REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS MARY (MARVEL) BATSON
I want to make one clarification at the start of this review. Officially, this particular DC Universe Classics figure is designated "Mary Batson". That's because DC and their licensees rather understandably have a little trouble using anything in an official sense with the word "Marvel" in it. This is why Captain Marvel products over the years have always bore the name of the magic word that Billy Batson uses to change into the World's Mightiest Mortal -- SHAZAM!
Although Mary Batson uses the same word to become Mary Marvel, it's confusing enough as it is to have Cap using the "Shazam" name for official purposes without two heroes doing the same thing. And since Mary Batson is the character's secret identity, and isn't a name that Marvel Comics has any hold over, it works for trademark purposes.
However, for the purposes of this review, at least, I intend to call the figure by her proper super-hero name, and that's MARY MARVEL. We all know who she's supposed to be, so that's the name I'll be using.
Mary Marvel is the female entry in Series 12 of Mattel's increasingly impressive line of DC Universe Classics figures. And before I get into reviewing the figure herself, I want to discuss a few aspects of the packaging, something I realize I don't usually do, but there are some matters worth mentioning here.
First off, the package card has been changed. Although the predominant color is still a sort of "explosive orange", the package now features images of a great many DC characters -- most of whom have been made as DC Universe Classics figures, or will be shortly. There are a couple of notable exceptions -- specifically the Ryan Choi Atom (personally I'd rather see a wider release of the Ray Palmer version), and Vixen. Neither of these have been announced as planned figures for DC Universe Classics -- as of this review, anyway.
Secondly, the "age number" on the package has been changed. Formerly, it read "4+". Now it reads, "Adult Collector", rather surprisingly, with an advisory that the figure is not suitable for children under the age of four. I honestly found this surprising, although perhaps I shouldn't have. The DC Universe Classics line is continuing to plumb some rather obscure corners of the DC Universe. While this is certainly of interest to longtime DC fans such as myself, the flip side to that coin is that there's no shortage of characters that young children probably have never even heard of -- more's the pity.
Thirdly, and possibly another explanation for the revised age statement, the latest assortment of DC Universe Classics figures includes a collector button! This is actually a metal button with a clasped pin on the back. It's worth noting that the age warning on the package makes very specific reference to a "functional sharp point". Since there aren't any on the figure herself, we can assume that this refers to the button. The button, by the way, features a classic image from the 1970's, a portion of the cover of the Justice League of America comic where Superman first encountered Captain Marvel.
Finally, the DC Universe logo has been slightly altered. It looks a bit more dynamic, but is not at all unrecognizable. The base of the package commemorates DC's 75th Anniversary with the words "75 YEARS OF SUPER POWER!" Happy 75th, DC!
So, let us now take a look at Mary Marvel, with a look at her background. And despite her young appearance, this character's been around for a loooong time, as my online research revealed:
Mary Marvel was created by Otto Binder and Marc Swayze, and first appeared in Captain Marvel Adventures #18 in (December 1942).
She is the alter ego of teenager Mary Batson (adopted name Mary Bromfield), twin sister of Captain Marvel's alter-ego, Billy Batson. Like her brother, Mary has been granted the power of the wizard Shazam, and has but to speak the wizard's name to be transformed into the superpowered Mary Marvel.
Mary Marvel was one of the first female spin-offs of a major male superhero, and predates the introduction of Superman's female cousin Supergirl (also created by Otto Binder) by more than a decade.
Mary Marvel was introduced into Fawcett Comics' Marvel Family franchise a year after a young male counterpart, Captain Marvel Jr., made his debut. Artist Marc Swayze based Mary Marvel's design and personality upon American actress Judy Garland. Mary was introduced in Captain Marvel Adventures #18 as Mary Bromfield, a girl who discovers she is the long lost sister of Captain Marvel's alter ego Billy Batson.
Soon after her introduction, Mary Marvel headlined Wow Comics, and by 1945 had her own Mary Marvel book. She also appeared in The Marvel Family book with Captain Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr.
In 1972, DC Comics licensed the rights to the Marvels, and revived them in a new comic series called Shazam!. Mary, Cap, and Junior appeared in both new stories and reprints of their classic stories.
It was pretty easy to tell which were the new stories and which were classic ones, if for no other reason than Mary's new stories gave her a distinctive 70's hairstyle that, as far as I'm concerned, made her look a little like Susan Dey from "The Partridge Family", for lack of a better comparison.
The comic book was canceled by 1978, and the Shazam! stories were relegated to the back pages of World's Finest Comics (from 1979 to 1982) and Adventure Comics (from 1982 to 1983). After the 1985 Crisis on Infinite Earths miniseries, Captain Marvel's origin was rebooted in the Shazam: The New Beginning miniseries in 1987. The Marvel Family was written out of the Shazam! mythos, and neither Mary Batson nor Mary Marvel appeared in DC Comics for several years.
Mary Batson was reintroduced in The Power of Shazam! graphic novel by Jerry Ordway in 1994. An ongoing series followed in the next year, and Mary Marvel was introduced into the modern DC Universe with a new origin story in Power of Shazam! #4.
When calling upon her powers, Mary is transformed into an adult resembling her late mother (in the same way that Billy resembles his father when in Marvel form). Mary shares the title of Captain Marvel with her brother. Various characters in the series distinguish the two by gender when addressing them, addressing Mary as "the lady Captain Marvel".
At first, Mary's costume was the same as her original one. However, beginning with Power of Shazam! #28, Mary donned a white costume to distinguish herself from her brother. The color change was retained for most future uses of the character during the next decade.
After the Power of Shazam! series ended in 1999, Mary's superpowered alter ego was officially rechristened "Mary Marvel." Since then, she has guest-starred in both Superman and Supergirl comics.
As to her modern origin story, Prominent archaeologists C.C. and Marilyn Batson are assigned by the Sivana expedition on an excursion to Egypt. They take along their young daughter Mary, but are forced to leave their son Billy in America with C.C.'s half-brother. The elder Batsons are killed by their associate Theo Adam, who then kidnaps Mary. Upon Theo Adam's return to the United States, Adam's sister, a maid named Sarah Primm, takes Mary into her care. Primm arranges for her childless employers, Nick and Nora Bromfield, to illegally adopt Mary. As Mary Bromfield, the young girl grows up living an idyllic life in a wealthy family, but continuously has dreams of another family with a brother she has never seen.
Meanwhile, Billy, eventually finding himself on the streets, is given the power to become Captain Marvel. He learns that Mary is still alive, but after four years of searching, neither he nor his benefactor, the wizard Shazam, can find the girl. The only thing Billy has to remember Mary by is her favorite toy, a "Tawky Tawny" doll, which was shipped to America with the Batsons' possessions after their murders.
As a young teenager, Mary enters a regional spelling bee held in Fawcett City and emceed by Billy, who works as an on-air reporter for WHIZ radio. After saving Mary from kidnappers twice as Captain Marvel, Billy notices how much Mary Bromfield reminds him of Mary Batson, and has an undercover cop retrieve the girl's forged adoption record. Learning that Mary is indeed his sister, Billy tries to figure out a way to let Mary know he is her brother. The old "Tawky Tawny" doll suddenly transforms into a full-sized tiger and comes to life, instructing Billy to take it to Mary. As Captain Marvel, Billy flies out to the Bromfields' hometown of Fairfield to deliver the doll and the adoption papers to Mary.
Captain Marvel arrives at the Bromfield estate and changes back to Billy Batson to deliver the package, but is immediately kidnapped by the thugs who helped Primm forge Mary's adoption records. Mary, not having seen Billy, takes the package and opens it, discovering the adoption records and the Tawky Tawny doll. Once again, the doll comes to life, and instructs the bewildered girl to say the magic word "Shazam" and save her brother. Mary complies, and is transformed by a bolt of magic lightning into a superpowered doppelganger of her deceased mother.
As Billy's twin, Mary shared Billy's ability to transform into a superhero by speaking the name of the wizard Shazam, and pretty much all the same powers -- super-strength, flight, super-speed, etc.
So, how's the figure? Really very nicely done. As far as I can determine, the Mary Marvel figure is entirely unique, not using any previously established parts. The costume design almost requires it.
Heightwise, Mary Marvel is a moderate mystery. There are two basic heights for female characters in the DC Universe Classics line. There's a somewhat shorter figure base that's been used for characters such as Harley Quinn, Catwoman, and unfortunately, Starfire, who really should have been taller. There's a taller female figure base that's been used for more popular or prominent female characters in the DC Universe, such as Wonder Woman, Power Girl, and Black Canary.
Now, throw that in with the fact that in the classic era, Mary Batson turned unto a same-aged version of Mary Marvel, and in the modern era, she arguably became a more mature Mary Marvel, and therein lies the mystery. The figure is about the same height as the shorter female figures, i.e. Harley and Catwoman. However, these characters are adults. Mary Marvel has a fairly youthful-looking face. So -- are we supposed to assume that this is a somewhat classic Mary Marvel of teenage years, or a more mature Mary Marvel who's just not quite as tall as Wonder Woman and a few of the others?
I'm honestly inclined to think that the figure, as much as anything, may be something of a compromise between the two, heightwise. Really, the hairstyle is something of a giveaway. It is a very modern hairstyle. It is neither the Judy Garland extremely 1940's style that Mary Marvel originally wore, nor is it the long-and-straight hairstyle which the character was given upon her revival in the 1970's.
In fact, the overall headsculpt, including the hair, which was clearly sculpted and attached separately, is really outstanding. The face is excellent, with a pleasant smile on the face. Painted facial detail has been remarkably well done, including eyebrows, eyes, a bit of lipstick, and teeth. The hair is brown, somewhat wavy, quite long, and very intricately sculpted. This is really the Four Horsemen at their best.
Since the character doesn't wear traditional tights, Mary Marvel really had to be created pretty much if not entirely from scratch. She is wearing a somewhat loose-fitting short-sleeved blouse and skirt (or possible a one-piece dress -- it's impossible to be certain since it's all the same color and there's a belt in the middle). These are the same straightforward red as her big brother, Captain Marvel. The lightning emblem is properly placed in the center of the shirt, and has been very neatly imprinted. The costume has yellow trim at the edges of the sleeves and skirt, and a yellow belt around the center.
Mary Marvel is wearing cuffed boots -- another indication that this is the modern Mary Marvel, since for a while, during the classic and I believe 70's era, she wore little yellow slippers. The boots are yellow and have visible stitching down the front. The stitching has been painted in metallic gold.
The costume is completed by the traditional Marvel Family-style cape -- which frankly looks a lot better on Mary than it does on Cap. This is a fairly short cape, white in color, with a collar, yellow trim around the perimeter, and what looks like a series of little yellow flowers along one edge. Honestly, how Cap got away with this look I'll never know. The cape is held in place, characterwise, by a length of decorative yellow rope across the front. Figurewise, the rope is there, but the cape is really secured in the back.
It's worth mentioning that there is a variant of Mary Marvel out there, wearing the white version of her costume. However, all other details are identical.
Now we come to articulation, which of course has been a hallmark of the DC Universe Classics figures. And here we come to a slight problem. Mary's skirt pretty well hinders the legs. They're designed to move forward and back, and do, very slightly, and the skirt has a small amount of flexibility, but not enough to really allow for much movement.
What concerns me here is that quite a few of the figures in this particular series may suffer from the same problem. DeSaad is wearing a lengthy robe. I don't expect much movement out of him. The Metal Man known as Iron seems to have a sort of tunic that is likely to hinder his leg articulation. I'm not even sure that Darkseid, the Collect-and-Connect figure in this wave, is going to be able to move much. What we have here is a tradeoff between accurate character portrayal and articulation. While this might be necessary from time to time, and Mary Marvel might well fall into that category, I would hate to see it happen often. Some of us, Mattel, do like to open and pose our figures.
At least the figure isn't pre-posed, although there is one other minor problem. Between the length and positioning of the hair and the cape, Mary Marvel's head doesn't turn very much, and it's pointed slightly to the left. As far as I've been able to attempt, and I certainly don't want to force the figure, it's effectively impossible to get the figure to look straight ahead. The hair is surprisingly rigid, which I think is the problem. Ideally, it should have been made from a far more flexible plastic.
On the whole, though, the figure is not lacking for articulation, either intended or functional. Mary Marvel has articulation in the head and legs, it just doesn't have a lot of room to move. She is also poseable at the arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, waist, upper leg swivel, knees, boot tops, and ankles. There's nothing wrong with any of these areas, and for the most part they've been designed very well with the appearance of the character. The customary mid-torso point is missing, but it would've been pretty difficult to incorporate it into the design of the figure, so no big deal there in my opinion.
And, ultimately, I'll take slightly hindered articulation over some of the hopefully past problems in this line of improperly assembled parts, stuck parts, or exceedingly loose parts.
So, what's my final word here? Whatever my concerns may be concerning hindered articulation and to what degree that may be a reflection of DC Universe Classics becoming an "Adult Collector" line are largely mitigated in this instance by the fact that this is really an outstanding figure. While Captain Marvel is generally regarded by most fans as just below the main "trinity" of DC heroes comprised of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, Cap's secondaries -- Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr., have had somewhat greater trouble garnering a reasonable measure of respect. I'm sincerely pleased to see that Mary Marvel has deservedly joined the ranks of DC Universe Classics, and I still hold out hope for Junior.
The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of MARY MARVEL, or MARY BATSON if you want to be official about it, definitely has my highest recommendation!