There is some great stuff going on in town this weekend, so we’re going to take a quick look at some of that before we dive into the meat of this week’s PopCulteer.
The Legend of Ginger and Billy Joe: The Stock Car Musical
This is the new Dan Kehde/Mark Scarpelli musical, put on by The Contemporary Youth Arts Company, and it actually opened last night at the WVSU Capitol Center Theater. This is not your typical CYAC production. The Stock Car Musical is a wicked parody of Redneck culture, about as raunchy as “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” but about a hundred times funnier. Your PopCulteer only got to see the first four numbers from this show when we recorded portions of a dress rehearsal for next week’s Radio Free Charleston, but I can tell that the show is fall-on-your-ass hilarious.
Maddie Gourevich and Travis Stephens are Ginger and Billy Joe, two star-crossed lovers trying to find their way back together five years, three marriages and divorces and three kids later. The action takes place at The Blue Bonnet Whiskey 500, where Billy Joe wants to be a driver, just like his dad, and Ginger sells T-shirts to the crowd. Billy Joe’s aspirations are blocked by the owner of the Snout driving team, who promised Billy Joe’s mother that he wouldn’t let her son race because that’s how his daddy died.
Saturday at Kanawha Players Theater, Wood Boys Music presents September Slam II, a benefit for the families of Fallen WV State Troopers Marshall Bailey and Eric Workman. A five-dollar donation gets you in the door for a full day of crunchy metal goodness from Linework, Godmode Broadway, Tomorrow Burns, StychNTyme, Fall Before Your Creator, Beyond The Wayside, Dead Serious, Strain The Wicked and White Chapel District.
I’m about three years late to this party, but last week I acquired a toy from eBay that has a fascinating story behind it. As long time readers of PopCult may know, my favorite superhero is Captain Marvel (the one who says “Shazam” and before you ask, I pretty much hate what DC is doing with him now). I seek out Shazam action figures, and found one on eBay for cheap. It was a Super Powers figure, purportedly from Kazahkstan. I didn’t know what to expect.
What I got is quite amusing. It is an action figure of Captain Marvel (not “Shazam”) and it’s on a very authentic-looking Super Powers card.
Super Powers was a line of DC Comics action figures produced by Kenner in the 1980s. It was a vast line, with many less-well-known characters making their debuts as action figures in this series. The figures were of a very high quality, around four inches, and most of them had some kind of special feature–they would throw a punch or move their legs if you squeezed them in the right place (much like real people). These action figures are highly collectible these days, especially the later releases of the more obscure characters.
About three years ago a flood of “newly-discovered” Super Powers figures, which depicted characters who, for the most part, had not been included in the Kenner series in the 80s. Inititially these sold for upwards of $75 to $90.
At first, the red flags were not so obvious. There was a precedent for foreign versions of the Super Powers line to include figures that were not in the American assortments. In Brazil, a figure of the Batman villain, The Riddler, was created by combining body parts from different figures and repainting them. However, when folks actually got their hands on these puppies, it was pretty certain that something was amiss.
First of all, these were made by “International Toy Werks” of Kazahkstan.This was in 2009, when Borat was still fresh in the minds of pranksters everywhere. The ITW slogan is “Cultural Learning Of American Toys.” The logo is pretty freaking brilliant, a hammer and sickle inside a Superman-style shield.
The back of the card promises twenty new figures, of which, one, Captain Marvel, was actually released by Kenner in America, while they also recreate the Brazilian Riddler. Aside from those two, the line-up is a combination wish-list and mind-boggler. It includes characters from the Super Friends cartoon, newer DC characters like Black Lightning and Booster Gold, two Charlton Comics characters that DC purchased in the 80s, a few villians, and, for reasons known only to God and the people behind this project, Bruce Lee. He’s listed as “The Dragon,” but it’s Bruce Lee. They even used a photo of him instead of line art, like all the rest of the figures.
Then there’s the fine print. The front of the package bears two lines of copy worth noting. Under the bubble that contains the figure, it says “CONTENTS: One Art Sculpture” The Kenner packages say “One Action Figure.” At the top of the package, where Kenner packages say “Ages Three And Up,” these packages say “AGES 18 AND UP, THIS IS NOT A TOY.”
Then you notice that all the copy on the package is in English. And you find even more fine print: “All character names and representations are trademarks of their respected owners. All rights reserved. This product contains magnetic parts not suitable for children.” Of course, there are no magnetic parts in sight.
It’s pretty clear that these action figures are a prank. They were an elaborate and lucrative prank, and taken as such, they’re quite an accomplishment, but but the Super Powers completists can rest easy. These are bootleg toys.
With that out of the way, and with me only having one of them in my hands, you might wonder what the quality is. Well, there’s good and bad. Major kudos go to the packaging. Whoever made these went to great lengths to duplicate the look and feel of the Kenner Super Powers blister cards. They matched fonts, colors, layout and they even managed to have glossy card front and matte card back of the original line. The illustrations they chose for the line art of the characters shows a lot of thought. The Super Friends characters and some of the villains appear to be taken from Alex Toth’s model sheets for the Hanna-Barbera cartoon. Captain Marvel is an iconic pose drawn by C.C. Beck. I think The Blue Beetle is taken from a Charlton Comics fanzine. I’m pretty sure that’s a Jim Aparo Black Lightning.
And then that photo of Bruce Lee just ties the whole joke together. The packaging is terrific.
The action figure itself sorta sucks. Many of these figures are poorly-made, with some of them falling apart in the package and some of them held together with hooks and rubber bands. Captain Marvel does not come with his cape. The paint on mine looks like a pretty good custom, but I’m not going to tempt fate and risk having him spill out of the package in pieces if I open him. Having a packaged figure labelled “Captain Marvel” instead of “Shazam” is too valuable to me. (When Captain Marvel was revived by DC Comics in the early 1970s, they couldn’t title his comic “Captain Marvel” because Marvel Comics had trademarked the word “Marvel” while the good Captain was not being published)
I have to pause for a moment to give credit to Julius Marx and Cantina Dan over at Action Figure Insider for their informative reviews of these figures from back when they first appeared. Their reviews are insightful and hilarious, and unfortunately don’t help us find out who was responsible for this hoax.
There are so many stories floating around on various messages boards that I doubt anybody will manage to solve this mystery. So many different accounts are floating around that an honest confession by the true perpetrators would get lost in the mix.
So we can suppose a few things. These were probably manufactured within the United States. Aside from “Made in Kazahkstan” there are no marks indicating country of origin, and the penalty for smuggling bootleg intellectual property into the country is pretty heavy. The product is also too clever and authentic-looking to be a bootleg product from overseas.
The manufacturing looks to be small-scale. I don’t know how many of these sold on eBay, but someobdy cranking these out in their garage, or in a small factory set up, couldn’t produce huge quantities. There may be as few as a dozen or as many as a hundred of each figure. They appear to be hand-painted, which would take a hell of a long time if it was a one-or-two-man operation.
Keeping the secret of who made these is probably made easier due to the issues of fraud and copyright infringement. I can’t imagine that eBay would be too happy to have someone confess that they used the online auction site to profit off of bootleg toys. You gotta figure that whoever created this line probably pocketed at least a few thousand bucks. For awhile these figures were pulling down big money.
I got mine for less than twenty bucks, and with the story behind it, it’s worth every penny to me. You have to wonder if maybe, these figures were produced by Andy Kaufmann, Elvis Presley and Tupac. Think of all the spare time they must have after faking their deaths.