- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2009

NEW YORK - This year’s four-day American International Toy Fair offered a surprisingly calm atmosphere, helped by a smaller-than-usual crowd and pleasant weather in the Big Apple.

In fact, if it weren’t for an appearance by Michael Bay, director of “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” at Hasbro‘s showroom, I would have dozed off occasionally after being introduced to the gamut of toys associated with comic books, cartoons and movies.

Hasbro easily dominated the competition, supporting four mega pop-culture licenses: Star Wars, G.I. Joe, Transformers and Marvel. Add the fact that three are tied to upcoming movies nearly guaranteed to be blockbusters (“G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and the fourth is a “gold standard” supported by the current cartoon series “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” and Hasbro should have a major lock on parents’ money supply as well as plenty of stock on toy aisles throughout the year.

Here’s a breakdown of the best the toy giant has to offer.

Let’s start with G.I. Joe, a fellow who celebrates his 45th anniversary this year. First, expect a full lineup of 3-inch ($7.99) as well as 12-inch figures ($15.99) throughout 2009 based on classic characters from the G.I. Joe vs. Cobra conflict, as well as movie counterparts. Yes, Sienna Miller’s Baroness will be available as well as multiple versions of Ninja Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow.

A dream play set for fans with an abundance of 3 3/4-inch figures arrives in the PIT Mobile Headquarters ($99.99; summer). A massive assault vehicle opens into a sprawling 3-foot structure. The multilevel control center comes with electronic sounds, living quarters, weapons storage and an elevator. It includes an exclusive Gen. Clayton “Hawk” Abernathy figure.

Next, imagine the Real American Hero as RoboCop, and you get the Accelerator Suit Duke ($69.99; summer). A 12-inch figure bound in an exoskeleton, it simulates a running motion with a handgrip control; has motorized head, arm and torso movements; and speaks 50 phrases, complete with moving lips.

Hasbro’s Transformers celebrate their 25th anniversary this year with a lineup heavily weighted toward the movie release.

One of the best figure sets devoted to the film begins with the Human Alliance collection, which offers a 2-inch action figure and scaled robot to ride or hide on ($29.99; August). Expect Bumblebee with Sam Witwicky to sell quickly.

Also, much as with last year’s great Optimus Prime helmet, young fans can role-play with the Bumblebee Movie Voice Mixer Helmet ($39.99; late May). Its features include a radio voice-mixing effect, robot battle sounds and radio tune-in phrases.

The new movie’s villain comes to life through the Constructicon Devastator ($99.99; August). This classic and monstrous foe of the Autobots, made up of six construction vehicles, should be a handful for collectors.

Anybody remember Star Wars? Young children have been mesmerized by Cartoon Network’s “Clone Wars” series - trust me - and that leads to another year of toys based on a galaxy far, far away.

The key item for the proud owner of a 3 3/4-inch collection of Clone Troopers is the Clone Turbo Tank ($99.99; fall). Thankfully, it looks much sturdier than last year’s AT-TE, sporting 10 large tires. This deluxe field vehicle holds up to 20 figures and includes a detachable command center, multiple missile launchers, a hidden crow’s nest, electronic sounds, running lights, phrases from the cartoon and a launchable speeder bike.

Role-playing finds a home with the Captain Rex Electronic Helmet ($39.99; fall). Based on designs from one of the most famous Clone Troopers, it features an antenna with a working light, internal and external speakers, and a voice-disguise amplifier. The internal speaker offers seven command phrases from Anakin and Yoda, while the external speaker plays 11 more signature phrases.

Supporting an animated Spectacular Spider-Man and Wolverine television series and actor Hugh Jackman donning the claws in a solo Wolverine movie, it’s another big year for Hasbro’s partnership with Marvel Entertainment.

Hasbro has made big changes in its lineup of Marvel action figures. First, gone are the 6-inch-tall Marvel Legends, replaced by a 3-inch collection called Marvel Universe ($7.99 for single packs; available throughout the year). The selection of popular characters for collectors includes Ultimate Captain America, X-Force Wolverine, Red Hulk and Moon Knight. Look for 34 single-pack figures to be released this year, along with multiple two-packs that include a comic book, all with accessories and a bio card.

There’s more role play courtesy of the X-Men with Wolverine’s Electronic Claw ($19.99; spring). Childrenslip the gauntlet on a hand, and when they quickly jut it forward, a retractable claw pops out, complete with sound effects and phrases from the feral fellow.

Peter Parker’s alter ego checks in with his animated persona for the Wisecrackin’ Electronic Spider-Man ($19.99; spring). The 12-inch posable companion for children offers signature phrases such as “My spider-sense is tingling,” plenty of web-slinging sounds and web projectiles.

Next week: Lego feels the Force, Jakks Pacific in Disguise and Mattel’s Brave and the Bold Batman.

* Visit Zadzooks at the blog section of The Washington Times’ Community pages (www.washingtontimes.com/communities/zadzooks).

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