Friday, December 31, 2004

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.

Black Gates of Mordor Gift Pack

Toy Biz maintains the three-dimensional legacy of director Peter Jackson’s cinematic ode to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth through a slew of “Lord of the Rings” action figures. The products of computer-assisted digital sculpting techniques to capture the exact likenesses of the actors of the film trilogy, the figures stand roughly 6 inches high, come with appropriate accessories and boast dozens of points of articulation. One of the latest sets highlights an encounter between some of the fellowship and pure evil that was never shown in the theatrical release of “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”

Figure profile: The north and west borders of the land of Mordor are walled by two forbidding mountain ranges. Where these ranges meet is a blackened valley of slag and ash across which the mighty Black Gates of Mordor stand. None could pass that way save with the permission of the Dark Lord. The gates are manned by legions of Orcs and other hideous creatures. The strength of great trolls is needed to open them. Through these towering iron gates the innumerable forces of the lands in the service of Mordor march to join the already vast host gathering for Sauron’s war.

Accessories: The overwhelming set contains actor Orlando Bloom dressed as the Elfin archer Legolas Greenleaf; Sir Ian McKellen portraying Gandalf the White, complete with cloth robe and magical staff; Viggo Mortensen as an angry Aragorn raising his sword of Anduril; and John Rhys-Davies as Gimli, wielding a pair of axes. Best of all, the nightmare-inducing Mouth of Sauron figure (think a traditional Ringwraithe with a “Hellraiser” mandible) sits atop a fully detailed saddle mounted on a mighty black steed. Each figure wears scene-specific attire, and some offer an action element, such as Legolas’ dagger slashing.

Price: $39.99

Read all about it: Alas, the closest that “Lord of the Rings” fans get to a comic book starring their favorite characters is Eclipse Comics’ 1989 sequential-art adaptation of “The Hobbit.” The three-issue series was collected in a trade paperback and should be available at any well-stocked comic-book store ($20).

Words to buy by: The Mouth of Sauron scene appears only in the four-disc DVD “special extended edition” of “The Return of the King” (New Line Home Entertainment, $39.99). The fact that Toy Biz even bothers to re-create the scene’s characters clearly demonstrates its commitment to providing the most eclectic, encompassing and best-looking action figures that “Lord of the Rings” fans as well as fantasy fans will ever get to admire and play with.

Tomoe Gozan

Dark Horse Comics helps celebrate the 10th anniversary of comic-book creator William Tucci’s famed female warrior with a pair of action figures devoted to the world of Ana Ishikawa and her alter ego, Shi. Fans of the stylish beauty will find representations of Ana and Tomoe Gozan, each standing 6 inches tall and offering 18 points of articulation.

Figure profile: Shi’s greatest foe and best friend, Tomoe, makes a habit of betrayal every time the occasional leader of the black-cloaked assassins, the Nara Sohei, comes to town. Among Tomoe’s many brands of pain infliction, the Japanese martial-arts master has a penchant for using deadly fans to devastate her opponents.

Accessories: Tomoe can be mounted upon a base emblazoned with a colorful Shi logo and emblem while carrying her favorite weapon.

Price: $14.99

Read all about it: Dark Horse Comics also has put out a four-issue miniseries, Shi: Ju-Nen, which features prose by Mr. Tucci and his fantastic art style ($2.99 each).

Words to buy by: The gorgeous sculpting of Steve Kiwus perfectly brings the Tucci character to life. The figure’s detail easily rivals any from DC Direct’s comparable superhero line. Unfortunately, the combination of bland packaging and lack of character recognition means only true Shi and manga fans will be attracted, not the average popular-culture lover.

Strange but cool

Here’s a short look at bizarre products with a pop-culture twist:

Conan PVC Set: The Frost Giant’s Daughter (Dark Horse Deluxe, $44.95).

Author Robert E. Howard’s barbarian king has returned to a monthly comic-book format, and so has his likeness in numerous popular-culture items. One of the more faithful to Mr. Howard’s literary myth offers fans a set of four non-articulated plastic sculptures representing one of Conan’s greatest adventures. “The Frost Giant’s Daughter” short story was retold recently by writer Kurt Busiek and artist Cary Nord in issue No. 2 of the Conan series, and this PVC set pays tribute to the tale.

It includes a pair of 7-inch-tall savage brothers; the 3½-inch, fairly naked (warning: too much skin for the kiddies) beautiful daughter; and a powerfully posed 4-inch-tall Conan garbed for a frozen journey. Noted Heavy Metal magazine artist Arthur Suydam, a devotee of the stylings of Frank Frazetta, designed the fantastic figures, which were sculpted by Jeffrey Scott. (Mr. Frazetta’s slick illustrations adorn the package) .

Zadzooks! wants to know you exist. Call 202/636-3016; fax 202/269-1853; e-mail jszad; or write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.

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