Me and action figures: Can’t stop, won’t stop

I reckon if you’re living your best life, you never really outgrow the need for the occasional action figure. 

Let’s be clear at the start – I’m talking ACTION figures, which in my mind generally need to be anywhere from 3 to 12 inches tall, with moveable arms and legs, some cool accessories and colourful artwork on the packaging. I basically consider those hideous Funko Pop things an abomination of cutesy rubber-stamped design that’s eating up the toy aisle like some mutant blob, glutting the market to the point they’re an environmental disaster. I’m an action figure man, darn it, not a gaudy statue figure man. 

I was, of course, a part of the Star Wars generation, hoovering up those Kenner action figures from the moment I first got an allowance, buying random Rebel Commanders and Snowtroopers and Ewoks and having epic battles with them in trenches dug in the back yard. As I became a teenager, in a moment of utter insanity I sold most of my 40 or so vintage Star Wars figures at a family yard sale, hypnotised by the idea of getting money for my possessions without ever realising the possessions were kind of emotionally priceless treasures. I still miss my Rebel Commander with his limp little dangling scarf that looked like a piece of bacon.

I dabbled in other lines, even if Star Wars was my jam and I was kind of ageing out of some of the popular figure lines of the 80s. I really dug the DC Super Powers (and still have my Dr. Fate figure!) but didn’t care for the Marvel Secret Wars line with their dumb ‘secret shields’. I enjoyed the militaristic fantasy of G.I. Joe and the earliest Transformers toys (still wish I had that Soundwave, man) but was never into the cheap looking Masters of the Universe and too old for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Like most dudes, I grew older and action figures seemed uncool for a time; like most dudes, I got older still and became keen on recapturing my past by buying vintage action figures or ones that reminded me of them when I had a chance.

Decades on, there’s a tiny little dusty closet in the back of my brain that still idly dreams about the action figures I never had – the gold Cylon Commander from Battlestar: Galactica, the Clash of the Titans giant Kraken; the Super Powers Hawkman; the Return of the Jedi Sy Snootles and Rebo Band set I really wanted.

When my son was little, it was the perfect excuse for me to buy action figures more regularly – ones from Star Wars movies I never imagined would be released way back in the misty haze of the 1980s, ones from Marvel Universe movies I only dreamed about actually happening. (We still have a massive pile somewhere of Iron Man figures from Iron Man 2, when Hasbro released an insane flood of iron armor from Stealth Iron Man to Uber Driver Iron Man to Pizza Delivery Iron Man.) 

Then my son got older too and into his own things, but I still pick up the occasional action figure that we both enjoy looking at, and I often pop my head into the toy aisle at the store pretending I’m buying a birthday present or something for some kid instead of just eyeballing what’s new. 

You can easily go too far with these obsessions (or, as Elvis Costello put it, “in time you can turn these obsessions into careers”).

I’m not the guy with an entire room full of action figures in neat boxes. I’m an eclectic action figure collector, because I know a 50-something old man shouldn’t really be spending his mortgage money on dozens of action figures, so I’m a connoisseur. While I grew up on the smaller 3 3/4” figures, I do like the advances in action figure technology that have given us superbly elaborate and poseable 6” figures as a matter of course. I buy a few Marvel Legends figures with their excellent detail and obscure characters and a few of the Star Wars “black” series. I was obsessed with recreating the Empire Strikes Back bounty hunter scene and couldn’t find Zuckuss and 4-LOM for the longest of time, which is quite possibly the nerdiest sentence I’ve ever typed. 

You can spend an insane amount of money on action figures but I generally like to just buy on an occasional impulse; the most I’ve ever spent was $60 on a Marvel Legends Ghost Rider with flaming motorcycle figure that was just too damned cool to let some 10-year-old with sticky fingers at the Warehouse have it. I’m slowly collecting the great new Universal Monsters figures which are packed with accessories and detail; among my closet of regrets is that I never bought any of a brief 1980s line of Universal horror movie action figures by Remco so I’m determined to make up for lost time.

A couple of dozen action figures are gathered on shelves around my office, frozen forever in the act of fighting supervillains or waging rebellions. A set of nifty Tintin figurines; a Flaming Carrot action figure I’ve had for decades; a cheap lot of the excellent Playmates Star Trek: The Next Generation line I got the boy for Christmas years ago.

I never dig trenches in the back yard with my action figures these days, but neither do I obsess over keeping them “mint on card.” I curate my little collection of plastic icons, probably as a way of reminding myself of the kid I once was, saving pennies for a Snowtrooper. 

But also, I still just think they look kind of cool. 

Author: nik dirga

I'm an American journalist who has lived in New Zealand for more than a decade now.

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