Boys and their Toys

Chaos in Print

I’ve been an amateur action figure collector for about 13 years or so, and in that time, I’ve achieved certain milestones with my collection. There are certain points where I go, “Whoa. I’ve come a long way, baby.” The first such milestone was, naturally, buying my first figure; a Commander Riker at a Star Trek convention. Then there was the first Star Wars figure, that crazy day in ’94 when I saved my money for three months and then blew it all in one afternoon on action figures, the night I discovered ToyFare magazine…the list goes on. I reached one of those milestones today when I thought, “Ya know, it wouldn’t be too terrible having a Barbie doll in my collection.”

There’s not much to do in Cold Lake for a guy with no TV. So far, I’ve spent my weekends roaming the various shops and malls. We’ve got a Zeller’s and a Wal-Mart, and I’ve already spent far too much time browsing in both. And, when you spend so much time doing nothing but browsing, you eventually succumb to temptation.

Today, though, wasn’t a day for succumbing. No, today I was on a mission to buy pants. I’m cursed with a curious affliction, in that I tend to wear out the crotches on my pants at a much faster rate than a normal person. The only thing more embarrassing are the theories my father concocts as to why the crotches on my pants wear out so fast. On one of my evenings with nothing to do, I noticed that one of the department stores had some pretty good deals on jeans. I vowed to return on the weekend with cash in hand to get some new pants.

I returned on Saturday afternoon and entered the store. Now, the one thing I’ve really started to hate about department stores is the way they move everything around every month or so. I say it’s done to baffle the consumer; they spend so much time wandering around looking for what they came in to get that they wind up buying more. I walked through the door to find that everything was changed again, so I began searching for my pants.

After I grabbed a few pairs of dirt-cheap jeans, I began browsing. I headed straight for the toy section. What can I say? I always wanted to browse through toys when I was kid, and now that I’m a collector, it’s hard-wired that I don’t leave the store until I’ve looked through the toys. But, thanks to the recent rearrangement of the store, I found myself smack in the middle of the girls’ toys and not the action figures. I began scrambling for the exit when I looked up to spy…Batgirl Barbie.

The only time Barbie has ever graced the cover of my beloved ToyFare magazine was when Mattel announced they’d gotten the DC Comics toy license. ToyFare asked the question, “Will this just be action figures, or will DC Comics start spilling over into other toy lines?” The answer from Mattel was, “Of course it’ll spill over! Doing a line of Batmobile Hot Wheels is a no-brainer.” And so was, apparently, dressing up Barbie as various DC heroines and villainesses. So far, we’ve been given Catwoman Barbie (in both a classic Silver Age costume and the Halle Berry movie costume), Poison Ivy Barbie, Wonder Woman Barbie, Supergirl Barbie, and the one now staring me in the face, Batgirl Barbie. While it was the Catwoman Barbie that graced ToyFare’s cover, I instantly took a liking to Batgirl Barbie.

What can I say? I’ve always been smitten by Batgirl. Firstly, she’s a redhead. Secondly, she can totally kick anyone’s ass. Thirdly, voice actress Tara Strong just gives her the sexiest voice in animation. I knew that it would be a simple matter of time before a Batgirl found her way into my collection, and now it looked like I had my chance…in the form of Batgirl Barbie.

But still, it’s a Barbie doll. What kind of man would I be if I dropped Batgirl Barbie next to Wolverine, Luke Skywalker, and Captain Kirk? I was faced with a moral quandary. Traditional male values vs. my collecting habits. Granted, Barbie doll collecting had been legitimized and socially accepted long before action figures, so why not? I’d just be dipping my toe into a hobby traditionally reserved for big girls. Naturally, I needed some time to dwell on this.

I wandered out of the girls’ toys and over to the action figures. Obviously, they were busy clearing out the Christmas peg-warmers and bringing in the new spring stock. And that’s when I gasped a mighty gasp at what I saw being placed on the shelf.

The Star Wars: Episode III sneak preview figures.

Now, Star Wars sneak preview figures are a long-standing Star Wars tradition, going all the way back to Christmas 1979 when kids could send away for that new character that wasn’t going to be seen until The Empire Strikes Back: the bounty hunter Boba Fett. Thousands of kids sent away to be the first to get Boba. And now, I was facing a similar situation as I saw General Grievous hanging from the shelf, a full 3 months before the movie. My choice was clear.

I walked out of the store with two new pairs of pants, General Grievous, and a Wookie warrior. Batgirl Barbie was left warming the shelf. As I left, I wondered if I’d made the right choice. The majority of my action figures were impulse buys. I learned the hard way a long time ago that there’s hardly a second chance. Odds are she won’t be on the shelf when I go back.

Still, though, the milestone had been reached. I’m not so much an “action figure collector” anymore as I am a “collector.” If it’s adorned with a pop-culture icon and guaranteed to rise in value as nostalgia marches forwards, then it’ll find a place in my bedroom. It’ll be tough to hang on to my manly ways as I now go in search of Beanie Babies and Hamilton Mint collector’s plates, but a line has now been crossed.

Who am I kidding? Batgirl Barbie will be mine before I leave the city.

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