Original art by Andy Vanderbilt!


This week’s question is a fun one, and the answers were sort of surprising, so let’s get right to it:










KEVIN MAHER:  File this under the most predictable thing about my wedding preparation: I gave a lot of thought about what characters should stand on top of our wedding cake. My wife ordered a delicious and beautiful cake, but I took full responsibility for what figures would represent the bride and groom. These characters would represent our relationship. Frankenstein’s monster and the Bride seemed played out, also she didn’t love him. Chucky & his Bride are serial killers. I realized the best match was Zira and Cornelius. Their love traveled through time! He respected her. She was smart and witty. And their white ape-o-naut uniforms matched the cake’s ivory frosting. Years later, I saw a Blu-Ray featurette where ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES screenwriter Paul Dehn compared the time-travel sequel to ROMEO & JULIET, which only reinforced my decision. “And if our love is doomed to be gunned down by a vengeful human scientist, here’s to hoping our son leads a militant ape uprising in the next sequel.”






ANDY VANDERBILT:  The INDEPENDENCE DAY figures were some of my favorites growing up. They had to find a way to see multiple versions of the aliens but they made it work with some simple color changing. Also the gimmick of some incredibly difficult game on a floppy disk was icing on the cake.






MAC BELL:  I was nine years old when CLASH OF THE TITANS hit the big screen. I remember catching it at a drive-in with my family in Beaverton, Oregon. And though Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion animation was dated at that point (STAR WARS helped date a lot of things around that time), I couldn’t help but be drawn in by the multitude of cool characters zipping across the screen. The movie was a hit so Mattel jumped on the action figure bandwagon set by the STAR WARS Kenner toy line and produced a series of figures based on characters from the film. Hero Perseus, devil-horned Calibos, tough soldier Thallo (the dude with the horse-tail fly swatter), Pegasus the flying horse and the awesome Kraken were all represented in the line. But who did I grab for my pick as I sat gazing at the line of figures at my local toy store. This guy:




Now I do think this fella’s scene in the film was very atmospheric and cool. Hell, he was the boatman who paddled Perseus and crew across the river Styx to butt heads with Medusa (whose character sadly didn’t make the toy line). But as an action figure, he really didn’t do too much. He did come with a sword, but shouldn’t that have been an oar? And he was limited in movement minus some arm motion and the ability to bend at the waste. I don’t seem to remember him bowing in the film. I guess you could pretend he consumed one too many of whatever spooky skeleton men in robes drank and bent over a lot to get sick.

For some reason though, Charon is a toy I remember over a host of others from my childhood, so he must have made some kind of impact on me. Maybe he’s my favorite mistake. I’m guessing some of you out there can relate to grabbing a toy as a kid and then getting home and begging your folks for a return trip to the toy store so you can buy what was at the time your number two pick. If only Charon had been my second pick that day, long ago. To think what I could have done with an action figure whose character carried a horse-tail flyswatter.





RYAN CAREY:  I never really got into toys, except as a kid. That being said, I have a pretty cool action figure of Marv from SIN CITY that hews much closer to Frank Miller’s comic-book depiction of the character than it does to his movie iteration.





JEREMY LOWE:  I’m a child of the ’80s, and in the ’80s, gross was cool. The toy selection for a pre-horror nerd was spectacular. There were DISSECT AN ALIEN, MADBALLS, and BOGLINS. It was a great time to be a kid! The gross factor didn’t only apply to toys, though. If you weren’t a jock, and had no interest in sports cards, there were fun trading cards like WACKY PACKAGES, GROSSVILLE HIGH, and of course… GARBAGE PAIL KIDS!

The phenomenon of GARBAGE PAIL KIDS was amazing. Created by Art Spiegelman, who a few years later won the Pulitzer Prize for his series-turned-graphic-novel MAUS, Topps originally put out GPK as collectible trading cards. Then there were T-shirts, pins, posters, toys, even a never-aired children’s cartoon (supposedly too gross for the Saturday morning cartoon line-up). In 1987, nothing could have been greater than a sci-fi comedy movie simply called GARBAGE PAIL KIDS: THE MOVIE.

It was absolutely magical to see your favorite GARBAGE PAIL KIDS walking, talking, farting, and puking. They were given a back story for the movie: The GPKs are actually aliens that crash-landed on earth and trapped in a garbage can by a wizard named Captain Manzini (played by Anthony Newley).

GARBAGE PAIL KIDS: THE MOVIE is dated and campy, but it’s also completely awesome! It has great crude humor that the whole family can enjoy, action, fight scenes, bullies getting their comeuppance, fashion, and even a musical number!




You wouldn’t think that a gross-out movie based on children’s trading cards which came to popularity parodying the cute and much-adored CABBAGE PATCH KIDS dolls would have a positive message, but at the end of the day, the lesson to GARBAGE PAIL KIDS: THE MOVIE was that if we work together “we can do anything!” I will always love GARBAGE PAIL KIDS: THE MOVIE!





MIKE VANDERBILT:  There’s a scene in BIG where Tom Hank’s man-child changes the direction of a toy company by simply stating “I don’t get it,” regarding a robot that transforms into a building. I can’t be certain, but I’m pretty sure they were making fun of Rock Lords.

The Rock Lords first (and only) appearance was in the animated film GOBOTS: BATTLE OF THE ROCK LORDS release in March of 1986. Despite the appearance of Daily Grindhouse favorites Margot Kidder and Roddy McDowell, it’s pretty much a slog, and nowhere near as well-made as TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE.

While consistently beating The Transformers to the punch (TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE wasn’t released until August of ’86, and despite popular belief, the GoBots were released in the states a year before Optimus Prime and the gang came to America), the GoBots were always seen as a cheap imitation. The animation was cheaper as were the toys and the characters were just not as interesting (although I contend that villain Crasher is the first animated, robot dominatrix committed to film).

The Rock Lords were robots that transformed into rocks, which running with the original intent as their alternate appearance to be a disguise, a rock is kind of perfect. People don’t pay attention to rocks unless they’re kicking them or throwing them at a train. As a toy though, how do you play with stones? Put them in your terrarium? All that said, I thought the Rock Lords were cool, despite never seeing the movie until recently. I was into dinosaurs, science, as a kid, so geology wasn’t a reach for me. I had most of them from leader Boulder, to Nugget, who was gold (and kids LOVE gold toys, we all had LEGEND OF ZELDA), and chief villain Magmar. The character descriptions cover all the typical archetypes from the leader, to the gentle giant, but to reiterate, kids don’t want to play with toy rocks when they can just throw real rocks. The toy line did run for three lines, but are largely forgotten, like the Sectaurs and Inhumanoids.







JON ZILLA:  Madballs, Boglins, Garbage Pail Kids, Go-Bots, Rock Lords, Sectaurs, Inhumanoids — you guys were mining your own memories and you really went and hit an emotional motherlode deep down where my heart lives. 


Guess I should start by noting I have always loved superhero comic books, so I would grab the Marvel characters — and Batman — in action figure form at any chance I could get. I also loved G.I. Joes, because what else were those guys but superhero versions of Army men? DC’s Super Powers line in the 1980s, and then the BATMAN toys based on the movie in 1989, those were huge for me, but I especially loved Marvel’s Secret Wars figures. This two-pack containing Captain America and Doctor Doom is one of my favorite things I ever bought. Still remember the day I saw that thing in the store.



But if you’d asked me back then, I’d have told you my cousins Andrew (two years younger than me) and Charlie (four years younger) had all the very best toys. I grew up just outside New York City and they grew up just outside Boston, so we were only separated by a couple hours’ drive and my family would head up to their place almost once a month for most of my childhood. I would take my action figures along with me, and then almost as soon as we got through the door, Andrew and Charlie and I would go off to stage epic action-figure battles across their bedrooms, down the stairways, and all the way down to the basement. Since I knew the comics best, I’d supply the characterization, while my cousins supplied a devil-may-care attitude, the two best senses of humor I’ve ever encountered, and a happy commitment to whichever stories I’d invent with them that day. (My little sister — Andrew’s age — really had to endure a lot of activities against her personal interests back then. If only I’d been born a Brony. And that’s the first and last time I’ll ever use that sentence.)


There were always leading characters in any of the widescreen adventures we imagined up, but really, the cast was massive — Transformers, Visionaries, Thundercats, Real Ghostbusters,  STAR WARS (Andrew and Charlie had a Millenium Falcon, and Aquaman got to ride in it!), POLICE ACADEMY, He-Man & The Masters Of The Universe, the Ninja Turtles, Army Ants, Food Fighters, Barnyard Commandos, C.O.P.S., M.U.S.C.L.E., M.A.S.K., Spiral Zone, Captain Power, Bionic Six, Sky Commanders, Silverhawks, Centurions, Care Bears, Battle Beasts, Supernaturals, Starriors, Wheeled Warriors, and sure, even the Monchhichis and the Madballs and the Boglins and the Get Along Gang — anybody and everybody was conscripted into service. It was wartime, and everyone earned their seat in Valhalla.  They were all plastic and metal, meaning no one was ever down for the count for long, even at the loss of weapon or limb. Our armies transcended conventional notions of mortality. Our enjoyment transcended quantifiable measurement.


I haven’t played with toys since before my early teens kicked in, but I think the aura of that joy remains as a part of me. Beyond the cloudier moments, there’s something sufficiently childlike and enthusiastic about my personality that has prompted friends and family to bring me toys over the years, even though I wouldn’t do much with them besides put them on a shelf. This trend skyrocketed when I started becoming known as “the movie guy” in any group I was in, beyond already being “the comic book guy.” A college friend brought me a Mister Stay-Puft he found at a yard sale in Scotland. Another brought me one of those Kenner Yoda puppets back from Jersey after winter break. A friend who has worked for years in the toy industry still generously brings me various collectibles, perks of his job. I literally cannot tell you how many people have given me Spider-Man paraphernalia. (I think that one’s on Sam Raimi for casting Tobey Maguire.) People see action figures and they think of me, for whatever reason.


Charlie knew how I loved the Secret Wars guys best of all. He was eight or nine when he gave me three Secret Wars figures I didn’t have — The Falcon, Baron Zemo, and Spider-Man in his black costume (who we always pretended was Venom, since we already had a Spider-Man on our side). This was some time after the Secret Wars toys left the shelves. There was no eBay back then, no way to get replacement figures for himself. I was struck by his generosity then, and the gesture continues to remain impressive to me, particularly coming from an eight-year-old kid. He gave me toys he loved because he figured I might love them a little more. Turns out that sort of generosity would be characteristic of Charlie for the rest of his life. Over the years he gave me all sorts of nifty gag gifts and tchotchkes and funny-looking figurines, maybe just as a kind of tangible signature he was thinking about me when he saw them. I didn’t always know what to do with a pen shaped like a poo, but I always knew how much the gesture meant.



It’s nearing on six months since Charlie died. He was my cousin, but really, he was a brother to me. For a guy who identifies himself a writer, I haven’t been able to put down more than a sentence or two at a time regarding my feelings about losing a person whose soul is such a part of my own. This is as close as I’ve come so far. One of the more arcane ways I’ve been coping with the grief, an unusual behavior pattern I’ve only recently begun to understand as such, is that I’ve been actively picking up action figures. The selection is better than ever nowadays. I’ve got a Creature From The Black Lagoon now (it came with a Julie Adams!), and a Jason Voorhees, and a Winston Zeddemore. Due to CIVIL WAR, I’ve finally got a Black Panther, one of my all-time favorite comic book characters and something I could have only dreamed about as a kid. I’ve got a Deadpool, since he’s Charlie’s very favorite character. (The movie came out a few days before he died, and it breaks my damn heart daily that he didn’t get to see it.)  I’ve got a Wolfman and a Hawkeye and a Ray Stantz and I’ve got all kinds of skeletons, just because my cousins and I always thought skeletons were hilarious.




I don’t play with these toys. I’ve just been amassing them. Barring the appearance of children of my own, I doubt I’ll ever play with them. I’m racing towards forty, and Andrew is already a husband and father, and both of us are constantly busy, and most of all, we don’t have Charlie anymore and so it wouldn’t be the same.




Nevertheless, I keep buying random figures when I see them — either when it’s something of interest to me, or something that would have been of interest to Charlie, or else something he might have thought would have been of interest to me. I put them with my Secret Wars Spidey, and my Baron Zemo and my The Falcon. I guess in a way I’m trying to keep Charlie’s characteristic thoughtfulness alive, to provide myself with tangible proof that, in the midst of all the darkness of a very scary world, he could continue to be that playful and spirited and that considerate, and that maybe one day, sooner or later, so can I.





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