- The Washington Times - Friday, October 6, 2006

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 Toy Vault

Hong Kong Phooey

McFarlane Toys honors the work of a legendary animation studio with its new line of 3-D replicas based on Hanna-Barbera cartoons. The first series captures many of the iconic moments from the studio’s rich history through minidioramas loaded with characters, color and memories. The first sets available include Fred Flintstone on a chopper, a pair of Tom and Jerry scenes and one cool masked canine that was quicker than the human eye.

Figure profile: Mild-mannered police station janitor Penrod Pooch unleashes his fists of fury on evildoers as Hong Kong Phooey. Whenever he hears a call for action, he ducks into a filing cabinet, does a quick change into his classic kung fu outfit, grabs his trusty feline sidekick Spot and goes out to right wrongs.

Accessories: The 4-inch-tall powerhouse, with three points of articulation, displays some martial arts action while in midjump when a lever on his base is pulled. His legs kick up and his hand karate chops a robber while his trusted pal Spot looks on in amazement.

Price: $11.99

Read all about it: Charlton Comics offered a Hong Kong Phooey comic book series that lasted for only nine issues in 1975. Only the most persistent collectors will be able to run down well-preserved copies of the classic sequential art ($30 average per near-mint issue).

Words to buy by: McFarlane’s design team always delivers exceptional detail at a price for the masses. Older collectors who appreciate animation history will consume the sets, while youngsters may be confused at what all the fuss is about.

The Riddler

KidsWB!’s latest animated incarnation of the Dark Knight gets celebrated through Mattel’s abundant supply of action figures and products based on the DC Comics legend. The Batman EXP (extreme power) series of 5-inch-tall characters continues with a collection of familiar villains and permutations of the hero, all with a superpowered weapon. The latest includes Midnight Ninja Batman, Crazy Cut-Up Joker, Criminal Capture Batman and an archenemy that has never managed to stump the Caped Crusader.

Figure profile: The brilliance of evil genius Edward (Nigma) Nashton is highlighted by his fanatical use of mind-bending conundrums that have given him the official bad guy moniker of the Riddler. In his latest incarnation for “The Batman,” his gaunt facial features and long black hair could have him confused with a colorful version of Marilyn Manson rather than Frank Gorshin or Jim Carrey’s more traditional interpretations.

Accessories: Mattel does not include his characteristic cane but opts for a massive scythelike weapon in the shape of a question mark. Owners can attach the device to the Riddler’s arm and use a button to release a spring-loaded, translucent green blade. However, good luck getting the figure to stand up when he wears the device.

Price: $6.99

Read all about it: DC Comics offers a monthly ode to the cartoon series titled The Batman Strikes ($2.25 each), and issue No. 17 actually features the Prince of Puzzles.

Words to buy by: Younger lovers of the Riddler and the Bat certainly have more than enough ways to exploit their play potential. The economically priced and mildly articulated figure line will deliver the fun alone, but when parents throw in the latest EXP Batmobile ($24.99) — which comes to life through lights on the engine and rear wheel rims, a missile launcher and plenty of car sounds — Junior may never leave his playroom.

Strange but cool

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

Marvel Heroes POG Game

(Funrise, $9.99)

An early 1990s game phenom (with roots back to the 1930s) tries to get a jump start in the new millennium with help from some comic book superstars. POGs (milk caps from passion-fruit, orange and guava juice) are now simply coin-shaped (about the size of a silver dollar), collectible game pieces that sport a wide variety of art designs on their sides.

Players compete by combining their collections into a stack, face down, and each takes turns hitting the stack with a heavier, and usually more ornate POG, called the Slammer. Each player keeps the POGs he turns over in each round.

Funrise’s new line offers an initial series of POGs (60 different pieces) and slammers that feature an eclectic line of Marvel superheroes and villains in group and individual poses, illustrated on one side by such artists as Adam Kubert, Andy Kubert and Greg Horn.

The core game set includes 22 POGs, a circular board (enhanced with a group shot of heroes), two slammers and a rule book. Additional purchases to expand the POG experience include booster packs ($2.99 each for five POGs and a plastic slammer) and Slam ‘Ems — heavy-duty, embossed metal slammers ($4.99 each).

Itsy Bitsy Spider-Man

(Hasbro, $24.99, four AA batteries included)

Hasbro ushers in its new partnership with Marvel Entertainment through a plush toy that gives the Tickle Me Elmo crowd a preschool version of everybody’s favorite Web slinger.

This nearly 16-inch-tall, active Spider-Man comes to life with the touch of buttons hidden in the top of either foot. He will either sing, in a child’s voice, “Itsy Bitsy Spider” or the first verse of the rocking Spidey theme song from the 1960s cartoon with musical accompaniment and plenty of giggles. As he vocalizes and asks the owner to sing along, his arms lift and his hands spin and he sways a bit back and forth.

The toy is cute, hip and a great introduction to a legendary comic book character. In addition, parents can even turn the volume down after they get a wee bit tired of the woeful tale of an arachnid that crawls up a waterspout.

Zadzooks! wants to know you exist. Call 202/636-3016, fax 202/269-1853, e-mail jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com, visit Zadzooks at the blog section of The Washington Times’ Web site (www.washingtontimes.com/blogs/) or write to Joseph Szadkowski at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.

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