Thursday, January 16, 2014

Toy Review – DC Total Heroes from Mattel

I don’t usually review toys that I buy for my son, as that would get overwhelming, but since these are pretty much the replacement for the DC Universe Classics figures I thought I should at least cover the initial offerings. I was going to start off with a rant about how thanks to Mattel’s foolish mis-management and weird character selection and inflated prices we’ve seen the official end of the DC Universe style 6” scale action figures. I mean, I’ve certainly predicted it enough times.

But you know what? That style of figure has lasted around a decade in one form or another and I have to admit that it’s pretty impressive. Mattel may have (definitely has) made a lot of terrible decisions regarding the various DCUC lines, but they managed to keep the 4 Horsemen designed figures relevant for a long time without long-term media support. 
 
Yeah – they tied into the various movies that came out, but for the most part the DCUC lines fed off of what was in the comics. And nobody does 6” toy lines based on comics anymore. Not even the mighty Hasbro was able to keep a line in stores as consistently as Mattel was.
But now that Horsemen style is done and we have a new look for 6” scale figures based on DC Comics. I hate to tell you that I don’t know who sculpted them, but I don’t. I do know that the new sculpts are good and Mattel got their money’s worth because they are clearly going to get a lot of mileage out of very little sculpting. 
 
The new retail line is called DC Total Heroes. I found the first four releases on Amazon right after Christmas and couldn’t help but order them, ostensibly for Lil’ Troublemaker. I got Batman, Superman, Aquaman, and Flash.
FIRST GLANCE
All four figures look pretty sharp, but are clearly intended for a younger audience. This doesn’t mean they are limited in sculpt or articulation, but the style is halfway between the DCUC style and the recent Target Exclusive Justice League figures (which themselves were an evolution of the Batman: Brave and the Bold and Justice League Unlimited styles). These guys have pretty standard heads and bodies, but their hands and feet are slightly exaggerated.
PACKAGING
Oh, how I love a good blister card. These come in what is basically a simpler version of the recent DC Unlimited boxes – minus all the extra cardboard on the front. I like that the card has an interesting shape and is made of a lighter cardboard. The packaging does feel cheaper, but it looks classy. I like the graphics a lot, and while I am not overall happy with the New 52 I do think it’s good that Mattel and DC are integrating things. As much as I may prefer the DCU I grew up with, this is how things are now. And besides, I have maintained since the beginning that if nothing else these New 52 designs would make great-looking action figures.

The back of each card features some nice, dynamic art and a basic bio:
I enjoy bios that are basically short stories, but we don’t really need all of that.
There are a few things worth noting about the packaging:
The art is all from the comics rather than a uniform style for the line. Jim Lee art was used for Batman rather than Greg Capullo.
While the back of Superman’s card features a Jim Lee New 52 costume Superman, the front features the jeans and t-shirt version done by somebody else. Weird.
What the heck is going on with Aquaman’s trident on that cardback?
LOOKS

All four of these figures share the same basic body and have very simplistic paint jobs. Once you take a closer look, though, there are enough differences to make this a pretty neat action figure line with a lot of potential for expansion. The figures are meant to share the same generic looks rather than being based on any one artists’ style. I’m actually a bit surprised they aren’t more obviously Jim Lee-influenced.

I like the size of the heads versus the bodies. Mattel seems to like giving figures small heads, but these figures have decent sized noggins that feel a little more realistic to me. Granted, other portions of the figures are more exaggerated, but overall they look good. Batman has the least cartoony features of the four figures, but that’s probably because his cowl obscures most of his face.
Batman has a grim expression and the longer ears that I prefer.
Aquaman looks angry and has great hair.
Flash has a very well defined mask with those little bolts sculpted on the side. He has a smirk that is more Wally West than Barry Allen, but it’s a nice touch.

Superman looks a little too smarmy, but at least he isn’t all angry. I like my Superman smiling.

Batman and Superman share the same torso. It has armor seams like the comics and a separate attached piece to hold the fabric capes in place. Flash has a similar torso, but without the cape piece. Aquaman’s torso is completely different, with scaling sculpted on and the trademark New 52 Nehru collar (which I just realized this Superman does not have). It looks great, but the scaling does not carry out to the arms. I can’t decide if I’d rather just not have it at all then not have it match.

The figures’ forearms are oversized and the hands are also large. They aren’t very detailed, but look good. My issue here is that Batman’s right hand is a closed fist and his left is an open fist, meaning he can’t hold his accessories in his dominant hand. While I’m sure Bruce Wayne is at least a bit ambidextrous, years and years of continuity have shown him using his right hand to throw Batarangs and so all of the other Bat stuff he does. So this is kind of irritating. Honestly, I would have preferred two open fists. I am not going to go so far as to suggest he should have come with an extra set of hands.

Flash has what could either be a running hand or a karate hand on the right and a closed fist on the left. This is fine since he has no accessories to hold.

Superman and Flash share the same plain forearms. Superman’s have red trim painted right at the edge. I’m glad they didn’t paint down onto his hands like his comic book suit., It would have looked stupid. I mean, it looks stupid in the comics, but it would have been really bad here with no sculpt to support it. Superman has two closed fists, which is fine because I want my Superman action figures to be able to punch things. And he doesn’t have any accessories to hold anyway.

Aquaman, like Batman, has fins on his forearms and the same hand setup. The hands irritate me even more here because Aquaman has a two-handed weapon. Both of his hands should be open fists. His forearms are different from Batman’s and if you think about it his fins make more sense. I do think it’s kind of weird that his gloves are so blocky, but with the style of the figures it looks fine.

The belts are also pretty huge. Batman’s is the pouch version, so that gets points. It also has little pegs on the back:
So you have a place to store his gadgets. 
That is a HUGE win.

These are separately sculpted pieces that can turn on the figures torso – they aren’t part of the upper or lower abdomen, which allows Mattel to reuse those parts for other characters and simply stick a different belt piece on. This is what they did for the Superman and Aquaman figures. Superman’s belt is kind of silly big. Aquaman’s is pretty awesome and gets points for being cool because I have never noticed if Aquaman even has a belt before.
Batman and Superman have fabric capes that are attached to the back of the figures’ torsos. They look great and hang well. I am usually an opponent of soft goods on figures of this scale, but I have never liked the plastic capes on the DCUC figures. These, to me, are so much better. Superman's cape even has the “S” (stands for “hope”) printed on the back, which is impressive.
Flash, Superman, and Batman have the exact same bodies from the waist down. I don’t care for the kneepads on Superman and Flash in the comics, but on the figures they look cool and do a great job of hiding the knee joints. They also have painted-on boots, which sucks. I know it would have cost a lot more to sculpt calves for all of these guys since their boots are so different, but this looks so lame. At least the paint apps are clean.
Aquaman has different calves – they have fins on them, which is a nice touch considering that I – and most people – wouldn’t have even noticed if they weren’t there. They also have painted-on boots, which sucks.

I really like the use of the metallic colors for the New 52 armor-looking costumes.
The black on Batman’s boots, gloves, and cowl look great and match across the various plastics. The face and eyes are painted well. The gold on the utility belt looks fantastic. I love the contrast between it and the rest of the figure.
Flash is a nice, bright red and the yellow on his costume is clean and bright. Yellow has traditionally been a tough color to get right on an action figure, but it looks good here. His chest symbol is clean and well done. Obviously I’d prefer a sculpt, but this is fine. The detailing on Flash’s head is fantastic. All of the colors stay cleanly within their sculpted areas.

Aquaman has the least paint of the bunch. His body is all molded plastic with no paint, which looks fine. His hair is more blonde and less yellow, which I like. His eyes are painted precisely under that furrowed brow. Despite having little in the way of paint, Aquaman looks great.

I love the shade of blue they used for Superman. It’s nice and deep and contrasts the reds and yellows, which are all applied well. All of the paint on his head is solid and well placed.
ACCESSORIES

Batman comes with three accessories – a grapnel gun and two Batarangs. All three are made of a firm rubber and are quite thick.

The grapnel gun looks almost like one of those flintlock pirate pistols. It has a cool shape and enough detail to look neat. The Batarangs are identical. Each one features holes on the sides, presumably so you can tie a string through it. These aren’t the best Batarangs ever, but they work for the style of the figure.
Aquaman comes with a trident, except it isn’t really a trident because it has five prongs. It’s just a tiny bit more basic than I would like, but it looks neat. Aquaman can’t hold it with both hands because he has the same closed right fist as Batman. 
 
Superman and Flash don’t come with any accessories, which I am okay with. If not making up some random accessory for guys that don’t need them means we get a grapnel gun and two Batarangs with Batman or a bow and some trick arrows with Green Arrow or (hopefully) some light constructs with Green Lantern then I’m all for it.
FUN
Each of these figures features the same articulation:

Head – ball joint with about the same range of motion as previous DC releases from Mattel - mostly just side-to-side. 
 
Shoulders – ball joint which works nicely as well, as the portion of the torso where they connect is scooped out more and doesn’t restrict movement.

Elbows – pivot with a swivel at the top. I prefer elbow swivels to bicep swivels even though they don’t provide quite as much posability. It’s an almost entirely hidden joint and bicep swivels can look terrible if they aren’t done just right. As with almost every figure I buy, the elbows and knees don’t pivot as deeply as I would like. But these do work better than some others.

Wrists - swivel

Waist – swivel

Hips – swivel/pivot, but one that is far more visually pleasing than past releases. The pin hinge is connected to a thigh that is rounded and that sits separately from the lower abdomen rather than trying to create a perfect seam. Yes – there is a visible break in the figure’s profile. But I find this more acceptable than the ridiculous disruption that occurred when the old style of DCUC figures were posed.

Knees – pivot

Ankles – pivot, but not deeply. I really want a mass-produced Batman figure that can squat.
These guys lack the abdominal pivot of the DCUC line, but it doesn’t really matter. They are just as much fun to play with, if not more so because their hip joints don’t look horrible when you pose them. Plus, none of these figures suffer from stuck joints or weak parts. They feel sturdy. I’m sure it’s just the novelty of a new line, but we played with these for a while. They’re fun toys.
OVERALL

For ten bucks apiece, these are a great buy. They share a lot of parts and have minimal paint (not Dollar Tree minimal, but definitely conservative usage of color), but in a very clever way. If Mattel continues this line and actually gets around to making a full Justice League they are going to look pretty awesome on the shelf together.
The style is slightly cartoony, but uniform. I like it a lot and I think Mattel has made some good choices to keep costs down. I’d love to see vehicles to go along with this line, particularly a comic book styled Batmobile (which I think isn’t out of the question considering some of the really cool Batmobiles Mattel has produced).
Here’s a weird thing, though – I got these from Amazon and haven’t seen them at retail yet. Batman, Aquaman, and Superman were $9.99. Flash was $11.99. And now when I look them up, they’re all $11.99, which is still not bad, but not the great deal that these figures need to be to succeed. Of course, if you know anything about action figures on Amazon you know that the prices on there range from insanely good to just insane, so who knows what the real MSRP is on these guys.
If you see them for ten bucks each, buy them. They’re a lot of fun and look cool. But twelve might be pushing it, especially considering that the new Captain America and Spider-Man Legends are showing up in Target for $14.99 and mostly look outstanding.

Aside from not liking the closed right fists on Aquaman and Batman, these figures really couldn’t be much better for the price. I think this is a fun new line and I hope it takes off. As a matter of fact, I found these at Toys R Us after I initially wrote this and had to buy a Batman for myself.

4 out of 5

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