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!