I got into the Avengers craze only last year, thanks to an ex who wouldn’t stop playing the Marvel video game, even on dates. But on April 26, 2019, I found myself standing in a queue at 3 am in an obscure part of my city just to be one of the first few people to lay eyes on Avengers: Endgame. But if you think that makes me a fan of the year’s most-hyped release, then this dude in Delhi, who has his very own Avengers museum, beats me to the punch.
Dhruv Kohli, a 30-year-old garment exporter, may seem like your typical fitness-loving, briefcase-wielding, superhero-stanning businessman. But this guy has something most superfans do not: a museum-worthy collection of almost every limited edition Avengers action figure.
“I bought my very first action figure after watching the first Iron Man movie in 2008 as a university student in the US, and I have been obsessed ever since,” Kohli tells VICE. Despite having grown up referencing DC superheroes like Superman and Batman, Kohli felt he could relate more with Iron Man, a superhero character who built his way to stardom through technology. “It’s amazing when you see someone as self-centred and money-minded as Tony Stark, sacrificing himself to save humanity,” he continues, gushing about how he remains fascinated with Stark’s watch and car collections.
For him, Avengers is more than just a movie; it’s an emotion. He says that he is addicted to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and still watches the movies in there regularly on repeat, appreciating its ability to connect plotlines across 22 films over 11 years.
Since 2008, his collection has grown with the release of every Avengers-related movie, from Thor to Guardians of The Galaxy. Today, Kohli boasts a collection of over a hundred limited edition action figures propped behind glass cabinets in his basement. Even so, he can sometimes be selective and not everyone makes the cut. “After the stupid move Star-Lord pulled in Infinity Wars, I don’t think I like his character and probably won’t buy his action figure,” he says.
While some superfans might settle for local toy store action figures to keep their superheroes close, Kohli has very specific tastes. Most of his collectables are made by Hot Toys, a company he likes to describe as the “Rolls Royce of the toy industry,” requiring the buyer to wait for the merchandise for about a year after the film comes out. But it’s worth the wait for Kohli, who says, “The characters evolve every year, so the specific details get better, and compared to the older figures, the new ones are more advance in terms of fabric, intricacies of their eyes, and the quality in general.” The fact that the brand is not easily available also lends its offerings an air of exclusivity that makes them all the more special.
Kohli’s possessions range from 15 to 30 inches in size, with an average cost of $500 (about Rs 35,000). While most are available online and shipped from the US or UK, some toys are especially rare. These have to be bid on and shipped from Hong Kong and Germany. In all, Kohli has spent an estimated total of over Rs 25 lakh ($35,700).
“It does cross my mind that I’m spending too much money, but the crazy fan in me wants to buy these figures and watch the Avengers universe unfold in front of me,” he says, talking about how his friends, family and even his wife initially had their reservations about his buying habits, but opened up to the idea after watching Marvel movies. “When I first started collecting, Marvel was not that big a deal and people thought I was stupid and made fun of it. But now that Marvel is so famous, everyone is amazed. The value of everything I've bought is now probably three times the original price since the movies made billions at the box office. But I could never sell them. They mean too much to me.”
But Kohli isn’t just toying around with his massive collection of action figures. Not only has he hired a security guard to protect his prized possessions, but he also has security cameras in his basement. “When friends’ kids come over, they want to take the toys home with them, which I obviously refuse. Now Marvel is shifting into phase four and new movies are going to come out, but this is my way of holding on to these original characters.”
While Kohli doesn’t have plans of opening up his collection to the outside world, he wants to start sharing pictures on social media. Drawing inspiration from accounts like @Hell_duck, @robtoys and @ironman_sg, he plans on becoming an influencer in the superhero action figure space.
Pinpointing the first Iron Man figure and the avatars of Captain America and Thor from Infinity Wars as his favourites, he draws inspiration from them during his daily rounds of his museum. “I visit the action figures twice a day and then usually go to the gym. These superheroes are super fit, and seeing them motivates me to work out more”.
So if there’s one thing Kohli’s addiction to collecting Avengers tells us, it’s that even though superheroes don’t exist, we still need the fictional ones to remind us to stay strong.
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This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.