Saturday, July 21, 2007


Figures of Action

Check out this awesomeness. Dusty Abell's portrait of scads of kick-ass seventies action figures.

Here's how he describes it.
Heres a trip down memory lane for ya! If you're around my age and grew up in the best decade ever to be a kid, the 1970's, you might remember a few of these fellas.

Representing the classic Hasbro G.I. Joe Adventure Team line is bearded eagle eyed land adventurer Joe, Mike Powers the atomic man, Super Joe, the hulking Intruder and the incredibly nostalgic Bulletman, The Human Bullet. Vehicles include the classic 6 wheeled ATV and the versitile Mobile Support Vehicle.

Kenners Steve Austin, Maskatron and the Venus Probe from the Six Million Dollar Man.

Big Jim's P.A.C.K. by Mattel including Big Jim Commander, Dr. Steel, Torpedo Fist, The Whip, Warpath, Zorak the ruler of the Underworld and the sporty LAZERVETTE. Also the man who had the guts to get the job done, Pulsar the ultimate man of adventure!
I'd forgotten how many of these toys I had until I saw them all together, and could suddenly remember exactly how Maskatron's face clicked into place. The next thing that struck me was how all of these terrific characters were like latter-day versions of the pulp heroes or golden age superheroes, lensed through the cultural obsessions of 70s pop culture--note how many are "bionic", "atomic", or bearded! But unlike the pulps and comics, these are characters without any stories. Aside from capsule adventures printed on the backs of their cardboard boxes, and maybe a single-page comic-style ad here or there, most of these characters never appeared in any kind of narrative (with the notable exception of Steve Austin). Imagine if kids in the 30s had been sold Shadow and Doc Savage merchandise, or kids in the 40s had found Superman and Batman stuff on the shelves, but without any comics or radio shows or pulps or film serials to support them. It was a weird moment in kids culture in the 70s, after the success of GI Joe had led to an explosion of action figures, but before television (and to some extent comics) became dominated by advertisement for them. Kids television in the 70s was full of toyetic shows, but almost none of them were ever merchandised, while all of the great action figures never made it into any medium.

Oh well, enough of my formless ramble. Back to Abell. For a larger version of the shot above, head over to Abell's deviantArt pages, where there's also a gallery of other great stuff (including a pitch for a 1970s Hellboy adventure, a film serial-style JSA, and an awesome Planet of the Apes).

I, too, am a child of the 1970s, though I didn't have any of these particular toys. (What I did have: tons of Legos, Star Wars, G.I. Joe, and Masters of the Universe.)

When you were talking about how these action figures were divorced from any stories behind them, it brought to mind the early conversation in Kavalier & Clay in which Clay emphasizes how important it is for their comic heroes to have some sort of *why*, some sort of *story* about how they got to the point of kickin' it superhero style. (Okay, he didn't say "kickin' it," but you take my point.)

Thanks for pointing to Abell's other art. The Justice Society one is priceless.
Yeah, I think most of these toys are from the mid-seventies, that moment just before Star Wars came out and took over everything. I was a year or two too old for Masters of the Universe (and GI Joe, and Transformers, and all that lot), but too young for Major Matt Mason, which I'd never heard of until I was an adult. But from the tail end of the GI Joe Action Team (notably Bulletman) up through about the Empire Strikes Back era Star Wars toys was my personal merchandising golden age.
Wasn't it Planet of the Apes that 1st gave the toy guys the idea before Star Wars exploded?

Love that PotA drawing
If I recall correctly, and I may be misremembering, with POTA the franchise became a success before the merchandising was launched. It's my impression that Star Wars was the first time that there was a big merchandising push that was timed to coincide with a film's release. And Lucas retaining the merchandising rights when he did the deal for the films is what helped establish his fortune; the studio signed the rights away, sure that they were essentially worthless.
Yeah, that's it.
At least from what I observed with my younger brother and sister playing with the 70's action figures, *not* having backstories and *not* appearing in previous narrative meant that these action figures wandered through deserts, explored the bottom of the sea, and got stranded in outer space, repeatedly, over the course of many an afternoon in our basement.

I was in high school in the late Seventies, and trust me, watching these kids act out their imaginary adventures was the equal to anything on TV. No wonder that one's a literary agent and one's a writer.
That's probably what happened to me, as well, come to think of it. I remember quite a few desperate rescue attempts in the backyard or long march expeditions across the kitchen floor.
Hmmm... maybe a retro comic mini with these guys might be cool...
It's certainly an intriguing idea. Probably a licensing nightmare, but still definitely intriguing...
I had one that doesn't show up in the picture, JJ Arms. He was a detective with two artificial arms and he could trade out the arms for different jobs. As I recall he was based on a real detective.

I had the whole Big Jim, John, Josh line, a whole set of toys based on the press-the-back arm-goes-down action. I imagine that I got these toys because they were cheaper than G.I. Joe, and when you're the 4th boy in a family the funds dry up when you come of action figure age.
I don't know that I ever had a Big Jim figure, myself, but I spent so much time staring at the full page ads for the line in various Marvel comics that's it was probably best that I didn't. In my mind, Big Jim and his team were damn near real, and if I'd actually held one of those hunks of plastic in my hands it would probably have destroyed the illusion.

Come to think of it, I posted a bit about those ads a while back, over here.

I have only the vaguest memories of JJ Arms, though. Maybe a kid in the neighborhood had one.
Man, if I had ten thousand dollars to spare, I'd be online at eBay right now, scratching my nostalic itch. Damn you, Roberson, for posting that sweet poster. I DID have all of those figures (including tons of Megos and JJ Arms, as well as Marx' solid plastic Best of the West stuff), and they all crossed over and had shared adventures. The hardest part was working out the size difference between Big Jim (and his members of the P.A.C.K.) and G.I. Joe (and Bulletman, and Mike Power, etc). Interestingly, The Intruder (the cosmic caveman in the back) was the perfect size to menace Big Jim, and so he did. Jim's accessories were also much better: the gorilla's arms moved, and the alligator thrashed his head and tail when you rolled him across the floor. Ahh, sweet adventure memories. Is it any wonder I write what I write?
Ah, Megos. Now those I had a fair number of. But my Bulletman was probably my personal favorite.

I have to consciously avoid looking for any of this stuff on eBay, since (a) I can't afford it, and (b) I can live without the temptation.
hey chris, glad ya liked the 70's action figure piece, thanks for your comments about it here on your blog site. i'm working on a jam piece of my favorite 70's live action saturday morning tv shows now-land of the lost, ark 2, jason of star command, electra woman, bigfoot and wildboy, shazam and isis, hope ya like it when its done! take care, dusty abell!
Oh, Dusty, that sounds freakin' awesome. You just named a half-dozen shows to which I've devoted far, far too much mental real estate. Looking forward to seeing it!
I agree that there should be more of the "off beat" Superheroes in movies today. I really like the Idea of a J.J. Arms movie.
And by the way, isn't getting to be about time for Gov. Shwartzenegger to film the next installment of "Conan the Barbarian"? But that is another story....
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by 

Blogger. Isn't yours?