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By Thomas Wheeler

With Hasbro's license to produce DC Comics related characters transferred to Mattel, after many years of Batman products, the action figure world waited to see what Mattel, whose last real foray into the super-hero world was the mediocre Secret Wars line based on Marvel characters in the mid-1980's, would do with the DC license. Word was that one of the first offerings would be something awaited by DC animation fans for some time -- a line of action figures based on the superb Cartoon Network series JUSTICE LEAGUE.

The figures started popping up not long after New Year's Day, mostly at Targets. They weren't easy to find, either. They weren't right next to the remaining Hasbro Batman supplies. No, they were the next aisle over, in some of the slightly more offbeat action figures, such as Star Trek, Peanuts, and Ultimate Muscle.

Early rumor had the figures retailing at an alarming $9.99 apiece. Fortunately, this proved to be inaccurate. The figures are a far more reasonable $6.99.

The initial assortment includes rather heavily packed SUPERMAN, very heavily packed BATMAN, and decidedly short-packed FLASH and GREEN LANTERN. Here's hoping Mattel doesn't intend to make the same mistake that they're making with Masters of the Universe and making collectors struggle for the second-tier characters to the point of just giving up.

So, how are the figures? Overall, they're superb. The basic design is even closer to the rather angular, stylistic design of the characters as they appear in the animated series. While I myself tend to prefer the somewhat more plausible appearance of these characters as they appear in the comic books, I can't deny that Mattel has gone all out in the accuracy department to capture their animated likenesses superbly well. (Nor, for the record, do I deny the fact that the excellent writing on the Batman, Superman, and Justice League series pretty well overcomes any stylistic complaints I may have.)

The figures are not the least bit pre-posed, which is always a plus as far as I'm concerned. The capes for Batman and Superman fall evenly behind them in a nice basic sculpt, not flapping in the breeze. The arms and legs are straight. Almost too straight. The figures seemed designed more for display than play, but I am sure that both collectors and kids will be pleased with these toys. A child can (hopefully) use his imagination to create adventures for these heroes, rather than have that figure already pre-posed into a limited action position.

The figures are slightly smaller than Hasbro's Batman line, coming in at slightly under five inches in height. There was a theory in an Internet newsgroup that Mattel wanted the Justice League figures to be in scale with Kenner's mid-80's "Super Powers" line, but I think that's rather unlikely since the two lines have decidedly different appearances, and there's no good reason for Mattel to base modern figures on a long-ago competitors defunct product, however well-remembered Super Powers may be by some members of the super-hero toy community.

The figures do not come with a lot of accessories, but really, who needs them? They come with interlocking display bases and multi-image lenticular cards that fit in the back of the display base. There are large letters at the front of each of the display bases, and when all are combined (including those that have not been released), they spell out the words "Justice League".

But now we come to the one problem. Although MARTIAN MANHUNTER and WONDER WOMAN have not been released, they are pictured on the back of the package, in a photographic display showing all six figures on their interlocking bases. So -- where's HAWKGIRL?

I found out through one of my highly reliable information sources that HAWKGIRL will be an exclusive to Diamond Comics Distributors. That means you'll have to get her through your local comics shop, or perhaps through the online comics shop WestfieldComics.Com. I have no idea when she'll be available. She wasn't on Westfield's April order form.

This does raise a few questions, apart from the very obvious "Why!?". Will Hawkgirl come with a base and card? If so, what will the lettering on the base be? Although it is possible to put a blank base between the ones that form the words "Justice" and the ones that form the word "League", it's a bit of a stretch. If she doesn't have a base, what then? Just string her up over the other six and pretend she's flying?

Frankly, I think this seventh member of the Justice League, who has certainly had a fair share of air time on the series, deserves a little more respect than this. The character is pictured on the logo illustration on the front of the package. I suppose Mattel is falling for the "old wives' tale" that secondary, female characters simply don't sell that well. Which is a big fat load of hogwash, and every toy collector knows it. Too bad the companies don't.

However, despite the forthcoming inconvenience of acquiring Hawkgirl, I DO recommend the Justice League collection as a whole. At least the initial figures. Unfortunately, it looks like beyond that, Mattel is going to fall into the trap of repeating the basic cast ad nauseaum. It looks like Justice League Assortment 2, expected in June 2003, should include Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Batman #2, and Superman #2, and Justice League Assortment 3, expected in October 2003 includes Green Lantern #2, Martian Manhunter #2, Batman #3, and Superman #3. When one considers the wide array of villains as well as heroic guest-stars, there's just no excuse for this. And I notice there's no mention of even a "Hawkgirl #2" in here.

In the meantime, though, check your Targets, and other stores as they start getting new toys in. JUSTICE LEAGUE is here, and the initial figures, at least, are definitely worth the wait.