- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 8, 2008

Second of two parts

NEW YORK - All was not fun and frolic for action-figure makers who showcased their work at this year’s American International Toy Fair.

Take the legendary demise of 1990s powerhouse Toy Biz, once a major creator of pop-culture products based on “The Lord of the Rings” and superhero licenses. It was renamed Marvel Toys last year.

Its major lineup was reduced to some independent-comics-themed and wrestling figures along with Curious George items (a few quickly recalled in the China debacle).

A final nail was hammered into Marvel Toys’ coffin this year with the company taking on more of a consulting role for Marvel Entertainment and its master toy licenser, Hasbro.

That’s more than fine for scrappy entrepreneur Geoff Beckett. The die-hard action-figure lover went from the construction business to toy creator with the Buffalo-based company Shocker Toys, a venture developed with partner Lance Buttiglieri back in 2000.

Mr. Beckett’s beef with Marvel Toys came when his plans to produce independent-comics action figures appeared to be absorbed partly into his competitor’s plans. A war of e-mails and emotional releases became a murky swamp of licensed-agreement reality versus “he said” hearsay at best.

However, Mr. Beckett is proud to be the last man standing, and he delivered the final word at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center this year with his Indie Spotlight figures. He gleefully displayed the lineup of 6- to 7-inch-tall gems highlighting David Mack’s Kabuki, Jim Valentino’s Shadowhawk, Rob Schrab’s SCUD and Sam Kieth’s “The Maxx.”

Shocker also is known for the Shockini, a miniblock figure not to be confused with Mini-Mates or Stifkas. Fans can expect a robust lineup of comics-themed two-packs soon, including Dick Tracy, Madman, Solar and the Tick.

Let’s temporarily chalk one up for the small guy in the dramatic war of toy-making. Now, if Mr. Beckett’s product actually makes it to shelves this summer, he really can celebrate.

Here’s more news from some bigger fish from this year’s Toy Fair, who offer pop-culture products devoted to cartoon, comic-book and movie licenses.

Mattel

Products tied to two potentially big films, the Batman sequel “The Dark Knight” and the Wachowski brothers’ version of “Speed Racer” should help fuel this company’s sales, already boosted by a strong alliance with DC Comics.

• With the Batman film, children will swoop to stores for the Wayne Tech Mega Cape ($39.99, June). Junior wears the famed cowl-and-harness assembly, which, when activated, opens ribbed bat wings that span about 4 feet. A bit more sobering is Mattel’s 5.5-inch line of figures ($9.99) with the representation of Heath Ledger’s Joker sure to get fans a bit depressed over the film franchise in light of the actor’s death.

• I’m excited by the expansion of the DC Universe Classic Figures line ($10 each, through the year) of characters, which includes Sinestro, Solomon Grundy and Aquaman. A new 33/4-inch Infinite Heroes line ($5.99 each) features Shazam, Hawkman, Green Lantern and Silver Age Flash.

• Hot Wheels perfectly meshes with the adventures of Speed Racer in the Sky Jump track set ($49.99, this month). Jumps, stunts and crashes combine with die-cast vehicles from the new film for noisy action. The set comes with a Mach 6 car to get started.

Diamond Select Toys

• The boys from Timonium, Md., keep the “Star Trek” fan in mind with a ridiculous number of action figures and Mego dolls this year. My favorites of the 7-inch line seen in Diamond’s showroom were Borg drone, Borg Queenand Seven of Nine action figures, which all include a base ripped right from a Cube ($19.99 each).

• The company also goes heavily retro this year with the release of the Mego-styled, cloth-garbed “Planet of the Apes” action figures. Cornelius and warrior Ape arrive in June ($37.98 for the pair) with Dr. Zaius and Zira following a few months later.

Underground Toys

The British have invaded the Javits Center with a life-size Dalek to herald more fun stuff based on the new “Dr. Who” television series on the BBC. Besides continuing its lineup of 5-inch action figures, the company offers a new collectible gaming Micro Universe set. Miniature 35mm figures become part of a WizKids HeroClix type of experience through a combat system that uses a Tardis Battle Spinner in conjunction with character statistics.

Spin Master

The company known for Air Hogs RC aircraft has put many of its resources this year behind a new cartoon and game. Developed with Sega Toys, Bakugan Battle Brawlers is seen on Cartoon Network while its products populate store shelves.

The ancillary collectible game of the same name uses characters shaped as spheres that burst open on metal trading cards as part of the action.

Players will find more than 100 warriors sold in various pack sizes (one sphere with one card is $4.99) and also will want a Wrist Launcher ($14.99) and Battle Arena ($29.99) to complete the Bakugan experience. It remains to be seen if this property will have the strength of Duel Masters, Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh.

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

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