The late ’70s were a fantastic time to be alive and to be a kid addicted to action figures. Once Kenner struck gold with Star Wars, the race to snag the license to the Next Big Thing was on, especially if it was a TV or movie license set in space. Mattel gave us Battlestar Galactica, Mego paid top rights for Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, The Black Hole and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and best of all, all of these figures were in more or less the same scale as Kenner’s venerable Star Wars range.
After all, Kenner had proven that this smaller scale – almost unthinable prior to George Lucas’ epic, when foot-tall G.I. Joe figures ruled the boys’ toy aisle – made affordable vehicles and playsets practical, and Kenner’s competitors decided to jump on that bandwagon with aplomb. For the want of a rare Enterprise bridge, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock commanded the second floor of the Death Star with its permanent control consoles which, while virtually unlike anything ever seen in Star Trek, kinda sorta approximated the layout of the Enterprise bridge. Kinda. Sorta. Buck Rogers’ starfighter was a space-rated version of the Rebel snowspeeder, because they were somewhat similarly shaped…kinda. (Sorta.) C-3PO and R2-D2 went on big adventures with the Battlestar Galactica robot dog and VINCENT. It was a grand universe where anything went, because everyone fit in everyone else’s ships and playsets.
But there was one license whose failure to happen seemed to mark the beginning of the end of this era. It’s a license whose figures I would have bought in a heartbeat because I loved the movie so much (despite my mother’s open-mouthed surprise at how racy some scenes of it were). It would’ve been a line of space heroes who would gladly have joined forces with Luke and Han and Spock and Buck and Wilma and Twiki and a pile of loose-limbed Micronauts.
And they didn’t happen until recently. We are, of course, talking about the Dino de Laurentiis-produced 1980 big screen adaptation, Flash Gordon, starring Sam J. Jones, Brian Blessed, Timothy Dalton, and Max von Sydow. Thanks to Bif Bang Pow!, a company that until more recently had specialized in 8-inch, cloth-uniformed “Mego-style” figures (hearkening back to that company’s original line of Star Trek figures in the early 1970s), Flash and his sometimes argumentative band of allies are finally ready to join the fight.
A major difference between Bif Bang Pow!’s offerings and those of rival 3 3/4″ revivalists Funko is that there is no attempt here to adhere strictly to the form factor or aesthetics of Kenner’s early Star Wars range. While the scale does make genuinely close likenesses unlikely at best, a better-than-decent attempt is made here to make the characters resemble their original actors. Such is the influence of the 1980 movie that, much like the vehicle and uniform designs from 1984’s Dune, its look has had a seismic effect on nearly every later adaptation of the same source material. Do you remember the 2007 Sci-Fi Channel attempt to retell Flash Gordon as a series? No you don’t. But you know exactly who, in the 1980 film, bellowed the line “Gordon is aliiiiiive!” – because it’s had more than 35 years to all but become a meme in the collective consciousness.
Most of the characters are packaged with an appropriate weapon (my favorite has to be Prince Vultan of the Hawkmen, who gleefully clubbed one of Ming’s own guards in an early scene with his spiked club, only to look the other way and whistle innocently as his victim met the floor), and there’s something about the bright, meticulous recreations of the movie’s sequined costumes that just screams “they don’t make ’em like this anymore.” Long before the early ’90s Dick Tracy movie made a big deal out of having done so from a production design standpoint, Flash Gordon made a magnificent visual virtue of being based upon source material that arrived in four colors.
If there’s a drawback to Big Bang Pow!’s Flash Gordon series, it’s a complaint similar to the one that I had for Funko’s ReAction Firefly line – no second wave was forthcoming, so characters like Dale Arden and Dr. Hans Zarkov and Klytus (oh, what a fantastic figure could’ve been made of him in this scale!) remained sidelined.
Bif Bang Pow’s 3 3/4″ Flash Gordon figures ran into two foes more powerful than Ming himself: fans of the movie had already populated their nostalgia toy shelves with an earlier 6″ scale range of figures based in the 1980 movie, and by the time the same characters were immortalized in “Star Wars scale”, Funko had glutted the market with ReAction figures. The only physical retailer where I was ever able to buy a Flash Gordon action figure was the now-defunct Hastings, apparently the only brick-and-mortar that would make room for them.
A pity for what could’ve been a universe of wildly colorful space heroes. In the meantime, Klytus, I’m bored. What plaything do you have for me next?