Thursday, October 28, 2010

TZ Promo: "A Thing About Machines" (10/28/1960)

"A Thing About Machines"
Season Two, Episode #4 (overall #40)
Cayuga Production # 173-3645

50 years ago tonight, a man declared war on machines. No, his name wasn’t John Connor, and the machines weren’t played by California’s current governor.

“A Thing About Machines,” written by Rod Serling and directed by David Orrick McDearmon, stars Richard Haydn as Bartlett Finchley (Christ, what a name), a terminally unlikable man (a food critic, of all things; he might feel right at home on one of the Food Network’s endless parade of cook-and-be-judged offerings) whose hatred of All Things Mechanical leads to a battle of wills between himself and the various machines (TV, typewriter, electric razor --- yes, electric razor) in his house. Predictably, he doesn’t stand a chance.

The ages-old struggle between Man and That Which Man Creates is a great concept to build on, but unfortunately the episode never really does anything meaningful with it. We get a very simple tale in which a guy mistreats his appliances, which in turn rise up and fight back. Finchley sneers, he rages, he berates and belittles everyone he comes into contact with… seriously, the guy is a complete and utter tool. He’s so thoroughly loathsome that we end up cheering for the machines, which I’m pretty sure wasn’t the intent.

And then there’s the matter of the denouement. Finchley flees his house to escape the marauding appliances, and finds his car waiting for him…. with murder in its eyes (headlights?). The car chases him around the property for a while, and then backs him into the swimming pool.

Cut to the next morning, where Finchley’s body has been pulled from the pool. The coroner observes that the body wasn’t floating… it was found at the bottom of the pool. Are we to believe that the car jumped into the pool, pinned Finchley until he drowned, and then jumped back out? Silly, yes… but how else do you explain the water dripping from the bumper…?

Happily not every aspect of this episode sucks. Barney Phillips (who will return later this season with a third eye) is a bright spot as the bemused TV repairman. And Serling’s opening commentary, which he delivers from inside Finchley’s TV, is admittedly clever (in that picture-within-a-picture-within-a-picture sort of way):

And I can’t deny, the sight of Finchley’s electric razor coming down the stairs of its own volition (not to mention unplugged!) is delightful. These singular bits, however, aren’t enough to raise the episode above mediocrity.

And it’s too bad, because I should REALLY be able to identify with the themes of this episode. You see, I’ve had trouble with machines and electronics my whole life. Every car I’ve ever owned --- new or used --- has been plagued with issues. In the last year alone, I’ve suffered the death of a cell phone, a computer monitor, my beloved 60 gb iPod, a scanner, a LightScribe DVD-RW drive… not to mention the hundreds of dollars I've shelled out in car repairs. I have terrible luck with machines, plain and simple. Maybe I should be thankful these things simply die, versus hunting me down with murderous intent.

Interesting musical note: we hear Marius Constant’s "Milieu #2," which is a variant of his "Milieu #1" (which, along with his "Etrange #3," comprises the Twilight Zone theme used in seasons 2-5), played during the episode (rather than during the end credits, where it is normally heard). You can't miss it (it happens near the end of act one, when Finchley's typewriter repeatedly types the phrase "Get Out of Here, Finchley!").

Sigh. Overall, "A Thing About Machines" is sorta blah at best. Fortunately, the next five episodes range from pretty damned good to shockingly brilliant. Stay tuned.

Next week: Abbeys and monks and howling men, oh my!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Bif Bang Pow! Celebration, Day VI: Exclusive Q&A!

We’ve arrived at the sixth and final day of our weeklong celebration of Bif Bang Pow!, who in one short year has produced more Twilight Zone merchandise than everyone else in the past fifty years put together. The company was founded in 2005 by CEO Jason Lenzi and corporate partner Jason Labowitz and, needless to say, I worship the ground that these guys walk on. Recently, they graciously agreed to answer a few questions and grant our readers a glance behind the scenes. Strap in and hold on tight, kids.

* * *

To quote Office Space: So Jason(s)… what exactly would you say you do here at Bif Bang Pow!?

Jason Labowitz: Everything! There are three partners in the company and we contract out for every other service. Our jobs are to manage everyone else involved in the process, and make all of the big decisions.

Jason Lenzi: But we oversee every stitch, every fingernail, and every eyelash before anything gets out the door. After all, our names are essentially on these things!

Why The Twilight Zone? Why now? Was the show’s 50th anniversary the primary motivator, or was there more behind the decision to move ahead with the license?

Jason Lenzi: Like most human beings on this planet, I’ve always been a huge fan of the show. And as I got older and learned more about Rod Serling, he became a hero of mine. I always thought the show was underserved in the merchandise department, but when I first inquired about the license, it was one of those scenarios where we thought that someone somewhere was already planning something. Particularly, as you pointed out, because it was coming up on the 50th anniversary. Luckily we got there just in time.

Take us inside the process from start to finish. Say…. The Invader bobble head, or any single item you like. Inception, design, creation. How many steps in the process are there? What’s the average time frame from idea to finished product? Any interesting horror stories?

Jason Lenzi: (The process is lengthy and detailed, so we’ll just talk about the ‘horror stories’!) As most people noticed when we put out our press release way back when, we were very enthusiastic to be able to finally bring Rod Serling himself to life in plastic form. We started with bobble head concepts, but his widow, Carol, wasn’t keen on him being displayed that way, which we completely understood. So we decided to sculpt a figural statue of him, same height as the bobble heads, but more of a portrait sculpt. We had it approved, and were about to present it to the world, when we got word that Carol Serling didn’t want him depicted in toy form at all. So it got scrapped, and at this stage, we’ve respectfully decided not to open the subject up again. But, maybe someday…

Do you think there’s any hope at all? Has Carol Serling seen what you’ve produced so far?

Jason Labowitz: We plan to send Carol the complete series, and we'll follow-up with her in the near future.

How has the response to the Twilight Zone line been so far? I know the first few bobble heads sold out a few times, so I have to assume that at least the initial interest has been high.

Jason Labowitz: It’s been very positive – even more positive than we had initially anticipated.

Jason Lenzi: Agreed. We knew and thought the property would do ‘well,’ but we really didn’t think the fan base was so rabid. You should see all the requests and suggestions we get!

The SDCC-exclusive color bobble heads were produced in very low numbers. Any plans to do a second run, or is that it?

Jason Labowitz: That’s it!

Jason Lenzi: Yeah, for the most part, we really do believe we should keep Twilight Zone merchandise in a black and white world.

Prototypes of the next several Twilight Zone action figures (Henry Bemis, The Invader, etc) were glimpsed at SDCC, but (to my knowledge) no new bobble heads were seen. Are you taking a break from the bobble heads and focusing more on the action figures?

Jason Labowitz: Actually, we’re not taking a break. We have limited bandwidth so we must carefully decide our priorities. With 10 different licenses across a few different product categories and many characters, we have a lot of items that we are working on. Teaser – We’re working on a very special bobble head that is a companion to the Gremlin.

Jason Lenzi: ‘Nuff said.

On a related note, were those action figures at SDCC prototypes, or final versions?

Jason Labowitz: Prototypes.

And on a similarly related note, the action figures have come in pairs so far (3 series of 2 figures each), but there were only five new figures displayed. Does this mean there’s a mysterious unannounced 6th figure???

Jason Labowitz: Yes and no. We had initially planned that Santa Claus (Henry Corwin from “Night of the Meek”) would ship in time for this 2010 holiday season but that ship date slipped. We might hold him back until holiday 2012. So now we’re back to four new figures in the next wave, and Santa Claus coming later.

I’m in possession of the initial six action figures, and they just blow me away. The head sculpts looked amazing online, but in person they’re truly breathtaking. This isn’t really a question. I’m just gushing now.

Jason Labowitz: Greatly appreciated. We believe that this is among the best roto-casted sculpts anyone has ever seen in this scale.

Jason Lenzi: Thanks so much! It’s really great to get that kind of feedback, especially from a die hard fan!

What would your dream license be?

Jason Labowitz: Blade Runner. It's not that there's necessarily built up demand for a toy line - and it's possible that putting out toys today wouldn't sell many units. But it's just the one key significant sci-fi property that never had a toy line.

Jason Lenzi: I completely agree with Blade Runner. I’ve said it before, but I’d love to finally give the world a small scale James Bond action figure and vehicle range of toys. It’s a crime that the toy world has never been given that.

Another classic TV show that I’m quite fond of (i.e. obsessive over) is the original Outer Limits. Any chance you guys might take a crack at it? With all the creatures and aliens, you’d have a freakin’ field day. Sideshow Collectibles did 12-inch action figures from both series. I’m just sayin’.

Jason Labowitz: We can't discuss upcoming unsigned/unannounced licenses, but we appreciate the suggestion. We're always looking for a gap in the marketplace and potential demand for products that have never been made before. We'll probably have some new licenses to announce in early 2011.

Jason Lenzi: And to add, (The) Outer Limits is a weird one, isn’t it? Fans love it, I love it, it’s a classic in every sense of the word. But if you compare it to The Twilight Zone and its exposure and syndication over the past 50 years, it’s not even close. It’s like comparing The Stones to The Beatles, there just isn’t the same universal appeal. Having said that, you never know…

How long do you see the Twilight Zone line (bobble heads, action figures, deluxe items, etc.) continuing? Is it pretty open-ended, or is there a more finite plan in mind?

Jason Labowitz: Our license is for a fixed period of time. But we're confident that if the line remains popular, we'll go back to the negotiating table to extend the deal, and expand the breadth of products.

I’ve begged privately, and now I’ll do it publically: PLEASE do a bobble head (or an action figure, or preferably both) of Maya the Cat Girl (from season one’s “Perchance to Dream”). I was briefly in touch with Suzanne Lloyd (the actress who played her) earlier this year, and I’d love the chance to send her a little Maya.

Jason Labowitz: We have your wish list, along with a few suggestions from other experts. If demand continues, I see no reason to stop producing the characters that everyone wants.

Jason Lenzi: The great thing about this license, and the response we’ve gotten, is what was initially thought of by us as a ‘monsters only’ mind set, has now opened up to the whole world of The Twilight Zone. I really do think the possibilities are endless!

* * *


How else can I succinctly describe all these beautiful Twilight Zone items on my shelf? Before Bif Bang Pow!, my TZ collection was limited to five vinyl LPs, about ten CDs, the complete series on DVD, two boxes of Twilight Zone Magazines, a handful of books, and a woefully incomplete set of trading cards (oh, and one solitary Hallmark ornament). In a single year, Bif Bang Pow! has dropped a lot of TZ product into the marketplace (ten bobbleheads, six action figures), with results ranging from really good to absolutely incredible. They haven’t dropped a single ball yet. They’ve made it clear that they genuinely care about the license, which has resulted in some great, oftentimes breathtaking work. And this is only the beginning. …

SDCC came up a few times during the Q&A, so let’s have a look at Bif Bang Pow!’s Twilight Zone display. Yeah, I know, this took place back in July. Call it a Zone-esque time warp and just roll with it.

Astute readers will spot five thus-far unreleased action figures on display:

Doctor Bernardi (“Eye of the Beholder”)
The Invader (“The Invaders”)
Henry Bemis (“Time Enough at Last”)
Three-Eyed Venusian (“Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?”)
Henry Corwin/Santa Claus (“Night of the Meek”)

As revealed above, Henry Corwin/Santa Claus has been delayed. So the next wave of figures, Series IV and V, will include the other four. They were slated to appear before the end of the year, but we’re almost to November, and no official announcement has been made… which makes me wonder if they’ve been delayed a bit. I guess we’ll see. Doctor Bernardi and Henry Bemis look especially promising. I’m a big Invader fan, but I’m holding my excitement in check for now… the prototype looks a bit (or a lot) too skinny. But honestly, I have no reason to doubt that the final product will rock. And oh my God! I just NOW noticed that The Invader isn't as tall as the others, which means they're using the child-sized body. I'm grinning like hell at this realization. Nice touch, guys.

What are MY holy grails, you ask? Well, imaginary reader, if I had Anthony Fremont’s control over the universe, I’d make sure the following TZ characters became action figures in the near future:

1. Rod Serling, obviously, despite the odds. Maybe I’ll write a letter to Carol Serling myself…
2. Maya the Cat Girl (“Perchance to Dream”)
3. Nurse (“Eye of the Beholder”)
4. Janet Tyler (with interchangeable heads) (“Eye of the Beholder”)
5. Alicia (with disintegrated face) (“The Lonely”)
6. Joey Crown (with trumpet) (“A Passage for Trumpet”)
7. Marsha the Mannequin (“The After Hours”)
8. Brother Jerome (with Staff of Truth) (“The Howling Man”)
9. Battling Maxo (“Steel”)
10. Old Ben (alien disguise) (“The Fugitive”)
11. The Hitch-hiker (with raised thumb!) (“The Hitch-hiker”)
12. Anthony Fremont (“It’s a Good Life”)
13. Joey Cardiff (with pool cue) (“A Game of Pool”)
14. Fats Brown (with pool cue) (“A Game of Pool”)
15. The Woman (with axe and knife) (“The Invaders”)

As noted, no new bobbleheads were shown at SDCC, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see more… it sounds pretty likely that a Bob Wilson (William Shatner) bobblehead is being planned, and I’m sure some others are on the drawing board or in various stages of production as I write this. What characters am I hoping for? Well…

1. Doctor Bernardi (“Eye of the Beholder”)
2. The Devil (“The Howling Man”)
3. Alicia (with disintegrated face) (“The Lonely”)
4. Nurse (“Eye of the Beholder”)
5. Janet Tyler (bandaged face) (“Eye of the Beholder”)
6. Maya the Cat Girl (“Perchance to Dream”)
7. Female Devil (“Of Late I Think of Cliffordville”)
8. Brother Jerome (“The Howling Man”)
9. Old Ben (alien disguise) (“The Fugitive”)
10. Anthony Fremont (“It’s a Good Life”)

I’d also like to see the cast of “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” (army major, clown, ballerina, hobo, bagpipe player) as bobbleheads. For that matter, action figures would be cool too….

* * *

This concludes our Bif Bang Pow! celebration. Special thanks to Jason Lenzi and Jason Labowitz, and the whole gang at Bif Bang Pow! --- you guys are doing spectacular work. From the bottom of my Twilight Zone-obsessed heart, thanks a million.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Bif Bang Pow! Celebration, Day V: Twilight Zone action figures, Series III (SDCC Exclusive)

Welcome to Day 5 of our weeklong celebration of Bif Bang Pow!'s considerable efforts to make The Twilight Zone a force to be reckoned with in the collectibles marketplace. So far we've examined four different action figures, and five limited-edition variants of their earlier bobblehead releases, which were also San Diego Comic Con exclusives. Today's spotlight features two more SDCC exclusives, two little plastic beings who are based on... two little plastic beings.

(from "Living Doll")

Talky Tina stands 6 inches tall. The base body is similar to the one used in the adult-sized figures, but it's obviously smaller, which is perfect for figures like this (and Willie, spotlighted below, and maybe a future Anthony Fremont). It has the same points of articulation, and features the same monochromatic paint scheme as the other TZ action figures.

Technically, Tina is perfectly rendered. The outfit is correct, and she certainly looks enough like the real thing. The visible arm and wrist joints actually reinforce the fact that she IS a doll, which works to her benefit. This Talky Tina (Tiny Tina?) is actually MORE articulated than the actual doll!

Interesting note: Tina's white socks are accomplished in two steps: her ankles are painted white, and her feet are molded in white plastic. She can kick off her shoes safely.

Sock it to me!

In "Living Doll," the Talky Tina doll is a static object; her evil is revealed solely through her dialogue. Therefore, she appears completely innocent without the benefit of a sound chip to recite her diabolical lines. Displayed alongside the other TZ figures, she makes some sense on a contextual level, but on her own, Tina's just.... well, a nice little girl. Again, she's incredibly well done... she's just (unfortunately) not creepy enough in this format. I'm normally big on accuracy, but in this case I would've supported a touch of creative license with the face. Just a little subtle menace would've went a long way here.

Talky Tina must be really popular around the Bif Bang Pow! offices. We've already seen her in bobblehead form (in both monochrome and color), we've got her here as an action figure, and we'll see her again next year in a full-size, fully-functioning version, which was first unveiled at SDCC:

This is the only picture I've seen (so far), but this one looks a bit more menacing. I'm told that the life-sized version will indeed contain a sound chip, along with a "safe mode" that will disable the scary stuff and only play Tina's friendly lines of dialogue. Kid safe!

* * *

(from "The Dummy")

Like Talky Tina, Willie uses the smaller child-sized base body and is presented in a black and white color scheme. Of the six initial action figures, Willie is by far the most basic. To pull off a successful Willie, one only needs a sailor outfit and something resembling a ventriloquist's puppet's head. That's it. A simple task, but Bif Bang Pow! manages without a hitch.

Sailor outfit? Check. The white striping is nice, and the scarf is a nice touch. The head sculpt is what really makes this figure. Big fat eyebrows? Check. Willie's head sculpt certainly evokes a ventriloquist's dummy but, beyond that, there's a touch of menace in his expression, which makes all the difference. Tina looks even more innocent standing next to him.

What's to complain about? They may not be as exciting to look at as their taller cohorts, but Talky Tina and Willie are perfect incarnations of their onscreen characters. And if you're collecting the others, you can't pass on these.... can you?

The SDCC color bobbleheads are limited to 504 pieces each (except for the Mystic Seer, which is limited to 1,500 pieces). I don't know if Talky Tina and Willie are similarly limited, but I wouldn't wait around to find out. Click through the links above to order them, now exclusively available through Entertainment Earth.

Okay, now that we've covered all six action figures, I guess a couple of group shots are in order. This is how I have mine displayed:

To honor their creators, however, I convinced them to move in closer for a cozier group shot:

Note that the two most evil characters (The Devil and The Kanamit) appear to be mentoring Willie and Talky Tina. I didn't plan it that way, but it does make sense....

Tomorrow: The 6th and final day of our Bif Bang Pow! celebration. I'll be chatting with Jason Lenzi and Jason Labowitz from Bif Bang Pow!, the guys responsible for all this celebrating. We'll also gaze into the proverbial crystal ball for a hazy look at what the future holds for the line. Don't miss it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bif Bang Pow! Celebration, Day IV: Twilight Zone action figures, Series II

As I discussed yesterday, Bif Bang Pow!’s first two Twilight Zone action figures (appropriately paired under the moniker Series One) are two absolute successes, but neither are characters that I was particularly excited about --- before I actually saw them, that is. The figures in Series Two, however, are a much different story. Both are characters that would easily make my top ten most wanted list, and one of them would sit safely at very top. Let’s take a look.

(from “To Serve Man”)

You know him. Nine feet tall. Bulging cranium. Sparkling white robe. And that curious black book that he carries around with him. Hails from a distant planet. Author (and series authority) Marc Scott Zicree described him as “an angel gone to seed” in his Twilight Zone Companion. Ladies and gentlemen, my favorite of all TZ characters, alien or otherwise: The Kanamit Ambassador. This, above all others, would have to be handled appropriately for me to take Bif Bang Pow! seriously for the long haul.

And seriously…. They’ve made me a happy, happy fan.

The Kanamit is actually a pretty simple character, visually speaking. In fact, the description above tells you pretty much all you need to know to replicate him. Add a goatee and you’re pretty much there. But don’t get the wrong idea. It’s the subtleties that make him or break him, and Bif Bang Pow! pulls him off beautifully.

Look at the head sculpt. Look at that face! It perfectly evokes the blank, almost dopey gaze of the character, but with that vague hint of menace that contributes to the episode’s shocking payoff. He could be an intergalactic savior, or he could've come all this way just to take a bite out of humanity.

Since all the TZ figures share a common base body, the question is begged: how can he be made taller? Easy: platform shoes, baby! I’m planning to (someday) put together a Kanamit costume for Halloween, so I guess I’ll have to go the same route (my pitiful human 6’1” just ain’t enough). Thankfully, his robe is just long enough to (mostly) conceal the shoes (as you can see, they look a bit goofy if fully exposed. Also concealed in the process are his MC Hammer-esque sparkly elastic pants!

But wait! A quick look at the episode reveals that the Kanamit indeed wears platforms! See for yourself:

Just another example of Bif Bang Pow!'s relentless attention to detail, I guess.

On the subject of the robe, it’s quite nicely done. Plain white would’ve been too, well, plain. I’m not sure offhand if the Kanamit’s robe sparkles in the episode, but it doesn’t seem out of place here at all. It looks great. I think a (very minor) improvement would be a stiffer collar, so it could stand straight up on both sides. A nice future figure might be another Kanamit, this time in the black robe that we see in the climatic spaceport scene. Maybe a convention exclusive variant…?

And what Kanamit would be complete without his cookbook? It’s here, and we even get the cryptic title “To Serve Man” in the Kanamit language. Despite its tiny size, the lettering DOES match the actual book in the episode. Nice touch!

Another success story. With their Kanamit action figure, Bif Bang Pow! has definitely Served Man. Heh, see what I did there?

* * *

(from “The Howling Man”)

Who doesn’t want a devil in the house? The monks in the episode sure didn’t, but I’m definitely no holy man. I say bring on His Satanic Majesty!

The head sculpt is a revelation. Pointy ears, slightly droopy nose, fucking HORNS… you’d never mistake him for anybody BUT the Prince of Darkness. The wrinkles around the eyes give him a nice depth, suggesting a bit of world-weariness (hey, managing the damned and conning people out of their souls probably adds a few years to the ol’ mug). If I could change anything, I’d make his hair and beard a bit darker, but that’s just a personal preference and not a complaint.

The Devil is clad in a generic black jumpsuit with shiny black boots. Not really anything to write home about, but it’s episode-appropriate. It’s the cape that absolutely makes the outfit. Look at it! Enormous and regal, thick and satiny… and that giant collar (again, episode-appropriate) just slays me. And the chain holding the cape in place is actually metal, so carry your Devil through the metal detector at the airport at your own risk.

What, no pitchfork? What Devil is complete without a pitchfork? Well, did you SEE a pitchfork in the episode? You didn’t, so there you go. However, it occurred to me that Brother Jerome’s Staff of Truth might have been an appropriate accessory, but then I realized that The Devil would have nothing to do with such an object; in fact, he’d be rendered powerless against it. Should Bif Bang Pow! decide to produce a figure of Brother Jerome down the road, I imagine he’ll have it. Wow, the two characters would look amazing on a shelf together: The Father of All Lies versus The Man of Truth, a grudge match to end all grudge matches, a Pay-Per-View event for the ages!

That’s four figures, and four absolute knockouts. We’ll look at Series Three tomorrow. Do check back.

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….