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.

1 comment:

Super Shogun said...

French comics with Steve and his bionic mustache: