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By Thomas Wheeler

Arguably one of the most popular animated series on Cartoon Network in recent years has been TEEN TITANS, based on the DC Comics series, and largely derived from the Titans of the 80's, their most popular incarnation, which was developed by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. This, even though the characters as shown in the cartoon have about as much in common, visually, with their counterparts in the DC comic book as Bugs Bunny does with his furry little woodland cousins in the real world (no charge for the extra Warner Brothers character plug there).

Kidding aside, the animated series has a certain style of its own, is as respectful as possible to the characters within that format, and has certainly made good use of the storylines, characters, and history established in the comic book, to present an animated series that is both fun and adventurous.

Bandai got the rights to produce a wide-ranging series of action figures based on the concept. This was a bit surprising since Mattel had, at the time, recently acquired the rights to DC action figures from Hasbro. How, precisely, Bandai snagged the Titans I honestly do not know.

For the most part, Bandai has done a good job with the toys, producing figures in several size formats, most notably 3-1/2" and 5". I have only had two complaints with the figures. They're not always as well articulated as they should be, and Bandai was a little too wacky about those sizes. If a figure was going to be in the 3-1/2" size range, then by golly that figure was going to be 3-1/2" in height, regardless of how big or small he or she was in the animated series. Given the wide range of character sizes IN the animated series, this really didn't work out too well. Cyborg towered over his teammates, even if the other four were more or less in the same size range. And since the Titans were indeed, teens, and as such not fully grown, adults such as Slade were distinctly taller than everybody except Cyborg. Then you had runts like Mas and Menos, Gizmo, and others. And yet all of their figures were -- 3-1/2" in height. Or 5". Or whatever.

Finally, finally, finally in 2006 Bandai got it into their heads that maybe this wasn't the best way to proceed. And that they could incorporate a bit more articulation into these guys, at least in the 5" scale. The result is a trio of "Deluxe Feature Figures" that any fan of the Titans should be immediately (well, after you read this review, anyway) heading down to his Toys "R" Us or Target or Wal-Mart to acquire. This time, Bandai really got it right.

The trio includes the three male leads in the series -- ROBIN, CYBORG, and BEAST BOY. I don't know if we'll be lucky enough to get Starfire and Raven out of this, or anyone else, but I'd like to think so. The figures are a bit more expensive than the previous 5" figures, but they're also well worth it.

ROBIN - Although the Titans cartoon hasn't been too big on individual origins, I'm inclined to relate them, at least as I know them from the comics. Robin is, of course, Batman's young sidekick. There have been three Robins over the years in the comics, two of which have been involved with the Titans. The first was Dick Grayson, who later went on to become Nightwing. The second was the short-lived Jason Todd, who never had any direct involvement with the Titans as far as I know. The current Robin is Tim Drake. While I am not certain which Robin the one in the Titans is supposed to be, he does wear a costume that is very close to Tim Drake's, in that the cape is black on the outside, yellow on the inside, and (thank goodness), he doesn't have short pants and little Peter Pan booties.

Personality-wise, Robin tries a little too hard to be like Batman. He takes himself way too seriously, and the other Titans are always trying to get him to lighten up a but. Sometimes it works, but not often.

The level of articulation on the figure is absolutely amazing. The figure moves at the head, neck, shoulders, upper swivel arm, double- jointed elbow, wrists (well, glove tops), mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, double-jointed knees, lower leg swivel (boot tops), and some considerable articulation in the ankles. It's really highly impressive.

Robin's "Deluxe Feature" is "Swing-Kicking Action". Fortunately, this doesn't involve any spring-action in the figure itself. Robin comes with this assembly of poled and platforms that he can be attched to, and then swing around and kick over a large slab that looks like a metal door with Slade's logo on it. Sort of like playing tetherball with Robin without the tether. Amusing enough, but the figure is the real treat. Robin stands about 5-1/4" in height.

BEAST BOY - In the comics, Beast Boy is Garfield Logan, who as a young boy living in the jungles of Africa with his parents on some sort of expedition, contracted a rare disease called sakutia. His father tried an experimental cure on him. It cured the disease, but it also turned young Garfield bright green and gave him the ability to shape-shift his form into any known animals.

The complete opposite of Robin, Beast Boy is the team's jokester, even if the others can barely stand his sense of humor. He hardly takes anything seriously, and regards life as one big adventure -- except when it gets a little too dangerous. He does his best to help out and come through, though. He's a hero often despite himself.

As with Robin, the Beast Boy figure is superbly well articulated. The figure moves at the head, neck (although be careful here, as the neck is painted green, and the paint tends to chip off a bit), shoulders, upper swivel arm, double-jointed elbow, wrists (again, glove tops), mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, double-jointed knees, and the same amazing articulation in the ankles. For some reason he doesn't have the lower leg articulation at the boot level. Not sure why, but it's not that big of a deal, really.

My only complaint about the figure is a slight one with regard to the molding of the head. I suspect that, at least on this particular one, the green plastic was not sufficiently liquefied, and the point at which the plastic was injected into the mold was along the right side of Beast Boy's jaw -- a rather strange place regardless of the status of the plastic. But it makes him look like he's got a huge bump there or something, with creases around it.

Beast Boy's accessories include a swiveling platform identical to Robin's, as well as three green animals, arguably that Beast Boy can "morph" into. These include a snake, with a nice bit of articulation in it, a turtle for some strange reason, and a pterodactyl. Interesting choices...

Beast Boy stands just a shade under 5" in height, appropriate for the character in relation to the others. Like I said, this time, Bandai got it right.

CYBORG - One of the characters created by Wolfman and Perez for the Titans of the 80's, Cyborg has become a very popular character in the DC Universe. Cyborg is Victor Stone, a one-time champion athlete whose parents were noted scientists. A laboratory killed Victor's mother, and severely injured Victor. His father was able to rebuild him with super- powerful cybernetic limbs, part of a face, and some internal workings. Initially, Victor was resentful of his new form. His athletic career was at an end. He could no longer fairly participate. But he ultimately accepted his new form as Cyborg, and his new role as hero.

Appropriate to the cartoon -- FINALLY -- this Cyborg is substantially taller than the Robin and Beast Boy from this particular series of Titans figures. Cyborg stands a full 6-1/4" in height, and anyone who regards him as their favorite character on the series is definitely going to want to obtain this figure.

He's not quite as well articulated as Robin or Beast Boy. His far greater bulk prevents that. But he's still extremely well-articulated, rather amazingly so given his size. Cyborg is articulated at the head, shoulders, upper swivel arm, elbows, wrists, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles.

Cyborg doesn't come with any accessories for the figure to use, but he does have one very cool built-in feature. Press the button on his chest and the cybernetic side of his head lights up. There's a battery case in the figure's back. I have to say, this is the first time I've seen an action figure with a battery case built into it (a few Transformers notwithstanding), where it actually looked appropriate to the figure.

Also, almost hidden in the design of the figure, a little gadget of some sort pops up from his left shoulder.

For the most part, the articulation on these figures moves smoothly without being overly loose. All too often I've encountered figures where the articulation has been so tight that I've been afraid to move the figure for fear of snapping it off, so jerky that it's impossible to get the figure to assume a normal "neutral" stance, or so loose the thing might as well be a marionette. At the risk of sounding like I'm reading from "Goldilocks and the Three Bears", the articulation on these guys is, for the most part, just right...

Although it is worth noting that the means of attaching some of those points on Robin and Beast Boy is a little strange. Their arms, elbows, and knees use these hollow metal rods. I mean, it works, but you've also got these figures that look like they've got small holes clear through their limbs. It's a little -- weird.

All three of the figures come with a game card for something called the "Teen Titans Battle Communicator". This is some device of some sort that based on the picture on the back looks like some sort of Titans' Tamagotchi or some such. Apparently the card can be used to unscramble a code to use in the game and help the Titans move to the next level. There are 30 cards, supposedly available in all Teen Titans toys in 2006.

Whether or not this will include any more Deluxe Feature Figures I don't rightly know, but I certainly hope so.

Now, a few last comments. The Robin and Beast Boy figures in this series are a little delicate. Much of the articulation is achieved through a sort of modular construction that doesn't hold up to a lot of handling. When I was posing Beast Boy in a basic stance, which is definitely not how he came packaged, both of his arms snapped off at the upper-arm swivel. They didn't break. The pegs just snapped out. I was able to reinsert them immediately. But both Beast Boy and Robin have rather narrow limbs, and I suspect that if one is not careful, one could end up with Titans' body parts scattered all over the place, and nobody wants that. Robin's neck articulation is also a little odd, I think because he's not only trying to support his head, but also his cape. It just feels a little loose, and his head bobs forward a little TOO easily. Might be just this one figure for all I know, though. Although assembly on either of these rather slender figures can't have been easy.

Cyborg, thankfully, seems a good bit more sturdy. Although it is interesting to note that, of all three figures, the articulation points on Cyborg are the best "hidden". This isn't really that much of a factor to me, but it's odd that the one figure in this group on whom visible articulation points wouldn't make that much difference conceals them the best. This is obviously due to his size, and it's not a complaint against Beast Boy and Robin in any way.

Now, I also recently picked up the 5" scale Aqualad and Speedy. And I wondered how compatible they were with these new Deluxe Feature figures. I knew that Speedy and Aqualad didn't fall into this category, even though they are well made and well-articulated, albeit not as well articulated as these, but I wondered if they were at least size-compatible.

Unfortunately, they're not. Aqualad can almost manage it, since he's been shown to be a little taller than most of the Titans, and the figure, at 5-1/2" in height, pretty well blends in. But Speedy doesn't. He's supposed to be about the same size as Robin, but also coming in at 5-1/2" in height, compared to Robin's not-quite-5-1/4", he just doesn't look quite right in the group.

But, perhaps before the end of the year, we'll see Speedy and Aqualad in this Deluxe Feature Figures series. I'd like to think so, anyway. Wouldn't mind seeing Raven and Starfire, either, and according to a report out of Toy Fair, they ARE in the works! And meanwhile, I certainly give my highest recommendation to Cyborg, Beast Boy, and Robin. Size-wise, articulation-wise, Bandai finally got these TEEN TITANS entirely right, and I am very impressed with them!