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Andre the Giant

Classic Superstars
by yo go re

Wrestling has a long and colorful history in America. It really began as a sideshow attraction at carnivals, where local toughs were invited to face off against the show's own brawler. As television found its way into homes, the sport followed. The clear delineation between good and bad appealed to the growing immigrant population in the large cities, since they didn't have to speak the language to follow the story.

Andre the Giant Mainly a regional property, professional wrestling went national under the guidance of one man, Vincent McMahon. It was his guidance and hard work that made international superstars out of people like Hulk Hogan and his biggest rival, Andre the Giant.

Born in a small farming community in Grenoble, France, André René Roussimoff suffered from acromegaly, a hormonal disorder in which the pituitary gland constantly produces growth hormone. He reached the height of 6'3" by the age of 12, and was 6'7" when he befriended a group of professional wrestlers at age 17. He began his career under names like "Monster Eiffel Tower" before coming to North America to become The 8th Wonder of the World, Andre the Giant.

Andre retired from wrestling in 1990, well before the crop of good action figures began to appear, so we've never had a truly impressive figure of the Giant. Jakks Pacific has just begun a series of Classic Superstars, which will offer "high-end sculpts of Superstars of yesterday and today." In other words, the same generic bodies as all their other wrestling figures, with new heads or paint jobs to create wrestlers (or personas) that aren't around any more. Alongside the Ultimate Warrior and an old-school Undertaker, we're finally getting Andre.

One of the most well-known wrestlers in the world, Andre the Giant appeared in titanic matches at the first six Wrestlemanias, and was the man who finally defeated Hulk Hogan for the World Championship belt after Hogan's astounding four years as titleholder. It's fitting, then, that the figure's only accessory is the championship belt, even if it's far too small to fit around his waist. Unfortunately, Jakks clearly just grabbed this from their parts archive without any thought: it's the "Big Eagle" belt, which debuted the night after WrestleMania XIV in 1998, and Andre never held that belt.

He's so big, Andre even has to squat to fit in the packaging. He stands nearly 7⅝" tall and moves at the neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, waist, hips, knees and ankles: enough to pit him against any of your favorite wrestling toys. He's wearing the black unitard that was his usual costume throughout his long career. It's the same mold that Jakks used for its Big Show figure, but since the body type and costume are the same, who really cares?

His facial sculpt is decent, though he looks less like a shaved ape than I remember. His curly hair is cut fairly short, so he doesn't have the big French afro that a lot of folks will remeber. Still, since the face is the only new part of the figure, Jakks gave it a lot of attention, working to capture by hand someone that they could never get with RealScan - sadly, Andre died in Paris after attending his father's funeral in 1993.

The man may be dead, but the 8th Wonder of the World lives on. Anyone living in a large city is sure to have seen the iconic "OBEY" stickers adorning lampposts, mailboxes or any other flat surface. An intense, semi-humanoid face stares at the viewer, or perhaps above and past them, as if gazing over his subjects or staring at the face of god. OBEY is the biggest Big Brother, 7'4" and 520 lbs. Until a lawsuit prompted a move to a more woodcut stamp-style image, that Obey used to be "Andre the Giant has a Posse."

An experiment in Phenomenology, "OBEY" began in 1989 with art student Shepherd Fairey. Looking for a good image with which to teach his friend the art of stencil-making, he found a picture of Andre the Giant. In a bit of skatepunk counter-counterculture, he scrawled "Andre the Giant has a Posse" in one corner and the wrestler's stats in the other, then began plastering the big man all over the cultural hotbed that is Providence, RI. From there it was New York, then the rest of the world. Andre the Giant (and his posse) have evolved over the years, but the message remains the same: Question. Don't just obey.

For most of my time watching wrestling, Andre the Giant was a bad guy. He fought Hulk Hogan, fer cryin' out loud! And won by cheating! But André Roussimoff was a great guy, who made the absolute best out of his lot in life, and finally has a worthy plastic representation.

-- 04/27/04

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