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DC Universe Classics
by Monkey Boy

It's amazing to think that just a few years ago, a figure like Zipline Batman could absolutely "wow" the toy-collecting world. Back before DCU Classics encompassed the whole DC Universe, back before it even focused on Bats and Supes, there was Mattel's Batman line. Sort of like how Spider-Man Classics was the jump-off for Marvel Legends, Mattel's comic-based Batman line would sow the seeds of what would become the DC Ultimate Collection (or whatever Mattel's calling it at the moment).

Tim Drake is the third youngster to serve as Robin, partner to Batman. Through rigorous and constant training, Robin keeps his physical edge, which, along with his knowledge of computers, makes him a formidable foe of Gotham City's villainous population. Tim balances his activities as Robin with his school and friends... but he is always ready to answer the call to action.

It's hard to see now what drew us all to that line; even though the sculpting was good, the actual figures were rather soft compared to today's detail, and the articulation was painfully subpar (nobody even had elbows!). The paint wasn't great, and the decision to make the capes half-sculpted, half-cloth seemed to encompass the worst of both worlds and satisfy nobody.

My point in all this reminiscing is that it's taken from then until now to get a better figure of Batman's most trusted sidekick. Sure, in the DCSH line there was a repaint snuck in here and there, but it was always the same figure from the ol' Batman line. Sculpted in a style meant to ape the work of the Four Horsemen, this square-jawed sidekick with the blond highlights just doesn't cut it any more, and barely cut it when he was released. Even when fans went gaga for Zipline Batman, few really enjoyed Robin. I actually think I ended up giving mine to my father (it makes sense: his name is Robin, and he occasionally enjoys the odd novelty gift relating to his name).

Anyway, we had to wait until DCUC Series 3 to get a decent Robin, properly sculpted by the Four H themselves. And like most DCUC figures, this Robin really makes you wonder why you ever cared about that lame Batman toyline. This Robin is apparently meant to represent Tim Drake, the third Robin, but that's only obvious because he's wearing a distinctly non-flamboyant costume that doesn't include green scaly underwear and no pants. As far as distinguishing physical features go, Robin has always pretty much looked the same, whether it was Dick Grayson, Jason Todd or Tim Drake. The only major change beyond the costume was the hair, which reflected whatever the social norm was for teens at the time.

Series 3 Robin is sculpted nicely, with a nice solemn and determined look on his face. He utilizes the smaller body sculpt, just 5½" tall, and he's the first DCUC figure to use it (though undoubtedly he won't be the last). It's quite a bit shorter and leaner than the other body types in the line, but still plenty muscle-y. Robin gets a solid amount of uniquely sculpted bits, including his collar and cape, the clasps on his tunic and circular chest emblem, diminutive utility belt, and triple-spiked gloves to ape those of his mentor. Many of these elements could have been simply painted on or omitted altogether, so it's nice to see a bit of effort to make this sculpt uniquely Robin.

The paint is functional, but not spectacular. Most of his body uses red cast plastic, with black paint and some molded black pieces (hands and feet, mainly). The only places where anything is given some extra attention are the blue highlights drybrushed on his black hair (not so successful) and the orange wash used to accentuate the yellow clasps on his tunic (pretty well done). The colors get fuzzy on the edges in some places, though his "R" emblem is a nice crisp tampo.

The high collar, while it's a nice little way to set this figure apart from being just a totally phoned-in "standard Robin costume", ends up hindering the neck articulation a bit. It's hard to use the balljoint effectively, though it is present. The rest of the figure uses the standard DCUC joints, which offer a nice harmony of movement and sculptural aesthetics. He's got balljoints at the shoulders, peg biceps, hinged elbows, peg wrists, hinged torso, peg waist, pegged and hinged hips, peg thighs, hinged knees, and hinged ankles. All joints were reasonably tight, though a lack of ratchets means they may not stay that way.

Robin comes equipped with his staff and two bird-shaped batarangs... or birdarangs. The staff fits well enough in his hands and is basically a featureless gray pole save for a couple of buttons near the center. The birdarangs can fit in his open hands if you slide them in the right way, but it'll take some finagling. Not too much finagling, though. I enjoy the word "finagling."

He also comes with Solomon Grundy's left arm, which is much like his right arm, but sort of switched around a bit. It's a big ol' raggedly arm and it's got a balljoint at the shoulder, a peg bicep, a hinged elbow, and a peg at the sleeve.

So Robin's a nice, if a little plain, addition to anyone's DC or Batman figure collection. He's loads better than Highlights McNoElbows, and Mattel and the 4H have gone above and beyond in giving him lots of extra sculpted elements, so he's not just a superhero figure in different colored tights on the exact same body as some other figure with a new head. Still, despite it being a great representation of a necessary figure in any DC or Batman gallery, I'm not wowed by it, for reasons I can't really explain. I don't really know how they could have executed the figure better, save for amping up the paint a little bit, but he leaves me just ever so slightly unimpressed. Maybe he needs a goofy glider or a spring-loaded bazooka or something. No, in all seriousness, I think it may just be the character himself. Is anybody ever really "wowed" by Robin?

-- 02/17/09

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