- The Washington Times - Friday, August 4, 2006

Thanks to the proliferation of film, comic-book and cartoon characters, companies bombard 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 Toy Vault

Captain America

Toy Biz’s days of making action figures based on Marvel Entertainment’s stable of comic-book characters are numbered, and the company starts to wind down production with a fantastic line of 12-inch figures. Its first wave of Marvel Legends Icons offers superarticulated versions of Iron Man, Wolverine and Captain America, and each comes with a book that pays tribute to the sequential-art stars.

Figure profile: Born in 1922, Steve Rogers was a young artist orphaned at an early age. Appalled at reports of Nazi activity and believing that American entry into World War II was inevitable, he attempted to enlist in the armed forces but was rejected for his physical frailty, only to be chosen for the government project known as Operation: Rebirth. Rogers received experimental treatments that elevated him to physical perfection, and after intensive training, he became a living symbol of liberty known as Captain America.

Accessories: Steve Rogers’ alter ego gets his trusted shield (with two types of grips) and, with 30 points of articulation, he is limber enough to challenge Mr. Fantastic to a game of Twister. He comes in a slick cardboard package, similar to the packaging for the Marvel Studios line, that offers a comic-cover retrospective of his sequential-art life on its back panel.

Price: $14.99

Read all about it: The included Evolution of an Icon, a comic-sized book produced with heavy paper stock, contains a full history of the character and his powers, a bibliography and 17 pages of beautiful artwork. The pieces include covers, portraits and action poses of Captain America done by such legends as Jim Steranko, Jack Kirby and Alex Ross. Unfortunately, casual comics fans will not know the art origins because Toy Biz fails to credit any of the masterpieces.

Words to buy by: The solid-plastic (not rotosculpted) figures deliver the hyper-realistic detail that causes collectors to drool and provide enough ruggedness to give younger fans an exhaustive amount of play potential. (Versions of each character also are available unmasked to further the fervor.)

Thamuz

McFarlane Toys celebrates the 14-year-old Spawn comic book with its 29th series of action figures. The Evolutions line debuts a sextet of 6-inch gems with detailed sculpting, paints and limited articulation. (Four of the six characters have never been produced as figures.) The lineup includes the Man of Miracles, Ninja Spawn 2, Zera, Disciple, a new version of Spawn and a horrific figure nicknamed the Grand Inquisitor.

Figure profile: A demon who possesses the skills Spawn’s enemies need in order to learn Al Simmons’ hidden secrets, Thamuz is the Master of Tortures and will stop at nothing until he discerns the mysteries buried deep within Spawn’s soul. Pain and anguish are in Spawn’s future, and it is Thamuz’s great pleasure to be the provider of such things.

Accessories: The horned, caped and beautifully textured creature wears patches of golden armor and gets a small base plucked from a cave floor to mount one of his massive paws and a giant pain inflictor (a larger and more ornate version of the Klingon weapon the bat’leth) to hold in his hand. (Hint: owners must gently take apart a section of the weapon to slide it into his fist.)

Price: $9.99

Read all about it: Thamuz was featured in last fall’s double-size 150th issue of the monthly Spawn sequential-art series penciled and inked by the creator of the character, Todd McFarlane ($2.99).

Words to buy by: No play potential for the tykes, but Mr. McFarlane’s art team delivers a statuesque reminder of the fantastic stable of characters that are part of the Spawn mythology.

Strange but cool

A short look at bizarre products with a pop-culture twist.

Metropolis Adventure Set (Matchbox, $19.99)

Master toy licenser Mattel’s work with “Superman Returns” gives youngsters a chance to save the Daily Planet from a Lex Luthor-induced Kryptonite attack. The miniature play set can be assembled in minutes (with a parent’s help) and offers a 12-inch-tall reproduction of the famed newspaper building, a few ramps, a breakaway street, a vehicle lift and a cardboard cityscape to set up the action.

The set comes with a detachable piece of Kryptonite crystal, a yacht and a 1:64 scale 1965 Ford Mustang GT that can be maneuvered to coast down a ramp, crash into the yacht (to detach the boat from its port base) and drive aboard it (to crash into its cabin and trigger it to crack open). Most important, fans get 1½-inch representations of Superman and Lex Luthor.

General Grievous (Sideshow Collectibles, $450)The cyborg Supreme Commander of the Trade Federation’s droid army is immortalized in this 25-inch-tall premium-format statue. The 1/4-scale homage combines plastic, metal and polystone to present a massive figure that wields four light sabers, one clutched by each of his robotic limbs.

Even more impressive, the piece highlights the general’s organs through a translucent green chest cavity, and he gets a detailed fabric cape with holders for his sabers. The 27-pound trophy’s price point makes it a prohibitive purchase for the average human, but for those willing to make the sacrifice, it will become a coveted centerpiece for a Star Wars memorabilia collection.

‘Alien Laboratory’ (Bandai, $29.99) Cartoon Network’s “Ben 10,” created by a group of sequential-art stars (Joe Casey, Joe Kelly, Duncan Rouleau and Steve Seagle), highlights the life of 10-year-old Ben Tennyson, who uses a device on his wrist to transform himself into 10 alien creatures.

Now younger fans can take part in the program as they unfold a 14-inch-long version of the famed “Rust Bucket” RV to enter a world of analysis and experimentation. The vehicle opens to reveal multiple research stations and comes with enough equipment to keep a 6-year-old entertained for at least a few hours.

For example, scientists can use the beaker, test tube and spoon to dissolve a pair of alien rocks into water and find one of Ben’s transformations. They also can use the Omnitrix Alien Viewer (a simplified View Master) to examine cels from the three animation discs or use the alien molds and reusable clay to create all of Ben’s alter egos.

Additionally, each figure in the 4-inch line of Ben 10 Alien characters ($4.99, sold separately) fits within the RV set and comes with an animation disc for the Omnitrix viewer.

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