Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Bionics in Miniature (Part 4: Biosonic Steve and Astronaut Steve)

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


Looks like we're back to bionics for a minute or two. (woo!)

Let's see.... We were gonna look at Kenner's Biosonic Steve and Bif Bang Pow's Astronaut Steve, this time 'round.

So let's get to it.

Steve Austin with Biosonic Arm (Kenner 1978)

This was the third Steve doll Kenner made, and there were some major changes to be had.

By this time, SMDM TV ratings (and doll sales) were on the downslide, and Biosonic Steve was part of Kenner's last hurrah, as far as the bionic toy line was concerned. I guess they were hoping to shake things up; keep people interested and such.

So, let's get ol' Biosonic Steve down from the shelf and see what changes were made.

Biosonic Steve and his engine block steel girder ...karate paraphernalia?

Well, looking at him, the most obvious change would be those new threads. Steve's promo in Kenner's 1978 toy catalog called it his "new action-styled adventure suit," which apparently is very similar to blue jeans and a 70s leisure shirt. He's got the same socks and tennies that previous Steves came with, but it's nice to finally see him out of that track suit.

He looks to still be sporting the wide-angle bionic eye lens, and (even though it's covered by the karate doohickey above) he's still got his giant monkey hand bionic grip as well. At this point, Steve's duds and accessories are his only apparent changes.

Let's turn him around and take a look from the back.

Stylin' Steve with his entirely intact shirt.

Hello! Something's missing, here. Where's Steve's red back lever? Everyone knows he needs that lever to lift engine blocks and stuff. He doesn't even have a little cutout in the back of his shirt where the lever should be. Now things are getting curiouser. Let's remove that shirt, so we can take a look at what's going on underneath.

Does the sheen on those arms match up a little too well...?

Definitely no back lever. Not even a stealthy-under-the-shirt one. That's probably a good thing, right? Kenner Steve has been plagued with weird, inhuman-looking features from day one. It's about time he got to look a little more regular-joe-ish. Nothing to distinguish him from everyman now, except the giant eye lens and that hole in the back of his skull.

Hang on, something else is missing from le Steve's accoutrements: This bionic man has no bionic rollup skin. (eek!)

Cool rollup skin is gone......bland yellow button is not.

Wow. This had to have been a major blow to all 70s kids, right? Steve's bionic rollup skin was his very coolest feature, except maybe for the bionic-eye-vision. Now, we not only miss out on getting to roll back skin to expose hidden bionic modules, but that annoying Bionic Grip button is right out there in plain sight, to boot! Boo. Double boo, even. Biosonic Steve doesn't even get the forearm sticker his predecessor had.

Well, the single remaining bionic module is still removable. That's something.

Biosonic Steve triumphantly grips his last remaining Bionic Module.

I gotta say, I'm less than impressed with the way things have gone with Steve's bionic arm, overall. Truth be told, I liked his first one best, with its rollup skin, two bionic modules and no bionic grip. Okay, okay. Time to move on.

I think it's time to see if we can answer the question that burned in the hearts of 70s kids everywhere: What the hell was a biosonic arm, anyway? We can start with the aforementioned toy catalog promo:
New BIOSONIC ARM! Now Colonel Steve Austin has a new weapon as he faces enemy danger... an amazing right arm that delivers smashing karate chops. His new right arm moves four times faster than before, and Colonel Austin's new left arm is so powerful that it can even lift BIONIC BIGFOOT off the ground. 

FULLY ARTICULATED 13" action figure still has ultra-strong BIONIC grip in his right hand, BIONIC modules and BIONIC eye. Figure comes dressed in new action-styled adventure suit and sneakers. Included also are six "concrete" blocks and breakaway plywood boards for use with karate chop. Child also gets free his own BIOSONIC arm wrist band for added play adventures.
So, reading this, I'm guessing Kenner (in addition to passing that yellow button off as a second bionic module--don't think I didn't catch that) was actually trying to address a couple of different problems, with this doll.

First off, Steve's previous bionic arms, with their red back-levers, lifted things r-e-a-l-l-y slowly. I'm talking about pressing that lever 50 times to lift something all the way above Steve's head. No lie. And, while it's fun to watch bionics in slow motion, it's less fun to play bionics in slow motion. So a "four times faster" arm is probably a good thing.

Second, even though Bionic Bigfoot didn't appear in Kenner's Catalog until 1978, he was actually released halfway through 1977, when Bionic Grip Steve was still man of the hour. One of Kenner's marketing gimmicks for Bigfoot was having a little handhold in his chest and advertising Bionic Grip Steve as lifting Bigfoot over his head with his Bionic Power Arm.

Trouble was, Steve couldn't actually do that. The red-lever-activated arm wasn't up to the task and would fail about halfway through. (I know this is true; I just tried getting my Bionic Grip Steve to lift the old boy. Twice. It was no-go both times.)

So my bet is Kenner's redesign of this doll was as much (or more) about speeding up the arm and getting Steve to be able to lift Bigfoot, as it was about having a cool new feature. If I had to guess (which I totally am), I'd say this new arm being good at karate was just something somebody noticed after the redesign was close to done, and they worked it into the marketing plan. But like I say, I'm guessing.

To be sure, Biosonic Steve can definitely lift Bigfoot over his head. (I made sure.) But that brings up something else. Kenner's promo says "Colonel Austin's new left arm is so powerful that it can even lift Bionic Bigfoot off the ground." And every 70s kid knew Steve's right arm was bionic and his left one was not. So what gives? I'm thinking this was Kenner throwing out the character's history in favor of having an extra gadget to market. Once again, I have to say boo and double boo.

So anyway, they got rid of the red back lever this way: The arms are attached at the shoulders inside the doll's body, and moving one arm makes the other arm move as well. The right arm moves quickly and the left arm more slowly, and that's why Steve's left arm has suddenly become his lifting arm. So, moving his left arm downward makes the right arm come crashing down really quickly (i.e. the karate chop). Moving his right arm upward makes the left arm move upward more slowly (so he can lift things). If this all sounds very confusing, that's 'cause it is.

To get around Steve's super quick right arm getting in the way while his left arm was lifting something, he now had a modification to his right shoulder joint, so you could pull it out to the side while still rotating it at the shoulder. (Even more confusing, I know.) How did 70s kids ever figure this out?

No only does Steve inexplicably have two bionic arms...... he's also back in the side-hug business.

It wasn't by reading the instructions, that's for sure. I have them, and all they say about the arms is this:
Bionic arms snap off and on... pull straight out at shoulder. [and, later] Place Biosonic Arm above board. Rotate left Power Arm counterclockwise. Biosonic Arm crashes through board.
Notice they refer to "bionic arms" (plural), with the right being Steve's "Biosonic Arm" and the left being his "Power Arm." Two bionic arms? I think Steve's either had an upgrade the OSI never heard about, or Kenner has mistaken him for Barney Hiller.

The back of the box does add a little illustrative help regarding arm operation...

...but I think the best way to figure all this this out is to see those arms in action:

Ah. Now it all makes sense. More than it did a minute ago, anyway.

And... I guess that's about all I have to say about Biosonic Steve. Sigh. I obviously have mixed feelings about this doll. On the one hand, they got rid of that obnoxious back lever, and sped up/strengthened Steve's lifting arm. The mechanics of the thing are really pretty ingenious.

But they also took away so much play value. Earlier Steves had arms that could be positioned into all sorts of cool poses. And, as long as you didn't turn his head all the way to the right, they were independent and free-moving. This doll has two arms forever joined at the hip (well, at the shoulder): You can't move one without the other moving as well, and trying to actually play with Biosonic Steve the way a kid would is a frustrating experience. I'm betting the engineer who did this redesign, didn't have kids to test his theories out on.

Anyway, add in the fact they lost the rollup skin and threw bionic canon out the window by giving the man two bionic arms, well... 'nuff said.

Astronaut Steve Austin (Bif Bang Pow! 2014)

This was also BBPs third and final Steve doll, and they did their best to go out with a bang as well. Ah. No pun intended, there. Anyway, with the BBP dolls there wasn't a lot of money to throw around on features, so the focus was on how cool can we make the outfits and how can we change up the arm and legs? They'd already been doing a nice job with the outfits, and this one's no exception, but they really went to town on Astronaut Steve's bionic limbs.

So let's get Astronaut Steve off the shelf and see what's what.

That's one small step for a doll, one giant leap for dollkind.

That's a nice looking space suit, don't you think? It's from TV Steve's first actual 60 minute episode (after his three telefilms), Population: Zero, which may sound familiar since it's also the episode TV Steve first wore his Khaki/Belt Buckle combination we talked (at length) about last time. Steve didn't actually go into space during this episode, but I know there were at least a couple episodes where he did. I'm not sure if this particular suit was used in those or not, though.

Anyway, BBP Steve's suit matches up pretty well with what TV Steve wore in that episode, except for the helmet:

Will the real Astronaut Steve......please stand up?

Would've been cool if BBP Steve came with his own yellow portable air supply, huh? As it is, he has a difficult-but-possible-to-remove space helmet, whose visor opens and closes so you can still enjoy Steve's ultra-serious facial expression. Wouldn't want to miss out on the BBP Steve stoicism.

Space travel is serious business!

But, like I said, the bionic limbs are where BBP went the distance with Astronaut Steve. Let's take a quick look back at Track Suit Steve's and Khaki Steve's limbs, for comparison purposes:

Track Suit Steve had gone with clear lower limbs with bionic circuitry printed on them. Khaki Steve had the same circuitry, but went with flesh colored limbs. Now neither of these were true-to-character, since the whole point of TV Steve's limbs was to be indistinguishable from their human counterparts, but it's still cool BBP did something to differentiate dolls and give each their own flavor. And, as long as I throw out the true-to-character thing, I like them. I particularly like Track Suit Steve's limbs, but having just the lower parts of each be clear makes it look like Steve is only bionic from the elbow and knees down.

And now that we're done with the setup, let's get that spacesuit off and take a look at Astronaut Steve in his space skivvies!

Space undies!

Wow. I wasn't realizing how much that helmet minimized BBP Steve's big head. Not all the BBP dolls have the big head problem. At least, a couple don't. But the point here is not Steve's head, it's his full-on-shoulder-to-wrist-hip-to-ankle clear bionic limbs, right? Which, come to think of it, should probably include a hand and feet in the same clear style. Maybe not. I guess Astronaut Steve is wearing gloves, but shouldn't his bare feet be all clear-bionic-circuit-y too? Anyway, I digress.

Here's a closer look at the limbs. I gotta admit, they're cool looking. And this is a brand new circuit design, not the one they used on the first two dolls. It's a pretty cool effect; the circuits are only printed on the front, but you can kind of see 'em through the leg if you look from the back. Anyway, it's a much better effect with the entire limb being transparent.

And I think that about covers Astronaut Steve. Not much to him other than his spacesuit and transparent bionics. Okay. Next time I'll take a look at... let me check. Ooh! Kenner's Maskatron and BBPs Mr. X (both really portraying the same character) from SMDMs "Day of the Robot." Never heard of it? Don't worry, it's only one of the coolest SMDM episodes ever!

We'll cover it along with the dolls, next time.

Until then.


So, a fellow left a comment asking about possible differences between Astronaut Steve's head and the previous dolls. I wanted to include an image in my reply, but didn't see an easy way to do that in the comments themselves (without adding code, anyway). So I'm adding an addendum here, with images.

I took a look at all four BBP Steves' heads, and they all look to be the same mold--same size, features, etc (apart from Alternate Khaki Steve's mustache). BUT! While Astronaut Steve does have the same head mold, he has a slightly different paint job: darker skin tone and a little more painted-in detail. It makes for a slightly nicer looking doll, but the effect is subtle enough I hadn't noticed any differences until the comment encouraged me to take a closer look.

So there we are.


Eagle Killer Studios said...

Great job on the Bionic Series.

Since you have the regular BBP Steve and Astronaut Steve Austin, may I ask if there is any difference in the figures heads? The Astronaut Steve Austin was suppose to have an updated, improved head.


dan said...

EKS, I'm glad you're enjoying the series.

I didn't see a way to add an image in my reply here, so I took a couple of photos and added them in at the bottom of the post itself.

Super Shogun said...

All Steve:


Critical assigment arms:

Critical assigment legs: