Joseph F. Berenato
July, 2005. My mother had just died. I had no job. My marriage was falling apart. I slept late, stayed up late, and generally hated my life. Looking for an escape, I dived headlong into the world of comic books and, eventually, action figures. This escape eventually led me to the message boards for DC Direct, where speculation abounded about upcoming figures, and there was conversation aplenty about figures and comics. It was exactly what I needed.
And it was there where I first met Keli’i Ako.
I say “met,” but that isn’t exactly accurate. At the time, he was nothing but words on a screen, going by the handle Talon Soulbender. His name was just one among a veritable rogue’s gallery of internet miscreants who accepted me as one of their own. This ragtag troupe soon left the DCD message boards for a virtual place that would eventually come to be known as The Domain Of Online Social Hooligans (The Doosh, for short), and from there, Critical Mess.Net.
Keli’i/Talon was a powerful presence at all of them.
Talon was big. Talon was loud. Talon was bombastic. Talon told bawdy stories, and shared even bawdier pictures (some, like the POV ones from his personal collection, were even too bawdy for me, if you can believe that). Talon always had a kind word for his friends, and no time for those he didn’t like. Talon was tough. Talon – lead singer of Surf Psycho Sexy – was rock and roll. Talon was an all-around good guy.
I never had the privilege of meeting Keli’i in person. He lived in Hawaii and I live in Jersey. But from all accounts, he was a giant mountain of a guy, who was just as warm as he was tough. A lot of people’s internet personas differ greatly from their real-world personalities, but not Keli’i. What you saw on the screen was what you got on the street.
Which is why we never tried to piss him off. Whenever I think of him, I always remember this great story he told, that I’m sure to do no justice to. Keli’i was at a bar, and some hopped-up punk decided to start some trouble. Before he could even get started, Keli’i physically put him in his place (one punch!), causing the guy to land face-down on the barroom floor. As Keli’i started to walk over him, he noticed the latest issue of Green Lantern in the guy’s back pocket. A fan of GL (and especially of the “Sinestro Corps War” storyline going on at the time), Keli’i relieved the guy of his comic book before walking out of the bar. To the victor goes the spoils, no?
As giant and rough-and-tumble as he was, Keli’i was gifted with the skilled hands of a surgeon. You wouldn’t expect it from a walking Hawaiian mountain, but he was one of the best action figure customizers on the internet. Deane and Xander, two extremely gifted customizers in their own right, are far better qualified to discuss his skill (and will do so below), but – having tried at it myself and coming up with horrifying lumps of plastic – I know good when I see it. And Keli’i was GREAT.
Now, the DCD message boards are gone. The Doosh is dead. Critical Mess has closed its doors as well. Keli’i and I were friends on Facebook, but you know how that goes. You don’t talk to people as often as you’d like, and Keli’i was one of those for me.
Keli’i passed away on the morning of October 30, 2013. As big and as tough as he was, even he couldn’t win the fight against cancer. From all accounts, his mind was sharp to the end, and many of us – through the Friends of Keli’i Ako Facebook page – were able to send him our very best; we knew the end was near, and we got the chance to say good-bye. Even though our virtual hang-outs were gone, I like to think that he appreciated all the love he got from his fellow social hooligans.
Aloha oe, Keli’i. We’ll all miss you.
In the early days the Doosh had swept through the underbelly of the DCD board like a new religion, and people were slipped the link via the html version of a wink and a nudge. It was come-as-you-are; obsolete models a specialty. I can’t say for certain what it was speciffically, but there was a comradery amongst the social miscreants of those days. They were the in-crowd of outcasts. Sufficed to say I was out of my League. In retrospect I suppose it could have to do with the fact that I was a bit younger than the rest of the crowd. The New Gods honest truth is it was a bit like being Robin on the JLA Satelite.
But if there was one part of it where I felt right at home it was the custom section. Good custom forums play like an open jam session. Everyone plays the same music, but everyone also brings something else to the overall harmony. Back then there was (to name a few) Sinister and Biz, and Jacknight, and MaximumJlA, not to mention Rod Keith, and finally Talon Soulbender.
To say I knew him on a personal level would be, sad to say, wildly inaccurate. Truth is at best we just shot the toy-shit. If we had one thing in common, apart from toymaking, I’d say it was a taste for the underappreciated or lesser known characters. Of course our eras didn’t exactly line up. [laughs] Where I was doing Vigilante and Ragman, Tal was doing guys like classic Clock King and a Golden Age Mr. Terriffic that would make Tim Bruckner blush.
I would at this time like to share with you all a few of my favorites from Talon’s protfolio of precious plastic people.
First up is the Clock King:
“I took a Black Hand head, sliced the entire face off, I put a clear plastic protector pad that’s used for putting under the legs of tables or chairs, (they’re perfect circles) puttied all around the head, and then added a rubberband hair tie for the rim. ”
I dig that bit about this one because every customizer reaches a point where everyday household items start looking like clocfaces or whatnot. I also love the fact that he went so far as to add the little cape ties.
Next is his Golden Age Starman:
“So this was an easy custom (sort of), the base is a DCUC Blue Beetle and the head, cape, cosmic rod, and holster all from the DCD GA Starman, I sculpted the rest.”
In the start of their heyday DC Direct made a Golden Age Starman. Unfortunately he was saddled with mediorce stiff-armed light-up feature, and his head oddly tilted like a dog having a WTF moment. Here you can see the figure’s finer points fully revitalized.
Last but not least Talon’s Golden Age Mr. Terriffic a member of the original Justice Society of America.
“Okay, this is where I really started frankensteing!
The torso is from a DCD GA Doctor Mid-Nite, the head is a SA Barry Flash, his arms are from a DCD FA Alan Scott Green Lantern, and the legs came from a DCD GA Hourman.”
I was always a big fan of Frankensteining; swapping parts from various figures to create a unique base figure on which to build your new figure. This is a priem example of taing a handful of bits and compiling them into something truly unique.
These are merely a handful of my favorites and to be honest just the tip of the iceberg that was Talon’s custom figure pantheon.
“See that’s what I do, stare at all my figures while drinking beer and wonder who I can make out of them! Ha!”– Talon/ Keli’i
I think I met Keli’i on the internet in 2009 or so and was instantly amazed by his talent. In the manner of Elton John and Bernie Taupin or Penn and Teller, Talon claimed that a good deal of the sculpting and most if not all of the painting was done by a mysterious, silent Chinese man named “Vern”. No one ever saw pictures of Vern. Vern was not on the internet. For all we knew, Vern was Talon’s left hand dressed in a sock puppet. All we knew is that we would heap praise on Keli’i and he would say: “Yup, that’s Vern.”.
The truth is, lots of men-boys look at their shelves of little men, drink beer, and start slapping paint. Very few do it as well as Talon did. Case in point:
This is the The Tattooed Man. He was a naughty sailor who used naughty magical ink when he made his tattoos. When he would poke on his tattoos, they would come to life and he would use them to fight Green Lantern.
Now that, my friends, is both patently ridiculous and the reason why DC COMICS will never make a good movie. But to a seven year old, it’s awesome. Sure enough, Talon made this monument to cinema fail, AND PAINTED THE F*CK OUT OF IT:
These tattoos are elegant and MILLIMETERS BIG. The brush work to get that horse to look like that, IN FREE HAND…
…that’s talent, for whatever name you want to call Keli’i.
Keli’i, I am so happy you are no longer in pain. Now it’s our turn to be in pain, because we don’t have your big heart around us any more.