REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS BRONZE TIGER
Although the eighteenth wave of Mattel's superb line of DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS action figures is dominated by characters who were originally developed for the Super Friends animated series in the 1970's, there are exceptions. The most impressive of these exceptions, as far as I'm concerned, is an interesting character known as BRONZE TIGER.
I would have to say that the character has been moderately prominent within DC Comics, and has put in a few animated appearances here and there, but isn't exactly what one would call a top member of the DC Universe. Nevertheless, he is an interesting individual, certainly worthy of action figure treatment, and has had some impressive interactions with other notable DC characters over the years.
Let's consider Bronze Tiger's history. Interestingly enough, the character didn't get his start within the pages of DC Comics. In fact, he first appeared in a novel by Dennis O'Neil, certainly a well-known writer for DC Comics, and Jim Berry, titled "Dragon's Fists", which was published in 1974.
Ben Turner, Bronze Tiger's real name, comes from an upper middle class black neighborhood in Central City. When he was only 10 years old, he say a burglar attacking his parents, and he proceeded to kill the man with a kitchen knife. In an effort to control the rage inside him, Turner turned to martial arts -- and eventually, crime. After some time, Turner decides to travel to the far east in order to come to terms with his inner demons.
There, he meets the O-Sensei, and studies under him, together with later recruit Richard Dragon. The meeting between Turner and Dragon serves as the start of the DC Comics' series "Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter", which was what brought them into the DC Universe proper.
Some time later, they are approached by Barney Ling, from the organization known as G.O.O.D. (Global Organization of Organized Defense) and their somewhat reluctant working for Ling served as the basis for the comic series.
A flashback in DC Comics Presents #39, in 1981, shows Richard Dragon discovering that Turner has been brainwashed into becoming the Bronze Tiger by Professor Ojo, then used by Barney Ling, who turns out to be a traitor. Dragon and Turner turn out to be equals in the fight, which only ends when Ling is accidentally knocked out a window.
Later, in Suicide Squad #38, Turner's further career is shown, wherein he and Dragon are hired by King Faraday to work for the CBI (Central Bureau of Intelligence). It is not clear if this was meant to be an addition to their history, or some sort of retcon. Assigned to take down the League of Assassins, Dragon and Turner are discovered by the League, who kill Turner's fiancee, and proceed to brainwash Turner. Turner was able to get rid of his demons by channeling them into the identity of the Bronze Tiger, a masked assassin who was working for the League.
As the Bronze Tiger, Turner was feared around the world, and the League was smart enough to ensure that Ben rarely ever took off the mask, sending him on a new mission as soon as he had finished the previous one. For a time, his identity was secret and he became one of the most wanted criminals in the world, the Bronze Tiger being seen as a professional assassin, having killed on three continents.
The Bronze Tiger is eventually sent to murder Kathy Kane (Batwoman), a friend of Batman. While fighting -- and defeating -- Batman, another assassin kills Kane. After the Crisis on Infinite Earths, it was determined that Kathy Kane had never become Batwoman. There is a new Kathy Kane out there, the current Batwoman, but I'm not going to get into that continuity mess, and with the DC Relaunch on the horizon as I write this, who knows what's going to hold forth? Suffice to say that this was a notable encounter for Bronze Tiger, going up against the Dark Knight.
Learning of Bronze Tiger's true identity, King Faraday set up a rescue squad of Rick Flag and Nightshade. They retrieved the Tiger, and he was deprogrammed by Amanda Waller, who would later run the Suicide Squad.
Waller later recruits Turner for the Suicide Squad, setting him up to become the team's leader, but he ends up as the team's second in command, under Rick Flag. On the teams first mission, the Tiger faces Ravan, who he brutally cripples, but refuses to kill. Turner develops a relationship with the superheroine Vixen, while Flo Crawley, a part of the Squad's support crew, nurses a crush on him. Meeting Ravan again later, Turner convinces him to join the Squad, and the two become an effective fighting duo.
As the Suicide Squad was mostly populated by villains in one of the more interesting government-work programs you can imagine, the Tiger was one of the Squad's "good" members, balancing out the cast of characters. He was used to often enforce Waller's rules.
The almost corrupting nature of the Squad eventually leads to Rick Flag's departure from the Squad, and seeming death in a nuclear explosion (come on, that trick never works). Turner becomes the leader of the team, in which he excels, although often disobeying direct orders to save the lives of his team (even if they were deemed "expendable").
In Suicide Squad #38, Turner is confronted for his actions by his superiors, and in the ensuing meeting, his mind inexplicably snaps. He flees, traveling back to the East, leaving Vixen in the process, where he spends some time recovering himself. Shortly afterwards, the Suicide Squad is disbanded and Amanda Waller is sent to jail -- a trick that works about as well as blowing up a major character in a nuclear explosion and expecting never to see him again...
Eventually, after a year, Waller is free, and reforms the Squad, again recruiting Turner. In the missing year, Turner had become a deeply troubled man, who distances himself from Vixen and was constantly egging on Ravan to confront him. In one mission shortly after the team has reformed, Vixen is injured, and this unlocks Turner's feelings for her once again. He mostly returns to a normal state of mind. Vixen later leaves the team, but she and Turner part on good terms.
In the Squad's final mission, the team struggles to free a small island nation from the tyranny of its seemingly immortal ruler. The team must pass through a forest known for causing hallucinations. Turner ends up facing himself, oddly enough, and by defeating himself, he is able to exorcise his inner demons, restoring his mind fully. The tyrant is subsequently defeated.
Shortly after leaving the Squad, Turner is part of the "Knightquest; The Search" story arc in the Batman titles, which covered Bruce Wayne's search for Jake Drake and Shondra Kinsolving, who had been kidnapped. He teams up with Green Arrow and Gypsy, a member of the short-lived Justice League Task Force. Gypsy becomes romantically involved with the Tiger, who later becomes her mentor in martial arts.
In a story arc in the Batgirl title in 2005, then-Batgirl Cassandra Cain begins a search for her birth mother, whom she believes is the assassin known as Lady Shiva. She tracks down Turner in Detroit, where he has opened the "Tiger Dojo". Both come to terms with Turner's involvement in Cassandra's training, and he expresses his pride at her becoming a hero. Bronze Tiger met with Batman shortly after, helping him stop a group of villains and avenge his master.
In the World War III event, Bronze Tiger is shown to have retired -- yeah, and there's something else that seldom lasts for long -- but is coaxed back into action by Amanda Waller.
Following the One Year Later event, in the pages of Checkmate, Bronze Tiger rescues Rick Flag (told you he was still alive) from a secret prison in the nation of Qurac, where Flag had been imprisoned for four years. Later, in the paces of Countdown, Bronze Tiger is among the Suicide Squad members trying to bring in Pied Piper and the Trickster. He also appears in the mini-series Gotham Underground, as part of the Suicide Squad, arresting Two-Face, Hugo Strange, Mad Hatter, and the Scarecrow. While frisking Scarecrow, he is gassed by the escaping villain with his fear gas, revealing an intense fear of insects. Hey, I can relate...
During the Blackest Night storyline, Amanda Waller is trying to persuade certain members of the mercenary team of villains known as the Secret Six to join the Suicide Squad -- or else. In a battle at Belle Reve Prison, Bronze Tiger faces off against Catman, to see who is the superior feline-themed martial artist. The battle remains unresolved due to the sudden presence of a great number of Black Lanterns.
In the animated series Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Bronze Tiger appears in a team-up with Batman. Formerly Master Wong Fei's best student and the protector of a small village, he holds much pride as a martial artist. He helps Batman battle the Terrible Trio after they killed their sensei of whom he, Batman, and the Trio were students. He takes in the power of the Wudang Totem during a fight with the empowered threesome, turning into an actual tiger. He reverts to normal after the fight, deciding to open Wong Fei's school.
In the comics, however, Bronze Tiger possesses no metahuman powers. He is nevertheless a superb martial artist. Many consider him one of the top ten martial artists in the DC Universe, if not in the top five. He has beaten Batman -- no small feat -- and has also clearly shown leadership abilities in his tenure with the Squad.
So, how's the figure? Really superb. I'll admit that I haven't followed Bronze Tiger's adventures all that closely, but when he has turned up in titles that I do read, I've always been glad to see him, and I think that the character has a really cool look to him.
Bronze Tiger is African-American, and he has a fairly straightforward headsculpt reflecting this. Bronze Tiger keeps his hair fairly close-cropped, but not as short as, say, John Stewart. There's a bit more than that, and it's been sculpted superbly well. The face is that of a determined young man, with maybe just a hint of anger that he's keeping under fierce control. The face has the added detail of a series of short yellow stripes painted on it, two on the forehead, two on the cheeks, and two near the jawline. The overall painted detail on the head is truly excellent, especially the eyes. I never fail to be impressed with the detail that can be given such small eyes on action figures these days, when it's done properly, and it certainly is here.
Bronze Tiger's costume is somewhere between a super-hero costume and a martial arts outfit. It is tight-fitting, but the base of the shirt, or tunic, perhaps, flares out, and is tied off by a black belt. Although for the most part the figure uses standard body molds, this particular piece has been added separately, and is very cleverly done. It's molded from very flexible plastic, so that it doesn't hinder the leg articulation, and the belt is actually molded to the lower section of the tunic. Really, very nicely done. The belt in particular has plenty of sculpted detail in it.
Bronze Tiger's uniform is predominantly a dark orange, not quite a tan, definitely an orange. He has yellow boots and gloves, and these are topped by a red band that has black stripes imprinted in it. This particular detail is also repeated as a collar, and a vertical stripe down the front of the figure, and a border along the base of the tunic. It's really very impressive. One tiny little criticism, just on the figure that I purchased, is that the black stripes faded out a little bit around one area of the collar. It's nothing I can't fix, but it is noticeable, and I mention it strictly from a quality control standpoint.
Bronze Tiger comes with a second head, and this requires a certain amount of explanation. During his days as an assassin, Bronze Tiger wore a mask that looked like the very realistic head of a tiger. It was a means by which he kept that identity separate, and may also well have been part of his brainwashing. Once his mind was restored, he largely stopped using it, but has since taken it up again, if for no other reason than to prove to himself that the mask, and his former life while wearing it, no longer has any hold over him.
This is hardly the first DC Universe Classics figure to have a swappable head. It was actually fairly common in the Green Lantern Classics line, with Sinestro Corps members Low and Maash; Red Lanterns Nite-Lik and Skallox; and Green Lanterns Medphyll and Naut Ke Loi essentially being "two figures in one package", with swappable heads and hands to trade between the figures. Obviously if you wanted to have both characters around at the same time, you needed to buy two, which would also leave you with a complete set of spare parts, but... anyway.
In the case of Bronze Tiger, it's obviously not a case of creating an entirely second individual, but rather whether you want him to be masked or unmasked. The head switch is easy enough, really. The tiger head is superbly made. The Four Horsemen, as expert as they are at creating impressive humans, are just as adept with animals. Witness their figure of Gorilla Grodd. Or hop over to Masters of the Universe Classics, and see what they've done with Battle Cat, Panthor, and Gygor. Heck, if you want a humanoid cat, check out Chief Carnivus. I still think it's a shame Mattel didn't get the ThunderCats license, although I remain hopeful of Bandai's results.
For Bronze Tiger, they have rendered a truly superb and very realistic tiger head, which is entirely appropriate for the character. It has an open mouth -- also appropriate for the character -- and has been sculpted with a great deal of care and detail. The Four Horsemen seem to sculpt fur better than anyone in the business right now for some reason.
The paint detailing is just as impressive. Tigers aren't easy, and there's a lot of paint detailing on this tiger head. The eyes are green, the tongue is red, the teeth are distinctly painted all the way back in the jaw, there's white highlights in the fur, just where they should be, black stripes, of course, and even the nose and whiskers have been given specific detail.
Frankly, there may be more painted detail on the mask than there is on the figure...!
The end result is an extremely effective and extremely realistic tiger-head mask. So -- how's it look on the figure? Just a little strange. I mean, if you know the character, you know it's a mask, but it's still a little on the bizarre side. Most super-characters who name themselves after animals don't tend to look this much like the actual animal. Really, even Beast Boy may change into animal forms, but he's still green when he does it. Batman doesn't look that much like an actual bat. Spider-Man, thankfully, doesn't look like an actual spider. Bronze Tiger -- whoa.
Honestly, I think I'm going to be largely content to let the figure hang around here with his human head in place for the most part. Your preference may differ, of course. And I'm certainly not going to criticize the workmanship on the tiger head! It's excellent, and was doubtless the most complex part of the figure. Now, I approve of the fact that most DC Universe Classics figures use common parts. I think this creates a good level of continuity, and it's also one of the reasons (and there's plenty of others) why I rail against the double-articulated knees and elbows. Fortunately, Bronze Tiger doesn't have these. He uses the standard, proper body molds. Would that his assortment-mates Captain Boomerang and Toyman been as fortunate.
But I will admit that the use of common body molds limits what the sculptors have to do. In Bronze Tiger's case, it was develop the human head, the tunic piece, the weapons, and the tiger-mask. And clearly the greatest challenge in that was the tiger-mask, both in the sculpt and in the final color design, and both the sculpting team and those who had to paint them at the factory should be highly commended for their excellent work.
And I did mention weapons, didn't I? Yes, Bronze Tiger comes with some weaponry. In fact he's probably one of the best accessorized figures I've seen in a while. He comes with a long, silver staff, a mean-looking silver sword with a brown hilt that is really a very impressively designed piece of work, and two short staffs that I think have been recycled from the Nightwing figure. What the heck, if he knows how to use them, and I'm sure he does...
So, what's my final word? This is an immensely cool figure. And although I have not been the closest follower of Bronze Tiger's adventures, I'm certainly aware of the character, and I'll readily admit that he was on my list -- and okay, it's not an especially short list -- but he was on my list of characters that I really wanted to see brought into the DC Universe Classics line. And now -- here he is! And very impressively, too!
Now if we can just get around to Jade, Vixen, Huntress, Saint Walker, Larfleeze, Geo-Force, Captain Marvel Jr, Element Lad, Elongated Man, Arisia, Poison Ivy, Miss Martian -- but I digress.
Seriously, Bronze Tiger is a really excellent figure, and a superb entry into the DC Universe Classics line. If you've ever encountered the character in the comics, you'll be sincerely pleased with this excellent action figure of him.
The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of BRONZE TIGER definitely has my highest recommendation!