So we’ve been cleaning out some closets here on the nerd farm, and have run head-first into…
Now, long-time readers may remember that I don’t generally count nostalgia as my friend. “Nostalgia is the mind-killer,” I’ve been known to opine on occasion. And in most things, I still believe that’s true. Nostalgia makes old farts like myself remember things with rose-colored glasses. “Things were better when I was young” is a pretty common opinion among my peers, and it’s an opinion I don’t much hold with. The aphorism I tend to spout instead is the one that says 90 percent of everything is crap. And I think it’s pretty much always been that way.
But that still leaves a solid 10 percent of stuff that’s worth remembering. And that’s the kind of stuff I’ve found myself pulling, dust-covered, from the closets. Take this guy, for instance:
Big Jim started out life as a sports toy. He came basic in box with gym shorts, a muscle band he could break by flexing his biceps, and a plastic board he could likewise break with an arm equipped to deliver karate chops when you pressed a button on his back. You could get playsets for different sports, “adventure” gear for skiing and the like, and a bitchin’ camper for when he needed to get away from it all. He also had buddies, like Olympic runner Big Jack, who came with gold medals and absolutely nothing else except a pair of painted-on American flag briefs…
…and Big Jeff, whose sole defining characteristic seems to be that he was Australian. And then there was my personal favorite, Big Josh, a denim-clad lumberjack who could split logs in two with his axe (kind of), and who had a pet eagle that would mount on his arm like a giant-ass falcon (that dude must have been strong as a bear!). Yes, Big Jim and his pals were quite the team!
Granted, to modern eyes they may tend to look a bit… well… gay. Buff shirtless men, tiny shorts, denim vests, longing glances exchanged around a lonely plastic campfire…
What was I saying?
Oh, yes. These days, the original Big Jim looks like an action figure poster boy for gay pride. But, hey! It was the Seventies! Men were more comfortable with their bodies back then. And gayness, in the popular culture of the time, was either closeted or camp. We’ve come a long way. Though tough-guy sexuality has gotten a bit more messed up in the process. Two steps forward, one step back.
At any rate. Eventually, the whole sportsman thing wore thin, and Big Jim got into the more lucrative business of toy crime-fighting with a new team of pals known as Big Jim’s P.A.C.K.
P.A.C.K. stood for “Professional Agents: Crime Killers” (which may be the lamest acronym I’ve ever heard), and it was quite a departure for the line. Gone was the friendly veneer of wholesome athletics, replaced by a tough guy aesthetic that just gets crazier the deeper you look into it. I never thought of it that way when I was a kid, of course, but just check this out. First, all the members of the PACK have wolf tattoos on the backs of their hands, which is unbelievably bad-ass when you’re eight. But that is probably the LEAST bad-ass thing about these guys.
Because among their members you’ve got Dr. Steel, a Chinese martial arts master with an awesome dragon tattoo on his chest, who replaced his own severed hand with a prosthetic made of SOLID STEEL! Then there’s Warpath, a Native American tracker who fights with a bow and dresses like Billy Jack! Also, we’ve got The Whip, a bad-ass longshoreman (?!) and weapons master, who fights with an arsenal including boomerangs, bolos, and (of course) a whip. And finally, there’s Torpedo Fist, a sailor with a missing eye who (not to be outdone by Dr. Steel) got his entire arm BITTEN OFF BY A SHARK and replaced it with an old-timey nautical-looking leather prosthetic that’s spring-loaded and capable of delivering punches of devastating force!
That’s quite the collection of seedy pulp novel bastards right there, a mass of scar tissue and severed limbs the likes of which the toy world has never seen. In retrospect, they seem more like a team of evil henchmen than heroes, to the point that I wonder if the original idea wasn’t some kind of “Dirty Dozen” style group of bad guys turned good. So it’s kind of weird that they’re being lead by wholesome old Big Jim. But he’s gotten a tough guy makeover, too, trading in his gym shorts for a turtleneck, boots, and a metal gauntlet with sharp “teeth” on one side, turning his already-formidable karate chopping action into a lethal crime-rending assault!
Also? Big Jim’s PACK was so bad-ass that their ad in the comics of the era was drawn by Jack Kirby…
…and their one and only funnybook adventure was drawn by the king of tough guy comics, John Buscema!
So, yeah. I think that ranks Big Jim in the 10 percent of things worth remembering. It’s certainly on my own personal list, anyway. But speaking of personal favorites…
I haven’t yet mentioned my private, unauthorized addition to the ranks of the PACK, but it’s one that I think is plenty worthy in its own right, if only for the story behind it:
That’s right! It’s JJ Armes, the double-amputee action figure! The premise here was that private investigator JJ Armes lost both his hands in some unexplained incident (one that my child brain was sure involved a machete-wielding maniac), but he persevered by replacing his flesh and blood hands with a variety of interchangeable prosthetics that made him even MORE formidable in the war against crime! He had your standard hook hands, a suction cup hand, a magnetic hand, a sword hand, and (my personal favorite) a GUN HAND!
It’s one of the craziest toy ideas ever, and that might land it in my personal 10 percent all by itself. But what puts it over the top (way, WAY over the top) is that JJ Armes WAS A REAL PERSON!
You can read about him here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jay_J._Armes. But you already know the basic story: he was a double-amputee and private detective. After gaining some fame in the 1970s, he parlayed it into a book deal and, as we’ve already seen, an action figure. Also? He had a pet tiger.
A. PET. TIGER.
If that doesn’t make him worth remembering, I don’t know what would.
I don’t remember if I knew he was a real guy when I was a kid. Mostly, I just thought he was super-cool. And what with the PACK’s weird severed limb motif, I figured JJ fit right in with those guys! He became a PACK member in good standing for me, and maintains a spot in my PACK carrying case to this day.
Because, yes. I still have that case, and all the Big Jims pictured with it (except for Warpath, who eluded my childhood grasp). I held onto them, even after I outgrew them, because of how much I had loved them. Despite my adult resistance to nostalgia, you see, I’ve always been deeply sentimental at heart. I might have stuffed these guys in a closet, but I always knew they were there. I always remembered them. And when I pulled them out again this past weekend, it was with a great deal of affection and good memories.
That’s the kind of nostalgia I’m all for. The kind that reminds you of past joy, and enriches your present with new insights. You just can’t let it blind you. To so overwhelm you that you forget how to feel it for new things. Instead, let it serve as a reminder. Slow down. Let go of expectations and preconceived notions. When you find something awesome, let it take you where it will. And let the joy follow.
Even if it’s over something as ludicrous as steel hands and pet tigers.