Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Toy Review – DC Unlimited Batgirl By Mattel

I like Barbara Gordon. I like her as Batgirl, I like her as Oracle. Obviously I liked her when the mind-blowingly hot Yvonne Craig was on screen in short dresses and go-go boots or that amazing, skintight, sparkly purple bodysuit. 

Not so much when she wasn’t actually Barbara Gordon and Alicia Silverstone was playing her; even if Batman and Robin is one of my favorite movies ever.

And then there’s Melissa Gilbert’s character-defining portrayal of Commissioner Gordon’s little girl on Batman: The Animated Series (which provided character-defining portrayals of pretty much every Bat-character ever). This was my first exposure to Barbara Gordon as a fully realized character who grew and developed over the course of time. I had only read a few comic books with Batgirl in them at that point because – just like now – I tended to only keep up with current stuff and Batgirl had been out of the picture ever since The Killing Joke.

Over the years I’ve read some of the pre-Oracle Barbara Gordon stuff as well as a few stories that were written after but took place before. I highly recommend The Greatest Batgirl Stories Ever Told and The Cat and The Bat if you want a couple of quick primers on Barbara’s career as Batgirl.

And then there’s New 52 Barbara Gordon, who is once again Batgirl.

When it was announced that Gail Simone would be writing Barbara Gordon I thought it would be the best thing ever. She was the only writer to have had any real success writing Wonder Woman (in my opinion) and her run on Secret Six is one of my favorites. Who better to write about Ms. Gordon’s return to crime fighting? I hated to lose the character of Oracle, as she had become one of my favorites, but the thought of Simone on a Barbara-as-Batgirl title was exciting.

And then it came out and I didn’t like it. I mean, I really didn’t like it. I’ve gone into it in detail before, but I didn’t like the style of her writing or her characterization of Barbara. I gave it six issues and then dropped it. I’ve checked in a couple of times since then and things don’t seem to have improved. Of course, that’s the case with most of the New 52 books.
But as much as I don’t care for the comic, I do like the look of the New 52 Batgirl. I dig the colors and – like Batman – I think this is one character where the armor look is appropriate. I knew I was going to buy this one the first time I saw a production photo. What I wasn’t going to do was pay thirty bucks for it, which is what Billy’s Toys was charging. As much as I love that store, that was unreasonable.

Thankfully, I found Batgirl – along with Batman and the rest of the new DC Unlimited figures – at Target just a few days later. Also, unlike Batman, Batgirl didn’t break.
First Glance: I really love the colors and design of this Batgirl. Granted, the golden boots and gloves are probably a bit absurd, but whatever. They look neat.
Articulation: Batgirl has what is basically the standard for Mattel’s DC figures, with a couple of minor differences. 

Head – ball joint
Shoulders – swivel/hinge
Elbows – swivel/pivot
Wrists – swivel
Abdomen - swivel
Hips – swivel/hinge
Thighs - swivel
Knees – pivot
Ankles - pivot

Thanks to the hair the head is a bit limited in its movement. You can still get a bit of left to right and up and down, but not much.

The arms feature completely new articulation for Mattel’s DC figures. Rather than having unsightly – and often fragile – bicep swivels, Batgirl has swivels at the tops of her elbow joints. These provide the same functionality as the bicep swivel but are visibly undetectable and much sturdier.

The abdominal swivel is reminiscent of the one from the Star Sapphire figure. Except, of course, that this one actually moves a bit and doesn’t completely destroy the profile of the figure. I actually prefer this to a waist swivel on a female figure because the edges can line up more easily. Obviously the ideal point of articulation for a female figure is a GI Joe-style rocker at the waist, but those are probably more expensive to produce. 

All of the joints on my Batgirl work well. None are stuck and they are all tight enough to hold poses.
Sculpt: This figure is almost entirely new parts. The only ones we’ve seen before are the hands and maybe the head.

This is pretty much the same head as all the other Batgirls, but it seems to have a slightly different shape to the hair and a bit more detail. I don’t know if going back and touching up a sculpt is something they can do, but it appears to be what happened here. It’s fine because it all still works. Batgirl’s costume may be different, but her cowl and hair are essentially the same.
The hands are the same hands that every other DCUC female has. It’s actually a little irritating since the textures on the New 52 Batgirl’s gloves are some of the most practical and interesting things about the design. All of the other ridges and seams and stuff on the costume look cool, but they don’t necessarily make sense. Why do her gauntlets look like HR Giger designed them? But the glove details look like they could provide some sort of functionality to improve grip or something. Also, this is a 6” action figure so maybe I should just calm down about it.
The rest of the figure looks awesome. The black portions have a body armor look that is reminiscent of Nolan Batman, possibly even more so than the New 52 Batman. This helps the joints blend in and make the figure much more visually dynamic than other Batgirls. I really do feel like these New 52 designs make for great-looking figures even if they do look too busy in the comics. The Bat symbol on the chest is deeply sculpted and well-defined. Far superior to the painted-on logos we’re used to.

The gauntlets and boots are new as well. The gauntlets have all of the wacky ridges that I can’t quite explain but that look cool. The boots are impressive because the bat-shaped tops actually extend up above the joint and look very cool while the feet have treads and detailing to make them appear more functional than your average superhero sock-boot.

Barbara’s utility belt is chock full of detail and sits angled on her hips, looking much better than the DCUC female buck with a tacked-on belt. 

As much as I like the execution of the design on this figure, my favorite part is that it isn’t warped like my other Batgirls. Mattel packaged these DC Unlimited figures in neutral poses and used a minimum of the figure-deforming rubber bands in securing them in the package. As a matter of fact, I don’t think Batgirl had a single one. This warping-in-the-package has traditionally been my biggest issue with Mattel figures and I’m glad they have finally addressed it. I hope this continues.
Coloring: The glossy black of most of the body looks very good. It doesn’t require washes to have depth and the seams and plating stand out on their own.
The gold on the boots, gloves, utility belt, and Bat symbol might be a little silly, but it does contrast very nicely with the glossy black and the purple of the cape lining.
The facial details seem a bit more crisp than other DCUC figures. The eyes are centered and the lip color is solid. Unfortunately, Mattel has once again overlooked the fact that BARABRA GORDON IS A FUCKING REDHEAD. 
Side Note: I understand that the figure's hair looks fiarly red in all of these pictures. I assure you that in person it is not. It is some sort of muddy brown.
 This is such an important aspect of her character that DC went so far as to de-age her father, James Gordon, to the point where he has red hair again as well. As does her psychopath brother, James, Jr. It’s a whole fucking ginger family, just like the O’Dares in Starman, except that Mattel can’t fucking get it tight. This:
And this:
As a matter of fact, I made a whole list of redhead action figures.
THIS IS NOT (even though it looks like it in this picture, but it isn't):
Flair: This Batgirl has a new cape. It looks good, but I might like it if the scallops at the bottom were a bit deeper. The flat black matches the color of her cowl and the purple lining is a great touch. There’s a bit of mess around the edges on mine, but nothing too terrible.
Accessories: Jack and shit. I don’t get it. Penguin comes with his umbrella and I think that crazy Total Justice-looking Hawkman comes with two weapons. Mattel already has several Bat-themed accessories tooled and I do not understand why they couldn’t have thrown at least a Batarang in with Batman and Batgirl. It’s totally lame and it’s going to knock what is otherwise an excellent figure down lower than she should be.
Packaging: The same overwrought blister card we’ve been getting since the Batman Legacy figures came out. It looks good, but is it really necessary? There’s a bio and some stats on the back:
And I can’t help but notice that “Gadgets” was left off of Batgirl’s list of abilities. That’s still no excuse, Mattel.
Value: $15.99 honestly isn’t bad for a 6” figure in this day and age. But she should have at least come with a Batarang.
Overall: The figure itself would be excellent if it had the correct hair color. I love the sculpt and it incorporates far more new parts than I had expected. But factoring in the hair and the lack of accessories, I have to score it lower than I would like.

3 out of 5

It looks like Batgirl is one-per-case right now, so if you see one and can overlook the incorrect hair color, grab one. This really is a great-looking figure, which makes it all the more frustrating that they screwed up something as basic and character-defining as hair color.
Just for fun, here's a picture Lil' Troublemaker wanted me to take:

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