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John's Action Figure Column 5/16/96


     So there I am, in the midst of my Thursday toy run, when I
decide to break with precedent (as well as my routine) and stop
in at the mega-site of Cost Co. Castle & Environs.  Now, this
slight detour wasn't completely unrelated to toys; though their
toy stock is generally minimal, I did once find a ridiculously
cheap concatenation of Spawnstuff consisting of several figures
and a playset (around Xmas, logically enough).
     For those of you unfamiliar with Cost Co., let me take a
moment and try to describe the majesty, the wonder, the sheer
*size* of the place.  Imagine an airplane hangar.  No, a multiple
plane hangar.  No, we're still thinking small.  Ever seen a
picture of that town-sized ur-building in which the Space Shuttle
is housed?  Okay, with that in mind, add a bunch of pizza and hot
dog stands, a photo developing lab, a pharmacy, eye doctor's
office, and about a hundred aisles filled beyond the range of
sight with comestibles and sundries in sizes that would make an
army supply officer ask for halfies.  The prices are great, the
quantities even greater, and the salesfolk are, well, basically
     But they do have terrific deals.  (Assuming you need eight
tubes of toothpaste, several dozen batteries, or sixteen fresh
muffins at a time).  And while they keep oodles of items stocked
on a regular basis, they do get in "specialty" items without any
notice.  And, on such rare occasions as the holiday season
described above, they even get, yes, we're trying to stay on-
topic here, toys.
     Now, I'll end the suspense right here, because this isn't
about making astonishing and gratifying toy discoveries at the
mega-store (and it's no Virgin).  In fact, they didn't just have
few toys, or lame toys -- they had none.  As in zero.  Zip. 
Nada.  Not-a-one.

     Well, the trip still wasn't a waste, for two reasons.  One,
I had a terrific chance to practice my zen "standing and
balancing" skills -- I spotted the new Zork: Nemesis game for
sale at a very reasonable price (aa-OOOO-gah!  I'm a Zork fanatic
from wayyyyy back, when a game known just as "adventure" was
hidden-in-plain-sight on my college's computer system, leading me
to use up my entire year's allotment of machine time in about two
weeks of round-the-clock play -- but that's definitely another
story).  Now, skipping the details, playing this new game on my
current brontoichthyian PC would require a modest hardware
upgrade that would effectively triple even the reduced-price cost
of the software.  You think you've passed ridiculous amounts of
time debating purchasing a $5.99 toy?  I think the seasons
actually changed while I ruminated over this domino-purchase.
     Anyway, I finally decided against snagging the game (for
now).  So much for that.
     But the second reason I found worth in the trip to the
vending vastness, the mercantile mountain of Cost Co., was that
it set me to thinking.  (Yes, you should start worrying.  And
that *is* wood you smell burning).  Gigantor-store....  Gigantor-
quantities....  Micronaut-prices....

     Hey, I thinks to meself, why aren't *Action Figures* sold
this way?  Imagine it:  you enter your local Cost Co., walk the
several miles to the toy aisle, and there, neatly packaged and
even more neatly discounted, is a large flat box containing all
six of the newest Spider-Man figures.  Or X-Men 2099 figures.  Or
Spawn figures.  Star Trek figures.  Gargoyles figures.  You name
it.  In stacks rising high as a Sentinel's eye.  Oh, joy; oh
     And the more I thought about it, this idea got better and
better.  Why?  I'm glad you asked that!
     First of all, it would benefit the toy collector.  No more
scrambling for shortpacks, or worrying about how to complete a
set.  For that matter, it would even take away any worrying about
whether or not to complete a set -- since you'd be getting it at
a discount, why *not* get all the figures?  Granted, if you'd an
abiding fondness for individual cards, a single box a la the FAO
Schwartz "Special Collector's Sets" might be a bit of a
disappointment.  Then again (see -- I keep thinking!), they could
just multi-pack figures on individual cards (as these places
often do with pens, cereal, paper goods, etc.  And I *do* mean
etc.)  Hey, problem solved!
     Secondly, it would benefit the toy manufacturers.  They'd be
able to sell boatloads of product efficiently, and as noted above
would be getting customers to buy complete sets where in all
likelihood many would theretofore have only cherry-picked.  And
like all the other goods sold at these Emporia Enormousa, they
could still sell individual units at all the old distribution

     Thirdly, it would effectively eliminate scalping of all
figures involved.  Talk about secondary gains for the collectors! 
Think about it -- there would no longer be any role for the
scalper in the toy continuum.  Serious collectors could get
complete sets in a heartbeat.  So could scalpers -- heh heh --
but if scalpers cared a whit about the toys themselves they
wouldn't be so happily gouging the public in the name of a free
market or the Kooky Amerikkan Kapitalism they frequently espouse. 
Hell, in this scenario, I wouldn't care if scalpers wanted to buy
up multiple complete sets till the man-eating cows came home --
there'd *be* no secondary market!
     There's been a lot of talk lately about the "scalper
problem," and though I hardly expect it to come about, this type
of set-packing, whether at discount warehouse stores or TRU,
strikes me as a simple way to *completely* eliminate the problem. 
(Well, at least insofar as collectors willing to buy complete
sets go.)
     (And as an aside, and by way of partial proof, I throw out
for public delectation the question of whether you've *ever* seen
or heard of anyone scalping FAO Schwartz' "exclusive" repaint box
set figures -- I certainly haven't; it just doesn't fit with the
economics of artificially-inflated reselling of new toys, i.e.,
scalping.  But I'd be interested if anyone else had ever heard of
such a thing).

     Now, I do understand that the microcephalic potentates of
toy retailing at the nigh-monopolistic Toys 'R Us might suddenly
develop a collective aneurism at the thought of this bulk-set
marketing alternative, but really, they have little to worry
about.  The kids will still be buying figures piecemeal, as would
lots of collectors.  (Let's face it, not everyone is a
completist, and even some who are are "line specific"
completists, buying every BTAS figure but picking and choosing
their Spawn items, or vice versa, etc.)  But affording those who
are completists an opportunity to slake their jones at a mon-
store via set-packs would also benefit everyone else who shops
for solo figures, since that segment of the collecting public
would no longer be competing for that single Cy-Gor, or Phoenix,
or Ras al Ghul, etc.  Heck, the manufacturers should look at it
as both brilliant marketing ploy at the same time that it
*rewards* collectors willing to buy a whole set at once.
     (And in another aside, I applaud the part of McFarlane Toys'
recent announcement in this vein indicating that they would sell
sets of figures "down the line" after they have come and gone in
retail stores.  The part I don't applaud is their marking *up*
such figures -- as opposed to marking them *down* to reward
collectors willing to take entire sets off their hands -- and
delaying the sales for so many months.  Though I understand the
economies that underlie both decisions, I don't have to *like*
     So it seems to me this "set-packing" is a no-lose
hypothecation.  Well, except for the scalpers, who -- ahem -- are
*already* losers as I see it, n'est-ce pas?  (Sorry, sad dogs of
the Scalpers 'R Us school, but as Nana Gersten always used to
say, if three people tell you you're drunk, it's time to fall
down, hey?)  (And just try and attack my grandma -- her
revivified eidolon would rise up from the fecund earth in which
she rests so peacefully and stuff you so full of Maltex and cream
you wouldn't know what hitcha!)
     A solution to boggles the mind.  Ahhh, so I'm
dreaming.  At least it's a *nice* dream, hey?

     There's been a fair amount of talk lately in the hallowed
bit-formed halls of rtm about "favorite figures" of one order or
another, and it set me to thinking about what my single favorite
figure might be.  This question really had me becalmed on the
seas of thought -- I mean, there's just so *many* great figures! 
And to a great extent, comparing them gets you into an "apples
and oranges" measure so fast you'd think you'd sailed into an
     For instance, how do you compare Fin Fang Foom with Angela? 
(I'm tempted to say, "very carefully," but vaudeville is, after
all, dead).  Or Buzz Lightyear with Galactus?  (Buzz steps up to
Galactus, says "My name is Buzz Lightyear, I come in--" and
Galactus eats him and his entire planet).  How about debating the
merits of Lowly Worm versus those of the Mucous Tick?  It just
gets too confusing -- you're trying to speak too many languages
at once.
     Sure, you could try to rate them "on their own terms," like,
which figure best captures the spirit of its progenitor, or,
which one's just the most darned *fun* to sit and play with, but
each of those approaches has its pitfalls.  (For instance, my
favorite "action features" are those which most engage the
attention of my three cats -- but these are three *very* strange
cats, and thus probably unsuitable for any kind of normalized
     So I tried another tack -- simple arithmetic.  That is, I
asked myself which figure I had the most of.
     If only it were that easy.  You see, for a while my
inclination (and my budget) had me buying one-to-open, one-to-
keep-carded (and occasionally one-to-find-them-all, and one-to-
bind-them, but again that's another story, a rather long and
involved one....), on top of which I'd occasionally go crazy and
get a third for the office shelves.  All of which left me with
several figures of which I have three -- and none of which I have
more than three.  In all fairness, a six-way tie was not going to
satisfy my curiosity on this question.
     Ahhh, but then another approach suggested itself.  Remaining
in the realm of numerics, I started thinking about which figure I
had the most of _in_ _varying_ _aspects_.  In other words,
figures I liked enough to buy in different paint jobs, or sizes. 
(And I'm not even considering Batman here -- for one thing, not
one of his mega-multiples comes close to being my favorite -- I
mean, my word, I only own *one* Batman figure; for another thing,
variations with intensively silly differentiating features which
have little or nothing whatsoever to do with the source figure
just don't count.  Hey, it's my football, I make the rules).

     Well, when I started thinking about it this way, there
quickly emerged a clear, unequivocal winner.  As will probably
come as no surprise to anyone who has heard my oft-repeated
chorus on the subject, the winner was:  War Machine.
     See, I've got the 5" War Machine, War Machine I, the
"original."  Then, putting aside multiples of that particular
incarnation-in-plastic, I've got the 2.5" die-cast War Machine. 
Then I snagged me a ten-inch, just too beautiful to be true,
kick-ass, polymer perfection War Machine.  (If ToyBiz comes out
with a life-size War Machine suit of armor, sigh, look for me in
debtor's prison folks, 'cause I'll mortgage the farm for it. 
Hmmm, make that regular "thief's prison"; I'd have to steal a
farm first in order to mortgage it....)
     I'm not sure what it is about this particular figure.  Sure,
I've got a deep-seated fondness for armored characters, Iron Man
and his clan in particular.  And vacuum-metallized add-ons
definitely turn my eye.  But that doesn't explain why Jim Rhodes'
alter-ego ends up being my altar-ego, in a manner of speaking. 
(Especially since the recent War Machine II, while nice enough,
certainly doesn't produce in my heart anywhere near the same
paroxysms of joy and adulation).  Maybe it's the timing -- it was
after all one of the first figures I bought as an adult.  Or
maybe it's the paint job -- you have to admit, that combination
of light- and dark-grey under the chrome vac-plastic is *killer*.
     It's funny:  in the comics, Iron Man himself always looked
far more appealing, in design, color, form, etc.  But in the
three-dimensional plastic continuum, War Machine makes Iron Man
look like an also-ran (yeah, on retractable roller-skates,
sheesh!).  I guess the medium does carry its own message, and
what looked great in yellow/gold and red against the white of
comic book paper just didn't hold up out here in the "real" world
(or at least its 2.5-, 5- and 10-inch mini-version).
     Ave Imperator, War Machine!  Grand Poobah and Panjandrum of
the plastic hordes!  At least in these here parts....
     Oh-oh, mom's calling me in for dinner.  See ya next week,
Copyright (c) 1996 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

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