November 15, 2009
We have arrived at the end of Action Figure Week, and now it is finally time to talk about George Lucas’ favorite cephalopod—Squid Head!
To me (and, I assume, nearly anyone else who was born in the 1970′s), Star Wars toys are the quintessential action figures. I actually don’t remember the first time I saw Star Wars, or when I got my first Star Wars action figure, but in all but my very earliest memories I am already a fanatic, and I seem to have always had Star Wars toys.
Debuting in 1977, Kenner’s 3 ¾” figures were revolutionary, displacing 12″ dolls (like G.I. Joe) as the industry standard, and this size continues to dominate the action figure market today. The original toy line was produced until 1985, and Kenner revived it in 1995. There has been a steady stream of Star Wars figures on toy store shelves ever since.
Squid Head™ (Kenner, 1983)
Part of the first wave of figures for Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, Squid Head appears only briefly in the crowd of aliens that reside in the palace of Jabba The Hutt. In fact, this figure is a great example of two long-time Lucas traditions: 1) making toys of obscure characters, and 2) giving those characters dumb, yet descriptive, names. And like all obscure Star Wars characters, Squid Head’s back story would be fleshed out over time through the RPGs, comics, and novels of the Expanded Universe.
As it turns out, his name is actually Tessek, and he is a Quarren, an alien species from the ocean planet Dac. Dac is also the homeworld of the Mon Calamari (such as Admiral “It’s a traaaap!” Ackbar). Despite their name, the Mon Calamari are actually fish people, not cephalopods, and the two species have a long history of antagonism, often ending up on opposite sides of various galactic conflicts.
So, even though he is from a species native to the deep ocean, Tessek somehow ended up on the desert world of Tatooine in the employ of Jabba the Hutt…as his accountant. I suppose it is best not to dwell on the unlikeliness of an air-breathing humanoid species evolving from deep-sea invertebrates (presumably) on a planet with very little dry land.
Anyway, getting back to the figure, it is fairly obvious why this guy is called “Squid Head.” His beak-like mouth is surrounded by four tentacles, and two fin-like structures project off either side of his head. The suction cups on his finger tips provide a final squiddy touch. The toy comes with a blaster pistol and a real cloth cloak and skirt (which is held in place with a silver plastic cummerbund).
I lost my original Squid Head figure when I was a kid. I picked up this replacement on the collectors market, so it’s in fairly pristine condition. I do still have the card that my original figure came packaged on (above). It features a nice close-up shot of the Quarren accountant enjoying a tasty beverage on board Jabba’s Sail Barge. As a bonus, you can just make out my sad nine-year old attempts at drawing Imperial Shuttles, an AT-AT walker, and some kind of creature that is maybe supposed to be a Tauntaun.
Tessek™ (Hasbro, 2000)
Even though Kenner began producing Star Wars action figures again in 1995, it would be five years before they made an updated Squid Head. (2000 was also the year that Hasbro, which had owned Kenner since 1991, consumed the Kenner brand for good.) The new Tessek figure was released as part of Star Wars: Power of the Jedi, a toy line that contained a combination of figures from the original trilogy and the recently released prequel, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. The new Tessek figure is more detailed than the original and has molded plastic clothes. The colors of this figure more closely match the way the character appeared in the the original movie.
The Star Wars toy line has undergone seemingly constant rebranding over the past 14 years, and Star Wars: The Legacy Collection is the name of the current line (although I think the packaging has been redesigned again). It includes characters and vehicles from all six films as well as the two Clone Wars animated series.
Quarren™ Soldier (Hasbro, 2008)
This figure, the only non-Tessek Quarren figure to-date, is a “realistic” version of the alien warriors as portrayed in the Chapter 5 of Genndy Tartakovsky’s Star Wars: Clone Wars animated series (2003-2005). In that segment (which is my favorite after Chapter 13, where Mace Windu single-handedly defeats an entire army of droids), amphibious Jedi Knight Kit Fisto leads an battalion of Clone scuba troopers and Mon Calamari knights against Separatist battle droids and the Quarren Isolation League. Here’s a link to the segment on YouTube. I highly recommend the entire Tartakovsky Clone Wars series, which is available on DVD.
There are a few other Quarren characters from the Star Wars Universe that have yet to be given action figure treatment, but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time.
November 13, 2009
If you were paying attention at the beginning of the week, you’ll remember that the world’s first action figure was Hasbro’s G.I. Joe. By the 70′s, the line had moved away from war toys and toward adventure and superheroes, and 1976 would mark the end of the original line of 12″ figures. One of the last G.I. Joe Adventure Team vehicle playsets was the “Sea Wolf Submarine,” seen here in a 1976 product catalog.
This working toy submarine is pretty cool in and of itself, but obviously I’m more interested in the large plastic squid that was included along with it. It is 11″ long and a sickly shade of light gray. I’m not a aware of a species of squid that looks quite like this, but considering that it’s nearly as big a G.I. Joe himself, I’d guess this was based on the Humboldt Squid.
Here’s my G.I. Joe squid, which I got off Ebay a few years ago. The right tentacle club is stamped “© 1975 Hasbro.”
November 13, 2009
Ten years after Tentakil, Takama/Hasbro added a new cephalopod to the Transformers family. And this one actually resembles a real animal!
Meet Claw Jaw. He was released in 1997 as part of the second wave of the Beast Wars Basic figure assortment. The Beast Wars Transformers franchise was set several hundred years in the future of the Generation 1 continuity. Instead of Autobots versus Decepticons, we have their descendants: Maximals and Predacons. Instead of transforming into vehicles, these robots change into various animals. In the states, the toy line was supported by a successful cartoon series (1996-1999) and more recently in comics published by IDW.
Despite the fact that most Maximals were mammals (and Predicons were generally reptiles and insects), Claw Jaw is actually one of the good guys. In his beast mode, Claw Jaw has eight arms, two tentacles, and a long, finned mantle. Even though his eyes are in the wrong position, and his beak is oriented the wrong way, it’s not a bad representation of a squid, all things considered. The figure is about 6″ long in squid mode, but only stands about 4″ tall in robot mode. A trigger on his ventral side causes the beak to open and shut.
Unlike the previously discussed Tentakil, Claw Jaw looks pretty cool in both robot and beast modes.
In 1998, a green and yellow repaint was marketed in Europe as a “Transmetal” version.
Although never appearing in the TV series, Claw Jaw did appear in the Beast Wars comics series The Gathering (Feb. 2006) and The Ascending (Nov. 2007). According to these comics, he prefers to spend his time in an underwater layer, and only really gets along with other marine Maximals. Using the suction cups on his tentacles, Claw Jaw can drain energy directly from his enemies. He has a particularly bitter hatred for Predacon crab Razorclaw.
This is Tentakil, a Generation 1 Transformer, and member of the Decepticon sub-group the Seacons. Each Seacon was a different monsterous sea creature, and although the resemblance is questionable, ten-armed Tentakil does, in fact, appear to be a squid.
All five Seacons could combine to form the super-robot Piranacon. Tentakil was the left leg.
This is a little off-topic, but who the hell thought electric pink and teal were good colors for evil aquatic robots!?
Anyway…when not on leg duty, Tentakil could transform into three different solo modes. In his beast mode, this bipedal squid-bot appears to be wearing a Creature From The Black Lagoon Halloween mask. My figure is missing his accessories, but he would have originally come with two “Slime Laser rifles” that could be head-mounted (mantle-mounted?) in beast mode or carried like regular guns in robot mode. Tentakil also has a third “Targetmaster” mode where he turns into a “50,000 volt lightning rifle.”
Like all G1 Transformers (as well as the Battle Beasts from yesterday’s post), Tentakil was produced by Takama/Hasbro. The figure is stamped 1987, but it appears that the Seacons didn’t hit American toy shelves until 1988. I realize I didn’t include any sense of scale in these photos, but the toy is about 3 3/4″ tall. Even though my brother and I had quite a few Transformers in our time, we never had this or any of the Seacon figures. My future brother-in-law, who was an avid Transformer collector at the time, gave me this Tentakil figure after he found out that I collected cephalopods.
In Japan, the figure was marketed as Tentakil drone for the Super-God Masterforce line, and in 1998 a repainted version of this figure became Scylla, a female Predacon in the Beast Wars line. Another repainted Tentakil was released as part of an Official Transformers Collectors’ Club exclusive Seacon gift set in 2008.
Tentakil (and the entire Seacon crew) debuted in Marvel’s Transformers comic in a four issue story arc called the “Underbase Saga.” As far as I can tell, it has something to do the battle between different Transformer factions to control the master database that contains the collective knowledge of the entire Transformer race. And it’s under water. Or something.
The Seacons, it seems, work for Decepticon mini-cassette Ratbat, and they are trying to acquire the “Underbase” before either the Autobots or the treacherous Starscream does.
According to the Transformers fan site Unicron.com, this is how Tentakil is described in his comic book appearances.
He is undeniably the cruelest, deadliest Seacon. His style is as distinctive as it is lethal. He showers a potential victim with kindness, offering him help, even complimenting his appearance. And then, once he has gained the confidence of his victim, Tentakil moves in for the kill. In a flash, kindness turns to cruelty. The soft caress of his limbs turns into a deadly, unyielding stranglehold. He seems to take a perverse pleasure in these amiable charades, enjoying them even more than their inevitable, lethal conclusions.
Wow, what an a-hole!
November 10, 2009
Tonight for Action Figure Week we have some toys that I actually played with in my youth—Battle Beasts! Originally produced in the mid-1980′s by Japanese toy company Takara (under the name “BeastFormers”), Battle Beasts were marketed in the US by Hasbro. They are 2″ figures representing various anthropomorphic animals, each decked out in high-tech armor and wielding a unique bladed weapon. Each figure had a heat-activated sticker which depicted one of three “elemental” symbols: fire, water, or wood. The idea was that when you make any two Battle Beats “fight,” you activate the stickers to see which element each animal represents. Water beats fire, fire beats wood, and wood, for some reason, beats water (I think because wood makes it splash?). I never really cared about that, however, I was just into the animals. I divided them up into three armies: land, air and sea, and I assigned them all ranks and military specialties.
There were 76 figures in the original three series. Most of them were mammals and birds, but there were a few fish and invertebrates, including these two cephalopods.
Both the squid and the octopus were released in 1987 as part of Series 2. The squid (it’s not a cuttlefish, no matter what they say) is mine, but I seem to have lost the octopus at some point over the years. (I should probably try to pick it up on Ebay one of these days.) The photo here is from the excellent Battle Beast section of ToyArchive.com. The squid (which you might recognize as my blog avatar) is missing its weapon, a small double-tipped spear, but as you can see he can still defend himself with his prosthetic harpoon arm!
November 9, 2009
Welcome to Action Figure Week!
Defined as a “posable character figurine,” the term “action figure” was originally coined by American toy company Hasbro in 1964 to market their G.I. Joe line to boys. The success of G.I. Joe was followed by other popular toy lines, like Mego’s DC and Marvel superheroes, but it was a little movie called Star Wars that earned the action figure a permanent spot in the pantheon of classic toys. Just don’t call them dolls!
Cephalopods may seem like unlikely subjects for the action figure treatment, but there have been several notable examples over the years. As luck would would have it, I happen to own most of them! So here we go…
This may look like a Cthulhu action figure, but it’s Killamari from Mattel’s “Street Sharks” toy line. The corresponding Street Sharks cartoon series (by DIC Entertainment), which was probably created to promote the toys, ran from 1994-1996. The basic premise is that a mad scientist (Dr. Paradigm, aka “Dr. Piranoid”) has transformed the four sons of a rival professor into shark-men. They team up to fight the evil geneticist and his band of monsterous mutant sea creatures. Killamari is one of these “Seaviates.” He is a mutant squid that can fire poisonous projectiles from his mouth and suckers. Killamari is highly intelligent, but has limited abilities of speech, a fact that has sparked a rivalry with fellow Seaviate Slash (a mutated marlin). He was voiced by D. Kevin Williams (who also did a number of other voices in the series).
Killamari was released in 1995 as part of the first Street Sharks assortment. At 6″ tall and nearly 5″ wide at the shoulder, it is a pretty big hunk of plastic. The toys and cartoon were a bit after my time (I was in college), but I picked this figure up a flea market sometime in the late 90′s. I got it as-is, so I’m not sure what accessories it would have come with originally. However, this photo of the figure in its packaging indicates that there was a “dart” that fired out of the toy’s head.