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FLASHBACK REVIEW:
DC COMICS 9" FIGURES
By Thomas Wheeler


Right around the same time as Toy Biz produced it's late, lamented FAMOUS COVERS series of 9", cloth-costumed action figures based on popular Marvel Comics superheroes, Hasbro, which at that point in time had the license to Batman and other DC heroes, decided to do pretty much the same thing. The end result was a line that was distinctly more -- scattershot than the Famous Covers, and nowhere near as extensive, but still managed to pull together some interesting entries. Let's take a flashback look at this interesting line from several years ago.

The first assortment in the line was a set of three individually-sold figures based on the "Silver Age" of the DC Universe, arguably the late 50's through sometime in the 70's, when comics started getting more serious. The assortment included AQUAMAN, GREEN ARROW, and GREEN LANTERN.

AQUAMAN was pretty cool, and he actually retained his "Silver Age" look for a lot longer than most, until he lost his hand, grew a beard, let his hair grow out, and started wearing an armored chestplate. These days he's back to something closer to his classic appearance, but this action figure IS his classic appearance. It's a cool figure, and the basic body design that Hasbro created for these figures was a good one and well-articulated, if a little stiffer in is movements compared to the Famous Covers series. But the Aquaman figure has one problem. The orange scaled shirt is made out of some sort of very stiff plastic-like material, that I'm sure was intended to mimic the scaled shirt that Aquaman wore in those days, but it's also VERY inflexible and severely hinders the articulation of the arms on this figure. It LOOKS good, but it can't move too much.

GREEN ARROW is a decent figure, but it suffers from one major problem -- that first outfir that Green Arrow wore, with its cute little green tunic and the red gloves and boots, looked really, really lame. The later outfit, when Arrow had grown a mustache and goatee, and had a dark green and green uniform, was so much better that this figure is almost embarassing. There's no question that it's a decent action figure, and it certainly looks like the early Green Arrow -- but it's a look that I think most people would just as soon forget.

GREEN LANTERN is the real highlight of this assortment. Excellent face sculpt, really nicely done uniform, and the hand even has his power ring sculpted to it. This is easily one of the best Green Lantern figures ever.

It's worth noting that Hasbro did something else that Toy Biz didn't. They sewed the figures right into the uniforms. They're not removable. I'm not sure I like that feature, if for no other reason than if something happened to the figure, it would make repair extremely difficult.

One of the next items to come out was a Silver Age BATMAN AND ROBIN two-pack. This set was 50% impressive. The Robin figure was nicely done. The Batman figure -- well, let's just say that Batman's personna and appearance at the time was so far removed from the Dark Knight of today, that Bruce Wayne would probably want Alfred to sweep all evidence of it under the same rug that Green Arrow would like to bury his original uniform beneath.

There's just something about a GRINNING Batman that, to the modern fan, just doesn't look right. Now, if you look back at the comic books of the time, you can see that the legendary Bob Kane did indeed not hesitate to put a nice big, toothy, square-jawed smile on the Caped Crusader's face. And certainly the figure has this feature. But it's still unnerving. So is the rather bright blue that is used for part of the uniform.

Robin, on the other hand, is nicely done. Okay, the modern Robin doesn't wear little green shorts and elf shoes that Peter Pan wouldn't be caught dead in. But it is a classic look for the character, and is somehow more tolerable than a Batman with a smile on his face that would probably make the Joker flinch. It's worth mentioning that Hasbro came up with an interesting way to do the Robin body mold. They used the body mold, except for the legs, of the 12" scale Star Wars Episode I Anakin Skywalker. Apparently somebody reasoned that the body molds for a kid in a 12" line might just work for a teenager in a 9" line. And they did.

The next items out were ones which I personally did not purchase. They were classic versions of Batman and Superman, and were Target exclusives. The Batman figure did a curious uniform switch which I would define as "color emphasis", as compared to its predecessor. Whereas the Batman in the two-pack had a very dark grey but an alarmingly bright blue, this one had an acceptably dark blue, but the grey on the costume was so pale it looked like Alfred had really used too much bleach in the Bat-Laundry.

Superman wasn't much better. A very pale blue on the uniform, and although the head looked like it had been sculpted directly from the drawings of Curt Swan, the artist most associated with Superman right through the mid-80's, he head was huge compared to the rest of the body. I also wasn't pleased with the fact that neither the sleeves nor the cape were hemmed. With the stretchy fabric these costumes use, that's just asking for the uniform to fray all over the place.

Unfortunately, the "large head" problem would continue to plague this line for the remainder of its run. Here's what I think happened. Heads for action figures of this size are generally made from a flexible plastic, and are generally somewhat hollow on the inside. They tend to shrink a bit after molding. The bodies are made from more rigid plastic, and many of the parts are solid. Hasbro has to allow for the shrinkage of the head, by molding it somewhat larger. There was an article about this in a magazine, referring to the same situation with regard to 12" Star Wars figures. I think what happened here was that the shrinkage factor was miscalculated. Still, on their own, the head sculpts are decent, and they're not so terribly out of proportion as to be completely unacceptable.

The next figures in the collection were actually K*B exclusives, and it was an interesting twosome. First up was a figure of the single most boneheaded idea ever foisted on Superman. DC Comics turned him into a blue-skinned energy being for a time. They promoted the hell out of it, too, with posters, trading cards -- I even saw a very decent looking watch with the "new" Superman logo on it. I think this stunt lasted about a year, give or take a few months, and to this day I wonder whose brain fart came up with this one.

Still, there was an action figure of "Superman Blue", and it was, I'll have to admit, a very decent likeness of the figure. But I still waited until it had been put on considerable clearance to get it.

The other figure in the K*B line-up that I was quite enthusiastic about getting was MARTIAN MANHUNTER. I've always liked the guy. Even more of an outsider than Superman, even more alien, but almost as much of a powerhouse, and with other powers, not the least of which is shapeshifting. The figure is superb, and it's one instance where the "larger head" works, because J'Onn J'Onzz does have a pretty sizeable cranium. Thankfully, Hasbro didn't feel the need to give the figure a green skin-color body-suit. They gave him fabric shorts, a plastic harness and belt, molded on boots, and a nice, large blue cape (which admittedly I wish was hemmed). The end result is a fantastic figure of one of DC's most underestimated heroes.

The next two to come out returned to Target, and were new versions of BATMAN and SUPERMAN. These would come with additional costume pieces to turn them into Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent, if one so desired. But they were excellent, and modern, editions of DC's two most popular heroes.

Third time turned out to be a charm for Batman, who finally got a very decent head sculpt, vaguely reminiscent of the late Jim Aparo's artwork, and a properly dark uniform, and a massive length of cape to go with it. This is the Dark Knight as he should be. You see something like this coming at you from the rooftops of Gotham City, you're going to pray that he's not after you.

Likewise the SUPERMAN figure is excellent. Good blues and reds in the uniform, an excellent head sculpt that looks both determined and heroic, and they hemmed the sleeves in the costume. The turtleneck on the costume is a little odd, but apart from that, it's really a superb Superman figure.

The last two entries in the DC 9" lineup from Hasbro were also Target exclusives, and they were both villains of Batman. There hadn't been any villains in the line to date, and it was already being rumored that the DC Comics license might be going to Mattel, so this was Hasbro's last chance to turn something out in the line. They gave us THE JOKER and THE PENGUIN.

THE JOKER was a decent figure, but it could've been so much better if they'd kept the costume colors correct. The prototype photo on the back of the package shows the figure dressed in a fairly dark purple. In fact, the figure's plastic hands, wearing gloves, of course, are molded in a fairly dark purple. But somewhere along the way, the costume was changed to a much paler reddish-purple, which was sadly all too reminiscent of how The Joker appeared when he was portrayed by Cesar "not shaving off my mustache for this!" Romero in the campy 60's series. I have no idea why this change was made at the last minute, and it never should've been.

Now, in fairness, otherwise, it's a very decent figure. The head sculpt is excellent, and The Joker is never easy. He has a very extreme and very weird face. The oufit, colors notwithstanding, is superbly well done. This is not a set of tights. It's more like a suit. And it's very well made.

THE PENGUIN was a real oddball in the line. An entirely new set of body molds had to be made for the paunchy bird, and Hasbro decided to mold the white shirt as part of the body itself. The figure still has a fabric jacket and trousers, and the head sculpt is quite good, if perhaps a little too caricatured, but the end result is a very decent rendition of Batman's second-best-known adversary.

There were rumors of a Riddler figure to follow, but I've never seen any evidence to corroborate those rumors. Whether the DC 9" line would have continued had Hasbro kept the DC Comics license I honestly don't know. It was never a very large line of figures, and towards the end, it had boiled down to the occasional store-exclusive release. But it was still a very cool line, and yes, they do look very cool mingled with a Famous Covers collection -- just like when Mego had the license to both companies' characters back in the 1970's.

I hope you have enjoyed this Flashback review.