- The Washington Times - Friday, August 6, 2004

Thanks to the proliferation of film, comic-book and cartoon characters, companies are bombarding consumers with an incredible selection of action figures.

With tongue in cheek, let’s take a peek at some of the specimens worthy of a place in Zad’s Toy Vault.

Van Helsing

Sideshow Collectibles Inc. goes from master monster doll builder to master-monster-killing doll builder with its three dimensional ode to the Universal Studios film, “Van Helsing.” A pair of 12-inch, highly detailed, authentic costume figures have arrived in specialty shops. Each features the likeness of the movie’s lead characters, Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) and Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale).

Figure profile: Deep in the mountains of Carpathia lies the mysterious and mythic land of Transylvania — a world where evil is ever present, where danger rises as the sun sets and where the monsters that inhabit man’s deepest nightmares take form. The legendary monster hunter must enter these forsaken lands in his ongoing battle to rid the world of its fiendish inhabitants, including vampires, werewolves and electrified creatures.

Accessories: The Van Helsing doll is outfitted with a fedora, pants, turtleneck shirt, vest, boots, scarf and faux-leather jacket with dirt stains at its bottom. The dead-on, miniature likeness of Mr. Jackman also carries a collapsible automatic cross-bow, two revolvers and a chain of spiritual protective trinkets.

Price: $45

Read all about it: Dark Horse Comics actually put out an excellent sequential-art prequel to the movie titled Van Helsing: From Beneath the Rue Morgue ($2.99), which, in both storytelling and frightening visuals, is more compelling than its celluloid companion.

Words to buy by: Sideshow does not disappoint with this well-crafted doll sculpted to precise Jackman-esque detail by Oluf W. Hartvigson. Rather than being placed in a toy chest, it should be displayed next to some of Sideshows’ other cool horror dolls, such as Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein, Bela Lugosi’s Dracula and Lon Chaney Jr.’s Wolf Man, as a beautiful tribute to Universal Studios’ 80-plus-year quest to scare the pants off moviegoers.

Jack the Ripper

McFarlane Toys abandons its three-dimensional exploration of more traditional horror legends, opting instead for a look into the legends of real evil in McFarlane’s Monsters: Six Faces of Madness. The third line to the action-figure series features a sextet of 6-inch, multi-articulated maniacs who throughout history have inflicted pain and suffering upon themselves and their fellow humans. The set includes Attila the Hun, Billy the Kid; Vlad the Impaler; Rasputin; and Elizabeth Bathory, the “blood queen of Hungary” — and a mysterious madman whose serial murder spree haunted England.

Figure profile: The Ripper brutally killed and mutilated at least five prostitutes with a straight razor on the dark, foggy, dangerous streets of 1888 London. Although the subject of much speculation, his true identity, to this day, remains a mystery.

Accessories: McFarlane’s interpretation of the killer includes him being a facially scarred, gray-haired, balding chap with a paunch, wearing a bloodied butcher’s apron. There’s a peg leg where his left leg once existed (speculating that he cut it off). Other features added to evoke chills include a doctor’s bag dripping blood, a very long knife, and assorted surgical and gardening tools hanging from his belt.

Price: $12.99

Read all about it: There are two definitive sequential-art examinations that will definitely appeal to the mature comic-book reader. First, the graphic novel “A Treasury of Victorian Murder: Jack the Ripper” (NBM Publishing, $15.95) offers Rick Geary’s take on the case through 64 pages of well-researched, tongue-in-cheek horror. Second, writer Alan Moore’s almost-600-page graphic novel “From Hell” (Top Shelf Productions, $35) mixes text-heavy presentations and illustrations by Eddie Campbell as it historically and graphically dissects the Ripper and his crimes.

Words to buy by: Todd McFarlane’s figure designers must have had a hard time sleeping after executing some of these nightmarish designs. Jack, Rasputin and Elizabeth are particularly disturbing and may have a hard time being displayed anywhere but in a museum showcasing horror. The sculpts of each piece are fantastic, but the subject matter is way too shocking for anyone under 17.

Strange but cool

A short look at bizarre products with a pop-culture twist.

Yoda and Mace Windu Kit (Dark Horse Comics, $99.99). I have the perfect gift for the amateur modeler who may be lacking in artistic ability. Dark Horse Comics has been distributing, for the past year, a line of 1:7 scale model “Star Wars” kits crafted by Japan’s premiere model maker, Kotobukiya Inc.

This prepainted, snap-together, soft vinyl gem brings together a pair of famed light-saber-wielding Jedi and imagines what they would look like as they fought side by side against the Dark Lords of the Sith and the Trade Federation.

The most difficult part of the assembly process, besides coming up with the $100 purchase price, is extracting the dozen or so pieces from their plastic tomb. Once put together, the warriors can be mounted on a Geonosis arena floor, which can even be separated to display as two model kits.

The piece definitely caters to the discerning “Star Wars” connoisseur, and those who purchase it won’t be disappointed with the model’s quality and tribute to the characters.

Zadzooks! wants to know you exist. Call 202/636-3016, fax 202/269-1853, email jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com or write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington DC 20002.

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