Not Your Parents' Action Figures

Action figures began with Habro's introduction of G.I. Joe in 1964. Since then, they've become associated with the marketing of TV, film, and comic book characters. But those are just the ones you see all the time. If you look, you'll find just about anyone available as an action figure, which can spur imaginative play, fill out your collection, or give you bragging rights when your friends see them.

Steve Jobs

The tech world is talking about the new Steve Jobs action figure from Inicons that is eerily realistic. It comes with a ton of accessories, but no iPhone or iPad. Take a look at all the different poses the figure lends itself to. See more pictures here. It should be available in late February for $99.

Advertising Characters

About a year ago, Herobuilders saw the writing on the wall and introduced a line of action figures based on TV commercials. Here you see Mayhem from Allstate Insurance, Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World, and the Old Spice Guy. All of them talk, too, giving you the lines and catchphrases from their ad campaigns.

Revolutionaries

Action figures of Karl Marx, Henry David Thoreau, Mao Zedong, and Lenin were put together in a set called Mountain Men by Mountain Research, sold by Couverture and the Garbstore. Just imagine what scenes you could play out with these -maybe a discussion on dialectical materialism? Unfortunately, this limited edition sold out quickly.

Crazy Cat Lady

Not exactly heroic or epic, the Crazy Cat Lady is an icon that many can relate to. Imagine the wonderful adventures you can have with her and the six cats that come as accessories!

The Brontë Sisters Power Dolls

I wanted this set of Brontë Sisters action figures, but alas, they were built specifically for this parody video, which was produced in 1998. However, you can get a Jane Austen action figure!

Albert Einstein

The mental_floss mascot, Albert Einstein, is also an action figure. It serves as an inspiration for those who appreciate the power of the brain. And who don't care about the perfect head of hair. The same vendor has action figures of Sigmund Freud, William Shakespeare, and Oscar Wilde in stock for $8. Or for $40, you can get a version of Albert Einstein that talks (even if he does look more like Mark Twain)!

Rosie the Riveter

She was an advertising icon, encouraging the home folks to get behind the war effort during World War II. Now she's an action figure! Actually, I found two versions. The figure on the left was sold by many vendors but has been discontinued. However, you can still find her here and there. There's also the version on the right from Eleanor's Girls that looks more like the kind of figure you actually play with. Check out the other Women of World War II figures on the same page.

President Obama

We first saw this awesome Barack Obama action figure in a series of poses on a Japanese website. It appears that it is still available through DID Corp. in China for $80.

Other Politicians

Herobuilders makes custom action figures, and they are known for producing action figures of who's who in the political world. Right now, you can order action figures depicting Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Christine O'Donnell, Rod Blagojevich, Joe the Plumber, Hillary Clinton, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Nancy Pelosi, as well as classics such as Dick Cheney, John McCain, and many different versions of President Obama. You'll even find some relatively obscure figures, like the "Don't Taze Me Bro" guy, Elliott Spitzer, Bernie Madoff, Jimmy McMillan, and Scott Brown.

The Big Lebowski

Movie characters don't have to be superheroes or science fiction characters to become action figures. They don't even have to be particularly active. If you relate more to The Dude or Walter or or Jesus or Donnie from The Big Lebowski, your action figures are waiting.

College Faculty

Dr. Jesse Weiss, a professor at the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, Arkansas, makes action figures of his friends and colleagues! He uses customizable action figure base units from a manufacturer that no longer supplies them, and sculpts the head and face to resemble the people around him. Weiss says:

“All it takes is a dremel tool, model paint, and Sculpey modeling compound for the hair, beards, glasses – and time.”

Weiss says he has plenty of spare parts to continue with his hobby. Image by Kaia Larsen/Times Record.

Me

CMT action figure

I'm not a really a superhero, I just play one on the internet. I was surprised to receive my own action figure as a promotional tool for a TV series. I still haven't taken it out of the box -not because I think it will be valuable someday, but because I know how my kids are with toys.

Your Very Own

You, too, can be your own action figure. Be A Doll makes custom action figures. Send in some good pictures or video, and money, and they'll make an action figure of you or someone you want to surprise! Don't worry, everyone gets a "slim, youthful body," but the face will be you.

As a matter of fact, these could be your parents' action figures - if they chose to collect them, or if you were to give them as a gift!

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The Old Toy Cars Gathering Dust in Your Attic Could Be Worth a Fortune
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iStock

One person's trash is another person's retirement plan. If you've got a box of old toys stashed away in your attic, you could be sitting on a goldmine.

Insurance comparison website GoCompare has put together the below infographic of collectible toy cars that could earn you big bucks if you're willing to part with them. The collectibles are all made by Hot Wheels and Matchbox and are mostly from the 1960s, '70s, and '80s. They range in value from £107 ($141.75) to a whopping £8513 ($11,277.74). The latter price tag belongs to a rare 1961 prototype of Matchbox's Magirus-Deutz Truck, only two of which are believed to exist. (Originally, it was worth less than a buck.)

GoCompare didn't stop at cars: they've also got the financial stats on other childhood toys you could sell for tons of money, including Barbies, Pokémon cards, and LEGOs (sadly, there are no Beanie Babies). Check out their findings below. Here's hoping you have one of these toys to sell so you can put your earnings toward a sweet human-sized ride.

POKÉMON CARDS

Charizard (1st Edition, Base Set): $55,000
Umbreon Gold Star (Pp Series 5): $10,200
Blastoise (1st Edition, Base Set): $9000
Crystal Charizard (Skyridge Holo): $6450
Rayquaza Gold Star (EX Deoxys): $6400

(Prices from 2017 eBay listings. All cards are ones you could reasonably collect. No prize or error cards.)

VIDEO GAMES

Stadium Events (NES): $41,977
Air Raid (Atari 2600): $33,433
Nintendo World Championships (gold): $22,376
Nintendo Campus Challenge: $20,100
Red Sea Crossing (Atari 2600): $13,877

(Prices based on eBay sale data from pricecharting.com and auction figures.)

BARBIE DOLLS

Original Barbie (1959): $23,999
Major Matt Mason (1967): $15,000
#4 Blond Barbie (1960): $8999
Karl Lagerfeld Doll (2014): $6000
American Girl (1966): $3500

(Prices sourced from eBay listings of rare models this year.)

LEGO SETS

Ultimate Collector's Millennium Falcon: $4532
Taj Mahal: $2863
Grand Carousel: $2214
Cafe Corner: $1714
Statue of Liberty: $1699

(Prices sourced from Brickpicker.)

COMIC BOOKS

Action Comics #1 (1938): $3,000,000
Detective Comics #27 (1939): $2,000,000
Superman #1 (1939): $1,000,000
All-American Comics #16 (1940): $747,000
Marvel Comics #1 (1939): $600,000

(Priced in conjunction with comic expert Duncan McAlpine.)

WRESTLING FIGURES

LJN Black Series Macho Man: up to $10,000
Popy Hulk Hogan Rookie Figure: up to $5000
Star Toys Big Boss Man: up to $3000
Hasbro Series Dusty Rhodes: up to $2000
LJN Blue Card Hulk Hogan (White Variant): up to $1500

(Prices sourced from eBay listings of rare models.)

YU-GI-OH! CARDS

Mechanicalchaser: $1600
Blue Eyes White Dragon, Legend of Blue Eyes White Dragon (1st Edition): $1500
Harpie's Feather Duster: $1500
Blue Eyes White Dragon, Dark Duel Stories: $1100
Dark Magician Girl: $1050

(Prices from 2017 eBay listings. All cards are ones you could reasonably collect. No prize or error cards.)

TRANSFORMERS FIGURES

Optimus Prime: $12,000
Computron: $5000
Megatron: $4000
Defensor: $3000
Bumblebee: $2900

(Prices based on sales of mint, sealed figures.)

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLE FIGURES

Scratch the Cat: $1200
Undercover Raphael: $700
Sixth Scale Bebop and Rocksteady: $600
Hotspot: $574
Rocksteady: $495

(Prices based on auction sales.)

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Meester X, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
'Eat Lead!': When Activists Hacked Talking Barbie
Meester X, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
Meester X, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

With his familiar green fatigues and grenade clipped to his chest, G.I. Joe platoon leader Duke appeared carved from granite, not plastic. The 12-inch action figure was part of Hasbro’s Hall of Fame series, a premium-format figure released in 1993. Press his chest and the military specialist’s voice box would be activated, allowing Duke to shout a series of commands or threats.

But for a number of boys who unwrapped him on Christmas Day 1993, Duke appeared to be in no mood for conflict. When pressed to speak, he would instead exclaim, “Let’s go shopping!”

At the same time, parents who had gifted their children Mattel’s Teen Talk Barbie—which was also equipped with a voice chip—were equally confused. Instead of talking about clothes or Corvettes, the Barbies sounded like they had been gargling gravel. “Eat lead, Cobra!” shouted one. “Vengeance is mine!”

Families were not amused: The dolls weren't cheap—each had a $40 to $50 price tag. After examining the box for any signs of tampering, some parents came across a small leaflet that helped explain the toys’ out-of-character speeches. A group calling themselves the Barbie Liberation Organization was taking responsibility for the switch. The goal of their stunt was to reframe the conversation over gender roles in America.

 
 

Since she first hit shelves in 1959, Barbie has transcended her boxed-in identity as mere toy store inventory to become an avatar for girls looking for a role model. (At one point, the doll received 20,000 fan letters a week.) The size of her waist, her job skills, her Malibu beach house—all of it has been commandeered by social anthropologists looking to see whether her influence is enriching young girls' lives or offering dispiriting, stereotyped notions of femininity.

That debate took a turn for the worse in 1992, when Mattel released a teenaged variation of the doll that exclaimed “math class is tough!” Women’s groups were outraged, believing that Barbie was falling victim to harmful tropes that put a ceiling on both her intellect and that of her pre-teen consumers.

Though the phrase was just one of 270 the doll could utter at random—others included “I love school, don’t you?”—it received the brunt of media attention, including demands to recall the dolls. (Mattel apologized, but did not pull the dolls off shelves.)

The debate over whether Barbie had social responsibilities caught the attention of Igor Vamos, a student of visual arts at the University of California, San Diego. Vamos was intrigued by the idea of “cultural jamming,” a kind of analog hacking that upended conventional ideas to create controversy. If Barbie taught passivity and sexism with her complaints of math being hard, then perhaps she should be given a different script.

Vamos bought several dozen Teen Talk Barbies and Talking Duke figures from toy stores in California and New York. He and several other “operatives” dismantled the toys, performing a crude surgery that allowed them to switch the voice boxes buried in their bodies. Volunteers would use a knife to cut into the dolls' plastic skin, then modify the transistor of the Joe’s voice chip so it would fit into Barbie’s comparatively slimmer torso.

A screenshot of a G.I. Joe Talking Duke figure

21solo, YouTube

After repackaging the dolls, the team “shop-dropped,” surreptitiously restocking them on toy shelves in Albany, San Diego, and Walnut Creek, California. Each box had a piece of paper encouraging disgruntled parents to reach out to the media after discovering the toys weren’t gender-conforming. To speed things along, they also told friends to buy the dolls and make the calls. Then they waited.

Within weeks, adults confused by their child’s new toys did exactly what the B.L.O. suggested, telling local news affiliates that their Barbie was shouting attack commands and informing kids that “dead men tell no lies.” Duke, meanwhile, rebuffed war strategy, preferring to “plan our dream wedding.”

The ensuing media coverage is exactly what Vamos was hoping for. Calling the toys' gender roles “stone-aged,” the B.L.O. claimed responsibility, stayed anonymous, and hoped it would cause consumers to rethink the propagation of violence by male toys and the relatively vacuous ambitions of Barbie.

"Obviously, our goal is to get media attention,” a B.L.O. spokesperson told The New York Times. “We are trying to make a statement about the way toys can encourage negative behavior in children, particularly given rising acts of violence and sexism."

Vamos even supervised production of a video that used Barbie to spell out their mission. “They build us in a way that perpetuates gender-based stereotypes,” the toy said. “Those stereotypes have a negative effect on children’s development.”

 
 

While most considered the act harmless—the toys could, after all, be exchanged for an unadulterated version—not everyone believed the B.L.O.’s mission played fair. "I've got a very strong negative feeling about terrorist acts against children, no matter how noble the motives," Joanne Oppenheim, a toy industry advocate, told the Times. “It's a cheap shot, and it's unfair to the kids.” Others protested the general idea of product tampering.

Mattel and Hasbro were less rattled. Wayne Charness, then-vice president of Hasbro, called it “kind of ridiculous,” while Mattel refrained from commenting. Though the B.L.O. claimed to have tampered with hundreds of toys in 43 different states, the truth was that Vamos and his team had performed surgery on roughly 120 toys. But the media perpetuated the story, making it seem as though the stunt was pervasive.

The story died down after the holidays. The tampered toys were either returned or bought and discarded. Vamos kept his role in the stunt largely under wraps until years later, when he became a part of The Yes Men, a social disruption performance group, under the alias Mike Bonanno. Vamos is now a professor of media arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.

Was the stunt effective? Anecdotally, maybe. Media outlets like Ohio's Akron Beacon Journal profiled kids and parents who had been affected by the switch, including 7-year-old Zach, the recipient of a Barbie-possessed Duke. Asked if he wanted to return the toy, Zach said no: “He’s teaching me not to fight.”

Were kids really influenced by the toys to rethink gender portrayals, or were they yet another example of the B.L.O. manipulating the media by using an undercover operative to articulate their message? If Barbie knows, she isn't talking. 

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