There’s no denying that, when it comes to progress in the toy industry, Mattel was the big winner at Toy Fair. The show took place hot on the heels of their redefined Barbie– which debuted three new and diverse body types for the iconic fashion doll– and also showcased an action figure line that (rightfully) featured the four female leads of the new Ghostbusters movie, as well as a strong presence for Wonder Woman in every facet of their extensive Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice collection. And then there’s the DC Super Hero Girls, the new girl-centric adaptation of the leading ladies of the DC Universe in an accessible and inclusive tween-friendly format. The Super Hero Girls are already a hit, thanks to their webisodes and online content, but Mattel went all-in with their focus on this game-changing iteration of DC’s biggest properties.
I’ve taken a little bit of time with this review, mostly because I feel there are two different things to consider when looking at Mattel’s DC Super Hero Girls toy line. The simpler side is to approach these figures as I would any other toys up for review, with an attention to their design, engineering, and general playability. But in this case, I feel it’s just as (if not more) important to look at the exciting context behind these figures, toys that go a long way in breaking down the traditional gender barriers which have long held the toy aisles of mass market retailers hostage.
One of the oldest tropes in the toy world is the obsolete notion that some toys are for boys, and others are for girls. Personally, I doubt this was ever true, but for decades now, it’s been set in place at all levels of the toy industry, as a way of policing gender politics from the earliest ages, forcing kids to gravitate to gender-assigned categories for the toys they want to play with– we all know the old song and dance: “dolls are for girls, action figures are for boys.” Not only does this attitude compartmentalize kids into a very limiting and, quite frankly, oppressive gender-normative binary system, it also forces the toy industry to shoot itself in the foot, by ignoring half the potential audience for any given product.
The end result of this dynamic perpetuates the concept that gender and sexuality exist in a binary, instead of a spectrum– you’re either this thing or that thing– which, in our present day culture, is too simplistic an approach to be healthy, especially in terms of what we’re teaching the next generation of people. Kids should, by virtue of modern society alone, be more open to LGBT considerations, more open to divergent concepts of body image and beauty, and less beholden to those typical gender barriers of what’s considered “for girls,” and what’s considered “for boys.” Super heroes have traditionally been categorized as “boy stuff,” but this new focus on inclusion within the mainstream of the (pop) culture has proven to be a force to be reckoned with. Marvel’s cinematic universe has portrayed Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, and countless other strong female characters as equals to their male counterparts (which is, unsurprisingly, part of the reason for massive success Marvel Studios has enjoyed), the new Star Wars trilogy features a female protagonist, and Warner Bros is certainly not being shy about their inclusion of Wonder Woman in the marketing and merchandising of Batman v Superman.
The logical end game of this advancement is to eliminate the traditional gender barriers within the toy world, bringing us to a point where girls and boys no longer have to make the choice between dolls or action figures. We’ve seen some brands, big and small, transcend gender politics in the past. Major properties like Pokemon have been very successful at avoiding gender assignment, while smaller companies like I Am Elemental have helped to serve as a more inclusive alternative within the gender-coded world of super heroes. But what Mattel is doing with DC Super Hero Girls brings things to a whole new level, delivering the notion of gender inclusion to the mass market in a way that smaller, independent companies simply don’t have the reach to accomplish on their own.
This is what makes Mattel’s DC Super Hero Girls line something truly special. The concept is simple– DC took some of its most recognizable female heroes, and adapted them to a High School environment which will be identifiable to most girls based on toy lines they’ve grown up with. True to form, Mattel has released an entire line of toys those girls will identify with right away– they’re styled similarly to the Monster High and Ever After High toy lines, measuring about 12″ tall with cloth outfits and rooted hair.
But the more groundbreaking release by Mattel is the 6″ scale plastic action figure series, which plays by the rules traditionally reserved for boys’ toy lines (fully sculpted action figures, with accessories, unique paint apps, and blister card packaging), yet features the female protagonists of the Super Hero Girl universe. The result is one of the first toy lines we’ve seen from the Big Two toy companies that truly removes the gender barriers long held in place by this industry, and that is really exciting. Now, there’s not only a more traditional doll based on Wonder Woman, or Supergirl, or Harley Quinn… there’s also an action figure analog based in the same style and aesthetic, on display right next to the doll version!
Our end result? In a perfect world, it means we’ll have a franchise that both girls and boys can connect with in equal measure– girls will embrace this aesthetic, boys will recognize the comic book characters… and they’ll meet in the middle by all accepting the action figures as toys they all want to play with. I hope that is how things work out, because it would go a long way in breaking down the traditional gender barriers which have little place in our world.
This is definitely turning into a screed, and I feel like I’ve barely touched on the Super Hero Girls action figures themselves. I certainly don’t want to do that, because these figures are not only awesome in concept, but in reality. Each of the six figures– Batgirl, Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, and Bumblebee– sports a completely unique sculpt, and serves as a solid toy adaptation of their animated appearance. Every figure includes an accessory, ranging from the logical (Harley’s mallet, Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth), to slightly stretching it (Supergirl’s cape counts as her accessory).
Each figure features a clean and concise paint app, with many eye-catching colors that adapt the characters’ most iconic costumes, while removing any of the sexualization present in some costume designs seen in the the past. While there isn’t much in terms of washes or shading, the simple, bright, and primary nature of the paint work enhances the animated tone of these figures, which leaves them with a fun and unique look either on their own, or within a larger DC toy collection.
The Super Hero Girls sport a fair range of articulation– ball joint necks, half-ball shoulders and hips, hinged elbows and knees, and swivels at the wrist and calf or ankle– which allows them to hit a few good poses per figure. I’d love to see Mattel continue to play with the articulation pattern on these figures in future waves– extra joints like torso articulation or ball ankles would go a long way in opening up more poses and providing more balance so they could stand more easily– but what we get here still offers a solid range of motion.
There are a few issues with these figures, from a design standpoint. Like all Mattel releases, the factory stamping is quite obvious, with the raised production information interrupting the sculpts on the backside of each figure, and many of their accessories, and the soft rubber used in the figures’ hands means some of their accessories can’t be held as securely as I’d like.
But despite a few technical flaws, the concept behind these figures makes them some of the most interesting action figures on the mass market right now. I want the DC Super Hero Girls to succeed in the worst way– if these cool toys sell as well as they should, it will be a dramatic statement against the conservative agents within the toy world, whose vice grip on traditional gender divides have no place in this community.
If you want to check out the DC Super Hero Girls for yourself (or your daughters and sons, of course), check your local Target store, or Click Here. Target is the exclusive home of this awesome toy line for the Spring, though they will be released to more mass market retailers in the Summer of 2016. I’ll say it one more time, just to emphasize my point– this is a line worthy of your attention, because not only will the success of this series help turn a whole generation of girls AND boys on to the DC Universe, but it will make a big– and very important– statement to the toy world… one that says the binary gender coding that has oppressed the toy aisle for decades is not something we need to bring into tomorrow.