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.
Staff Strike Batman
"The Dark Knight" is in theaters Friday, and Warner Bros. film and the hero's history in comics.
The latest lineup of 5.5-inch-tall gems offers multiple versions of the Caped Crusader and a few villains for him to fight. The wave includes Elasto-Cuffs Batman, the Joker with Destructo Case, Fear Shot Scarecrow, Bruce to Ninja Batman, Stealth Wing Batman, Grip Gear Batman and an adaptation of the hero equipped with deadly spinning weapons.
Figure profile: Batman uses an array of high-tech gadgets, gear and vehicles to dismantle the remaining criminal organizations that trouble Gotham City, but encounters a reign of chaos unleashed when the maniacal mastermind, the Joker, comes to town.
Accessories: This Batman wears a surprisingly detailed, movie-authentic, black-armor costume with glossy highlights and a cloth cape. He comes with a pair of silver gauntlets and a pair of golden fist covers to hold two staffs. Limited articulation hurts the play value of the figure as does its occasional inability to securely hold the staff pieces when they're spun in the fist covers.
Read all about it: Younger fans will appreciate DC Comics' monthly Batman Strikes ($2.25), which presents easy-to-read prose and an art style based on the Kids WB's recently retired animated show, "The Batman."
What's it worth: Older fans will prefer the more highly detailed Movie Masters line of Dark Knight figures. However, for the demographic that actually wants to play in the Batman universe, the regular set delivers the accessories and extended play potential. Parents also will appreciate the less scary version of Heath Ledger's Joker.
Here's a look at more Mattel products tied to the latest events in the Caped Crusader's universe.
Wayne Tech Mega Cape ($39.99, for ages 5 years and older) - The premiere role-playing piece from this year's Dark Knight collection is a cape that, with the pull of a string, opens into a 5-foot pair of wings. Pulling a pair of strings then ratchets the cape back into its original form. Owners also get a mask to help feel more like Batman. Parents should know the average 5-year-old will have difficulty keeping the heavy cape harness on. Junior becomes a hunched-over, old-man Batman after about five minutes.
I also suggest the Rapid Fire Utility Belt ($19.99, requires four AA batteries) to complete the costume, but look out for the eight soft projectiles. They pack a wallop when fired from the belt, which transforms into a hand-held gun.
Batman Lights and Sounds Trike (Fisher-Price, for ages 2 to 6, $29.99)-Tied to the DC Superfriends line of preschool-friendly toys, this full-size, pedal-powered cycle is loaded with Bat personality. Its greatest asset is its handlebar with activated sound effects. As the 4-year-old (my recommended age for the product) hits buttons on the handle's center, he might hear "This is a job for Batman" or a theme song. A starter switch also revs the engine and another button makes the headlights lights blink.
However, parents will be the real heroes in the household as they assemble the trike using an instruction manual apparently designed by the Riddler.
Crank and Launch Bat-Pod ($19.99, for ages 5 and older) - As suggested, Batman's high-speed cycle (as seen in the movie) is attached to a wedge-shaped unit. Owners then rev this babe's flywheel motor, hit a release pad and watch the cycle sputter off a ramp. The 9-inch Bat-Pod comes with a detachable Batman figure and both look great - the cycle even can be set to pop a wheelie. Unfortunately no high-speed thrills here folks, and it will not be confused with Ideal's Evel Knieval Stunt Cycle.
Bat Bunker's X-Pandables Playset ($19.99) - Mattel supports its lineup of dreadfully articulated 4-inch Batman action figures with a portable, compact selection of dioramas.
Owners of the Bat Bunker get a conveniently collapsible suitcase to open, and within seconds can have a functioning portion of the Batcave. The set includes a missile launcher with two projectiles, a zip line, multiple doors, a research station and quick-change room. A Dark Knight figure is included, but no Joker.
Fans also will want the 14-inch-long Shift Attack Sports Coupe ($29.99) that with the yank of a rear spoiler pops open into one mean machine. In its extended form, it features a missile launcher, wings, battering ram and turbo engines. The car comes with 4-inch versions of Batman and Mr. Wayne, both of which can sit in the driver's seat. (They swap places when the car is transformed.)
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A graduate of Northwestern University with a degree in communications, Joseph Szadkowski has written about popular culture for The Washington Times for the past 17 years. He covers video games, comic books, new media and technology.
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