Friday, October 30, 2015

Bionics in Miniature (Part 3: Steve Gets a Bionic Grip and Some Khakis)

Part 1    Part 2    Part 3    Part 4    Part 5    Part 6

Okay. We are here to talk about Kenner's Steve Austin with Bionic Grip, along with Bif Bang Pow!'s Steve Austin with Khakis. And that's just what we're gonna do.

I'm guessing this post will go a little shorter than Part 2 did, because there weren't a ton of changes between Kenner's first and second versions of their Steve doll. Then again, I have a habit of saying that and then blathering on forever anyway. So we'll see.

And off we go.

Steve Austin with Bionic Grip (Kenner 1977)

Okay. Let's pull Steve, version two, down from the shelf and see what we've got.

I do NOT have a monkey hand!

Looks pretty familiar, right? Same little suit. Same garish eye lens. And if you turned him around, you'd see that same red lever sticking out of his back. Well, the reason he looks so familiar is because most of the changes that were made are "under the skin," so to speak. (Ooh, now THAT was a great pun. Super proud of that one.)

There is one surface level change to be had, though. Take a closer look at that right hand. The one that's clutched into an awkward fist and noticeably larger than his other hand? Yes, that's Steve's Big Monkey Hand. Kenner actually called it his "Bionic Power Arm with New Bionic Grip," but it sure looks like a big monkey hand to me. (Who are you gonna believe? Some old toy company, 40 years ago? Or me here, right now? ...I am counting on you.)

Anyway, Steve's new hand was both cool and awkwardly inhuman-looking. But cool yet awkward features were becoming his norm by now, so I guess it worked. The deal with the hand was that you could pull it open and it would lock in that position, using a little internal spring or whatever. Then, you'd press a little yellow button where his lower bionic module used to be and WHAMMO! His hand would spring shut around whatever little object you had sitting in his palm. In theory.

Truth be known, I've never actually seen the Bionic Grip button work in real life. I have two dolls with this feature, one of which had never even been out of its box when I got it, but neither doll's Bionic Grip worked by the time I got ahold of 'em. I guess that little springy thing in the arm wasn't built to hold tension over 40 years, even if it had never been played with.

So anyway, both my dolls' Bionic Grip hands are forever stuck in their closed position, except when I manually pry and hold them open. Which is what I'm doing here, so you can see what that looks like.

I wanna hold your haaaa-aaaa-aa-aaa-aa-aaa-and...

Granted, the hand looks less monkey-like when its open. It's still noticeably bigger than his left one, but it does look more normal. Really makes me wish my dolls' little springs still worked, 'cause I don't like the way that hand looks when it's closed. Oh well. Enough on the hand. Let's roll back some skin and take a look at the arm itself.

Cyborg Steel, Baby!

Well now, look at that! Steve's got himself a new silvery metal-looking arm. I'm going to come right out and say that's a step up and pretty darn cool.

A little less cool, is the arm losing one of its bionic modules and having it replaced with a boring yellow button and measly sticker. Don't get me wrong, I know they needed a place to put the new Bionic Grip mechanism and all, but replacing a cool removable module with a yellow button and sticker is a step down. I guess what I really mean is the button doesn't have the same cool-factor, visually, as a bionic module. Granted, pushing the button does cool things. And the sticker does help out on the visual end; that forearm would definitely look lamer without it.

Oh, I guess it's possible having a metallic arm and grippy hand outweighs losing one module, cool factor-wise. Possible. I'm not committing.

Anyway, other than having a Bionic Grip, Steve's new Power Arm worked the same way the old one had: stick something in his hand, turn his head and start pushing away on that red lever. And the Bionic Grip allowed Steve to grab and lift a lot of things he couldn't hope to manage, before.

Remember the engine block Steve One came with? There was a reason it had that giant handle on one side: Steve couldn't hold onto it otherwise. And even with the handle, it was always slipping off his hand mid-lift. So now, if you still had that engine block laying around in your toy box, lifting it was a sure thing.

But, what could you have Steve lift if you didn't have your old engine block? Most likely, your first choice would be the nifty steel rubber girder that came in the box alongside Steve Two. Hell, it was probably your first choice even if you did have that engine block still laying around.

Note to packaging department: Bionic Grip feature is too subtle. Can we make it pop just a little more?

Those girders are pretty rare these days. I don't have one, and I couldn't even find a photo of Bionic Grip Steve with the girder, outside his box. I did find a picture of "a" Steve holding the girder, but you'll notice he's not actually bionically gripping it and both hands are the same size. Dead giveaway he's a Steve One posing as a Steve Two.


Okay. The new arm and gripping feature were really the big news for Steve Two. But there were a couple of other, behind the scenes, changes made. For better or worse.

For better, Steve's limited ankle articulation got an upgrade with version two. Remember, Steve One's ankles had a hinge joint that only moved front to back. Along with his limited hip articulation, this made him pretty unstable on anything but a smooth and level surface. So the new doll switched out the old joint for one that allowed side to side movement as well. This allowed you to angle the feet out and adjust Steve's center of balance a bit, when putting him into free-standing action-y poses. Definitely a good thing.

Steve Two could tap-dance circles around Steve One.

For worse, Steve Two no longer had his ball-jointed, non-removable left arm. It'd been replaced with a left arm that was a mirror image of his bionic arm (minus all the bionic features, of course) and could be popped off and on the same way his other one could.

While more steady on his feet, Steve Two can no longer give good side hugs.

Now this was lame for a couple of reasons. One, the previous arm had a ton more mobility, which added a lot to playability. It had been the only limb that even could be moved into a wider variety of positions. So, losing that sucked. Two, the change affected the "remove all bionic limbs and re-enact bionic surgery" mentioned in Part 2. Sure, you could just leave the left arm on and re-enact it, but knowing it could be popped off like any of the other limbs definitely took some of the joy out of it.

...Okay, the missing joy is all today-me missing joy. I doubt very much I, or any other 70s kid, cared one bit whether this new arm was removable or not. Today-me just thinks having Steve's "organic" arm be removable takes away a little from the distinction of his "bionic" limbs being removable.

But I bet all the kids cared about the arm's lessened mobility. What a playtime blow it must have been to grab Steve Two's left arm, pull out and up and, instead of the arm moving into a cool pose, it popped off instead! That is a seriously tragic scenario.

And that's about it for Kenner's Steve Two. Now, let's take a look at Bif Bang Pow!'s second Steve.

Steve Austin with Khakis (Bif Bang Pow! 2012)

It's pretty obvious BBPs first Steve doll was styled in homage to Kenner. With their second doll, they went a bit more out on their own, as we'll see. Let's get him down off the shelf and take a look.

Superman Pimp says: "Say, Jim! Whoo! That's a bad outfit!"

First off, Khaki Steve has the same head as the previous Track Suit Steve had. It's still slightly too large, and he's wearing that same uber serious expression. ...Is it just me or does this Steve look like Kiefer Sutherland? Maybe not, but he doesn't particularly look like Lee Majors, either. Which now has me wondering if Kenner did any better.

Let's see.

Crazy-eye Steve vs. Lee Steve vs. Kiefer Steve

Yes. Kenner did do better. Even with the creepy missing eyeball, Kenner Steve looks more like Lee Majors than BBP Steve does. What's more, BBP Steve doesn't look like Lee Majors even a little bit. It's like they took the "Generic Caucasian Male" face from the doll head catalog and said "Yep, that'll do." I still say it looks like Kiefer Sutherland.

Okay. Back to the subject at hand. The most obvious difference between BBPs original Track Suit Steve and their new Khaki Steve, are the khakis themselves. And I gotta say, one thing BBP excelled at is in really going to town with these outfits. TV-Steve may have been known most for his swingin' seventies safari suits, but certainly his second most definitive fashion was the very outfit this doll is sporting.

And I'm only a tiny bit embarrassed to admit I went back through the TV movies and first episodes to see when this outfit first showed up. Turns out it was there right from the get-go, more or less. The basic outfit, minus its distinctive belt buckle, first showed up during Steve's initial mission in The Six Million Dollar Man.

Steve, khaki-clad in his very first mission, in The Six Million Dollar Man (March 1973)

I mentioned his TV origin story earlier in Part 2, and I'm saying right now it's worth a watch even if you're not a big SMDM fan. This first movie had a very similar feel to Caidin's novels. Which is to say it was heavier on drama than action, and incorporated the whole bionic agent thing in a more matter of fact way than subsequent movies and the series did. In fact, if you took the bionics out, making this a military-test-pilot-crashes-becomes-triple-amputee-and-struggles-through-rehabilitation-regaining-self-respect-along-the-way movie, it'd still be pretty darn watchable.

Anyway, the belt buckle itself showed up in Steve's second movie, Wine, Women and War. This one had Steve being all james-bond-on-a-budget, and it didn't suit Steve-the-character or Lee-the-actor at all. We actually get the take-off-your-tux-turn-it-inside-out-and-it's-a-wetsuit trope in this thing. Ouch. At any rate, during the movie we get a glimpse of Steve sporting his fine piece of 70s waistline fashion while busting out of a military base.

Lost the khakis, but made up for it with his groooovy belt buckle, in Wine, Women and War (October 1973)

He was actually also wearing the buckle during the movie's opening credits, while Dusty Springfield made an atrocious attempt at a SMDM theme song. It's not her fault; she had a beautiful voice and sang it well. But the song itself was horrifying. I dare you to follow this link and listen to it. Dare. You.

So anyway. In his third movie, The Solid Gold Kidnapping, Steve was back to his khakis, but had lost the buckle again. This one continued the spy thriller vibe, with Steve's main antagonist being a S.P.E.C.T.R.E. type organization. ("One... Hundred... BILLION DOLLARS!")

Steve moping because he lost his belt buckle in The Solid Gold Kidnapping (November1973)

 We finally got to see Steve in the whole ensemble in the very first episode of the series proper, "Population: Zero." This had Steve investigating a town where everyone has (apparently) died in their tracks, à la The Andromeda Strain.

Rockin' the whole outfit in Population: Zero (January 1974)

And there you have it. The TV evolution of Steve the Doll's khaki outfit. That was worth the wait, wasn't it?

And, as if we haven't been sidetracked long enough already, I came across an interesting bit of information as I was poking around my "steve austin khakis" search results. The show was known, in it's earlier seasons, to have worked at keeping things real, so to speak. I mean they tried really hard to have things make sense within their whole bionics-are-real universe. What I came across was an interesting example of that, from this very episode. Check out the image below. It's from the finale of the episode, where Steve is running across the desert after the bad guys.

Cover instantly blown when it gets to warm...

Notice Steve is going all out and sweating like a wildman, except under his right arm. Which IS... his bionic arm! And bionics don't sweat. Now, that's a nice little attention-to-detail thing to put into a show like this. Don't you think? I'd never noticed this in the episode, but I came across someone extolling it and other bits of SMDM realism, in a Star Trek forum of all places. Neat.

Holy cow, finally! Back to the doll.

Let's see, we've covered his true-to-tv threads. Let's take 'em off now and see what's underneath.

Steve has at least two pairs of underwear--a red pair and a white pair.

Wow. A few obvious changes here.

First off, how 'bout that massive swath of 70s chest hair? Not an inappropriate addition for a doll whose whole premise is a retro swingin' seventies vibe. And heart-shaped! That's just awesome, no matter how you look at it. Now, the question on all our minds is, how accurate is that brier patch to the one Lee Majors was sporting in real life? Let's. Find. Out.

Apparently Lee Majors did not trim his chest hair into a heart shape.

Not a match. Holy cow. That woman is seriously checking out TV-Steve's butt. Click to enlarge and see for yourself. You can't blame her; TV-Steve was one hot piece of property.

Let's see. What else has changed between Track Suit Steve and Khaki Steve? Other than swapping out red undies for tighty-whities and ditching the socks, his bionic limbs have gone from clear to flesh colored. Looks to be the same painted electronics pattern as on the previous doll, though.

I guess this Steve would fair a little better at the beach than his clear-limbed counterpart.

Oh, and one last change would be Steve's super-seventies mustache. What? You say you don't see any mustache painted across Steve's upper lip? Well, that's because only some of the dolls had it. Mustachioed Steve began as a chase variant figure--you ordered a Khaki Steve doll and maybe you got the mustache version, maybe not. Most likely not, since only a small percentage of the mustache dolls were mixed into the general stock.

The whole idea of chase variants kind of pisses me off, because all it's designed to do is increase sales, with people buying multiples of the same item in an effort to "chase" down the elusive variant. Boo. Just make the variant and sell it alongside the others, I say. Heck, charge more money for it, if you want, but don't make people waste their money buying the same thing over and over in an effort to line your own pockets. Okay then.

Don't worry. I bought my Mustache Steve after the BBP had finished their initial release, so I didn't have to play facial-hair-roulette to get him. I just went online at eBay, typed in "BBP SMDM Mustache Variant" and clicked Buy Now.

Anyway, here's ol' Steve with his mustache, and a pic of TV-Steve with his mustache too. TV-Steve only had the mustache for one season of the show, but Khaki Steve gets to keep his forever. Lucky? Depends on how you look at things....

Steve looks horrified to realize his doll wears a mustache better than he does.

That's it, then. Next time I'll take a look at Kenner's third and final Steve doll (with Biosonic arm!), along with Bif Bang Pow!'s final Steve doll, Astronaut Steve.

And here's where you realize why I was skeptical about actually doing a shorter post.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Colossus of New York (1958)

The Colossus of New York has inhabited a dark little corner of my mind since I was a kid. I gobbled up monster movie books like it was end-of-days back then, and it seemed like every book had at least one picture of this guy in it.

Basically I grew up knowing what The Colossus looked like, but only as much about the movie as I could gather from various photograph captions. Which wasn't very much. I'm sure at least a few of the books included a plot summary and production information, but the words never seemed to stick with me the way a good photo did.

Take this one, for instance. It would be pretty tough to get an image like this one out of a 10 year old's head:

Although I gotta say, having finally just seen the movie, I don't actually recall a scene featuring The Colossus with this extremely nonchalant fellow on the left, or all those cables running out of his colossal pant leg, so my guess is this is a behinds-the-scenes production shot, rather than a still from the movie proper. Even so: pretty awesome, right?

In true B-Movie fashion, the movie promises large-scale mayhem it never delivers. The film's opening credits roll over an image of the New York skyline in ruins; in reality The Colossus breaks a couple of windows. What actually does happen after the opening credits is this:
  1. Brilliant Guy (BG) is well on the way to solving the world's problems, but gets run over by a truck instead. He's dead, or possibly mostly dead.
  2. Brilliant Guy's Dad (BGD) just happens to be a top-notch neurosurgeon, so he keeps BGs brain alive and sticks it in a jar.
  3. Brilliant Guy's Brother (BGB) just happens to be a top-notch roboticist, so he sticks BGs still-alive-brain into a giant metal body, turning him into Colossal Brilliant Guy (CBG).
  4. The two fellows keep CBG locked away in their lab, so he can keep solving the world's problems.
  5. CBG is not happy. He misses his wife and son. Even worse, he's slowly going insane because it turns out brains need real bodies in order to not go insane.
  6. It also turns out BGB has been wooing CBGs grieving widow, and acting all dad-like to CBGs boy. This pisses CBG off, and because he's quickly becoming Insane CBG, he kills BGB. With some kind of heat beam* that comes out of his colossal eyes.
  7. Insane CBG decides he's going to kill everyone who isn't a genius. Or something like that.
  8. He decides to start his killing spree at the U.N. building, where he's arranged for his whole family to be present in the crowd that night. (To kill them? So they can watch him kill everyone else?)
  9. Small-scale slaughter ensues until CBGs son runs up to him and, at CBGs request, pulls his plot-convenient kill switch and he dies.
*This and CBGs sudden development of ESP is never explained in the film, but I'm going with the whole brain-unburdened-with-physical-body-uses-all-its-power-for-nonphysical-abilities route, which totally works for me.

 Huh. Well, there's more to the story than that but let's just say the plot started out on track but then strayed off into B-Movie ridiculousness somewhere along the way. Even so, there were a couple of things that make this one a keeper, or at least a will-watch-again-some-day, for me.

First is that Brilliant Guy was played by none other than Ross Martin, who I really only know from The Wild Wild West and an above par episode of Columbo. But I really liked him in those two things, and I liked him in this.

Second is that The Colossus is a really cool robot design. Okay, technically it's a cyborg, but you know what I mean. Just take a look at that thing:

The Colossus was played physically (with Ross Martin doing an electronically altered voice-over) by Ed Wolff. Not a lot out there on Ed. Apparently his career spanned ten movies over thirty five years, and he mostly played giants, robots and monsters. This, because he was a big fellow: 7' 4" by most counts. I couldn't find a picture of the man out-of-costume to save my life. Closest I got was this behind-the-scenes still from Return of the Fly, showing him from the neck down. Good sized fellow.

The American Film Institute says this about the costume Ed wore as The Colossus:
According to modern sources, the colossus was designed and built by Charles Gemora and Ralph Jester. The costume itself was eight feet tall, weighed 160 pounds, and was created from burlap, plastic, rubber and fine chicken wire. Inside the costume were batteries, cables, air tanks and oxygen tubes which both moved mechanical parts and assisted Ed Wolff, who played the colossus, in breathing. Because it took over forty minutes to get Wolff in and out of the costume, a special rack was designed for the actor to rest on between shots.
That explains all those hoses and such coming out of The Colossus' pant leg, in that first photo.

Anyway, not a lot more to say about this one, except it's worth a watch for robot-coolness alone. And while I may have spoiled the overall plot for you, I left enough unsaid to make it interesting if you ever decide to give it a go.


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Bionics in Miniature (Part 2: Steve and His Track Suit)

Part 1    Part 2    Part 3    Part 4    Part 5    Part 6

Okay, let's see. What's the best way to do this? Almost twenty dolls between the two toy lines and, as long as it takes me to get a single post out, I could spend the rest of my life getting through this series. Not how I've always envisioned the rest of my life.

Hmm... two separate sets of figures, some characters represented in both sets, some not...


Okay. I'll do it like this: Nine separate posts, each covering two dolls, one from each toy line, with the two dolls being the same or similar character when that's possible. (Yessss! My gargantuan pulsing deadmansbrain sees all, and will one day RULE THE WORLD!!!) Wow. "Gargantuan pulsing" could've so easily gone sexual. But it didn't. Lucky us.

So it'll look like 9 more posts:
  • Kenner Steve Austin & BBP Steve Austin with key chain
  • Kenner Steve Austin with Bionic Grip & BBP Steve Austin(s) with Khakis
  • Kenner Steve Austin with Biosonic Arm & BBP Astronaut Steve Austin
  • Kenner Maskatron & BBP Mr. X
  • Kenner Bionic Bigfoot & BBP Bionic Bigfoot
  • Kenner Oscar Goldman & BBP Oscar Goldman
  • Kenner Jaime Sommers & BBP Rudy Wells
  • Kenner Jaime Sommers with Mission Purse & BBP Barney Hiller
  • Kenner Fembot & BBP Fembot
 And, without further ado, we'll get started.

Steve Austin (Kenner 1975)

So, Kenner's first Steve Austin doll hit the shelves in 1975, during the show's second (or possibly third) season. (I say possibly third, as I don't have specific months for doll releases, but 1975 encompassed the last half of the show's second season and the first half of its third season. So there.)

Steve originally came in a box like this:

My doll doesn't have its box, so here's what I see when I peer up at him on his top shelf (to keep him safe from the nieces and nephews):

Steve, version one, and his convenient-for-lifting engine block.

FYI: Photos of the dolls will be from my collection, whenever possible, 'cause it's just more fun that way.

So, Doll-Steve is 13 inches tall, the tallest action figure manufactured to that point. (Hasbro's G.I. Joe came in close, at 12 inches, but close is no cigar in the world of action figure one-upmanship.) He's dressed in a wee version of the red track suit Lee Majors wore in the first SMDM TV movie called, appropriately enough, The Six Million Dollar Man.

Faster than a speeding automobile in second gear. Maybe even third.

As an aside, that TV movie first aired in March of 1973. As mentioned previously, it was adapted from the novel Cyborg , and was Steve's "origin story." From what I understand, this first movie was a stand alone ABC Movie of the Week, rather than an actual series pilot. It did well enough for the studio to okay another two movies as part of the short-lived ABC Suspense Movie lineup, and it was while these two movies were airing that talk of a one hour series materialized. I know this because I read this book.

Back to the doll and his groovy track suit: All cloth; he's got a tiny sweatshirt, tiny sweatpants, tiny white athletic socks, and tiny red sneakers. His little red undies are plastic and molded onto his body, so you could undress him and still keep him decent if your little sister walked in the room unannounced.

Let's see... points of articulation: That's always a big deal in these circles, at least for kids, who actually play with the dolls and want to get them into cool action-y poses. Doll-Steve has joints at the neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, waist, hips, knees and ankles. Pretty standard for action figures back in the day. These days, a lot of action figures are marketed toward collectors rather than kids, and looking cool in the default display pose is favored over actually being able to move into various play positions. (Although the new Bif Bang Pow! dolls actually buck this trend, having more articulation than these older dolls.)

There are three things of note about his articulation, that changed from version to version.

First, in this version all three of his "bionic" limbs were removable and his "natural" left arm was not. Now, this is extremely cool. You could re-enact Steve's plane crash and subsequent injuries--do the whole "we can rebuild him" thing. Okay, maybe that's a little gruesome for an eight year old kid to be doing. But if I was doing it, so were other kids. I hope.

Post-crash Doll-Steve vs. Post-crash TV-Steve.

Notice Doll-Steve's bionic underpants (click on the above images to see larger ones). His waistband is all full of little electronic circuits and things. Not sure what was up with that.

Anyway,  the second thing of note with this doll's articulation is that his non-removable arm sports a ball joint at the shoulder, giving it a nice natural range of motion. Pity his other limbs didn't do the same. I chalk it up to 1970s bionics being pretty amazing, but not quite capable of duplicating the full human range of motion.

I am strong and have a cool ball joint, but the slightest uneven surface foils me.

The third articulation-thing, is that this doll's ankles moved only front to back, not side to side. This meant ol' Steve couldn't get out of that standing-at-attention-in-the-military posture, and thus could be a little unsteady on his feet. (Hence the doll stand in these photos.)

Thus ends the articulation discussion, and on we go to other cool play features like the bionic eye, roll-up bionic skin and Bionic Power Arm! First let's sadly note that, other than the ability to remove them, his bionic legs had no features whatsoever. Too bad. The Jaime Sommers doll that came out a year later had bionic features in its legs, why not Steve?

But let's not focus on the man's deficiencies. How 'bout that sweet arm, huh?

Completely indistinguishable from actual skin; no bionic modules here, folks.

Kenner marketed it as Steve's Bionic Power Arm. It had rubber skin you could roll up from the wrist so as to uncover and remove its "bionic modules." Could anything be cooler than this to a little 70s kid? Probably not. Check out this rubber-roll-up action:

Pretty nifty, huh? Now, you may be saying to yourself, "that rubber skin looks nothing like the 'skin' on his other arm." And you'd be right in saying it.

Originally, these dolls all shipped with a fairly hardy rubber skin sleeve that more or less matched the rest of the dolls' coloring. They were also thick enough to hide the outlines of the bionic modules underneath. Sure, they might tear or break under hard-kid-play after awhile, but what toy doesn't have that problem? One thing they were NOT designed to do though, is not disintegrate after 40 years. So any dolls you come across today look like this:

40 years after the bionics maintenance lab shut its doors for good.

That's not cool. There are a few folks out there who provide custom and not-so-custom made replacement arm skins. The not-so-custom guys send you a skinny flesh-tone balloon with both ends cut off and say "go for it"! The custom guys actually make little arm skins through various methods.
I've gone the balloon route and it was less than satisfactory.

Post-balloon,  I found a guy in the UK who makes 'em from scratch and had him send me a bunch. Apart from not being as tough as I'd like (two or three broke trying to get them over the doll's arm) and not quite matching in coloring, they're okay. Better than balloons, anyway. It did take three months of chasing the guy down via email to finally get the skins delivered to me. Not sure it that's his normal M.O. or not.

Other than having cool roll-up skin and removable bionic modules, what did this Bionic Power Arm do? Why, it powerfully lifted toy engine blocks with convenient handles on them and other small objects, of course! And how did it do that? By using the extremely unsubtle lever sticking out of Doll-Steve's back. (Awkward!)

At least that lever matches his underwear.

But don't worry, all his outfits had a little cutout in the back for this thing to stick through. All you had to do to use this feature was stick something in Doll-Steve's bionic hand, turn his head toward his bionic arm as far as it would go, and push that little lever. Again, and again and again. It took a lot of repetitive pushing to see much movement, as the arm only lifted a fraction of an inch with each press. But when said heavy lifting was finished, just turn the head the other way and the arm lowers right down.

Now, the lever does look clunky, but you gotta admit the engineering of the thing is actually pretty cool. If Steve is looking to the left or straight ahead, his bionic arm has free range of motion for play time. Turn it to the right, and it's ready for heavy lifting. Best of both worlds.

 Okay. Almost ready to wrap up our look at Kenner's Steve. Just one more thing to talk about--his amazing bionic eye!

Looks like something you'd see in a Hammer Frankenstein movie.

Sure, it looks like something out of a horror film to me, now. But I don't remember being bothered by it in the least, as a kid. Could that be because being able to actually look through a bionic eye was so freaking cool?! (That is exactly why, my friend.) Looking through said bionic eye was accomplished by squinting into Doll-Steve's other horror film feature, that gunshot-wound-looking hole in the back of his head.
Not even a bionic man could withstand that injury!

Now, anyone who's ever actually done this knows that instead of seeing Steve's telescopic zoom vision in action, you actually get a blurry far-away view of whatever is in front of the doll's head. Really just the opposite of what a real bionic hero would see. But this discrepancy is completely swallowed up by the wonder any 70s kid experienced at being able to see anything at all via doll-vision. This was incredibly cool when you were seven. Trust me.

Try it for yourself: Here's Doll-Steve looking across the table at a Mego Superman, who happened to be passing by.

Could be Mego Superman, could be a kid in a Halloween costume. Who can tell?

You're welcome to click on the image and see it, bigger. For all the good it'll do you. This is as good as Doll-Steve's bionic vision gets. Still. You're seeing through a doll's eye! That gets major points in my book, and Quint just loves it. And may I just tell you: I took about 8,000 pictures, with my little phone camera, to get one lousy result even this good. Kept focusing on the back of his head, or on the little plastic shavings inside of his head. Never doing that again. This pic is the lone-wolf-holy-grail.

Whew! That's it for Kenner's Steve Austin. I'm really hoping future posts will go quicker, with all the introductory information out of the way.

Let's take a look at the Bif Bang Pow! Steve Austin.

Steve Austin with Red Track Suit (Bif Bang Pow! 2012)

So, first off, I have to say that while this doll line was released much more recently, I'm less sure on the actual date of each doll's release. I know, that sounds counter-intuitive. After all, the line's not 40 years old, right? But, while the Kenner dolls suffer from all sorts of web-misinformation as far as release dates and which doll appeared when, I was able to find a few fairly reliable sources that all matched up as far as release year.

For the BBP dolls, I couldn't find any definitive release schedules, so I more or less went by reading other blog posts, getting a consensus of when people started talking about each doll and guessing its general release date from there. As far as I know, the line began in 2012 and finished in 2014, but I don't know for sure which order dolls were released in and all that.

Heck, I only found out about this doll line on Christmas morning of 2014 (an Oscar Goldman as a present from my oldest boy). Of course,  I was forced by my nostalgia to go out and hunt the rest of the dolls down in early 2015. Okay, dates disclaimer is finished.

Now, unlike the Kenner line, these dolls weren't put out for kids at all. They were created for and marketed to adult collectors, who had loved the TV show and probably owned the Kenner dolls when they were kids themselves. The dolls are all 8 inch, Mego-style, as opposed to the larger format Kenner went with. Other differences between the two lines quickly become obvious, in that these dolls are more cheaply made and definitely wouldn't stand up to heavy kid play. Which is okay, I guess, since they're not really intended for heavy play.

But still, these dolls feel fragile, often coming out of the package with too-tight, too-loose, or ill-fitting joints, and I had to repair more than one piece of clothing that tore during initial post-purchase inspections. (Which always involves carefully removing clothes to check out articulation and body-style, right?)

So my guess is you won't see a lot of these dolls lying around (in one piece) 40 years from now. And if it sounds like I'm complaining about the penny-pinching likely involved in the production of these dolls, I guess I am.

I also get that Bif Bang Pow! is a much smaller company than Kenner was, had less money to work with, and knew they weren't going to sell a huge number of these dolls anyway. And I think they worked pretty hard to pack as many cool features into them as possible within the cost limitations they had. And I do think they did a nice job, overall. These dolls may not be Kenner-quality or Kenner-cool, but they are a heartfelt homage to the Kenner line and to the TV show itself.

As for my BBP collection, I have all the packaging they came with, but I display them outside it. (That's just cooler and more fun, to me.) But here's a look at the packaging anyway. It didn't vary for the most part, from figure to figure, other than figure name.

And finally... we get to Bif-Doll-Steve, as he self-importantly stands about on his shelf:

"I am small and cheaply made, yet still glowing with cool-factor."

The first thing I notice about this Steve, after his 8 inch height and slightly too-large head, is that he has two regular-looking, painted on doll eyes. No bionic vision here, folks. But, while bionic doll vision is cool, it is kind of nice to have a more human looking Steve, this time around. And as far as clothing goes, this is a nice little track suit: little tiny top, little tiny bottoms, little tiny shoes, all removable.

While this Steve may not have a frightening eye-lens, rubber skin or a big red lever sticking out of his back, he's not completely bereft of bionic features. One of which is slightly hinted at if you take a close look at his right wrist, above.

Let's strip him down for a closer look:

The other guy doesn't have a monopoly on little red undies....

Ah ha! The fellow has some high tech after all, in the form of clear plastic bionic limbs with wee electronic circuits painted on them.

Tough to see from any sort of distance; let's take an even closer look:

And... that's it. That's as far as the bionic features go.

With no rubber roll-up skin to hide his mechanics, this Steve could never go to a beach without everyone knowing he was bionic. But then, Kenner's Steve couldn't go anywhere at all without people freaking out over that giant bionic eye-lens and the hole in the back of his head. So I guess they both had their difficulties.

Couple of other similarities/differences I notice: This Steve has the red undies, but with no electronic waistband, and the undies are painted on. 70s Steve's entire pelvis was molded red plastic. Also, this Steve's little white athletic socks are painted onto his feet, rather than being actual cloth.

As mentioned earlier, the articulation on this fellow is actually a step or two up from the 70s doll. He's got joints at the neck, shoulders, biceps, elbows, wrists, waist, hips, knees and ankles. The shoulders, waist, and hips are all ball jointed, which (in theory) makes little Steve even more flexible than his older, bigger brother.

I say "in theory," because the BBP dolls are all held together via bands inside their torsos, and most suffer from bands that are way too tight. Tight bands give you a doll that often won't hold it's position once you let go of it. Even worse, it can be scary to try and force a doll into position in the first place, for fear those bands will snap under pressure.

That's really about it for the doll itself. Now, in effort to make up for his bionic featurelessness, Bif-Doll-Steve did come with an accessory. Not one you could actually use during play, like a doll-sized engine block. But again, I give BBP points for trying, here.

I guess you could pretend it's a big tombstone and have Steve lift it up?

No, it's not Steve Austin's tombstone. It's a key chain that makes bionic sounds. And while I would personally prefer an accessory that's directly play-with-able, this is pretty cool in its own right. Each time you push that little button, you hear one of the following, in this order, from its tiny speaker:
  • Oscar Goldman saying "We can rebuild him. We have the technology."
  • Oscar saying "Better... Stronger... Faster."
  • The bionic strength sound
  • The bionic eye sound
 Now that I think about it, you could actually use this during play, as a soundtrack. At least the bionic sounds. So that's cool.

And that's it. SMDM post number 2 completed. Next time I'll take a look at Kenner's Steve Austin with Bionic Grip, and BBP's Steve Austin(s) with Khakis.

Until then.