I’ll admit that I was sceptical when I first heard about the new DC Super Hero Girls line of dolls and comic books. Looking at the dolls (produced by Mattel – the company behind Barbie and my old favourite He-Man and the Masters of the Universe) I didn’t get the design. Why take these super heroes (and villains) and put them together in a school setting? Why re-design the costumes? I wasn’t impressed with the look of the dolls from photos and I wrote the line off as a half-hearted attempt by DC to bring young girls toys some super hero branded dolls.
I was wrong.
My wife pre-ordered the DC Super Hero Girls Supergirl doll for Kara, our nineteen-month old daughter. When the doll arrived I began to backtrack on that first impression. The dolls are gorgeous. I’m not a doll man (and certainly not THE Doll Man), but I do collect action figures and appreciate articulation in a figure – which these dolls have – and build quality – which again they have. The costumes are crazy detailed too – Supergirl’s tunic is blue with an intricate diamond pattern and her cape has Kryptonian markings around the hem, as an example. Neither of these touches was necessary, but they really enhance the final doll. Mattel are known for the quality of their products and these super hero girls literally stand apart. They can stand on their own two feet – almost unique in the doll world, I am told. Not only that, but the figures have muscle-tone sculpted into their arms and legs. These aren’t Barbies, they are athletic Action Dolls.
I then checked out the website and suddenly realised how much effort was going into this line. There are twelve-inch Action dolls – one set with regular outfits and another set of “training” Action Dolls which feature moulded training outfits and six-inch action figures. There are dress-up accessories, branded t-shirts and more. There’s a DC Super Hero Girls comic series and a web series too.
I clicked on the “videos” portion of the web site. This is where I really fell in love with this line.
I sat down with my wife, daughter and my wife’s half-sister who was visiting and had just turned thirteen. We put the web series on. Each episode – only two or three minutes long – is two or three minutes of unadulterated joy. If nothing else, the series includes by far the best “Bat vs Super” story to ever grace the page or screen. The animation is smooth, with a catchy theme song that we were all caught up with by the time we’d watched a few episodes. That’s three girls: toddler, teenager and adult. And me, a thirty-six-year-old man. All of us liked the episodes, but I think I enjoyed it more than the girls.
The short episodes (written by Shea Fontana) are filled with an infectious, upbeat humour. Little nods to the normal comic world or other DC shows and cartoons are sprinkled throughout. I love the brightness and happiness that comes across. It’s something I want in my television viewing life, let alone my daughter’s. Happiness, joy and fun. With Super Heroes. Who happen to be girls. The voice cast are superb – and DC Super Hero Girls has done great in keeping voice actors who will be familiar to viewers of Teen Titans Go or other DC animations and games (including the marvellous Tara Strong as Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy). I have since also watched the TV Special: “Super Hero High”, which was a fun “going to a new school and trying to fit in” story but with superheroes and villains. I found it mildly odd as the setup is slightly different to the web-series. I think I preferred it as an opening story some ways, and am happy with both.
Yes, there is a part of me that is influenced in my love for DC Super Hero Girls simply by the fact that I am now a father who can see the lack of cool merchandise aimed at his child. But here’s a simple truth. If you had shown me one or two of these episodes five or even ten years ago, I would have asked where I could get more. I’ve never had a problem watching female led programs or reading female led books. Batgirl was my favourite in the Adam West show. I loved the Supergirl film more than Superman as a child. Gotham Girls was brilliant … and the new Supergirl series is probably in my top three shows right now. In comics, while Green Arrow and the Marvel Ultimate line opened the door, it was Birds of Prey that kept me on-board.
I have to admit that the music video – an expanded version of the show’s catchy theme tune is probably really what sealed the deal for me. It’s a pop song with female vocalists and yes it’s cheesy. But when you listen to the words, the core of the DC Super Hero Girls brand is revealed. It’s a happy, up-beat song about empowerment. Specifically, for girls who are:
“… told to be ordinary … afraid to jump, held down by the fear of flying”.
It’s easy to look around at the split between “boys stuff” and “girls stuff” in toy shops to see why the message is important. In the boy’s section are superheroes, soldiers, robots, aliens and Dinosaurs. The girl’s section is all prams, dolls and pretty princesses. Things are improving, and DC Super Hero Girls is a leap in the right direction.
But that’s not the only reason I related to the music video. Unexpectedly, the lyrics really hit home for me on a personal level. I may not be being “told to be ordinary” and to not stand out from the crowd by other people, but I do have issues of self-confidence, anxiety and depression which combine into a voice that is difficult to ignore and the message of the song is brilliant. Just the other day, I’d had a bad day at work that really knocked my confidence and sent my mood through the floor. As I sat in my car, before I drove home, I whacked that up-beat, positively messaged song on my phone for a listen. I felt a little better for it.
“I never knew if I just reached inside, that’s where the power lies”
I think that’s a message that can’t be over emphasized and I am so pleased that this message is really being hammered home by a major comic, animation and toy manufacturer. I’m glad my daughter may be entering a world where she is encouraged to be a super-hero and where that imposed split of “action figures for boys” and “fashion dolls for girls” is starting to be attacked. I’m also glad that as a Collector of Stuff, there are some more cool figures that I can get hold of to put on my shelves!
Having seen the toys and the animated series and the rest, I now get it. I get what DC Super Hero Girls is about and it’s in no way the half-hearted and throw-away gimmick I initially wrote it off as. It’s the result of a lot of hard work by people dedicated to producing a quality line. I tweeted Shea Fontana that I loved the show and got the following back:
“@WedgeDoc That’s great! We really wanted to make something geek parents and their kids could enjoy together!”
I’d say you succeeded, Shea. In spades.
Of course, the line isn’t perfect and there is very much the usual white focus to the characters on offer. In the first wave, Bumble Bee is the only non-white character to receive a figure, although the web series (and the two longer cartoons) do feature Katana (released as an exclusive doll at this year’s SDCC), Hawkgirl and lady Shiva but these have yet to hit the shelves as dolls or figures. I do believe they are coming … if the line proves successful and sells well.
To see you out, here’s the finest “Bat vs Super” story ever.
You can check out the DC Super Hero Girls line on the official website which also has the web series. The line also has a YouTube channel with all the episodes in multiple languages as well as a shed-full of extras. Including my personal favourite: The Official Music Video.
GS Blogger: WedgeDoc