Detective Work: The Mystery of Dick Tracy’s Blank Action Figure
By: Chris Darkes - June 13, 2017
Category : Nostalgia, Toys/Nostalgia
For some reason I tend to write better when the weather outside is moody. When the rain is slamming against the window panes, and I’m writing feverishly behind a desk like a detective in a film noir — classy green desk lamps, stacks of clues in manila envelopes waiting to be deciphered (in this case Moleskin notebooks), and the sound of a typewriter tapping away. That’s usually when I get my best stories out.
But the weather has been gorgeous out, and it’s been impeding my ability to focus on the stories I want to write. I’ve been fleshing out several ideas, I need to complete four stories by August, and been working and accomplishing a lot of things, just none related to writing, and that for me is hard when you don’t check off all the boxes on your to-do list. For now though I’ll blame it on the weather being too nice, if there is such a problem to have.
Speaking of detective work, I’ve been playing cat-and-mouse with this rare figure called Meats I had purchased from Retroband back in March. The highly sought after figure shipped from China, and once it got through customs, was caught in Post Office hell. The Postal Service had lost the figure completely, and it’s been quit the process to communicate with Retroband’s team from China. The collectible gods threw me a Hail Mary as they happened to have 3 figures for emergency purposes. A replacement figure is finally on its way, and I should be able to rest easy. Fingers-crossed.
Pardon me while I nerd out for a moment, this situation threw me a flashback similar to one of those things that just kept eluding me when I was young.
Anyone that was around during that time, and looking for the same thing knows exactly what I’m about to share. A toy so elusive it’s still touted as one of the rarest figures on the internet. In 1990, Dick Tracy hit theaters to generally favorable reviews. Touchstone, (owned by Disney), wanted to market the film the same way Batman was marketed the year previous. To really blanket the youth with toys, clothes, and merchandise. Making gobs of cash in the process. I, like so many kids, ate it up. I watched the movie on a consistent basis, and began accumulating the figures whenever I could get my hands on them (and whenever my parents wanted to spoil me with a figure.)
But like all great stories this one begins with a mystery and very little clues…As I began collecting the figures, the back of each one would give you a little glimpse of what other figures were out there. To keep the suspense heightened, they would only disclose a few of the figures that were available. During that time obviously there was no eBay, or internet. So you could only use the information you were given. I thought I was clever, and decided to look at the back of every figure I could find at the store to see what other figures I could look forward to. Then one day I saw something different…there was a Blank action figure. Now you’re probably reading this, and thinking what the hell does that mean?!
What’s so exciting about this specific figure? Well I’m going to give away a 27 year old spoiler alert: At the end of the film, it’s revealed that Breathless Mahoney (played by Madonna) is actually The Blank, and it’s this huge reveal. So it would be exciting to collect the most intriguing and dynamic figure in the bunch. The problem was the release of the figure actually gave away a huge plot twist, because the figure has a removable mask and you can clearly see it’s Breathless Mahoney. Once the toy makers discovered they made a huge error releasing it before everyone saw the film, they decided to stop production, and claw back the available inventory.
I remember I used to go to this collectible shop near my house, and one of the guys that worked there told my mom it was ultra rare. The detective work began. I searched catalogs for Dick Tracy figures, department stores, you name it — collecting information wherever a 6 year old could find it. Finally I went to a store called Waccamaw Pottery that told me the last remaining supply was only sold in Canada, as a Sears exclusive. Years later, I found out the toy line didn’t quite take off the way they thought it would, and they canceled plans to release The Blank in the United States, leaving a mere 3,000 pieces up for grabs wherever collectors could acquire them, mainly in Canada. It proved to be a fool’s errand, and a few weeks after that I lost desire to continue the quest for it. Every once in awhile I’ll catch myself searching for one on eBay, just to see the price. It fluctuates, but is still in demand. I still enjoy the movie, but this figure will always have a special place in my heart. Even though I never owned it, I liked that I got to the bottom of it, without too much information available to me at the time. For that I’ll always feel like it was a win.
If you had one, what was the item you chased for a piece of nostalgia?
Also published on Medium.