Names matter. Even dumb super hero names.
As far as I know, it was sometime in the early 1930s that a universal naming convention for fictional characters in comic books, then later in film and television, became the basis for most fictional superhero or superheroine names. This is especially true for characters who possessed specific extraordinary attributes like superhuman or animal-like powers or instincts, special crime-fighting skills, or an implicit connection to a specific technology, physical deformations etc. Many of them were named using this simple formula:
adjective/animal/object + man/woman/boy/girl = super hero/villain name
Spider-Man, Bat Girl, Iron Man, Aquaman, Ant-Man, Hawkgirl, Invisible Woman, Radioactive Man, Superboy, etc. Heck, we even have a Squirrel Girl. The only other instance of this naming convention being used that I know of, is for circus or sideshow performers, which probably predates the usage for fictional adventure characters. It’s easy to imagine the correlation of a comic book “Superman” and a sideshow circus’ “Strong Man”.
So with this monicker formula in mind, I’d like to talk about one of the toys that “got away” when I was a kid. No, it wasn’t lost or stolen. What I mean to say is that there were many requests made by 3 year-old to 14 year-old me to my mom or dad for toys over those years that was met with a gut-punching and heart-wrenching “NO”, which of course drove me to moments of deeply immature adolescent sadness. I can still feel the muscle memory of the sulk I’d make walking empty handed out of whatever store or shop the sad episode happened at. But to be fair to them, the yes’s probably outweighed the no’s if I were to tally them all up.
In this case, it happened in 1975 at the Two Guys department store in Southgate, California. Exploring the toy aisles that day, there amongst the Mega Superhero 7-inch figures, Hot Wheels cars and Tonka dump trucks, I came across this glorious and curious character, BULLET MAN, the Human Bullet.
The name says it all. He’s a man who happens to have a shiny chrome bullet-shaped bucket helmet on his head. Oh, and if that wasn’t clear enough, there’s also the icon of a bullet haloed by an explosive energy blast placed squarely on his chest. Hasbro, the manufacturer, probably didn’t even need to print the name on the package because what else would his name be?
So Bullet Man is essentially a guy who’s made of steel and can fly. Because of this, he can blast his body through objects and brick walls, as seen on the very clever packaging. This was a simple proposal to kindergarten era me, and I was sold. Unfortunately for me, however, my mom wasn’t, and Bullet Man remained on its toy aisle peg.
It goes without saying that our perceptions change over time, and how we might see those things from our past differently today. When I look at this toy today, between the pointy helmet, the bare legs with the tall boots, and the unitard with the bikini-cut bottoms, it’s easy to see the ridiculousness of it all. Regardless, when I see this today, the memory of my awe is still fresh and unchanged.
I found a listing on eBay for Bullet Man, unopened in its original packaging, being offered at $1,500 USD or best offer. Now I know that an asking price isn’t necessarily indicative of its true market value, but it can indicate that someone believes that decades later there are folks who may have missed out on this “human bullet”, and that their desire to have that toy that “got away” still exists. Is it $1,500 worth of desire? Speaking for myself, I feel certain that’s a bullet I’m willing to dodge.