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John's Action Figure Column 05/04/97


     So I go into TRU yesterday.  That by itself is a fairly rare
occurrence these days; I've cut my shopping down to a very bare
minimum (and that's without the stores' contribution thereto,
which has also been minimal lately), for a variety of reasons. 
And so, to some extent, each trip is a little bit special.  The
reasons for that vary each time, and generally have very little
to do with my actually finding anything -- though heaven knows it
could happen.
     Oh, sure, to be fair, there really isn't _that_ much new
product these days, at least not for a Toy Biz/McFarlane Toys
aficionado like myself -- yeah, the Marvel Boys have come out
with a new Spider-Man series or two, and a new X-People series,
but for the most part the Toy Biz treats promised at 1997's Toy
Fare in New York City are still ahead of us.  Similarly, the
beginning of the McToys outpouring slated for 1997 is still a
month or so away.
     That's okay, though.  I still enjoy going in to toy stores
even when I'm fairly certain there'll be nothing there to slake
my plastic thirst.  You just never know what you'll stumble
across, or who'll you'll encounter.  Maybe an old friend, maybe a
new one; or maybe you'll find something off the figure-beaten
path that you never considered before, something that suddenly
looks appealing.
     And for me, perhaps for many of us, that buying-from-boredom
aspect of toy shopping is often quite surprising.  And even
disturbing, months down the line, when you look at your
collection and suddenly wonder why on earth you decided to get a
Spline Cape Batman (a figure that looks downright ugly and out-
of-place on the shelf), or a lame Fantasticar, or something of
that ilk.
     I know that I used to have a real problem leaving a store
without _something_.  Even if it was just one figure, one lone
polymer icon.  As if it would have been the worst thing in the
world to slide myself through the register aisles empty-handed. 
     I've gotten a little better in the last few months.  Coming
out of a month-long total disconnection from the toy world in
late Winter, it was a lot easier to think of myself as more a
bystander than a die-hard toy-buyin' fanatic.  And once that mind
set was in place, however loosely, I found I could actually walk
in and through and then out of a toy store without purchasing
anything -- and not feel bad as a result.  In fact, sometimes, I
felt downright _good_.  (Like after almost buying a rickety Mr.
Peanut Peanut Butter maker, only to find that we already have
three or four machines that can do the trick with a lot less
     Oh, it's not that buying indiscriminately is wholly bad
(hey, sometimes it's great fun, especially if you've got a kid
nearabouts on which to foist stuff you decide you don't like),
but I've found that for me, holding back at times leads to a much
more balanced toyview, and a more comfortable sense of self vis a
vis toys (not to mention a slowing-down of the ongoing shelf-
crowding situation that's plagued me since about the third month
of my bona fide collecting).

     So there I am today, perusing aisle 8C at Toys 'R' Us, not
really expecting to find anything of interest -- and pretty much
not let down in my expectations.  Lotsa Toy Biz figures I'd seen
and either bought or passed on before, a pleasantly surprising
bounty of McFarlane figures (though they were all and only
figures from old lines, it was still very nice to see, given that
lately this TRU has cut back on McFarlane shelf space to a level
that was positively frightening), the same old Kenner Superman
stuff, Man of Steel and Animated, Total Justice series one, ho-
hum.  Of course, there were no shortpacks to be seen from these
lines, but that's nothing new.
     Then I moved on to those lines in which I have little or no
interest -- Batman & Robin, the movie-based figures (although
that Mr. Freeze was sort of appealing, in a nondescript cyber-
creature kind of way), Star Trek (mostly movie figures, with a
smattering of Siskos left to hang in unwanted abandon), and a
whole slew of Star Wars figures, old and new.
     The Star Wars figures were actually hanging in such
profusion as to make me smile.  Sure, I gave up on these babies
several months back (unfortunately, not before I'd snagged a set
of the Shadows of the Empire figures, sigh), but just seeing so
many new and varied figures available made me happy.  I felt good
for the other collectors, and perhaps more importantly, for the
kids, all of whom could take their pick of most of the new
figures from the last few waves.  Oh sure, some of the more
instantaneously desirable figures were totally absent (the
Emperor, and the Slim-Fast "before shot" Bib Fortuna, for
example), but it was still nice to see loads of medical droids,
Bosks, private-eye Han Solos, etc.
     In fact, one wall near the store's entrance had five or
eight pegs of _just_ Lando Calrissian's!  Given that I know at
least one little boy in town who'd fruitlessly been searching for
one of these for about a year, that was a delight to see.  At
least in the Star Wars line, Kenner actually seems to be doing a
much-improved job of meeting demand, even if it takes them a few
months to catch up.  Your mileage may vary, of course, but things
out here in the POTF2-availability realm have taken a marked turn
for the enormously better.
     Anyway, there I was, lingering in the aisle, not really
seeing anything worth snagging, when I spotted it.

     Surprisingly, there was no sudden rainbow, no angelic choir
singing hosannas.  Heck, the fluorescent lights didn't even
     But sitting there before me, twisted casually in between
several Galoob and Kenner ships, was a toy that at age eight, I'd
have sold my soul to get.
     It wasn't just a water pistol.
     It wasn't even just an _electronic_ 150-shot-per-minute
water pistol.
     It was an electronic, 150-shot-per-minute water pistol that
was an _exact_ replica of Han Solo's blaster!
     Or as exact as I'd ever need it to be.
     Astonished that no one else was noticing it, I reached in
around several little boys promising eternal hatred to their
father if he didn't get them Y-wing fighters (regrettable, but
true) and grabbed it to get a closer look.
     And up close, it was even better.
     It looked _perfect_.  Sleek, mean, dangerous...hell, it was
silver instead of a well-worn black, but if I were a cop and
somebody shouted a threat at me and pulled out one of these
things, I don't think it being silver would make me hesitate for
a moment.  So much for painting things orange for security's
sake.  This thing looked _deadly_ -- which was _great_.
     And then I read the specs on the back, and the eight-year-
old buried deep inside me (well, okay, maybe not so deep) was
whooping and hollering with wild joy.  One-hundred-fifty shots
per *minute*!  I don't think my old childhood water pistols could
shoot 150 times _ever_, much less in a minute.  Oh, I know that
at that rate, this blaster would probably run out in a minute and
a half, but it didn't matter -- the thing had a quick-replace
reservoir built into the handle.  Insanely perfect!  Bravo,
Laramie Toys, whoever you are!

     So that remorse I was talking about earlier?
     I didn't buy the blaster.
     I'm not sure why.  For ten bucks, it certainly wouldn't have
broken me, even during my current temporary partnership with
Uncle Sam and Aunt California (don't ask).  It wasn't the money. 
It was more that I couldn't imagine the circumstances under which
I'd actually go out and play with a water pistol, even the
coolest water pistol I'd ever seen.  And what's more, I could
*easily* imagine taking up that playtime slack with the household
cats, and finding myself completely bereft of acceptable
explanations when Tracey came home from work demanding to know
why all three cats were soaking wet, and not a cloud in the sky. 
Uh, leaky pipes?  An elaborate and unbelievable feline Rube
Goldberg bucket-over-the-door prank that so mesmerized me in its
intricacy that I found myself unable to stop them?
     It just wasn't gonna work.
     So ultimately, after carrying this beautiful thing around
the store with me for nearly half an hour, I gently, somewhat
reluctantly, put it back.
     Now, if that remorse had gripped me fully right from the
start, I probably would have just changed my mind.  But my
remorse is sneakier than that -- it hung back, waiting not just
until I left the TRU, but until I had wandered around the
neighboring bookstore for another half hour.  Even more, it
hunkered down until I finally got into the car and left before
reaching out its icy claws to take a mercilessly firm grip on my
heart.  Oh, cruel remorse!  Cruel, deliberate, mean-spirited
     But once I was on the expressway, it was just too late. 
Gee, honey, I know we're hurtling home well in excess of the
speed limit [uh, any officers of the peace out there should read
that typographical error as "precisely and carefully _at_ the
speed limit"], but you wouldn't mind if I did a 180 over the
divider and went back to get a water gun, wouldja?
     It just wasn't gonna happen.
     It was okay, though.  In a way, not getting that gun was the
right decision.  I mean, I love my Star Trek weapons, but for the
most part they sit in a box in the basement, undisplayed and
unenjoyed.  This genuine "Rebel Alliance" weapon would probably
have eventually suffered the same fate (that, or the cats would
be permanently slick).
     (And by the way, nice bit of co-option on the part of the
Alliance, huh?  I mean, that blaster isn't originally a rebel
weapon, it's _Han's_ personal death-dealer, no?  "Official Rebel
Alliance Weapon" indeed.  But hey, all's fair in the marketing of
love, and war, right?  And you can argue that, throwing the true
essence of his character right out the Falcon window, Han does
become a rebel soldier by the end, right?  Hmmm...I wonder what
agency handles the Rebel account?  Probably one of those stuffy
old firms in NYC.  But I digress....)
     So Johnny didn't get his gun.
     Aw, heck.  It's no big deal.  This way, some kid will
hopefully get it, and have the time of his life all summer
blasting away at his evil Imperial playmates across lawn and
tarmac, youthful shouts of triumph and glee ringing out among the
trees and fields while the sun hangs high in the sky on seemingly
interminable midsummer days.
     That can't be bad.
     And besides...
     ...I've got the car tomorrow, and an otherwise free day.
     I can just buy another one somewhere!
     See how easily remorse is beaten back, hammered to a bloody
pulp and forced to retreat in shameful terror?
     My god, I love this hobby!

     While I'm spending some time retracing some old paths of
nostalgia in my aging mind, it seems appropriate to mention
another item I spotted at the TRU yesterday:  Boxes and boxes of
Batman & Robin-tie-in "Mr. Freeze Freezer Pops," resplendent in
gaudy, lurid colors and a steal at $1.29 a box.  (Well, given
that they're basically water, dye and sugar, I'm not sure exactly
who's stealing from whom, but that's really beside the point).
     Man, these things immediately took me back.  Way back, circa
1968 or '69, to the Freeze Pops of my youth, sucking the flavor
out of blue and purple and orange and green frosty icicles-in-
plastic wrap (often leaving me with little more than a clear
tasteless chunk of ice in a baggie), bright syrup pooling in the
bottom, fingers uncomfortably but wonderfully frozen from holding
the darned things, lips deeply dyed to the horror of my parents. 
Ahhh, those were the days!
     So it was with considerable excitement mingled in with the
nostalgia that I stopped and stared at this display near the
checkout aisles.  Talk about the packaging being everything; now
_this_ is marketing!
     Which is just about when I spotted the words in a box on the
front.  "Limited Edition Box," they read, and in response my head
shook, near-involuntarily.  I mean, really -- would _anyone_ want
to collect the _boxes_?!?
     And then I remembered that awesome Cereal Box site on the
web that I visited a few weeks back, and stopped the little judge
who sits in, well, judgment in my head.  _Anything_ can be a
collectible.  Oh, sure, it's a little more pleasant (for me) when
they aren't instantly marketed as such, but hey, if people want
to save gum wrappers, or Burger King crowns, or Super-Powers
dixie cups, what of it?  If it makes you _happy_ bubbelah, and it
doesn't hurt anybody, you have my _blessing_.
     Like I said, it's a great hobby <grin>.

QUICK FINAL WORD (Or two, or three...hundred....)
     Okay, anyone remember Venn Diagrams?  (Anyone remember Venn? 
I remember the diagrams, but ol' Venn himself eludes my
awareness, if I ever even knew anything about the person
herself).  Y'know, set theory, circles representing groups of
objects, or ideas, positioned such that they sometimes overlap
other circles representing objects, ideas, etc., and the overlap
would be areas of, well, overlap, where the objects had related
properties.  I may not be explaining this very well, but hey, do
I look like a Seventh-Grade math teacher?  (Maybe an English
teacher...who must point out that the preceding question is, of
course, rhetorical, so pipe down).
     Anyway, let me pose a simple Venn diagram for you.  Uh, I
can't draw large circles in ASCII, so you'll just have to settle
for loose descriptions.
     Okay.  Circle number one:  The set of all action figures,
and all things related to action figures -- figures, playsets,
vehicles, accouterments, magazines thereabout, movies relating
thereto, discussions thereon, buyers, collectors and scalpers get the picture.
     Circle number two:  Tamagotchi.
     And in this particular Venn diagram, THERE IS NO OVERLAP
     Get it?
     So, until somebody makes an LCD toy where you can raise
Peter Parker from a pup, feed him pancakes, clothe him, shape him
into a reedy nerd, then lead him to gawking close enough to a
science fair display where he gets bitten by someone _else's_
radioactive spider LCD toy, let's keep rtaf Tamagotchi-free.
     Yeah, like it worked with "Molest Me Elmo" or Beanie Babies
(ooops, watch it, John).
     Oh well....
     At least Playmates isn't making the infernal things (hey,
kids, check out our Limited Edition Kirk-in-Bustier Tamagotchi,
one per 50 cases....), or McFarlane Toys (scramble for those one-
per-case _female_ creatures....).
     We're already wayyyyyy ahead of the game.
Copyright (c) 1997 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

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