The Fifth Column:
Boys & Their Toys
By Dwayne McDuffie
I’m never having a "Vote For The Next Column" contest again. Couldn’t you guys tell I wanted to do the "FAQ" column?
Have it your way.
I’m not sure what’s making me think about comic book action figures so often (Static Shock) but I am. These days it’s nearly impossible to find a comic book super hero that doesn’t have its own action figure (Static Shock). But when I was a wee lad, it was slim pickings indeed (it’s still slim today, if you want Static Shock). We did have Captain Action, a 12-inch super hero doll that you could get costumes (sold separately) to transform him into Spider-Man, Captain America (complete with shield!), Super Man, Batman and lame-oes like Tarzan and the Lone Ranger. Captain Action had a teen sidekick named Action Boy. Oddly, Action Boy was much cooler than Captain Action because he came complete with his own pet black panther! Action Boy didn’t have any cool costumes though, except for Tonto (who came with an eagle, I think, or maybe a horse. Gimme a break, this was a long time ago). Action Boy could also turn into Robin but who the hell wants to be Robin?
Other than Captain Action, I was only aware of one other source of super hero toys, Mego action figures. Actually, I don’t even think they were called "action figures" yet, although our dimly-understood but rapidly-developing, pre-pubescent homophobia kept us from ever referring to them as "dolls." Dolls were for girls. Ironically, the term my peer group came up with was "men," a phraseology that likely migrated over from our work with GI Joes. So to avoid seeming less than masculine we’d say, "You want to play with the men?" At the time it seemed like a good way to keep anyone from questioning our sexuality. In retrospect, I’m not so sure it was the best choice.
Anyway, I don’t like talking about GI Joes, they were the source of major psychological scars in my childhood. My parents didn’t allow us to have war toys. That meant no toy guns and no GI Joes. My cousin Reynard had all the GI Joes and the jeep and the tank and the foot locker to keep it all in. When we had our men fight, he had a platoon of well-armed, 12-inch GI Joes from several branches of the armed services. I had six Gumbys, two Pokeys (one of which had a broken wire in his front leg. I would have had it shot, if I’d had a toy gun to shoot it with) and a Blockhead that my little brother had chewed the head off of. Needless to say, my plucky, unarmed Gumbys would routinely get their asses handed to them by Reynard’s men. We could never figure out how to defend ourselves from the Napalm that his Air Force Joe would drop on us from his fighter jet.
One Christmas, my dad took pity on me and in the spirit of educational compromise, bought me a GI Joe. My Joe didn’t come with a foot locker, though. He came with a sarcophagus and a pith helmet. My stupid dad bought me Archeologist Joe. He didn’t even have a gun, he had a shovel. That’s okay, though. I used to pretend the shovel was a laser rifle. Don’t tell my folks.
What was I talking about, Mego? Those were the other super-hero dolls and they were cool. Spidey, Cap, The Hulk, The Fantastic Four (The Thing was the coolest), Superman. There must have been a couple dozen of them. My brother had Batman and Robin, the Batmobile and a Batcave playset (complete with a working bat-signal). He also had the whole bridge and crew from Star Trek. That set had a working transporter. I’m not kidding you, we still don’t know what happened to Ensign Chekov. I’m not going to get into that, though. I’ve learned in these columns not to disturb the Star Trek fans unless I want to have to change my e-mail address again.
The main trouble with Mego figures was they were fragile. When you’d have the Lizard punch Spider-Man clear across the bedroom and into the toy box, the stupid rubber band that held Spidey together would break. He only way to continue play was to shove all his limbs into his cloth costume and tape the arm holes to his wrists. That way his arms wouldn’t fall out. Poseability was, as you might imagine, compromised by this solution. And the Hulk didn’t even have a shirt, when he broke, you were screwed. Within a week of your big Christmas or birthday score, all of your super heroes were floppy and un-play withable. There had to be something better. There was something better.
And I found it, right in the corner boxes of old Marvel Comics. Discover both my elaborate solution and my unending shame in next week’s exciting conclusion: "(It’s Only a)Paper Moonknight!"
TORTURE THE COLUMNIST CONTEST
You may have noticed in this week’s column the slightest hint of my irritation that Static Shock, the Saturday morning cartoon character I co-created, doesn’t have his own action figure when many less popular characters do have one. Well, here’s your chance to turn my bitterness into your gain. It’s contest time: Name The Most Obscure Character To Have Their Own Action Figure, Even Though Static, Who Is On TV Every Damned Week, Has Nothing, Not Even One Of Those Crappy PVC Figurines! The reader who submits the winning entry (to be judged entirely by my whim) gets a fabulous prize, although I haven’t yet decided what. Click the link above for a handy submission form. Multiple entries are okay but my friends say I already bitch too much about Aquaman’s horse, Streaky the Supercat and Ace The Bat Hound, so those toys are disqualified.
ROAD TO HELL UPDATE
You can see an early sketch for future comic book icon “Chuckles The Damned Nuisance,” at Kris Dresen’s Live Page right here.
SIX DEGREES OF ST. ELSEWHERE UPDATE
NBC promos reveal that their very funny hospital sit-com “Scrubs” will be visited by characters from St. Elsewhere. Readers of my St. Elsewhere column understand what any contact with the existential virus of prime time means. Another one bites the dust.
DWAYNE PLUGS HIMSELF
This week on STATIC SHOCK, Rubberband Man returns, Ebon and the Metabreed return and as a special treat for fans of Milestone’s old BLOOD SYNDICATE comic, Aquamaria makes her first animated appearance. The episode is called "Bad Stretch" and if Rubberband Man should survive I’m screwed, as I’m completely out of puns for episode titles. Fun fact: Rubberband Man was co-created by Maddie Blaustein, who does the voice of "Meowth" on Pokemon. She’s also the only person in the world who does an imitation of Patrick McGoohan, not on THE PRISONER mind you, on COLUMBO. "Bad Stretch" is the second of three scripts I contributed this season. It airs Saturday, March 23 at 8:30 AM Eastern Standard Time on the Kids WB. Oh, click on that thing down there at the bottom and buy the trade paperback.
"Never Say Die," a Batman 8-pager that I wrote and Denys Cowan drew is the back up story in BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHTS #27, still on sale, if you don’t shop in the same store I do. Look for the nifty Brian Boland cover!
An anthology called PANEL ONE: COMIC BOOK SCRIPTS BY TOP WRITERS is now on sale. It includes work by Neil Gaiman, Kurt Busiek, Kevin Smith, Marv Wolfman, Trina Robbins, Greg Rucka, Nat Gertler, Jeff Smith and, unaccountably, me. My full script for "Deus Ex Machina," an issue of Marvel Comics’ DEATHLOK that I wrote as a young child, is right in there with the good stuff.
I always forget to plug the Milestone on line discussion group where you can talk with me, a couple hundred of our fans, STATIC SHOCK Story Editor Chris Simmons, Milestone co-founders Denys Cowan and Michael Davis and several other Milestone writers and artists who lurk and think I don’t know they are there. Click and join.