- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 29, 2009

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 G.I. Joe Toy Vault.

Accelerator Suit Duke

Hasbro has put G.I. Joe into the hands of young fans since 1964. Its latest lineup draws inspiration from not only Paramount Pictures’ new film, but also its popular 1980s Real American Hero action figures, which encompassed animated shows and hundreds of comic books.

Highlights on store shelves waiting to deliver a devastating attack on parents’ bank accounts include 12-inch dolls of Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow ($15.99 to $22.99), 3 3/4-inch representations of Anthony “Flash” Gambello, Shana “Scarlett” O’Hara, Wallace “Ripcord” Weems, Cobra Commander and Heavy Duty ($7.99 each) and vehicles such as the Mole Pod, Rockslide’s A.T.A.V. and a Cobra Gunship (each with a figure, $15.99 to $24.99).

One of its pinnacle pieces is a 16-inch powerhouse providing a perfect example of G.I. Joe and his technological evolution.

Figure profile (from the box): Conrad “Duke” Hauser is an integral member of the International G.I. Joe team and a former Special Forces Army captain. His high-tech suit increases his speed and strength and has a laser-enhanced LED head-up display and computerized communications helmet.

Accessories: This motorized, light-up talking action figure with 12 points of articulation takes its design from the movie’s Delta-6 Accelerator technology. Reminiscent of Robocop’s brother, it runs on four AA batteries (included) and has a pair of buttons to help bring him to life. The chest emblem activates phrases and animation, while the back hip button triggers lights and sound effects (even a bit of the classic theme song), depending on which weapon the hero is holding.

Here are a couple of “I can’t believe how cool that is” moments as reported by a guy who still has his 1965 G.I. Joe.

* Duke’s lips move when he speaks. Yeah, it’s not an exact match, but it’s quite a surprise the first time the helmeted hero says, “This is Duke. Calling all Joes, yo Joe.” He supposedly says 100 phrases.

* Put a gun in his hand and hear a click as you position his hand while Duke describes what he is holding.

* The spinning, light-up Gatling submachine gun on his left wrist will bedazzle the owner but can drive parents nuts with the loud shooting noises.

* Twist a handle on his back, and it will act as a trigger that, when squeezed, puts Duke’s legs in a running motion, complete with lights, nearly flailing appendages and a computer voice clocking his speeds, of course. Move the trigger back around, and his legs become sturdy and articulated for a standing position.

Price: $69.99

Read all about it: IDW Publishing is offering a three-issue sequential-art adaptation of the movie plus a four-issue prequel miniseries. Issues are $3.99 each, while the associated trade paperbacks sell for $17.99. In addition, the company is reprinting much of the old Marvel G.I. Joe comics in six-issue “best of” trade paperbacks ($19.99 each).

What’s it worth? I thought the more complex Transformers were expensive, but Duke edges out his pop-culture brethren. This fellow presents a difficult question for parents: How long will a 10-year-old play with a figure, no matter how many lights and noises it makes, if it’s not scaled to any other action figures he owns?

For almost $70, a kid could get quite a collection of 3 3/4-inch Joes with a few vehicles thrown in.

No doubt, Accelerator Suit Duke is an impressive creation, but time will tell if it is just an expensive gimmick destined for a collector’s shelf or a toy to be heavily used in a playroom.

Strange and cool

A look at another toy devoted to the G.I. Joe movie and franchise.

* PIT Mobile Headquarters (Hasbro, $99.99, requires three AA batteries) - Thought the Accelerator Suit Duke figure was expensive? This massive homage to the G.I. Joe team’s underground command center costs a cool Ben Franklin.

The owner pulls up on its top handle to convert the 2-foot-long rolling vehicle into a 3-foot-wide, 18-inch-tall, multilevel stationary headquarters. It offers imaginative play potential with a training facility, living quarters, storage depot and enough foot pegs to position 84 3 3/4-inch action figures.

Features include a cockpit area, holding cell, smash-through wall, trapdoor, working missile launcher, beds, lockers and a cardboard ping-pong table complete with two plastic paddles. Let’s also throw in a command minimodule that embeds behind the cockpit and, with the push of a pair of buttons or keyboard, mixes sound effects and voice commands such as, “Duke, please report to Level 2 security checkpoint.”

The set also has an exclusive figure of Gen. Clayton “Hawk” Abernathy from the film, and he’s packing plenty of weapons.

However, for all that is great, there’s one glaring problem that can cripple a parent’s ego: The PIT comes with six - six! - pages of stickers, and most of them should be applied to really make the set stand out. That’s more than 100 - often impossible-to-peel - stickers to be applied while junior impatiently stares dad down.

Hey, Hasbro, I bet many parents would gladly pay an extra $10 not to have to deal with that.

If we forget about the sticker debacle and the difficult-to-digest price point, the PIT Mobile Headquarters is a dream for the pre-tween G.I. Joe fan, providing hours and hours of role-play action.

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

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