Friday, February 23, 2007

Part one of two

NEW YORK — Time was when I would find myself climbing lots of stairs to avoid the massive crush of buyers jammed into elevators at the busy International Toy Center building at 200 Fifth Ave. during my annual pilgrimage to the American International Toy Fair.

Last week, however, my reason for using the stairs was that the elevators barely worked as I tried to visit the few companies still there, holdouts at a place that once was the apex of creativity for toy makers.

The building has been sold and gutted to create condos or office space. As I roamed the dusty, broken halls, I sadly reflected on the 87-year history of the structure, which saw the debut of such giants as G.I. Joe and Barbie.

I also was part of its history over the 10 years I visited with companies. Special moments for me included meetings with Regis Philbin as he demonstrated a “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” hand-held game; a talk with Rosie O’Donnell, who promoted Miss Spider plush dolls; and even an encounter with John Travolta, who stopped by the Trendmasters showroom to ogle his “Battlefield Earth” action figures.

It is a history that must be carried over to the massive warehouse known as the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and a few showrooms scattered around the Big Apple.

Reflections aside, I still managed to compose myself and find an abundance of toys, action figures and multimedia creations based on comic books, cartoons, movies and pop-culture icons.

Here, by company, are some of the best to be released this year.


Expect the home of G.I Joe, who celebrates his 25th anniversary this year, to dominate toy aisles in 2007 thanks to its multitude of pop-culture products based on Marvel Comics and “Star Wars” universes as well as its classic property, coming to theaters in July as a live-action movie, “Transformers.”

• First, the popular minifigure squad-based game Attacktix gets new figures added to its core collections culled from all of Hasbro’s key licenses. That means more booster packs ($4.99 for two figures) and starter sets ($9.99) filled with Jedi and Sith, an Optimus Prime or two and comic-book characters such as Sandman, Spider-Man (who knocks opponents down as he swings around a pole) and the preferred gray version of the Incredible Hulk.

• To celebrate “Spider-Man 3,” Hasbro offers a long list of items: 28 6-inch-tall action figures ($7.99 each) to be released throughout the year (the Venom variants are especially cool); a Spider-Man versus Venom Nerf Blaster play set ($29.99); and the Mr. Potato Head Spider Spud ($9.99), which comes with 12 parts to change between Peter Parker and Spidey.

• The 30th anniversary of the first “Star Wars” film means an avalanche of 33/4-inch figures ($6.99 each), including a Ralph McQuarrie Stormtrooper and a heavily battle-damaged Darth Vader. Even more impressive is a deluxe Darth Vader Transformer ($49.99) play set in which Darth changes from the evil Sith Lord to a Death Star and comes packaged with microvehicles and figures.

• in addition to plenty of action figures under the “Transformers” movie moniker, children will find the Ultimate Bumblebee ($89.99), which changes from a Chevrolet Camaro concept car featured in the film to the beloved character, more than two decades old. It offers lights, sounds and a cut of Devo’s “Whip It” to round out the fun.

Also, the Optimus Prime Voice Changer Helmet ($29.99) looks ripped from the film and gives fans a chance to play roles: They can sound like a robot, speak familiar phrases and hear Optimus transform.

• I do not have enough room to mention all the toys tied to the film “Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer,” but I would keep an eye out for the Fantasticar ($19.99), which can accommodate Hasbro’s 6-inch FF action-figure lineup and comes with a Super Stretch Mr. Fantastic figure.

Fantasma Toys

I am not sure how this producer of magic sets was able to snag former designers of the action-figure maker Toy Biz (now called Marvel Toys), but Chief Executive Officer Roger Dreyer has put together a great-looking and quirky lineup of tricks, gags and games to astound fans of the mighty Marvel Comics universe.

m The coolest is called the Spidey Sense Spider-Man game and comes with a statue of the hero. He lights up and speaks whenever he passes over a card hiding his archenemy, Venom. Also, the company is putting out a Sudoku board game that uses the mugs of Marvel’s finest rather than numbers.

• Pranksters in the family will appreciate a Peter Parker squirting camera, the old gum snapper trick and Hulk gum, which turns an unlucky chewer’s mouth green. A classic illusion box also is coming soon; magicians can pour sand into it, slide it closed and open it again to reveal a miniature Sandman figure ($7 to $18). Finally, the Marvel Heroes Puzzling Powers metal key chains ($4.99) provide a metal figure and chain illusion.

Diamond Select Toys

Timonium, Md.’s own showcased a delectable assortment of figures and products for the pop-culture connoisseur.

• I really liked the 8-inch-tall retro series of Star Trek action figures ($18 each) that harken back to the 1970s Mego lineup and feature cloth costumes and detailed accessories. Characters to be offered include Captain Kirk, Spock, Dr. McCoy, a Klingon, Romulan and an Andorian.

• Also, one of my favorite comic-book miniseries from last year, Marvel Zombies, gets an action-figure set and statue release.

• Fans will find a series of Marvel Select figures (sculpted by Art Asylum founder Digger) that include Spider-Man (with a removable leg), Captain America (with a removable cranium slice) and the Hulk. Each figure also comes with an extra piece to assemble the grisly remains of the Silver Surfer.

• The 10-inch-tall Marvel Milestone Zombie Spider-Man and Mary Jane polystone statue is based on the classic comic cover of Spidey’s wedding issue but for the Zombie series ($125). Owners get a ghoulish piece sculpted by Rudy Garcia that shows the undead Spidey as he props up his deceased bride, who is dressed in a white, but bloody, wedding gown.

Next week: Boba Fett poses with himself, Lucas gets Lego-ized and Marvel Toys does not make Marvel toys.

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