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John's Action Figure Column 4/4/96

New York Trip Part I

[New York, New York -- the City so big they had to name it twice
(I always hated that line growing up).  Well, I wasn't there for
the best of reasons, but I did manage to spend some time
exploring the Big Apple's toy world -- and it was much less
overrun by wormy scalpers and hoarders than I expected.  In any
event, this week's column is in two parts, to accommodate all the
multifarious experiences of toy hunting in and around the *real*
Gotham City.  I'll put Part II in a separate post -- give folks'
a chance to rest their eyes and all....<g>]

     I recently had the dubious fortune of having to make a last-
minute trip back to the East Coast for a funeral.  Not the best
of reasons, obviously, but my Uncle Herbie was one-of-a-kind,
definitely worth all kinds of effort.  I called my affairs to a
halt, arranged to be away from work for a few days, and
telephoned the airline.  You think a Travesty Picard is
overpriced?!?  Even with a grief discount, the airfare was not to
be bereaved....  Fortunately, the ticket agent was an action
figure collector; I was able to secure round-trip passage in
exchange for two Cy-Gors, a long-haired She-Dragon, a loose
Princess Leia (no jokes, please) and a Ras al Ghul.
     Actually, I charged it, but let's just say I could have
gotten at *least* two Travesty Picards for what I paid.  But then
I would have missed the funeral....
     Anyway, I shifted my schedule, got my bank loan and thus my
ticket, packed, and made it to the airport in a matter of hours. 
And other than one extraordinarily precipitous drop of about
1,000 feet in one second over the Sierras ("...this is your
Pilot, Crash Hopkins; let me show y'all some of the trick
maneuvers that made me famous in double-u double-u two...), got
to Long Island, New York without incident.  And after two days of
services and memorials, trips to the cemetery and sittings of
shiva (and believe me, in New York in the midst of a very
unseasonal late-March snowstorm, you sit and shiva -- <g>),
I thought it would be no disrespect to my late and beloved Uncle
(and just what is it, by the way, that the recently departed are
thought to be "late" for?  I figure it's about the only time in
life you're unequivocally on-time....) for me to take the
opportunity to check out a few area toy stores.  Heck, if I'd
breathed my last in San Francisco and *he'd* flown out to honor
my memory, he would definitely have stopped by Sherlock's Haven
or Grant's Tobacco on Market Street to snag a few choice pipefuls
before heading back East....

     Saturday afternoon:  Taking a tip from some faithful rtm-ers
in the NY area, I checked out the Roosevelt Field Mall and
environs.  I'll spoil the mystery by stating right up front that
I didn't find much of interest, but that disappointment aside,
let me say, WOW!  This mall has the single largest KayBee store
I've ever seen!  Just the front part (the "Impulse" section, as
one clerk unguardedly referred to it) was as big as the *big*
KayBee back in SF.  And behind that area, the store stretched out
to the back for what seemed hundreds of feet -- though that
perception may have been in part due to the hundreds of children
there, whose two-hundreds of feet were in fact running, jumping,
skipping, leaping, and what-have-you, *all* playing in the aisles
between me and my MOC goal.  This seemingly palatial store would
pale compared to another, considerably more majestic marketplace
later in my trip, but at the time it seemed quite imposing.  (And
if you want to know more about the *real* toy megalopolis you'll
have to read part II -- heh heh heh).
     Angling between the frantic children with a nimble agility
worthy of a Super-Poseable Spider-Man, I made my way to the
plastic nirvana of the first Action Figure aisle.  And while I
must admit that choice figures, or even particularly new figures,
were not really apparent, the sheer *number* of figures was
fantastic.  Rack after rack of X-Force, X-Men, FF, and Iron Man
spread out before me, ToyBiz on parade, leading up to the largest
display of Star Wars POTF figures I'd ever seen in any store,
anywhere.  (Yeah, and at $6.99 apiece, they probably represented
the single largest investment figure I've ever seen -- the Wall-
Mounted, Wallet-Eating Cash Cow).  Okay, so they were *all*
Vaders, Hans, Chewies and Artoos, it was *still* overwhelming. 
(Remember, I come from San Francisco, where even when new POTF
figures come in, they come in one or two cases at a time at most,
with very rare exceptions.  And the KayBee near me, all of five
miles from George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch by the way, only devotes
TWO PEGS to Star Wars -- for a maximum total of about sixteen
figures on display at one time.  So this was really POTF
     The ToyBiz stuff was interesting, because it represented a
very odd mix of old and nearly-new figures.  Lots of the last X-
Force assortment (sans Blob, Domino and Deadpool of course), lots
of Iron Man and FF I and II (with few exceptions, aside from
Invisible Woman in all her variations, and Blizzard), and *lots*
of Spider-Man from the first three assortments.  And some really
old X-stuff as well -- figures of Professor X, the Brood,
Longshot, Ahab (a double peg-sitter, if you know what I mean),
Sabretooth I, etc.  I was pleased to see so many figures, though
none really interested me.  I moved further along, to the second
action figure aisle...
     ...where I struck relative pay dirt.  Tucked in amongst the
"short run/short display" figures (at least by KayBee standards)
like TMNT, Savage Dragon, Monster Squad and the like were what
seemed to be Skeleton Warrior figures and yet...weren't.  The
cards looked familiar, but the figures didn't have that dull,
bony look... OHMIGOSH, I thought, moving in for a closer look,
it's one of the HUMAN FIGURES from the 'Warriors!  Hardly able to
believe my eyes, I reached forward and lifted an Ursak off the
peg.  Now, these figures may be commonplace where you are, or
perhaps they were available in droves when they first came out
(slightly before I started collecting a year or so ago), but I
have NEVER seen a single non-skeleton figure from that line.  And
Ursak looked tremendous!  Very Kirby-esque, with his segmented
armor and Kang-type helmet; he comes with a bunch of great
looking "Skeleton-Stopping" weapons and, best of all, a beard
that is almost an exact match of my own!  (Heh heh, in case I get
crazy and decide to do an ego-maniacal custom job someday) 
Eagerly, with fingers a-tremble, I grabbed the card and reached
past to the peg, hoping against hope that this Guardian might not
be alone.
     Fortune was indeed with me, because right behind Ursak was a
Prince Lightstar, and though the bubble looked like it had been
strapped to the *outside* of the Space Shuttle on its most recent
return from orbit, the figure was Mint.  His weapons were a
little more modest than those of his Legion of Light companion,
and I must admit I'm not partial to the armor & bare arms
combination (Hel-LO, you're going into battle, pal, not a
synchronized swimming competition), he, too, looked great.
     Alas, my luck was not perfect, for no Grimskull figure was
there (his skeleton puppy alone would be worth getting), but I
was still elated at my finds.  I really *never* thought I'd come
across the Skeleton Warrior humans, not any of them. And though I
would spend the rest of the day bopping from store to store in
search of more figures, these were the only ones from Long Island
that would be making the trip home with me.  (Well, I did snag a
Lowly Worm for Tracey the Wonder-Wife, but I couldn't even begin
to muster an argument that this was an action figure without a
considerable amount of ethanol under my belt, and even then....I
mean, not only does ol' Wormy lack any articulation, he basically
has no limbs!  Fetching chapeau, however, and a snazzy red bow

     I noticed a couple of other interesting things in my
peregrinations, however.  I asked the very kind clerk at the
KayBee if there were any other emporia at this vasty mall that
might purvey figures of the actional variety, and after he
prevailed upon me to translate my request into colloquial
English, he told me that I might find some figures at either the
Woolworth or at something called "Noodle Kidoodle."
     Before I go on, I should note that I will never, willingly,
utter the words "Noodle Kidoodle" out loud.  I just couldn't
bring myself to do it.  I was embarrassed enough just to enter
the store, and after they told me rather stiffly that they don't
carry action figures "because you can't learn anything from
them," I won't give them the satisfaction.  Harumph. 
Philistines.  Interestingly, they sell Richard Scarry figures,
from which I gather that despite their lack of poseability, one
can learn all one needs to about life, the universe, and pretty
much everything else.  The one I got for Tracey must be
defective, however, since I haven't been able to glean a damned
thing from the little critter.  Oh well....  (And don't think I'm
not already planning a self-help book entitled "All I Need To
Know In Life I Learned From My Action Figures," starting with a
chapter on keeping your card stiff and unwrinkled, and your
bubble firm and full....)
     So the "Noodle Kidoodle" (and they squawk about
learning...sheesh) was basically a bust.  Is anyone surprised?

     I moved along and descended into the basement (who ever
heard of a mall store with a basement?) of the Woolworth, where
apparently the bad toys are kept for punishment.  Well, this
basement is apparently not a stop on anyone's tour, because they
had next-to-nothing in the toy realm.  In fact, I was ready to
assess them as having nothing at all, until I turned a corner
next to the bird cage section (some of which contain actual
birds, monstrous though this is -- would you keep birds, of all
creatures, entities of the light and air, in a *basement*?!?  I'm
not a bird fan, but this was absurd) and suddenly spotted a
repainted Future Spawn.  It caught my eye, sitting just beyond a
thick support column.
     As I looked closer, I noticed two odd things.  First, that
the box was covered in dust, and second, that it was not alone. 
There were four shelves of Future Spawn repaints, ALL COVERED IN
THICK LAYERS OF DUST.  What the heck, I wondered; these haven't
even been *out* that long, and here they are looking like relics
from the McCarthy era (Charlie, not Joseph).
     Then I picked one up, and all became clear -- a faded orange
sticker read "$12.99," and all of a sudden their enduring
presence was explained.  The birds were chirping and Spring was
coming to the land -- it was time to move on.

     Sunday morning I woke bright and early (well, early for
someone still on West Coast time -- about 9:30 a.m. E.S.T.)  The
house was quiet; I had plans to meet the rest of my family,
already departed (hmmm, probably not the best way to put that),
at my Aunt's apartment in the City at 2:30.  Which -- heh heh --
gave me several hours to explore the toy fields of Manhattan
itself.  Having sent my luggage ahead in the car, I washed and
dressed and grabbed the 10:46 Long Island Railroad train from
Manhasset.  New York City, here I come!
     The ride was actually very pleasant.  Brought me back to my
commuting days.  Except that on weekdays the trains are crowded
to bursting, and everyone is cranky, and I always seemed to be
running late.  On second thought, it wasn't like my commuting
days at all....  In any event, a 40-minute ride found me in the
center of Pennsylvania Station, still under construction since
I'd left seven years before.  Some things never change....

     My first stop was the KayBee Toys at 32nd Street and
Broadway.  This turned out to be a surprisingly small and cramped
store.  Obviously not the flagship of the chain.  It's nestled in
among dozens of other stores in a big old building that used to
house A&S, kind of like a Macy's.  Since that store's demise,
it's been chopped into a myriad of cookie-cutter boutiques and
the like.  The only one I was interested in was the KayBee.
     At 11:30 Sunday morning, it was not particularly crowded. 
Which was a good thing; there wasn't much room.  They had a
pretty modest selection, which I guess fit with their being such
a diminutive store.  And what they did have was kind of odd. 
*Lots* of Spider-Man Spider-Cycles -- about 200 of 'em, marked
down to $4.99 from $9.99.  Ha -- markdowns were most certainly
*not* going to be the order of the day; once I left this little
cave of a KayBee, I don't think I saw another "bargain" all day
     The store was filled mostly (as far as action figures go)
with '95 ToyBiz Marvels -- nothing new at all. *Many* Aliens
figures, more than I've ever seen anywhere else -- Arachnid
Aliens, Rhino Aliens, Scorpion Aliens (these seem to most
resemble the "normal" Alien creature from the films); about 150
of these babies.  A few Predator figures, looking the worse for
wear (the cards/bubbles at least).  Ubiquitous Shadow figures,
all three for $5. *Many* Toy Story 5" figures, Buzz et al.  In
fact, throughout the New York  area Toy Story figures were
plentiful; I even found a bunch of Talking Buzz Lightyears (more
on this later).
     All in all, not a hard-to-find figure in the store.  Some
Iron Man II; in terms of mass-distribution, those were about the
rarest stuff there (and that ain't really rare; I use the word in
a non-technical, conversational sense.  See the rtm FAQ for the,
uh, rare instances where the term is truly appropriate).  The
store was *much* smaller than its Roosevelt Field Long Island
counterpart; so much for things being bigger in the big City.  I
thought I'd have the experience of thinking the LI store was huge
and discovering it to be like mistaking the cloak room for the
banquet hall upon seeing the Brobdingnagian (sorry, I read
"Gulliver's Travels" on the plane) Manhattan store, but it was
quite the other way around -- the City store was dark, cramped,
low ceilinged, basically bereft of anything interesting except
for the 10" Thing figures, which are absent around San Francisco. 
The sale prices were good, 3/10 or 2/5, like every other KayBee
I've seen.  About fifty Star Wars POTF figures, no hard-to-finds. 
*Lots* of the old Marvel Superheroes at 3/$10 -- all Daredevils
(in that odd and unappealing red/black costume), Poseable Spideys
and US Agents.  
     As for the 10" figures, the only standout was the Thing. 
This was the first time I'd actually seen the 10" Thing figures;
unlike the photo on the back of each box in the set, the figure
doesn't look great.  They blew it on the chest, making it caved-
in like the equally uninspired 2" die-cast Thing, instead of
powerful and prominent (ToyBiz -- where the chests are either
huge or pitiful, screwing up torsos since 1990...) -- very
disappointing.  They *did* do a great job on the face of the 10"
Thing though -- hmmm, every time I type "10-inch Thing" I have to
stop and think....let's move on, shall we?
     It was a good, er, thing that the figure didn't look great;
I really didn't have room to carry a ten inch figure comfortably,
or securely.  By the way, they had 15-20 of them at least -- or
am I just lying 'cause it's so much fun....

     Most NYC prices were a buck or so higher than anywhere else
I've ever seen toys; this varied a bit, with KayBee coming in
lowest all-around (especially because of their great specials,
which are constant despite the otherwise ubiquitous Big Apple
Gouging that seemed to vary only in how extreme it got); the 10"
figures were still at $5.99, but the other sale prices conformed
to those I was used to from the West Coast.
     Refreshingly, there were almost NO Batman figures; TRU was
about the only NYC store that had a decent amount of Bat-
homunculi (say, why hasn't there ever been a BAT-MITE figure? 
Although I always hated the little guy in the comics....).  But
I'm getting ahead of myself.  There was a handful of LOB stuff
and that was it for the Bat-guy; Spawn seemed equally under-
represented, there were all of three Ultra figures and not even
the SF-area-omnipresent Clown I figures.
     And everyone will be relieved to know that immediately at
the entrance there was a BIG display (it seems particularly
appropriate here to remember that in the book business we used to
call these displays "dumps") of Bananas in Pajamas.  And everso

     Just a little further along Sixth Avenue is the midtown
Manhattan Toys 'R Us.  Ahhh, now we're really in New York City,
Toto.  Walking in to the first floor entrance one is immediately
entirely confused.  There is no store on the first floor --
security gates (including metal detectors, which was rather
disconcerting), accounting offices, guards stations (and yes,
guards should be plural in that sentence), etc., but not a single
toy in sight.  After asking directions (which is always a
pleasure in NYC, where I try to eliminate the middle person and
simply tag an "...or should I just go [email protected] myself?" to the end
of every question) I navigated the way up a narrow escalator to
the second floor, which is actually the first toy floor (just
pretend you're in Europe on a truly trans-urbane action figure
hunt).  Except that the first toy floor is all pampers and
stuffed animals.
     And boy, do I mean stuffed animals.  Though buried in the
internal depths of a large NYC building, this store does have
considerable floor space on each floor, and on this one the
stuffed animals were more plentiful than piss-ants at a corporate
picnic.  Rack upon rack of soft, fluffy, cuddly love-icons
stretched away as far as the eye could see, and since one has to
cross most of the floor to reach the escalators, I saw 'em all. 
Looking particularly incongruous was the Power Rangers stuffed
villain -- uh, how does this thing fit in with their marketing
strategy?  I mean, it's the only darned stuffed thing they've got
-- I've not seen a stuffed Ranger in all my time hunting for
toys.  Anyway, back to our story....

     The escalator up to two, which is really three, lands you
right on the brink of action figure land, and though there were
certainly *lots* and *lots* of racks, it didn't seem like there
were any hard-to-find figures there at all.  Ah, but some of that
impression came from my unfamiliarity with this kind of low-to-
the-ground aisle strategy -- I don't know about the TRUs near U,
but in Northern Cal the racks start at about waist level and rise
up from there; in New York, the racks began at the floor and rise
up only to about waist level, except for the shelves on the outer
     I was surprised to see a very small Star Wars POTF display,
right next to a same-old same-old display of BTAS stuff -- or so
I thought; if I'd paid a bit more attention I'd have been very
happy.  As it was, it took my seeing someone else with a Pogo
Stick Joker to learn a very valuable lesson in assumptions; and I
risked censure once again to ask where she'd found the figure. 
It turned out that right at that first rack there were a bunch of
BTAS villains.  And though I missed getting the Joker, I did snag
a Bane and a Mr. Freeze -- yay!
     I was surprised to see several small racks of Classic X-Men
figures which included the White Storm -- this figure never lasts
for very long back West.  I was impressed, since I'd heard what a
scalp world NYC was.  Good timing, I guess.  Moving right
     Yawn -- *huge* display of Superman figs, nothing new in it. 
As far as New York goes, there is no new Superman line (this
makes sense, given that the place to find new figures back West
is really Target -- and there are no Targets in New York...yet.)
     Looking more closely at the first low Batman "Legends Of"
display, however, I was surprised to see...NEW FIGURES!  Yes, my
first glimpse of the "Pirate" Batman line.  Oy, was it a
disappointment!  Actually, it's the "Buccaneer Batman" (please,
I'm trying not to laugh) that's truly disappointing; they didn't
have the Joker, and the "First Mate Robin" (we will not discuss
whose "mate" he is; no innocents will be seduced in the writing
of this article) looks great -- I see what everyone who's
described this figure with approbation means!  The Batman figure
is r-e-a-l-l-y boring -- plain gray costume with only an
insouciant red sash to break the monotony...zzzzzz.  But the
Robin ain't half bad: red vest, green leggings, dark blue
belt/gloves, white shirt (though not puffy), pretty cool.  The
sculpting is very good, and the face actually makes Robin look
like an adult (though what adult would prance around in Pirate
     First Mate Robin's side-cannon looks so ridiculously huge
and heavy (remember, cannons tend to be made of IRON) that the
*Hulk* would have to be pretty angry just to heft it!  And that
cannonball-on-a-stick is just plain silly.  I did see some LOB
figures I hadn't seen before, though given how silly they looked
I can't understand why they'd been hard to find -- I mean, really
-- "Welcome to Sherwood" Longbow Batman was a riot, and Crusader
Robin with his patented John the Baptist head-on-a-platter collar
was too much.  Yeah, "First Mate Robin" was nice, but, ahhh, at
$6.99 and traveling trouble, I passed.
     It seemed like a big store, but there was still a cramped
feeling -- perhaps the utter lack of windows might have been the
cause of that.  And, all in all, not a helluva lot more figures
than your average SF area TRU.  And the average figure price was
$6.99 (which is also to say that was the lowest figure price;
remember, TRU stands for "no sales, at least nearly never.") TONS
of Toy Story 5" figures.  The Spawn stuff was all spread out, 4
pegs here, 4 pegs there, here a Spawn, there a Spawn, but no-
where a Cy-Gor....or even a Maxx.
     The store has an interesting display strategy, little 2-peg
by 6-peg racks everywhere, nestled in all over the place, full of
GI Joe, Spawn, TMNT, Hercules (gods, the figures that wouldn't
die).  They had a big stock of Man of Steel stuff in what would
seem to have been a discount bin -- only no discount.  (They had
lots of the two-packs too.)  There were several of the old Star
Wars reissue four-packs; at 21.99 I wouldn't be surprised if they
stay there for a while.  The only new Spawn was She-Spawn, not
even the odds-on SF fave for the longpeg award (which at this
point would have to be Clown II).
     There were absolutely NO Star Trek figures.  I asked about
this ("or should I just go beam myself somewhere?") and was told
they'd had them in but sold them all -- "we'll get 'em in again,
but it's been a while, they're all gone..."  All?!?  Even the
Sulus?  This just seemed odd....  And the clerk's tone seemed to
indicate that it would be a while before they started appearing
again.  "Strange, Captain, and quite illogical...."
     As I was leaving, still somewhat disconcerted by the
niceness of the clerk who told me he'd be happy to *hold* a Joker
for me from the next shipment (I passed, telling him I was from
California -- which seemed to disconcert him as much as he'd
thrown me, so at least it was even), I heard the PA go on...and
waited.  "Virginia, line 2, Virginia, line 2..."  Ahhh, there it
was.  Everything was ok.
     I had exhausted my midtown Manhattan toy options -- it was
time to move on to the big leagues, the Show, the ne plus ultra
of toys...F-A-OH-MIGOD Schwartz....

[To Be Continued....]

True Hero If I Ever Knew One.
Copyright (c) 1996 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

Comments? Drop me a line....
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