Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Toy Review – DC Super Hero Girls from Mattel

Shiny, Happy Intro:

Heroic toy company Mattel and progressive retailer Target have teamed up to show that females can be superheroes, too! On February 28th, an all-new line of dolls, action figures, and role play items launched under the “DC Super Hero Girls” banner. Focusing on the women of the DC Universe, the line offers new powerful yet feminine interpretations of classic characters like Batgirl, Supergirl, Wonder Woman, and even villains like Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy! Even more importantly, African-American character Bumblebee is featured in a prominent role among the other five white characters!

Cynical Intro:

Mattel cashes in on current social issues, but sort of misses the mark on race. Target says, “Sure, we’ll take it!”

Realistic Intro:

Sorry, sorry! I’m a little jaded when it comes to any large corporation supposedly doing something “socially responsible”. They all want to make money. And while there is often a pot of gold at the intersection of so-called progressive ideals and successful marketing, no major corporation is ever doing something solely because it’s “the right thing to do”.

The idea of a line of female action figures isn’t even new or progressive, and I’m surprised that more internet “journalists” haven’t pointed this out in their praise of Mattel’s new girl-oriented line of superheroes that you actually aren’t even supposed to refer to as “girl-oriented”.

For the sake of ease and my own personal sanity, I will be referring to this as a line for girls because it’s easier and that’s certainly how it is being positioned.

Anyway, action figures for girls are not new. Just in my lifetime we’ve seen Strawberry Shortcake, Princess of Power, Polly Pocket, and those furry little animal figures that recently made a comeback. There are many more than those. All of the “It’s about time!” posts about this line are hilarious.

And to head you off – yes, all of these characters have been immortalized in plastic countless times before, so it’s nothing new for them, either. Except maybe for Bumblebee, who at best probably got a figure in Bandai’s old Teen Titans line. So the “about time” stuff isn’t referring to the characters.

But don’t think I’m here to be nothing but cynical! I think it’s wonderful that Mattel has come up with such a neat way to cash in. Their incredible Monster High line of dolls has owned the girls’ aisle for years now, so it’s about time they applied that style to the superhero format, especially when they have licensing access to the greatest superheroes of all time – the DC Universe.

The move to expand that style to a more traditional line of action figures is interesting. The dolls seem like a no-brainer, but the action figures are something different for Mattel. Given the average time it takes to get toys from the initial pitch to store shelves, I wonder if these are a response to the Black Widow outrage that hit around this time last year. If so, good move Mattel.

I also wonder if the action figures are a bit of a test. I have no doubt that the dolls will be a hit with both young girls and older collectors, but think about it – if the action figures succeed, this could open the door for the revival of one of Mattel’s most notable accomplishments, the Princess of Power line. We could well see She-Ra back on the shelves long before He-Man, and all because of the movement that I am wrongfully and I hope not offensively going to refer to as “Girl Power”.

Masters of the Universe will not have a retail presence until there is a new media tie-in – a movie or television show. But She-Ra and her pals could very well see an all-new toy line if the DC Super Hero Girls action figures make Mattel money. And that’s great.

Side Note: Yes, Batgirl and the rest are currently in comic books every month and Wonder Woman even has a starring role in an upcoming movie, but the Super Hero Girls are not directly tied to any of these and that is impressive in and of itself. This is a standalone product, and Mattel does not see He-Man as having the strength to support such a thing.

The return of Princess of Power toys would be fantastic. Not just for Mattel’s bottom line, but for the girls (or whoever) who maybe aren’t into comic books but enjoy fantasy or adventure or just want a powerful girl that rides a flying unicorn. Plus, diversity in the toy aisles is nothing but good for every aspect of the toy collecting hobby. I speak here of diversity amongst types of products, not the magical diversity of peoples that is one of the hot buzzwords of today. Although that kind of diversity is good, too. Nobody should be left out of the toy aisle or unable to find a figure or doll or whatever that looks like they do.

What? I’m not totally heartless. If you’re doing a line based on a license as diverse as the DC Universe, you need to do better than having one non-Caucasian character in your assortment. And honestly, Bumblebee was not the best choice. Vixen is on TV now. Of course, selling a doll of a teenage girl named “Vixen” might be a whole other kind of problematic.

I DON’T HAVE ALL OF THE ANSWERS, PEOPLE.

Or even most of them.

Beyond that, I could see Mattel expanding other properties into the action figure style. Obviously Monster High would be a good fit.

Rather than doing a traditional review, I’m just going to take a look at the quality of the Batgirl and Harley Quinn figures. As I started writing this I realized that I am not the target demographic for these action figures and that my normal standards of review really don’t apply. As much as these fit the “action figure” format, I feel like I have different expectations than the 4-10 year old girls at whom this line is aimed.

Side Note: I am in no way saying that 4-10 year old girls are the only people that should buy these. I am a thirty-nine year old man and I bought two. I do maintain that that’s who Mattel is marketing to.

FIRST GLANCE

Aesthetically these remind me a lot of Polly Pocket, another Mattel brand. They appear to have enough articulation to qualify as actual action figures and not just “figures of girl characters”. For ten bucks, they’re a better deal than the current crop of 6” scale Batman v Superman budget figures.

PACKAGING

The figures and designs are what I would consider “girl”, but the packaging and graphics are fairly neutral. These colors and designs could almost show up as-is in the boys’ toy aisle. 
The blisters have a new shape that’s similar to many other carded figures and that stand out to the eye.

The back features a description of the world these girls inhabit and a bio for the character, as well as pictures of the other figures in the line.

It’s a good box that’s easy to open and it catches the eye. Well done.

LOOKS

The figures are roughly six inches, but not what I would call “six inch scale”. They’re too big to mix with your DC Universe Classics or other 6ish” scale figures. That’s fine because they aren’t going to mix aesthetically, either. I thought I might keep them and put them somewhere in my collection, but when my wife ended up liking them I told her she could have them. They just don’t fit with anything I have. The DC Super Hero Girls are very much their own scale, and that’s fine (especially if Mattel really does produce other lines in this style).

They’re mostly a rigid plastic that feels a bit cheaper than most of the figures I own. It’s sturdy enough, I think that maybe it just didn’t need to hold as much detail. Both of these figures are fairly simple, design-wise. The heads are plastic with rubber hair, which feels weird but looks fine. It also means that the hair doesn’t interfere with movement as much as it would if they were plastic. The hands are also rubber, but they hold accessories fine and look good.

Harley Quinn has a great, distinctive hair sculpt. Her ponytails aren’t articulated, which I think was a poor choice. The paint on them looks odd, too. It’s supposed to be streaks rather than whatever Harley’s hair has been doing since the Arkham games came out, but the app is lazy. The streaks don’t blend at all and the bands holding her ponytails aren’t painted. For all I know girls wouldn’t care about this, but I think they might. Her face looks great. The domino mask is sculpted, not just painted. Her eyes, mouth, and the mask are painted nice and even.

Batgirl has a sort of messy hairdo that looks neat. Her face is very different from Harley’s, but is painted just as nicely. Mattel did a great job making the girls distinctive in both features and expressions.

The bodies share surprisingly few parts. Bargirl’s torso has a sculpted Bat Symbol and some seams on her shirt. The utility belt – which looks to be a prominent feature given the corresponding role play item – is great. It has a Bat buckle and several pouches that are big enough to be useful but not overly bulky. There are gauntlets on her forearms that have the suggestion of technology doo-dads sculpted on, so I’m just going to pretend that’s what they are. Kind of like Robin in Young Justice.

Harley is wearing a shirt that might very well be from Hot Topic’s Harley Quinn collection. It has painted-on diamonds with sculpted buttons and a collar and poofy sleeves. She’s got a studded belt with rolled-up jeans shorts. There’s a rubber spiked bracelet on her right arm that’s a separate piece. It complements the belt and says “bad girl!”.

Quinn is wearing creepers, which I did not know were still a thing. The socks are painted a metallic white and make the shoes work a little better with her two-tone leggings.

This Batgirl’s design was very clearly influenced by the current Batgirl costume in the comics. She has yellow combat boots with no paint detail. The sculpt is great and she even has treads on the bottoms:

But some paint would have been nice. Then again, for a ten dollar 6ish” figure, she looks great.

Both figures successfully merge “cute” and “girly” with “heroic”. They have a lot of style, but they’re ready for action, too.

ACCESSORIES

Batgirl comes with a “Batpack” and a removable hood. The Batpack is rubber and comes on and off easily. The little bat wings are undeniably adorable.

The hood is plastic and fits over the head nicely, but doesn’t stay put all that well.

Harley comes with a “mallet” rather than her usual hammer. I suppose a mallet is cuter and less likely to cause rupta capita. It’s cheap Dollar Tree plastic, but it looks fine and the figure can hold it, which is the point.

FUN

The figures have the same articulation, and it’s good. Since these are totally new to Needless Things, I’ll run it down:

Head – swivel
Shoulders – swivel/pivot
Elbows – hinged with a swivel at the top
Wrists – swivel
Hips – swivel/pivot
Knees - hinged with a swivel at the top
Feet (tops of footwear) – swivel

A ball joint on the head would have been nice and the lack of an ankle hinge is limiting, but otherwise all of the joints on these figures are solid. I was surprised at the swivels at the tops of the knee joints. I wasn’t expecting those.

I wouldn’t call these figures super articulated, but they have plenty of joints and are fun to pose. Mattel went far above and beyond the cut joints that one might expect from a line of ten dollar 6” figures. They’re fun to play with and far better than the Batman v Superman figures that are a similar size and price.

OVERALL

I’ll go ahead and call the DC Super Hero Girls action figures a revolution. At ten dollars apiece they’re a great deal. The quality is not great, but they look neat and distinctive and they’re fun to play with. Each design is well-thought-out and appealing. Obviously I can’t speak for the age/gender range that is the target audience, but I think these will be a huge hit.

Kudos to Mattel. Not for any social responsibility, but for doing something cool and doing it well. No number score today because I’m just not qualified to deliver a definitive verdict.

4 comments:

  1. This is more of a trend that Mattel is going with of filling niche markets with fashion dolls. This pretty much follows the successful trend set up by Monster High and Ever After High: A web series focusing on the "story" with popular tropes/characters re-imagined as High School Students and a corresponding toy line. My biggest gripe is that since the characters they're using exist fully formed this time around, the web series isn't as clever or inventive as its fore-bearers and goes out of its way to sand off the uniqueness of the superheroics in order to fit all the characters into blander highschool archtypes. The villains in the show don't even do villainy.

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    1. I was curious about that aspect. Just from reading the cardbacks it sounds like Ivy and Harley are just pals with everyone. I'm wondering what kind of superheroics are going on. Just your standard cat rescuing?

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  2. I bought a couple of the larger counterparts, reaching over to the dolly side of things where I don't really go, though I do buy boy & adult collector toys that basically fit the definition. That should tell you something, I guess. And I like them. I've even entertained the idea of getting another. The reimagining of these characters was too good not to recognize...

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    1. I had to wait until after my wife's birthday to respond because I got her most of the doll versions. They're great, though the lack of stands and hairbrushes is baffling. I think they did a great job with materials and designs, but I am disappointed that they couldn't replicate Harley's hair from the art models. My wife doesn't care because she says when Monster High dolls have bangs they look terrible, so she'd rather have the pulled-back hair anyway. Neither of us was all that interested in Ivy at first, but out of the box she's great!

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