John's Action Figure Column 2/15/96

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The near-absolute dearth of new figures has me gnawing at the
fringes of my desires, and too-full of unspendable energy.  The
result?  The following is a (somewhat long) multi-theme post --
almost a column.  Hope you find it interesting.  At least it kept
me off the streets....


    Well, it's definitely old news that collectors loathe
shortpacks.  Particularly McFarlane shortpacks.  I think this
latter point is a combination of McF figures being so generally
attractive (well, well-made, detailed, etc.), what Chet notes as
a relatively smaller manufacturing run of McF toys (at least as
compared to majors like Toybiz and Playmates), and media hype of
artificially-created rarities like the Mals, Vertebreakers, Cy-
Gors (at least so far), etc.
    I just want to go out on a limb and applaud something Chet
Jacques said recently, speaking for McFarlane Toys.  If I
understood correctly, he seemed to indicate that complete sets of
not-brand-new figures may be made available for sale direct from
McFarlane.  Now, *if* this is true, or becomes true, it could be
just wonderful for collecting.  I mean, I'm assuming that
*eventually*, as newer sets are produced, even now-new sets like
Spawn IV could be made available for sale at near-original
prices.  If this is the case (so to speak), it could signal the
death-knell of scalping.
    Here's my reasoning.  As much as I like to get new figures
right away, if I *know* that eventually, even if it's as much as
six months or a year later, I can count on McF remolding enough
figures so that I can buy them, I won't have to consider paying
stepped-up scalper prices.  (Not that I really consider it now; I
just resign myself to never getting some figures).  Oh, sure, if
I want a Cy-Gor *today* I might have no recourse, but so long as
I know that the figure will ultimately be available, I can sit
back and relax, secure in the knowledge that someday the
figure(s) I crave will be mine, at less than 2x or 3x or more-x
retail price.
    I know, I can already hear the twice-burned among us raising
their voices to remind me of McFarlane Toys' many unkept
promises.  But without hope, we have nothing.  (Well, we have
something; it's just incessant and disappointing toy runs, ever
to find scalper tracks in front of you.)
    Anyway, having some hope costs me little, and actually
brightens my day.  So, although I usually favor cynicism over all
other outlooks, I'm doing some limb-stepping and giving Chet the
benefit of the doubt.  I'll wait to hear what McF decides.
    Honestly, though, it seems like such a strategy benefits
everyone.  McF would have the chance to watch the market, and,
using already-existing molds, recreate the figures to meet the
emergent demand.  (Chet did seem to indicate that making the
molds is a major part of the cost of producing figures).
    Okay, so to some extent I'm dreaming.
    At least it's a pleasant dream.

    Just want to share my delight and enthusiasm for the
recently-announced Toybiz 1996 figures.  Not only are these
figures sounding wonderful, it seems that Toybiz may well be
moving away from a concerted-shortpacking strategy in its case
assortments (HOORAY!!!).  Let McFarlane grab the piss-off-the-
collectors spotlight; go Toybiz!  (Boy, I hope they haven't
decided to go back to a 5-5-5-5-1-1 assortment or something like
that....).  Let's remember:  quality toys in abundance tend to
sell very well.  And if what someone recently posted about TRU
and Target getting toys at a cost-to-them of ca. $2 per unit,
they can always clean out the peg-warmers at half-price without
suffering a loss.
    In case you missed Sean's preview announcement (or even if
you didn't), I'm going to take the liberty of repeating some of
the highlights -- highlights to my mind, of course.
    First, X-figures.  The best news has to be, NO NEW CABLE! 
Not that I dislike the character, but c'mon, enough is enough! 
(I think Sean mentioned a repaint Underwater Cable, but that
doesn't count).  And the second best news, well, there's so much
good stuff in Sean's report, I'd have to say it's tied several
    A NEW Colossus!  (Drool, drool).  A GOOD Gambit!  AofA Beast! 
Psylocke!  A NEW Nightcrawler!  A transformed Wolverine, and a
Dark Beast!  These sound just terrific.  Along with several
others, it seems Toybiz did indeed listen to our pleas.  Or was
working the Psychic Friends Network overtime....
    Spider-Man:  In addition to the already-pictured series
(which I won't repeat), we're getting Dr. Strange!  (I could fill
the rest of this item with exclamation points, which would match
how this makes me feel, but might start to get boring after a few
paragraphs, so I won't....).  Now it's just a question of which
incarnation/costume TB is going with.  YIPPIEEEEEEEEEEE!
    But there's more.  Black Cat (What can I say?  Along with
nearly everyone else but those who make case assortments, I
*LOVE* female figures)!  Cyborg Spider (actually, I have no idea
what this will look like, but it sounds neat)!  Spider-Woman!
    As for things like Hydro-Man, all I can say is, for shame. 
First, no Sandman, then ya come out with Hydroman?!?  I just hope
he isn't another one of those lame water-squirting figures (like
it's even a question....).  Total Armor Rhino?  This must be a
special "1,701 figures only" item, right?
    On the other hand, "Arachnophobia Monsters" sound wayyyyy
    Then there's the Iron Man figures.  We've already seen
pictures of the first new series (IM IV, I'd imagine) in AFNTR,
and though they look excellent, I won't repeat them here.  No,
it's the Iron Man V series that piqued my further interest: 
"Iron Man Radiation Armor."  "Iron Man Lave Armor" (I assume
that's a typo, and rather than "Washing Iron Man" [rust problems,
don'tcha know] we'll be getting "Iron Man Lava Armor").  "Iron
Man Magnetic Armor" (will this *really* be magnetic?  Not a bad
concept....)?  Ahh, I'm such a sucker for that vacuum-metallic
finished plastic, I know I'll love these no matter how much they
look like the other IMs.  And if they are distinctive, so much
the better!
    Plus, we'll get Living Laser (okay, so he was lame right from
the beginning back in the 60s or early 70s; as John Caldwell once
wrote, "Ya gotta take the lemon with the meringue").  Uh, and
"Dark Aegis."  Whoever that is....sounds nice and eerie, though,
don't it?
    And, ahhhh, saving the best for last:  the first Incredible
Hulk series.  I don't want to be over-optimistic, but the follow-
up posting indicating that these figures just might be oversized
was music to my ears.  Given that we live in a world where the
most recent Hulk figure was poor even by Lou Ferrigno standards,
the idea of a (relatively speaking) truly 7', 2,000 pound
behemoth on the scale of Hulkbuster Iron Man (appropriately
enough) is just wonderful.  I've always had a soft spot in my
heart for the big green guy, especially in the pre-intelligent-
Hulk days (I always thought the "madder Hulk gets, stronger Hulk
gets" was an incredibly evocative metaphor that was never fully
explored -- and a great device for ensuring that eventually, ol'
Hulkie would beat *anybody*.  That link is so primal,
so...satisfying on a deep level.  Anyway, as they say in the
therapy biz, "my stuff," but I'm elated at the prospect of a
formidable Hulk).
    Let's see, what else was listed in the IH first series? 
Abomination (great choice; I hope they go for maximal detail);
The Leader (oooh, such a sniveling, nasty character -- too bad
they aren't including one of his mushy pink automatons); Savage
Hulk with Bruce Banner -- now this is interesting.  Is it two
figures in one package?  And thank god it's not "Robert Bruce
Banner" -- I always thought Marvel should just have said "we
goofed," rather than going with the "oh, we just never told you
his full name all along" tack.  Sheesh!
    And She Hulk -- okay, more lemon.  I usually do like female
figures, but if this smacks of the Byrne She Hulk (where the "E"
stands for cheap Exploitation and near-plotless stories) I might
have to pass.  And, finally, Battle Damaged Gray Hulk.  Well,
this could be cool.  If he's battle damaged, I guess he won't
have a hand of cards in his hand, or a cigar, huh.
    All in all, based on Sean's report, I expect great things
from Toybiz in 1996.  And why not?

    There is a thread going now on "what's your most valuable
toy," or something close to that.  I believe this thread deals
specifically with toys that one actually owns.  My most valuable
toy is valued in sentiment, and disappeared long, long ago.
    Do these names ring any bells:  Electron?  Alpha 7?  Xodiac? 
Orbitron?  Commander Comet?  Astronautilus?  Colossus Rex?
    Does anyone else remember the "Outer Space Men" figures? 
They came out in 1968, and were an action figure series
consisting of seven "bendies," but oh! What bendies these were. 
"From the farthest reaches of our galaxy, come the Outer Space
Men...."  (No, I don't have an eidetic memory; an old friend back
east has all of them, loose, with their cards, and at my request
sent me xeroxes of each of the cards -- hence the "borrowed"
subtitle).  These figures were just terrific.
    Oddly enough, they were made by Colorforms.  Each figure was
quite distinct, and the cards contain fairly detailed stories
about who they are and what their role is in the half-imagined
future reality where winged rubber people from Venus rub
shoulders with Plutonian robots, antennaed Martians, tentacled
Neptunians, Uranians with exposed brains (a la "This Island
Earth"), satannic Saturnians and beastly Jovians.
    I was lucky enough to have two of these figures: 
Astronautilus, five-tentacled creature from Neptune (purple, if I
recall correctly, with humanoid feet and four tentacle-arms; the
fifth tentacle -- I kid you not -- was his nose, about 2" long)
and Xodiac, the "Man" from Saturn.
    Xodiac was my favorite.  He came with a plastic ray-gun, a
staff with a plastic bauble mounted in its top, and a clear
plastic helmet.  His skin was green, and his triangular face had
large pointed ears and, as noted, devilish features.
    I loved this figure, for all its ugliness.  I carried it
around with me.  I slept with it.  When my parents voices, raised
in anger at each other, were ringing off the rafters, I clutched
Xodiac close and imagined myself thousands of miles away, romping
through the asteroid belt with my pal from Saturn.
    I know it's trite, but those days are long gone now.  And
Xodiac, bless his little rubber heart, lies at the bottom of a
landfill somewhere, alongside innumerable pampers and Campbell's
soup cans (hey, this was long before recycling caught on).  But
of all my childhood toys, Xodiac is the one I treasured most, and
my memories of him are, in a way, my most valued toy.
    Oddly, I hear a lot about Major Matt Mason, on the newsgroup
and elsewhere.  Maybe it's the Apollo 13 tie-in, or maybe Major
Matt and his pals got a wider distribution.  But I've never heard
anyone else mention The Outer Space Men, nor have I seen them
listed in any action figure catalog or price guide.  I know
they're not a dream -- I have the copies of the cardbacks. 
Someone out there *must* remember them....
    .....and if you do, drop me a line.  Which one(s) did you
have?  Did you keep them?  Have fond memories of playing with
them?  If you're interested, I can post more of the copy from the
backing cards.  The pictures are totally cool, but are poor-xerox
black and white images that do little justice to the figures, and
won't scan at all.
    Ahhh, nostalgia just isn't what it used to be.

SOMETHING TRU (or, "Yes, Santa Claus, There *Is* A
Virginia...Damn Near Everywhere")
    Posting from the Toys 'R Us front, I have noticed an
interesting phenomenon.  The closest TRU to me is in the center
of San Francisco.  It is a pleasant enough store, marred only by
its unintended role as nexus for several dozen scalpers and
dealers.  While it does get a good selection of toys, in decent
numbers, the more-desirable items generally disappear in hours,
sometimes minutes.  Very frustrating.
    But what makes this store worth frequenting, despite the
feeding frenzy it perpetually hosts, is the woman who manages the
action figure section.  She is not only friendly and
knowledgeable, she really cares about "her customers," as she
refers to us.  She takes the trouble to learn all our names, and
when you walk in and she's present in the aisles, she'll
immediately stop whatever she's doing and greet you warmly,
running through the list she keeps in her mind of what you like. 
"Let's see, John, you're always looking for new Spawn figures,
and ToyBiz stuff, right?"  (She's always right, at least so far). 
And she'll either tell you straight up, "sorry, nothing new's
come in," or she'll take you right over to the pegs (as if you
didn't know right where the stuff would be), or she'll jump up
and say, "hang on, they're unpacking a truck in the back right
now, let me look there for you."  And zip!  She's off.
    This occurs without you even having to ask.  Virginia is her
name, and she's just delightful to deal with.  She makes shopping
in this TRU extraordinarily pleasant.  And she's not afraid to
admit her occasional lack of knowledge; while she has frequently
clued me in to new arrivals, I've just as often shared rtm-
gleaned info with her about new lines, stuff showing up in
various places, and even demand trends.  It is a joyful, mutually
beneficial relationship.  Virginia is my "model" TRU employee. 
Too bad there's only one of her.
    Or is there?  Last week, I widened my search circle ("oh
where, oh where have the new figures gone....") and stopped in at
the TRU in San Rafael, about 20 minutes North of San Francisco. 
They had nothing new, but I noticed some vast empty spaces in the
action figure aisles.  In one aisle, as much as one-quarter of
the total space had been cleared.  Hmmmm, I thought; is it so
much of a leap to think they're clearing the space
product?  I thought not.
    I stopped a TRU clerk and asked if this was the case.  "No,"
I was told, "we're just changing from pegs to shelves and are
using that space for the new shelves."  Okay, fair enough. 
Consciously, truly, I figured that made sense.
    But something deep inside me was not satisfied.  I determined
this from the fact that even though there was nothing new to be
had, my feet were not leading me out of the store.  In fact, they
were making a repeating circle around the two action figure
aisles -- pacing of their own accord.
    Finally, a voice stopped me.  "Can I help you with
something?"  I looked up from my trance and saw a TRU manager in
"normal" clothes (no apron) but with a prominent name tag.  "Uh,"
I stammered eloquently, "I just, um, was wondering if you had any
new figures in.  I mean, I saw all this empty space, and, er...." 
(I don't emerge from my trances with any notable articularity, as
should be obvious).
    "You mean like new Spawn?  Or X-Men?  Or Star Wars?"  Boing! 
This person clearly knew what she was talking about.  "Uh, yes,
those were precisely the lines I was wondering about."  She
smiled, then shook her head.  "Sorry, we haven't gotten anything
new in a couple of weeks.  I know that a lot of new product is
due, but we just haven't received it yet.  Try calling back
tonight or tomorrow -- we have a truck coming in later today."
    I was stunned.  Happy, but stunned.  Usually, I have to pull
teeth to find out truck information -- except around Xmas, when
they were coming in almost daily, I find that I get evasive
answers.  And here was this sweet woman volunteering the haps. 
Hands-empty, but heart full, I started to walk away.
    And stopped, long enough to actually read the name tag on the
manager before me.  And was not surprised to find that it read,
    Now, that isn't *that* strange.  Coincidence.  Random.  Maybe
Virginia was a popular name a couple decades back.  I shook my
head, counted myself lucky at finding two such helpful managers,
and went on my way.
    To the Kaybee, another 6 miles north, where the manager I
usually deal with greeted me with a hearty welcome, though noting
that they had nothing new.  "That's okay," I said truthfully, "I
wanted to scour the bargain bin anyway."
    Which I proceeded to do, finding a cheap Thing I and Mr.
Fantastic, not bad, not bad at all.
    And that was the moment that a clerk called out from the back
to the manager:  "Can you help me with these boxes?  Can you? 
Hello?  Virginia....?"  I jumped three feet, and barely avoided
landing in the bargain bin.
    Egads -- it's a trend.  No, a movement.  It was starting to
seem less than random.  Could "Virginia" be some kind of new
title -- "Hey, Louie, Mary's being bumped up to Virginia to
manage the Barbies; we're promoting you to Assistant
Virginia...."  Maybe so.
    I shook my head in disbelief, bought my figures, and wandered
out to my car.  And when I got home, just to check, I called
Target to see if they'd gotten in anything new.
    "Hello Target stores, Virginia speaking.  Can I direct your

    That's all, folks.
Copyright (c) 1996 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

Comments? Drop me a line....
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