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John's Action Figure Column 7/4/96


     What figure would *you* take along with you on a vacation?
     This was the question I was facing last Friday evening,
packing for a four-day excursion north to Seattle.  And while in
the asking it might seem to open up a veritable hornet's nest, in
the event it proved remarkably simple to answer.
     You see, it was easy to put aside all the McFarlane
shortpacks, the coveted Toy Biz females, even my precious few
BTAS Villains.  None of these held my attention for even a
moment, because as of the day before, I'd secured the absolute
*perfect* vacation figure, the ne plus ultraforce of travelling
companions:  The Tourist Tick.
     My god -- from his pink and purple flowered shorts to his
beyond-stylish shades, the Tourist Tick was *made* for
travelling.  A vacation imperative from the moment I set eyes on
him.  And the talking feature, wonderful though it is, was
completely beside the point.
     Except that Tracey fell in love with it.  I don't know if it
was the words he spoke, or the way he said them, but after one or
two listenings she had become completely enchanted with this
feature.  (Some might even say obsessed).
     It became our ritual, and -- bless her -- Tracey would not
set foot out of our hotel room without mischievously running over
to the desk under the big window and gleefully reaching down to
pat El Turista Tick on the back, so that our exit would be hailed
with his undying (at least until the batteries run down) and
ever-inspirational exhortation:
     "Let's hang ten for Justice!"
     I'm pretty sure the maids, watching us leaving our room in
hysterics time after time, were _sure_ we were on drugs.  Oh
well.  I don't think you can have that good a time on drugs --
but I wasn't going to tell them that.
     Hmmm.  As usual, I'm getting ahead of myself.

     Ahhh, Seattle, Washington.  "See-ah-tle, See-ah-tle, it's my
kind of town...."  Hmmm, that's not quite right.  "Iiiiiii, love
Seattle...."  Nope.  "I left my heart...."  That ain't it either.
     Come to think of it, I can't come to think of a Seattle-
centric "city-pride" song.  If I were a lyricizing man, I might
be tempted to try and fill the void, but as things stand I think
both Seattle and I are far better off not facing any music -- and
parting as friends.
     In any event, needing an early summer break and never having
ventured further north than Gualala, California (a marvelous
place, by the way), Tracey and I decided to head up to Seattle
for a few days of classic rest and relaxation.  We'd heard lots
of good things about the place, each have several friends who
originate from the "Gateway to the Pacific" and speak very highly
of it, and -- perhaps most importantly -- a little checking
revealed that Seattle was progressive enough to have not one but
*several* "European-style luxury hotels" -- which meant that
Tracey could comfortably loll there for a few days in the style
to which she fervently wishes she could become accustomed.
     A few calls to the Hotel Alexis and Alaska Airlines and
voila -- instant vacation.  (Well, we did need to arrange for an
on-the-spot round-the-clock substitute slave for our feline
masters, but if you read last week's column you already know that
for a couple of handsful of shortpacks we were able to fill that
role with the estimable Pal Jeff).
     Now, I have to admit that my idea of a vacation and Tracey's
idea of a vacation don't always coincide on every point.  Tracey
loves drives through the countryside, walking tours, famous
sites, fine meals and enchanting conversation with local
residents -- basically taking the time to soak up the history,
culture and general ambiance of a new place.
     Me?  I like soaking up the history, culture and ambiance too
-- only I prefer the history of the Targets in the area, the
culture of the Kaybees, and the ambiance of the TRUs.  So where
Tracey's plan of attack for Seattle ranged from the Pike Place
Market to Pioneer Square through the waterfront and the downtown
Bon Marche district before heading outward for some scenic
country roaming, my plan was a bit simpler, if more rigorous: 
hit every Target, TRU, Kaybee, K-Mart, Wal-Mart, Long's, Pay-
Less, FAO Schwartz and related emporia within a hundred mile
circle of the City center.  Now *that's* a vacation, right?
     Let's just say that Tracey's plan was the one ratified and
enacted by the Gersten Tourism Co. Board of Directors (notably,
Tracey is Chairperson of the Board as well as CEO, CFO,
President, Treasurer and Founder; I get to handle the catering
for the meetings, and, if I'm lucky, clean the wastepaper baskets
when they're over).  I know it sounds crazy, but the woman seems
to think that ambling around from one putatively interesting
cultural or natural hotspot to another, with breaks for sampling
the best the local cuisine has to offer, makes for a satisfying
vacation.  A lesser man might be put off by this irrational and
downright bizarre behavior, but what can I say?  She's got me
lassoed by the heartstrings, blinded with lust -- so I go along
with this patently ludicrous insanity.
     However, Tracey is nothing if not indulgent, so after a
couple of days of "cultcha, cultcha, cultcha," she turned to me
before our ritual afternoon nap and with heavy lids and a sweet
smile asked, "aren't there any comic stores or toy stores you'd
like to look for in Seattle?"
     I thought she'd never ask.

     By the time she'd woken up an hour and a half later, I had
the first part of our route plotted on each of the progressively
larger-scale maps we'd obtained early in the trip.  I'd called
several of the comic shops, located some of the particular books
I was seeking (most notably five issues I was missing of Grant
Morrison's extraordinary "The Invisibles" as well as a few odd
Marvel and Legend titles), and gotten directions to the first
dozen or so toy retailers on my list.  I'd had the rental car
tuned and oiled, gotten the hotel kitchen to prepare and pack
several days' worth of ambrosial victuals, and highlighted the
appropriate strike-it-rich lines in my White's and AFNTR toy
price guides (just kidding about the last two).  I was adjusting
the legs of my jodhpurs and testing the balance of my pith helmet
when I heard Tracey chuckling quietly.  She had discovered my
scribbled itinerary and a few of the maps, and was paging through
the former when she suppressed her laughter enough to speak.
     "Oh, John, you always know how to crack me up.  Could you
imagine if we really were going to *go* to all of these places?"
     And the giggles resumed.  By the time she caught her breath,
Tracey's smile had evolved into a different expression, though
still fixed around a grin.  "You know how I start to feel when
you crack me up...."  And the grin changed to a leer as the
fingertips of her left hand traced a lazy figure eight on the
     Well, I'm nothing if not fast on my feet.  Dropping the
helmet so that I could surreptitiously kick it under the bed, I
smiled back with a broad grin.  "Yeah, I knew you'd get a kick
out of it.  Ha hah.  Great gag, huh."
     "Well, why don't you get a little closer and we'll take a
closer look at that big....itinerary of yours."  And at that her
grin became positively wolfish under her sparkling eyes.  "And
then afterwards we'll change and check out that comic book store
downtown that had the Invisibles you wanted."  She curled her
chin back against her shoulder and beckoned with a finger.  "And
maybe tomorrow we'll go by a Toys 'R' Us outside the city."
     I was silly putty in her hands.  So the action figures would
have to wait a day -- a man's got certain...responsibilities. 
Thank god.

     Well, we did check out a couple of comic book stores later
that afternoon.  One was set in a subterranean mall beneath
Seattle's deservedly famous Pike Place Market (oy! -- if only
this were a food column!) and was big, loud and very crowded,
full of mostly new comics and mostly new toys (the notable
exception being a respectable, if pricey, assortment of older
Star Wars figures).  They did have a few new Wetworks figures --
yes, the ubiquitous, notoriously peg-warming Mendoza and Delta
Commander -- as well as a few rather high-priced older McFigs,
and the first 13" Angela I'd set eyes on.  But between her huge
rivets and similarly scaled price tag, I passed.  This store did
have a few older Star Wars figures in a locked case at the front
of the store, but I don't know enough about old POTF figures to
gauge whether the prices were reasonable.  And when I inquired
about some older comics, they very politely explained that until
they moved to larger digs they simply didn't have space to
maintain much of a backstock.
     Zanadu Comics was a different story -- a much more
satisfying story.  For in addition to having most of the comics I
was desperately seeking (including four out of five issues of the
Invisibles that I needed -- the same ones that recommend Crest, I
believe -- and Flex Mentallo #1, long-vanished from San Francisco
at any price), they had a bunch of older X-Men and X-Force
figures, on sale!  The sale price was actually about that of the
TRU retail price, but for a comic shop, this was unprecedented. 
And they actually had some of what I think are the more
interesting figures -- Kane, Space Cable, Deep-Sea Cable, stuff
like that.
     But what really set my jaw to dropping was a display case
filled with a dozen or so painted "cold-cast" porcelain
statuettes.  Granted, these aren't truly "action figures," since
they can't be posed at all (other than in the single pose in
which they emerge from the mold), but some of them were simply
     There was a perfectly awesome Magneto, standing with his
arms outthrust above a base of shrapnel, looking supremely evil
(and powerful); a Batman, a Joker (very Nicholsonian), and a
Catwoman; a Spider-Man; a Ripclaw; a Savage Dragon; and an
"Arabian Nights" Sandman (that I'd actually seen down in SF
before).  Taken together, they were simply stunning.  At $200
bucks the Magneto was wayyyy beyond my reach, but -- sigh -- it
was just gorgeous.
     The folks at Zanadu were extremely helpful, among other
things going so far as to have some of the issues I'd requested
over the phone driven over from their other stores, and then
searching through their storage space for a bunch of others. 
(Had they not unaccountably been outright surly the next day when
I dashed back in to grab an extra Flex Mentallo, I'd give them my
"world-class" JSG seal of approval; as it stands, I'll chalk
their anomalous and surprising rudeness up to Monday-morning-
blues and try to hold onto my fonder memories of their staff's
effusive Sunday service).  And again, it was no surprise to see
the same two Wetworks longpacks as the only evidence of recent
figure shipments.
     We also found a couple of interesting shop-stops in our
wanderings through Seattle's Pioneer Square.  In addition to a
respectable collection of loose Star Wars figures in one of the
stands in the basement "permanent flea market" of the Pioneer
Square Mall, we found a wonderful FAO Schwartz-type toy store
called Magic Mouse Toys that didn't carry action figures
(Philistines!) but did have a few wonderfully detailed 4" tall
Star Trek sculptures including a terrific Kirk vs. Spock from
"Amok Time," a Kirk vs. the Gorn from "Arena," a Sulu posing with
outstretched sword, and a berobed "Q" seated on a throne.  At
$20-25 apiece these were just a bit out of range, but the
sculpting and the painting were quite good.  If I were a Star
Trek collector, I would likely have been sorely tempted.

     The next day we made a run outside Seattle-proper and hit a
Target, a TRU and an FAO Schwartz.  (Sadly, the Kaybee I'd set
sight on had closed, and we didn't have the time to truck out to
Lynnwood to visit the other, or -- alas -- a certain famed TRU). 
The Target had little of note, save for my first sighting of the
13" Spawn (13" Yawn is more like it; sorry folks, but did they
have to choose the *least* interesting of all the McFigures to
enlarge?  And that cowl just looked awful....).
     The TRU was similarly depleted.  Oh, plenty of light-up
Wolverines remained to attest to the arrival -- and departure --
of the rest of the newest X-figures, but there was little else of
note.  I was amused to see a group of seven (!) interrelated
small children of various ages avidly checking a large display of
POTF2 Star Wars figures at the front of the store; as I passed
by, I overheard the mom saying, "okay kids, now, does Daddy need
a Boba Fett...?"  It was to grin.
     I really thought I was going to emerge toyless from Seattle
until I stumbled onto the FAO Schwartz in Bellevue.  Checking
through the action figure pegs, I had the felicitous joy of
meeting a perfectly charming and aggressively helpful employee
named Ben (and self-nicknamed "Action Man").  I had stopped him
to ask whether the six Delta Commanders present were the only
Wetworks II figures they had, and, frowning, he explained that
they hadn't been shipped *any* Wetworks II figures yet.  These
had all been returned the day before by what was apparently a
high-volume scalper, who'd secured something on the order of six
full Wetworks II cases, raped out the ladypacks, the blue man
groups, and Frankenstein's monsters and returned the snooze boys
to FAO for full credit.  Action Man was obviously very disturbed
by this, but either hadn't been present for the exchange or felt
his hands had been tied (I didn't get the full story).
     Anyway, we chatted for awhile and had a great time.  He was
extremely knowledgeable, equally friendly, and clearly out there
to try to do some good for the kids, and after that the
collectors.  Yet another example of the remarkably high-quality
staff I keep encountering at FAO Schwartz stores.
     As I was leaving, I noticed an unusual display of four X-
Force figures "under glass," consisting of a Cable, a Forge, a
Deadpool I and, most notably, a purple Trevor Fitzroy.  Now, a
discounted blue Trevor Fitzroy was actually the first action
figure I bought as an adult, and I've always loved that crystal
battle armor, cheesy though it may be.  Compelled by this
unexpected assemblage, I whirled on my heels and asked Ben about
     Turns out it's a year-old FAO Schwartz exclusive four-pack,
one that apparently didn't get much of a marketing push and
consequently didn't sell well.  (It surely didn't help that the
figures come _without_ _cards_ jammed four-in-one into a tiny
cardboard box).  I guess they're repaints, though only in the
case of the Fitzroy was the repainting obvious.  In any event, at
the eminently reasonable (especially for FAO Schwartz) price of
$6.50 apiece I snapped these puppies up, delighted to have
finally had the occasion to purchase some toys on this trip. 
Yippie!  A happy man, I retired to our hotel -- and gave the ol'
cowabunga Tick a hearty whack on the back for good measure.

     Of course, it wasn't until we'd returned from fair Seattle
(fair indeed: we had four straight days of glorious warm sunshine
and gorgeous blue skies) and I settled in to read the 1300+
accumulated messages that I realized how *many*
regular rtm posters are actually from Seattle or nearabouts!  I
felt a sudden regret for not having paid closer attention before
departing, but then, it was basically an impulse trip without
much warning, and I don't think Tracey would have enjoyed another
"bored-to-catalepsy" session listening to a bunch of unrepentant
toy lovers wax poetic and rhapsodic about their loves and losses. 
So it's probably just as well -- though it would have been great
     And I do have to say I'm happy that my Seattle toyhunting,
such as it was, did not deprive anyone up north of any coveted
action figures (there are plenty of those X-figure sets left at
the FAO; more than 20, according to Action Man Ben).  In fact, if
anyone up there is looking for any figures, let me know -- I'm
thinking about trading 1:1 for some of those incredible salmon
piroshkis and delectable oversized pork buns from the Pike Place

Copyright (c) 1996 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

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