS these days. Like relaunches and reissues of older SETS of toys. It’ll be like: Star Wars classic, complete with the same box cover and all that.

And as far as Marvel and DC go? These really polished, articulate models--made for fans of the COMICS, not children--complete with tons of little gimmicks and accessories. Man, you can even pick up Freddy Krueger and other horror favorites if that’s what you want to do. They aren’t quite for kids these days, are they? Like a lot of other things that we’ve talked about on the site, there’s been a movement to kind of ‘reclaim’ toy-dom and preserve it.

Pop-culture is like a river, filled with eddies and straights that sometimes loops on itself.

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