Monday, June 22, 2009

At Last! The New Batgirl Revealed! Well... the New Batgirl Toy, Anyway

And here it is, just in time for August's new Batgirl comic book series. This is the new Batgirl action figure from DC Direct's "JLA Classified" line, apparently based on the artwork of Ed McGuinness:

It's a re-paint of the previous Batwoman figure with a new head plopped on top, which explains the less-than-comic-accurate thigh high boots. They didn't really do Mr. McGuinness any favors with this toy. His 2D artwork looks a lot better than this figure.

The sculpting looks soft, almost as if it were crafted from Playdoh instead of whatever medium toy sculptors generally use. There's a strange flatness to the biceps and the hands are square-ish and lack detail, the feet are mere wedges. The thighs, however, are heroically proportioned. Looks like a skilled custom, not the work of a professional toy company. And I wouldn't mind the boring pose if the figure were highly-articulated. DC Direct tends to concentrate on clean sculpts with limited articulation, which is fine. I own some of their Silver Age-inspired toys and I'm perfectly happy with them. But when the work is this underwhelming you need something to give it a little oomph, right? Right?

Flaws aside, it's of interest because it's only the third Cassandra Cain Batgirl action figure, and the second from DC Direct.

Here's DC Direct's previous take on the character, the "First Appearance" figure:

The sculpt here is tighter, giving the figure a more finished, professional look. I love the crazily dynamic cape, but the odd torso twist and the right fist and leg poses make the figure look bizarrely distorted. The giant cranium and cut abdominal muscles accurately represent Damion Scott's more cartoony, stylized Cass Batgirl. A rarity among comic book super-women, Cassandra Cain wasn't all about being garishly sexy or even particularly pretty; she existed to kick ass and possibly chew bubblegum, but with little or no bubblegum remaining from deliberately limited supplies of said bubblegum. And while I greatly admire Scott's take on Batgirl, this is one ugly-ass toy.

Mattel produced a Cass Batgirl as part of their DC Superheroes line. Their Cass actually looks superior to either of these more "premium" offerings. It's not easy to find and re-uses the body sculpt from their Barbara Gordon Batgirl. The arms are a bit thin and short, the gauntlets aren't exactly comic book accurate and the boobs are a little oversized. But she sports some nice silver highlights and her belt is a vast improvement over either of the DC Direct figures. It also features fourteen or more points of articulation. I'm of the opinion a kinetic character like Cass should always be represented by a highly poseable toy. After all, she's a martial artist of blisteringly quick moves, not a cover girl frozen by the shutter into a statuesque pose.

Now that Cass is seemingly poised to relinquish her role as Batgirl (and has vanished from the DC universe narrative completely as of this writing), these may be her final attempts at action figure immortality.

Because Cass has generally gotten and probably will always get the shaft from toy producers. And yet this is understandable. If you're a parent in a Wal-Mart toy section and you spot a faceless ninja-style Batgirl, you're bound to be confused. Face it, for most people Batgirl is a lithe red-head with hair spilling out the back of her cowl and ultra-feminine high heels. That's the look most associated with Batgirl, the one in the cartoons and so far, most of the Batgirl licensed goods have been in this traditional, familiar style, and many of them have been visually attractive images, statues and toys. More so than these poor, deformed Cass offerings. This primacy of the Barbara Gordon Batgirl paradigm is probably a factor in DC's phasing Cassandra out as Batgirl in the comics, as well.

If that's what they're doing.

But I'm a Cass fan, and my dream Cassandra Cain Batgirl action figure combines a more plausible, somewhat realistic sculpt with lots of articulation. I'm not so concerned about "cut line joints" or whatever spoiling the aesthetics. Toy first, statue second.


Nathaniel said...

I just wanted to say that I'm really glad I found this blog -- I used to read an older blog you wrote that often talked about Batgirl. I just happened to stumble across this post when doing a search for Batgirl action figures, and I thought the writing and opinions about Batgirl seemed awfully familiar...

Anyway, yeah, this new figure doesn't impress me a whole lot, but it does give me hope. The fact that they're releasing this as well as that new anime-esque Cassandra statue at a time when she's not being utilized in the comics at all makes me think that maybe they actually do have something planned for her in the new Batgirl series. After all, why release action figures of her if she's just going to vanish into the ether before they ever hit the market?

But my hopes have been crushed by DC many times in the past, so maybe I'm being far too optimistic... Like I was about the Adam Beechen miniseries...

Joel Bryan said...

Thanks a lot for the nice words. I aims ta please the discerning Cassandra Cain fan with this blog!

You know, I'm really hoping Dan Didio was straight-talking when he called Cass a very viable character and not just setting the stage for some big switcheroo. If she's not Batgirl, fine. I can live with that. I just want them to do something with the character so they can achieve her true story potential.

But yeah, you already know that!

Nathaniel said...

I'm sort of skeptical about anything they say, since I believe Mike Marts stated that "Cassandra Cain would no longer be a member of the Bat Family post-Battle for the Cowl", which did not come to pass (though she might as well not be, since she's not featured in any books). I don't think they really have a plan for Cassandra or Batgirl in general and have been making it up as they go for a while now.

I thought sure they'd announce that Cassandra would be the star of one of the new backup features they're starting to put in certain books. Even if she loses the Batgirl identity, it would seem perfect to me to have her adventures in a backup in the Batgirl book, since DC obviously doesn't think she can support her own title anymore. But they've been pretty silent about that possibility.

Alas, if only I could bribe Morrison or Rucka to feature her in one of their books...