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Los Angeles Daily News, July 15, 2008
By Sandra Barrera
Before the disciples of Gotham City lore line up
for Thursday's midnight screening of the new
Batman film, many of these moviegoers will head
to toy stores searching for the latest from "The
It may be a 13-inch Batman with detailed body
armor, utility belt and a pose-able fabric cape; a
remote control Batmobile; or a Grappling
Launcher prop replica.
These are just a few of the items that already
have flown off the virtual shelves at collectibles
Web and mail-order store Entertainment Earth.
"Batman is a pretty big line for us," says Aaron
Labowitz, the 39-year-old co-founder and CEO
of the North Hollywood-based company.
"Because there's a lot of marketing behind the
new movie, we've sold a lot of these things. But
there's still a huge demand for classic stuff, too."
Superheroes are big business in the growing
niche of pop-culture collectibles.
As insiders will tell you, that demand is driven by
nostalgia for these beloved characters that
people have come to know through comic books,
TV shows and movies.
But collectors aren't interested in just any toy
that reminds them of things they enjoyed back in
They want authenticity even if the overall look
of the character has evolved with the times,
explains Doug Wadleigh, vice president of action
play at El Segundo-based Mattel.
Among the products from "The Dark Knight" that
his company has introduced to the adult collector
are the true-to-life Movie Masters' 6-inch
collectible figures, Hot Wheels Batmobile and
Lair of the Joker portable play set.
"The kids don't know any different," Wadleigh
says, adding that "when they're exposed to a new
feature, they're seeing it for the first time.
"For the collecting community, they only
embrace the new format if it's done properly and
it has all the elements familiar to them."
Take last year's unveiling at San Diego's Comic-
Con International of a limited-edition Hot
Wheels Batmobile flocked in bat fuzz - a tribute
to the George Barris design seen in some
episodes of the "Batman" TV series that starred
"We had the original version as you would see it
on TV and then did the limited edition ... to get
people excited about collecting," Wadleigh says.
To gauge reaction of new products and respond
to collectors' needs, Mattel keeps a presence at
online forums and blogs. The Internet has long played a role in the pop-collectibles community,
including when Labowitz and his brother,
company president Jason Labowitz, were getting
Entertainment Earth off the ground 12 years ago.
That was before toy companies began rolling out
high-end action figures for adults, and the
Comic-Con convention - kicking off July 23 - was
splashed across the pages of the Automobile
Club of Southern California's Westways
"All of a sudden this is mainstream," says Jason
Labowitz, 37, whose longtime passion for
collecting "Star Wars" memorabilia is what
originally led to the founding of his company.
Labowitz was 9 when he started compiling his
collection of action figures. After playing with his
space toys, he'd pack them away in their original
boxes, which he kept neatly stored away in the
closet of his bedroom.
"When everybody else was into girls, I was still
collecting these toys," he says.
But his collection was incomplete. Kenner had
stopped producing the "Star Wars" line in 1985.
A decade later, when the company announced it
would be releasing new, redesigned versions of
the classic toys from the intergalactic epic, Jason
was working as a computer consultant and says
he didn't have time to go chasing these pieces
around town in what collectors call "the hunt."
So, he created a Web co-op of sorts for people
interested in buying directly from the
manufacturer at retail prices.
Granted, Entertainment Earth got off to a bumpy
start. The company didn't receive its first
shipment of merchandise until nine months after
placing its order.
Today, though, it offers a cornucopia of more
than 6,500 licensed products, ranging from dolls
to high-end limited-edition pieces and exclusive
collectibles such as "The Big Lebowski" action
figures inspired by the 1998 cult film by the Coen
"Just about anything you're a fan of, there might
be merchandise for, and if there isn't, there
might be something in the works," says Jason,
referring to "The Big Lebowski" collectibles,
which Entertainment Earth has the exclusive
rights to manufacture.
The company will be taking The Dude, complete
with his Ralphs Club Card, rug and White Russian,
to Comic-Con next week, along with its
exclusive lines from the Showtime series
"Dexter" and Scott Ian of Anthrax bobble heads.
New toys are added to the site every day.
"There's just a constant stream of great stuff
and, as you can tell, some of us get very excited
about it," says Adam Pawlus, 28, who holds the
official title of Toy Evangelist at Entertainment
Judging by his cubicle, it's no wonder. Action figures are everywhere, which begs the question:
What does home look like?
"It looks like this," Pawlus says. "And believe it
or not, I'm actually married. So, someone out
there is good enough to put up with this insanity,
which is a nice bonus."
But, he adds, there's always room for more. He's
gearing up for the July 26 launch of all-new "Star
"It's essentially a shopping holiday," Pawlus says.
"People are going to be scheduling time off to
get the latest and the greatest. And we're going
to have it all on our Web site at 12:01 a.m. when