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Figures & Speech: For Halloween, the Five Best Action Figures in Disguises

Figures & Speech: For Halloween, the Five Best Action Figures in Disguises

With Devil’s Night and All-Hallows Eve fast approaching, it’s definitely time to start thinking what to dress up as. From the scary to the slutty to the truly tasteless, costume stores now provide something for everyone. But what of the toy aisle? Yes, there are the obvious fashion dolls with multiple outfits (for the purposes of this column, I’m counting Captain Action as a fashion doll), and a successful series of “robots in disguise.” Not counting those, however, since the ability to change is the gimmick, we’re going to take a look at the best action figures dressed up as something or someone other than who they are.

This one’s right on the border between fashion doll versus action figure, but it’s so Halloweeny I think it has to get an Honorable Mention – the very first Freddy Krueger figure, Maxx FX! It was supposed to spawn a whole series of additional horror outfits, including Jason and a xenomorph, and would have predated McFarlane Toys by about a decade. But the market wasn’t really ready for R-rated toys yet, and the one and only Maxx here is quite sought after by collectors.

And now, the countdown…

5. Zartan (Hasbro). Here’s a strategy that would serve the G.I. Joe line well in subsequent years – make a highly demanded new character who’s essential to the mythos, and get kids to pay extra for him by throwing in a cheap vehicle. Zartan actually had multiple action features, unheard of for a figure in his scale – his skin turned blue in the sun, his knee and chest armors changed colors when exposed to heat, and he could disguise himself as a guy with a goatee who happens to be otherwise dressed like Zartan. That’ll fool ’em! The Swamp Skier could also supposedly be disguised as a pile of junk, but that never worked out so well – though it did change colors too. As possibly the coolest Joe foe ever, Zartan well deserved to become president at the end of the live-action movie.

4. Exo-Skeleton Spawn (McFarlane Toys). Apparently when you’re a hellspawn and you need a costume, you go out and skin a dinosaur demon, then wear its bones. Honestly, there’s no real canonical explanation for this figure, one of the first out-there variants Todd created because he could. The base figure is the same as the Spawn II figure, sans cape, but wrapped in fossils, you’d never know it.

3. Bobby “the Brain” Heenan in Weasel Suit (Jakks Pacific). This isn’t exactly a case of deliberate dress-up – WWE villain Bobby the Brain was derisively referred to by foes as “The Weasel,” and frequently made to wear a weasel outfit as punishment for his transgressions, usually either after being beaten unconscious or forced by a match stipulation to embarrass himself. Jakks’ action figure of Bobby was woefully out of scale (placing his head on a suited body previously meant for full-physiqued wrestlers), but this 1/100 exclusive jazzed things up nicely by forcing the figure into his penalty attire. Jakks promised that a variant version would be made for the mass-market, then never delivered. It’s up to Mattel now.

2. Princess Leia Organa in Boushh disguise (Kenner). A masterful example of hiding spoilers in the pre-Internet age, this. On the card backs of the first Return of the Jedi figures, the toy was only shown masked, and named Boushh, to preserve the surprise reveal in the movie itself. And even after seeing the movie, we didn’t know it was going to come with a removable helmet, since such a concept was absurdly new at the time. Kenner played a trick and gave us a treat on this one. Notable figures that have followed in this bounty-hunter disguised princess’ footsteps include the ultra-rare Blank from the Dick Tracy movie, and Phantasm from the Batman animated movie.

1. Adventure Kermit (Palisades). It probably goes without saying if you’re a regular Nerdist reader, but things don’t get much more sacred around here than The Muppets and Lucasfilm. And while Kermit’s outfit here may not be officially named in a way that blatantly spells out who he’s supposed to be, the Gonzo-shaped fertility idol helps give it away. Nowadays it’s common to see figures of Muppets and Disney cartoon characters in Star Wars garb at every theme-park gift shop, but the toy lover, the dreamer in me, says this beats them all.

I know there are more out there – which of your favorites did I miss? Sound off below!

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  1. KICKING myself that I forgot Arnold Schwarzenegger as Hamlet from LAST ACTION HERO.
    With Yorick skull-throwing action!

  2. Good call on Donatello. I think Marvel’s The Thing did it first but Don did it better.

    Manga Spawn isn’t exactly a disguise – more of an alternate take. Exo-Skeleton really is just regular Spawn with clip-on bones.

    Dr. Claw puts me in mind of the more obscure Rambo action-figure villain Dr. Hyde, who came in a helmet that blacked out his face. If you bought the figure and added batteries, you could then light him up to reveal his monster face underneath. Those sorts of hidden-face gimmicks wouldn’t really work today in an Internet spoiler world. In a way, they were almost like carnival showman gimmicks.

  3. erratic gorilla says:

    Maybe he doesn’t qualify as “in disguise”, but it amazed me all those years ago that Doctor Claw from Inspector Gadget had an action figure whose packaging was STILL concealing his identity! Still an impressive idea considering Boushh, Blank, and Phantasm all had revealed faces.

    I also quite liked the original Manga Spawn figure, another unexplained variation, I believe. Of course, if the Spawnmobile was any indication, that toy line was about fun ideas and cool visual toy design that could be taken far beyond what the comic book’s world contained. I like that school of thought.

    For me though, the classic “in disguise” figure will always be Donatello in trench coat and fedora. And groucho glasses. Gotta have the groucho glasses.