- The Washington Times - Friday, February 24, 2006

First of two parts

NEW YORK — Chased by a snowstorm on my way to this year’s American International Toy Fair and then consumed by it, I felt like an extra in an Irwin Allen film rather than a reporter as I visited showrooms around town and the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center to see the latest toys associated with comic books, cartoons and movies.

Despite missed flights, surly cab drivers and mounds of snow that quickly turned into small lakes at nearly every New York street corner, more than 10,000 buyers and representatives from about 1,000 companies were on hand to conduct business in a year that will feature potential blockbusters such as “Superman Returns,” “X-Men 3,” “Cars” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.”

Here are just some of the licensed pop-culture products to land on store shelves in the near future that may capture the imagination of collectors and youngsters.

Lego

With the Batman license from Warner Bros. secured, Lego between April and August will offer six buildable Batman sets loaded with the Dark Knight’s most formidable villains. The best include a version of the Batcave (1,071 pieces, $89.99) that includes minifigures of Batman, Robin, Alfred, the Penguin and Mr. Freeze to interact within a two-level control center featuring a costume transformation chamber and prison cell.

Also, Batwing: The Joker’s Aerial Assault (523 pieces, $49.99) offers the Clown Prince of Crime and a henchman in his hidden-weapons-loaded helicopter challenging Batman in his sleek rocket-equipped aircraft.

Next, SpongeBob SquarePants arrives at Lego in August in the Adventures of Bikini Bottom construction set (579 pieces, $39.99). It features SpongeBob’s famed pineapple home, Squidward’s Tiki abode, a jellyfish launcher and Patrick’s TV along with minifigures of the yellow porifora, Patrick, Squidward, Gary, Plankton and eight jellyfish.

Star Wars will continue to be a Force for building fanatics this fall with Lego’s Jabba the Hutt’s Sail Barge (781 pieces, $74.99). Based on a pivotal scene from the 1983 “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” film, the set comes with a barge featuring a removable center deck to access the weapons area, an escort skiff with plank and even a Sarlocc pit as minifigures of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Lando Calrissian and R2-D2 battle against miniature representations of Boba Fett, Jabba and a Gamorrean Guard.

Art Asylum

No longer part of the Play Along toy company, Digger and his design team of Art Asylum strike out on their own and immediately have grabbed the Speed Racer license. Expect a whole bunch of 5-inch action figures, gyro racing vehicles and Mini-Mates this year, with bonus DVDs of animated episodes placed in the packages to cover the exploits of the famed reimagined racing team.

Also, this premier Mini-Mate maker will continue to put out 3½-inch block figures based on Marvel Comics characters (along with an exclusive Mini-Mate cartoon) and has added the Battlestar Galactica license to offer miniversions of characters and vehicles from the current show, seen on the Sci-Fi Network, as well as the 1980s space-fantasy epic .

Toy Biz

The company may no longer produce Marvel action figures in 2007 (its fate is still being decided by the recent Hasbro news), but they go out with a bang with an enormous number of items.

Some of the best include Toy Biz’s 12-inch line of Marvel Legends Icons (especially when considering the $14.99 price point). Each superarticulated version of either Captain America, Wolverine or Iron Man looks ready to jump from its colorful package and comes with a book, “Evolution of an Icon,” that is crammed with art and covers the history of the character.

Also, this year, its Marvel Legends Masterworks line provides an affordable entrance into displayable dioramas that bring famous comic-book covers to three-dimensional life. Look for the first issue of the Fantastic Four and a Spider-Man/Green Goblin confrontation re-creation, with a 32-page comic book, this August ($14.99 each).

Hasbro

Overshadowing most of what the home of G.I. Joe would display for its boys’ collection this year was the announcement that Hasbro had entered into an agreement with Marvel Entertainment to produce action figures based on its famed superhero characters in 2007.

Before the avalanche hits, the company managed to showcase a selection of products to satiate Star Wars and Transformers fans for 2006.

The best tributes to the Skywalker clan’s adventures are die-cast 33/4-inch versions of Darth Vader and Boba Fett ($15.99 each) as part of the Titanium Series collection this March.

Also, a continuation of the Attacktix collectible action-figure game adds Transformers characters into the mix to culminate with the Star Wars vs. Transformers Intergalactic Showdown Pack ($19.99) in August. It contains six battle figures, including Darth Vader and Optimus Prime, as well as a larger battle-master figure with more firepower.

Hasbro’s Transformers line, which has a popular animated show on the Cartoon Network and a comic-book series, continues its support of the Cybertron story through the release this fall of such figures as a 14-inch-tall Primus ($49.99) with an Omega Lock system that activates its electronic lights and sounds, and projectile weaponry, and Metroplex ($39.99), a 13-inch-tall robot that changes into a planet and also wields an electronic battle-ax.

Next week: A Bounty Hunter admires his former employer, and the Man of Steel is really full of hot air.


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