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John's Action Figure Column 05/11/97


     I don't get to shop much lately.  Part of that is because of
a change in my work schedule; more of it is because I find that
going on the hunt less frequently increases both my chances of
pleasant surprise as well as my patience and tolerance for the
inherent vagaries and frustrations of this our hobby.  Which is
fine; it helps keep me sane (well, points me in the right
direction, anyway), reduces the wear and tear on my hopes, and
theoretically leaves lots of toys for the kids, and other
     But today I had some time to kill, or at least maim beyond
recognition, and after coming up empty at the comic book store,
the book store, and the bone store (don't ask), I decided to put
my pessimism behind me, give the power of faith and possibility
and chance, and try my luck at the San Francisco Toys 'R' Us,
Geary Street version.
     Besides, I was on the road, and had to pee _really_ badly.
     And I knew for sure that TRU would be able to help me with
that little problem, whatever else might happen.
     So I tooled on over to the mini-mall (actually, more of a
micro-mall, as there are really only five or eight other stores
in the complex, and none on the same level), parked, fought off
the incredible winds that unaccountably plague that spot atop one
of SF's less prominent hills, and made my way inside.
     But whatever the demands of nature, and too much soda at
lunch, I am underneath everything else a mad collector (as in
crazy, not angry) (well, at least not most of the time) --
despite my more urgent errand, once I found myself in the toy
store I could not put off at least a cursory pass through the
action figure aisle.  I just couldn't.
     So, despite the pressing need, and concomitant pressing
knees, I did a first-level reconnaissance of 8C.  Though it was a
late Saturday afternoon, there were not many people present --
just one lone child and a father-son team incongruously playing
boxball in the aisle.  And an impressive amount of late-Saturday
debris, clear evidence that the almost patron-free condition of
8C at present belied an earlier, unruly crowd.  Par for the
course, of course.
     This gave me ample opportunity to scan the racks, seeing
much that I had not seen before, but nothing that clamored for my
attention, or my grasp.  And this being the case -- a relatively
empty case, so to speak -- I continued on to my now more
insistent mission.  Er, emission.
     That business attended to, I returned to the aisle of

     And I'm not kidding -- despite the absence of much to excite
my purchasing side, there was a _ton_ of stuff to behold.  My
first thought was that it just seemed so to me because of the
ever-increasing time intervals between my TRU visits.  But as I
let my eyes rove over the pegs, and the munificence they held, I
realized that it was more than just relative unfamiliarity that
was making things seem so bountiful.
     Things really _were_ that bountiful.
     Consider:  in the space of this one comparatively short
aisle, I saw at least remnants (and by the way, that's basically
all you see in a San Francisco retail toy store, remnants -- but
I've covered this descriptive ground before, complete with
lamentations and scalp-centric gripes) of no less than FIFTY
separate figure lines!
     I'll enumerate in a moment, but think about that.  *Fifty*
different lines of figures!  I've never really counted all the
myriad waves before, but that seemed to me an astonishing display
of commercial abandon.  Now, you may not be interested in all, or
even many of these lines (lord knows I wasn't), but _fifty_ plus
separate universes of figures -- that is INCREDIBLE!
     How can this _not_ be the golden age of figures, folks?  Oh,
I don't mean that any single line necessarily beats any and all
others from time immemorial (or time memorial, for that matter). 
I will not here proffer even a token argument of whether Spawn is
better than Super Powers, or Star Trek more glorious than Major
Matt Mason, or the incomparable Outer Space Men; that isn't the
point.  I just feel a compelling need to call attention to the
sheer profusion of action figure toys upon us in this late Spring
of 1997.
     Something prompted me to start jotting things down.  And
what I thought would be a compact list soon grew unbelievably
large.  Check this out.  In no particular order, I saw the
following (or at least the aforementioned remnants thereof):

     --X-Men Muntant (sic) Armor
     --X-Men Robot Fighters
     --X-Men Monster Armor
     --The Mask Talkers
     --New Hercules The Animated Movie figures (! -- say, has
          anybody seen Zeus or Pluto? Or are they "second series"
          or something...?)
     --Nascar Superstars of Racing (a contradiction in terms,
     --Spawn Series Seven
     --Total Chaos Series One
     --Batman & Robin
     --Warriors of Virtue
     --Star Wars (POTF2)
     --World Wrestling Federation Superstars (boy, along with
          the racing car drivers, it kind of makes you wonder
          about the whole "superstar" thing, no?)
     --The Lost World
     --Mars Attacks
     --Johnny Quest
     --The Mighty Ducks
     --Spider-Man Water Wars
     --Spider-Man Electro-Spark
     --Spider-Man Techno-Wars
     --Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers
     --X-Men Space Ninja Force
     --Superman, the Animated Series
     --Superman, Man of Steel
     --Space Jam (yes, they're still there)
     --World Championship Wrestling (sillier figures than
          the WWF ones, trivial though the comparison may be)
     --Hulk 6"
     --Independence Day
     --Tarzan (! -- some things never sell, I guess, not
          even at clearance)
     --Dragon Flyz (with some new ones -- and by the way,
          Mickey D's is about to get some for their next Crappy
          Meal promotion)
     --Toy Story (see Tarzan)
     --Battlestar Galactica (Cylons?  What Cylons?  Grrr...)
     --Marvel Superheroes
     --Star Trek TNG
     --Star Trek First Contact (see Tarzan)
     --Marvel Pewter Commemoratives (okay, only marginally
          action figures....)
     --G.I. Joe 5" (everybody together now:  "see Tarzan")
     --Street Sharks
     --Dragon Heart (chorus)
     --Beast Wars
     --Vor-Tech (which, by the way, sounds like a company
          Thomas Pynchon could have created)
     --Extreme Dinosaurs (as opposed to the mild kind, I
     --World Martial Arts Council Masters (WMAC) (CRAP --
          these things make the _wrestling_ figures look serious)
     --Godzilla (talk about an extreme dinosaur....)
     --Batman, the Animated Series (sigh...chorus...mostly
          villains...oy, we'll be lucky if Harley Quinn is one
          per _store_....)
     --Batman, Legends of the Dark Knight
     --Legends of Batman (sing it, people!)
     --Batman Forever (ironic, ennit?)
     --Action Man
     --Teenage Mutant Ninja Etceteras
     --Spider-Man Vampire Wars

     Not to mention assorted odds and ends, holdovers, bargain
pieces, odd-sized pieces, playsets, dusty relics and the like.
     (And sorry for the rampant consumption of bandwidth, er,
screenlength; it just seemed more dramatic to lay them out in a
single column -- as if as a firing squad with our wallets
targeted center-sights).
     Okay, so many of these are not "brand-new," or even
particularly recent.  They are nevertheless all sitting there on
the shelves, and pegs, tendered for our sweet delectation. 
     That's one heckuva lot of figures, one heckuva lot of varied

     Y'know, when I was a tyke, the late 60s (hey, _nineteen_
sixties, wise guy), you had a choice of about, oh, let's
see...*one* figure line.  Oh, there may have been more than one
at any given time, but there were no TRUs, no Walmarts, no
Targets -- the town Mom/Pop toy store in my town was likely to
carry one, maybe two different sets of figures at best.
     So let's just say that my inner eight-year-old (who happens
to think his outer 36-year-old is just some kind of weird
persistent nightmare, by the way) was in a state that makes awe
look like catatonic indifference.  Let's make that *WOW*.
     Now, all that said, what did I buy, you ask?
     Ahem.  Cough.  Harumph.  Uh...Arumph.  Coughem.  Snerft.
     Er, just that Star Wars water pistol I'd left behind the
week before.

     It wasn't for lack of variety, or lack of availability of
worthwhile figures!  I even had a few figures in my hands at
points, carried them up and down the aisle before replacing them. 
It was just that, as time passed, I didn't feel like snagging any
figures (hey, quit shouting "heresy!").  Knowing that finding
shortpacks in San Francisco is like finding compassion in the
Senate, it wasn't like I was hoping to find a Water Wars Storm
(hey, where was that line, anyway?), or a Total Chaos Conqueror.
     And I really almost grabbed a Lai from the Warriors of
Virtue (Lai being far and away the coolest teenage mutant ninja
'roo, IMHO), one o' them new Herks, and an Electro-Spark Spidey. 
But after I'd found the Han Solo Electronic Water BlastTech DL44
(choosing, as only a true -- read: insane -- collector can, one
"special" just-right one from the eight or ten lying there...but
mine was the _good_ one!  Oy....), and in light of recent crazy
discounts like the Kaybee two-for-two-dollars sale, I just
couldn't spend the full price on these good, but not great,
     But that's just me.
     Anyway, I did emerge with the water blaster, and was quite
happy with it.
     And even more happy when I got home and stuck in the
batteries, and filled the removable cartridge with a full load of
tap water.
     Imagine how happy I'll be the moment one of the cats

     And okay, if you read last week's column, you may be asking
your screen (not a very productive exercise, by the way, this
instance notwithstanding), perhaps rhetorically (which would
increase the efficacy of such pondering, or at least the
reasonableness thereof), gee, John, I thought you went through a
long logical and well-thought process of deliberately _not_-
buying that water gun.
     Uh, right.  I did.  But in writing about it, and then
talking on the phone about it with my boyhood water pistolling
pal Doug, it became clear that _not_ buying that water gun was
just a big, wet, stupid mistake.
     It was right at the point when Doug said, "hey, dummy, not
buying that incredible water gun was a big, wet, stupid mistake."
     Funny how these things work out.
     It was interesting this time, by the way, to be able to
compare this new (and incredibly cool, I must add) Han Solo's
blaster-as-kiddie-toy to the _previous_ Han Solo's blaster-as-
kiddie-toy.  For one thing, as noted previously, the squirting
version is (thank the Jedi!) NOT a ludicrous orange.  It's a
sleek, compelling silvery gray.  I guess Larami is that much less
concerned about keeping their consumers alive in potential
firefights (uh, waterfights?) with the local gens d'armes....
     For another thing, the detail on the squirter version is
just...better.  It's hard to quantify, but looking at them side
by side, the Larami version just struck me as, well, cooler.  A
bit more detail, heft, maybe it was the way it reminded me of the
late 60s James Bond toys, but it grabbed me enough to return a
week after passing it up to grab it.
     A Mauser, that's it!  It looks a lot like a Mauser.  (I seem
to recall reading somewhere that Solo's pistol was modelled on a
Mauser...and thanks to Larami, this one's a _Grey_ Mauser!  Hey,
where's Fafhrd when you need him...?  Fritz?  Fritz!)
     Interestingly, the packaging is almost identical to
Kenner's.  Which made sense once I pored over the box, and
discovered that Larami is yet another subsidiary of Hasbro.  And,
given the "made in China" notice, the uniformity of design
becomes completely unsurprising.
     Although it did conjure up an image of one huge factory in
China, where the employees (hopefully decently paid, comfortable,
and treated) (ulp) derive great amusement from finishing
production, and then near-arbitrarily assigning corporate indicia
to the toys.  "Hee hee, this one's a Kenner.  And this one's a
Galoob.  Here's a Larami...."  And so on.
     Hey, as long as the toys flow into our hands, and the
dollars flow into yen, and thence into dollars again (and right
into Hasbro/Lucasfilm's capacious pockets), everybody's happy,
right? an aside, let's not think too hard about the
workers over there in China....because the way I see it, there's
two possible scenarios.
     One, they're not treated well at all, and that would just
sadden the heck out of me (which emotion would quickly mutate
into fury, and outrage, with a dismay chaser).  Ugh.
     And two, if they _are_ treated well, then they must be
looking at these toys, in their ridiculous variety and un-natural
splendor, and think of us Western consumers as the biggest bunch
of loopy, unmoored, gullible patsies imaginable.  I mean, if a
large part of your incoming data on "what the Capitalists are
like" is the toys you craft for them, and _these_ monster/hero/
villain/creature/alien/wrestler/animal/goofball toys in
particular, well, you'd have a pretty skewed view of what life is
like out here.
     Or would you?
     Now there's a question I _really_ don't want to ponder.
     See you in the aisles....

     By the way, this column was produced on an auditory diet of
the Wallflowers' "Bringing Down the Horse" and the Beatles'
"Anthology III," with a slight smattering of Bongwater (hey, the
_band_, man, the _band_), in particular their "Too Much Sleep"
disc.  Mmmmmm...good stuff all!  Would I steer ya wrong?
     Don't answer that....
Copyright (c) 1997 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

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