A Decade Down
December 30, 2009

I’ve remarked before in these entries that I believe we’re living in the Golden Age of Action Figures, and for me, there’s no better evidence than this past decade. Now, because we’re all geeks at heart, and passionate ones, we always quibble, and a great many of us moan, about the shortcomings of our favorite properties finally getting their due in figure form. Some of these grumbles are justified, especially when the item comes from a mega company with a team of full time scientists concocting these things in their labs. But in my mind, nine times out of ten, I’m willing to overlook the failings, to just stand back and bask in the glory of what’s come to fruition.

 

It’s funny, but as I write this, I’m realizing that it was five years ago this week that I first met my business partner, Jason Labowitz, and pitched him my plan for global toy domination (kidding) with Bif Bang Pow! It was many months later we decided to partner up and dive in together, but one of the things we discussed at that first meeting was what an amazing time it was for the toy industry. This is beyond all the DC/Marvel/Star Wars/etc activities, mind you, we were referring to the fringe properties, the cult figures and such. Things were changing, movies and shows that people never would have imagined would were finally getting their due in the toy world. I think a big part of this happening was due to on line retailers, and the almighty world of DVDs.

You see, it used to be that the shelves mostly consisted of classic characters (those DC and Marvel perennials I already mentioned), and current movies and television shows. Cult or retro properties were mainly sold through comic shops and specialty stores. Now that every genre-ish series under the sun is available as DVD box sets, retailers are more open to carrying the respective merchandise. This has opened up a whole new universe of possibilities. Ten, fifteen years ago, if someone wanted to make an action figure of Ralph Hinkley from ‘The Greatest American Hero”, they would have been laughed out of the room. Now, outlets like Best Buy and Costco would be more than open to carrying the little guy, with an exclusive new Complete Series DVD Mega Set. Or something.

Which brings me back to my original thought, what a super cool time this is to be a geek, and a toy fan in general. This decade has brought characters to life in action figure form that I honestly never thought I’d get to see. And like I said, sure, sometimes it’s hit or miss. But most of the time, I’m just astounded they even happened and are sitting on the shelf next to Han Solo.

“The Godfather”, easily one of the greatest movies ever made (please don’t argue with me, I know where to get horse’s heads) and one of my Top Five. Now obviously, Paramount got to Brando’s estate to make all this happen, and he’s the only character we’ll see get made from the saga. But look at what we’ve seen so far: busts, a large die cast car and figure box set, McFarlane style figures, 18” collector’s figures, and best of all, Hot Toys’ 12” action figure of Don Vito Corleone. This has to be one of the most incredible likenesses and figures I’ve ever seen, and like this year’s “Watchmen” film, I can’t imagine how it could have been done better.

And speaking of “Watchmen”, did you ever think THIS was gonna happen? Whatever you think of the film, it’s a well known fact that Alan Moore was never going to let significant merchandise be made for the classic comics series, so what we got for the film will have to do. And this is when all the fanboys need to pipe down, because being faithful to the graphic novel is what’s made the action figures and busts so fantastic. Did you ever think you’d be holding a 12” action figure of Rorschach, with a removable mask and aerosol can for quick getaways?? Finally, the merchandise bonanza Moore satirized in the story came to pass, and we even got Halloween costumes of the psychotic Comedian. (sigh). Good times.

Another favorite film of mine is “The Rocketeer” from 1991. I think it’s a perfect film, very “Raiders”-like, and was always disappointed they didn’t get to make a franchise out of it. One of the problems on it’s release (besides lack of publicity, sensing a theme here? “Flash Gordon” anyone? Am I the patron saint of lost causes??) was the lack of merchandise or a toy range. I have an old style guide Disney made up showing all the merchandise possibilities, and it’s a tantalizing glimpse of what could have been. Well, this decade, we got several releases and modifications from Medicom of a superb 12” action figure of “The Rocketeer”. It’s stunning, and the fact it keeps getting re released is a testament to how much love there is for that movie. Now someone make an action figure, with removable helmet. I actually saw a custom on ebay recently that ended up going for around $150.00. Take THAT Disney!

In one of my first posts on this site I mentioned what a lost opportunity the “James Bond” license has always been for action figures. Well, Sideshow must have thought so too, because they made their superb 12” range happen, with virtually everyone covered. Once again, as a loyal Lazenby and Dalton supporter for many years, you could have knocked me down with a feather when I first saw their sculpted counterparts. Now where’s Mr. Craig? (OK, we DID get him in ‘The Golden Compass’ range of figures, but that’s just another sad sign of what could have happened with the aborted  3 ¾” Bond line).

Ok, I’ve been avoiding this to not seem like a critical fanboy (and not piss off our friends at Hasbro), but…..Indiana Jones. So near, and yet so far. But still, as much as people nitpick about it, we got the Disney/Gentle Giant 7” figure to go on the shelf next to Hellboy and Batman. Did anyone expect that to come our way? And look at what Sideshow’s doing! At this point, with the demise of the re launch, Indy fans will have to settle for what’s left, and there is a lot. More has been done for the character in the past couple of years than has been done since “Raiders of the Lost Ark” back in 1981.

Now, I’m a bit of a “Doctor Who” fan. There, I said it. But to clarify, I’m more of a casual fan of it’s concept, the old show and specifically it’s run from about ’75 to ’77, with Tom Baker. That show used to freak the hell outta me when I was a kid, and I remember wondering if there was ever any merchandise made for it. I certainly could never find anything in my home town. I eventually realized it was a UK phenomenon, but even then saw there was little to nothing made, or that I could get my 10 year old hands on. Many years later, a UK friend got me the Mego/Denys Fisher Tom Baker figure, which I still have to this day. But trying to get that entire set would set you back a good chunk of change, so I never bothered. Tom was enough. Then those clever people at Character Options started up the Classic Who range, and, well, let’s just say that my inner 10 year old is smiling like a fool. I never thought I’d see the day Tom Baker and a Zygon would be having a stare down on the bookshelf. Roll on Rogue’s Gallery! (Oh, and Dad, if you’re reading, thanks again for the 12” Remote Control Classic Dalek that arrived this Christmas. You’re the best).

Now, here’s an odd one. Everything else I’ve listed so far has ancillary product on the shelves to support it. I have all the Bond film box sets, all of the Indiana Jones films, and a cut rate years old release of “The Rocketeer” (Disney, I hope you’re still reading….). What I DON’T have, is “Thundarr the Barbarian”: The Complete Series Collector’s Set. (I even got Filmation’s “Flash Gordon” Animated Series on DVD this decade!)  But what I DO have, is Toynami’s spectacular set of figures of Ookla the Mok, Ariel and
our boy Thundarr. How and why they pulled this off is a mystery, but god bless ‘em. Once again, my inner 10 year old sitting on the red and black shag carpeting in the den on Saturday mornings is a very happy little guy.

I’m a huge fan of Mod culture and music, and “The Avengers” is one of my favorite tv series of all time. I think it’s a complete original, and is one of the most effortlessly cool shows ever made, perfectly encapsulating the ‘center of the universe’ feel of Mod London, but in it’s own stylized madcap way. Product Enterprise, Ltd.  was one of THE best toy companies of the past 12 years or so, and they cared about their product and packaging because they were such fans them selves. They flew the flag for Classic Who during the doldrums, when no one ever thought it would come back to tv screens, much less be a sensation. And thank the maker they were such geeks, because they produced John Steed and Emma Peel as 12” figures. And not just once! The second release, in COLOUR, came with talking bases, featuring dozens of lines from each character, and easily putting 90% of talking toys made by the big boys to shame. Thanks guys, sincerely.

And speaking of big guys, how ‘bout Mattel getting “Ghostbusters”? That title HAS to be on the short list of every geek alive, wondering when and why they never got Ray and Egon to take in the tub. What they’ve done so far is absolutely amazing (and as a side note, I’m not a He Man collector, but man oh man, fantastic!) and I can’t wait to see where they take it. And if there’s any justice, they’ll take the same philosophy with their “Superman: The Movie” line, and we’ll get 7” incarnations of Reeve and company. Once again, there must be a lot of grown men buzzing in anticipation.

I could go on, of course, there’s many more films and shows that got their due this decade. I may just not be a fan enough to hunt them down. And once again, I haven’t even touched on all the music related action figures that have gotten made recently. (But I can tell you that I’m about to have a custom Freddie Mercury in ‘FLASH’ tee shirt figure made. Guess how I’m gonna pull that one off??). And, naturally, I’m sure you’re thinking at this point, ‘Why hasn’t this joker mentioned his own company, Bif Bang Pow! yet, and the cult properties they have on offer?”. Well, A, there, I just did, and I mentioned it way up at the top of this manifesto,  and B, I kinda figured anyone curious enough to read this would already have a pretty good idea of who I was and what we’ve done so far. But it’s worth noting, and commenting on, because we’re doing it for all of us. I wanted to bring movies and shows to action figure ‘action’ that no one had ever bothered with. I’m a geek, and I like to think I know what the world needs, and it turns out we were right. I always KNEW the world needed toys from “Flash Gordon” and the “Twilight Zone”. The only problem was I was only 10, had chores to do, and didn’t know the right people to call. Thankfully, I’ve remembered that, and coupled with all of the emotion nostalgia carries, stayed alive to launch the lines we have. But it could have only happened now, and it could only have happened in this past decade, and it could have only succeeded because of the toy fans out there. So, thanks everyone, and have a safe and Happy New Year. Start saving now, because I have a feeling 2010 is going to get very interesting…..

 

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Jason "Plastic Soul" Lenzi
A successful television producer and voice-over artist, pop culture fanatic Jason Lenzi established Bif Bang Pow! in 2005, channeling his boundless enthusiasm as a fan and collector into the creation of the company’s highly-desired toy lines. His enthusiasm has proven contagious, earning BBP! unanimous praise from the toy community and leading to creative partnerships with the likes of comics giant Alex Ross and rock icon Scott Ian. BBP! has so far released action figures and bobble heads for 'Flash Gordon', 'The Big Lebowski', 'The Twilight Zone', 'Dexter', 'LOST', HBO's 'Eastbound and Down' and 'The Venture Brothers'. When he's not chasing down new licenses, producing and narrating various TV series, or reading every music magazine on the shelves, he's obsessively playing Beatles: Rock Band until he gets every song right.
Read other articles by Jason "Plastic Soul" Lenzi.

 

 

 

3 Comments »

  • Eric says:

    Totally agreed. Between DVD pack-ins like the Enterprise/Star Trek pack, and the Owl Ship/Watchmen offer broadening the offerings, and the continued refinement of the collector-level “toy” from companies like Sideshow and Gentle Giant, it’s been a great decade.

    But more importantly, you got a remote control Dalek??? Jealous!

  • chad says:

    could not agree more for seems this has become the golden age of figures with properties like the gadfather of all things and flash gordon not to mention hasbro finaly for a brief time gave Iddy fans some plastic gold. and lets not forget after being teased even in the book . Watchman fans could finaly have their own versions including a dr. manhattan thankfully his certain area covered up. though one bad thing about the watchman line the companies neglected Bubastia. and hope the new decade winds up with more suprises for toy fans. my wish being spaced and the legal mess freeing buckaroo banzie for toys next year not going to happen

  • Lightsource says:

    Shameless plug aside, we appreciate your openness. Now when’s that blog on the Disney style guide you mentioned gonna happen?

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