Five Hundred Words on Action Figures

The other day, my friend Erik and I got to talking about Transformers on Twitter. He was raving about how awesome the newish Generations and Reveal the Shield toy lines were when I asked him, “Are you a keep ‘em in the package guy, or do you take ‘em out?” His response made me smile.

“Transformers,” he wrote, “must be taken out of the package, otherwise they are just big Hot Wheels and stuff.”

You see, as much as I adore the movie The 40-Year-Old Virgin, its portrayal of geeks as pent-up “keep ‘em in the package” obsessives grates on me. That behavior reeks of early 1990s speculator culture, where people bought poly-bagged, Chromium cover, trading card-enhanced comic books by the boxful. It was a time when everything that the traditional geeks of the world were passionate about suddenly turned into an investment. It was all about the money, and not so much about the fun.

Though I too was sucked in by the speculator culture of that age—I have the multiple bagged copies of X-Cutioner’s Song to prove it—I am, for the most part, a play with your stuff kind of guy. I do try to take care of my comics and my books, but I understand that they are here first and foremost to be read. And if I didn’t have kids for whom my Transformers and Star Wars figures might be a choking hazard, you can bet your ass that I’d have those things out for them to play with alongside their geeky old man.

Last Friday, when it was time to film the FiveCast, I pulled ye olde toy bin down out of the closet for some props. And I have to tell you that I had more fun playing with those old figures than I’ve had doing just about anything else this month. There was stuff in there I hadn’t seen in ages, stuff I’d forgotten I even owned. In one corner, there was the Dinobot I promised Jon Martin he could play with during an episode of Generation Goat. In another corner was Darth Vader, cape intact. And in another corner I found good ol’ Optimus Prime. I felt like Andy in Toy Story 3, rediscovering all of my old friends.

I didn’t transform any of the Transformers that day, and that makes me a little sad, but it was awfully cool to see all of those worn old toys chilling together in their box, waiting to be played with one more time. Toys are built to be played with, a wise toy in some Rankin-Bass Christmas special once said (or maybe I’m just making that up) and I was glad to rediscover the evidence that I had once given my playthings a pretty darned good life.

Maybe, someday soon, I’ll get ‘em a new toy to play with. And you can be damn sure it ain’t going to stay sheltered in its package.