Monday, February 12, 2007

Deluxe Action Figures: Worthwhile Collectibles or Pocket Emptying Wallet Vacuums??
It's no secret to many of you that I have been known to harbor a few collections. Shoot, anyone who's done the basement tour at my website knows that I have stuff ALL over the place. Primarily I collect Universal Monster stuff, Weird Oh and Ed Roth Stuff and, here's the Grandaddy, Batman stuff. The latter is probably the only REAL legitimate collection that I can lay claim to. I have been accumulating a good deal of this stuff since the 1960's. Added a bunch more to it during what I now refer to as the "addicted to ebay" years. Talk about needin' a 12 Step program, eBay junkies are wild! Anyhow, I like collecting Batman stuff, it's fun, and it keeps me, uh, immature..........I mean young. Or younger. Or younger feeling. Or perhaps just delusional and pathetic, but at any rate it works for me. The problem I am encountering is that it appears the collectible manufacturing conspiracy has caught on to geeks like me and designed a devilishly clever way to separate us from our money. Thus the introduction of the "Deluxe Action Figure". You've seen 'em, those insanely detailed, high quality, professionally painted figures put out by the likes of Todd McFarlane, etc. I thought these were so cool when they first started innocently popping up in my local comic shop. They just seemed to scream from their lil' carded resting places "buy me, you won't be sorry". That was all well and good, but what has transpired in the toy industry since can only be described as diabolical. Let's just take me, my addiction, and the line of products connected to my favorite character: Batman.
Now I go way back, like I said before. I have the real old school action figures (back when they were really dolls but savvy toy manufacturers knew that boys would never play with dolls so then was born the action figure) the Mego line and of course, Capt. Action. Later, with my first child, I got him into the Super Powers figures and we managed to get, and subsequently loose or destroy, all of those. Later there were the DC Comics Super Heroes line that coincided with the release of the first Batman movie in 1989. I think this is where things really started gettin' nutty. Toy guys started figuring out that buying action figures was akin to buying a mattress. Once you had bought whichever guy, you were probably not going to buy him again. So they got cute and started coming out with an endless assortment of festively colored and flexibly outfitted versions of the SAME GUY!! Why? Because they knew the kids would want them and that the parents wouldn't be able to say "no". Oh, I had it all figured out alright, but did that stop me from purchasing these ridiculous looking versions of my hero? In a word" Hell no. I had kids, and those kids wanted those ridiculous looking Batmen, and by God, my kids were gonna' have them!! Now, I did manage to fend off some of the more completely absurd incarnations and finally my kids grew out of that era of their youth. You would think that this would end the viscious cycle wouldn't you? Ah, but such was not the case as the power magnates of the toy cartel once again conjured up their dark agents of merchandising and foisted on to us the "Deluxe" action figure. Clearly targeting right between the eyes of the aging baby boomer and pressing mercilessly our nostalgia buttons, these toy pushers had our number. During this explosion onto the toy shop shelves I remember one line in particular. It was called the "Legends of the Dark Knight" series. Not having anything to do with the DC Comic title of the same name, these figures were goofy reimaginings Batman and his world. I remember quite clearly picking up a "Buccaneer Batman" and chuckling thinking to myself "why in the hell would anyone want a pirate Batman toy?". The answer, of course, came swiftly right there on the next shelf, "why, to fight off the Pirate Joker, dummy!". These toys were slightly bigger, slightly better designed, slightly better painted and lots more expensive. The average regular 5" action figure usually sold for $4 to $6 bucks. These were going for $9.99 and $12.99 depending on the packaging. See where this is headed?? Later there would be even more detailed and even pricier fair like the line of toys available from DC Direct. I got this great Silver Age Batman and Robin, it's really cool and really well done, but it cost $39.99!! And of course it doesn't stop there, you have to have the Silver Age Joker, and Penguin, and Catwoman and Batgirl, don't you?!? Well? Don't you?!? I know I did, and I do, and I'm out $120 dollars on 6 figures. Well, while they were mining that territory the toy boys remembered about the Super Friends Cartoon show from the same era and decided to put out a series of figures based on that show. Yep, you guessed it. I got 'em. $19.99 each. A steal..........really.
Well, you'd think at this point they could only exploit the baby boomers so much. Afterall, the 60's and 70's were finite periods. Once you've tapped that market it will eventually dry up. Always 10 steps ahead, the Figure Freaks started realizing that many of these same boomers also were comic book fans, and most likely had there favorite artists, and would probably pony up the dough for figure versions of those artists visualizations of the characters. Frank Miller, Alex Ross, Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, Kia Asamiya............what the...Kia WHO?!?!? Anyway, what followed was an avalanche of new Batman figures. Literally, nearly one for each graphic novel that has come out in the last 10 years. And these things are going for anywhere between $19.99 and $72.00!!! Are you believing this??? I am, 'cause I OWN most of them. God, if my wife reads this column she's gonna' kill me. I swear, it's gettin' to the point where they've got a different action figure for each damn frame of the comic. You've got the Hush series, the Black and White Series, the Long Halloween, the Identity Crisis series, etc., etc., etc. I can see no end to it, and frankly, I just can't bring myself to purchase ALL of these incarnations. Oh yeah, I while I'm on the subject, what's up with the "pocket heroes", you've seen 'em, those tiny versions of the heroes that look like they belong to one of those wooden car & track sets you had when you about 5! And how 'bout KUBRICKS!!?!? What the hell IS a Kubrick, anyway?? These things are just goofy and........what's that? You wanna' know what?? Oh, uh, yeah....I've got 'em. Both of 'em. But that's beside the point, the point is that it's beginning to take the value out of collecting. You know, when they are purposefully manufacturing things JUST to be COLLECTED, its not the same as the old school stuff I have that became collectible just by being cool for the time it was in. You can't force fond memories on the public. These new figures, although immensely cool, will never have the sentimental appeal of those toys, and games, and models that we actually played with as kids. You know me, I'm still gonna' get suckered into my share, but the shear volumn and cost of these toys will certainly make me more discerning, and, in many ways, wistful for the "addicted to eBay" years. Happy collecting, kids!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Halloween: Kick off to the Holiday Season!

It's the last week of October, Halloween is just around the corner, and I've been watching horror movies for 23 days straight. Well, one or two nights I missed due to other commitments, a little thing I like to call life, but those missed nights were always made up for with double features the following night. So, per my annual ritual, by the time the big day gets here, I will have absorbed 31 monster movies of one kind or another. Thats roughly 60 hours of horror viewing and that doesn't even count the Halloween specials I'll sit through like Haunted History of Halloween on the History Channel; Or "It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown", or, and I'm a lil' ashamed to admit it, the "Halloweentown" series on Disney!!! Sheeeeesh, needless to say, I am well saturated in Halloween vibes by the actual night of Tricks or Treats. Now, most of my nieghbors and friends (read that "all of my neighbors and friends") don't share my particular zeal for the spooky day. However, what we all have in common is the realization that Halloween is the kick off point for the whole holiday season and things really start flyin' the moment you pack up that last skeleton, or graveyard decoration. Every year I'm amazed by this swift passage of time, the days just seem to be half as long, the weeks are swallowed up by errands, shopping, planning, partying or just plain pooping out by the time its all said and done. Crazy? Yeah, sure, but its the kind of crazy you look forward to. So, with these things in mind, let me guide you to a couple of places that may help you enjoy these next few months just a bit more. First, over to the right you'll see a link for my Column Archives. Check it out and you'll find a couple of columns I did devoted to Halloween and Christmas movie viewing. Although there are some updates and additions needed (feel free to offer you 2 bits) they are pretty solid lists of dependable holiday fare. Or, just click here: As far as catching up for Halloween, you may not match me but you can make some pretty good leaps by checking out AMC's Annual Monsterfest. This non-stop barrage of classic, cult and current horror films kicks off Sunday, October 22 at 11:30 am EST with a classic; Vincent Price in "The Fly". Over on ABC's Family Channel you can find the 13 Nights of Halloween, where they showcase some fairly mild but still spooky films at 8:00 pm EST each evening. If you dig anthology countdown type stuff (I'm kind of a nut for these shows) Bravo has a repeat of last years "100 Scariest Movie Moments" and this year updates the list with "Even Scarier Movie Moments" where they add 30 more films to their list of horror hits. Of course the aforementioned "It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown" will be having it's 40th Anniversary at 8:00 pm EST on ABC on Friday, Oct. 27th. For more kiddie scares Nickleodeon is having its Shriekin' Weekend starting Friday Oct. 27 at 7:00 pm EST and continuing through Sunday, Oct. 29th, where they show Halloween episodes of all the Nick cartoon favorites. Lastly, if you have nothing to live for, you can gouge out your own eyes are perform the television viewing equivilent by suffering through Halloween on Ice, which will feature all your favorite (do you actually have favorites?!?) ice skaters. Now, thats scary!!!!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Ledger to Ruin Promise of new Batman Franchise????

Well, I never like to be a downside player. Really, I go outta' my way to find the better angle in most situations. But the latest entertainment world announcement of Heath Ledger, the 27 year old kid, being cast in the role of The Joker, arguably the most famous comic book villain of all time, in the next installment of the promising restart of the Batman movie franchise is just too high on the bummer bar for ol' Cal to hurdle. Adding to my "freak out" was the early news glommed from one of my favorite Batman rumor sites, Batman on Film. I have loved this site for years, always relying on it to keep me on the inner circle of what is happening with the Batman movies. Most notably, Jett, the editor and chief of the aforementioned site, was always battling for the integrity of the new series, ensuring that no more mishaps like Schumacher's awful Batman and Robin would ever again occur. Imagine my bugged eyed reaction to this initial post at the site:

Author: Jett Friday, July 21, 2006 - 8:26 AM, 1:50 PM PACIFIC TIME: I just got back from Comic Con and I'm sitting in a Mexican food joint updating my coverage of the event. So, I check my email and find that I have 1,000 plus emails about Heath Ledger as The Joker.
Everyone wants to know what I think about it -- why, I really don't know. But I'll tell y'all anyway.
I'm down with it.
Why, because I trust Nolan and have no reason to doubt him.
So there y'all have it, my initial reaction. Sure I had my favorite (Lachy Hulme) like everyone else did. And yeah, there's some "WTF" initially for me. However, methinks that getting the "WTF" thing out of everyone is genius.
Leaking it (and it WAS leaked) right as Comic Con was commencing was f'n brilliant.
And I'll say this, even though I had a "favorite" (WTF do I know about casting?), I've long said that this Joker has to be totally different than anything we've seen in the past, live-action that is.
So, let's get on board with this and reserve final judgment two years from now
I usually don't go out on a limb unless I have have something confirmed, and it has been. Heath Ledger will be The Joker. From my BEST source:
"Nolan has been in secret talks with Ledger for some time....The fan favorites like Paul Bettany, Crispin Glover and your fave pick, Lachy Hulme, were just grist for the mill. Ledger will be playing The Joker. The offer was made last night, and it will be a done deal.
There you have it. Heath Ledger is The Joker.

Well, that just tore it for me! I couldn't believe that he would aquiesience to such an obvious, devastating mistep in the most crucial casting that is to be done for the Batman sequel. Naturally, I couldn't sit still, "chill" and trust in Chris Nolan as easily as Jett, so I sent off this email:

Dear Jett,

Look, I've never written, I'm not an insider, I have no special proclivities that will elevate my thoughts and opinions over those of your trusted inner circle, however I am a regular visitor to your site. I have, up till now, trusted BOF as the place where I'll dig up my dirt on the past/present/future of the Batman film franchise. That is until Batman Begins was released. Call me crazy, but after the release of that film I noticed a subtle but definite tilt in your editorial perspective. Wait a minute, I'm glossing over reality truth I think your site has become a water carrier for WB Studios, or DC Comics, or Chris Nolan or all three, for that matter. What the hell???? This latest blindside announcement of the completely "wrong for the part of the Joker" Heath Ledger sealed the deal. Look, dude, I totally appreciate the hours and hours you put into pushing, cajoling, sniping, and fan wrangling the last Batman film. KudoButn that....but what happened?!? It seems that the moment that film came out you immediately became the butt boy for the studios/directors/writers/key grips!! At first, as I stated, it was almost undetectable, admittedly. But lets examine this latest, and certainly the biggest, travesty in the pre-rumor mill of Batman II (or VI if you insist on counting all the previous films). For a year now, you have been snoop-doggy-doggin' the casting of the Joker. You've had ALL your minions out in the field sniffin' up whatever turd trail led to the big scoop. You continually sold us all on the casting favorites and kept us goofily distracted with ad-nauseum polls on WHO the FANS wanted as the Joker. As if this, apparently, made any difference Andall.......and then, when out of anouncemente annoucement that thmisusedetely miscast Heath Ledger is the Joker, your only response is.......what??? NOTHING!!!! No "where did that come from" musing, that might be expected from someone truly plugged in to the scene; No "how did that get by me" introspectives; No "how could Nolan be so ignorant" observations. Nada, zippo, nothing. The NON-response or reaction is truly disturbing. Your off handed qualifier was not even believable for YOU. " I have NO reason to doubt him"?? Are you nuts!?!?!?!? This is the same mindset that gave us Joel Schumaker and his unchecked ruination of the original franchise. Let's just run this attitude by the "Smell-O-Meter". Nolan says he wants the next film to reflect the passive side of Batman, and has his writers work in a secondary plot line that has Bruce Wayne taking sensitivity training to better understand the criminal element. You okay with that because you "trust" him??? Batman to wear pink tights? Trust him? Batmobile replaced by and Eco-Friendly solar powered scooter. Still "trust" him????? I realize that these examples are completely over the top but that's because your observations/opinions/reactions are so UNDER the radar on this Joker casting.......Please, Jett. I get where you're probably at right now with all this, and God bless ya', I wish I was in your shoes. Your positioning in the process of Batman Begins is undeniable, and I'm glad for it. BUT, and this is a big BUT: don't let all this shit go to your head. Being invited to this shindig, and this premiere, and being consulted on this issue or that issue. Don't let 'em cloud your commitment, man!! Ledger is WRONG for the part. You know it. The fans know it. Trust is fine, but trust can be abused, especially in Hollywood. Nolan's probably just having some narcissistic "the fans aren't gonna' call my shots" moment in his career. Help us, the fans, to help him not fall into the same B.S. trap that other directors have stumbled into. Or, at the very least, have the courage of your convictions to admit that this casting really strung you out there on a ridiculous line hyping a bunch of "possibles" that were truly never even in the mix for the role. Me? I'm a big fan and I think that this move has already damaged the momentum for the next Bat-Movie. I know, I know, we all felt the same way when Tim Burton cast Keaton as the Batman. But that was mostly a reaction from those of us who didn't want a repeat of the 60's TV show and saw Keaton as a comedian, not a capable dramatic actor. This is different. Ledger doesn't LOOK the part, has no bio that would lead us to believe he can BE the part, and is not enough of a character actor to give us faith that he can pull OFF the part. But all that is less of an issue than the main point of your non-response to his casting. Your post was just....uh, well pathetic. Totally lacking in the style and manner that many of us readers of your site have come to expect. You need to come clean on this one: you were burned, and as a result, we were burned. Hopefully you will see your way clear to mounting some sort of rebellion against this mistake. Look, it's 2006, we've got time to get Heath off this train and get someone more appropriate on board. I think its time you went back to trying to influence the studios through your site, instead of opening invitations to the next kiss ass event designed to distract you into complacency. Hey, one man's thoughts. But I'd be willing to bet that if you've got the fortitude to post this, I'll a lotoined by alot more........

Thanks for all your hard work,
hope you get back to it,


Okay, so maybe this was a bit harsh right outta the gate, but hell!!! This is the reaction of the true fan, I thought. Consider this reply to my ballistic missive:

#1 You are so off base regarding this tilt in my "editorial perspective" that I won't even comment on it.

#2 For BATMAN BEGINS, Nolan gets the benefit of the doubt when it comes to casting. He's been spot on when it came to BEGINS (well, sans Katie).

#3 The last two times I RegardingTF! regarding Batman casting, I was proven wrong. First with Keaton back in '88 and when Gary Oldman was cast as Gordon.

My suggestion is to chill out and see how this pans out. And if you don't trust BOF because you think it to be a "mouth piece" for whomever, there's nothing I can do about it.

All the best,Bill Ramey, Founder & Editor-in-Chief

Clearly a war of words had begun to rebuttal, my rebuttle to this reply:

Thanks for the quick, albeit hollow of substance, response. First, don't go waxin' all defensive on me, I'm sure you've received more vile email than mine. Next, I notice, conspicuously, that you have not addressed my main issue. "Chill out" is not exactly a real confidence booster. Your point #2, Nolan getting the benefit of the doubt, well, Schumaker did alright with casting Batman Forever, but then followed need diggin' up that can of hash, huh? So, don't go all biblical on me with the "Nolan's casting is beyond reproach" sermon. C'mon, this is exactly what I'm talkin' about, even in your private response to me, you exhibit NO serious insight, concern, or justification for your ambivilant acceptance of the Joker casting. Look, I thought I was fair in my previous email, direct? Yes, but fair. I gave you your due for your work and am merely attempting to slap you in the head and get you back into the game that you, and you alone, started. Thats all. But, let's put all that crud aside. What of Ledger??? Where's your head really at with this??? How'd you feel knowing you were completely blanked out on this MAJOR turn of events in the upcoming sequel. I, and we, are your base of support, not your enemies. Off base on my assertion in your editorial perspective??? Maybe, but if so, in what way? When you don't, or can't, substantiate your comments with fact, then......................? Check the polls, anyone really in favor of this move?!?! NO? Well then address that issue. That's what I'm missing from your posts right now: attachment/involvement/concern/empathy. This Ledger?Joker news is the biggest thing that's gonna' happen with this film and you know it. How can you possibly justify any other response than wanting to get to the bottom of it?!?!?!?!?!? This is what you damn site is supposed to be all about. Crap, I can read all that other stuff in People!!!! Just do what you do and do it like you mean it, dig????

Still tryin' to hang with ya',

You can see I was emotionally attached to my arguments, yet not devoid of foundation, I just could'nt believe I was in a situation where I was trying to convince the "Guru of all things Batman", that this was a serious matter and needed some of his more acute insight. Well, as if to smack me for being so impulsive, Jett got out this fine opinion piece on the Ledger situation, you can read it at:

Needless position this postion was more what I, and thousands of others, have come to expect from the pages of Batman on Film. Somewhat assured, yet srespondedy I repsonded again to Jett with this:

Bill, you're latest opinion piece is exactly the kind of thing I was aiming at. Thanks fer gettin' it up as soon as ya' could. Now, let's all see how this thing plays out, I'm still way against Ledger, I'm researching everything I can find on the dude right now to see if I am judging too quickly and too harshly. Gut tells me no, but I'll reserve judgement till after I watch all his films. Still, there is that physical appearance drawback, but hey, that's what 6 figure makin' make-up folks are for.

Thanks again for gettin' back in the saddle,

To which he replied:

Thanks Cal. You jumped the gun on me with that last email. I've been working on this since I was in SD. I'm glad like it, I'm getting hammer with hate mail today! LOL

All the best,Bill Ramey, Founder & Editor-in-Chief

So there it is in all its opinionated glory. Me? I'm so nervous about this Ledger situation tanking the franchise that I could just levitate. I guess we'll all just have to see how all this stuff plays out. Keep your fingers crossed, and keep your voices loud. The studios DO listen, but complacency will never get it done. Get yourselves on over to and let Jett know where you're at on this, I have faith that he will champion the cause!