LEGO’s Super Heroes line is a comic book-specific branch of their Hero Factory line : a set of Bionicle-like figures joined together by a superhero narrative and a robotic appearance. This time, LEGO is plumbing the DC Comics character roster (and later this year, the Marvel roster) to generate unusual 7″ figures of our favorite heroes and bad guys, starting with Batman, The Joker and Green Lantern Hal Jordan.
Using a basic, generic framework and a series of ball joints, the possibilities for DC characters seems infinite : slap a new head on a series of colored, standardized parts and you’ve got a completely new character. With this philosophy and the enormous library of existing LEGO parts, it shouldn’t be long before we have a whole Justice League roster formed. While comparable Hero Factory figures are sold for around $10, Toys ‘R’ Us still gouges these for $20 each, Wal-Mart and LEGO’s own website maintains a far more reasonable $15 per set. At an average of 45 pieces, these are relatively simple builds and take about ten minutes to assemble. The results are a minimalist interpretation of DC Comics core characters, and surprisingly interesting. What does LEGO distill these heroes down to? What visual elements are iconic enough to include, and which can be omitted for the sake of brevity? It’s a very smart study in iconography. I might not agree with every choice, but even my most artistic sensibilities are sometimes thwarted by my nerdliness.
We start with Batman (Set 4526). LEGO stuck with the traditional blue & grey, yellow oval logo version of Batman, which I appreciate (while I would still love an all-black “movie” Batman in the future as well). Like all of this Super Heroes line, small pieces of curved shielding slip onto ball joints to bulk up the heroes’ musculature in the most cubist way possible. None of these builds are that unexpected, making it all true to the LEGO form we’re all familiar with. It’s not a perfect Batman, but it’s a perfect toy. Batman becomes a little strange, however, when it comes to his “cape”.
Rather than including a traditional, scalloped cape, Batman employs a series of black, ball-jointed projections tipped with blue spikes, which can be positioned in a spiny, cape-ish manner. Perhaps these are more akin to some kind of rocket-powered wing mechanisms, but it’s definitely like something out of a mecha anime, and Batman’s double-bladed sword object is also an nontraditional addition in terms of Batman’s character – but it’s kind of necessary to keep this in the realm of kid-friendly toys which can battle each other.
Of course, these are LEGOs – you can reconfigure them until you’re completely content. I find that stripping down all of Batman’s fancy augmentations leaves me with the Batman LEGO I’d really want – but I still find myself wishing for a cape. The side-mounted leg shield pieces tend to pop off in some poses, and may look as good as the front-mounted option (which other figures use), but once again : reconfiguration solves any problems you may have with this guy.
One thing about these Super Heroes figures is that their backs are sometimes left barren : a network of exposed pegs and hinges which don’t add anything to the appearance of the figure. Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to snap on a generic chest or arm shield (sometimes interchangeable on the more muscly heroes) to cover these pegs with a little clever engineering. One more, large shield piece per package would have been excellent.
I searched through 50 miles worth of stores until I found a single Joker (Set 4527), a necessary foil to LEGO Batman and vital piece to add to my Joker shelf. A mix of battle armor, orange spikes, pointy hair and a translucent raygun, The Joker makes a very appropriate appearance as a teched-out, weirdo toy version of himself.
Using the same system of simple joints, The Joker uses a more elaborate joint system across his back to hold a pair of purple coattails which can flex upwards like a scorpion’s tail, as well as a strange pair of spiked, evil-football-player shoulderpads. I don’t completely understand the configuration, but once again, a reconfigured and stripped-down Joker brings him back to a more familiar, less exaggerated place.
Joker’s electric shock of a necktie is an interesting aesthetic addition, though the one I purchased had very melty colors bleeding across the piece. This isn’t a negative thing so much as something which does not match the crisp LEGO look. It actually looks much better mounted atop his raygun piece, which appears in one of the manual’s “alternate configuration” images. By switching out some grey pieces for some purple ones and simplifying a few things, we get a much more streamlined Joker, and still a formidable opponent for Batman.
I’m excited to see where this line goes, and which characters are embraced with this aesthetic. Will we score a much-maligned Martian Manhunter, or a bulked-out Darkseid? Some kind of convention exclusive Ambush Bug? I also can’t wait to get even more pieces to modify these heroes into their perfect LEGO selves. That’s what LEGO is all about, right?
[Batman set graciously provided by LEGO.]