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John's Action Figure Column 10/03/96


     I'm thinking of a place.  It's a place unlike any other. 
From the outside, it's rather nondescript -- a plain three-story
building with little ornamentation, no sign, no lights.  Just a
small dull brass plaque with a street address.  From the outside,
you'd think the place was nothing special.  You could pass it by
every day on the way to work without giving it a second thought.
     But for those who know, 1701 Esperance Lane is a place worth
lots of second thoughts.  For 1701 Esperance is the address of
Kirby's Cosmic Derby.
     Forget Planet Hollywood; don't bore me with stories of the
Hard Rock Cafe.  Callahan's?  The White Hart?  Bah.  Kirby's
Derby is the greatest bar collectors could ever imagine.  How do
I know?  It's simple:  I see their faces when they come in the
     Sure, they've been invited -- no one gets in without a
recommendation from a member -- but they still freeze in
disbelief when they see the place for the first time.  Maybe it's
the display cases that surround the anteroom: complete
collections of Super Powers and Playmates' Star Trek figures, and
I mean *complete*, and all are open to the touch -- go ahead,
handle 'em, try their action features, that's what they're there
for.  Or maybe it's Larry, the cape/cloakroom attendant (a dead
ringer for Neal Adams' Tarzan and dressed appropriately for the
likeness), or Laurie (imagine Angela in the flesh -- and so much
of it to be seen -- and count yourself lucky she's only
collecting shoes and not souls), but first-timers always stop in
a kind of shock on the threshold.
     From my station behind the bar I see as that shock turns to
delight, their faces opening up with wonder and joy as they eye
the glorious posters that cover every inch of the walls not taken
up with display shelves, drinking in the spectacle -- of Green
Lantern (doesn't Mark look great in the costume?) and Luke
Skywalker (similarly Jared) waiting tables, Harley Quinn
welcoming them from the hostess' station (Roxi fooled even me the
first time she put the outfit on), and me in my "Pip the Troll"
outfit behind the bar; of the furniture around them artfully
composed of 5" figures, the walls lined with dozens, nay,
hundreds of shelves, filled full but not to crowding with
literally thousands of figures from all eras; and at strategic
points throughout the main room, display stands like the one
containing the life-sized Han in Carbonite, or the Yoda, the 7-
foot Medieval Spawn (commissioned specially from McFarlane Toys),
or the display cases (some on permanent loan from FAO Schwartz)
containing such icons as Thor's Hammer, Dr. Doom's Mask, The
Infinity Gauntlet, Superman's rocket, Mrs. Wayne's pearl
necklace, the Flash's treadmill, and Majestyk's cape.
     Yep -- you might say I live for it, that wonderful moment
when they realize it's even better than they imagined and they

     The main room at Kirby's flows out in a semicircle from the
bar, affording me an angle of view that takes in the whole
panorama.  The tables nearest the bar are small, meant for twos
and threes, while those further back are larger; behind those are
the booths: rich, comfy leather seats surrounding dark wood
tables under, yes, more display shelves.  While it does seem like
most nights everyone would like to talk to pretty much everyone
else at once, we've found that it helps balance things out if we
break the mob up into smaller groups.
     Two medium-sized fireplaces corner the sides of the room
away from the bar, while the third (a walk-in, but I wouldn't
recommend it) sits in the center, right by the hall to the front
door.  We like it that way -- it counters the draft from the
outside and gives newcomers a bone-deep feeling of warmth as they
make their way into the main room.  The area above the
mantlepiece is just about the only shelf-free spot in the room;
we tried putting figures up there, but the heat kept turning
their legs to jell-o -- literally.  Like I said: it's a *big*
fireplace.  So we compensated -- with a bunch of bas-relief model
kits that _can_ stand the heat.  But if some character you love
or admire is missing, don't worry; we've got plenty of unpainted
kits in the craft area -- just dive on in and make/model/carve/
paint one; we'll put it up when it's ready for drying.

     If you haven't guessed, Kirby's Cosmic Derby is the world's
first (and only) "Action Figure Bar & Grill."  We've put a lot of
hard work into her (yes, I think a bar should be a "she") and
most of us feel about her as Kirk felt about his ship.  Our
enterprise may be a bit smaller, but not any less the vehicle of
our fantasies.
     As you come in you'll probably notice me behind the taps
toweling Batman and Superman glasses.  Darned dishwasher never
seems to get 'em completely dry, but I don't mind -- it gives me
something to do as the nights get started.  I'll smile a friendly
smile at you, nodding welcome, but I don't tend to say a lot
until I've had a chance to size you up.  So come on down to the
bar and have a seat -- I'll fix you one of my famous Lee's Muses
and you can tell me what you collect, and why (I'll have to take
your car keys, though).
     Oh, that group of laughing people you pass on the way over
is probably Eric, Aaron, Marcia and Scott and their significant
others (no, not their prize figures, their mates) -- that eight-
top has been "their table" since the night we opened.  And even
when they take their turns spelling Jeff, Tim, and Tracey in the
kitchen, their places always seem to be filled right quick with
other family members.
     The kitchen at Kirby's Derby (that would be the "grill" part
of the "bar and grill" fame) specializes in, well, it specializes
in not *having* a specialty -- everything we cook is farm-fresh
and superb.  It makes it tough to single out one item or another
to recommend, but you know you'll love whatever you choose.  From
Jeff's "Burritos Squadron Supremo" to Tim's "Banzai-Bandai" BBQ
platter to Tracey's Galaxy o' Pastas, you'll probably find come
closing time that your costume suddenly feels a little tight in
the waist -- but it's worth it.  And if you don't feel like a
huge meal, try one of our Winnie the Pu-Pu Platters, or maybe one
of Frank's Repaint Shakes.  Or hang your hooks in one of our
Shortpack Pizzas (Marty and Sue have cranking those things out
down to a Thanagarian science), or try Brant's "G.I., Caramba!"
Chili -- we're talking *hot*; each bowl comes with a Super Powers
cup slurpee infusion pack, just in case.
     Haven't seen your favorite pop since you were a kid? Don't
worry, we've got 'em all, from Shasta to Nehi, Hires, Dad's,
Fanta, Dew, Pepsi, Coke, Pibbs, Peppers, Brown's, Vernor's, Royal
Crown, heck, we've even got a coupla cases of Vita-Cola waiting
for the right occasion!  And aside from that truly staggering
collection of soft drinks we've got some of the world's best
micro-brews.  There's Alderon Ale and Secret Wars Lager, Frank
Miller Genuine Draft and Pennyworth's Golden, Parademon Porter
and Hercules Hefeveizen.  Or, if you like something heavier, try
the Dagobah Dopplebock, or Simpsons Stout.  Those sixteen-ounce
pilsner glasses get heavy, though, so remember to pace yourself.
     Once you've got just the right glow (which you may well have
arrived with), feel free to check out some of the other rooms. 
You might want to start in the Game Galeria (thank heaven we
knocked down that south wall, otherwise the new shipment of
pinball machines would really have cramped things), or head down
to the Video Parlor (four mini-lounges each with its own
projection unit and a tape library going from the Fleisher 40s
through the Warner 50s, the Mighty Marchin' Marvel 60s, scads of
British stuff like Captain Scarlet and the Thunderbirds, Dr. Who
and various Hitchhikers, on through the 70s and 80s with Super
Friends, animated Bats, right up to cutting-edge Superman stuff,
and a fair amount of anime to boot!), check out our Cinema (only
a 50-seater, but that's partly because everyone agreed we'd
rather lose the space than have chairs (pfah) instead of plush
sofas) or just kick back and relax in one of the hot tubs that
make up about half of the Ditko Lounge (the other half is full of
heated bean bag chairs and spider-webbing hammocks; don't let the
decor trouble you, though; you get used to the faux "Dormammu's
Domain" scheme after a few minutes downtiming in the tubs).

     Then there's the VR portico, the Arboretum (for getting even
further away from it all, though rumor has it there's several
sets of Micronauts strewn throughout the two acres of floral
spread), the Sandbox room (filled with loose figures -- dig a
while, you'll probably find something you loved as a kid), or the
Tableau Trove, where Gus, our "Lama of the Diorama," presides
over a series of several dozen figure set-ups (heck, after we'd
bought the putt-putt course next door, it seemed a shame to lose
it, and yes, you can play through most of the displays, just mind
where you swing those clubs).
     If you're feeling more sportive, trundle over to Spawn Alley
for some bowling (take your pick of tenpin combos of Youngbloods,
multicolor Batmen, or the fan favorite Ultraforce, though
personally I don't think you've lived until you've heard the
sound of ten gold Overtkills hitting the silk after your ball
plows straight through 'em), or check out one of the electric
hockey tables (sort of like Foosball, but with all the control of
a table hockey set, with 5" figures who come bearing sticks). 
I'd say you could get together a game on the full-size basketball
court, but since Eric unpacked his X-figures there's just no
     Should nature call, the rest rooms are right off the main
hall.  Taking a leaf from a place I saw once in New York (but,
uh, cleaning that leaf up a considerable amount first), be
prepared to have to pull yourself away from the luxurious
appointments, for each stall and stand has a peephole onto a
plethora of cartoons -- from Bugs Bunny to Space Ghost, Wacky
Races to more BTAS.  Heck, even the changing tables have a
ceiling display, so junior and princess can stare up at Max and
Dave Fleischer's 40s Superman 'toons projected on the ceilings. 
(And please, if at any time the euphemisms are anything less than
dazzlingly spic 'n span, just give a shout and Terry'll come
bounding up from the basement to make it right.  Heck, he was
*born* for the job.)
     And if you're jonesin' for some action on the wire, the Net-
Setters Salon has a dozen computers ready to rock (yes, half are
Macs, half PCs, and we've even got a Unix box -- if Jim'll get
off it long enough for you to get at it), roll, and let you surf
the light fantastic.  Just put your name down with Phil or Gregg,
if you can drag them away from the jukebox long enough to get 'em
to mark it on the wait list.  (Of course, with everyone there,
who would you write to?)
     Feel like taking a customization workshop?  Most nights TJ,
Jack, Jason, Nirah and/or Mike'll be holding forth in Head-
Swapper's Cove, right across from the theatre.  Bring your own
projects or dive in to the loose parts box (really more of a
drained swimming pool-type space...actually, it *is* a drained
swimming pool we use for storing the disassembled limbs, torsos,
heads, hands, feet, weapons, etc.; getting kind of full,
though...) and put together your favorite character from the
comics, or go ahead and create your own from your wildest
     Need a comics fix?  The library is right off the hall to the
west wing, and contains copies of pretty much everything Marvel
and DC put out since the late 50s, as well as a pretty wide
sampling of stuff from just about everyone else.  You can't take
the books out, but you can camp out as long as you like to catch
up on stuff you missed, or to discover wonders that eluded you
previously.  If the time starts to drag and you don't feel like
heading back to the bar, just dial up the kitchen for any of a
couple dozen snacks.  Kevin uses a Cerebro unit to process all
the orders, so you should have your skins or Zealot 'Za or
Barclay Burgers in a, well, flash.
     If trading is your meat and potatoes, grab a seat at the
Main Exchange, right under the Diamond (Distributors) Vision
screen listing the current "availables."  But be warned --
anything not "off the market" for at least six months goes at-
cost, or it's a head-first dunk in the grease pit (oh geeze, that
reminds me, we never remembered to pull the *last* guy out from
last week -- yeah, every now and then a scalper sneaks in, no
security system's perfect, after all).  On older figures, well,
you can offer 'em for what you like, but Grandmaster Pam has
plenipotentiary powers of discretion in judging what's beyond the
pale, and her merry band of enforcers (the "Eager Ejectors," as
the Chrisses, the Davids, Lisa and Pat like to be known) have an
impressive record of accuracy in the 50-yard body-toss.  (Can we
help it if the City decided to put a barbed-wire recycling plant
right next door?  And who'd'a thunk that the older wire in the
center of the discard pile would turn so bright red out in the
air, making an unavoidable bull's-eye design?  Oh, sure, they get
the bodies off there...eventually.)
     We thought about including a retail toy emporium, but
ultimately voted against it.  I know, I know, you're wondering
why (probably at the top of your lungs), but it made sense. 
Keeping the wolves of base commerce at the door seemed like a
good idea.  Heck, it might have detracted from the conversation. 
Besides, with the kind of competition we concentrate, even a
mega-retailer would crumble under the pressure.  It just wasn't
worth it.

     So that's the lay of our land.  Most nights the festivities
start around 7:00, though things don't really get rolling until
around ten.  We try to have everyone either on their way home or
bedded down in the dorm space by 2:00 a.m., though the Overpower
Poker sessions _have_ dragged on past dawn on more than a few
occasions.  The kitchen closes at 1:00, so make sure you get your
orders in well before then.  And the trading board shuts down at
midnight (since it can take as much as an hour or two for the
late deals to settle out anyway).
     Also at midnight, we clear out space at the center of the
barroom for storytelling.  Got a chilling but compelling scalper
tale?  A pulse-pounding description of that late, great shortpack
find?  Word of a deal that seemed too good to be true, but turned
out to be exactly good enough to be perfectly true?  Here's the
place to share 'em.  All storytellers drink free for the
duration, and the winner eats on the house for a week (we'll let
you down to use the facilities, don't worry).
     Sobriety checks are automatic and inescapable, so be
prepared.  As noted, any time you feel unready for the road,
we'll be happy to grab you a cab, or you can crash down in the
dorm for a modest fee.
     And, speaking of fees, yes, you *can* pay in figures.  Be
prepared, though -- 'cause we give change in wind-ups, happy meal
toys, pogs, cards, even loose weapons.  Store credits are okay,
as is Geoffrey Money.  Heck, depending on the season, we even
accept proofs of purchase and register receipts.  And well-
written toy cols are *always* accepted as cash.  (Hey, in Kirby's
Derby, it just about *is* a perfect world).
     Come by some time, huh?  We'd love to see you there....
Copyright (c) 1996 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

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