By Michael E. Miller
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The Miami Sandtroopers meet on the first Saturday of every month at the Borders bookstore in the Dolphin Mall. It's not the most wretched hive of scum and villainy in the galaxy, but at least Santos has a place where he and his crew of Star Wars geeks can wax incessantly about which toy version of Darth Vader is the baddest. "We basically hang out at the mall for about two hours," Santos says, "going through different stores, discussing anything Star Wars-related."
Santos estimates he has spent about $1100 buying Star Warsand Marvel action figures during the past three years. This year he is on a mission to collect every action figure in the Episode III story line. He is already about three-quarters of the way from completing his galactic goal.
The teen owns three versions of Emperor Palpatine: a purple translucent "holographic" figure that was exclusively sold at Toys R Us; one holding a red light saber; and a rare figure of the Sith lord wielding a blue light saber, currently selling for $90. At Megacon, he found a rare Yoda action figure from Cartoon Network's miniseries Star Wars: Clone Wars. An honors class pupil, Santos describes his Stars Warshobby as a manifestation of his ambitiousness. "I can be very competitive," he says. "Collecting has inspired me to finish what I start."
Santos has also learned how to wheel and deal his friends out of an action figure he covets. He obtained a Luke Skywalker Unleashed action figure worth $90 by trading a figure of Major League Baseball player Ichiro Suzuki and five bucks. The Suzuki figure was worth only ten dollars. "I totally ripped off my friend," Santos says. "I manipulated him with my Sith powers."
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away from today's club scene, Chad Denny used to hang out on South Beach. Back in the late Eighties and early Nineties, Denny used to promote Industry Nights at the Cameo Theatre (now crobar), a tribunal gathering of Miami's defunct industrial music scene.
Today the 34-year-old electrician primarily hangs out at home, adding and meticulously maintaining his vast collection of DVDs, LPs, VHS tapes, laser discs, videogame consoles, Japanese artifacts, pop culture memorabilia, and of course action figures. During an interview at his Kendall townhouse, Denny somewhat confirms Donato's description of the average antisocial action figure collector: "I don't have many friends."
A third-generation Miamian with Irish blood, Denny grew up watching the Speed Racer animated television series and Bruce Lee movies. In addition to tattoos of Japanese characters and symbols on his back and upper left arm, Denny sports a tribal sea turtle etched into his right calf and the kids from South Park inked across his front left thigh.
When Denny was a teenager, his affinity for Bruce Lee led him to appreciate other aspects of Asian culture, such as the samurai, the ninja, and the geisha. In his living room, Denny displays his collection of traditional Japanese ceramic ornaments with his PVC statues of X-rated anime characters. "The anime and the Japanese stuff really flows together," Denny relays. "I particularly like this line of anime figures because it depicts women who can kick ass. And who doesn't love a woman who can kick ass? Heck, it's why I married a Latin woman."
He may not have a lot of pals, but Denny does have an understanding wife. Renee, a 31-year-old Hello Kitty collector, lovingly accepts her husband's idiosyncrasies, even if she is worried there might not be enough room in their home to accommodate her husband's whimsical displays. "I guess we can always build more vertical shelves," she says, gesturing to the vaulted ceilings.
Most of the toys are prominently displayed on shelves inside Denny's home office, which he calls his "oasis." His office/toy showroom also functions as his game room. He has every version of the Nintendo game system, from the eight-bit original to GameCube, as well as a Sega Genesis and a Sega Dreamcast. He even owns an Atari 2600!
On one of the walls, Denny has erected shrines to Speed Racer, Spawn, and bobblehead dolls. On the top shelf sit three Speed Racer cookie jars, a Speed Racer DVD, and a rare Hot Wheels version of Speed Racer's car, the Mach 5, in its original package. The second shelf is lined with various bobbleheads of Hermey the Elf from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Shrek, and several athletes. On the third shelf are his favorite Spawn action figures carefully arranged in menacing poses.
Denny's oldest toy, a Fred Flintstone bank from the early Seventies, stands tall among several other interesting characters, including a sixteen-inch Chewbacca doll circa 1978. Fred Flintstone and Chewbacca are displayed on a shelf underneath Denny's shrine of South Parkmemorabilia consisting of various plush dolls of Kyle, Kenny, Stan, and Cartman; a South Parkmousepad and mouse; a Kenny watch; and other South Parktrinkets. "I like to keep everything neat and clean," Denny says. "All the action figures I had when I was a kid are still in good quality."
A regular customer of Ralph Vega's, Denny is the guy who will lay out every action figure on the floor at Outland Station and investigate every single detail in the toy before selecting one. When he can't find what he is looking for, he'll ask Vega to hunt down his desired toy online. Take Denny's Galhound PVC statue. Galhound was the first in a series of exclusive figures based on the artwork of manga artist Masamune Shirow. Outland carried Galhound only in the white color scheme; Denny wanted her in the purple color scheme. "It took about a month for him to get it," Denny recalls. "I was there to pick it up the same day Ralph finally got it in."