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DC Direct Batman Reborn
by Artemis

As I write this, my list of must-have comics from the Big Two is looking about as weighty as a malnourished supermodel. It wasn't always that way, but one by one the comics I used to love reading have finished, or been screwed up, and nothing's replacing them. She-Hulk got steamrollered under all that Red Hulk garbage, just as Peter David was really getting into the swing of it; the Wonder Woman I like has been sidelined while JMS has his flight of fancy, Ms. Marvel petered out, Power Girl continues to unimpress, Agents of Atlas meandered and then disintegrated, Batwoman's been shoved back into her closet where she can't upset DC editorial, and I'm even wondering how long Justice Society of America is going to last before I get tired of wading through stale fight scenes just to see half a page of Cyclone, and dull Cyclone at that. Among the few bright spots, though, is Batgirl.

Stephanie Brown has fought crime in Gotham City for years - as the Spoiler. After a brief stint as Robin, she trained with Cassandra Cain. When Cassandra disappears, leaving her costume behind, Stephanie takes the costume as her own. With Barbara Gordon as her mentor, the new Batgirl must battle criminals as well as detractors from within Batman's own ranks.

Yeah, those detractors in Batman's ranks can bollocks, the lot of them. Remember how Batman's been making Gotham safe for, what, several decades? Good job. The thing about Steph is that she keeps on trying, despite setbacks - she's kind a cute, ruffled, and slightly mishap-prone version of the Terminator. And more impressively - especially compared to her fellow heroes - she does it without, thus far, devolving into Angst Girl, Tragic Past Woman, or Miss Darkness. I'm sure DC will screw it up somehow eventually, but for now, it's nice to have one more comic in that perishingly small pile that's fun, uplifting even, despite being a serious hero story.

Seeing an action figure of her this promptly is a nice surprise too. That's the benefit of DC having DC Direct, and of course she's riding on the coattails of Batman Reborn rather than just being made for her own sweet sake, but any way we can get a figure works; it's not like Mattel is going to notice she exists for another, oh, 30 or 40 years anyway. Despite the bio text's reference to Cassandra's costume (which one suspects was worked into her debut just to let them do teaser artwork featuring it with its closed mouth torn off), Stephanie was pretty promptly given her very own Batgirl suit, which is what this figure delivers. The basic design is what you'd expect - bodysuit, three-quarter-length cape, cowl and all - but Steph's version is distinctive thanks to purple ribbed panels along the sides of the torso and insides of the limbs, plus the cape's lining.

The figure duplicates the design, but the paint is a bit over-enthusiastic - in the comic, the purple is muted, and (depending on who's colouring it) can go so far as to be dark blue, more or less the same shade generally used to highlight "black" costumes. The paint on the toy isn't quite as bright (or as far towards the red end of purple) as the camera makes it look, but it is unmistakeable. [The colors (and even her pose, for that matter) come from the original design. --ed.] On top of that, the yellow used for the omnipresent utility belt, and matching garter-pouch-thing, is violently bright, almost as if it thinks it has to stand out against a primary colour. Even with the bodysuit's purple a few shades bolder than necessary, the yellow is way over the top.

Having said that, the figure isn't a visual flop - looking past the Power Rangers belt, the physique is good work, slim without being painful to look at (cough*Mattel*cough); the waist is unrealistic, but that's comicbook art for you. The sculpted detailing on the costume is far more restrained and impressive than the paint, with panelled boots and gauntlets in addition to the segmented sides on the body. The cape deserves special mention too - although it's not immediately obvious in store, thanks to the somewhat unceremonious way it's shoved into the packaging, the sideways sway to it is very visually attractive, without needing any sharp folds or whips in it that'd make the windswept look too aggressive.

You only get so much face in a figure with this kind of cowl - what's visible is certainly consistent with Batgirl, with an even but not squarish face, large, bright eyes, and a cute little grin teasing her lips. As expressions go, it's not quite her trademark - that'd be a kind of harassed sigh as frustrating things to do and irrational villains to beat pile up on top of her, but since she still manages to come out the other side more or less cheerful, it works anyway. What doesn't work is the way her eyes are staring in different directions, but presumably that's not supposed to be happening; check your purchase before you buy, and if you can't find a better example, blame the painter (again).

Steph continues DC Direct's flirtation with articulation more complex than the original Star Wars line, adding swivel wrists, left thigh, boot tops, and waist to the usual neck/shoulders/elbows/hips/knees routine. Even so, the leg articulation is limited - with her hip tilted out to her right, the angles of the legs tend not to work too well unless they're both straight, but the boot swivels are very useful for creating a stable pose without using a base; the opportunistic left thigh swivel is handy here too. If you do move the legs, the belt is entirely separate, so it doesn't get in the way. With the rows of blade-catchers on her gauntlets unable to swivel too, the wrists can't turn too far without seeming off, but again, small adjustments can help the overall look of the figure a lot. The neck - on my figure, at least - is weirdly loose and easy to move, but it'll still hold any position within its range, which is quite extensive given her hair in every axis except forward-backward tilt.

Batgirl has her requisite batarang - unfortunately it's the same fluorescent yellow as the rest of her gear, although at least it blends in. Neither hand has its fingers closed enough to hold the batarang finger-and-thumb, but the right hand has the fingers parted, so it can be wedged between them ready to flick; the left hand has all four fingers molded as a single solid piece, so no joy there. She also gets a nightstick to play with, although again the hands are a limiting factor - unfortunately this time the limit is "she can't hold it at all". Perhaps, if you were to tilt her left hand just the right way - probably held up in front of her - you could balance the stick's handle on it well enough that it wouldn't just fall out, but that's going to be a pretty silly pose. The Utility Belt of Yellow Death has a loop for the stick, though, so it's not a complete waste.

She also has a base, but it's more fodder for my ongoing feud with DC Direct over bases. Normally it's a matter of the figure not being able to stand in the middle of a base, or at least not when its logo is facing forwards (and I'll admit I get a bit zealous about it), but this time the base is too small for her to even get both feet on it. Only the right sole has a peg hole (the left is sculpted to be resting on the toes), and the base is clearly intended to simply help keep her upright, not act as any kind of display base. Which it doesn't, since in addition to looking dumb sitting under just one of her feet, her boot soles aren't quite level with one another - standing free it's not enough to notice, but if you put her right foot on the base, the left will end up floating a couple of millimeters off the shelf surface. She and Ursa could form a club.

So that's the newest Batgirl in Gotham, and while I've pointed out a fair list of flaws there, I'm not going so far as to warn fans off of her. Despite her flaws, she looks good - perhaps not as good as she might've, but if wishes were horses and all that. Since this is the first (and in the foreseeable future, probably only) Stephanie Brown Batgirl figure [Stephanie Brown anything figure! --ed.] it'll probably attract some interest from DC-in-general collectors, and I don't think they'll regret their purchase - she doesn't have what it takes to wow anyone on technical merit alone, but she's good enough to pass muster.

-- 09/02/10

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