My Favorite Things
Do you ever wonder why you collect what you collect? I don’t mean, why do you collect action figures, period. That question’s been asked and answered many times over in spaces much more worthy than this. You collect action figures, we know that. My question is, when you find yourself in a figure aisle, in a comic shop or on ebay, why do you buy the specific figures you buy?
Why are they your favorite things?
On the surface, the answer is probably simple...
“I love the Justice League Unlimited cartoon.”
“Transformers are marvels of engineering and design.”
“I loved He-Man as a kid, so…”
…but let’s dig deeper. Why Justice League to begin with? Why Transformers at all? What is it about He-Man, anyway?
Like most of you, my collection consists largely of figures based on one licensed property or another. I have figures from movies, figures from TV shows, figures from cartoons and figures from that most singular form of entertainment, professional wrestling. I also, however, have a deep appreciation for toys that are just that, toys. Hasbro’s Action Man, Fisher Price’s Rescue Heroes, Mattel’s Max Steel, even the aforementioned Transformers and He-Man were toys first, cartoons and such later.
More and more, I find myself drifting toward figures that are cool toys first. Sometimes that criterion matches up with newest, hottest licenses but most of the time it doesn’t.
This space was not conceived to debate the merits of any specific figure, and we’re no closer to answering our initial question. What makes us but what we buy? What about these individual lines, these individual figures, draws us in and makes them that which we cannot live without?
Can we dig even deeper? What if we look for common traits our favorite figures share; things that transcend license and line. Would we find any commonalities? And, if we did, what would they mean?
Well, we don’t have an unsuspecting guinea pig geek to test our theory, so we’re going to have to use me. When I put the above questions to myself, I found there are indeed common threads in the figures I love most.
As it turns out, trigger fingers, pistols, holsters and jet packs really do it for me.
As you saw in the title picture for this column, I have a lot of figures whose main means of defense is a good, old-fashioned sidearm. No matter the line, if there’s a figure whose hand is sculpted to hold a pistol, preferably a revolver, I will be interested. In some cases, such as with Mezco’s recent Scarface figure, I’ll buy the figure without even seeing the material it’s based on if there’s a pistol and a well-sculpted hand to aim it.
If a figure also has a holster for his pistol, oh man, all the better. No figure combines cool pistol pointing with a working holster like Mezco’s movie Hellboy. Take a look at my slightly kit-bashed, Mainframe show-accurate Action Man. He has about the best pistol holster I have ever seen on a figure. I absolutely love how the gun looks resting snugly in its place, and I can’t even tell you why.
Well, I kind of can, but let’s move on for now before you start drawing conclusions I don’t need you drawing.
The other thing that will get me every time is a jet pack. The coolest jet pack on a figure I own is not a jet pack at all, it’s Prime Jets. The Beast Machines Blast Punch Optimus Primal, one of my very favorite figures of all-time, has twinjets that open and extend from his back in robot mode. They are conceptually and aesthetically glorious to me.
Optimus Primal does not, alas, have a pistol. Could there actually be a toy that combines awesome pistol holding with a holster AND a jetpack? You bet there is!
No! Not Adam Strange, you goldbrickin’ loon! It’s Nick Fury, baby!
Marvel Legends Nick Fury is the only figure in my collection to combine all my favorite figure elements in one toy. He’s got the trigger finger hands, the well-made holster for his needle gun and a S.H.I.E.L.D.-issue jet pack complete with (removable) fire and smoke base. What more could I want in a figure of my favorite Marvel Comics character?
Hmmm, my favorite Marvel Comics character…
Optimus Primal is my favorite Transformers character.
Action Man is my favorite toy character.
What’s going on here?
I love Nick Fury because he’s one of the few Marvel Superheroes without powers, but he’s also one of the most storied, respected, influential and omnipresent characters in the Marvel Universe. Plus, the best Nick Fury stories were retro pulp daring-do dressed up as mod spy fiction. Retro pulp is huge with me. Nick Fury is a guy with a gun, a cigar and a jet pack and he will get the job done no matter what you try to do to stop him.
I like that.
Optimus Primal was an explorer. As commander of a crew of peaceful discoverers, he was content. Primal never wanted to be a military general, but that’s the hand he was dealt the moment the Maximals crashed on the Beast Wars planet. He not only grew into that role, he later helped his most loyal troops transcend and redefine what it means to be a Transformer during Beast Machines. Optimus Primal is a peaceful, thinking being with probably the noblest heart I’ve encountered in geek fiction. He’s a hulking figure with jets blasting from his back, and he’d love to be able to reason with you, but he’ll also punch a hole through your chest if that’s the way you want to play it.
I like that, too.
on Man is just what the name implies. My Action Man figure has a pistol, a knife and a grenade to handle anything that might come up. When I think of the endless possibilities for adventure the action figure world’s Everyman might encounter, I like to think his weapons never leave their holsters and if they do, they’re never used. Why? Because he’s Action Man, just a regular guy with the courage, the strength and the heart to brave anything, anyone, in order to save the day.
And that should be enough.
It occurs to me the things I like most about my favorite action figures have lead me to my greatest toy heroes. Nick Fury, Optimus Primal, Action Man and Rescue Hero Billy Blazes, whose toy line represents absolutely nothing but the best the human spirit has to offer, are individuals I’d rather like to meet. Or maybe, more so even than that, they represent who I’d like to be, who I wish I was, who maybe, just maybe, I actually would be if there were ever need.
And so what began as a simple question, why do you collect the figures you collect, leads me to one thought arising from all we’ve discovered…
The next time someone says action figures do nothing for kids, tell them they’re wrong.
Got a comment? Send me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org!