Toy Review - DC Action Figures from DC Direct, McFarlane and NECA
With Mattel falling by the wayside as the primary 6-inch scale licensee of DC themed action figures, we find ourselves suddenly with a fair number of options. McFarlane Toys has stepped up as the newest primary license holder, although there’s also output from NECA Toys occasionally and of course DC’s own in-house creator, DC Collectibles (who will soon be reverting back to their old name: DC Direct). It should be noted that Spin Masters is also making DC stuff, but mainly in the 4-inch and 12-inch scales. I didn’t take any pictures of their output for the purposes of this review, but I’ll address them at the end in a brief blurb as I likely won’t be picking up much from them.
Let’s start off with the newest kid on the block:
When you hear that McFarlane Toys has picked up your favorite license, you immediately have two thoughts: 1) The figures are gonna look really good and 2) The term “action” in these action figures is gonna be applied really REALLY loosely…because for McFarlane, that typically means a statue that can maybe move its head and one arm. That has certainly been the case throughout much of this new millennium but this policy seems to have shifted as of late. Figures from The Walking Dead seemed to have some articulation, his HALO figures certainly did…although their scales were more in the strange no-man’s-land of 5-inches. It was with the Fortnite license that it finally looked like McFarlane decided to join where the bulk of action figure makers have been for quite some time: the 6 to 7-inch scale. But, having no interest in that game, nope, didn’t get any of those either. However, I have been able to snag a little bit of their first wave of DC Multiverse figures and…well, they’re certainly trying, aren’t they. Given a first wave that includes figures based on film and TV (Green Arrow from the CW’s Arrow and Harley Quinn from the recent Birds of Prey movie), animated series (Batman and Superman from their respective TAS’s, John Stewart GL from Justice League and a Harley that’s a little too cartoony looking for me to consider her part of the comics line) and from the comics…this all seemed a little overwhelming for me and my bank account…so I opted to focus in more on the comics based stuff. What you find here isn’t bad…and in some cases or in some qualities really freaking cool, but it definitely shows that this is indeed a first wave and there are some lessons that McFarlane needs to take home from this initial wave in order to hopefully improve future ones.
Let’s start with the two armors first: Batman in his Hellbat suit from when he journeyed to Apokolips to resurrect his fallen son Damien and Superman’s Kryptonian armor from when he needed to take down The Wraith from the Superman Unchained miniseries. Right off the bat, both figures just look awesome…but it’s McFarlane, so, again you kind of expected that. Joints are stiff with what feels like soft ratchets…which would be good for posing, but some of the joints feel a little too stiff, putting them into ‘I feel like I’m gonna break this damn thing’ territory. Fortunately though, that hasn’t been the case yet. Double-joints in the knees are certainly welcome and seem to be standard across all figures (double-jointed elbows on the other hand seem to be a case by case basis). Toe articulation is here…but I’ll be honest, I’ve never cared for it and, a lot of times I’ve found it interferes with a figures ability to just even stand up. We’ll revisit this is a bit. Abs are handled in a way similar to the way they were handled back in the DC Icons figures by DC Collectibles. The body is made up of a torso piece connected to an abdomen via ball socket and said abdomen is connected to the waist/hips by another ball socket. This revisits the old sculpt vs. articulation debate…as the method these figures use tends to side more with keeping the sculpt intact while allowing for some, if not exactly the best, abdominal articulation while the joint method that Mattel used gave you a better range of motion but could look really funky sometimes. Also of note, McFarlane added in some butterfly joints in the shoulders which you don’t typically see in American action figures while it’s a pretty standard joint in Japanese ones. Okay, to be fair, Hasbro’s Marvel Legends figures have been trying to incorporate these for a while now, especially on their Spider-Man or Spider-Family related figures…but, kinda like Mattel’s ab joints, well, more often than not they’ve just looked seriously funky. We’ve even got some articulation in each suit’s wings. The mechanics of Superman’s wings allow for an interesting storage dynamic that mimics his usual cape. Batman’s wings though…while they’re hinged in the center of each wing so that they can at least slightly reduce this figure’s shelf space…well, it doesn’t reduce it by much. Now that I’ve listed all this articulation, well, it seems like a fair next point to mention that it can be a bit limited by these bulky sculpts. But, these ARE armors…so, you know, the wearer’s flexibility is gonna be reduced no matter what, and as such, I feel it would be an unfair criticism to levy against these two figures. Overall, these two are pretty damn cool and I’d definitely recommend them. [Dammit. No pics of these figs yet. I'll try and get some in here soon. - Ed]
Moving more toward our mainline figures, I decided to grab Batman, Superman and The Batman Who Laughs from the more comic oriented figures. I’ve yet to get Nightwing and Batgirl. And that alone should tell you where the primary focus of McFarlane’s initial output is. The F’ing bat. Ugh. Anyway, these figures rock all the same articulation that I’ve already mentioned. There are really only a couple of things worth mentioning for each of these guys. First off, no, the pictures you’ve seen on the internet don’t lie, McFarlane kinda fucked up Batman, as the top torso piece is indeed too large for the ab piece underneath it, giving off a really funky appearance. [Can we use a descriptor other than ‘funky’ please? I feel like George Clinton, Bootsy Collins and the rest of the P-Funk All Stars are going to come through the door any minute. – Ed.] With Superman, while I SERIOUSLY love the size of the S on him, I mean seriously, other figure makers take note of that, this figure suffers from what about 90% of Superman figures suffer from: the complete inability to look up. And if a guy who’s most likely known for his ability to fly can’t freaking look up…I mean, what the hell? I mean, you can kinda try to arch his back in such a way to allow it…but it just falls short. Lastly, with The Batman Who Laughs, here’s where that toe articulation gets in the way…where I simply cannot get him to stand without…well, a stand. [Guess it’s worth mentioning that each figure comes with one and, in the case of Superman, it’s a flight stand, which only emphasizes the lack of being able to look up…but I digress. – Ed.] Also with The Batman Who Laughs, it’s worth noting that while the neck articulation is there (albeit just a ball joint so still somewhat limited), there are poses where the costume makes it look like the figure has no neck…making it just seem…off. [Better. – Ed.] All in all, just given this sample size, I’d say McFarlane is off to a decent enough start. I like the size, 7-inch scale (because Marvel heroes should be puny compared to Supes!), and the articulation is okay for the most part…but this is also where some fine tuning and adjustments could be made. As they’re flagship characters, I’m certain Batman and Superman will be revisited again in this line (likely with a Batman every goddamn wave)…so there will plenty of opportunities to right some of the missteps here.
NECA has actually been doing 7-inch DC stuff or a little while now, always limited to either store exclusives (Superman vs. Muhammad Ali) or conventions…like the figures we’ll be looking at here: Superman from the Superman vs. Aliens two-pack and Armored Batman from the Batman vs. Predator two-pack. Like McFarlane, NECA certainly has a reputation for some great looking figures, but unlike McFarlane, NECA has always had some pretty good articulation too. The problem with NECA is that they also have a reputation for having some REALLY DAMN FRAGILE PLASTIC! The sad thing is, you don’t know when it’s gonna strike. On figure might be fine while the next will shatter as you’re trying to pull it out of the packaging. Picking up some of their Godzilla releases and their fucking impossible to find Target exclusive TMNT 2-packs (MY KINGDOM FOR A GODDAMN LEONARDO!!!), it actually seemed like this fragile plastic thing was behind them…as I did have a Christopher Reeve Superman disintegrate right before my eyes, making me weep like a little girl.
Again, the articulation is there, and I’ll be honest, I was gonna pose these guys in the pictures, but as it turns out, Batman’s arm just fell off and Superman’s one thigh just WASN’T GOING TO BUDGE…and by that point, I was terrified that any use of force would result in one broken, VERY expensive to replace Superman…so, nope…turnarounds and that’s it.
And that’s just it. I wanna love these figures. All the articulation is there, the looks are very 90s comics (which is when these mini-series came out) and I love the cloth goods capes and think more action figure makers should be incorporating this into their lines. Hell, plus NECA were the ONLY ones in this review to remember that, oh yeah, Superman’s cape DOES have the yellow S on it. But sadly, the truth is that they still have plastic issues…or, in the instances where the plastic is fine, some of their paintwork dries over the joints which, again, gives you a prime scenario for breaking.
Ugh. Like I said, I wanna love these guys. They do good work, cover a wide range of subject material and in interviews seem like just good folk. But please…PLEASE…stop the breakage.
Obviously, these guys have been in the game for a while with a variety of articulation schemes, a variety of looks…so on and so forth. Now, the last time they tried to do something like this, with their DC Icons line, well, you call tell from my past reviews of those figures that by and large I liked what they were trying to do. Some of the articulation was weird (the torsos) and some desperately needed articulation was missing (THIGH CUTS!)…and while they were a little short compared to Hasbro’s Marvel Legends output, they were more consistently 6-inch scale than most lines in production at that time. That line would come to a close and be replaced by the current DC Essentials line. Having been at this since 2018, needless to say this line has a bit more variety with regards to character selection than the others we’ve listed here. Also, articulation here is pretty standard…even double-elbows and double-knees for everyone...but the range, the amount a limb can move…seems to be more here than with McFarlane’s products. And yes…SUPERMAN CAN LOOK UP…as it seems Essentials here may have cribbed what Hasbro’s been doing with their Marvel Legends here, putting in a ratcheted hinge joint on the top of the sculpted neck allowing the figure to look up. The abs are hinged and as such, especially with characters whose logos cover much of the front of their body (Black Adam and Shazam for instance), things will start to look a little weird when arching the figure back. But all in all, if you enjoyed what Mattel was trying to do, it looks like Essentials here keeps that vibe going while also making improvements.
It’s not all perfect though. Given the sheer volume of characters (and pieces I’m missing) I’m not going to go through them all…so let’s focus on Bats and Supes here. With Superman, the attempt to paint the trunks on the top of the thighs just looks…bad…and you can see that even DC thought so because when it came time to do Cyborg Superman, that little detail was gone. Much better…and as such, they really ought to put out a redone Superman without those paint globs. An interesting addition to these figures is, like McFarlane, the addition of something we typically see with Japanese action figures, in this instance though, it’s not butterfly joints in the shoulders but ratcheted ball joints for both the wrists and ankles. For the wrists, these work just fine. For the ankles though…let’s be generous and say results are mixed. These figures can be a pain in the ass to stand up…especially if the ratchets don’t click in exactly the right place you need them to. There are other problems, strength of the ratchets for example…or the fact that there is no peg holes in any of the feet for a stand to help out with this issue, that keep me from calling these figures perfect. In fact, I have to admit this little problem has actually kept me thankful that my current set up doesn’t really allow me to display many of my action figures because, given how much of a pain it was to get everyone upright for this photoshoot, I can’t imagine how stressful it must be to set these guys up on a display.
But, those gripes out of the way, this line ends up being my favorite as it simply seems to have more successes than failures and, for better or for worse, is the most uniform in terms of articulation, look and focus.
A quick word on Spin Masters' offerings:
I've only picked up a couple of things from them, their 4-inch scale Superman and their 12-inch scale Superman. Right off the bat you can tell these are geared more toward kids than anything else...which of course is fine, after all, the collector dorks of tomorrow have gotta start somewhere right? I have to say that although the 12-inch figure offers nearly the exact same articulation as Mattel's offerings, there's more paintwork here and, if I'm brutally honest, it actually looks like Spin Masters cares about the product. The last couple of lines for Mattel's 12-inch product really looked like they were phoning it in. Say what you will about Hasbro's competing Marvel line lacking in articulation, you can never fault them for skimping on paint or detail...whereas Mattel just kinda shoved product out the door and if it wasn't Batman, they didn't give a shit about how it looked. The combination of the paintwork and the retained higher count of points of articulation definitely works in Spin Masters' favor with regards to releasing a better quality product.
As for their 4-inch offerings...I haven't been terribly impressed. I'll still pick up characters of interest if I can find them, but overall it feels like these skew a little under my weight-class. It's kind of neat that the "hidden accessories" included in each figure actually do have some rare variants and there's an insert to show you where yours falls...but I can also imagine this feature driving any potential adult collectors interested in this line absolutely nuts. So if you're a completionist, you might be best to stay away.
So, overall, who gets the nod? While I like the start that McFarlane is off to, there’s still a little work to be done before I devote myself to their line. NECA is out…typically because of both the limited nature of their offerings and the fear that the damn thing’s gonna break. While not perfect, consistency matters a lot to me and so far, DC’s Essentials line has been hitting that mark right from their first wave. Sure, they’ve built off of cancelled lines that have come before it…and the problem with DC’s lines is that, like Icons, they may get cancelled suddenly in favor of something else that’ll start back from zero again. I’m hoping that’s not the case, because right now, if I have to choose where my money goes, right now, I’m siding with DC’s Essentials line and hopefully through the pictures, I’ve been able to convey why.