Mattel DC Universe Action League
Small heroes, big attitude...
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It’s hard to tell what toy crazes are going to stick and which ones will be relegated to the bargain bin. One current trend is, of course, the small and “cute” version of characters from anything from comic books to films. Hasbro has really led the way on this with its various “Heroes” lines with various degrees of success; for every Star Wars Galactic Heroes and Super Hero Squad there’s a Combat Heroes or Adventure Heroes. Mattel meanwhile dipped its toe into this water slowly with the already kid-targeted Batman: Brave and the Bold toy line. Well, thanks to success there and the increasing DC Comics presence everywhere, fans and collectors can now grab their favorite heroes and villains in the revamped DC Universe Action League!
Based on the previous Batman Action League lineup, the new figures are exaggerated and cartoony characters in a small, easily collectible scale. The emphases are on the dramatic and fun with extreme poses, bright colors, and silly proportions. The figures include some articulation for posing, but these are technically “kids’ toys” and are much more sturdy than they are super poseable. The initial release consists of four 2-packs, followed by more of those and other product categories. The theme of these first figure packs is arch-enemies with a good guy and a bad guy in each, pulled from both classic and modern comic book storylines. The first sets include Firestorm & Deathstorm, White Lantern Sinestro & Green Lantern, The Flash & Captain Boomerang, and Superman & Bizarro. I found the first three at Target, though Superman has thus far eluded me.
Packaging for these little guys takes its cues from the overall DC Universe theme. It’s bright and bold with the yellow and orange starburst background card and the figures held in mid-combat in the protruding bubble. The outer edge of the card is decorated with a blue stripe, and there’s quite a variety of superheroes in the artwork. We can hope that all of these will be made into Action League figures! Other than the figures in the first wave, pictured are Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, John Stewart, Guardian, Kilowog, Saint Walker, Guy Gardner, Green Arrow, Batman, and Shazam. It’ll definitely be good to get some women into the line, hopefully starting with Wonder Woman. The front of the bubble also has the DC Universe logo at the top and Action League and figure names at the bottom. The back of each card has a darker, more subdued theme like the DCUC figures. There’s fun cartoon artwork of each figure on either side, with a very brief description of their battle in the middle. At the bottom are images of the other Action League sets.
The Action League figures all stand just over 2 inches tall, up to about 2 ¼ inches. The character selection is really interesting, with one hero and one villain each. Superman vs. Bizarro is a no-brainer, and would work in any line. But the others are really tied to recent comic book events. Hal Jordan’s number one nemesis is Sinestro, but here we get the rogue in his White Lantern uniform as he appeared in Blackest Night. Similarly, while Captain Boomerang was one of Flash’s Rogues, he was dead for a while and only recently came back to life at the end of Blackest Night (and subsequently appearing in Brightest Day and the current Flash storyline). Then there’s the most interesting pairing. Firestorm doesn’t usually have an arch nemesis, but he himself turned into a pretty cool bad guy as the Black Lantern Firestorm. In Brightest Day, part of that entity has returned, now morphed into the incredibly wicked Deathstorm. Most shocking to me is that Mattel actually named the figure that; as a kid’s toy the “Death” name is pretty crazy, especially when they might have called it Black Lantern Firestorm instead.
Each figure is appropriately sculpted and posed in action that’s specific to the character. Firestorm and Deathstorm have very similar poses (in reverse), slightly crouching with one fist out and the other cocked. Their sculpts are quite different, though, highlighting their different uniform symbols, unique heads, and other uniform details. Captain Boomerang is probably the most complex figure thus far with a convoluted down on one knee pose, left fist brandished, and a boomerang in his right arm ready to be thrown. Likewise his sculpt is quite nice to show off his outlandish costume. His opponent Flash (Barry Allen) is frozen in mid-run, necessitating a display base that plugs into his trailing right foot. It’s a classic running pose with one arm bent at the elbow and the other straight. Barry’s sculpt is relatively simple, but nicely adorned with the little wings on the head and boots, and an expressive face. Hal Jordan as Green Lantern looks tough with huge muscles and two balled fists (one adorned with an oversized ring), while Sinestro closely resembles the pose of the Firestorms. Also in opposition are Sinestro’s intense scowl vs. Hal’s cheerful smile. With the possible exception of the Flash, all of the figures are sculpted in such a way that they naturally attack in one direction so that it’s easy to make battle scenes between opponents.
Paint is bright and colorful across the board, if not exactly perfectly applied. The reds are RED and the blues are BLUE, and each pair offers great palette contrasts. There’s even a good amount of metallic paint and translucent materials (see especially Sinestro, Deathstorm, and Firestorm). There are even some subtle details like Barry’s bright blue eyes and the definition on team symbols. Speaking of which, they went in a bold direction with Green Lantern, giving him a mixture of his current uniform with an older chest symbol and a ring design usually reserved for other Lanterns. Oh well.
Articulation is very basic in the Action League, but appropriate for this style of figure. Even with their different body styles and poses, they each have four points of articulation: neck, shoulders, and waist. With their silly proportions you can actually get them into a couple of different poses, and they look fun no matter what. There are also no accessories with most of the figures, but Bizarro comes with a chunk of Kryptonite (not sure if it’s removable). It will be interesting to see if future releases include accessories. Lantern constructs in this scale and style would be hilarious!
The Action League is off to a great start with iconic and popular characters. With more 2-packs and playsets on the way DC fans both young and old should be able to collect their favorites. It’ll be interesting to see if these figures (or at least parts of them) are reused to make other characters. Flash could pretty easily become Wally West, and a repainted Sinestro Corps Sinestro would be awesome! The Leaguers look great next to Super Hero Squad figures and other “cute” minis. Look for them on the pegs at your local big box toy store now.
Review and Photos by Scott Rubin