Afew months ago I was invited to a secret pinball tournament, one of several that takes place throughout the year at the houses of the various pinball and arcade-game collectors in Northeast Ohio. Like with Fight Club, I'm not supposed to talk about them. Even though I blabbed all over Facebook and Twitter, I was invited to another tournament a couple weeks ago.
But it wasn't the prospect of playing Hercules, the world's largest pinball machine, that got me all shaky with anticipation. It was the chance to see one of the world's largest Ultraman collections in person. Before Planet of the Apes and old monster movies consumed my every waking moment, I parked my ass on a tiny rocking chair every afternoon to watch Ultraman on our just-as-tiny TV set.
The show, which first aired in Japan in the mid '60s and was imported to the states several years later, ran for only 39 episodes. But I cherished each and every story about a member of the planet-protecting Science Patrol who would turn into a giant humanoid from outer space and fight the amazing parade of monsters that constantly threatened Japan. I'm pretty sure I even got all teary during the final episode, when a beaten Ultraman returns to his home planet for good. (There have been several other Ultraman series over the years, but none of them tops the original.)
Rob Berk owns a family business that supplies plastic and paper products to food services across the globe. He's also one of the nation's biggest pinball supporters. But it wasn't his extensive collection of pins that gave me a serious case of geek envy when I walked out of his Howland Township home near Warren a couple of weeks ago. Outlining his massive basement, which includes more games than any arcade I've ever been in, are shelves and cases stuffed with Ultraman memorabilia.
Action figures, Halloween costumes, guns, spaceships, LPs, shoes ... if they made an Ultraman version of it, chances are pretty good the 58-year-old Berk owns it. He started collecting around 1998, even though he's a lifetime fan of the show. He picked up most of the more than 500 pieces in his collection from his many business trips to Japan over the years. "It was a lot easier getting big cases out of there then," he says. He won some items on eBay. Some he bought for a couple dollars; a few cost more than $1,000.
Berk's collection is way more spectacular than any Star Wars or comic book collection I've ever wet myself over, and there have been plenty. He owns tiny plastic replicas of every single monster Ultraman defeated. He even has a framed picture of himself with the actor who played Ito, the Space Patrol's goofiest member. As Berk opened another case and handed me a 12-inch figure of the lobster-armed Baltan monster, I told him I wanted to live in his basement. He laughed.
But I wasn't joking.
For Your Shelf
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Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman: The untold story of Bill Finger, who helped create the Dark Knight with Bob Kane, comes to light in this book.
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