- The Washington Times - Friday, March 3, 2006

Second of two parts

NEW YORK — One of the more familiar pop culture icons on the planet was hidden in secrecy at this year’s American International Toy Fair.

While walking through Fisher-Price’s showroom, I was quickly ushered into a dark, curtained-off area and introduced to a bubbly spokesman who began to reveal the latest version of the plush interactive Sesame Street star, Elmo. The little fellow is celebrating his 10th year of existence with a new model dubbed the T.M.X. (Tickle Me 10).

Unfortunately, it was only a ruse, as the spokesman pressed a button to reveal a promotional video, not of the doll, but of the few annoying humans — such as Mattel head honchos, PR folks and journalists — who have seen the interactive deity. They had no problem gushing about the product that will fill store shelves this September for $39.99.

However, a quick note to Fisher-Price. The next time I have to waste moments of my life to get monumentally teased about something, it better involve Elizabeth Hurley, Sheryl Crow and Andie MacDowell and not a 15-inch-tall Muppet.

Luckily, I was able to see plenty of other products from other companies devoted to pop culture icons. Here are some of the best related to comic books, cartoons and popular films.

Techno Source

The maker of low-cost, portable gaming systems maintains its license with Warner Bros. and Marvel Entertainment to incorporate some legendary heroes into its pixelated products.

First, the company’s Penny Arcade systems are miniature, tabletop versions of the machines seen in mall arcades that require users to actually drop a penny into the game’s slot to play while controlling the action with a joystick.

New releases this year feature The Batman: Battle in the Bay ($12.99), which has the player help the Caped Crusader tackle Killer Croc, the Penguin, Mr. Freeze and Spider-Man; and Pumpkin Bomb Barrage ($12.99), which highlights Web Head as he rescues Mary Jane from the Green Goblin.

Next, Techno’s 3-D color V.I.E.W. (Virtual Interactive Electronic Window) system takes the child into the world of superheroes when he puts on goggles and uses its side buttons to either battle Bane, the Joker and Mr. Freeze in Gotham City with the Batman version, or web sling and dodge bolts from Electro in the Spider-Man virtual version ($24.99 each).

Mega Blocks

In addition to adding new buildable characters — some with magnetic joints — based on the Marvel Comics universe, the chief rival to Lego has pulled a coup with block-building sets based on the new “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie, “Dead Man’s Chest,” which will hit theaters this summer.

Most impressive is the Black Pearl pirate ship (175 pieces, $39.99), which comes with highly detailed miniversions of Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow and Orlando Bloom as Will Turner, along with fabric sails, a pulley system, cannons that fire and deck panels that open to access the captain’s cabin.

Sideshow Collectibles

Once again, one of the leading providers of statuesque figure collectibles for the pop-culture fanatic with deep pockets does not disappoint this year with an eclectic mix of items.

Under the Marvel Comics Universe, fans will appreciate a massive Hulk vs. Spider-Man Diorama ($300) made of heavyweight polystone with a blinking stoplight showing the pair battling on a city street; a premium-format, 1-to-4-scale Spider-Man ($249) whose costume incorporates blue Spandex; and a life-size bust of Spidey’s most dangerous foe, Venom ($449), complete with clear, gooey saliva dripping from his fangs and tongue.

Under the Star Wars license, Sideshow loads up with a line of 12-inch-tall characters such as Mace Windu ($49.99), Bespin Han Solo ($49.99) and Kit Fisto ($54.99) along with a life-size bust of the bounty hunter Greedo ($599). All mix fabric, fiberglass and polystone mediums.

More niche items include a beautiful 1/4-scale rendition of Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy the Vampire Slayer ($249.00) with a polystone body and wearing a fabric dress; a maquette version of Bruce the Shark ($280) from “Jaws” and a full-scale version of the Jigsaw puppet ($225) seen in the “Saw” films.

DiamondSelect Toys

The Timonium, Md.-based company’s biggest news was grabbing the license for the third Marvel mutant film, “X-Men: Final Stand” and announcing the release later this year of statues and busts based on the scanned likenesses of the actors from the film as well as a selection of Minimates.

Also, it continues its collectible, limited-edition resin diorama sets with the Sinister Six line of seven individual, 7-inch-tall statues ($85 each) whose bases all connect, so that Spider-Man is surrounded by Kraven, Vulture, Electro, Doc Ock, Sandman and Mysterio.

Mattel

The big news from the home of Barbie and Elmo was the products associated with the “Superman Returns” film arriving in June. The company is set to release 5-inch-tall basic figure assortments ($5.99 each); the Ultimate Powers Superman ($24.99); a 12-inch-tall, motion-activated hero ($19.99) with flying and punching sounds; and a Truck Lifting Superman Playset ($14.99) that includes a destructible vehicle and figure.

Some of its Man of Steel specialty products include the Inflato-Suit ($21.99), which lets youngsters pump up their physique while wearing the legendary costume with help from a battery-operated fan; the 16-inch-tall radio-controlled Flying Superman ($59.99), which can be launched up to 300 feet into the air as owners maneuver him with a two-channel controller; and a Superman Returns Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Game ($13.99), which replaces those famed battling robots with our hero and the evil Metallo.

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