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John's Action Figure Column 06/01/97


     Well, some things never change.
     Every so often, I start to worry that my relatively unique
position vis a vis McFarlane Toys is being democratized.  And by
this I mean the fact that with nearly every McToys assortment,
there is one toy that everyone else seems to avoid that I can't
resist.  Super-Patriot.  Thorax.  Viking Spawn.
     It's not that people loathe these figures; that's another
category of McFigs (Gore, the Freak, Nuclear Spawn, Crutch). 
Heck, I hated those figures, too.  But there always seem to exist
figures that leave most people cold, uninterested, figures that
can be found on the pegs weeks after an assortment has come and
gone, and come, and gone....
     I was worried about Spawn 7, because it seemed like there
wasn't a "figure only a John could love" in the bunch.  Oh, sure,
there was a figure _no_ _one_ could love (appropriately enough,
"No-Body," though I still think a more intense color scheme could
have saved that poor hunk o' plastic), but where was the great
figure that just missed most people's desire-mark? was there all along; it was just my myopia that
made things hazy.  For in this instance, my love for the figure
in question was so strong, I couldn't imagine that _others_
wouldn't love it as well.
     But it took the repaint to drive the point fully home.
     And yes, for most of you, this is probably your worst
"John's Action Figure Column" nightmare:
     It's another column about Scourge.

     Okay, okay, not _entirely_ about Scourge, I promise!  But
the advent of the new, repainted (McToys might have it known as
"redecorated," but I ask you, is it reupholstered?  Does it have
new drapes, new wallpaper, new valances, or carpet?  No!  Inflate
it as you will, even modify the design slightly, in my heart,
it's still just a repaint....) Scourge has me thrilled even as it
has pretty much everyone else...bored to tears.  Tears of not-
purchasing, unfortunately, and obviously, as it was the only
Spawn 7 figure to be found last week.  Or this week....
     Which, uh, leads me to a sort of confession:  much as I love
this repaint, I, er, haven't bought it yet.
     But I've got a very good reason!  To wit, the only place
I've seen it is Jeffrey's Toys in downtown San Francisco, and
they charge $14 for their McToys!  Now, I love this figure, but
not enough to pay nearly twice "normal" retail (well,
"discounted" retail is more accurate, I suppose, that whole thing
about TRU and Target being "discount" stores from the get-go
making it all a bit more confusing than it should be).  So I've
just consoled myself with the thought that I'll have to hold out
until it appears at other stores before I pounce.

     Now, you might be asking yourself, gee, John, what's so
special about this second Scourge figure that most of us find
     Well, I'll tell you (what, you're surprised? <grin>).
     First of all, from the moment I laid eyes on the new
Scourge, I was a man in lust.  Sleek, dark, with ghoulish white-
blue highlights (the toy, not me), I knew immediately what to
call it:
     "Stealth Scourge."
     And in addition to its ghostly coloring, and the same
incredible design (and tortured posture) that would give an
osteopath (or an archaeologist, for that matter) nightmares for a
month, this Stealth Scourge has replaced the cute but basically
unavailing "Nutnik" figure with a monstrously creepy "secondary"
monster in place of the uppermost back spike.  Since the card art
and copy don't change with the repaints, there's no indication
from McToys as to their conception of this "piggyback
poltergeist," but I like to think of it as the big Scourge's
diabolical "master," some kind of possessing parasite that
overwhelms Scourge's control of his own flesh and bones (well,
bones anyway) and drives him mercilessly.  Besides, there's a
look to its emplacement of an elephanteer on a howdah, which
adds nicely to the effect.
     Or at least I think it does....remember, this is all from
memory.  Sigh.
     But someday, and soon, I'll get me a Stealth Scourge of my
own, for $7.99, not a penny more, and I'll be a happy, if
creeped-out, man.
     Y'know, I was in a kitschy gag shop the other day, and
noticed a set of bookends each consisting of one-half a human
brain mounted on L-shaped wood pieces.  Pretty cool, but heck,
think about the bookends you could make with a pair o' Scourges! 

     I learned recently of a figure trade that was more than
satisfying -- it warmed the cockles of my stomach (hey, if your
heart can have cockles, why not other organs?).  A wonderful 'net
friend of mine mentioned in passing that she'd traded a couple of
figures for...wait for!  Yep, a recent explant from
California, she apparently couldn't find appropriate trading
fodder in the collection of her intended trade partner, but
remembered that she was jonesin' for some of the unique
delicacies available only at the Golden State's Trader Joes
stores (a strange and wonderful grocery-type chain that only
sells its own signature products, cheaply, products that include
things like salsas, pastas, frozen fish and vegetables, cakes,
pastries, breads, etc.).  So, failing to have found appropriate
trading fodder in actual toys, she happily swapped her figures
for a few jars of unusual salsa and the like.
     Now, in addition to making me laugh out loud with surprise
and joy, the report of this exchange made me extremely happy.  I
mean, think about it -- it opens up a whole new world of trading! 
For all too often, those of us who long for particular figures do
so because we live in scalped-out areas, or suffer under
occupations that preclude frequent-shopping patterns.  Leaving us
not only bereft of the figures we'd want, but of appropriate
trading material as well.
     So the idea of trading for other-than-toys is a revelation. 
A wonderful, mutually satisfying, and potentially delicious
     For my own part, I have _almost_ traded figures for food.  I
have another 'net friend to whom I mentioned, some time ago,
wistfully and in passing, my memories of summers spent devouring
Freihoffer's chocolate chip cookies.  I had no idea whatsoever
(honestly!) that he would turn around and send me several boxes
of the delectable things!  (I'd tell you his name, but I don't
think he'd thank me for 50 sudden emails begging cookies).  Now,
this particular sending was not in response to a shipment of
figures, but things do balance out in the end -- I returned the
favor by sending him a Star Trek figure ("in Vina veritas," as
the saying almost goes).
     Which would have been perfect, if I hadn't subsequently
discovered that for his part, _he_ has an abiding hunger for
something I take very much for granted:  sourdough bread.  He
can't find good sourdough to save his life (though thankfully he
doesn't need to), while out here you can't spit without hitting a
loaf of the stuff.  (But I don't recommend it; the cops know
which side of SF's bread the tourist butter is on).
     Which raises a very interesting point.  More so than
figures, which basically receive a national distribution, there
are _other_ products, particularly foodstuffs, which are not
universally available, even in this age of the mega-generic maxi-
mall.  Why, I bet there are dozens, maybe _hundreds_ of things
available only regionally that would make excellent trading
material.  Inspiration, take a bow!
     Got a few extra hard-to-find figures?  Swap 'em for some
Jambalaya!  Did you end up with a surplus of action fleet
vehicles that others can't get?  Turn them via the net into
fresh-frozen lobsters!  Stumble onto a cache of Tick Steel Cages
that everyone else wants?  Transform them into the motherlode of
mouth-watering Coneys!  (Non-Michiganders out there should
contact ATOM for a translation of this, my wife's all-time
favorite foodstuff, not available outside of the Great Lakes
     Heck, this doesn't have to be confined to food:  if you're
sitting on a Tapestry Picard and a couple o' Blue Spawns, maybe
you can finally get that used Mazda Miata you've had your eye
     But I like the idea of this extended trading thing.
     So who else is hurtin' for sourdough...?

     As I believe I've mentioned before, I don't shop as much as
I used to.  My work schedule changed, depriving me of some primo
toy hunt time, and at the same time, the grind of that hunting
was really getting to me.  So, I cut my action figure shopping
trips down...way down.
     Oh, sure, I "paid" for it -- by finding a lot fewer figures,
for the most part.  And having to satisfy myself with reports and
reviews from other rtaf-ers.  At least for now.
     See, my "plan," such as it is, in terms of keeping the
figures flowing in, is to wait long enough so that the figures
_I_ want are no longer the figures anyone else wants -- you know,
figures that everyone else has had for weeks, maybe even months.
     For the most part, it should work...eventually.  I know
there will be occasional figures that stay "hot," at least hot
enough so that even months after their initial release, they
don't linger on the San Francisco toy pegs.
     And if the past is any indication of the future, there will
also, sigh, be figures that just don't receive much in the way of
continuous distribution, at least not out here (thank god I don't
collect many Star Trek figures).  Figure assortments that show up
once, _maybe_ twice, and then are never seen again.  (Great
marketing ploy, that one -- if selling two dozen figures total
per store is your goal.)
     Anyway, knowing that, say, five months down the line I'll be
stumbling onto figures that seem new and attractive to me and me
alone doesn't keep me from still making occasional toy runs
_now_.  Which of course means that, more often than not, what
greets me are not scads of the new figures that y'all are talking
up with great joy and abandon, but rather lots of longpack
figures standing rack by jowl with lots of empty pegs.
     And indeed, this was the case (so to speak) this afternoon
at my favorite local Toys 'R' Us, where I had my pick of lots of
moldy old Spider-Man Vampire figures, moldy old Rampaging Hulk
figures, moldy old Spawn figures (well, at least some of _those_
are supposed to look moldy), moldy old Independence Day figures,
and, well, you get the picture.
     But they don't call me "Eagle Eyes" for nothing.  (Actually,
they don't call me "Eagle Eyes" for anything.  But that's beside
the point).  As I stared against hope at the X-racks, I noticed
one or two lone Water Wars figures!  This was astounding, because
past experience would tend to teach us that you never see "one or
two lone" X-men figures ever!  No, pretty much universally, you
see a dozen Wolverines and half a dozen villain-of-the-month
figures.  So imagine my surprise at seeing just *two* Wolverine
figures, and a single Sentinel.
     And as I searched the nearby pegs (most of them empty) for
other possible remnants from this new assortment, I spotted
something equally solitary but admittedly less surprising in that
state:  one Spawn 8 figure, Gatekeeper.
     Ahh, now this was far from shocking -- patternistically
speaking, at least around here, McFarlane figures tend to
disappear in groups.  Which is to say one often finds _no_ new
Spawns remaining, at least at the very beginning of a particular
release (and yes, that includes figures like Gore and No-Body! 
Guess we've got a lot of front-row completists.).
     But in both instances, these scattered, tantalizing case
fragments were enough to spark my hope, and prompt me to seek the
counsel and aid of those stalwart blueshirts of the TRU aisles,
the aisle clerks.

     Now, I know, we've probably all had as many bad experiences
asking clerks to "check the back" as good, but the avoidance of
bitter cynicism in this regard offers an alluring secondary gain: 
that is, if they _don't_ give you the "bovine stare" or the
"snarling refusal," you stand to get some new toys!
     So I risked it.  I had to hunt around for a while until I
even found a clerk (it was a slow, quiet Sunday afternoon, after
all), but find one I did, a very sweet, friendly young man. 
Holding up the single remaining Spawn 8 figure, I asked if he
might know of any others available for sale in the store.  (As
in, hint, hint, we _both_ benefit if you help me out, kind sir --
you make a sale, and some shelf space, and I get to do the Snoopy
Dance to the checkout lanes).
     He recognized the figure, and sadly shook his head.  "Sorry,
I checked this morning, we sold out all five cases since Friday." 
And then he added, and please feel free to join in in-chorus,
"but you could try again next week."
     Now, I'm sorry, but those words produce such a knee-jerk
negative reaction in me, I almost grunted out a begrudged thank-
you and padded off.  However, something in his sweet expression
reminded me that not every cliche is intended as such.  So I took
the plunge a second time, and mentioned that there were only
three remaining X-Men Water Wars figures left on the pegs, and
might they have any more of those?
     This time he smiled broadly.  "Yes, I think we do.  Would
you mind waiting while I check?"
     Of course I would not, and I said as much.
     And within half a minute, he was back, dragging a lovely
pristine ToyBiz box containing the Water Wars assortment.
     You see, it _was_ worth asking, and remembering to be polite
and friendly all the while.  (Which wasn't really hard; for one
thing, I tend to cultivate civility and pleasantness as much as
possible, except when driving.  For another, he really was a nice
fellow).  And despite my unfounded suspicions of being blown off
(funny how that expression always seems less ambiguous in spoken
communication), he turned out to have had my best interests at
heart all along.  Well, _our_ best interests.
     The bottom line is, regardless of how frequently you
patronize your local toy stores, don't patronize your local toy
clerks.  If you treat them well, generally they'll treat you
     And though _that_ one _is_ an unabashed cliche, hey, it
works for me.
     Which means I've got to go open up my Ultimate Iceman now.
     Have a good one!
Copyright (c) 1997 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

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