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John's Action Figure Column 4/4/96 Part II

New York City Redux

     Having dispensed with KayBee and TRU, I prepared to make my
way Uptown -- both figuratively and literally.  Despite the
sudden snowstorm of the previous Friday, this Palm Sunday was
emerging as a lovely and temperate day, and I threw caution to
the (warm, Spring) winds and decided to actually *walk* the 25-
or-so blocks (and one Avenue) to my penultimate goal:  FAO
Schwartz.  (My ultimate goal was a family gathering at my Aunt's
apartment at 71st and Second, at which there were no action
figures whatsoever, and thus little of interest to the present
audience.  For the record, however, I should note that the food
was terrific, and it was nice to have another chance to just hang
and "be" with my extended -- and grieving -- family. 
     I don't know if anyone here watches the television sitcom
"Mad About You"; the reason I mention it is that recently an
episode of that program had a subplot dealing with a plan by the
Mayor's office to rename various New York City streets with
rather whimsical and (for the purposes of the show) self-serving
alternatives ("Avenue of the Immigrants" stands out in my mind). 
I thought this a bit of typical tv fiction, until I stopped at a
red light at 52nd street and noticed a prominent sign indicating
that the next block of 6th Avenue was now officially "Cousin
Brucie Way."  (Cousin Brucie was a well-known 60s deejay on WCBS-
FM in New York).  And as if this weren't enough, later, when I
turned down 55th Street to make my way to Fifth Avenue (dodging
droves of brightly-clad Greek families on their way to a "Greek
Day" parade on the further-west side) I noticed that this stretch
had similarly been redubbed, this time to "Henny Youngman Way"
("Pave my street...please...").  Well, until they change the FDR
Drive to the "Batman Forever Concourse," I'm going to remain
steadfastly unimpressed....although they *did* name one of the
above-water roadways to New Jersey after that obscure X-Men
character with the white beard and white buzz-cut....

     ...but I digress.  I really do intend to talk about action
figures, I swear it.  It's just that a funny thing happened on
the way to Mecca...
     ...funny things, actually.  Without editorializing too much
(please, don't ask the impossible), I will note that in the space
of twenty blocks, along a stretch of Sixth "Professor Xavier and
the Uncanny X-Men" Avenue, I with-my-own-two-eyes witnessed:
     -- a traffic accident between a battered old van and a shiny
new sports car (after which, due to a slight language problem on
the part of the driver of the van, two cop cars pulled up in
great haste -- the van driver must have meant to use his cell
phone to tell the police that someone had "broken" his car;
instead, he apparently told them that someone was "breaking *in*
to his car...." and hilarity ensued....);
     -- a mugging (screams blaring out of a subway entrance,
followed by the sudden emergence of a purse snatcher, sans purse,
followed by a tiny woman who amazingly enough was the source of
the screams, no mean feat given her diminutive lung capacity,
although given that she successfully -- and I conclude
sonically -- fended off the theft, you'd technically have to call
it a failed mugging);
     -- a "dropping-down-dead" in the street (this was at the
corner of Sixth and 43rd -- "New Teen Titans Promenade") (and by
this I mean I watched from a block or two away as a man crumpled
to the ground; by the time I'd gotten a block or two past the
site, paramedics were already parked and standing around the
body, smoking cigarettes and shaking their heads, by which
gestures I concluded that the poor crumplee was either
incontestably dead or had let his insurance expire.)
     In any event, finding myself at the corner of 56th "Jimmy
Olsen and the New Newsboy Legion" Street, I barely had time to
register the incongruous presence of the "Harley Davidson Cafe,"
complete with actual vintage Harley rotating above the
entranceway, before I suddenly heard loud opera music coming from
the broad, empty roadway before me (NYC traffic movements being
the bizarre phenomena that they are, what had seconds before been
an impassable flood of vehicles had moved on, leaving the street
nearly empty).
     This music rapidly increased in volume, to the point where I
had to assume the parade had taken a wrong turn and was coming
rapidly up "West Coast Avengers Way," when I noticed a very
strange shape approaching.  It was a row of dozens of shiny gold
pinwheels, all madly a-flutter on the handlebars of a bicycle. 
Behind the pinwheels sat a man in loose-fitting military cast-off
clothing, riding proudly and pedalling furiously with his back
arched ramrod-straight.  And behind the man, mounted to the back
wheelguard, was an enormous boombox -- the source of the now-
deafening opera music that was insinuating itself into every
eardrum and open window along "Spawn v. WildCATs Mini-Series"
Avenue.  Talk about an Action Figure....
     At which point I realized that absolutely *nothing* can be
incongruous in this city of cities.  None of it fits, which means
it all fits, in a weird way.
     And on to Eden.

     Okay.  I have no idea who FAO Schwartz was, but I can make
one educated guess about his childhood:  he didn't have any toys. 
Not just a few, not a couple, not even one or two.  This guy
needs must have grown up *entirely* without playthings, because
it would take a life-sized amount of overcompensation to cause
someone to build a toy kingdom the size of FAO Schwartz' Fifth
Avenue NYC store.  Did I say "toy kingdom"?  I think I meant Toy
Continent.  Or maybe even Toy Planet....
     FAO Schwartz is located at the base of a skyscraper, set
back from the street behind a large pedestrian square.  I'd call
it a park, except there isn't a blade of grass for miles.  If
asphalt is your preferred leisure turf, you're all set here.
     The first thing you see is the line of people waiting to get
in.  Yes, a line.  I thought maybe there was a movie theatre
there beside the store, but no.  It's just a toy store.  Yeah,
and fusion is just a simple physical process.
     The line moves pretty quickly; thank god they haven't
thought of charging admission, which would slow things down even
more.  Are you snickering at the thought of a toy store charging
admission?  You've obviously never been to this one.  (Hmmm, I
shouldn't give them any ideas....)  Remember, I was at Disney
World less than two months ago -- this was a lot more fun.
     Anyway, you shuffle your way in through the revolving

     ...and as soft heavenly music fills your ears your personal
sales associate appears, wearing a tuxedo and carrying a silver
tray with sugared cakes and your favorite beverage.  You are
escorted to a silk-lined power chair, and young urchins in
commedia dell'arte Harlequin garb and domino masks strew the path
before you with rose petals as you are escorted to a private room
bearing rack after rack of every toy you've ever dreamed of,
Mint-on-gilded-Mint-Card.  You pause before the shortpack
section, innumerable rows deep with figures you've heard of but
never seen, never even *imagined* you would actually see.  Then
Todd McFarlane appears and asks if you'd mind having him sculpt
your likeness for a Spawn variant.  You rise from your chair and
take a moment to participate in the interactive Playmates Toys
display (several marketing executives from the company are locked
in stocks before you, under a button-operated rack containing
huge moveable tumblers of lacquer paint, honey, superglue, hot
tar, feathers, packing peanuts, Tarchannen Alien Geordi's, molten
lava, etc.).  You press a few of the buttons but as the screams
trail off you begin to get bored -- and anxious to see more toys. 
As you move along your buyer's assistant asks if you don't want
to kick the executives a bit before you leave the area,
indicating a rack of hobnailed boots in all conceivable sizes. 
You smile and shake your head, finding catharsis in the mere
opportunity.  A lighted corridor stretches before you and you
begin to hear toy jingles you haven't heard in decades as the
Pavilion of Long-Lost But Never Forgotten Toys looms closer, ever
     Ahem.  Okay, so it isn't *quite* like that.

     The first thing you really see as you enter FAO Schwartz is
a very large entrance hall filled mostly with -- stuffed animals. 
(It must be a New York thing....)  There *are* sales helpers
stationed at various points in the cavernous room, and catching
my breath I ask one of them where I might find action figures. 
"Action City, right up the escalator and to the left."  "Action
City?"  Ooooh, I have a *good* feeling about this....
     At the foot of the escalator is a large stuffed Gund bear
stuffed into an even larger toy car.  In front of the car is a
panel bearing the names of dozens of toy types, a button below
each one.  Press the corresponding button, and the Bear not only
tells you where to go to find that toy, but gives a little
enthusiastic spiel on what else you'll find there.  Though it
sounds contrived, this seemed perfectly charming to me, and to
the several children camped out at the button board as well.
     I rode up past the erudite bear, preparing for further
     I was not disappointed.
     Stepping off the escalator at the outskirts of Action City,
I see a life-sized Yoda figure in a plexiglass case.  Not bad.  A
huge wall of POTF figures stands beside him, $8.00 apiece, and no
hard-to-finds.  Over 200 figures, though -- not bad.  To one side
of these figures sits a bunch of talking R2/3PO banks, Vader
Banks (thank god those don't talk; you'd hear James Earl Jones'
deepened voice intoning, "kchhsssshhhh your pitiful account will
be trampled by the Emperor's tax collectors...your savings will
never amount to anything...xhxhxhxhxhx...")  They did have
*plenty* of these banks.  I was impressed.
     Moving along the corridor, I passed several walls covered
with non-action figure toys, and realized that I had not been on
the outskirts of "Action City" proper, and that they must have
decided to segregate out the Star Wars toys for
space/economy/crowding reasons (and the poor ToyBiz toys start
muttering amongst themselves, "there goes the neighborhood..."). 
But I maintained my faith in the instructions the guide had given
me, and moved right along.

     And there it was:  Action City.  A large, long hall ending
in a big display area, every wall covered with figures.  I had to
push my way past a "Top Nosis" demonstration at the main entrance
to the area -- a pain, but at least it didn't last long.  (FYI,
"Top Nosis" is a game set consisting of a 2" top over a square
board.  You can make the top spin, you can throw it, catch it,
and if you listen to the huckster it's the greatest toy since the
invention of the ball.)
     And for your further information, I should add that
throughout FAO Schwartz you come upon toy demonstrations, videos
playing on twenty-foot square video arrays, magic shows, fortune
teller booths (containing *live* fortune tellers!), everything
but an actual circus (who knows, maybe on Mondays....).  It's
*quite* a place....
     Anyway, I enter Action City proper (moving past a separate
closed room containing the *really* expensive, hand-crafted,
sorry-but-you-need-a-bank-loan-to-shop-here toys), and finally,
for the first time in New York, I see Star Trek figs!  Lots of
them, new ones, old ones, a whole Star Trek section.  No, no
Travesty figures.  But at least they had most of the others.
     And finally, WildCATs figures!  In bulk (at least for
WildCATS, which like TMNT/Savage Dragon figures are in very short
supply, though since the demand is ostensibly shorter as well, I
suppose that's not so bad....).  Earthworm Jim figures!  Toy
Story figures!  Hell, *Talking* Buzz Lightyears, stacked in a
neat pyramid near the cash register.  Fantastic Four figures! 
Column after column, many more of the latest series than the
older ones.  Iron Man figures!  Spider-Man figures!  Ghost Rider
figures!  All new -- the first time I'd ever seen an Outcast (and
boy, are his arms LONG -- they use an orangutan for a model, or
what?).  And X-Men figures.  And X-Force figures.  And... And...
     Now, one thing really bears repeating.  The one downside to
this plethora of painted plastic, this fountain of fun-filled
figures, cornucopia of comic and cartoon characters, is that FAO
Schwartz appears to have originated on a planet where a different
system of currency is used.  This is the kindest explanation I
can muster for their uniformly exorbitant prices.  The markup
ranges from two to four dollars, and when you're talking about
figures that retail most places for five to eight dollars tops,
that's a *serious* markup.  Even so, despite the engorged price
tags on all these figures, most of the shortpacks were gone (in
fact, *all* of the shortpacks were gone).
     But even that didn't diminish the fun.  Everywhere I looked
around me, I saw action figures.  The only wall space not
inundated with cards and bubbles was a HUGE array of monitors
showing X-Men cartoons.  Okay, so stuff was expensive.  And even
so, they didn't have everything.  I didn't care -- I was in
heaven.  I was *kvelling*.

     And let's not forget FAO Schwartz' other claim to fame --
their "Special Collectors' Sets" of figures.  Sure enough, a
quick search of the racks revealed the "Dark Phoenix" repaint
assortment.  Nice job on all of them, although the Corsair and
Ch'od repaints looked an awful lot like the regular figures. 
(Heck, what can you repaint on Ch'od besides his panties?  Whose
idea was it to include him in the set, anyway?)  Dark Phoenix and
Wolverine (red and silver, respectively) looked great.
     But wait a second, what's this?  Standing beside the Dark
Phoenix assortment stacks (and stacks there were; at $40 a set
they were *not* moving) was another, different collector's set. 
I moved closer and saw the logo:  "Hearts of Darkness."  Wow. 
Joseph Conrad figures?  I hadn't heard a thing about this.
     Examining it, I saw that it was a thirty-dollar, three-
figure repaint set:  Battle Ravaged Wolverine, Punisher, and
Ghost Rider.  Pretty cool.  Wolverine was gray/black with a
yellow costume and bloody slash wounds that looked great; the
Punisher was black/gray, still had the Freddy Mercury-styling but
looked *much* better than the original.  The Ghost Rider had
khaki pants but otherwise looks pretty much the same -- maybe
they're supposed to be his work clothes.  Anyway, it was a good-
looking set, but I just couldn't see paying $30 for it.  But it
was worth remembering.

     To this end, I stopped and leaned my pad on a lucite counter
to make a few notes...and then looked down.  I was looking at a
large clear display case mounted on a metallic base, designed to
look very high-tech and imposing.  And well it should have been,
for as I moved my pad aside to see just what it was that was
being displayed, I got a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach
and my fingers started to feel cold.  Naw, it couldn't be.  Could
it?  Hell, it WAS.  Right beneath my hands, protected
from drool (and theft, I guess) by a thick lucite barrier, 
gleaming like a relic of from some pre-human, mythic age, lay...
     I kid you not.  It was the Infinity Gauntlet.  I knew
without even checking the metal name plate mounted along one side
of the case.  Gleaming with soul gems, the hide of the glove
itself looking worn beyond imagining, battered and yet still
     And the *size* of it!  I never thought about it this so
concretely before, but my lord!  Thanos must have been HUGE!  The
glove stretched wider than my two hands laid side by side, and
then some.  I could probably have tucked all five fingers from
one hand into one finger of it.  Mere words barely do it justice. 
It was incredible.  And if you pressed a small button on the side
of the case, the gems began to flare up as if with unholy power. 
Totally awesome.  I mean, there I am, standing next to THE
INFINITY GAUNTLET.  This was more than a toy store...this was
like a *shrine*.
     Okay, so you don't have to dig too deep inside me to find
the little kid:  yes, I did check for a price.  Ha.  It wasn't
for sale.
     Acting on a hunch, I looked around the crowded room for
another case.  And a few yards away, towards the Fantastic Four
racks, there it was.  Still giddy from the marvel of the Infinity
Gauntlet below me, I stumbled over to this other case.
     As I approached, I could see green tatters of thick cloth. 
What the heck was this thing?  Ahhh, I was coming up alongside
it; as I moved around to the front, the thick metal plates became
clear, shifted together with a precision of technology years
ahead of its time, melded in an unearthly combination of
metallurgy and sorcery.  Shredded remnants of hood still clinging
to its scarred, dulled surface, I was staring at...DOCTOR DOOM'S
     No excrement -- it was the real thing.  (Well....)  There
was a plaque that read:  "Dr. Doom's mask, recovered from battle
with Terrax the Tamer."  Man, the thing was incredibly thick,
like a half-inch of silvery metal.  The eye holes looked scary
even without Victor Von's eyes staring through them; the mouth
aperture, with its signature grille and aeration mechanisms,
looked ready to bark imperious commands.
     This was absolutely fantastic.  I stared at the thing for
long minutes, imagining the titanic and frightening energies that
must have been required to remove it from its owner and maker. 
My heart was pounding as I tried to guess how much it weighed --
thirty pounds?  Fifty?  My respect for Von Doom rose with every
sweep of my eyes across the thing, its sharp planes and burned
facets looking dangerous even as the skeletal remnant that it
     Reluctantly, aware that I was blocking the view of several
children, I moved away from the display.  And, hoping against
hope, I spotted what I thought might be a third such trophy case,
tucked into the corner a bit off the main area.  Moving quickly,
I felt my jaw drop open as my eyes beheld a carven inscription I
remembered vividly from the first time I'd read it, decades
     "Whosoever wields this hammer...."  My eyes teared up before
I could read to the end, but it didn't matter.  I knew what it
read, and I knew what it was.  Nearly two feet tall and looking
worn enough to have been thrust into the heart of the Sun and
removed again, it was nothing less than THOR'S HAMMER.  My mouth
went dry as I stared at the thing.  It was perfect.  Leather
straps ran down the handle in the unmistakable criss-cross
pattern, ending in a large loop.  It looked ancient, and
devastatingly powerful.  I was trembling -- this was beyond cool. 
I opened my pad to make notes and found that I could not write
legibly -- my hands were shaking too much.  I laughed out loud at
the wonder of it all.  This was perfect.  Marvelous.  Marvel-ous. 
Stan would be proud.

     Suddenly the thought of all the stuff of commerce all around
me seemed extremely out of place, even inappropriate.  I felt as
if I stood on holy ground.  For a minute, the sounds of the
excited kids and parents and collectors on the sales floor
receded and I stood in silent reverie.  It was as if I'd come
     But hell -- I was in a toy store.  A great one, to be sure,
but a toy store all the same.  What a silly thought.  It was like
a hypnotic spell had been broken; the noise of the people around
me came back full force, and my senses returned to normal.  Too
much travel in too short a time -- that must have been it.  A few
deep breaths and I'd be just fine.

     Everything else was pretty much anticlimactic after this.  I
wandered around a while, dazed (but not confused), noting the
remaining figure lines I hadn't seen before -- TMNT (and even a
Barbaric and one or two Savage Dragons -- male only, though), Man
of Steel, Tick, Spawn, et cetera, et cetera.  No shortpacks, of
course.  This almost surprised me in regards to the Spawn
figures, because they were a whopping *$12.99* apiece -- I guess
the "Ultra" is short for "Ultra-Expensive...."  Heck, with prices
like these, you don't need scalpers.

     Was I really going to leave this extraordinary place without
buying anything?  Jeeze, it didn't feel right -- but neither did
paying $9.00 retail for a ToyBiz fig.  I decided that if I could
find a Medusa I'd snag it, since I was having such trouble
finding one out West.  But after checking exhaustively through
the Fantastic Four racks (and this took a while, as there were
many, spread out all around Action City), I came up empty.
     All right, was there *anything* I could afford?  Looking at
the impulse counter beside the register, I saw a small box filled
with...X-Men Chapstick!  No kidding!  (Hey, I've already got the
X-Men band-aids; very cool)  And at $1.50, it was nearly
affordable.  But after looking it over, I decided against it.  I
was never much for souvenirs anyway.  And time was getting late. 
I resolved to finish my tour and move along.

     As I wandered through the last racks, I noticed one thing
missing:  Batman.  Was it like the TRU, where they just didn't
*have* Star Trek figures at all?  Surely that couldn't be, not
here.  Noticing another guide nearby, I asked.  Smiling
indulgently, he answered my question.  "Oh, the Batman figures
have their own room downstairs."  Of course they do.
     At this point, I was exhausted.  Over-stimulated.  But like
a dutiful zombie, I shuffled my way downstairs to the Batman
Wing.  On the way, I noticed another display case, this one about
ten feet tall.  And inside was not a Marvel by-product, but
something equally stunning:  an actual tail vertebra column from
a Stegosaurus!  On loan from the Museyroom of Natural History.
Only in New York....  Wotta toy store!  Guess the huge markups on
everything go into the planning of the truly amazing displays.
     Anyway, the Batman section.  As usual for this Mighty Toy
Empire, quantity was not lacking.  There was something on the
order of 700 (!) Batman figures, divided up among the various
lines, rising in rack after rack up to the *very* high ceiling,
maybe fourteen or sixteen feet above me (how *do* they get those
figures down, I wondered).  And -- ha -- the best Bat-joke of
all:  not a single villain among them.
     I needed to leave.  I needed food.  I needed fresh air.  I
needed another walk.
     Heck, I needed to go home.

     But for anyone here going anywhere *near* Manhattan, I
cannot recommend FAO Schwartz highly enough.  Oh, not for
anything so crass (and unaffordable) as *shopping*, no.  I
recommend it because it's the best ride for a comic lover in the
Tri-State area -- bar none.  And that's that.
     See ya in the funny papers!
Copyright (c) 1996 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

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