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Animal Man & B'wana Beast

DC Universe Classics
by yo go re

The word "wimoweh" in the familiar old song "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" is actually a mis-hearing of the line "uyimbube" (Zulu for "you're a lion") in the original song "Mbube" by Solomon Linda's Original Evening Birds. We only mention this because we listen to Coverville and didn't have any other jungle-related chatter to stat this review with.

When a teenage Buddy Baker went hunting in the Adirondacks, he found more than big game - he found an alien spacecraft! After being exposed to its strange radiation, Buddy found he could take on the powers and characteristics of any nearby animal - down to regenrating severed limbs, like an earthworm. He has faced many surreal menaces, traveled through space, and seen his entire reality torn apart more than once, but he always remains plain old Buddy Baker, family man and occasional hero - an oasis of sanity in the stranger corners of the DC Universe.

Animal Man is a lot like Ant-Man - Hank Pym, not Scott Lang - because he started out as a plain adventure character, not a superhero. He first appeared in Strange Adventures #180, and didn't put on a costume until #190. And as you know, his biggest role came under the pen of Grant Morrison, when Buddy realized he was really just a comicbook character.

This is definitely the modern Animal Man: he's wearing his familiar blue jacket, although since the stated reason he started wearing it was to have someplace to keep his wallet and keys, it's kind of an error that the jacket isn't sculpted with pockets. The jacket itself is new, as are the forearms: the upper arms and shoulders are reused from Mr. Terrific, but Buddy's jacket has cuffs, where Michael's didn't. The collar is larger, but that leaves room for sculpted snaps (even on the underside!) and an accurately placed zipper.

When he first became a hero, Animal Man was actually known only as "A-Man" - not to be confused with "Mr. A," the character Steve Ditko created when he couldn't work on The Question anymore. Appropriately, then, his major costume element is the giant blue "A" that covers his chest. His costume is a nice mustardy yellow that sets him apart from all the other DCU figures. He has black on the gloves, neck and boots, and the jacket is blue to remind us all that it's not leather (he's vegan). The boots have a very odd pattern along the top, but that's an accurate representation of the comic art.

Mattel's DC Universe figures may all use the same body, but at least they get unique heads. The Four Horsemen don't just put different hair and masks on one generic face (a lesson many comics artists could stand to learn), they give all the characters their own characteristics. Animal Man, for instance, has a much narrower chin than anyone save Joker. His eyes are fully sculpted and painted behind his goggles, though the left eye is a bit sloppy on mine.

While in Tanzania, Mike Maxwell found himself trapped in a cave high atop Mount Kilimanjaro. In his attempt to survive, he drank the cave's water - which, unknown to him, was infused with a strange elixir that increased his muscle mass, making him much stronger. When Maxwell donned an ancient helmet, he discovered he could merge any two animals together into a new, hybrid form called a chimera. B'wana became a fighter for animal rights as the jungle's premier hero.

Ah, B'wana Beast. A white man goes to Africa and gains superpowers so he can help the poor, terrified savages who live there? Ah, that's good old-fashioned family racism! DC did eventually pass the mantle on to a black guy, but he's died, like, three times now, so that's not working out so great for him. "B'wana," for those of you who don't watch a lot of old jungle movies, is the African equivalent of "kemosabe" - you know, the thing the darkies call the white guy who's in charge of them. It is actually a real word, though: it's Swahili for "master" or "guardian," so you can think of this guy as Guardian Beast.

Master Beast uses the "slender" male body, judging by the L-shaped hole in his back. That's fine, with one notable exception: because his torso is a straight re-use, he's lacking nipples. That may work for a synthetic man like Amazo, but B'wana Beast is human, and the omission stands out. His striped loincloth is a new piece, obviously, and sculpted well enough to actually look like twisted cloth. The big surprise is that the cuffs of his boots seem to be new; there have been a few characters with similar cuffs, but the Beast's have a sculpted fur texture.

The paint is very good. His skin is a ruddy orange, dark enough to make even the poorly paint-mastered "Superbro" look pale! It's a natural look, too, befiting a guy who runs around shirtless in the African veldt. The sripes on his belt and boots are crisp and even, and although the edge between the red and yellow on his boots is an absolute mess, it's in a place you'll almost never look, so it's no big deal. The leopard spots on the yellow bits of his costume are applied well, not blurry at all. The larger spots even have separate brown/dark orange apps inside them.

The exclusive "Justice in the Jungle" set is a nice one, with two well-executed figures that fit together thematically, but wouldn't really deserve a spot in a BAF series. Unfortunately, this is also the last online-exclusive two-pack, due to Mattel's claim of "slow sales." You'd think that means you could go buy one right now, right? Well, no: it two weeks for this "slow seller" to go out of stock, which really underscores how badly Mattel is handling its online store. We here at OAFE understand that when it comes to exclusive items, success or failure depends entirely on the excitement of the new. The hype helps sell the product, and if it sits too long, that thrill is gone - ask any of the retailers who still have Seventh Kingdom animals to sell. But Mattel and its spokesmen seem to be of the mindset that if something doesn't sell out in an hour, it's a failure, and that's just patently not true. The DCU two-packs are all sold out - even the crappy Earth-3 pair - and they all sold out in a brief period of time. The decision to cancel the subline is just more evidence of how badly out of touch the decision-makers at Mattel are with the reality of the market and the wishes of collectors.

-- 05/26/10

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