It was right there. Spider-Woman, in all her Marvel Legends Infinite glory, right there on a peg in Toys “R” Us — and it was retail price. If that scenario is enough to get your heart race pounding, then you’ve found a kindred spirit here. If that sentence leaves you wondering what “Marvel,” “legends” and “infinite” mean when used consecutively, then I extend a warm welcome to you — to my madness.
I don’t just read superhero comics, I also spend a lot of time, money and energy hunting for, hoarding and displaying two-to-twelve-inch plastic representations of superheroes. I collect action figures — or dolls, toys, “adult collectibles,” whatever. I honestly don’t care what you call them, except I do direct enormous amount of side-eye towards the “adult collectible” phenomenon, specifically when that phrase is stamped on the blister pack of a brightly colored Batman toy. Yep — I’m in so deep that I have strong reactions to the minutiae of this hobby. My eye rolls aren’t strictly reserved for comics!
This isn’t something that every superhero fan does. This isn’t something that a lot of adults do, either. Don’t get me wrong, I see just almost as many adults in Target’s action figure aisle as I do kids. But even though there are a lot of action figure hunters out there, most of my friends — in both the comedy and comic and neither worlds — don’t drop $50 because they found the entire 60th wave of Minimates in a store (that’s the set with the X-Men in their Jim Lee team uniforms, of course). My friends have commented about the number of toy photos I upload to Instagram on more than a few occasions. Some people take pictures of every plate of food they eat, I conduct photo shoots of Marvel action figures posed in the Millennium Falcon.
I think people can relate to how all this started; it started when I was 21 and learned about the craftsmanship that goes into creating three-dimensional representations of 2-D characters at an efficient price point. Psych! Just playing — I got into toys because I was born in 1984 and my brain devoured toy commercials like a plastic hippo gobbling marbles. I remember getting my first G.I. Joes (Repeater and Hardball), I remember cutting off the shoulder straps off of Donatello because that did not match the cartoon, and I remember breaking every rubber band used to keep the Dino-Riders armed and ready. I was definitely spoiled, something I attribute to the fact that I was the youngest and a pretty sick kid; more than a few of my action figures were given to me in the haze of fever, and the medical procedure that earned me a Super Sonic Fighter Lt. Falcon is one that I should really only talk about in-person.
The X-Men line deserves its own paragraph. Really, I could fill a daily podcast with musings, critiques and emotions focused on Toy Biz’s initial line of X-figures. Stryfe’s flip-up mask revealed to me that he was Cable’s clone. I wrote Toy Biz a letter — an actual letter — asking them why I couldn’t find Nightcrawler in stores. I had to use “Captain Planet’s” Linka as Rogue until that fantastic Christmas when I finally got her. In middle school, I dug through KB Toys’ bargain bins to find fodder for my line of custom X-Force figures. Oh, the horrors I inflicted upon that Invisible Woman figure as I tried to X-Acto her into a Boomer toy!
I played with action figures as a kid. What child of the ’80s and/or ’90s didn’t? I think, though, that most people didn’t spend their 14th Christmas opening nothing but “Star Wars: Power of the Force” figures. I am not embarrassed about hitting up Walmart at 6 AM on the day the “Phantom Menace” figures arrived to buy a whole unopened set because we were all fooled by that movie. “Episode I” aside, I think most people gave up collecting action figures at one point, just like how a lot of people gave up collecting comics too. I never did either; this isn’t a prideful boast, this is an admission that I’m a monster when it comes to habits and I hate change. I was in college when Toy Biz launched they hyper-detailed and ultra-articulated Marvel Legends line; I threw my hands up in defeat and gave in to a life of checking the toy aisle at every store I go to — even grocery stores.
And that’s where I am now. My fiance spends way more time waiting in a toy aisle as an adult than he ever did browsing in one as a child. I use the ol’ “gotta get outta the apartment” excuse to check Toys “R” Us for figures a few times a week. About half of my Amazon wish list is comprised of Minimates and Marvel Infinite figures. I wrote an angry email to Toys “R” Us’ customer service because they bungled a shipment, costing me a Legends Storm and Magneto. I have 222 figures of varying sizes on display in my office — and that’s not counting my Millennium Falcon coffee table. These range from figures I found for free while working at Wizard Magazine (a DC Universe Infinite Heroes Guy Gardner) to one that I could only purchase under “Treat Yo’self” rules (my Hot Toys “Avengers” Black Widow).
This may seem like a moot point, but I do have some — okay, a lot — of rules in place for this obsession. I’m not a completist, I open every figure I buy (unless its packaging is part of what makes it cool, like my vintage-style ReAction Ripley), and I only purchase what I theoretically have room for. I have my office divided up into strict display areas, the strictest of them being the X-Men zone above my desk and the Black Widow shelf in my glass display case. I also place figures on my comic bookcases alphabetically to act as place marks, which has led to Captain Marvel and Daredevil being buds. If I can’t visualize where a figure is going, then it stays at the Amazon fulfillment center. This narrows my hunt significantly but not totally; I need the new Marvel Infinite ’90s armor Daredevil real bad!
Even with rules in place, I can’t be stopped — and I think I know why. This isn’t just about having action figures. At some point, this became how I express affection for my favorite everythings. I’ve noticed that “Do they have an action figure?” is the first question I tend to ask after finding a character I like. I read “Operation: Galactic Storm” and discovered I like Eric Masterson, so I gotta get a figure of him. My recent Daredevil-mania led to me purchasing both 6″ and 3.75″ versions of him. I’m reading “Justice League International” and there’s a Kevin Maguire-inspired chubby Blue Beetle figure that I’m considering dropping $40 on. Do I need to mention the MCU Black Widow shelf I have? Other people are content buying t-shirts or trades or more comics to support their faves; my default is action figures. This is the life I’ve chosen, or this is the life that’s chosen me.
I left Spider-Woman on that peg in Toys “R” Us. I did stick her in the back of a row, a habit I picked up as a kid when I thought that would keep toys I wanted out of the hands of others. I’m trying to save money right now and the figure’s going for retail on both Amazon and eBay. Plus, I don’t have a specific place for Marvel Legends size figures in my office; the “S” section of my bookcase is packed with “Star Wars The Black Series” figs. I want that Jessica Drew figure because I’ve been loving Dennis Hopeless and Javier Rodriguez’s series, but my rules delayed the purchase.
Also my birthday is coming up, and I’m totally cool with getting action figures for my 31st birthday — and probably beyond.
Brett White is a writer and comedian living in New York City. He made videos for the Upright Citizens Brigade as a member of UCB1 and writes for the podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).
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