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By Thomas Wheeler

Almost any given pop-culture concept today is going to have a fairly wide range of toy-type collectibles. While my specialty is action figures (with a minor in die-cast cars), every so often I like to have a look around and see what else is out there.

And these days, what else is out there tends to be considerable. There's bobble-heads, for starters. These are like small statues with enlarged heads that are on some sort of spring-based articulation. Touch it and the head nods and shakes. I've seen these for DC Comics, Marvel Comics, KISS, sports heroes, you name it.

Lego-type figures of one sort or another are also popular, regardless of who's producing them. Lego, Mega-Bloks, Kre-O, all of these have either in-house or licensed properties for everything from DC, Marvel, G.I. Joe, Transformers, Halo, Power Rangers -- I even saw some for Hello Kitty.

Here's something else that's popular these days -- so-called "blind" packaging. These are toys that are all packed identically. You're never sure which item in a given series of collectibles you might be purchasing. Personally, I find this annoying and I tend to avoid it. Hot Wheels Mystery Cars, Micro Figures, whatever. With my luck, I'd pick up five of any given series and get five of the same item. Not the sort of risk I feel like blowing money on.

These aren't areas of collectibles that I usually get involved with, but I made a rare exception. I was browsing through a particular store, trying to see if there was something new and maybe a little different that I could review here, and I came across something called -- ZERBOZ.

Interesting name. Whatever else their marketing strategy might have entailed, they obviously weren't terribly concerned about alphabetical order in the toy world.

I did a little checking. Technically. Zerboz didn't start out with the name Zerboz. It started out with the name "Heroics". In fact, the cash register receipt from my purchase still calls these toys "Heroics". But, either that didn't sound impressive enough or trendy enough to peculiar enough or it was already trademarked or something, and so the name "Zerboz" came in.

What are Zerboz? They're little fully painted, action posed figures of popular super-heroes. The company that makes Zerboz, called TreeHouse Kids, Inc., has the license to produce these figures for both DC and Marvel Comics characters. They also produced a short line for Power Rangers Samurai a while back.

Zerboz come in "blind" packaging. They're packed in little plastic spheres, that are different colors, although I am sure there's no rhyme or reason to color of sphere and figure inside. The spheres are about 1-1/2" in diameter and remind me of a ping-pong ball.

The Zerboz logo is printed in black on one half of the sphere. The logo features a black circle, with some wavy lines and ovals around it that give it a sort of atomic look, and the word "ZERBOZ" is printed at the base of the logo. The spheres have a plastic wrap around the opening seam, so you know that the item hasn't been tampered with. Of course, picking it up and shaking it to see if you hear a figure rattling around inside works just as well.

The place where I purchased these Zerboz only seemed to have the DC Universe edition. That wasn't a problem as far as I was concerned, especially since the character designs were obviously pre-New-52. I'll support just about anything that represents that far better time in the DC Universe. They also only had a few left, and they were on sale. Five spheres, all were a different color. I hoped that somehow that meant I would be getting five different figures. I picked up the entire lot.

I returned home, and opened my Zerboz. And maybe I should rescind that remark I made about picking up five of any given "blind package" toy and getting five of the same thing. I scored very nicely, thank you, with five different figures, all of them either major players or personal favorites in the DC Universe. I got SUPERMAN, BATMAN, GREEN LANTERN, MARTIAN MANHUNTER, and THE JOKER.

Let's consider some very brief histories of these characters, and their respective Zerboz.

SUPERMAN - The guy who started it all, really. Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1, in 1938. Rocketed to Earth from the doomed planet Krypton, young Kal-El crash landed on a farm near the town of Smallville, Kansas. He was adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent, who named him Clark. As he grew, his powers manifested themselves. His Kryptonian physiology absorbed the rays of Earth's yellow sun, giving him phenomenal strength, speed, invulnerability, the ability to fly, and much more. Relocating to Metropolis as an adult, and taking a job as a reporter for the Daily Planet, Clark Kent took on the role of Superman to defend and protect the innocent, as arguably the greatest and best known super-hero of all time.

So, how's his Zerboz? Very nicely done, especially for something so small. Superman is posed as if perched on a high peak. There's even a little bit of rock on his base. He appears ready to take off and zoom down to aid someone in need, or fight some great battle.

The figure stands about 1-1/4" in height. The musculature and detail is incredibly well-defined for something so small. The pattern of Superman's boots has been sculpted into the design, and he even has his "S" curl in his hair. His famous "S" shield has been imprinted on his chest, astoundingly neatly for something barely 1/8" across at its widest point. The blue and red uniform is colorful and vibrant. The paint job is too neat to have been done by hand, but the stencils for these posed figures must have been seriously intricate.

The Zerboz figures all have little oval shaped bases on which they stand, and Superman stands very nicely on his.

BATMAN - First appearing in Detective Comics #27, in 1939, Batman was created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Unlike Superman, Batman had no super-powers. Rather, he was an Earthman named Bruce Wayne, who as a child had watched his parents murdered during a robbery in a grim alley in Gotham City. Swearing vengeance against the criminal element, Wayne used his considerable fortune to train himself in both body and mind to achieve peak physical potential and to become the finest detective in the world. He adopted the guide of a human bat after an actual bat crashed through a window of his home, and he realized that the frightening image of a huge bat would strike terror into the hearts of the cowardly criminal element. A grim avenger of the night, Batman continues his adventures in Gotham City, battling the most bizarre brigade of super-villains ever seen.

Not to mention he's had more TV shows, animated series, movies, and action figures than any other super-hero around -- including Superman.

So, how's his Zerboz? A very nice piece of work. It's interesting to note how in some ways it's similar to Superman. Like Superman, Batman appears poised on a high place, although there is no additional detail to his base other than the figure itself, ready to swoop down and take care of business. Unlike Superman though, those pose is undeniably heroic, there's more of an edge to Batman. Both of his arms are raised, and his cape flows out much more than Superman's. There's a very definite intimidation factor to the pose of the Dark Knight relative to the Man of Steel.

The detail is excellent, the Bat emblem neatly stamped on the chest. I'm impressed with the cape, and it's actually a separately molded piece that was attached to the figure during assembly. The color scheme is gray and very dark blue, but in my opinion, the gray is just a little light. It still looks good, though.

Even the utility belt is nicely sculpted, with visible individual pouches. His cowl has two little white eyes. Painting these -- I just can't imagine it.

The figure has some slight balance problems, due mostly to the cape, but it's not impossible to get him to stand up and stay standing.

GREEN LANTERN - This is Hal Jordan, the Silver Age (and modern) Green Lantern. He first appeared in Showcase #22, in 1959, and was part of an ongoing effort at the time to take the names of certain Golden Age heroes, such as Green Lantern, Atom, Flash, and a few others, and give them new, more up to date counterparts and adventures. It was certainly successful.

Hal Jordan was a test pilot, whose test craft was more or less hijacked by the power ring of a dying alien hero who had crash-landed on Earth, a Green Lantern named Abin Sur. Granting his ring to Jordan, who became the new Green Lantern, Jordan soon learned the responsibilities that came with the role. He was now part of a much larger universe, a member of the Green Lantern Corps, consisting of thousands of alien ring-bearers who answered to the ancient and enigmatic Guardians of the Universe. In his new role, Jordan carved out a place as a well-regarded super-hero on Earth, as Green Lantern, as well as becoming a member of the fledgling Justice League of America.

So, how's his Zerboz? Very nice. Unlike the other figures, Green Lantern isn't so much sanding reasonably straight up as he's leaning far forward, ring at the ready. It's a very dramatic if perhaps slightly exaggerated pose. But hey, we're talking about super-heroes. If anyone can get away with it...

Green Lantern isn't quite an inch tall, but he's about 1-1/4" long, which seems to be the standard maximum size for these figures, regardless of how it's measured. In Green Lantern's case, that measurement goes from his right heel to his right hand. Green Lantern is dressed in his classic uniform, including green trunks, something that was shortened to a belt line in more recent years. The colors are excellent, but the musculature isn't quite as heavily defined as it is on Batman or Superman. The Green Lantern emblem is neatly imprinted on the chest, and the face has the green mask around the eyes properly. The hair could have been painted more neatly, but on something this small, I find it hard to find fault. And I can probably retouch it myself if I can find a small enough brush.

And the power ring is present and accounted for, little more than a dot of green paint on the white glove on the right hand, but it is there.

MARTIAN MANHUNTER - First introduced in Detective Comics #225, in 1955, J'onn J'onzz was part of the revitalizing Silver Age of comics even though he had no Golden Age counterpart. He was the victim of a scientific accident, which teleported him from his native Mars to Earth. With no way home, and with Mars largely a ruin anyway, his family dead, J'onzz used his vast array of superhuman abilities, which included super-strength, flight, the ability to turn invisible, and the ability to shape-shift, to blend in with Earth's populace to the best of his ability.

He would later join the Justice League of America, and has generally been known as one of its most stalwart members over the years. He is greatly respected by the rest of the superhero community, who are proud to call him friend.

So, how's his Zerboz? Most impressive, although I think the sculptors took just a little bit of a shortcut. Martian Manhunter is standing very heroically, his dark blue cape blowing up against his body from behind. This enabled the sculptors to essentially sculpt half a figure, and make the back half of the figure pretty much all cape.

Don't get me wrong, it's an excellent sculpt. The muscular detail of J'onzz's front is extremely impressive, and the cape detail on the back is excellent and intricate. I have no complaints about this figure, which sands slightly over 1-1/4" in height, so I guess there's a bit more room there than I thought.

Martian Manhunter is looking slightly down and to one side, as if pondering humanity from some high point, and having trouble figuring us out. The painted detail is excellent, including deepset red eyes, and the costume details, including the red straps across the chest, and the yellow belt buckle and cape clasps.

THE JOKER - Batman's greatest adversary. First appearing in Batman #1 in 1940, the Joker has remained Batman's most dangerous, murderous enemy. His real name has never been revealed, and his full origin has changed over time, but it's generally reported that the Joker was a small-time crook who fell into a vat of chemicals during a botched robbery. The chemicals dyed his skin white, his lips red, and his hair green. An injury suffered at the time froze his mouth in a hideous grin, and his sanity pretty much went out the window, although even Batman believes that this lunatic is smarter -- and saner -- than he acts most of the time.

So, how's his Zerboz? Excellent. Say what you will about the Joker, he's definitely colorful, and this has been impressively rendered on the figure. Joker has an appropriately white face, green hair -- they even gave him green eyebrows -- and they managed to paint a creepy red-lipped grin on his face. He's wearing his standard garb of a rather intense purple jacket and trousers, with white hands, black shoes, an orange vest, and a green shirt.

The figure, which actually stands a very straight 1-3/8", making him the tallest Zerboz of the group, is posed in a very classic stance for the Joker, standing with legs slightly apart, hands in front, holding a walking stick with points straight down the center. This pose was an excellent choice for this figure. The overall sculpted and painted detail on the Joker is superb, right down to the buttons on his vest.

So, what's my final word? I like these little guys -- and I'm glad I got five different ones. I don't expect I'm going to go out of my way to collect the others, but in a world of bobble-heads and Legos, and in a world where it's increasingly difficult to find really interesting items in the action figure aisles, I have no complaints about these Zerboz figures. They're nicely made, well-detailed, neatly painted, and best of all, they're very inexpensive and they don't take up a lot of room.

If you're looking for a nice LITTLE super-hero collectible, take a chance on some of these colorful ping-pong balls and see who you get!

The DC UNIVERSE collection of ZERBOZ figures definitely has my very enthusiastic recommendation!