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High-‘Speed’ action on the racetrack

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 Speed Racer Toy Vault.

Battle Morph Mach 6

Mattel delivers a high-performance toy lineup for Warner Bros. Pictures' "Speed Racer." Bringing the thrills of Tatsuo Yoshida's racing legend to life, the company mixes its Hot Wheels and action-figure expertise into a speedy and colorful set of products. Its core collection includes 1:64 scale cars, tracks, 3 1/2-inch figures, deluxe vehicles, role-play items and a premiere piece of pop culture updated for the movie.

Figure profile: From Warner Bros. Pictures' "Speed Racer" Web site (http://speedracerthemovie.warnerbros.com/): Hurtling down the track, careening around, over and through the competition, Speed Racer is a natural behind the wheel. Born to race cars, Speed is aggressive, instinctive and, most of all, fearless. His only real competition is the memory of the brother he idolized - the legendary Rex Racer, whose death in a race has left behind a legacy Speed is driven to fulfill.

Accessories: This 14-inch-long version of the Mach 6 is a rugged piece of toy tech that makes the Batmobile look like an Edsel.

Owners simply grasp the side of the vehicle with one hand and pull on the rear spoiler to transform the car into a weapon of mass destruction. The hood splits open to reveal the homing-bird launcher embedded in front of the engine. A saw blade pops from the side of the body. Surrounding the driving compartment are two missile launchers, another launcher in the canopy and a pair of machine guns.

All comes to life through red flashing lights, weapon sound effects and some audio snippets of encouragement from Speed, such as “See you at the finish line.”

When done delivering the firepower, owners simply push the spoiler back in and all the cool gadgets are hidden away.nough to squeeze him into the car. Unfortunately, his cheap design pales in comparison to the Mach 6.

Price: $34.99

Read all about it: IDW Publishing brought the wild driver back into sequential art with its four-issue miniseries Speed Racer: Chronicles of the Racer ($3.99 each). It is available in a trade paperback ($17.99).

What's it worth: New and old fans will go, go, go crazy for this souped-up version of Speed's primary mode of transportation. It's beautifully designed, rugged and even includes a seat belt to keep safety at the forefront of junior's role-playing experience.

Pop bytes

A look at more toys tied to the latest version of Speed Racer.

Race-a-Round Sound Helmet (Mattel, $24.99, uses three AAA batteries, included)-This full-size play piece not only offers a solidly made representation of Speed's headgear (not made for protection) but also includes motion-activated sounds. Owners put on the helmet, pull down the translucent visor and take part in a virtual race.

Speed Racer Funkeys Starter Set (Radica, $39.99)- Odd creatures that exist in the real world as miniature collectible figures and in a rich online universe have embraced the Speed Racer legend.

Owners first install software from the set's included disc on their PCs and plug a base unit into a USB port. Next, pop one of the two included figures (Speed or the too-cute chimp Chim Chim) onto the base, and the character magically appears and interacts in a virtual computer game world.

The new Royalton Racing Complex is now part of the Funkeys land of Terrapinia, so the figures can take part in races when not enjoying the other activities. Other figures, such as Trixie, Snack Oiler and Racer X, are available separately ($7.99 each).

Casa Cristo 5000 Maltese Ice Caves (Mattel, $24.99, uses two D batteries, not included)- The Hot Wheels franchise has definitively brought Speed Racer into its fold. This minicourse uses a launcher to propel the included battle-damaged Racer X vehicle into a major loop and then over a harrowing sheet of ice (translucent plastic) as the car slides around and takes another lap.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure children will want to play with the toy long enough to justify the price; my tester gave out at after 15 minutes. The launcher also eats batteries. Other tracks in the line include the Fuji Helexicon with wild-water Mach 6 and Thunderhead Raceway with Mach 4 ($24.99 each).

What collectors will em-brace is the Hot Wheels' Speed Racer collection of 1:64 versions of the movie's famed vehicles ($2.49 each). The 10 from the first wave are masterpieces, especially the colorful designs from Musha Motors and Prince Kabala and who could not like the Mach 5? Each car also gets a plastic accessory that can attach to its underbody.

Mach 6 and Battle Rig (Mattel, $24.99)- Let's look p 1/2ast the fact that Mattel does not include a 3-inch action figure, and this transformable play set has enough accessories and play potential to satisfy any Speed Racer fan. First and foremost, it's a semitruck whose trailer houses a customizable Mach 6 (included opening canopy cockpit) with all its extras, such as attachable saw blades, machine guns and missile launchers. The rig then unfolds and turns into a 12-inch-tall tower with a seat for a figure to monitor another missile launcher.

The missing figures are crucial for taking maximum advantage of the Battle Rig, so Mattel drains parents' wallets a bit more with either two-packs ($14.99 each) or a Deluxe Battle Vehicle assortment ($15.99 each). The vehicles are too pricey, but designs such as the Mach 5 include Speed and a car with a hood that cracks open to reveal a saw-blade launcher (circular saw blades included).

Grand Prix Race (Lego, $59.99)- It only takes assembling 595 pieces for master builders to own a fantastic Speed Racer play set. The famed Danish company delivers quite the constructible masterpiece, including a detailed press box that doubles from behind as Racer Motors repair shop.

The cool factor rises quickly after the player has built working models of race cars driven by Speed Racer, Gray Ghost and Cannonball Taylor. Extras such as miniature tools, a television monitor, oil drum and checkered finish line add to the experience. Let's not forget minifigures of Speed Racer, Trixie, Pops, Gray Ghost, Cannonball Taylor, a color commentator, Spritle and the mischievous Chim Chim.

@Lego also offers two-packs of other vehicles with minifigures such as Racer X & Taejo Togokhan ($19.99, averaging 240 pieces) that work well with the raceway.

or write to Joseph Szadkowski at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.

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