Friday, March 29, 2013

#0069: Jab

When you're a kid growing up, you have your heroes. For a lot of young'uns, that immediately translates to comic book supeheroes: your Batmans, your Spidermans, your Supermans (proper nouns, ergo correct grammar. Doncha be givin' me no grief!), and in my case, I was no different. As I have alluded to ever so frequently, my childhood heroes were, most significantly, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, comic book heroes all the same.

I won't repeat myself, as I'm wanton to do, about how marketers worked furiously at recapturing the lightning in a bottle that was Turtlemania, though I will confess that the Street Sharks were my favourite of the many, many attempts. Whether Biker Mice from Mars were too edgy for my tastes, whether Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa were too irreverent and western (I never dug westerns), none of them seemed to catch my attention.

But Street Sharks somehow succeeded, and from the time of its inception in 1994 to the time of its death in 1996, I wanted me some sharks! Because not only were they cool and badass lookin', but importantly, they were very 90s.

Being an artefact of the 90s is a double-edged sword. Because although it holds nostalgic value, it also feels completely flippant now. Whether it's the tie-died wackiness of the early 90s, or the bubblegum pop and inflatable furniture preceding the millennium, it's not just dated, it's practically groan-worthy.

I mean, shit, I still love it to bits, but I can see why others wouldn't. As an aside, I have no idea who half of those characters are. I didn't know there was a pre-Mario Lopez era, and frankly, I don't like it.

And while we're at it, those lyrics really don't check out, do they? What kind of teacher fails to hand test papers to a student, simply because they were hiding in their chair? Are we to assume that this student is 8 centimetres tall?

But I digress once more. In the case of the Street Sharks, they're simply 'Jawesome'. Had radical, funky, gnarly or tubular been translatable to shark related puns, they'd have been all of those things, too.

So here we have Jab. My memory of Street Sharks lore is obviously waning, because I had him pegged as the brains of the operation, the resident 'Donatello', if you will, but apparently his defining characteristic was that he was lazy. It doesn't exactly grab you as being one of your archetypical roles: the uncertain leader, the rebellious cool guy, the virtuous peacekeeper and the lazy fuck, but hey, at least modern Tony can associate with Jab.

As you may have noted, Jab is a hammerhead shark, which means he's capable of doing neat shit like extending his eyeballs forward. A definite plus on the battlefield, as it allows you to stare at your opposition three inches closer, and could also be a means of showing surprise.

He's definitely a menacing figure, as one of his fists is permanently closed and raised at you in a very threatening gesture, which seems out of character for someone supposedly laidback, but we shan't split hairs. Really, if you're looking for something to complain about, you're more likely to point out the fact that he's a very shiny shade of silver, whilst the source material clearly had him as brown.

I don't know what he's holding in that picture. I just assume he's going to eat it.

His body is made of a fascinating rubbery material, and for the record, this meant that he retained water like a motherfucker. If you were like me, and assumed that shark figures would work well in the water, well then you were a damned fool, because he would then have to sit there for a week as he dripped all over the bathroom shelf.

This choice of material wasn't without cause, however. Because like all of the Boltons (excluding Michael), his trademark feature is his mighty jawline, and pressing down on his fin allows him to open his mouth and to feast upon his enemies! It's... not really that exciting, but if you were the really patient sort, you could actually make it look like he's talking.

I'm almost 100% certain I lifted that line from episode 3.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

#0068: Pokemon Silver Version

In April of 2011, I decided to do an odd thing. I scavenged about the closet, unearthed my Game Boy Advance, and popped in my old Pokemon games. Did I intend to play them, seeking a surge of nostalgia? No, not exactly. After all, the first two generations have since been faithfully recreated, and I'm actually still in the middle of my Heart Gold run-through. In actuality, I kind of wanted to look through my legions of old Pokemon, just for shits and giggles.

I'd sunk about 200 hours into Pokemon Silver Version, and boy, what a time I'd had. Back in the days when Pokemon was still the exciting thing, the second edition certainly delivered on all fronts: new Pokemon, new abilities, the revelation that your darling little princess Clefable may actually have a wang... It was all terribly exciting, wasn't it?

And so, I fondly surveyed the contents of my PC boxes. My Typhlosion, the starter Pokemon who would join me as I trekked through this uncharted new region... Reddy, the cleverly named shiny crimson Gyarados... and of course, my Quagsire was in there somewhere. I adored that Quagsire. She was dopey as fuck, with this great big grin on her face; a veritable Brad Garrett of Pokemon.

But where in the hell was she? She wasn't among my party. She wasn't sitting in the Water or Ground-type boxes. She wasn't even on a vacation over on my Crystal version. She was nowhere. ...My Quagsire... was dead. In my misery, I wrote her a touching eulogy.

Pokemon Silver claimed my Quagsire far before her time. She was going to be celebrating her eleventh birthday this year. She was so beautiful. She loved to Rollout. So young, so innocent.

In memory of Nautica the Quagsire

Fast forward to today, and I thought I'd pay the Johto region another visit. But it would seem as though the cruel hand of fate has plagued this once pristine part of the world, and claimed another victim. And this time, that victim was the Johto champion, ANTHONY, trainer #15939.

Yes, it would seem as though the entire save file has disappeared, and with it, the Typhlosion, the Umbreon, the Crobat... Every last one, gone. Professor Oak approaches, but he's practically unrecognisable. He once lived an existence of great joy and unbridled passion, reviewing the progress ANTHONY had made on his Pokedex. But now, he is a shadow of his former self. He asks you for your name. He mutters something about the world of Pokemon. He hands you the ghastly corpse of a Chikorita. Then he shuffles off into the dark recesses of his dilapidated laboratory.

The world that once looked so vivid seems to only contain 56 colours, all of them melancholy. New Bark Town has only a few scattered inhabitants, who are all wandering back and forth aimlessly, their eyes glassy and pixelated. Strangely, though, people seem to be going about their day in much the same way they had back at the turn of the millennium.

They tell you about recently discovered Pokemon like Marill and Natu. They talk about the exciting new technology of the Poke Gear. They're listening to Sisqó as if he were relevant. However, mentioning the name ANTHONY only receives confusion and indifference. Why, it's as if you've jumped back in time to a perverse version of the past, one where ANTHONY never received that Cyndaquil, never bested Lance at the Pokemon League, and never prevented the uprising of Team Rocket.

He's been erased from the memory of everyone in the world! ...Which is odd, considering that he's also the champion of Kanto, Hoenn and Unova. He would have been the Sinnoh region champion as well, but I decided to name him MR. BUTTS instead. Hahaha! Butts.

I shan't dally for long. Clearly, my very presence here, with my fancy new iPod and Terrence Ross Raptors jersey, is causing suspicion. I'm a practical paradox, and my Game Boy Advance isn't backlit, so I can't make out a damn thing anyway. Tears in my eyes, I take out my Poke Ball, and release my Swellow, ready for it to fly me away from this horrible place.

Unfortunately, Swellow doesn't exist yet. The save file is now corrupted, and New Bark Town is renamed HW!%RRR!PWWW. Fuck.

I hope you're out there somewhere, ANTHONY. Still farming those Charmanders. Still giving those Pokemon the horrible movesets you thought were so tactful as a twelve year old. Still nicknaming Hoothoot as Lugia, and trading it to unsuspecting children. You old dick, you.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

#0067: Snoopy World Tour

Fast food toys are a mixed bag, in all honesty. Occasionally, you'll go through droughts where the prizes are uninspiring: generic cars for the boys, generic miniature dolls for the girls. Most of the time, they're modelled after whatever television show or movie is hot at the time, and even then, it's hit or miss: for every fantastic Sonic the Hedgehog, there's about three auxiliary characters with lesser intrigue. I was six years old, I didn't want Robotnik! He was a fat, bald man, and I had been conditioned to hate him.

To this day, I can still remember the two most thrilling toy offers from my youth: McDonald's Teenie Beanies, and Burger King's Pokemon plushes. Seriously, if you want kids to gobble shit up, make it a plush item. This applies to all range of toy exchange, really: in gaming arcades, plush toys go off like nobody's business. Whether it's as a redemption item, or a claw machine prize, stick it in there. I don't know why I'm informing you of this as though you're likely to make these decisions.

One of my favourite range of prizes, plush hysteria notwithstanding, were these charming Snoopy World Tour figurines that did the rounds of McDonald's in 1998 and 1999. The premise is simple: each week, four new international Snoopy's would be released. The sheer collectibility of these little gaffers made people go crazy. Apparently they became a hot commodity, which is hilarious when you consider the apathetic expression of the Snoopy's themselves: the population of Hong Kong is ripping each other apart for a small plastic toy. Snoopy don't give a shit.

In two series, a whole slew of nations were represented, ranging from a Norwegian viking to a Canadian Mountie. Personally for the latter I would have just had a despondent looking Snoopy crying into his beer like a Leafs fan.

It would have been hilarious if they had gone with a Peanuts character other than Snoopy. Imagine how much less hype there would have been if they had made it Pigpen's World Tour? In fact, just jettison the Peanuts license entirely for a moment, and make it someone completely random. ...No, more random than that!

...What about Margaret Thatcher's World Tour? I love it! The English one would be totally easy, it would just be Margaret Thatcher, I guess. The Libyan one would be brandishing a bomb in a sort of self-destructive omen of things to come. The Jamaican one is still being workshopped.

I myself didn't manage to assemble that many Snoopy's, (and by that, I mean my poor dad who had to fork out the dosh for something that would ultimately be shoved into a drawer within the month), or (m)any Margaret Thatcher's, for that matter, but I'm rather fond of the little sampling I do have.

#1 is the United States of America. Here, Snoopy is adorned in traditional American garb: like all Yanks, he struts his shit about while dressed like the Statue of Liberty. I'm being facetious of course, though now that I think of it, I did see at least three people dressed up like that in New York City. No, I'm not including the Statue itself.

He's supposed to be holding the Declaration of Independence in his left hand, but it's much smaller than I would have imagined. He might just be holding Tuesdays with Morrie.

Next up is local boy Australia, or if you want to say it like the locals, 'Straya'. He originally came with a detachable slouch hat, but unfortunately in typical Tony fashion it is lost and will never again be tachable, leaving uninformed tourists to assume that it's Australian tradition to have just been assaulted by the Driller Killer. He's still got that fantastic stereotypical bandanna that Aussies are always associated with, though I've never actually seen being worn in real life, and not one but two boomerangs. It would be entirely impractical to try and dual-wield boomerangs, but fuck it, let's suspend our disbelief: Snoopy makes it possible.

The laidback chum on the right is Hawai'i, leaving excluded nations frowning that there were two American entries. In their defence however, Hawai'i is one of the greatest places on Earth, and Snoopy's fairly generic surfer attire could be applied to your nation, if you really wanted it to. I'm sure there's a big surfing scene in Kazakhstan.

Now we enter Fiji: a tiny collection of islands that I vaguely remember as being very rocky. My sister stepped on a shellfish in Fiji, and I think we tried to touch some kind of venomous reptile before being deterred by a local. Christ, Fiji seems really dangerous the more I think about it in retrospect. Despite the many hazards, the Fijian Snoopy seems cheery all the same, tappin' his toe and sporting a grass frock, just 'cause he can. I can't think of many more things to say about Fiji, but apparently the most popular sports are rugby, boat racing and varieties of wrestling. And I suppose the Fijian Snoopy looks about ready to rassle, so that holds true enough.

The last one is the Swedish Snoopy. He's dressed like a traditional Swedish leprechaun, holding a Swedish pot of gold, and appears to be as drunken and loutish as your typical Swede. But I kid, simply because I wanted to make this paragraph bigger. This is obviously the Irish Snoopy, and when it's all said and done, he's likely my favourite. It's probably the pointy shoes that do it for me.

Overall, I'd rate these Snoopy toys fairly highly in the echelons of Happy Meal toys. They certainly did the job (of making money), and allowed cultures from around the world to have their own personalised little beagle. Hopefully they'll resurface someday with even more nations, and fresh new takes on existing models. After all, Aussies are also occasionally known to disguise ourselves as other nationalities...

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Some old friends...

Whether it's reasonable justification, or pure and simple hypocrisy, my progress in letting things go is compounded by a mad obsession with surrounding myself with things I enjoy, or if we're being honest, toys of a new era.

For some reason (other than the fact that I'm a hoarder, and there's possibly eight dead cats strewn about the garbage in my room), I want to wear my heart on my sleeve, to show off things that I like. I never want to get rid of my favourite video games. Whether or not I ever play them anymore, I want to hold onto them, to show everyone out there... 'Hey! I played Sonic & Knuckles! It's part of who I am!!'

In a similar fashion, I chose to collect two of my favourite athletes of all time, Steve McNair and Eddie George and proudly brandish them atop a bookshelf that is in our spare room, and few people ever actually see. And funnily enough, I have no buyer's remorse whatsoever. Someday, in my great big billion dollar mansion with rooms the size of airports and stairways that lead to nowhere, the figures will stand tall in a man cave to be proud of.

But really, I've given this far more thought than I probably needed to. In short, I got some more toyz. Online shopping sprees, they're dangerous things.

We commence with this handsome Jose Bautista bust, slugger of Toronto Blue Jays fame. Despite the Blue Jays being the very first team I was ever a fan of, primarily because dad had a Jays sweater I enjoyed looking at, I'd say there are fewer Jays in the all-time echelons of my favourite athletes than in my other teams. Nearly all of them played during the glorious years of back-to-back pennants, save a few obvious exceptions: Stieb, Delgado, Halladay et al.

In Jose Bautista, the Jays have had a true superstar, garnering the rare adulation that Toronto-based athletes often deserve but often miss out on. He's our modern-day Joe Carter, only with a better OBP, keener defensive abilities, and at least 99% more Dominican conversations.

Hacking through his plastic enclosure to yank him open feels mildly perverse, like bulldozing a rainforest, or performing a really unpleasant Caesarean section. Frankly, it doesn't feel like he wants to come out to play: he's held in place with a cable tie, and then, shockingly, his right leg is held in place by a hole in the plastic. I don't know why, but it's no wonder he was injured so much last year. That's dangerous, man!

Eventually however, he's freed from his transparent hub. In the process, I manage to do minor damage to his bat, as I didn't realise it was held in with a layer of tape, and came into two pieces. It's supposed to detach, apparently, but not so violently. I'll pretend it was wear and tear caused by dingers. Or, if I were at bat, a pop fly that lands harmlessly in the glove of the pitcher.

As is to be expected, he's a striking young figure (no pun intended, unless it was funny), obviously thicker than his more lithe cohorts of other sports, and with a more intense glare. Personally, I would have made the figure sporting Joey Bat's awesome reflective sunglasses, but I guess sacrifices have to be made. He probably would have looked a little bit nonchalant with them on, like he was just chilling at the beach, wearing entirely inappropriate beach wear.

At first, getting his bat in his hand felt so difficult, I almost contemplated leaving it out. Without it, he's just doing the cha-cha, or launching a Kamehameha. I'm cool with that. I really don't want to snap his arm off and ruin the whole figure, when suddenly...

The arm wretches aside! What is this? His arms are... movable? What a shocking revelation! After years of just accepting that these fellas were locked into their respective positions, but Jose chooses to freely flail his arms about in the interest of making that perfect batting stance. Unfortunately, it now means I have two unwilling hands to force that bat through rather than one, but I'll live with it. Whether he will remains to be seen.

Our next subject is Chris Bosh, formerly of the Toronto Raptors. Rather amusingly, he comes packaged without legs.

Despite this, he's still better than anyone currently on the Raptors roster. Also, it means that I could recreate the scene from Robocop 2 where Murphy gets dismantled, if I wanted to. ...I don't think I want to.

The first thing that strikes me upon unleashing the Boshtrich is that... wow, he's really tall! I mean, it's to be expected when your subject matter stands at 6-10, but beyond that, the box reveals that this model happens to be 11½ inches tall, or exactly four inches taller than Muggsy Bogues.

One of the things I like about the McFarlane figures is that, whenever a player moves to a new team, their model is rereleased with an updated look. Sometimes, it's with a new pose and whatnot, but in the case of Mr. Bosh, it was in the exact same pose, only sporting a Miami jersey and a shaved head, as is his current look. If they were being truly accurate, the new Heat model of Bosh would come complete without the ball in his hand.

Oh, I kid. I kid because I love. As Scott Carefoot once pointed out, and yes, I realise I'm heavy-handed with the links today, Chris Bosh cops a lot of shit from fans, primarily because of how awkward he is. The other guys around him, LeBron and D-Wade, they're pretty cool, y'know? Pretty slick (like LeBron's forehead). But our boy Bosh? He's just this lanky dude who sometimes looks like a lizard. No reason to hate on that. Indeed, all the more reason to cheer for him. He'll always be a Raptor to me, perhaps primarily because he so resembles one.

Once I've finally gotten his legs on (one fell off onto my lap at one point. It was horrifying), I perch him upon his stand, and good lord, this thing really is huge!!

As you can see, Bosh towers over the once-hulking Jose Bautista, ready to dunk all up in the face of Felix Baumgartner. In fact, Jose looks like Joe Pesci, about to crack the kneecaps of this enormous beast. Truly, I fear for Bosh's safety up there: he's held in place by a sturdy little piece of metal, but he still wiggles when I touch him. It's actually really fun to poke him and watch him bob back and forth, but I surmise that it's not the best way to maintain the figure.

...Just one more poke. Hehe!

Now we meet Ryan Kesler. His box is dustier than the others, which makes me feel as though I am the only one who is buying Ryan Kesler. If I know my countrymen as well as I think I do, I figure a great deal of this is due to his being American. What do fellow Vancouver Canucks Kevin Bieksa, Roberto Luongo and Maxim Lapierre all have in common? They are all Canadian, and as such, they will always have that homegrown love. What else do they have in common? None of them are very good goalies.

I'll stop now. Because I have a near-legitimate fear that everyone I've talked smack about (Bosh, Luongo and the entirety of the 2013 Toronto Raptors) will come and get me. Which would be really cool for a photo opportunity, but ultimately dangerous to my person and my personal belongings. They might even poke my Bosh figure. Dangerous!

Ryan Kesler comes with a removable hockey stick, a tiny little puck I think I'll lose by the end of this sentence, and a shocked expression on his face. Maybe he's shocked that he's responsible for that tiny little puck, wherever it went. His pose is quite amazing, because he's leaning over so far he looks like he'll fall at any second, and it makes me really appreciate the grace and athleticism of hockey players. I mean, imagine being in that position on a field or a court, you'd lose your balance, right? Then imagine doing that on the ice, while being chased by many men with few teeth. Now I understand the look of alarm on Kesler's mug.

And finally, last but not least, the coup de grâce, the mack daddy, the man who garners more animosity from the Toronto faithful than perhaps anyone else (though really, that hatred should be directed at Hedo Turkoglu)...

Vince Carter.

For years, I bemoaned his name. The former Raptors' superstar, one of the biggest names in the league, who brought excitement to the young franchise with his sheer athletic prowess and bevy of amazing dunks. Then, after six years, things went south. Vince was traded for peanuts to New Jersey, and the divorce was less than amicable. It took me almost a decade to get over it, and now, I look back fondly on who he was for us, and what he did for us, rather than how it all ended.

And now, he's in my house. This particular figure is modelled after one of Vince's finest moments, his triumphant performance in the 2000 Dunk Contest, with a series of jams that many consider to be the best of all time. Perhaps it's appropriate that I got this figure in a year when Terrence Ross became the second Raptor of all time to win the contest? Perhaps it's fate? Perhaps it's coincidence? Perhaps I was just shit scared that if I waited much longer, the Vince figure would no longer be available in Raptors garb? ...Yeah, that was it.

Just like Chris Bosh, Vince is in mid-flight, but unlike his crimson ally, Vince tragically has the metal jutting right into his knee. Which frankly, you'd think would hurt his ability to jump. It might be my misty-eyed nostalgia, but I think this one is my favourite. It represents one of the highlights of my tragic tenure as a sport fan (bested only by Sidney Crosby's golden goal and the day that Joe Carter touched 'em all), and it will be forever immortalised upon my mantle, at least until one of several things happen (theft, earthquake, or angry fiancé furious that I spent all this money on toys).

And so, my set is complete, for now. There are other athletes who hold a place close to my heart, and inevitably there will be many more on the horizon. I look forward to watching this collection grow (as long as it doesn't become obsessive, which it most likely will), because there's always room for winners in my home.

...Fingers crossed, the next one is Andrew Wiggins after he leads Toronto to an NBA title.