Picking at the bloated carcass of geek culture...occasionally!!!

Archive for the ‘Toys’ Category

New inspiration

In Books, Comics, Movies, Roleplaying Games, Science Fiction, Television, Toys on June 3, 2009 at 9:21 pm

I was sitting down to write something for today’s post and was trying to articulate a topic.  I was thinking about the evolution of the pop-culture ninja since their re-emergence in the 80’s.  It got me thinking, however, about how in this last month of blogging I’ve mined nostalgia for inspiration.  As it turns out, a lot.  Which got me thinking about when was the last time I had a new geek interest or obsession.  So, the ninja conversation will have to wait for another time.  Sorry shuriken fans.

I was wracking my brain about the last time anything new or original grabbed my attention.  Almost everything that interests me, from comics to my favorite movies to toys to books to roleplaying games go back to childhood or adolescence.  I am almost completely at a loss to discover anything I really got into as an adult.  Fun and enjoyable media are often based on or inspired by old franchises that I’ve enjoyed for decades.

What will this kid ever love as much?

What will this kid ever love as much?

Oh, it’s not that bleak, I guess.  As I think about it, I can come up with plenty of stuff.  I really like Firefly, for instance, and that’s a new franchise.  Sure, it plays on familiar science-fiction norms but it’s still something new.  And there are plenty of comics, like Ed Brubaker’s Criminal series, that I think are pretty awesome without the lens of nostalgia.  And George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire is a very enjoyable series that sucked me in more than any geek literature I can recall.  There is new stuff, to be sure, but my head and heart seem most attached to the properties of my youth.

So I ask you, is there something special about youth for the formation of the adult geek?  Can new obsessions every really match the longstanding ties we have to our first loves, so to speak.  When is the last time you were inspired by something new?  Discuss.

Guns, guns, guns.

In Comics, Toys on May 10, 2009 at 10:09 am

This past weekend,  I spent some time with my nieces and nephews.  My brother’s son is very much into Thomas the Tank Engine and all things train related.  He has been since before he could walk or talk.  This has become pretty typical among boys these days.   In the world of Thomas, high drama surrounds the logistics of the rail industry.  Who can haul the most cargo?  What are the benefits of diesel versus steam power?  Are trains better than trucks for handling cargo transportation?  These are the types of stakes that these personified trains deal with.  Thomas is not alone.  There are other toy and television franchises, such as Bob the Builder, that examines what is important to young boys growing up.  I find this interesting compared to my childhood.

Oh, I had plenty of wholesome entertainment.  There was Sesame Street and 3-2-1 Contact.  Tonka trucks and Matchbox Cars.  But the toys that I loved and the shows that I adored were centered on one important thing: violence.  First there was Star Wars.  Every action figure came with some kind of weapon and every vehicle was ready for combat.  There was also Transformers and He-man.  I had tons of these toys.  The figures would battle it out in the basement, blasting and slicing each other up with their guns and swords.  I always found my adventures were far more gritty and brutal than the sanitized version on TV.  When dealing with a caseload of action figures armed to the teeth, the stories often came to a logical conclusion: a pile of corpses that would reset back to life the next time I played with them.

This guy was not built for diplomacy.  His malformed body is made to hack bone.

This guy was not built for diplomacy. His malformed body is made to hack bone.

But the #1 violent toy from my youth was G.I. Joe.  I had everyone of those action figures.  Not wielding futuristic blasters or fantastical, magic swords, each G.I. Joe character came with a realisitic, firearm used by the military.  For hours, I would have elaborate firefights, with the Joes pumping imaginary round after round into the evil members of Cobra.  It was so much fun.  You had Wild Weasel dropping bombs on the deck of Joe aircraft carrier from his plain, the Rattler, a modified A-10 Tankbuster.  You had Snake Eyes spraying his Uzi Submachine gun in one hand while swing his katana in the other.  You had the faceless Cobra officers or Crimson Guard firing in vain with bayoneted AK-47s while Scarlet dispatched them effortlessly with an explosive-bolt firing crossbow.  It was insane.

If knowing is half the battle, this is the other half.

If knowing is half the battle, this is the other half.

A lot of this violent play came from the G.I. Joe and Transformer comics, which were a lot more violent and adult-themed than the cartoons.  But it cannot be denied that toys were substantially more violent in the 80s, when we were training a generation of young Cold Warriors.  Maybe this type of action has been taken over by video games.  By the time I was 4, I had perfected the best way to make automatic gunfire with my mouth.  It’s probably for the best that my nephew has not.