Once A Nerd: The twists and turns of action figure collecting
I have four Red Tornado action figures.
You may not know who Red Tornado is . . . which is what made my epiphany so startling. I have four different action figures of a character in DC Comics’ B-list, at best. And I don’t think I could part with any of them. Each figure represents a different part of my life, and a different stage in The Evolution of Action Figures since I began collecting them. Consider the chronology:
The first Red Tornado action figure in my collection is from Kenner’s beloved Super Powers line from the ’80s. As a kid, I played long and hard with my action figures, enacting epic battles between the heroes and villains that would rival the multi-title crossover events in comics today. (I won’t bore you with the time Secret Wars Kang invaded the Super Powers Hall of Justice and used Green Lantern’s battery to power an invasion from the future.) Years later, Reddy is the only figure from my childhood that has survived with his cape intact; the others’ capes were lost to the cruel hand of time (or the cool “Omega Beam Eyes” of Darkseid). For this reason, he became one of my favorite superheroes, even though I know little about him. I admire his endurance.
The second Red Tornado action figure I acquired was among the first I bought with my own money, from Hasbro’s JLA line of the ’90s. This toy series began as Kenner’s Total Justice line, capitalizing on Grant Morrison’s JLA comic and capturing the characters with outrageous proportions and positions. Still, its blend of headline heroes and obscure outsiders (Black Lightning!) made the series reminiscent of Super Powers for me, and I bought them all. Here, Red Tornado’s face appears more robotic, as it did in the Young Justice comic book when he became the teen titans’ mentor. His role in that comic matched my adolescent mentality at the time – you know, the search for self and all that. While this was the last series of toys I actually played with, it was just the beginning of my projecting personal issues into superhero fantasy!
The third Red Tornado figure was from the Justice League Unlimited series. When these figures came out, I lived in Southern California, and some friends and I would scour Target, Walmart, and K-Mart shelves for the latest toy releases. At the time, JLU, Marvel Classics, and the 200X Masters of the Universe lines were dominating the shelves, and chase figures were wildly popular. If I recall, Red Tornado actually came in a three pack with another of my Super Powers mainstays, Dr. Fate. In my naïve nostalgia, I probably thought, “Oh, good, they’re still friends.” Of course, I had just found friends that shared my obsession with action figures, so the appreciation for Red Tornado’s acquaintances probably had much less to do with him.
Which brings me to my final Red Tornado purchase, from the very first wave of Mattel’s DC Universe Classics series. The sculptors of this toy line have expressed their love of the old Super Powers figures and draw much inspiration from it, so I’ve come full circle with Red Tornado here (pardon the pun). His detailed sculpt and varied points of articulation make him an ideal figure for both play and display, a trend that continues with that line of toys to this day. In this way, the other Red Tornadoes are ingrained in the DNA of this final, definitive figure, from the concept of introducing an obscure character to the mainstream marketplace to capturing an articulated sculpt worthy of fans young and old alike.
Would you believe even more Red Tornado figures exist? They do – in lines of action figures I never collected, and I don’t plan on starting now. This Black Friday Weekend, I started thinking less of what I want and developed a stronger appreciation for what I have, thanks in part to Red Tornado. Sometimes, it really is best to put your desires on the shelf – because, as a toy collector, they’re probably already there.
Russ Kazmierczak Jr. self-publishes satirical superhero comics available at KaraokeFanboy Press.