Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Wizardy Wednesday

I love wizards. I love action figures. I love wizard action figures! There is a plethora of good wizard action figures around today, thanks to marketing tie-ins with blockbuster movie franchises such as The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, but there was a time, dear children, a dark and dubious time, when wizard toys were scarce on the ground, and what was there was of peculiar quality...

Take the wizard from the line Dragonriders of the Styx, shown in the first picture. He came with a snappy blue plastic coat (of the old original Kenner type) and a little wand with a star on it. With his conical hat and pointed shoes, he could hardly have been more iconic (or generic) of the old stereotypical image of the wizard, unless his beard and robes had been longer. One can see from a simple design point of view why they had to be as short as they are. Dragonriders was produced in a rather low, poor grade brittle plastic with weak joints, and my wizard was soon limping around with one leg.

A vast upgrade were the Dungeons and Dragons figures, Kelek (evil wizard, picture two) and Ringlerun (good wizard, picture three). Once again, they are designed around iconic principles, but the quality and details are vastly upgraded. They sport the staffs more commonly associated with wizards in the fantasy genre at the time, with Kelek's being sportingly detailed with dragons and demons in a sickly green hue and Ringlerun's being more simple and directly made of honest wood with a knob on the end. Kelek is dressed in Evil Black with that spiked collar that's been fashionable with villains since at least Ming the Merciless, with Ringlerun has the shiny, spangly White that all Good-alignment magic-users aspire to. Both still wear pointy shoes. One detail that always annoyed me, though, was that the good wizard had a light blond beard, which looked a little odd, but did help differentiate him from his opposite number.

And now we come to The Wizard's Magic line. I have never personally seen these, I only found them on eBay. They look cheap. They look splashy. They look like they were produced in a really quick, commercial way to cash in on the popularity of wizards lately. And I really really want them.

What's not to like? First of all, look at that original price. $1.99. These are toys produced to be played with, to be scuttled through grass and dropped from trees and smashed together, because no-one cares when they fall apart. Their design screams their purpose. The evil wizard, dressed all in black, with green skin and a bright red beard? The good wizard, stocky and genial, and confident enough to wear the mystic colors of pink and purple? You can tell he's good natured, he smokes a pipe! And look at those great accessories. The evil wizard has a smoking beaker, a book, a wand, and a broomstick; the good wizard has a staff (with a star on top!), a scroll, a sword, and a smoking pipe. I covet these grooblies for my collection; the price of the whole package is worth those alone.

The trouble with having action figures of such well-established characters as Gandalf or Dumbledore (and I know this from the days when I used to truly play with toys) is that what you know about them can limit what you do with them. Few can be as wise as Gandalf or as clever as Dumbledore, so, as far as play goes, they become background, or degenerate into fireball-throwing deus ex machina. These nameless, generic wizards have vast potential. One can create their back stories, develop their personalities, set their powers and limitations. Cheap and cheesy as they may seem, they are ripe for creative response.

1 comment:

Babel said...

Agreed. I love tabula risa figures. Do you remember the little blue plastic wizard obviously modelled on the TSR image? He wasn't technically a action figure, but he could tag along with the plastic knights on any old quest.