Row upon row of dark figures loomed over me. Nervous, hesitant, afraid if what I might find, I pushed past them, hoping against hope that I'd find her safe and sound, but it was no use. Bruce Wayne's ex-girlfriend, Rachel Dawes, was nowhere to be found.
Looking down the "Batman Begins" toy display I could easily spot Attack Net Batman, Battle Cape Batman (deluxe), Battle Gear Batman, Bomb Blast Batman, Dual Blade Bruce to Batman, and (I'm not kidding) nine more different Batman figures. There were even a few bad guy figures for the hordes of batmen to go beat up. But no Rachel.
Katie Holmes shouldn't take it hard, though. Love interests rarely get their own action figures.
Years ago this wouldn't have been the least bit surprising. G.I. Joe didn't have any women under his command, unless it was strictly "don't ask, don't tell." I think there were Wonder Woman and Invisible Girl dolls when I was young but they were only spoken of in hushed tones.
And this bugged me as a kid. I wanted the full cast. Despite my inborn "fight scene" DNA I wanted to be able to play more rounded games, with intricate plotlines and tense, emotional moments. Besides, exciting last-minute rescues are even more dramatic when there's someone to, you know, rescue (although in my games it was a toss-up as to who would be rescuing whom from the Halifax River of Death).
In the last twenty years women have made great advances towards breaking through the plastic ceiling, following the inspiring lead of plastic feminists like Princess Leia, April O'Neil, Catwoman, and the casts of "Buffy" and "Xena." Now female action figures are available, as long as you're willing to go to specialty stores to find them.
The problem was that throughout the history of toys one rule was handed down from on high: Boys Don't Play With Girl Dolls.
Then a little indie movie called "Star Wars" came out, and merchandising was invented. Suddenly the notion of buying toys to complete a set encouraged the Lucas Empire – and, playing catch up, the Star Trek people and DC Comics and Marvel Comics — to make figures of every single entity they could think of or make up, male or female. Collectors ruled the market, and everyone was fair game for more revenue.
So why didn't the Batman people drop one of the Implausible Attack Batman figures and stick in another important cast member? She could even have been a rare "chase" figure to improve her retail desirability. It worked for Mary Jane from the first Spider-Man movie.
Chase figures bring their own problems, of course. If you're a parent who had kids in the late 80's, you know, and hate, April O'Neil, reporter and friend of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. You may even still have gouge marks in the shape of my fingers if you got in my way around Christmas time.
"Chase," of course, refers to the way that collectors chased down truck drivers behind Toys-R-Us to pull boxes from the drivers' unconscious hands because there was only one April per case and their kids had to have one. April O'Neil was the crack of action figures. Why not continue that tradition?
And there are quite a few toy companies producing beautiful and cool female figures. Death, Kabuki, and Cry for Dawn are looking at me now from my shelf, joined by the dancing girl from the Simpsons.
And it could be argued that Rachel isn't that essential to the Batman movie. To be fair, there's no Alfred toy either, although I'd buy one. ("With new drink-serving action!") But search the racks for new Fantastic Four toys and you'll see that three of them seem to heavily outnumber the fourth, who is presumably not quite as fantastic. For the upcoming "Serenity" movie, which features nine main characters, four of them women, there are only three being released: two men and one bad guy. The belated "Pirates of the Caribbean" action figure series has Captain Jack, Captain Barbossa, Will, a pirate, and a complete absence of Elizabeth, whom I seem to recall was in a scene or two.
The Plastic Equal Rights Movement has a long way to go.