Written by Jonathan Wojcik
A Trip Down Mcfar-lane
Haha, see what I did there? I work hard to make sure you get the kind of entertainment you pay for around here. If you don't know who Todd Mcfarlane
is, and not as many people do these days, he basically invented every teenager's favorite Spider Man villain, Venom,
then went on to help shape the now-quaint renaissance of "gritty" and "adult" geek crap with his Spawn
Hot on the heels of this success, Todd would go on to arguably revolutionize the toy industry with equally "gritty" action figures, more finely-detailed and realistically textured than Toys R' Us had ever seen. When they first debuted in 1991, the first "Spawn" figures even made mainstream news headlines for their controversially violent, demonic and sexual themes at a time when toys were still ostensibly for children alone, and us 80's to 90's pre-teens ate them up like bloodstained candy corn. Too bad they notoriously fell to peices when actually played with.
WHAT EVEN AM I
As his infamy grew, Todd's toy company continued to push the envelope harder every year, gradually shifting focus to some of the earliest mainstream action figures marketed specifically to the adult collector, with themes so much more
violent, demonic and sexual that it wasn't long at all before people kind of totally stopped caring, and today, even people who were collecting the things sometimes seem to forget they ever existed.
Whether you were there to see the rise and fall of Mickey's notoriously too-spooky dolls or you're a 2000's whippersnapper, we're going to take a look at a couple dozen of the coolest, oddest, and most laughably tasteless of the Todd Toys legacy, in a very roughly (but not perfectly) chronological order.
Though child-me got into collecting these fragile plastic statues from the get go, we have to skip ahead to 1997 for the first figure strange enough to be Bogleech-review-worthy. The series had long ceased to draw exclusively from any actual comic books, and now routinely invented its own new characters, like Scourge
here, a skeletal monster with an extra pair of little t-rex arms. What made him really special, however, was his little buddy whose name I forget, seemingly a closely related creature, albeit much smaller and still fleshed. The little guy could fit directly into Scourge's rib cage, so I always liked to pretend he was "piloting" the bones. Later, however, Scourge would be released in a burnt, black variant, and his pal became a second skeletal creature growing directly from his back, replacing his first horn.
There's a story in there, somewhere.
Still a favorite of mine, this character was ostensibly a disembodied, human brain in a robotic body, but as you can tell, the removable brain looked a lot more like a severed alien head, with guts pouring out of its fanged maw and a single fiendish, yellow eye. He's was basically a Mcfarlane knock-off of Krang, and I really liked how the robot body looked like just a big pile of junk. This was another figure that very, very easily came apart, but also very easily snapped back together. That wasn't even an intentional feature, but it should
have been. It should have been for every Mcfarlane "toy." Anyone who owned and actually played with them knew that a joint or glued on body part would inevitably snap, sometimes within minutes of being freed from the packaging. They ALL needed cyborg parts.
The Grave Digger
As a kid, I was attracted to this figure because it came with about half a dozen of super-bendy, worm-bodied demons, but the Grave Digger himself came to be one of my favorite character designs, and I still think he's a beautiful one, with this lanky grey corpse-body, tasteful hunks of rusted metal and the oversized collection of grave-digging paraphernalia hanging off his back. He's a whole lot more haunting than half the disappointing things that have come out of Silent Hill since the last good one, and you can so easily imagine how it looks when he's walking through the fog, looking for good diggin' spots. For some reason, they saw fit to rerelease him years later with a human face, but we'll pretend that never happened.
This thing was always my favorite figure after Grave Digger, and while I hate to call something "Lovecraftian," I'm sure that's exactly what they were aiming for anyway, kind of reminiscent of the Fungi from Yuggoth, what with the crustaceoid body and bat-like wings. Brain Drain's most interesting feature, of course, is the transparent sac where its own brain would be, half filled with green liquid and with some sort of hooked proboscis on the front. The function of the proboscis isn't clear, since he also already has a lamprey-like mouth. Which one does the brain-sucking? Maybe the proboscis injects digestive enzymes and the mouth slurps the brains out?
Yes, at one point there was a line of figures referred to as "Manga Spawn," which meant they were like, half robotic. Apparently that was what "Manga" meant in the mid 90's. "Manga" Violator was a pretty weird and interesting design, entirely different from regular Violator, with a hollow rib cage and a face that always made me think a little more of some sort of fish. His weirdest feature, though, is the organic catapult on his back, like a third arm lined with barbs and ending in a bony scoop. This appendage was spring loaded, and included a sticky, green, booger-like rubber lump to fling, whatever that was supposed to be.
In 1997, Mcfarlane debuted his "Monsters" series, with a line of still-completely-awesome playsets full of accessories and hidden features, though even in 1997, these sparked controvery for all the severed limbs and removable organs. The "Frankenstein" playset was the most famous, though Frankenstein himself wouldn't be featured until the second series. Here, we see a delightfully maniacal looking Igor performing experiments all by himself like he's probably
not supposed to.
Sea Creature Playset
The Monster Playsets could really have carried a Halloween article all on their own, but I'll stick with just one from each of the two series. This one was my favorite, with a fairly neat looking fish creature and frizzy-haired diver. The playset base was the coolest part, however, with that broken boat suspended in transparent "water" to create a whole two-level scene. Really pretty clever, and not something I've seen in any toys since. I also want to say I actually got more mileage out of that diver than the monster, and especially his helmet. I put that little helmet on al sorts of different toys. I even put a little rubber eyeball in it once and gave it legs. I don't know what's up with me and diving helmet eyeball monsters.
Iguantus and Tuskadon
As you may have noticed on your own, these guys came out after Mcfarlane Toys stepped up their sculpting game, really aiming for the look and feel of professionally painted models. This cute little kobold-like guy, riding some weird primeval repto-mammal, was part of a line full of gritty
medeival fantasy characters, all centered on the villainous, half-naked "Skull Queen" as a story hook. The great thing about this particular figure wasn't even the design, but the story; according to the card back, Iguantus and the Tuskadon were once a human knight and his horse, transformed as punishment for oppossing the evil queen. Yes, this little goblin-skink is a hero
, and it's a shame he only existed as a piece of plastic with some words on the box. I'd have definitely read a comic series about this little cutie, preferably ending when he discovers a whole village of monsters like himself, falls in love and gives up trying to regain his boring-ass humanity.
Some people say Mcfarlane Toys is almost entirely responsible for creating America's dedicated adult action figure market, though I'm not sure if "some people" are anybody other than Todd Mcfarlane. In any case, he eventually started marketing new figures straight to grown-ups, teaming up with Clive Barker
to design the "Tortured Souls" line, a series of mutilated bondage monsters many retailers refused to stock at all. At this point, nobody was really complaining anymore that any of these toys were a corruptive influence on children, and I guess Todd wanted to step up his game. The "Tortured Souls" tried their damnedest to elicit shock and horror from the kinds of people who express shock and horror when plastic figurines have bloody tits on them, but there is a point at which something is trying so hard to be cool that it just comes across as ridiculous, and Mcfarlane was already so infamous for it that we may as well call it The Mcfarlane Effect or something.
The Tortured Souls were pretty cool characters, but more than a little difficult to take as seriously as they wanted to be, and "Mongroid" here wasn't even the silliest.
See? Bob here is forty times goofier than Mongroid. It's hard to even tell what's going on here, but let me call your attention first to the "rear" body, with all of its limbs severed and pudgy leg stumps sewn to the back of its head like a pair of floppy ears. The "front" body, meanwhile, is almost entirely skinless, wears a gimp mask, and his spinal column erupts out of his back to drill into the other guy's sternum. A bunch of bondage gear links them all together, and to top it all off, the fat dude has cybernetic claw arms.
Every "Tortured Souls" figure came with a mini-novel. By collecting the whole line, you could read them in order and have a whole original Clive Barker novella. I have no idea what Suffering Bob's story is, but I doubt it involves being designed by a very troubled kindergarten class, because that's clearly exactly what happened.
As ridiculoid as Bob was, I think "Feverish" was actually the exact point at which teenage me had that "wait...these are really really silly
" epiphany. The figure is nothing but a very obese man being ripped open and dissected alive by little scorpion-tailed demon babies. You could even see into his gaping stomach cavity, full of rotten-looking green guts and bile. One of them is even pulling out the guy's eyeball. It's been more than a decade since these figures came out, and I don't think I've seen anything this over-the-top in the market since. Not because it's offensive, but because the late 90's to early 2000's just completely ruined gore and horror for everybody. It was like Disco for geeks. We just got tired of it.
The Wizard of Oz
Yes, you are reading that correctly. A year after the second Tortured Souls series, Mcfarlane Toys had the brilliant "new" idea to do "twisted
" versions of things that are generally seen as wholesome, because apparently they still thought it was 1995 instead of 2003. "Mcfarlane's Twisted Land of Oz" was the first such endeavor, and the Wizard here is...well, actually, reasonably cool. This is probably the most tasteful thing under their entire "TWIIIISTED
" label, just a weird gas-masked monster with an adorably bat-faced lab assistant. The rest of "Twisted Oz" doesn't fare so well, with shit like a zombie Scarecrow hungering for braaaiiins
and a bloody Tin Woodsman hunting for a sTilL bEaTiNg heart. Whoa there, guys, let's not get too spooky here. It's like eleven years past your bedtime by now!
Toto. This is Toto. Dorothy's dog. A translucent, gelatinous mutant beast ridden around by a legless, emaciated dwarf with some sort of torturous headgear to keep its own flab out of its eyes. I'm not entirely sure what's supposed to make this a "Twisted Toto." There's nothing here that actually references The Wizard of Oz in any conceivable way.
Fortunately, out of context, this is still a really cool creature design. I probably should have picked up this figure when it was still around for cheap, though I wish you could have removed the little rider. You can see how he's permanently sculpted on.
Let me take a moment here to suggest you not scroll down if you're at work, or reading this with your grandma.
.......Are you fucking serious right now?
I mean, not RIGHT now. It has been over a decade since you did this, but seriously?
Dorothy as a bondage slave getting branded
by a demonic munchkin? SERIOUSLY?
There's trying too hard, and then there's trying way
too hard, and then there's trying way, way, way too hard,
and then there's "Mcfarlane's Twisted Land of Oz Dorothy Action Figure." I'm not saying I'm offended by the fetish material here (because I'm not), but I am bewildered by how transparently it's being used as "shock" material. The sincerity of it is just so awkward.
And oh yeah, these figures also
came with chapters in a novel. I kind of want to read it now, just to find out how they tried to justify any of this nonsense.
Next on Mcfarlane's ~*~*TwIztED666*~*~ chopping block were nursery rhymes and fairy tales, and Humpty Dumpty here was probably the most nauseating figure since Feverish,
though not really in any imaginative, entertaining way. It's a well made figure, I guess interesting enough,
but it really exemplifies how easy it is for horror to miss its mark. Humpty wants so hard
to be disturbing, and I suppose he is, but do me a favor right now and watch this old commercial for Kinder Eggs
, if you haven't see it already. This commercial wasn't even aiming
to be unsettling. It was supposed to make children want to buy chocolate eggs with toys in them. Without actually trying at all,
it is fifty shades of nightmare Mcfarlane Toys never even came close to achieving. A figure of an innocent, cartoonish egg man with just a little
too much detail could have stood to be damn near chilling compared to this rather tired cry for attention.
Hansel and Gretel
While not especially interesting on their own, showing these two figures together elegantly demonstrates a cultural trend many people are increasingly sick of in their movies, comics and video games; a trend Mcfarlane Toys adhered to as shamelessly and earnestly as you could ever imagine. Do I even need to say it?
Because Hansel is male, his figure gets to be "grotesque." Somewhat offensively grotesque, since he's clearly meant to be someone with a congenital condition, but that's a whole other
can of worms. Gretel, however, is a girl, so her figure has to be scientifically formulated according to the latest Penthouse
polls for maximum bonerfication. Every time and I mean every time
a Mcfarlane action figure happened to be a woman, even a character originally depicted as a small child,
it would be designed like an erotic photoshoot. In over twenty years of churning out these figures, the only exception to this rule was their interpretation of the Blair Witch,
and while an actually monstrous
lady monster was a nice breath of fresh air for the company, their interpretation of the Blair Witch was silly enough for Cracked to make fun of only like a year ago.
Little Miss Muffet
Miss Muffet as a rubber gimpstress? That's what you came up with? I don't know if this is more or less juvenile than Dorothy, but the official website still summarized this "action figure" with "The eight-legged monstrosity attacking poor Miss Muffet has more on his mind than curds and whey!"
To add insult to injury, the two figures here were barely even poseable. It's a great looking spider in person, but the limbs are stuck at awkward angles, and Muffet's only articulation is that her knees and elbows can rotate a little, so she is actually permanently frozen in a position of getting attacked.
I actually have these figures from an old clearance bin at a Spencer's, but I might not have bothered even then if I'd known they were that
unposable. Muffet's outfit is, I'm not gonna lie, rad as hell, and she might have looked great if she could actually stand up, or better yet, ride around on the spider wielding a big scythe from some other action figure.
The very last of the 7VV1573D
lines was Todd Mcfarlane's Twisted......crust.......moss? Chrem...krimple...I don't know that word. I have no idea what that could be referring to. This line does, however, reel things back in a bit from Kink-dot-com-Dorothy or /d/ Miss Muffet. Yes, there is a "Mrs. Claus" figure in lingerie and she is using a giant candy cane as a stripper pole, but at least she's not getting assaulted or tortured, and her husband here is another actually cool
figure. Maybe I just like Gas Masks because they look like robot insect faces, but I also like the giant metal claw hands and overall inhuman, ogre-like build of this guy, though I still don't know what the hell a Krongsmouse is.
Though still corny and over the top, the Clumpsus line has a cartoonier tone I can much more easily get behind. Frosty here looks more like a boss fight from an E-rated platformer, and I assure you, that is a compliment in my book. I like how every "segment" has its own set of branch arms, too. He's like a killer, possessed insect-snowman!
You know, ice monsters like this aren't even usually my thing, but this might be one of the most attractive Mcfarlane figures I've seen. The glowering red eyes detract a little - round ones would have been a lot more haunting - but I like the design overall, with the whole dead trees all over his back, and the white snow splotches over the translucent blue ice is just beautiful. There is actually nothing pretentious here, nothing grimdark.
This almost makes me sad that Mcfarlane's TWEEAAAARRRSTED figures ended here, way back in 2007.
We now come to one of the very last original figure series Mcfarlane ever produced, in 2009: Warriors of the Zodiac. Seemingly giving up on cheap shocks at last, this series was just a bunch of animal-people and monsters inspired by constellations. While there was a double-ended, demonic worm-like "Gemini," the only one I really
found comment-worthy is Cancer here, and only because he's a crab man in the shape of a sea captain, with a tentacle beard and starfish for feet.
Maybe a little too close to Captain Davy Jones for comfort, but those starfish feet,
that is adorable.
And tell me you didn't hear "YARRR!" just looking at his face. You are totally wrong if you didn't. It's too bad this line wasn't successful enough for another, because they never got around to Scorpio,
and there are few ways you could fuck up a scorpion guy. I do believe that is actually my sign, too.
So, there you have it. A very condensed, very selective look at the rise and fall of Mcfarlane's "horror toy" empire. Today, they produce only sports figures and licensed tie-ins, like the Walking Dead
and Raving Rabbids
figure lines. For a time, they were the kings of "edgy" action figures, but their formula wore out quickly, and while a lot of their ideas were cool on paper, they never quite grasped what makes a monster actually creepy
, and seldom experimented with a little thing called "subtlety."
As much as I've ragged on a lot of these, however, even the worst have their charms, at the very least as kitschy relics of the 1990's darker and edgier
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