Here's some last-minute gift suggestions tied to the world of video games, comic books and pop culture that are sure to delight young and old fanboys this holiday season.
For role players
Spider-Man Stunt City (Hasbro, $49.99, ages 3 to 6 years old, includes 2 AA batteries) Young fans of Marvel Comics legendry web-slinger get to interact with their hero in this multifunctional, action-packed playset. With an almost 2-foot-long and 15-inch tall building-scape as a backdrop, the 2.5-inch-tall Spidey can literally climb up the side of a wall with help from the powers of magnetism and the push of a street sign. He can also hang from ledges, dodge an attack from his enemy the Lizard, spin on a pole, use a web line and ride his motorcycle down a ramp. Owners can also activate lights, sounds and phrases with the push of buttons and levers including lighting a pair of large eyes on the side of the building. Best of all, the darn thing is portable. Fold it in half and Junior uses the handles to carry it around for adventures at a pal's house. The package also comes with the 24-page, young-reader-friendly book "The Lizard's Lost Treasure." Parents should toss in a few extra Playskool Heroes ($5.99 for a two-pack featuring a hero and villain) to keep the action fresh.
Flying Super Grover 2.0 (Playskool, $29.99, ages 2 to 5, two AA batteries included) It's a bird. It's a plane. It's a furry, blue Muppet. The famed Sesame Street monster becomes every child's super hero the moment they pick him up and pretend to fly him around the room. He screams "up, up and away" as his arms rise and head turns to the direction he is moving. Dressed in cowl, cape and emblem "G" breastplate, the 15-inch, semi-plush doll also has plenty to say and sing when pressing his belt buckle. Suffice to report: Super Grover will mesmerize young owners through his talkative exploits.
S.H.I.E.L.D Helicarrier (Hasbro, $69.99, for ages 4 years old and older) Nick Fury's flying fortress gets scaled down for youngsters to take their 3?-inch Avengers aboard for new adventures. This mobile battle station is more than 3 feet long, features missile launchers, weapons locker, trap door and a Captain America action figure — with enough room to hold up to 15 more of his buddies. Gift givers should add a few extra super heroes ($7.99 each) such as Thor, Iron Man and Hulk to enhance the experience. It's not quite up to the excellence of Hasbro's previous Star Wars mega-vehicles but will still give younger Avengers fans a treat. I'll also offer a few parental warning that include blocking out enough time to assemble a bunch of pieces as well as getting a towel to muffle the cries of anguish when applying a generous collection of stickers.
Arthas and Sindragosa (Mega Bloks, $34.99, for ages 8 years old and older, 150 pieces) A blocky toy giant teams up with gaming powerhouse Blizzard to bring the mega multiplayer online World of Warcraft to life with a fantastic selection of constructible playsets. This set features cool, translucent blue bricks used to build a throne atop an iceberg. However, the stars of the show are the gorgeous female dragon with ball joints and opening mouth (more 12 inches long with an 11-inch wing span) and the 2.5-inch-tall evil Lich King Arthas with ornate armor, cape and wielding his sword Frostmourne. Owners also get a surprise piece of armor or weaponry. In this package, it was an alternate helmet for the king. Expect about a 20-minute build time for the tween in the family. More daring builders will appreciate the massive sets such as Deathwing's Stormwind Assault ($99.99, 809 pieces) and Goblin Zeppelin Ambush ($64.99, 310 pieces).
King Raven (Meccano, $34.99, for ages 8 years old and older, more than 300 pieces) Here's a really special and complex gift for fans of the famed third-person, shooter video game Gears of War. This 12-inch-long helicopter with a massive pair of rotating blades updates the classic Erector sets that used all metal pieces. Owners get mostly hard plastic parts now, and the wrenches required for assembling with screws and nuts. Once built, the copter features retractable wheels, a pair of removable machine guns and opening side doors. Fans of Lego and Mega Bloks will see their jaws drop as this is a more sophisticated model kit than blocky homage. Builders should expect 90 minutes of work to produce this masterpiece. Best of all, the package includes four, delicate 2.5-inch tall mini-figures — Delta Squad member Marcus Fenix and Clayton Carmine along with a enemy Locust Drone and a Locust Sniper, averaging 12 points of articulation each and a generous supply of detailed weaponry (a miniature Hammerburst, Lancer, Boltok Pistol, Shotgun, Gnasher shotgun and Longshot sniper rifle).
Warthog Resistance (Mega Bloks, $32.99, for ages 8 years old and older, 285 pieces) Fans of legendary video game star Master Chief and his Spartan warriors relive Halo moments away from their entertainment console through some slick block-building adventures. Owners assemble a 7-long version of the UNSC's M12 light reconnaissance ground vehicle (Warthog) that features wheels with independent suspension, machine-gun turret with cullet chain, functional tailgate with nitrogen canisters and a couple of tube-shaped weapons containers housing an assault rifle and laser rifle. They also get a mysterious Forerunner base that opens up. The final pieces to the Resistance playset are the 2-inch-tall, mini-figures. Specifically, the owner get two Spartans in green armor and an Elite Zealot in red armor, each boasting 12 points of articulation. A secondary gift for the Halo design maestro is the Halo: Battlescape III set ($44.99, 100 pieces) offering a 2-foot-long piece of detailed terrain for vehicles and figures to hang out on. The set includes part of a crumbling structure, a Forerunner Enforcer, Forerunner Sentinel and Spartan, in reddish armor, wielding an assault rifle.
The Dark Knight Rises Combo Pack (Warner Home Video, Rated PG-13, $35.99) Director Christopher Nolan's cinematic opus to DC Comic's Caped Crusader concludes with our hero in a life-and-death struggle versus the Bat breaking thug Bane. Adapting plot points from the famous comic-book story arc Knightfall from 1993, the near three-hour-long movie stars Christian Bale as the masked vigilante, Ann Hathaway as Catwoman and Tom Hardy as the near indestructible villain. It looks marvelous in high definition and will dazzle the Batman fan in the family. Owner of the three-disc Combo Pack get a Blu-ray, DVD and Ultraviolet copy of the film and bonus content including a must-see documentary on the history of the Batmobile. The Blu-ray copy even syncs to an iPad or iPhone app for access to more interactive content.
Dick Tracy (Walt Disney Home Video, Rated: PG, $26.50) Warren Beatty live-action take on Chester Gould's legendary comic strip police detective arrives finally arrives in the Blu-ray format to dazzle pop-art buffs in the family. What truly is worth watching in this 105 minute film from 1990, besides it colorful cinematography in the high-definition format, is the joyous scenery munching being performed by such legendary actors such as Al Pacino as Big Boy Caprice, Dustin Hoffman as Mumbles, Paul Sorvino as Lips Manlis and James Caan as Spuds Spaldoni. By the way, Madonna co-stars as Breathless Mahoney and sings Stephen Sondheim's Academy-Award-winning song "Sooner or Later." The only miscue here is a conspicuous lack of extras.
Men in Black 3 (Sony Picture Home Entertainment, Rated: PG-13, $40.99) Adapted from the Aircel Comics series from way back in 1990, the Men in Black movie franchise continued in 2012 with Agent J helping his partner Agent K capture a nasty alien named Boris while handling a potentially lethal, time-bending situation. The film arrives in spectacular Blu-ray format and stars Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin as an uncanny, 1960s version of Agent K. This latest MIB easily exceeded expectations for fans, crushes the second film and offers an often funny and occasionally emotional take on the franchise. Extras include a Spot the Alien game (use the Blu-ray controller to target the bad guys only) and featurettes on some stunning special effects.
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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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