With only five shopping days left till Christmas, there’s a comic book character who is dying to make his way under your tree.
And there are some outraged activist elves equally geared up to get the product off store shelves.
Meet Death Row Marv, the battery-operated “Deluxe Boxed Figure” from McFarlane Toys, destined “for audiences over 18.” He’s about 16 inches high and seated in an electric chair. After a “switch” is thrown, a buzzing sound is heard, Marv’s eyes glow red and he begins convulsing.
Marv isn’t done. “Is that the best you can do, you pansies?” he taunts.
The violent capital punishment figure raised concerns among a group of local residents who oppose the death sentence. The group had planned to protest Saturday outside Durant Avenue’s Tower Records, one of the stores stocking Death Row Marv.
“It is appalling that anyone would make a joke out of the death penalty,” said activist Carolyn Scarr, who helped organize the protest, which was halted after the manager said he would no longer carry the figure. The manager declined to comment for this story.
“This figure is perpetuating the idea that state-sanctioned killing is OK,” Scarr said.
A character from a 1991 comic, “Sin City” by macabre comic book illustrator Frank Miller (famous for “Batman,” “The Dark Knight Returns”), Death Row Marv is a fallen hero who is put to death because of what he sees as a justifiable revenge killing.
The character is aimed at people familiar with Miller’s work and comic book aficionados, according to McFarlane Toys.
“This was a product that matches the audience of McFarlane Toys,” said Ken Reinstein, a spokesman for the Arizona-based company. “We are in the horror genre and pop culture. It’s not intended as a toy for children.”
The manager of another store that sold out of Death Row Marv, Comic Relief of Berkeley on University Avenue, said he does pay attention to who is buying it. “There’s no one buying this who isn’t familiar with Frank Miller and the Sin City story,” said manager Tyler Shainline.
The attention Death Row Marv is attracting, however, is making it a more popular item, Shainline said. But he also questions why Marv is seen as so controversial, when, say, an 18-inch tall Michael Myers doll from the Halloween horror movies isn’t noticed. This doll wields a butcher knife and has the voice of Jamie Lee Curtis screaming, “Don’t kill me!”
While Scarr does not approve of toys like this either, she makes a distinction between violence that the public knows is wrong, and violence that has been accepted as OK.
“I don’t see any reason why we should be promoting violence at all,” she said. “But this Death Row Marv makes a joke out of the state killing people in our name.”
Certainly this is not the first product represented in the “toy” category raising the ire of concerned parents and citizens. In 1989, a talking Freddy Krueger doll was pulled from shelves after parents protested that a serial killer doll was not appropriate for children. And in 1998, an arch rival of Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo – the Arab “Rambo Nomad” – was pulled from shelves after protests that the figure was perpetuating a stereotype of Arabs as terrorists.
But McFarlane Toys said they are careful about where and how the product is marketed, so Marv is not associated with run-of-the-mill toys. “We don’t market it in a toy store, where kids will be,” Reinstein said. “It’s not going to be in a place where kids are getting Barbies.”
Indeed in Comic Relief, the shelves are stocked with niche merchandise, appealing to those familiar with the comic book genre. But not far away at Tower Records, Death Row Marv had been sold along with more mainstream products like pop records.
“For a society striving toward civilization, we should be discussing getting rid of capital punishment instead of advertising it,” Scarr said.