- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 3, 2008

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.

Iron Man: Mark 01

Marvel Comics’ Golden Avenger comes to life through Hasbro’s latest series of Iron Man action figures. With designs based on the live-action movie currently in theaters, the first wave of 6-inch multiarticulated gems highlights the evolution of the character’s armor along with the film’s main villain.

On store shelves, youngsters will find Iron Man Mark 02 (with a firing missile), Iron Man Mark 03 (with launching repulsor blasts), Iron Man Prototype (with snap-on armor), the evil Iron Monger (with super-fist-smash action) and Iron Man Mark 01, the original version of the costume that turned Tony Stark into a legend.

Figure profile: Trapped and forced to build advanced weapons for a vicious rebel group, billionaire industrialist Tony Stark builds a powerful armor suit to escape. Flamethrowers in the arms create a fiery corridor before him, chasing off his attackers and lighting his way to freedom.

Accessories: This metallic gray version of Iron Man pays tribute to the character’s first comics appearance back in the classic Tales of Suspense No. 39 from 1963. Although re-imagined for the film with much more detail, it still looks as if Stark has been stuck in an aluminum can. The Mark 01 has 20 points of articulation and a translucent orange projectile that is placed in a launcher on the figure’s right arm and shot like an arrow by the toy’s owner.

Price: $9.99

Read all about it: Iron Man’s near half-century in comics translates into a bonanza for the sequential-art lover. I suggest either the soon-to-be released “The Invincible Iron Man Omnibus, Volume 1” (hardcover, $99) which reprints Silver Age stories from Tales of Suspense Nos. 39 to 83 and Tales to Astonish No. 82, or the much more current Iron Man: Viva Las Vegas ($3.99 each). The Vegas four-issue miniseries is written by “Iron Man” movie director Jon Favreau and beautifully drawn by Adi Granov, who worked on the armor designs for the film.

What’s it worth? Sorry collectors, but these are toys much better suited to the hands of imaginative youngsters than the confines of a display case. My tester immediately gravitated toward the Mark 01 and Iron Monger figures for a very satisfactory first battle.

The only deficiency seen with the first set of figures is that the knee joints in the Mark 03 and Mark 02 designs loosen up much too quickly. Additionally, the shoulder armor pieces from both fall off easily.

Pop bytes

Here’s a look at more Hasbro products tied to the release of Paramount Pictures’ “Iron Man,” which stars Robert Downey Jr. as the famed comic-book character.

Repulsor-Power Iron Man ($19.99, uses 3 AAA batteries, included). This 12-inch-tall figure delivers the best of what Iron Man represents — slick technology packed into cool-looking armor. Based on the Mark 03 movie design, the gold-and-crimson figure may have just nine points of articulation, but it boasts loads of activated sound effects.

For example, motion sensors deliver flight and battle sounds when the figure is lifted and moved around, while a landing “swoosh” is heard as it is placed back on the ground. Synthesized voice snippets such as “I am Iron Man,” “Target engaged,” “repulsor blast” and “auxiliary power” are heard when the center chest weapon is pressed.

Additionally, the left palm lights up when the arm is lifted to simulate a repulsor blast, and the right palm can load included translucent orange projectiles into a spring-based launcher.

• Mask and Repulsor Gauntlet ($19.99). This set is the only dud in the Iron Man lineup. Considering Hasbro’s previous successes with role-playing items, it should not be this lame. Instead of a great Iron Man mask like the Transformers’ Optimus Prime Voice Changer Helmet, owners get a cheap piece of plastic held in place with a stretchy Velcro band.

The gauntlet has promise, as the owner uses a Velcro strap to attach it to his wrist and can pull a trigger to fire six hard-plastic coin-shaped projectiles. Unfortunately, the missiles’ weak velocity delivers a range of only a few feet.

The low-tech feel of the gauntlet also makes little sense because Hasbro easily could have tapped into its Nerf technology. A better design would shoot foam projectiles with a battery-powered propulsion system to present a satisfying experience without poking out an eye.

• N.R.F. 425 Blaster ($19.99). Developed by Stark Industries, this rapid-fire hand-held weapon slightly updates the Nerf Mag Strike gun seen in 2006. Basically, a red-and-yellow paint scheme differentiates it, but the gun still delivers a potent piece of the Nerf arsenal.

It combines air power and a magazine loaded with 10 soft foam darts with plastic suction-cup tips. Owners pump the weapon, and an air chamber fills, ready to propel the darts. Pull the trigger, and the effect is a gratifying maelstrom of foam firepower.

A welcome addition to the package is a 12-inch-by-20-inch sticker sheet featuring the Iron Monger and four targets. Parents will appreciate that the sheet includes some test strips to make sure the stickers — which work best on smooth surfaces such as mirrors — won’t strip paint from the walls.

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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