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A special report by Mike Drake.

Of all the showrooms I visited at Toy Fair this year it was Mezco's that had me the most excited.

Sure, other companies had product that, from a business standpoint, would be more successful but Mezco had the most product that I personally wanted to go out and buy for my own collection.

Here a lowdown of what I saw;

GANGSTERS INC: Yup, old school Chicago gangland style gangsters. Beautifully sculpted. Gangster aficionados are gonna eat these up. The "tough guy" would actually work well with other series of figures as well.

THE OSBOURNES: Yes, the license is played out but that doesn't take away from the fact that Mez produced the best Ozzy figures of all the garbage that was churned out. Not only did the Mezco Ozzy sculpt catch the essence of Ozzy dead on but the Sharon is especially graceful. Way better than those Ozzy mini-figures or bobble heads.

SONIC ALLIANCE: God, I love rotocast figures. This set of characters is very similar to the severely underrated HOODZ series of last year. The blue coated pimp-daddy leader is especially eye catching and the whole line captures the hip hop mentality that other companies only flirt with in a sanitized way.

One of the things I like most about this line and that everyone seems to overlook is that these are actually toys. They have play value. Most figures be they by McFarlane or Stan Winston or whomever have little play value. A child can break them with ease or they have such limited pose ability that they aren't much fun. HOODZ and SONIC ALLIANCE have much more articulation than you would expect from a rotocast and actually hold up to tough, rugged play. I have a young nephew and he beats the hell out of my HOODZ figures and they are still in great condition (although some of the tiny paint cans they held have been lost).

I wish more "toy companies" would at least try to make figures that can be played with. Not all of us like to keep everything MIP. If TOY STORY 2 taught us nothing else, it showed us that keeping figures MIP can drive them insane.

CRYPTOZOOLOGY: Finally. Mezco has been dangling this line if front of me for years. The Nessie (of Loch Ness fame) and the Jersey Devil are clearly the stars of this line. Nessie is the bath toy I prayed for as a child. Why the excitement of JD? I'm from Jersey and this will be the item I send to distant friends this Christmas. Also, I want to pose JD in battle with a Jersey Devils hockey figure from the McFarlane series.

TIKIMON: Redesigned from what we saw last year I really think this ambitious little line could catch on. The new sculpts are high energy and just the type of thing that could appeal not only to kids but also to adults. I can easily picture these sitting atop computer monitors as across corporate America.

LIVING DEAD DOLLS: Odd how much life there is in a line of dead things. The new series is very nice and sure to sell out just as every past addition has. I'm especially intrigued by their new nightlight. When turned off it looks like a regular LDD head but with the light on you can see the glowing skull within. Perhaps the first nightlight that would scare children more than being in the dark. They are also planning a string of Christmas lights (that's a tree I want to see!) and a stuffed bedtime doll that reminds me of the bastard offspring of a godless reunion between Eddie Munster's Wolfie doll and Glowworm.

Put a kid to bed with one of these and that nightlight and you'll have therapy bills for years!

I can't wait to baby-sit!

DARK CARNIVAL: Oh Mamma. This is beautiful. The evil clown is vaguely KILLER CLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE inspired and the mutant freak is nice but what sells this line for me is the evil fortuneteller with real fortune telling action! Shove the MAGIC 8 BALL, this is a masterpiece. The piece is like the fortuneteller from BIG reimagined by the powers of darkness with an eye towards gruesome detail.

MEZ-ITZ: Yes, there is a glut of mini-figures on the market right now but these are among the best.

Mez-its have play value. Not only do they look cool but also you can play with them, really play, and they don't snap apart instantly. Also, they are a nice size (unlike the Marvel Mini-Mates which should be named CHOKING HAZARD OF 2003) Mezco's Freddy Jason and Leatherface from lastyear were unfairly overlooked. The accessories were great and the playsets (curiously hidden in the boxes and not pictured on the box itself) were among the best I've seen. This year there are 5 new Mez-itz lines:

1) ARMY OF DARKNESS - Ash, Evil Ash, Pit Witch. Hey, you can't go wrong with Army!

2) PREDATOR - Mask on, mask off, "invisible".

3) ALIEN - Holy shit these are great! Not only are the Alien and Alien Queen nicely done but the astronaut has a knob on top of his helmet so you can go from regular face to face hugger-ed face with a simple twist. Inspired. This is a must have.

4) MONSTERS - Frankenstein monster, Vampire, Wolfman, Mummy. This is what I wished the Lego monsters had looked like. The vampire has a nosferatu look that is great and the Frankenstein Monster is worthy of the name. As a child I would have had endless hours of fun with these.

5) DICK TRACY - I love Dick, and this line is magnificently sculpted but I can't help but wonder if there is enough demand for this line.

UNDERWORLD: This line is based on the movie of the same name. What's it about? Let me use "movie math" to explain. ROMEO & JULIET + DRACULA vs. THE WOLFMAN+ THE MATRIX= UNDERWORLD. The raw footage of the film I saw looked cool and the figures are very well sculpted. I'm especially fond of the lead female character sitting atop a gargoyle in a Batman/ Spiderman/ Daredevil -ish pose. Sure to be a hit with Goths everywhere.

ANIMAL HOUSE: Totally reworked from what we saw last year, these are now large rotocast figures. Bluto is the clear winner but D-Day is mighty cool too. If nothing else this is a tribute to Mezco's commitment to making the figures it wants to make.

Well, that's it. Hope these don't all hit the store shelves at the same time; I need to spread out my buying.

See you in the aisles.

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