Who Are The People in The Neighborhood?

September 17, 2010 | By More

Who Are the People in the Neighborhood?That question has been mulling around my head since I had the idea for this rant. Maybe Sesame Street put the thought there, maybe it’s age catching up with me, but I really do want to ask who are the people in the action figure neighborhood?

The start of this musing came while I was perusing some of the Fisher Price Adventure ephemera over at Plaid Stallions last weekend and it set off a chain of memories. When I was a kid my Adventure People were frequently the “People in The Neighborhood” in my play scenarios. The Imperial Empire invading Earth? The TV crew was there to film it. The Star Trek Enterprise crew traveled back in time and are camping in the woods? There were Adventure People for that. (I think this is what inspired the start of Star Trek V.)

The short version is that Adventure People filled the gap for generic citizens. They weren’t soldiers or superheroes, just ordinary folks. I had scuba divers, pilots and motorbike drivers. In all, they were pretty varied.

I also had some more or less generic 3 3/4″ Western figures. Again, more time traveling for my various action figures. Han and Luke on a stagecoach being chased by a Stormtrooper on a Dewback? Yeah, that really happened when I was nerdlet.

These fond memories bring me to today’s thoughts.  Who are the People in the Neighborhood, today?

It’s not that I’m spreading a plethora of action figures all over the living room floor these days. I do however, like to display my figures in scenes rather than museum style.

I have to say that Star Wars collectors have been blessed in recent years with a whole slew of background characters. Ironically, while aliens are always popular, there are very few generic human background action figures. This universe is pretty filled out though, a very far cry from the original four Cantina aliens.

I’ve been looking at a lot more Superhero figure reviews since I started ToysAreCool.com. The thing that has struck me is that most collectors group their figures together on a shelf like setting up a class photo or team picture. There’s nothing wrong with that. You just don’t see the large diorama builders out there for these figures as much. (I’m sure they are out there, I just haven’t seen them.)

The thing that is missing is, if you haven’t picked up on it, the people in the neighborhood. Super villains need people to threaten, and heroes need folks to save. It’s the heart of most stories.

How many stories have you seen with Spiderman that haven’t involved a civilian? His name is the “The Friendly Neighborhood Spiderman” after all. What about Superman? He’s always stopping a bus from crushing a little girl or catching a falling construction worker.

My point is that the thing lacking about most action figure displays is this everyman element. It’s what makes heroes into heroes.

Don’t get me wrong, there are non-hero figures. Mary Jane Watson, Lois Lane, Commissioner Gordon. But all of these are very specific characters that have a role to play in their mythos. Nobody would look at figure of Jimmy Olsen and think it’s just a dude with a camera.

I think this may have been what contributed to the moderate success of the World of Springfield line. If you think about the Simpsons, they’re all background characters. Any story may star any character, and the rest move to the background. But overall it’s the breadth of characters and their normalcy that makes the line. Think about figures like Gil and the Pimply Faced Kid in this respect. Everbody can relate to them.

I’d really like to see somebody try a generic line of every people as action figures. Yeah, we see  it with soldiers, and there are quite a few different generic army type guys. However, what if there was a modern equivalent of Adventure People? (I know there is a modern version of Adventure People. However, these are more in line with the Galactic and Marvel Heroes lines than their bigger cousins.)

I mean who wouldn’t love to see Iron Man help the little girl get her cat from the tree? Or Flash stop a car from hitting a business woman crossing the street? Or how bout a lab coated scientist being forced to create Cobra’s newest weapon?

It’d be great to see a company take up this cause. I don’t think articulation would be the focus of these figures, I think  the sculpting would be the highlight, but if there were a enough variants I think people would be interested even if the detail wasn’t at 100%. Interchangeable heads or accessories, could really enhance, well, we’ll call it crowd building instead of army building.

The best of both worlds would see these generic figures in both 3 3/4″ and 6″ scales. For ease, they could even be the same sculpt at both scales.

To me it just seems the action figure world is ripe for a line of “People in the Neighborhood” action figures. Maybe I’m the only one. Some how I doubt it. How bout it readers? Let us know your thoughts by making a comment after the video.

(A little Sesame Street below for the people who followed my rant til the end.)

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  1. FlaBat says:

    At first I thought this was another Name That Shadow.

    The situation can be summed up in one word, Mentality. The mentality of the toy companies is “boys will not buy/want girl figures” and you could add they won’t buy “civilian figures” either.

    A perfect example of this is Mattel’s Batman: The Brave and the Bold series of figures. Even though Catwoman, Black Canary and The Huntress have all appeared on the TV show, Mattel has made it clear they will NOT produce any female action figures for the line. Even the smaller Batman: The Brave and the Bold Action League series of figures will NOT have any females. Nor have any female characters showed up in DC Super Friends Imaginext over the last couple years, or for that matter most of the rest of Imaginext too.

    In fact Mattel has said going forward Batman: The Brave and the Bold would feature less of “The Bold” other heroes and more of Batman in his many different Technicolor Batsuits. Maybe they should rename it Batman: The Brave and the Batmen instead. Of course the argument is that Batman: The Brave and the Bold is aimed at kids and that allows Mattel to stand by the “boys will not buy/want girl figures” motto. Except, The Batman line of figures was also aimed at kids and it had female characters produced. Selina Kyle, Catwoman (3 versions), Batgirl (2 versions) and Poison Ivy.

    Then there are the civilian characters. Alfred Pennyworth and Commissioner Gordon are two central characters to Batman, not to mention Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson or Tim Drake, but you seldom see them in plastic. Sure there have been a few “quick change” versions of Batman and Robin over the years, but no Bruce Wayne in a business suit. For that matter Clark Kent and Lex Luthor in business suits are pretty rare too. This mentality is not limited to the mass retail toy makers, DC Direct has not made that many civilian figures either.

    You just don’t see too many if any generic people action figures anymore. Fisher-Price did make Adventure People for 10 years, (1975-1985) but Atari came along in 1977 and slowly kids moved from toys to video games. Over a generation or so kids stopped using their imagination as much as they used too. When I was a kid (back in the mid to late 60’s), the best thing that could happen was somebody you knew got a new major appliance (refrigerator, washer, dryer), which meant you could get the box and cut out doors and windows and make a spaceship. With a click knife and a permanent marker I could make the “Maytag Lunar Lander” on my grandmothers back porch. When the boxes started to wear out the corners started to round out, then you took it outside and rolled around in it on the grass. How many kids do that these days?

    Today it is more about what will sell. Mattel will not make any figures until they know they have a commitment from the retail stores. How many retail store buyers want to buy civilian action figures? There is a market for such figures, but it is not big enough for anybody to care about any more.

  2. Errex says:

    Well, other than generic off-brand toys like those made by Chap Mei and /or Lanard, there are not a lot of dedicated civvies in today’s toy lines; although, there are a few that can be used as such, like some of the 1/18 scale WWE wrestlers, or even the humans from Mattel’s Avatar line.

    However, these normally start as something else, given that no company flat out decides to make generic characters, unless they are Schleich (who make a few human figurines to go along with their wild animal lines).

    Basically, I guess it depends on what is your main collection. Back in the day, with my Kenner star Wars figs, I used figures from Disney’s Black Hole and Buck Rogers as civilians.

  3. Engineernerd says:

    I’d forgot about Black Hole and Buck Rogers. I had none of the human Black Hole folks.

    Buck was frequently Stormtrooper blaster fodder in my nerdlet scenarios. He filled the same dork role that Duke filled in GI Joe for me.

  4. updatedude says:

    I do agree with what you’re saying, to a degree.

    In that I agree, we need more normal people types. And like other collectors, I fill out my ranks as best I can with passably generic civilian looking toys.

    Of course, the main problem is marketing. Unless the toyline is based on a property with more or less normal looking people, like say… a 3.75″ Buffy line or some such tv series, it’d be pretty tough to market “normal people toys”.

    Here’s to crossing one’s fingers for a, I dunno, line of 3.75″ Lost line.

  5. Engineernerd says:

    Somebody on the a forum said it best, it would need to be like a line of 3 3/4″ Lego Minifigs. (Yes, I do agree that marketing is the worst hold up on this. )