Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bif Bang Pow! Celebration Day III: Twilight Zone action figures, Series I

Twilight Zone action figures. It’s not exactly a new idea. Sideshow Collectibles released some very nice (well, with one glaring exception) deluxe 12-inch action figures several years ago, but the line consisted of a mere four releases (five total pieces; their “Eye of the Beholder” set featured two figures). Trouble is, they were produced in low numbers, were a bit pricey to begin with (and now command hefty sums), and in all frankness, were more high-end display pieces than action figures. Other than that singular effort, The Twilight Zone’s myriad characters have never been captured in action figure form.

Until now.

2010 will go down in history as the year that the series finally got some affordable (and accessible) action figure representation. Who do we have to thank for this? Why, my friends at Bif Bang Pow!, of course.

I grew up collecting and playing with action figures, and throughout my adult life I’ve maintained a modest collection of some sort, mostly Star Wars or Star Trek (if you’re interested, I recently posted a pretty extensive history of my action figure exploits on my regular blog, here). My experience has been with molded plastic action figures of five-inches or less, and my initial assumption was that Bif Bang Pow!’s Twilight Zone figures would be along those lines. I dunno, maybe it was more of a hope than an assumption, since that was the format I was familiar and comfortable with. When the announcement hit that the figures would be eight inches tall and feature cloth outfits, I was admittedly a bit thrown. This sounded less like action figures and more like scaled-down versions of the Sideshow Collectibles efforts. I feared that the smaller size (and the lower price point) might mean shoddy work and less detail. And damn it, I grew up playing with action figures, not Barbi dolls. There, I said it.

Oh, how wrong I was. I love being wrong when it comes to things like this.

The figures all use the same basic body, of which there are three varieties: male, female, and child (which stands six inches tall). All three types possess the same level of articulation, which is pretty extensive. So when we’re examining these figures, we’re really looking at the head and the outfit. All figures use a monochromatic paint scheme to evoke the black and white photography of the series, an approach which I highly (and enthusiastically) approve of.

A total of six action figures comprise Bif Bang Pow!’s opening salvo of TZ action figures, and that’s only the beginning. Four more figures are slated to appear by the end of the year, with at least two (that I’m aware of) in the works for next year. The figures are available in pairs, and each pair is assigned a series number. For the next three days, we’ll be spotlighting all six, starting today with Series One...

(from “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”)

Okay, I’ve gone on record many times about my hatred for The Gremlin. It’s just a goofy, stupid-looking creature. Richard Matheson, who penned the script (“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”) and original short story, didn’t like it much either.

Sideshow Collectibles released The Gremlin in 12-inch form several years back, and… well, they just plain fucked it up (this is the exception I mentioned above). It’s horrible. You’ve got a fur-covered creature, so how do you recreate said fur on an action figure? Sideshow went with some sort of hideous brownish puffy bodysuit, which looked nothing like fur and everything like shit. I’m not being unkind here: this thing is truly an eyesore, and a blemish on an otherwise amazing (albeit limited and short-lived) line. Jesus, just look at it:

Bif Bang Pow! had an opportunity right out of the gate to best Sideshow’s efforts, and DAMN, did they succeed. Look at this thing!

First and foremost, the faux fur covering looks and feels like actual fur. It looks a bit purple in my pictures, but that’s my camera’s fault… in person, it’s white. There’s even some padding inside to paunch out the stomach area --- a nice touch. This Gremlin looks naturally thick, not inflated with air.

The fur on the head is actually a hood of sorts that can be pulled off, revealing a very bald head underneath. And just look at that face --- dead on. The detail is amazing.

I think the most significant thing about this particular figure --- for me --- is as follows: here’s a character that I’ve historically despised, so my expectations were pretty low. To put it another way: I didn’t really care one way or the other if this particular figure succeeded. Bif Bang Pow! already wowed me once with their Gremlin bobblehead, but their rendering of the character here achieves something even loftier: It just plain kicks ass. As you can see, mine is posed in a walking semi-crouch, trying to keep his footing as he makes his way across the wing of an airplane in the middle of a storm. It just looks… right. There is literally nothing wrong with this guy (thing?) on any level. In fact, I'll even state for the record that this Gremlin is superior to the stupid version used in the episode.

An auspicious start, to be sure. But what of the other figure in Series One? Read on….

* * *

(from “The Masks”)

If one is to translate The Twilight Zone into any type of collectible, there are certain characters and/or objects that simply must be referenced, pop culture icons that simply cannot be ignored. The just-described Gremlin is one. Jason Foster… well, not so much.

If you aren’t aware, “The Masks,” a highlight of the series’ fifth and final season, takes place in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. The characters in the episode, appropriately enough, wear masks. Jason Foster, the elderly patriarch of a greedy clan, is teetering on the brink of the end. Therefore, he wears a skull mask, the very face of death. It’s a great episode, but one that I haven’t seen in years, so when the first waves of figures were announced, it took me a minute to figure out who the hell he was. And even then, I was a bit puzzled. Why Foster? I could easily name twenty more deserving TZ characters than him. But see, this is one of the great things that Bif Bang Pow! brings to the license. Sure, they’ll give us those aforementioned icons, but they’ll also dig deeper. Jason Foster doesn’t seem (at least on the surface) like a character who merits plastic immortality, but one look at the end product is all it takes. Color me convinced.

Before you ask, the skull mask is part of the head sculpt. In other words, it doesn’t come off. But honestly, does it need to? Without it, you’d have an old man in his pajamas. With it, the figure becomes a thing of solemn, eerie beauty. Look at that head, the way those eyes look out from behind the mask… God, the detail just pops.

Equally eye-catching is the print on Foster’s robe. Gorgeous. There’s a lot of attention to detail in the clothing. Okay, the robe's print doesn't match the episode, but I'm probably the only TZ geek in the world that would notice something like that. In any case, the robe looks great. Under that robe is a two-piece, long-sleeved set of PJs; these aren’t just clever illusory faux-jammies. Take off the robe, and you’ve got a distinctly different outfit you could theoretically display him in. But damn, that robe is so beautiful to behold, so why would you want to? Oh, and he’s got slippers too, completing the ensemble. I suppose for true accuracy he’d need to come with a wheelchair (I can’t recall if Foster ever actually stands up in the episode), but that’s probably not a realistic accessory. I imagine it would come close to doubling the production cost. It makes me wonder, though, if a toy wheelchair exists that would fit him....? I recall seeing a disabled Barbie at Toys R Us a while back....

Verdict? Jason Foster is nothing short of perfect.

I can’t even begin to articulate my delight with these initial two offerings from Bif Bang Pow!. I wouldn’t have chosen either character for the action figure treatment, especially not this early in the line… and yet, I’m grinning from ear to ear as I gaze at them. Truly marvelous work. Two enthusiastic thumbs up.

Does this early winning streak continue with Series Two? Tune in tomorrow….


Troy Thomas said...

How dare you say the Sideshow gremlin looks terrible?!? It's a closer representation of the gremlin than the Biff Bang Pow figure. The gremlin had curly fur, not long, stringy fur. Sideshow's looks better, and you can now hang your headin shame for saying that.

Craig Beam said...

We're gonna have to agree to disagree on this one. Sideshow's Gremlin looks like ass. C'mon, man.