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The Killer Bees

Classic Superstars
by yo go re

Professional wrestling is split between "faces" and "heels" - good guys and bad guys. Faces play by the rules, while the heels will do whatever they can to cheat and win. These days the line between the two is blurred, but in the '80s, it was nearly sacrosanct. However, there was at least one notable exception to that rule - or should we say two?

Jim Brunzell and Brian Blair had been wrestling in verious promotions when they were both signed by the WWF in 1985. They were teamed together on Hulk Hogan's suggestion, and since both their last names began with B, they took their team name from the Miami Dolphins defensive line at the time, which was known by fans as the "Killer B's." As the Killer Bees, Brunzell and Blair stayed together for three years, a veritable eternity in a world in which 90 days can change everything.

A veteran of several successful tag teams, "Jumpin'" Jim Brunzell was the smaller man on the team. Although, since the Killer Bees were a traditional "two guys of the same general size" pairing, we're talking a difference of two inches and one pound. At that point, "smaller" stops really meaning anything. Jakks' WWE line was built entirely around re-using a minimum of unique sculpts, and this one is actually a bit chubby. Sure, it's still a lot more fit than any of us mere mortals, but compared to the other wrestlers, he looks soft. Or at least, not as cartoony. He's actually fairly realistic, especially for this line. Yes, his belly pooches out over his trunks, but that's what happens in real life when you wear something tight.

Jumpin' Jim isn't exactly the most recognizable guy to ever wrestle, being known more for his gimmick than his face, but Jakks still delivered a good likeness. This clearly isn't someone they could send in for a RealScan, which means this one had to be done the old-fashioned way. He's got a gerenically handsome face, and they did a good job on his poofy hair. He's even got the small gap in his front teeth!

All the Jakks wrestling figures use the same "buck," which apparently is something we need to explain; looking around online, you'll see a lot of people who think they know what the word means, but are using it wrong. A buck is not another term for a specific body sculpt: Bullseye is not a "buck," and neither is the DCU Classics "slender male" body; it doesn't matter how often that particular sculpt is re-used, it isn't a buck; it's just a body.

Originally, a buck was a solid block of metal or wood that served as the core of the action figure. The sculptor worked around this, building the clay or wax up with the buck as an internal guide. In the days of the Big Five articulation, the buck also had holes drilled through it to control the placement of the arms and legs. Every figure in a particular line would be built on the same buck, which is why sizes didn't vary much, and all the pieces were interchangable. An arm from Pincess Leia would fit into Chewbacca's shoulder, for instance.

The advent of improved articulation (on the Generation 1 GI Joes, for instance) meant that the old physical buck didn't work any more, so the idea of a "buck" became more of a carefully controlled set of measurements: disassemble an old GI Joe, and you'll find that you can trade pieces however you want; one figure's biceps are the same size joint as every other's, and the same goes for the shoulders, hips, knees... everywhere the figure moves. All those figures are built on a standard "buck," even when they're different sculpts. It takes more than repainting a single sculpt to have a buck - it's about interchangability of parts across multiple sculpts, and Jakks' wrestling toys definitely have that.

As a kid, Brian Blair loved Superman and wanted to grow up to be a superhero. He opted for the next best thing, being a pro wrestler. You have to admit, you see the parallels. After playing footbal in both high school and college, he moved to Florida and trained with Hiro Matsuda - the same guy who famously broke Hulk Hogan's leg on his first day as a student, just to teach him some respect. He kicked around through a few different territories - including the WWF a couple times - and even won a few championships. It was his third stint with the WWF that led to major fame, however.

B. Brian Blair (the extra B stands for BYOB absolutely nothing) uses a bigger, more muscular torso than his partner. He's much more cut, on his back as well as his chest (both figures use the same arms and legs). There are a few paint differences between the two figures, including the stripes on the trunks, more black on Blair's boots, and even bee stripes on his wristbands. But hey, it's not like these two guys have to look identical or anything, right? Wink.

We get another good facial sculpt here. He's got a large smile, his Magnum PI mustache and his bouncy mullet thing. You can really tell this is meant to be Blair, but if we're being completely honest, there's another resemblance here, as well. You know those "ESPN Classic" sketches on SNL, with Jason Sudekis and Will Forte as commentators? You can't tell me this doesn't look like Forte's character. Seriously, look at this picture, and you'll never un-see it.

Since both Killer Bees use the same buck (there's that word again), they move at all the same joints: hinged ankles and knees, swivel hips and waist, hinged and swivel wrists, hinged elbows, swivel biceps and swivel/hinge shoulders and a balljointed head. B. Brian Blair ends up just a little shorter than Jumpin' Jim Brunzell, but not so much as to be noticable unless you put them back-to-back. The figures have the same accessories, as well: black kneepads and yellow masks. Yes, masks.

Although it's generally a tactic used by heels, part of the Killer Bees' gimmick was that every so often, they'd don matching masks, trading places at will without bothering to tag. After all, with the masks on, they were indistinguishable! If one guy was getting mercilessly beat on, they could slip the fresh man in. Sure, in the real world, they had different body types and Brian's hair stuck out of his mask, but the referee never seemed to notice. The Bees were good guys who used the bad guys' tricks against them. The masks are yellow spandex, so they can stretch over the figures' immobile hair. If you don't get the seams lined up properly inside, the guys can end up with strange lumps on their heads, but it can be fixed.

The Killer Bees feuded with all the major tag teams of their era, particularly the Hart Foundation, but they never won the championships - in fact, they're the team that was together longest without winning gold. Why didn't they ever get the titles, despite being promised them on three separate occassions? Because Vince McMahon maintained that "the money [was] in the chase" - in other words, that fans were more interested in seeing the Bees try to win than in seeing them actually win. Fed up with big promises and no payoff, Blair left the WWF in 1988; Brunzell stayed on, but since Vince apparently didn't like him, he was relegated to making younger wrestlers look good. Still, if you were a wrestling fan in the '80s, you knew the Killer Bees, and it's nice to finally have modern figures of them.

-- 02/03/10

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