- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 4, 2005

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 Batman Toy Vault

Action Cape Batman

The Dark Knight returns to the big screen June 15, when Christian Bale dons the cowl in “Batman Begins.” Master toy licensor Mattel Inc. helps children appreciate the DC Comics superhero’s cinematic exploits though a variety of role-playing possibilities. In addition to 3 3/4-inch action figures featuring the main heroes and villains of the new movie, a new Batcave and plenty of slick vehicles, the line includes a 14-inch version of the vigilante.

Figure profile: In the wake of his parents’ murder, disillusioned industrial heir Bruce Wayne travels the world seeking the means to fight injustice and turn fear against those who prey on the fearful.

He returns to Gotham and debuts his alter ego: Batman, a masked crusader who uses his strength and intellect and an array of high-tech deceptions to fight the sinister forces that threaten the city.

Accessories: Children get only a pliable gold Batarang to place in the hand of a figure wearing a permanent plastic costume that boasts 25 points of articulation and whose noggin resembles that of Mr. Bale. Additionally, a contraption attached to the back of the Dark Knight can be extended with a push of a button, which causes his cloth cape to move into gliding position.

Although the box recommends the toy for anyone 4 or older, the up-to-8-year-old crowd definitely will have a problem bending some of the joints of their new Batman and will bust, or at least bend, the ribs of the cape gadget after their first battle with comparable 12-inch buddies.

Price: $19.99

Read all about it: DC Comics offers the trade paperback “Batman Begins: The Movie and Other Tales of the Dark Knight” ($12.99), which compiles the official sequential-art adaptation of the film plus a quartet of classic tales created by such comic-book luminaries as Scott Beatty, Kilian Plunkett, Dennis O’Neil, Dick Giordano and Greg Rucka.

Words to buy by: Mattel’s Action Cape Batman suffers from the same identity crisis as the character on which it is based. Is it a toy or a display item? If it’s a toy, it needs a bit less fragility and way more accessories; even a removable cowl would be appreciated. If it’s a keepsake, it needs sculpting and clothing detail comparable to what Sideshow Collectibles offers in its line of 12-inch figures.

Strange but cool

In celebration of the new Batman film, companies have plenty of reasons to release a torrent of merchandise geared toward the Caped Crusader fan.

The Batman Batcycle

(Play Along, 76 pieces, $14.99)

Comparable to Lego or Mega Bloks, the C3 Construction Sets incorporate buildable vehicles and structures with micro-block action figures based on the DC Comics universe.

This easy-to-build 7-inch-long Batcycle, geared for the 7-years-and-older crowd, features coolant tubes; removable stealth recon minidrones attached to the front tire spoke; rubber tires; and a very finicky torpedo launcher that occasionally jettisons a red plastic missile — if owners can get it to stay loaded.

However, the jewel of the constructible set is a pair of Art Asylum 3-inch highly detailed Mini-Mates figures — one of an armor-clad Batman with removable helmet, working visor (hiding an angry Bruce Wayne face) and detachable cape, and the other of the famed villain Man-Bat with wings attached to his arms and removable headdress.

What the C3 sets lack in slick innovations they make up for with a crystal-clear instruction guide, fully colored pieces (no stickers required) and those marvelous Mini-Mates that go beyond the call of duty in representing comic-book characters.

Other sets to the Batman line include a Batcopter with Tactical Batman figure (111 pieces, $24.99) and a Mini-Flyer Pod with classically garbed Batman figure (39 pieces, $7.99).

‘Batman Begins’ Batmobile

(Mattel, $29.99)

Another Batman film means a new design for his most trusted mode of transportation, and this vehicle is one of the coolest. Looking like a mix between a tank and an urban Hummer, the latest Batmobile combines speed, stealth and power.

Its 13-inch-long toy version includes a battle-damaged

black paint job, two buttons to ignite a rocket engine and laser sounds (along with both rear and front lights), and a button that makes the car “attack ready” by springing out twin side projectile launchers.

The cockpit, with opening top, completes the black beauty and accommodates most of Mattel’s 5-inch Batman action-figure line ($6.99 each) — such as the Power Punch Batman, with attachable metallic missile-loaded arms, and the Scarecrow, who gets a revolving head and a weapon that can squirt water to represent his diabolical fear gas.

Batman Monopoly

(USAopoly, $35.95)

Based on the comic book and not the film, the reimagined classic board game features a journey through Gotham City that junior real estate magnates will truly appreciate.

Featuring original comic-book art from DC Comics; black-and-yellow dice; and six collectible pewter tokens of Batman, Robin, Catwoman, the Batmobile, the Joker’s chattering teeth and the Bat Signal, the game has up to six players buying bad-guy properties such as Killer Croc’s Treatment Plant, Man-Bat’s Nocturnal Zoo and Poison Ivy’s Botanical Gardens, as well as Batman’s lairs, such as Wayne Manor and the Batcave, to amass an empire.

Batman Watch Set

(Armitron, 19.99)

Children can keep track of their busy lives in Dark Knight style with a timepiece worn on the wrist and emblazoned with their favorite DC Comics superhero. The watch features a four-digit LCD display to reveal the date and time. The set also includes a mini Bat Signal projector that, using a Viewmaster-type interface, projects onto walls 16 illustrated moments of the hero in action via a pair of discs. The entire time-keeping tamale arrives in a collector’s tin with a see-through top that is covered with more Bat designs.

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