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Recently I decided to take extensive photographs of a typical Toys R Us store mainly because late last year, just before Christmas, Toys R Us had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This month Toys R Us is closing a large number of its stores throughout the United States. Nearly three years ago I did an extensive post covering the two-month period that the Kmart in Greenbelt, Maryland conducted its going out of business sale. This time I decided to take a photo of a Toys R Us store that is NOT among the stores that are slated for closure because I wanted to provide sort of a time capsule as to what it was like to visit a Toys R Us store on a typical day when it was in normal operations.

The biggest irony about the upcoming store closings is that this year is Toys R Us’ 70th anniversary. When I looked up Toys R Us’ Wikipedia page I learned one interesting fact—that chain started its first store in the Adams-Morgan section of Washington, DC. That store, which was then-called Children’s Supermart, was operating in a space that is now occupied by the iconic nightclub Madam’s Organ Blues Bar. A few years later the first store with the Toys R Us name was opened in Rockville, Maryland. Toys R Us went from being a local business to a national (then international) store chain when it was sold to Interstate Department Stores, Inc. in 1966.

In a way it’s kind of sad that this is happening to Toys R Us because I grew up watching those commercials on television that featured someone dressed in a Geoffrey Giraffe costume while the ad jingle went “I don’t want to grow up, I’m a Toys R Us kid/There’s a million of toys at Toys R Us that I can play with.”

There was only one Toys R Us store in the town that I grew up in (Glen Burnie, Maryland). Sometimes my mother would buy toys from that store but she also purchased toys from Montgomery Wards and Sears as well. I still have memories of when I used to go to the one in the Glen Burnie Mall and it had a sign that said that children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult. Sometimes I would get permission from my mom to go to either the Record Bar (which sold vinyl records, 8-track tapes, and cassette tapes) or the video arcade (both of which have long since gone out of business) while she and my grandmother went inside of some clothing store. I was somewhere between 12-15 when I did this. (I know that for a fact because I pretty much lost interest in doing this once I reached 16.) I always made an effort to go past the Toys R Us entrance in the mall where I would enter that store without being accompanied by an adult just so I would flout that rule. None of the store employees ever did anything to kick me out for being an unaccompanied minor under 16 but it still filled my juvenile ego to know that I flouted a store rule. I never stayed too long inside Toys R Us because most of the toys were geared towards younger kids and I had pretty much outgrown any interest I had in things like Barbie dolls or Play-Doh. I only went inside because a sign said I couldn’t do it and it was an easy way to rebel against authority without getting into any kind of serious trouble. (LOL!)

Ironically that Glen Burnie Toys R Us is still going strong and it’s among the stores that is being saved from closure for now. The same can’t be said for the rest of the mall and, in fact, that mall had finally closed down for good last year.

When I moved closer to the Washington, DC area as an adult, I was lucky enough to be in an area where there were three different Toys R Us stores all located just a short drive away from my home—in New Carrollton, Laurel, and Langley Park. I used to periodically shop at Toys R Us mainly to purchase presents for my then-husband’s nieces and nephews or to buy baby shower gifts for various friends, relatives, and coworkers. There was a time when my church had a Toys for Tots-like program around the winter holiday season where we purchased toys for the children at this non-profit community center in Washington, DC that strived to provide programs for inner city kids from low-income families that would be an alternative to gangs and I used to shop at Toys R Us for that reason as well.

But then Toys R Us encountered its first problem when the dotcom boom happened and it was very slow in getting an online presence.  Amazon, which sold only books at the time, wanted to start selling toys so Toys R Us entered into a ten-year contract with Amazon to allow that online site to be its exclusive online supplier. It might have sounded like a good idea at the time but, in retrospect, that deal was like having Coca-Cola decide to let Pepsi-Cola handle all of its marketing and distribution of Coke products. Amazon soon allowed other third-party retailers to sell toys on its site, which resulted in a lawsuit.

One-by-one, over the next few years, the Toys R Us stores that were located closer to my home started to close. The one in New Carrollton was located in a building with a flat roof. A major blizzard hit the area where two feet of snow accumulated. The flat roof of the New Carrollton Toys R Us had accumulated so much snow that it literally caved in. I still remember seeing local news reports about that roof collapse along with pictures of stuffed animals floating on top of huge puddles that were created by melting snow. The chain decided to permanently close that store rather than rebuild. The building was razed then rebuilt and a CVS Pharmacy now sits in that location.

As for the one in Laurel I remember that the chain decided to do a remodel of that store while remaining open for business during the remodeling. Once that job was done that store looked really nice with a fresh coat of paint and bright lights. A year or two later the chain decided to close the Laurel store, which had me rolling my eyes since that chain had spent time and money remodeling that store only close it soon afterwards.

At that point the one in Langley Park was the closest Toys R Us store to my home. Compared to the Laurel store or even the New Carrollton store, that Langley Park store was a major hot mess. The floors had scruff marks everywhere and the shelves were totally messy and disorganized. It was almost like no one cared about having that store looked its best so it would encourage customers to return. I don’t know if the clientele had anything to do with the store deciding not to do much to keep up appearances or not. (Many immigrants, mainly from Central America and the Caribbean, started to settle in Langley Park starting in the 1980’s.)

Early one morning the bodies of two men were found in the parking lot of the Langley Park Toys R Us. Each of the men have had their their throats slashed. A third man was also knifed and survived. Naturally this story of three immigrant men being attacked in a Toys R Us parking lot was extensively covered by the local news media. Police found out that these slayings were the result of a drug deal gone bad and a suspect was arrested. That Toys R Us store closed soon after that incident.

As a result of those closures, these days if I want to shop at a Toys R Us, I have to drive at least a half-an-hour in any direction in order to get to a store. As a result, my shopping at Toys R Us has become very rare. These days if I need to buy a toy for whatever reason, I’m more likely to go to the Target store that’s located only three miles from my home and it has a pretty decent toy selection.

At this point there are only two Toys R Us left in my county and they require at least (depending on the traffic) a half-an-hour commute. One is a regular Toys R Us store in Clinton and the other is a Toys R Us outlet store at National Harbor. The Clinton store is the one that is among the stores that Toys R Us plan to close soon. Once that happens, my county will only have the outlet store left and no more regular Toys R Us stores.

At one point Toys R Us had opened a giant flagship store at Times Square in New York City. I went there many times whenever my then-husband and I visited his father and step-mother. I used to be awed by the four floors that not only included toys but I remembered there was a giant life-sized version of Barbie’s dreamhouse that you could walk through while browsing the selection of Barbie dolls that were displayed on shelves inside of that house, an animatronic t-rex robot, a giant candy section, and large 3D displays that were built from LEGOs.  In addition there was this giant indoor ferris wheel that was as tall as the store itself so one could see all four floors of the store while going on that ride. I never went on that ride myself because I still have memories the one and only time I went on a ferris wheel when I was seven years old and it literally made me feeling so dizzy that I never cared to repeat that experience. On top of it, the lines to that ferris wheel were usually long and I wasn’t in the mood to wait in a long line to get on a ride. I last went to New York City in 2011 (just a few months before my hip surgery and my husband’s subsequent sudden walkout) and I walked past that store while seeing the ferris wheel through the glass windows from the outside. I’ve heard that this store is now closed, which is too bad. Here’s a video tour of the Times Square store I found on YouTube that was shot shortly before it closed.

As for the chain itself, it has been going through more troubles in recent years. This article said that Toys R Us has an e-commerce site that’s very clunky to use compared to Amazon while also mentioning that kids these days are more likely to play with computers, smartphones, and tablets than traditional toys like Barbie dolls and Lego. Another article said that Toys R Us’ prices are higher than what Walmart, Amazon, and Target charge for the same toy. There is another factor in Toys R Us’ decline and it has less to do with kids’ playtime, their parents’ shopping habits, or the cost of toys and more with the fact that in 2005 the management decided to sell the company in a leveraged buyout to the real estate investment trust Vornado Realty Trust and the private equity firms KKR and Bain Capital. This trio of companies have focused more on doing a complex financial deal that would leave them richer while drowning Toys R Us in debt. It’s the usual Wall Street financial shenanigans that focus more on extracting huge short-term profits for the very wealthy 1%  class and less on operating a viable profitable store chain in the long run.

In a way one could say that karma had finally struck Toys R Us. When that chain first started opening stores throughout the United States in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, a lot of the smaller toy stores that were locally owned were driven out of business because many of them couldn’t compete with the wide selection of toys or the low prices that Toys R Us provided. Now it’s Toys R Us’ turn to eventually get driven out of business through a combination of increased competition (from the likes of Amazon, Walmart, and Target) and being literally milked heavily for profits by a bunch of Wall Streeters.

Of course it’s the employees who are suffering the most due to increased workplace stress and losing their jobs.

Which led me to my recent visit to a Toys R Us store in Annapolis, Maryland. I wanted to pick a store that isn’t among the stores being closed and I ended up picking the one in Annapolis because I decided to attend the weekly Thursday night meeting of my support group for people who are separated or divorced. The meetings are held in Crofton and Annapolis is just a few miles away on Route 50 so it made sense for me to go to the Annapolis store then head back to Crofton for the meeting.

The next photo shows the outside of the store. Some of the stores in this chain are Toys R Us only while other stores are its Babies R Us subsidiary. (The latter store focuses on items for babies and toddlers such as furniture, formula, and diapers.) This location is a larger store that has both Toys R Us and Babies R Us under the same roof.

Here’s what I first saw when I entered the store.

The next photo shows the Fingerlings, robot toys which were THE Hot Toy of 2017. These critters were sold out everywhere just before Christmas and these toys were sold on eBay for several times the original $15 retail price. As of late January I saw a few of these toys on the store shelves at the original retail price.

There was a section devoted to toys that were based on recent movies, such as Coco and Batman vs. Superman.

The store was nearly empty when I visited it. I know that the fact that I visited it on a Thursday in late January was a major factor. But this particular Toys R Us is located across the street from Annapolis Mall and I noticed that the mall was filling up with cars when I was leaving the area yet Toys R Us was mostly empty.

The store had a few Toys R Us exclusive toys, such as this Funko Pop! vinyl set featuring Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

They had some retro video games based on Space Invaders and the old Sega Genesis console system on the shelves yet they kept the games for the newer console systems kept behind locked cases.

Curiously Toys R Us had a bunch of Sharper Image products that it was selling on its store shelves. (The Sharper Image is a separate store chain that specializes in upscale electronic products.) This store sold mainly robot dinosaurs.

Toys R Us had an entire display devoted to last year’s hot trend, Fidget Spinners. (Remember them? I certainly do.)

Toys R Us carried a few American Girl dolls but they were all of the 14-inch Wellie Wishers.

This next item was among some of the more unusual toys I found on sale. This one is a Bear Surprise, where each bear is a pregnant female who could carry anywhere between 3-5 cubs. (The person wouldn’t know for sure until after he/she purchases a Bear Surprise and take her home.)

The one thing I most remember about Toys R Us is its mascot, Geoffrey Giraffe. I remember when that store used to sell Geoffrey Giraffe stuffed animals where the giraffe wore a sweater with the Toys R Us logo. I didn’t see any stuffed Geoffrey Giraffes on sale. In fact, I didn’t see much of Geoffrey Giraffe anywhere in this store except for this graphic. It’s obvious that they’ve redesigned him but he looks incredibly lame compared with the Geoffrey Giraffe I knew when I was growing up. It was like someone decided to make Geoffrey into this bland forgettable character that would blend in with a corporate environment. I can’t imagine any child being enthusiastic about this Geoffrey Giraffe.

The Journey Girls are 18-inch dolls that are Toys R Us’ answer to the ever-popular American Girl doll. They cost around $40, which is cheaper than American Girl’s $110 dolls.

Curiously Toys R Us had a section devoted to jewelry from Claire’s (which is a separate retail chain that sells jewelry and other accessories).

Here’s another Toys R Us exclusive I found, a Zoomer robot unicorn.

Naturally Toys R Us had a line of Star Wars toys.

They had a whole shelf full of Sharper Image drones.

Here are some more toys I found at Toys R Us, which includes Wonder Woman, Gremlins, and even a stuffed Godzilla plush.

I remember when Teddy Ruxpin first came out back in the 1980s and I saw news stories about this teddy bear. I was amazed by the animatronic technology back then even though this product was aimed at young children and I didn’t have any young children of my own. Teddy Ruxpin has been re-released and he’s compatible with a smartphone app and Bluetooth.

Toys R Us had a section devoted to bikes, small cars that children could ride in, and rollerblades.

Here’s another shot of an empty store aisle.

Toys R Us had an arts and crafts section including a shelf dedicated to nothing but Crayola products.

A quarter of the store was devoted to Babies R Us, which had cribs, blankets, and other products geared towards infants and toddlers.

Here’s a shot of the hall in the Babies R Us section that has the restrooms.

Toys R Us had a couple of STEM-focused high tech toys that are designed to encourage making and coding but they were pretty small compared to what Target and Best Buy offer.

They had a bunch of shelves devoted to board games. Some were the games I knew from my childhood, such as Rock’Em Sock’Em Robots, while others were definitely ones I hadn’t heard of before.

There was an aisle devoted entirely to LEGO products.

This one was another interesting item where you create your own version of a Kinder Surprise Egg.

Toys R Us had toy vacuum cleaners and toy irons for those budding young housewives.

I remember when Zhu Zhu Pets were the big Hot Toy way back in 2009. Like Fingerlings, Zhu Zhu Pets were sold out in stores everywhere just before the holiday season but then they became plentiful once Christmas passed. I haven’t seen Zhu Zhu Pets on sale anywhere in my area in a few years so I was surprised when I found them at Toys R Us.

Toys R Us also had Barbie dolls on sale along with newer dolls, such as the DC Super Hero Girls dolls.

I saw one discount bin full of polar bear Christmas ornaments.

I found a few dolls and plush based on Disney’s Moana movie and Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. video game series.

I decided to make one purchase. The woman at the cash register offered me a free frequent rewards card. I accepted it even though I rarely shop at Toys R Us these days and I don’t know when I’ll make another trip to any Toys R Us store in my area. (Like I wrote earlier, most of those stores are located at least a 30-minute trip from my home.) I have to admit that the card is pretty colorful.

Here’s the one purchase I made. I bought a $15 Fingerlings monkey for the heck of it. I shot a video of the first time I played with this baby monkey, which I’ll write about in my next post.

UPDATE (March 8, 2018): Toys R Us is now seriously considering liquidating all of its stores in the U.S. That chain had recently started doing the same in the U.K. I’m glad I managed to take these photos of the Annapolis store when I did because I now have a time capsule of what a typical Toys R Us store was like when it was in business.

UPDATE (March 14, 2018): It’s official! After 70 years in business, Toys R Us will close its remaining 800 stores, including the one in Annapolis where I took the photos in this post.

UPDATE (April 10, 2018): I made a return trip to the Annapolis Toy R Us store where I was able to compare what I saw on that subsequent trip with the photos I took for this blog post.

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Previous post in this series.

Continuing this summer’s series of Throwback Thursdays dedicated to Howard the Duck.

htd20

Howard the Duck #20
Scrubba-Dub Death!
January, 1978

Credits: Steve Gerber, writer/editor; Gene Colan, artist; Klaus Janson, inker; J. Costanza, letterer; Jan Cohen, colorist

Synopsis: Doctor Bong confronts Howard in the bathroom shower of an apartment belonging to a woman named Amy (where Howard spent the previous night). Doctor Bong becomes so enraged when Howard asks him why isn’t he with Beverly, his new bride, that he tries to smash Howard with his steel clapper hand. Howard jumps out of the way just in time for Doctor Bong’s steel clapper hand to hit the floor with such a force that the floor caves in and they end up in the apartment below.

Doctor Bong and Howard had interrupted an all-night poker game and one of the players becomes angry because he was on the verge of winning this particular poker hand. This player begins to beat up Doctor Bong and Howard takes advantage of that moment to sneak out of that apartment and eventually make his way outside. Doctor Bong manages to overpower that player who started to fight him and he decides to leave the apartment and make all of the poker players freeze in their tracks for 90 days at the same time by hitting himself on the head with his steel clapper hand.

Howard is in a nearby alley when hears that particular “BONG!” noise and realizes that Doctor Bong is pursuing him. Howard finds a lead pipe lying on the ground. He gets up on a trash can and waits for Doctor Bong to come after him. When Doctor Bong shows up, Howard hits him on the head with that lead pipe and he makes Doctor Bong disappear.

Howard then begins to remember recent past events (which is also a way that a reader who didn’t follow the story from the previous issues can catch up) while explaining that Howard’s one-night stand with Amy as a human activated his adrenal glands that manage to reverse the effects of being in the Evolvo-Chamber so he is a duck once again. Howard soon realizes that he is naked (since Doctor Bong had started this latest battle while Howard was in the shower) and he has no money. Howard steals a t-shirt off of a clothes line that says “Foxy Lady,” which solves one of his problems.

As for the money problem, Howard passes a restaurant with a sign that says “Dishwasher Wanted.” Figuring that he has nothing else to lose he sees the restaurant’s owner, who finds the idea of a male talking duck wearing a Foxy Lady t-shirt to be so hysterical that he hires Howard on the spot while thinking about advertising his restaurant as saying that the dishes have been untouched by human hands.

Howard’s new boss introduces him to the outgoing dishwasher, Sudd, who is on his last day at his current job. As Sudd starts to show Howard how to do his job he tells Howard that the reason why he’s leaving is because he has accepted a new job as executive vice president of an organization called SOOFI, which is an acronym for Save Our Offspring From Indecency. Sudd says that SOOFI tracks down any books, records, or movies that are considered to be indecent by a leader known as the Supreme SOOFI and burns them.

Finally Sudd shows Howard how to clean the microwave oven with an oven cleaner. In the process Sudd accidentally leaves the oven cleaner in the microwave as he closes the door and starts the microwave process. The oven cleaner can soon explodes, throwing the microwave oven door open and covering Sudd in a mixture of oven cleaner and radiation—turning Sudd into a raging giant bubble creature who’s obsessed with cleaning everything.

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When the restaurant owner enters the kitchen to see what the commotion is about, Sudd escapes and starts his cleaning rampage in the restaurant while attacking a customer for reading a Playboy-like magazine called Playperson. Howard and his new boss try to stop the bubble creature by throwing a bucket of water on him but the creature grows bigger because the oven cleaner is a concentrate that is activated by water.

The bubble creature leaves the restaurant to continue his cleaning rampage. Howard finds another can of the oven cleaner and discovers that the can has a printed antidote recipe that includes vinegar, lemon juice, milk, and egg whites. Howard and his new boss quickly whip up a large batch of that stuff then try to track down Sudd.

The bubble creature makes his way to 8th Avenue, which Howard describes as the Filth Capital of the Universe. The bubble creature attacks criminals and scrubs the city streets clean at the same time. Howard and his boss throw the antidote on the creature, which dissolves him entirely. The locals come out but they weren’t there to hail Howard and his boss as heroes. In fact they are angry because the bubble creature had been actually doing something about the crime and the filthy streets—issues that the local authorities had long ignored. A mob starts to form against Howard and his boss.

Topical 1970’s Reference: Howard mentions The Gong Show, which was a very popular game show back in the 1970’s where contestants of varying dubious talents perform on stage while celebrity judges decide whether they would be allowed to complete their performance or bang a gong behind them, which abruptly ends the performance.

There’s a reference to 8th Avenue as being the Filth Capital of the Universe. 8th Avenue is one of the borders of Times Square which, at that time, had a reputation for having a lot of porn houses, drug abuse, prostitution, and being a very crime-infested place. There was a time when tourists would not dare to go into Times Square. I remember when I took a class trip to New York City back in 1979 and our chaperones told us point-blank that we were forbidden from going anywhere near Times Square. Even since Disney decided to renovate the New Amsterdam Theater, which kickstarted a renaissance that drove out most of the porn movie theaters, Times Square has definitely improved as a place for tourists. If you want to get an idea of what Times Square was like before Disney came along, check out the movies Midnight Cowboy or Taxi Driver, which were both shot on location in Times Square back in the 1970’s.

The Bottom Line: This is a pretty hysterical issue from Doctor Bong confronting Howard while he’s in the shower to a new short-lived character that’s a man mutated from an oven cleaning product who could either be a hero or villain depending on one’s point of view. It’s also pretty funny when the locals turn on Howard and his new boss after they defeat Sudd because he was actually cleaning up the city streets of filth and crime and they ruined it.

htd21

Howard the Duck #21
If You Knew SOOFI…!
February, 1978

Credits: Steve Gerber, writer/editor; Carmine Infantino, special guest artist; Klaus Janson, inker; I. Watanabe, letterer; Glynis Wein, colorist

Synopsis: This story begins where the last issue left off as Howard and his boss literally run for their lives from a mob of local citizens who were outraged over the fact that they had destroyed the bubble monster who had cleaned up the streets and crime in their neighborhood. They run into an alley where, with the help of a street person, they are able to evade the mob once and for all.

The bubble monster was previously a human male named Sudd who was slated to start his new job as executive vice president of an organization named SOOFI, which stands for Save Our Offspring From Indecency. The members of SOOFI wear white outfits with round orange heads (resembling the orange fruit) featuring smiley faces. SOOFI calls a meeting where the leader announces Sudd’s death. After the members recite the SOOFI pledge (which includes lines like “We are the SOOFI, sworn to die so that our children yet unborn may live in antiseptic peace!”) the SOOFI leader vows that there will be revenge against those responsible for Sudd’s death.

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Meanwhile Howard and his boss are in the boss’ apartment. The boss suddenly decides to move back to his native Cleveland because he realizes that the restaurant business isn’t for him. Howard suddenly realizes that he doesn’t know the boss’ name (mainly because he had been working for that boss for less than 12 hours) and he asks. The boss reveals his name to be Beverly Switzler—the same name as Howard’s one-time female companion who is now the wife of Doctor Bong. It turns out that his parents wanted a daughter named Beverly Switzler and when he was born they decided to give him that name anyway. The female Beverly Switzler is his niece who was named after him. The male Beverly uses Lee as a nickname, which is just as well because it would’ve been confusing having two characters named Beverly Switzler.

Lee invites Howard to come with him back to Cleveland but Howard turns him down because he wants to wait for Paul and Winda to arrive on the ship S.S. Damned when it docks in New York City. Lee allows Howard to use his apartment since the rent is paid up until the end of the month.

Members of SOOFI begin to bomb places like porn movie theaters, adult book stores, and rock concerts. The SOOFI leader arrives in the apartment where Howard is currently staying and proceeds to spray a solution known as Formula 410 in Howard’s face to knock him out so he could be kidnapped. When Howard wakes up he sees that someone had put pants and shoes on him, which totally outrages him because he had gone around bottomless for much of his life.

The head of SOOFI appears and tells Howard all about the Blanditron, an invention that the SOOFI head claims God wanted. The SOOFI head says that Howard’s new look will provide youth appeal among potential new recruits to the SOOFI movement. However the SOOFI leader has decreed that Howard needs to be put through the Blanditron first so he’ll be blanderized enough to fit in with SOOFI’s strict conformity.

So the SOOFI leader puts Howard in the Blanditron, which resembles a washing machine, and switches the machine on. After Howard goes through all of the Blanditron’s cycles, the SOOFI leader opens the machine door only to have Howard punch the leader in the face. The orange mask cracks and Howard implies that the leader is none other than Anita Bryant (who is shown only from the back of the head).

Howard walks out of the SOOFI headquarters and he subsequently ditches the pants and shoes so he could go bottomless once again.

Topical 1970’s Reference: The 1970s was the decade when the right wing evangelical Christians started to make headway into protesting the relaxed standards (especially regarding sexuality) of the era. Groups like the Moral Majority and the American Family Association got their start in the 1970’s and it’s obvious that SOOFI was modeled after them. After being considered on the fringe for many years, these groups started to ally with the Republican Party and their power started to gradually increase until these groups started to elect favored politicians to power. This has resulted in such things as severe limits placed on abortion in many states and the so-called bathroom bills that have recently been passed in North Carolina and Mississippi where transgender people who haven’t had the full genitalia surgery are required to go to the public restroom of their birth gender rather than the gender that they identify with.

Howard briefly being forced to wear pants by SOOFI is a parody of a real-life dispute between Disney and Marvel over Disney’s complaint that Howard looked too much like Donald Duck. Disney demanded that Marvel make some alterations to Howard (including adding pants) or else it would sue Marvel. Ironically Disney would buy Marvel years later so Donald Duck and Howard the Duck not only currently co-exist under the same parent company but Disney even allowed Marvel to revive the Howard the Duck comic book series in 2015—a few years after the Disney/Marvel merger was complete.

The substance that the SOOFI leader uses on Howard, Formula 410, is a parody of the all-purpose cleaning product Formula 409.

The smiling faces on the SOOFI masks resemble the smiley faces that were a craze for a few years back in the 1970’s. The faces were initially on buttons and they came in yellow, pink, or orange. In time they were printed on other products like t-shirts and and greeting cards.

The end of that issue implied that the real-life celebrity Anita Bryant was the SOOFI leader. Anita Bryant was initially a beauty pageant contestant who became Miss Oklahoma in 1958 then switched to singing where she went on to have a few hits in the late 1950’s-early 1960’s. I remember her best when she did a series of ads in the 1970’s for the Florida Citrus Commission where she touted the wonders of Florida orange juice and how Florida oranges were superior to oranges grown in other places (such as California and Arizona). Here are a couple of vintage Florida orange juice ads featuring Anita Bryant that were made in 1969 and 1971.

Here’s another ad that has Anita Bryant enlisting the help of Orange Bird to convince people to drink Florida orange juice along with the announcement that one can find Orange Bird at Walt Disney World.

I especially remember Anita Bryant and the Orange Bird together because my parents once gave me the 45 r.p.m. record single of Bryant singing “The Orange Bird Song,” which I can now relive thanks to YouTube.

Anita Bryant’s career began to decline soon after Miami-Dade County in Florida passed a gay rights ordinance in 1977 that forbid discrimination in housing, jobs, loans, and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation. Bryant and her then-husband, Bob Green, became so outraged over the idea of gays having the same civil rights as heterosexuals that they led an effort to repeal that law. In addition Anita Bryant began to claim that gays will come for people’s children because that’s the only way they can recruit new people to their ranks since they can’t have children themselves. While Anita Bryant’s campaign was successful in getting that law repealed, it turned out to be a pyrrhic victory for her personal and professional life in the long run. Bryant’s anti-gay efforts led to a nationwide boycott of anything made from Florida oranges and Anita Bryant soon lost her gig as the cheerful face of Florida orange juice. Bryant’s marriage to Bob Green would end in divorce just a few years later.

Since that time she has pretty much withdrawn from the public spotlight and rarely gives interviews these days. The last I’ve heard anything from her was when her ex-husband died a few years ago.

The Bottom Line: This issue is a pretty hilariously spot-on parody of those self-righteous people who seek to impose their own sense of morality on others to the point where they’ll even kill others (thus disregarding one of the Bible’s Ten Commandments that say “Thou shalt not kill”). The only downside is the dated ending referencing Anita Bryant in that people of a certain age will find it hilarious but younger generations reading this story won’t immediately get the joke without doing some online research.

htd22

Howard the Duck #22
May the Farce Be With You!
March, 1978

Credits: Steve Gerber, writer/editor; Val Mayerik, artist; William Wray, inker; John Costanza, letterer; Janice Cohen, colorist

This issue is not only the first of a two-part Star Wars parody but it’s also a reunion of the original co-creators of Howard the Duck, Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik.

Synopsis: Howard is sitting on the rooftop of the apartment building where his onetime boss, Lee Switzler, used to live and where Howard is currently staying until the rent runs out at the end of the month. Suddenly a strange creature that has giant ape arms and legs yet its body resembles a container of salt climbs up to the same rooftop. This creature manages to tackle Howard to the ground where it seasons the duck literally with salt until Howard’s body is totally covered. The creature then jumps from the rooftop to the street below where its lifeless salt container body breaks open and salt spills into the street.

A giant fly then flies to the rooftop and proceeds to attack Howard, who fends the fly off by hitting it with a guitar he finds on the roof. Howard feels a sense of dread that is reminiscent of what happened the day the cosmic axis shifted, which took Howard from his original home planet to Earth. Suddenly the Man-Thing and Dakimh the Enchanter appear. The wizard grabs Howard and the three of them suddenly disappear from the rooftop.

Howard, Dakimh, and the Man-Thing are at the Land Between Night and Day where Korrek the Barbarian and Jennifer Kale are waiting. The fivesome from Adventure Into Fear #19 and The Man-Thing #1 (the two-part sword and sorcery story which introduced Howard the Duck) are reunited. Everyone is overjoyed that Howard didn’t die like they thought he did when he seemed to fell to his death in The Man-Thing #1. Since the last time the five of them were together Dakimh had apparently died because he now exists only as a ghost. The only one who isn’t thrilled with this reunion is Howard because he is annoyed over being taken on an adventure that he would rather not go on.

IMG_20160518_001740

The five of them enter a castle where they come upon the Waters of Eternity. As they gaze into the Waters of Eternity, Dakimh tells a story about a distant planet called Megrim, which is ruled by its immortal queen, Sombra. Whenever the queen feels the need to reproduce every one or two millenniums, Sombra will abuduct the most savage warriors from their home planets and bring them to Megrim so they can battle each other until only one is left standing. The last warrior then mates with Sombra, which kills that warrior but impregnates Sombra. (It’s similar to how Queen Bees reproduce except there’s more violence involved.) Sombra’s past children have tended more towards spiritual anesthesia and less towards violence and they can be stopped by a powerful force dedicated to joy.

This millennium Sombra’s most recent warrior battle that helps her choose a mate ended in disaster because the winning warrior survived the tournament because he was so insane that he continued fighting even though he had been hacked and slashed within an inch of his life. He was very eager to mate with Sombra after his victory so he ended up being another dead warrior during sex while Sombra became pregnant with his child and she gave birth to a son named Bzzk Joh, who is just as crazy as his late father while he has his mother’s depressive tendencies. Dakimh instructs Howard, Jennifer, the Man-Thing, and Korek that they must stop him by using the binding energy of the universe known as the Farce. Dakimh gives Howard a weapon that will unleash the Farce when the time comes and the wizard instructs the others to follow Howard’s lead.

Dakimh then disappears because, as a deceased person, his soul must periodically return to Therea, the Plane of Spirits, or his soul will die. Howard is very reluctant to be a leader while the others, especially Korek, have a hard time accepting the duck in that role.

Howard decides to go to the top of the castle to contemplate things against a night sky. Man-Thing joins him and Howard starts to consider the swamp muck creature to be a victim of circumstance as much as he is.

Howard starts to feel hungry so he and the Man-Thing walked around the castle until they find the kitchen. Howard opens the refrigerator expecting to find something to eat only to unleash a giant living pickle who starts to attack Howard. The Man-Thing defeats the giant pickle as the stench of burned cucumber and vinegar wafts over the entire kitchen.

Howard and the Man-Thing then hear a scream coming from downstairs. The pair race to the Waters of Eternity where a geyser had suddenly gone up with Bzzk Joh sitting at the top. He has just kidnapped Jennifer Kale and he threatens to make her bald if anyone tries to rescue her.

Topical 1970’s References: At the beginning Howard mentions playing the opening chord of The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” as he swats that giant fly with a guitar. Even though that song was released ten years earlier, I remember the local radio stations would play it on a somewhat regular basis alongside newer hits by the likes of Peter Frampton and Donna Summer. (This was back before the rise of Classic Rock radio where older hits by The Beatles tend to be relegated to that format instead of playing their music alongside newer acts. It’s a shame in a way because I think it was pretty cool being exposed to older music while listening to the latest hits.)

There are also references to Star Wars (since it is a parody of that film) beginning with the story’s title. At the time only the first Star Wars movie had been released which was simply titled Star Wars but in the years since its release the title has been altered to Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope. The biggest irony is that years later Disney would purchase both Marvel and the Star Wars franchise so they are both now co-existing in the same corporation.

The Bottom Line: This story, featuring the original foursome from Adventure Into Fear #19 and Man-Thing #1, is far funnier than when the foursome last got together. It’s obvious the satiric influence of Howard the Duck has rubbed off because even the dead serious Dakimh showed flashes of humor. It is amusing that Dakimh not only appoints Howard as a leader responsible for something as powerful as the Farce, a position that Howard does not want, but also sends the duck on a quest that Howard wants no part of.

I also got a laugh out of Bzzk Joh threatening to turn his hostage Jennifer Kale bald should anyone attempt to rescue her. That’s an interesting threat to say the least!

It shows promise and it makes the reader eager for the second half of this story that was published in the following issue.

These issues were reprinted in Howard the Duck: The Complete Collection, Volume 2, which can be purchased onine at AbeBooks, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BookDepository, Half.com, IndieBound, Indigo, Powell’s.

Next post in this series.

The Howard the Duck Series

Howard the Duck: The Complete Collection, Volume 1

The Early Stories
Howard the Duck #1-3
Howard the Duck #4-5
Howard the Duck #6
Howard the Duck #7 and Marvel Treasury Edition #12: Howard the Duck
Howard the Duck #8

Howard the Duck #9-11
Howard the Duck #12-14
Howard the Duck King Size Annual #1 and Howard the Duck #15
Howard the Duck #16

Howard the Duck: The Complete Collection, Volume 2

Howard the Duck #17-19
Howard the Duck #20-22
Howard the Duck #23-25
Howard the Duck #26-28
Howard the Duck #29-31
Howard the Duck Magazine #1

Late last night I was uploading the entries I wrote about my recent trip to New York City. As I was editing the photos to be used in those entries, I came upon a photo I took at the Disney Store in Times Square. At the time I took that picture, I didn’t even notice it. It wasn’t until I got a closer look later that I think I may have found something: a Hidden Mickey.

Here is the original photo in question. It’s a wall display of Mickey and Minnie sitting on a moon with messages written in a bunch of different languages that is located on the second level of the store right above the down escalator.

Disney Store in Times Square

Here the picture that I altered in Photoshop. The red outline shows a Hidden Mickey that I strongly believe I have found, which was created by the placing of the three lights used to highlight the display.

Hidden Mickey at The Disney Store in Times Square

Is that cool or what?

Yesterday I did a full day of walking around the city. I felt very fortunate that I was able to do so in light of my recent injuries and that devastating diagnosis regarding potential trouble with my back. I enjoyed myself for the most part but there were times when I kept on wondering if it would be the last time I would ever be able to do something like this, especially if further medical treatments for my degenerating bones somehow fail and I end up being too disabled to even walk a few steps. So it was an enjoyable day mixed with the occasional sadness and trepidation about my future health.

I began my journey with a trip to Times Square. This morning I skipped breakfast because I was still full from that birthday dinner at the restaurant that the family ate at to celebrate my father-in-law’s birthday. By the time I got on the subway, I still wasn’t hungry but I began to feel a little woozy because I made the mistake of taking my prescription meds on an empty stomach. So I got off at the Times Square stop and got myself a hot pretzel from one of the vendor stands. One cool thing that the powers-that-be did to Times Square was to close off a block of traffic and turned the street into a little pedestrian park with tables and chairs. On top of that, there was even free Wi-Fi available. I did a brief post on Facebook with my iPod Touch but the weather was really too cold to do much sitting outside. (The temperature in New York began at a very chilly 23 degrees Farenheit had reached a high of 47 degrees as the day progressed.)

Times Square

I made a brief visit to the big Hershey store in Times Square. They had some specially marked candy that was a tie-in for the upcoming animated Easter film Hop.

Hershey Store in Times Square
Hershey Store in Times Square
Hershey Store in Times Square
Hershey Store in Times Square

I did some web surfing the night before and learned that Disney had closed its World of Disney store on Fifth Avenue and the smaller one that was located next to the Amsterdam Theatre in Times Square. As a replacement, Disney took over this space in Times Square that used to be occupied by a Virgin Megastore (which was one of my favorite places to visit in New York City because of its huge stock in books, music, and movies—one could find an obscure movie classic or CD in that store) until that chain went out of business a few years earlier. I have to say that the newer Times Square Disney Store is pretty huge.

Disney Store in Times Square
Disney Store in Times Square
Disney Store in Times Square
Disney Store in Times Square
Disney Store in Times Square

While I was at the Disney Store I purchased this little 3-inch Vinylmation souvenir of Minnie Mouse dressed as the Statue of Liberty, which is exclusively sold at the Times Square store. In the meantime I had carried not only my purse but also a small cloth Mickey Mouse shopping bag that I had purchased at the Disney Store at Arundel Mills back home and I used the smaller shopping bag to carry my camera and maps in. Two store employees noticed that bag and asked me where I had gotten it from and they told me how much they liked it, which was pretty wild.

I also did some walking around in Times Square. I shot this photo of the Broadway theater that is showing the controversial new musical based on the Spider-Man comic book called Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark. That musical had generated bad press when a few of the actors were injured during rehearsals and the previews themselves had garnered much negative reviews among theater critics. The musical is still having preview shows that are opened to the general public. My husband’s step-mother said that the people behind that musical are charging as much per ticket as a typical Broadway show that’s being performed for real (meaning that it’s not a preview show), which is a rip-off if you consider that the price of a regular Broadway show starts at $100. If what she said is true, then it is really a rip-off since the shows are technically considered rehearsals and are not real regular performances.

Controversial Spider-Man Broadway Show

I soon began to grow tired of the constant crowds, noise, and visual stimulation of Times Square so I hopped on a subway and headed farther downtown to the East Village. Greenwich Village and Times Square are as different as night and day in that the former is much more quiet and the streets are filled with nice architecture (some of which dates as far back as the mid-1800’s).

My first stop in that area is a bit of a history lesson for anyone who reads this. Last Friday was the 100th anniversary of the most tragic event that ever happend to workers on the job in the United States—The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. If you do enough research, you’d realize that this was a tragedy that could have been prevented had the owners of the company showed more concern about their employees in terms of occupational safety. What was really tragic was that many of the workers were young women who were in their teens and 20’s when they died.

The building where the tragedy took place is still there but it is now known as the Brown Building and it is part of the campus of New York University. There was a special event last Friday on the actual 100th anniversary but, as you can see from these photos, the flowers and writings on the sidewalk were still there. There were also purple banners hanging out the same windows where many of the people had jumped to their deaths in their efforts to escape the fire.

Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Centennial Anniversary
Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Centennial Anniversary
Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Centennial Anniversary
Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Centennial Anniversary
Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Centennial Anniversary
Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Centennial Anniversary
Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Centennial Anniversary
Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Centennial Anniversary
Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Centennial Anniversary
Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Centennial Anniversary
Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Centennial Anniversary
Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Centennial Anniversary
Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Centennial Anniversary
Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Centennial Anniversary

Afterwards I walked around the East Village a bit. Went to this really neat locally-owned bookstore called St. Mark’s Bookshop where I treated myself to thick paperback book of the complete writings of Oscar Wilde. (A few years ago I saw some of my friends act in a local amateur production of Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest and I really enjoyed it.) I ate a late lunch at this Japanese restaurant called Zen (located at 31 Saint Marks Place between 2nd and 3rd Avenues) where the prices were pretty reasonable by New York City standards and the service was pretty good. I did a little bit of window shopping. I purchased something really cute at this store called AC Gears, which specializes in really neat looking electronics from Japan. It’s called Stargirl and it’s manufactured by Headphonies. Stargirl is both a cute figurine and a portable external speaker for a computer or MP3 player of your choice. Is that cool or what? I can’t wait until I get home and try this one out.

I also took a few photos while I walked around the East Village.

East Village
East Village
East Village
East Village
East Village

After I walked around for a while I took the subway to Rockefeller Center. Somehow I managed to get off at the subway station that was outside Rockefeller Center itself instead of inside the building (where I usually embark and disembark) so I decided to walk up 47th Street to get to the front of the building. As I walked up 47th Street, I began to kick myself for not using 46th Street or 48th Street because I forgot that this particular part of 47th Street is the Diamond District and there were so many sales reps and shop owners perched outside their stores asking every single passerbys if they wanted to buy diamonds or if they had gold, silver, platinum, diamonds, or other precious metals and stones they want to sell. I found myself saying "No" every other minute because these guys were so relentless, especially the ones who were asking me if I had any gold or silver I wanted to sell. I was so relieved when I finally hit Fifth Avenue because it was like a jungle in that block.

Once I got to the front of Rockefeller Center, I walked around the area where I took a few more photographs.

Rockefeller Center
Rockefeller Center
Rockefeller Center

While I was there I checked out the new Lego store. There was a Lego store that opened in Arundel Mills Mall in my area and I thought that it was big and impressive. Well the one at Rockefeller Center makes the Arundel Mills store look puny by comparison. Here’s one of the walls where people can choose from a myriad of bricks in various sizes and colors.

Lego Store in Rockefeller Center

They had statues and reliefs made from Legos that depicted various Rockefeller Center stuff. How accurate are the Lego recreations? Well, here’s are some comparison shots of one of the original artworks that adorns Rockefeller Center with a Lego re-creation of it.

Rockefeller Center
Lego Store in Rockefeller Center

I personally find Lego statues to be totally fascinating because I can only imagine the amount of planning and design it takes to create something from tiny plastic rectangular bricks that people would recognize while taking into account the limits of using a medium that’s totally inflexible (like Lego bricks).

Lego Store in Rockefeller Center
Lego Store in Rockefeller Center

While I was at Rockefeller Center, I went to the MSNBC.com Digital Cafe (which is located just one floor above the NBC Store) where I had a chocolate pudding snack and a Diet Coke while I took a break from all that walking. Afterwards I headed over to the World of Nintendo store where I saw the new Nintendo 3DS for the first time. I have to admit that there were times when the 3D graphics were impressive but other times I just couldn’t tell the difference between that and a typical 2D screen. There were also not a lot of games currently available for the system that made me say "I gotta buy this thing right now!!!" I’m going to wait at least six months before I make a decision on whether to buy one for myself or not. But I have to admit that it’s cool that it was able to get a 3D effect without making users wear those dorky 3D glasses like in the 3D digital movie theaters.

As I left Rockefeller Center, I took a photo of someone who I think is the most important employee currently working at Rockefeller Center. I’m not talking about the various on-air personalities who work for NBC or one of its cable subsidiaries (i.e. MSNBC, CNBC, etc.) nor am I talking about any of the top-level executives of NBC and the other companies who inhabit Rockefeller Center. I’m talking about the guy who drives the zamboni to freshen up the Rockefeller Center ice skating rink. 😀

Zamboni Driver in Rockefeller Center

I then crossed Fifth Avenue to my final destination of the day before I became too totally exhausted to do anything else. I checked out the American Girl Place, which is full of American Girl dolls and various accessories. I know that American Girl originally started out as a series of fictional girls living in various eras of American history (such as the Civil War and the Great Depression). What really freaked me out and drove home the point that I’m now old is that there is a doll named Julie who is a 12-year-old girl in 1974. I was a child in 1974 and what’s really hilarious is that there are family photos of me wearing clothes that were similar to the 1970’s-style clothes that are currently available for Julie and her friends. I also owned a few of the items (such as a cheap record player and 45 r.p.m. records) that are now available as accessories for those dolls. Man, I really am old! (LOL!)

American Girl Place, Fifth Avenue, New York City
American Girl Place, Fifth Avenue, New York City
American Girl Place, Fifth Avenue, New York City

There’s also a relatively new line of American Girl dolls that are not based on historical fictional characters nor are they tied in with any book series. It’s called My American Girl and the idea is to pick an American Girl doll that resembles you the most (or to pick a doll you wish you could resemble if you only had different hair color or eye color). You can decide whether she has pierced ears (with her ears being pierced on the spot) or not, whether she wears glasses, or whether she has braces. There’s a wheelchair sold separately if you want your doll to be disabled. There’s even a medical kit that comes with bandages and crutches if you want her to be injured.

If that wasn’t enough, there’s also an online component where, if you register the doll at innerstarU.com, you’ll get an avatar version of your doll and you can interact online with others in a safe environment. This is basically a variation on Webkinz.com except you can get 20 stuffed Webkinz animals for the price of one American Girl doll.

The idea is to look at these slips of paper that contains pictures of each doll then pick the paper of the doll that interests you the most. You detach the paper slip and you look for the number on the paper. Then you look among the boxes for the number that corresponds exactly with the number on your paper slip, look for any accessories you want to buy for that doll (like wheelchairs, glasses, additional clothes, etc.), then pay for the doll at the checkout. Once you bring your doll home, you register her at innerstarU.com and you’re good to go.

Just for the hell of it I looked among the slips of paper to see if there were any dolls that resembled me. All of the dolls are a little bit on the hefty side and I’m not exactly skinny so that was no problem. I looked among the dolls and I found one that resembled me the closest. She’s doll number 39 and it’s not an exact match mainly because she has blue eyes and I have hazel eyes. But if I wanted to, I could’ve purchased her along with glasses and crutches (to symbolize my current problems with my deteriorating bones).

I opted not to mainly because I was feeling very tired and I really wasn’t into buying dolls at the moment. I’ve seen patterns for American Girl doll clothes sold at various arts and crafts store but I don’t really know if there is a market for handmade American Girl doll clothes since there are already so many official American Girl doll clothes available. I guess I could do punk rock fashions since, as of this writing, there aren’t any historical American Girl dolls representing the punk rock and new wave music explosion that happened in the late 1970’s-1980’s. (LOL!)

I guess if, for some reason, I can’t overcome my medical problems, I could order that doll online along with glasses and either crutches or a wheelchair and call her My Mini-Me. Yeah, I can think cheerful thoughts at times.</sarcasm>

Well, anyway, I didn’t buy anything at that store and I was feeling tired so I took the subway back to my in-laws’ place. I basically spent the evening resting indoors since I was totally exhausted. I don’t regret working myself into the ground because I really don’t know what my future will be like and there’s a possibility that my days when I could be active will end soon—especially if any and all medical treatments fail.

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