At Toy Fair 2013, Mattel unveiled a Damian Wayne figure that was going to be part of their ill-fated Batman Legacy Unlimited All-Star line, but that got cancelled. Then, when they needed to drum up interest in a third year of the DC Signature Collection, he was announced as part of the lineup. But the sub didn't go through, so he was cancelled again. Then Mattel decided to offer him anyway, just like they did Aquaman and Ice. So the good news is he's finally available - the better news is you don't have to buy him!
Mattel's Damian went on sale December 15. That same week, DC Direct offered one that was better in pretty much every way. Let's break it down.
This figure is not based on the comics, but rather on the Son of Batman animated movie. That said, his origin in both is pretty much identical: the biological child of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul, Damian was conflicted by his upbringing as a deadly assassin the revelation that he was the son of the Dark Knight Detective. Genetically engineered in a laboratory and trained by the League of Assassins, young Damian was already a lethal warrior when he first met his father. To help Damian control his violent temper and curb his desire to kill, Batman took him under his wing and eventually made him his sidekick, Robin. While their relationship was rocky at first, they were able to form a strong bond as father and son.
DC's go-to guy for animated projects these days
is Phil Bourassa - you've seen his character designs on Young Justice and Justice League: Doom, among others, so this Robin is more cartoony than most other 6" DC figures. Not that he is 6" - he's a kid after all, and while Mattel's figure of course reused their smallest standard body, it's still too big for a preteen boy. This scrawny little 5"er was sculpted by our old favorite, Phil Ramirez! Robin has a physique that actually looks like it belongs to a child, not a stumpy adult. Obviously his skinniness is exaggerated, but it works.
Many of the costume details are sculpted on - the tattered lower edge of his black cape lining, the armored plates that he wears
instead of boots and gloves, the seven pouches of various size on his belt, and even the edges of his mask! And then, weirdly, all the details that would be on his chest, such as the Robin symbol, the various seam lines, the three clasps that hold his shirt closed, and most amazingly, the strap and buckle of his belt are all merely painted on. What the heck happened there? The black outlines, sure, we could understand painting those. Maybe even his ®. But the clasps? The belt buckle (which now has a weird bend in it thanks to the lower edge of his tunic)? It's just a strange choice.
One thing the Mattel Damian has over this version? The face. The Four Horsemen gave him a terrific little Backpfeifengesicht that oerfectly suits the character. This one, due to its animated origins, is not nearly as detailed. He's just kind of glowering. But again, thanks to his small chin and huge ears, he looks like a kid, so this one wins.
The articulation could be better, though. He has no ankles, hinged knees, balljointed hips, no wrists, no waist, swivel/hinge elbows and shoulders, and a balljointed head that's so tight it might as well just be a swivel. It's annoying, since he's sculpted looking down, when you'd most likely want someone this short to be looking up, right? Well, pretend he's standing on a rooftop, watching criminals from above, not standing at ground level chatting with them. Makes a lot more sense that way (though it would still be better if the head could look up and down as you preferred). And also, they could totally have hidden a waist under that tunic.
Robin only comes with one accessory,
which makes him look very empty and lonely there in his giant blister card. It's his sword, because Damian Wayne is a violent little bastard (as one tends to be, when raised by assassins), and apparently it's taking a while for his dad's influence to rub off on him. His right hand is open to hold the sword, though for some reason the index finger is extended, like he plans to fire a gun.
DC Direct's Son of Batman Robin isn't significantly better than Mattel's DCSC version - there's less articulation, and while the sculpt is good, some of the choices made are odd. However, there's one undeniable advantage that this version boasts: that you don't have to give any of your money to Mattel to get it. Look at the date down below the end of this paragraph: as of this writing, I'm still waiting for the order I placed with them on Black Friday; that's unacceptable. I wanted a Damian Wayne action figure, and was planning to get Mattel's, but this one meant I didn't have to do that. And the figure is cheaper, even before you consider shipping costs. This is the one to buy.