- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 19, 2012

A look at toys and collectibles devoted to “The Dark Knight Rises.”

The Bat (Mattel, three AG13 button-cell batteries included, ages 4 and older, $31.99) - Roughly 12 inches long and with a handle that makes it look sort of like a Dustbuster, this multifunctional toy mimics the new flying vehicle in Batman’s latest film.

The black beauty offers missile launchers (a pair of projectiles are included), a rocket-firing sound effect, spinning propellers on its bottom and a cockpit with a clear plastic canopy to hold any of the action figures from the 4-inch Batman line.

This role-playing dynamo’s secret weapon is a 4-inch-long, soft foam version of the Dark Knight (with wings spread) that is loaded into an area behind the cockpit. The child clicks a button, a cover pops up and out shoots the hero who glides perfectly about 6 feet into a pack of thugs (thugs sold separately).

Parents will appreciate that it works perfectly with no help required, but the price might inhibit their enthusiasm.

Catwoman (DC Collectibles, $79.99) - Admirers of Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of Gotham City’s famous cat burglar can appreciate her forever through a pricey, though beautiful, statue featuring her walking down a concrete staircase.

Sculpted by Dave Cortes, the hand-painted, cold-cast porcelain masterpiece stands 7 inches tall and reveals the villain in her skin-tight black costume with silver stiletto heels popping from her shiny leather boots, mask, shiny gloves and famed feline ears. The solid base features just the hint of a bat carved into the concrete wall that Catwoman rests her hand upon.

Although Mr. Cortes‘ facial sculpt of Miss Hathaway more closely resembles Liv Tyler, the statue won’t disappoint her new fan base.

I’ll also mention an even more impressive Bane statue from Mr. Cortes and DC Entertainment ($79.99). The hand-painted brute stands atop a bat-themed base with an arm raised, holding the cowl of his mortal enemy. Highlights, such as the villain’s strained arm and neck muscles, along with extremely detailed paramilitary vest, pants and boots, add to the micro-masterpiece’s charm.

Nitro Speeders Tumbler (Mattel, Requires four AA batteries, for ages 8 and older, $29.99) - The latest version of the Dark Knight’s famed Batmobile is shrunk to less than 2 inches long and transformed into a sturdy, RC vehicle packed with power.

With help from the gold-colored, pocket-sized remote control that acts as both storage case and charger, owners plug the car into the controller using the tethered cord. After about 25 minutes, they get close to a 30-minute charge to zip around on hardwood floors and low-pile carpet. Just keep the car within a 15-foot range for maximum control.

Indoor use works better than outdoors (the slightest road debris flips the car), accelerating forward is exhilarating, reverse can have issues (especially on carpet) and tight turns as well as slick spin-outs work great for this micro vehicle. However, I could have used rubber front tires to cut down on any control issues.

Venom Menace Bane (Mattel, ages 4 and older, $9.99) - Found under the QuickTek lineup of action figures, this 4-inch-tall villain from “The Dark Knight Rises” arrives with a case-like structure that will quickly equip him with a pair of Gatling guns. After the weapons and harness are jammed up into the case, the owner crams Bane into the unit and snaps down a button to push Bane out with guns attached to his shoulder.

The bad news: This is a clunky experience with an action figure that offers only five points of articulation. The better news is the Batman lineup of cowls including Combat Claw, Missile Armor, Tank Blaster and Flight Strike (spinning propellers) work really well and offer a much better role-play opportunity.

I’m finding it hard to buy into the extended-play potential of this concept, but younger testers seemed smitten by the results.

The Dark Knight Rises Wall Track Starter Set (Mattel, ages 4 and older, $34.99) - This complex addition to a Hot Wheels fan’s collection features a black version of Batman’s Tumbler vehicle (with a plastic, not metal, body, boo-hoo) that can shoot down a course mounted to a wall using a bit of gravitational power.

Parents attach a poster-size scene of Gotham City to the wall and use Command Strips (adhesive hooks that can be temporarily affixed to the wall) to hang track brackets and keep the poster in place.

With the track assembled, the Batmobile starts from the top, hits a 360-degree loop and multiple sharp turns, can smash a wall, fly through gates and jump from a ramp at the bottom, sending it careening into the air.

What’s slick is drivers can load multiple cars at the top and they automatically will run through the course triggered by the car before them. The kit also can be added on to other Wall Track modules (sold separately).

Sounds fun the first dozen times or so, but cleanup requires very careful removal of the Command Strips.

One note: Even though I was a huge Hot Wheels fan growing up (I still have my original vehicles from the 1970s), my son never felt the micro muscle car love. Like-minded dads committing to complex track set-ups should be aware of the space requirements, the lack of replayability (the novelty wears off after about an hour) as well as finding ample room to neatly store the pieces (the box is garbage once opened) before introducing junior to the Hot Wheels legend.