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Bevheads

March 19th, 2013 No comments

I’m unsure when I built my first web page. I do know that it was a simple “home page” (remember those?) hosted on the defunct Prairienet community network, which itself debuted in 1993. My guess is that I joined Prairienet soon afterward.

The first site that I created with an online audience in mind was a fan tribute to the ’80s sci-fi TV series V. You’ll still find a version of it right here on this blog. Unfortunately, as those files have been copied multiple times, their original date stamps are lost.

But my topic for today is the second site I built.

In the early-to-mid ’90s, I was seriously into action figures. Oh, you might think that I’m still into them, but not in the way I was then. I didn’t restrict myself to a couple of toy lines; I bought whatever tickled my fancy. I was a frequent contributor to the Usenet group rec.toys.action-figures, and even a member of a secret cabal of collectors who helped each other acquire more-difficult-to-find items.

I was also very much into Star Trek: The Next Generation. And my favorite character wasn’t Picard or Data or Worf. It was Dr. Beverly Crusher, as portrayed by actress Gates McFadden. I was smitten with her from the get-go. Sure, Deanna Troi was boobtastic, but it was the dancing doctor that held my attention.

And so it was that, as they say, two great tastes tasted great together. In the early days of the World Wide Web, I was amused by some of the oddly-specific fan sites that had sprung up, and wanted to create one of my own. In my head, the joke would be that it would be something insanely narrow in focus, something no one else in the entire world would devote a site to.

Thus was born Bevheads. I reasoned that anyone could make a Star Trek action figure site, but who in their right mind would build one solely for Beverly Crusher toys?

The original "Bevheads" logo.

Eventually the joke began to run away with itself. As parodies often do, it came to resemble the very thing at which it was poking fun. I went from simply photographing tiny, plastic Beverlys to customizing my own. As I cannibalized figures for my Frankensteinian creations, the name “Bevheads” acquired a second meaning. Headless bodies and bodiless heads cluttered my work space.

I gained a little notoriety for my efforts, but was bothered by those occasions on which people failed to pick up on the joke. I bristled at being featured on the now-defunct site Portal of Evil, which subjected fan pages to mean-spirited mockery. One day I got fed up and deleted my entire site. Some of the figures were sold off in a general purge of my collection, and if I still have any of the photos, they’re hidden away on a poorly-labelled CD-ROM.

Bevheads was on my mind today when my friend Dave Lartigue directed me to this: Gates McFadden’s own Tumblr feed. While it’s ostensibly about her theater company, mostly she’s…posting photos of Beverly Crusher action figures. I am gobsmacked. (My actual reply to Dave L.: “You are fucking kidding me.”)

I did some Googling around in preparation for this blog entry, hoping to find some of my old photos floating in the ether. And I had my second surprise of the day: this tribute to Bevheads, complete with an Andy Warhol-inspired photo montage of one of my headless Bevs. It made me happy to learn that somewhere out there, someone got a kick out of the enthusiasm with which I pursued my oddly-specific mania.

While the original Bevheads pictures may be forever lost–with the exception of the one I stole back from the above-mentioned tribute–I pulled out my remaining Beverlys for a little photo shoot this evening.

Here are some of the original, unaltered figures made by Playmates Toys back in the ’90s. Front row (L-R): ’40s attire (from the episode “The Big Goodbye”); “Generations” movie uniform (actually an unused costume design); two standard Bevs (without and with lab jacket); Captain Beverly Picard (from the series finale “All Good Things”); Starfleet Academy cadet. Rear: 9″ scale doll with cloth costume and rooted hair.

Some decidedly non-canonical Beverlys. These were simple custom jobs involving head-swaps and a bit of paint. From L-R: captain’s uniform; dress uniform; Original Series miniskirt.

My weirder, creepier custom jobs (L-R): “tough chick” (body from a wrestling character); “slumber party” (body from the teen soap Swans Crossing); “Jabba the Hutt’s slave” (body from Princess Leia, natch); aerobics outfit (from the episode “The Price”); Lego; “Mirror Universe.”

My old friend Doug Mikkelson built this “Beverly Fett” for me as a birthday present. It’s noticeably more elaborate than my own customs.

And now for something completely different: a custom Deanna Troi, built from another of those Swans Crossing figures. I believe that I called her “Western Fun Troi.”

Finally, here are some of my bisected Bevs, including the one which inspired that Warhol homage. Amusingly, it was still in the same pose as when I took the original photo way back when.

I hope that you enjoyed this look into my psychosis. Why are you backing away from me?

 

Where Ya Goin’, Mister Spaceman?

June 28th, 2009 No comments

My good friend Dave Lartigue has just embraced the purpose for which he was born, mewling, onto this earth. Beginning today, he is retelling every adventure of DC Comics’ premiere space taxi driver, Space Cabby!

Read it while you have the chance! Because, once he’s completed this final task, the stars will begin to go out, one by one…

Categories: Comics Tags: ,

What I’ve Been Doing

February 24th, 2009 No comments

It’s been pointed out to me that I haven’t blogged in some time. Indeed, when I logged into this site this morning, I was surprised to find that it had been longer than even I’d thought: twelve days since the last post. So, to the dozen of people who stroll by here on occasion, my apologies.

I attribute the silence to a combination of work-related issues, a massive amount of cleaning necessitated by the aftermath of Basement 2.1, and the visit of my good friend Dave Lartigue, who has been staying with us since last Friday while handling his own work-related issues here in Champaign.

Oh, and an awful lot of Spore. Once I hit the Space Stage of the game, I found the experience very addictive. The Spore galaxy is made up of what appears to be thousands of star systems. And unlike a lot of space exploration games, you are by no means expected to visit them all. I have perhaps a dozen or so planets in my little empire, and they’re about all I can effectively manage. It seems as if I’m always being called home to handle some sort of environmental disaster or fend off yet another attack by the Grox.

Ah, the Grox. The constant thorn in the side of every Spore player. A thoroughly belligerent alien species that starts the game pissed off at the player and generally grows in anger with each successive contact. I understand that it’s possible to come to terms, and even to ally with the Grox, but at the cost of every other species in the game hating you. 

When one isn’t defending colonies from the Grox, there’s a lot to do. I particularly enjoy terraforming planets to support my type of life form. Over time, the player acquires tools that allow one to coax the atmosphere and temperature into the habitable range, and then to transport various species abducted from other planets to form a “food web.” I like watching the planetary conditions change in response to my ministrations, and love the planetary sculpting and painting functions. The latter make me feel like I’m one of the custom planet-designers from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

While I may have found some of the earlier stages of Spore a bit lacking, what I do like about them is the way that they inform this final section of the game. A player will find planets at every level of development. Back in the Creature Stage, one would experience mysterious circumstances such as meteor showers or hovering spacecraft abducting fellow nestmates. In the Space Stage, the player is the one calling down those meteors and snatching the locals.

In addition, the online aspect of Spore means that your personal galaxy is filled with a potentially infinite number of life forms and structures designed by other players. There’s always something new to find.

This weekend, while Dave L. was asleep fighting off a bad cold, I decided to make the perilous journey to the galactic core. Which, unfortunately, is surrounded by thousands of star systems…all inhabitated by angry Grox. After a dozen or so tries, I finally reached it. And met Steve, of whom I will speak no more.

And then I buzzed the Grox world closest to the core, and dropped a Planet Buster bomb on it. It felt good.

The Jedi Purge

June 22nd, 2008 No comments

Last week, I made a major lifestyle choice. No, not what you’re thinking, though it’s now legal in California. Rather, a few days back I decided that enough was at last enough. It was time to stop the madness, and take back the toyroom.

As you know, I’ve been collecting Star Wars toys since they first arrived on store shelves in 1978. Back then, I idly thought one day that eventually there might be as many as sixty or seventy different action figures based on the promised nine films, and that it would be fun to set them up in little dioramas.

I had no idea what I was getting myself in for.

By the time the original Kenner toy line ended in 1985, 96 different figures had been released. (The most figures to come out in a single year were the 17 that accompanied the premiere of Return of the Jedi.) That was more than I had originally expected, but still a pretty reasonable total. With extra “army builders” such as stormtroopers, I had perhaps 130 total.

And indeed, I did follow through with my grand plan of collecting them all and setting up my little scenes. There were usually two reactions to my display: visitors were either impressed or frightened. (Vic was unusual in that she didn’t react at all.)

Flash forward to 1995, when the line was relaunched. While the early releases were absurdly beefy, with time the sculpts improved and they began to replace their so-called “vintage” counterparts in my scenes. Eventually, I purged most of my original figures, partially because I wanted to take advantage of their escalating secondary-market value, and partially because the plastic used to make them was getting tacky with age.

When the first of the prequels premiered in 1999, I had a choice: should I continue my collection with the new characters, or just stick with the original films? I thought “Do I really want to spend another eight years incessantly running to toy stores?” But I thought “At least then it will be over.”

Hah, hah, hah.

Nine years later, the line is still going strong. Too strong. The allegedly final film was released in 2005, but there are dozens and dozens of Star Wars toys planned for the next several months alone. Some of that is due to new media projects in the works, some due to the mature collectors market which allows the creation of ever more obscure characters to serve in “exclusive” boxed sets, and some due to what I believe to be sheer cussedness on the part of Hasbro.

The latter has manifested itself in a never-ending, rainbow coalition of droids in new paint schemes. Hasbro learned that people such as myself would buy R2-D2 dozens of times over if each was a different color. (And of course, the same trick was used for the many “astromech” droids seen in the films.)

The clone troopers have been even worse. Unlike the stormtroopers of old, which came solely in white, the many squadrons of clones seen in Revenge of the Sith each had their own unit colors. (The better to market to you, my dear.) There were orange clones, red clones, purple clones (yes, really)…

Then someone got the bright idea that the ones from the film weren’t enough. It was child’s play to create brand new clone squadrons. Bring on the “exclusives!”

The poster child for this trend was last year’s 14-figure set of repainted clones and Boba Fett knockoffs. Fourteen figures–nearly as many as the most prolific year of the original Star Wars toy line–and ten of them couldn’t even claim a tie to an “official” film, comic, novel or videogame.

I surprised myself by not being suckered into buying them for the sake of completism. It was harder than it sounds; I sometimes think I’m borderline OCD. But once I passed on those, it became just a little easier to avoid other “exclusives” of similarly dubious provenance.

Still, the toys piled up, and spilled off the overcrowded shelves onto the floor. It was a mess, and the collection was becoming harder to manage. It was starting to become more frustrating than fun.

Plus, I got fucking sick of this face:

It’s what you see every time you look under a clone trooper’s helmet. Naturally enough, as they’re all meant to be identical. But still, what’s the joy of an action figure with a removable helmet if it’s always the same damned face underneath? And now they’re even giving us classic trilogy stormtroopers with that same head!

As I sat in a movie theater a few weeks ago watching the trailer for the newest Star Wars media project, an animated film based on the Clone Wars, I realized that George Lucas had learned his lesson. Last time a Star Wars trilogy ended, it was a mere two years before the merchandising empire died out. He’s not gonna let it happen this time. After the Clone Wars cartoons there’s going to be a multi-season, live-action series set in the time period between the trilogies. And of course, an endless supply of spin-off stories spinning off an endless supply of figures…and on and on and on…

So, as I said, enough is enough.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I won’t buy any more Star Wars toys. And I’m not saying that I’m getting rid of all the ones I’ve already got. But what I am doing is getting back to my roots, and as a consequence, giving up any pretense of completism.

The truth is that while I’ve made my peace with the prequels, I’ve never really loved them the way I do the original trilogy. What I’ve decided is that all those Jedi, battle droids and especially those thrice-damned clones need to go.

And so, last week I began to cull my toyroom on a larger scale than ever before. In honor of the secret command that led to the purge of the Jedi in Revenge of the Sith, I’m calling it “Order 66.”

I tore down the displays and rebuilt them from scratch with a sole focus on the original films. No more scenes with fifteen guys in identical brown robes. No more Creamsicle colored clones. And no obligation to buy every damned thing that comes from Hasbro even if it did show up in a comic book once.

The toyroom now looks great. Most everything is off the floor. And losing the prequel displays gave me more room for Lego models. I even completely reorganized the closet. It’s very satisfying.

I did keep some prequel figures: background aliens, astromechs, and the various Sith lords. Also a few favorite items, such as General Grievous’ wheel bike and the vicious Acklay beast.

As for the rest…well, that’s phase two. The next step is to sort several hundred action figures and vehicles into lots, and to dig out their respective accessories. Then, it’s on to eBay!

I know that you probably don’t realize how big a step this is for me. I’ve been collecting this crap for thirty years, and whatever frustration I and my wallet have been feeling lately, there was a lot of inertia willing me onward. I’m not exactly Rosa Parks on the bus here, but I am taking back at a little piece of my life, and it feels good.

Twenty Years Into My Future

April 29th, 2008 No comments


From The Brave and the Bold #70, February-March 1967

Categories: Comics Tags: ,

That Show You Like Is Going To Come Back In Style

April 4th, 2008 No comments

One good thing to come out of this week’s phlegm-o-rama was the opportunity to plow through the remaining half of my Twin Peaks “Definitive Gold Box Edition” DVD set: fifteen episodes spread over three days.

Coming back to Twin Peaks seventeen years after this late and very much lamented series blipped into cathode ray oblivion it strikes me as nothing less than the Rosetta Stone of modern scripted television. I’d argue that shows ranging from The X-Files and Battlestar Galactica to Gilmore Girls and Desperate Housewives all border on the same woods surrounding that famous Washington logging town.

When Peaks debuted in April, 1990 it looked like nothing else on television. Co-creator David Lynch was a celebrated film director making a leap to the small screen at a time when that was seen as a step down, and he brought his cinematic sensibilities to the composition of shots and the pacing of scenes. Meanwhile, his surreal storytelling and strange visions turned the weirdness knob to eleven and demonstrated to other film directors that working in an episodic TV format didn’t mean they had to check their creativity at the studio door.

Lynch poked a pointy stick at small-town life, exposing both seediness and silliness, and in the decades that followed, the odd qualities of Twin Peaks and its inhabitants have informed other quirky fictional communities. Cicily, Stuckeyville, Trinity, Stars’ Hollow, Sunnydale and many more can trace a route back to the Double R Diner.

But what really fueled the pop-culture juggernaut that was Peaks before it became a spectacular, flaming wreck was a deceptively simple question: “Who killed Laura Palmer?” The discovery of the popular-but-troubled high school student’s plastic-wrapped body captured the public imagination.

Unlike Dallas‘ famous query, “Who shot J.R.?” there was no easy answer. The clues were numerous and not easily interpreted, coming often in dreams and visions. The enormous cast of characters offered dozens of potential suspects, and magazines published two-page spreads detailing the web of connections between them.

The funny thing was that, as we eventually learned, the producers originally had no intention of solving the mystery. Laura’s death was meant to be the catalyst that brought Kyle MacLachlan’s FBI Agent Dale Cooper to the town and led to the exposure of its many seamy secrets. However, they hadn’t reckoned on the audience’s demand for closure, nor the endless drum-beating of the network’s own publicity department. Honestly, I don’t see how it would’ve worked as a multi-year premise even if ABC hadn’t been pushing the “Who killed Laura Palmer?” gurney as fast as its little wheels could spin.

Originally airing as an eight-episode miniseries in the spring of 1990, Peaks returned with a full season that fall, but the pressure was on and the producers capitulated by November and revealed Laura’s own father as her spirit-possessed murderer. And when he in turn died a few weeks later, the show deflated like a pie without cherry filling.

That’s not to say that some interesting things didn’t come out of the final thirteen episodes. I really got into the supernatural elements which came to the forefront: demonic owls, Project Blue Book, and the search for the hellish Black Lodge that ended in David Lynch’s nightmarish and infuriatingly incomplete cliffhanger.

Back in the day, Twin Peaks‘ use of long-term storytelling was an anomaly. Most TV dramas were episodic, with plots both introduced and concluded in a single installment. (Or, if they were feeling frisky, they might toss in a two-parter.) This format made them more attractive once they hit the after market of syndication; local TV stations could run episodes in any order without disrupting continuity.

Peaks didn’t introduce the story arc format. The soap operas which it both emulated and spoofed relied on it for decades, and even more conventional dramas had begun to adopt the idea, notably the late ’80s crime drama Wiseguy. Still, I think it’s worth noting that in a day when shows boasting multi-year story arcs are both commonplace and diverse (ranging from Lost to How I Met Your Mother), Peaks is inevitably trotted out as the cautionary tale of “what not to do.”

As for myself, I see Peaks not as a failure but a trailblazer. It arrived just a few years too early to take full advantage of the Internet’s ability to connect fans into manic, clue-solving engines. (It did inspire a “save our show” letter-writing campaign; letters, remember those? If it was on the air today, some poor ABC mailroom drone would be drowning in logs or pieces of cherry pie.) Furthermore, story arcs have become enough of a norm that both viewers and networks are a bit more patient in allowing them to unspool. They won’t wait indefinitely (see Lost), but the frustration takes longer to set in.

I continue to hope that someday we’ll get one final journey back to Twin Peaks, just to find out if Agent Cooper ever shook the malevolent evil of BOB, and, more importantly, whether he ever managed to brush his teeth.

Maybe They Should’ve Sent The Peanuts To Nielsen Families

March 22nd, 2008 No comments

Whoops, apocalypse: Jericho was canceled a second time by CBS. After fans deluged the network with peanuts, a second season was ordered, only to return to even lower ratings.

Me, I hope that this marks the end of fan campaigns that attempt to drown mailroom clerks in shipments of stupid shit. It was cute the first time–when bottles of Tabasco sauce gained Roswell a temporary reprieve–but now every “save our show” effort involves mass quantities of mundane objects, and the only ones that suffer are the poor schlubs who have to figure out what to do with fifty sacks of lightbulbs, Zagnut bars or grilled chicken taquitos.

Any more, it seems like every TV series, no matter how lame or terminally unwatched, winds up with a “save our show” campaign. And very few of them seem worth the effort. There are usually very good reasons that the vast majority of TV series are lucky to exceed a single season.

Sure, over the years I’ve shed tears over series that I believed were taken away too soon: Twin Peaks; V; Max Headroom; The Flash; The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. and others. But I’ve come to accept that death is just a way of life when it comes to TV. My world won’t end if How I Met Your Mother doesn’t make it to season four. (Though I would be sad.) And next year, there’ll be a bunch of shiny, new series…most of which will also be canceled shortly thereafter.

Categories: TV Tags: ,