We've said a lot about Mattel's idiocy, from under-produced exclusives to getting shut out of the country's largest toy retailer. But now... now... now they've topped even themselves.
Hasbro's Batman line died a slow, hideous, neon death because of ridiculous variations and small production runs on popular characters. Mattel wasted no time falling into the same pattern that led their competitors down the tubes: their first series of two-packs all included some variation of the Dark Knight packaged with one of his allies or adversaries. None of the sets included any accessories, and there was one set, pictured on the back of the card, that never reached shelves: Batman and Batgirl.
Batgirl eventually showed up as part of the Gotham City Figure Pack, a shining example of everything Mattel does wrong. Featuring four figures - three of which had already shown up elsewhere - repainted in ridiculous colors, with no accessories, the set is a testament to poor decisions.
The people of Gotham City see Batman as an almost mythical figure, able to tame any adversary. But now, with so many bizarre criminals running amok in Gotham City, Batman turns to his trusted allies to aid him in his battle against evil.
Batman, wearing his completely average and usual bright silver bodysuit, stands 5" tall. The sculpt, a straight re-use of Mattel's only Animated Bat-mold is a bit bulkier and more angular than Hasbro's previous animated figures, and moves at the Big Five. He's wearing the big pockety utility belt that is always much cooler than those ridiculous capsules.
Batman's cape is real cloth, stitched to shape and attached beneath his head: black on the outside, and bright metallic silver within. If the silvers weren't so shiny, we could at least pretend that Batman was just wearing his grey uniform, but no such luck.
Tim Drake, the second Robin, is the son of a small-time hood who ran afoul of Two-Face. Rescued from certain death by Batman, Tim's courage and fighting skills impressed the Dark Knight, who took the boy under his wing as the new Robin.
For the cartoon, Tim Drake was given Jason Todd's revised comicbook origins, which worked for him. What doesn't work for him is the bright silver costume he's wearing in this set, rather than the red and black he usually wears, or even the red and green of the comics.
At 3 3/4" tall, Robin moves at the Big Five. His black and yellow cape is stitched cloth, though it has a large ugly seam running right down the center. I don't know if this is how the two-pack Robin was outfitted, but I hope not - it's really a low-quality move.
Mattel's Robin is a little bit smaller than Hasbro's, though his head is a bit larger. Actually, Robin's neck joint is surprisingly loose, allowing his head to rattle around freely. I hope that's just a problem with this particular sample, and not evidence of quality problems throughout the line.
After college while travelling the world, Dick Grayson soon realized he had outgrown his role as young sidekick to a seasoned hero. Upon his return to Gotham City, he developed a new heroic identity called Nightwing, and with Batman's approval, joined the battle against evil.
Robin's transition to Nightwing is one of the high points of both the cartoon and the comics it drew from: the relationship between the characters seemed very real. It doesn't seem real, however, that Nightwing, a man who uses shadow and darkness to help him fight crime, would don a striking silver uniform.
While the rest of the figures in this pack look like they belong together, Nightwing just looks out of place. I think maybe it's the lack of a cape. The large insignia that runs across his shoulders and chest is still a bright blue, but it just doesn't contrast with the silver well enough. He's got a more dynamic pose than any of Mattel's other Animated figures and is, for some reason, sporting a mullet.
When she's not fighting crime as Batgirl, Barbara Gordon works on the police force alongside her father, Commissioner James Gordon. Fully aware of the dangers of her double life, Barbara believes the good she does as Batgirl outweighs the risk to herself and her father.
Batgirl is the real disappointment of this set. Not available anywhere else (unless you plan to buy a $40 video game and have the right system), Batgirl exists only as this silver monstrosity. She's got a pretty good sculpt, looking just as feminine as Catwoman, though she too has the useless hips that plagued Selina.
Batgirl is wearing the same type of cape as Robin - with its seam in the center - and it looks just as bad on her. Though articulated at the Big Five, Babs' hair keeps her head from turning very far. This is the first time we've ever gotten a Batgirl figure that's on-model for the redesigned Batman style; until they unveiled a new and completely awful sculpt, all Hasbro's Batgirls were repaints of their original Wind Blitz Batgirl.
This set does come with some dubious "accessories" - each character is represented on a lenticular motion card: one straightforward stance, one action pose and one group shot in front of the Batsignal. The idea was halfassed when they did it for the Justice League line, and these Batfigures don't even come with display bases.
The Gotham City figure pack is fine, if you don't plan to get any other BTAS sets and you don't mind the costumes. In fact, I'd love to see something similar with four villains, if the colors were brought in line. But really, this should not be the only way that we can get a Batgirl, and she should not look like an escapee from the Ice Capades.
Will Mattel ever wise up? Tell us on our message board, The Loafing Lounge.