The notion of a retro, Kenner-style action figure has been a gag I've been talking about for a while - Super7 got to it first with real vintage sculpts first, but I talked to a few companies about this for a while - and Star Wars fans have been asking for it for years. Now Bif Bang Pow! brought out seven characters in 2-3 colorways each, including Henry Bemis. The colorized version is a convention exclusive, and I was indeed involved in some discussions surrounding the creation of this figure - so consider this a biased overview.
These are Bif Bang Pow!'s first "retro" 3 3/4-inch action figures. More modern creations for The Venture Bros. and Dexter exist, while Saturday Night Live's "The Ambiguously Gay Duo" exist in a space in between the classic and modern figure styles. It's my understanding there are plans for more of some of these, but I don't think I'm supposed to talk about that yet, so let's pretend that I didn't.
With the question of "color, or black and white?" the answer was "both." Why? Well, obviously you need to make the most out of your sculpting and tooling budgets, but at the same time it's tough to decide what people want - on one hand, black-and-white action figures aren't really a thing (with a few exceptions). On the other, there aren't really good color guides or color photography from this era of the show, and you want to make something cool - so here we are, with two styles from which to choose. Black and white is retailing cheaper, so why not go that route?
In terms of functionality, the figure deviates slightly from the inspiration. The hands are differently shaped, but due to a more flexible plastic are quite good at gripping his included book accessories. The feet are rotated out a tiny bit, and feature peg holes - but these are sized to modern 3 3/4-inch figure pegs, rather than the larger ones of the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s. Straight out of the package my Bemis sample had a little problem standing, but thanks to the plastic having some give the legs could be easily manipulated into standing normally. He has no problems standing upright while holding his precious books, which is a huge plus for me.
Part of the challenge posed by this kind of figure is walking that fine line between doing something authentic to the time, doing something crappy, and doing something that seems to carry the vocabulary of this era. The head sculpt of Mr. Bemis is, for better or worse, more modern looking with more detail than his vintage counterparts - he seems more lively, and more specific to the actor. The coke bottle glasses were conveyed nicely with the "lens" effectively blurring out his eyes, but other details like his glossy boots are decidedly un-vintage. Articulation is exactly what you'd expect, and the joints on my sample aren't quite as stiff as some of the other similar retro figures. Most important of all, he passes the Landspeeder Test (TM) in which I have decreed that any figure boasting 1970s aesthetics must be able to fit in a 1970s vehicle - and he does! Being able to sit with his legs at a right angle is arguably the most important thing for a figure of this era, as vehicles were a very important part of the marketing of this kind of toy. Even though there aren't any vehicles in this line - and I suspect, may well never come to pass - it's something I consider to be incredibly important.
Another departure from real vintage figures that this figure (and Funko, Super7, and Zica are dealing with) is that there's really no visible bare plastic here. There's a sheen on the plastic of these old figures which you can't replicate with paint, and the painted grey suit gives Bemis a mate finish. Overall I'd say he looks pretty good, but whenever you paint a figure over completely you'll see one or two more imperfections than you would see were he molded in color.
In an effort to keep this kind of figure going, it's a good one - I daresay one of the best of the initial wave. The figure seems to really get it, even if it does do things a vintage figure wouldn't do like add painted white pages to the book rather than it be an unpleasant, painted blob. Much like The Rocketeer figure, there's a fine line between going old-school, and trying to make an attractive collectible figure - and it's a struggle we'll likely continue to see play itself out over time between now and whenever this style of product becomes unpopular. I'm happy with what we see here, because even though it doesn't quite ape Kenner's style it does feel like something that on the whole could have existed at some point in the mid or late 1980s, deco aside. For ten bucks, I'd suggest grabbing Henry Bemis or another one of these figures. It's neat!
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