IDW recently dropped the third issue in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles mini series The Last Ronin; the flash-forward, what if, story about the last of the turtles and his quest for revenge. I have so far enjoyed this series and have shared my thoughts here. The first issue was like a big introduction as it was largely about the hero infiltrating a future New York controlled by the Foot on a suicide mission that wasn’t successful, in more ways than one. In that issue, we saw that our hero is haunted by the ghosts of his brothers, possibly literally, but likely not as he interacts with them like they’re still alive. Issue number 2 was the first issue where the story is only partially in the present, and largely took place in the past as the writers and artists on the book started to peel back the layers of what happened to get us to this point.
In that second issue, we saw the death of one of the ninja turtles, as well as the death of a major villain. When that happened, I hypothesized that this would be the format for the next few issues. Plot developments in the present would be kept to a minimum, while much of the books would be devoted to showing us the death of a turtle. Sure enough, issue three is more of the same as we see a little bit more of what happened following the death of the first turtle and how we ended up where we are.
Seeing one of my childhood favorites killed off was actually a lot harder than expected. Even though the story begins with three of the four turtles deceased (and other allies unaccounted for), I didn’t really consider how I felt about these characters being dead. Nor did I really think about what it would be like to see their last moments, and it turns out, it’s hard! As such, I had a slight feeling of dread walking into this one as I pretty much knew what was coming. In some ways, I guess I’m happy to say it wasn’t that tough a read after all, but that’s also disappointing as well.
The confrontation we see this time around concerns a character’s rise to power in the Foot and how that individual orchestrated this whole thing. Much of the book is spent in the past showing what happened, but when it gets to the “hard” part, the story takes an easy way out. I was left holding the book and saying to myself, “That’s it?!” as I flipped back and forth to see if I missed something. Everything leading up to the moment was fine and compelling, but the payoff just wasn’t really there. I don’t expect to see any of the turtles brutally murdered on the page, but this death was a bit confounding and the presentation almost Saturday morning cartoon-like. Some additional mileage is spent on the present time, and the story there moves a bit further than it did in issue #2. Things are moving, but the end game isn’t in sight yet, which is fine as I like the pace this story is setting.
As was the case with the first two issues, the artwork here is great. Esau and Isaac Escorza do a fantastic job bringing this world to life. The colors are muted and dingy befitting the subterranean setting throughout. I like the look of the turtles as they’re uniquely designed for this story. The human characters are a bit ho-hum by comparison, but it all looks fine so I’m not complaining. As was the case with the previous issue, there is a layout done by Kevin Eastman. It’s another flashback presented in black and white which is just a fun throwback to the original Mirage issues. I suspect that will continue at least into the next issue when we should see how the third turtle was dispatched.
The Last Ronin #3 is a minor stumble for the series. I am enjoying the overall story, I was just less satisfied with this entry and less moved by what transpired within the pages. I still have high hopes and great expectations for the fourth issue, and I’m genuinely curious to see how this is all wrapped up. That conclusion is still many months away as I’m not even sure if the goal is to finish it before 2021 ends. The fourth issue is scheduled to ship in August, and I’ve got it on my pull list at the local comic book store. With the world coming back to life, I heartily recommend you not only check this series out, but support your local comic book stores in the process!
As covered here about a month ago, The Last Ronin is a lost Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles story from the late 80s/early 90s that has just now been finally realized in the pages of IDW’s ongoing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic. Conceived originally by TMNT co-creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, The Last Ronin tells the story of the last ninja turtle and, as a bit of a callback to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1, his quest for revenge. The fully realized story is not shaping up to be some sort of Kill Bill clone, but as a referendum on vengeance and its fleeting nature. The story is one I compared with the classic X-Men plot Days of Future Past as it does contain a dystopian future where hope is either lost or nearly gone and most of the characters we know and love are either dead or in a position to envy the dead.
It should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway, that if you have any interest in the The Last Ronin then you should definitely read the first issue before even sniffing the second. I will not spoil anything in this mini review, but it would be easy to be spoiled even with just glancing at this book or by reading other reviews as I’m sure many are only concerned with spoiling the contents of this book, and not the preceding one.
And the main thing that can be spoiled is what was revealed on the final page of issue #1: the identity of the last turtle. In that first issue, we saw our hero infiltrate New York and have a tough go of it. Along the way we realized he’s possibly just clinging to sanity as he constantly talks with the spirits of his dead brothers. In this issue, he’ll even argue with them and debate strategy going forward. He is aware that this behavior may be off-putting to others, as he tries to hide it from his allies. And who might those allies be? Well, that’s kind of a spoiler too, but let’s just say some are familiar, and some are not.
The main purpose for this book is to advance the story of our hero ahead just a little, while also fleshing out what brought him here. In what is likely to be a theme going forward, this issue primarily tells the story of the death of one of the ninja turtles via flashback. In doing so, we learn the catalyst for what created this current reality while also seeing what the hero has been doing ever since. As someone who grew up watching the cartoon and movies, seeing the death of one of my childhood heroes is definitely upsetting. It’s not gratuitous, but it is visceral. When I was a kid, I so much as never even saw the turtles bleed and thus I never could comprehend them befalling a gruesome injury or death. I’ve been exposed to the more violent side of the Mirage books since, but it’s still quite a thing to bare witness to.
As I said before, the main plot for the last turtle does not advance much in this book. The time spent with him is more quiet. It’s a time to reflect, recuperate, and ultimately regroup. I’m curious how the next book balances the flashbacks with the current period arc. The flashback is so full that nothing feels like padding. Even though the story doesn’t advance much, I don’t get a sense that the writers and artists are stalling because they want this to hit a specific amount of issues. It’s just a story that has taken 30 years to tell so it’s not going to rush anything.
As was the case with issue #1, the artwork in this book is fantastic. The Escorza brothers are on top of their game and the fight scenes are drawn really well. They don’t hold back, but they also do not do a disservice to the quiet scenes or the more distressing scenes. Kevin Eastman breaks out his pencil to illustrate the flashback sequence of the last ronin character and his original escape from New York. It’s a fun touch to see Eastman’s rougher art juxtaposed with the super slick work of the Escorzas and it’s an appropriate part of the story for Eastman to add a personal touch. I’m curious if we’ll see more from him in issue #3.
The third issue should be arriving around the end of the month, and based on the cover, it looks like we’re going to learn the fates of a few more important characters. I think that is going to be the formula for at leas the next pair of issues before we get a big blow-off in issue #5. It’s been an interesting, if a bit uncomfortable, ride through these first two issues so I am looking forward to the next, and yet dreading it at the same time. I also appreciate though that I’ve been made to care about these characters enough over the decades that a story like this both entertains and upsets me. If you’ve ever loved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you owe it to yourself to hop aboard this runaway train.
I don’t read a lot of comics these days. Actually, I suppose I never truly read a lot of comics even when I was very much into X-Men and Spider-Man. Back in the 90s, I received most of my comic lore from trading cards. They were cheaper and fun to collect. When it came to actual books, I was rarely allowed to get one though I certainly would try to get my mom or dad to buy me one when at the grocery store. The most comics I read probably came when I was in college and I had the money to buy trades of all of the famous stories I had heard about growing up: The Dark Phoenix Saga, Watchmen, Death in the Family, etc. I also got into modern stories and for awhile I kept up with Marvel’s Ultimate Universe until I either ran out of money or grew bored with the hobby.
One of the last comic storylines I really dove into was the inaugural Mirage Studios Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. IDW Publishing started handling the property following the sale of the franchise to Viacom and the company put out these massive, hardcover, collections of the original Eastman and Laird run on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I blogged about all five volumes here, if you want to search for them, and I mostly jumped into them because I grew up a big TMNT fan and I had never really checked out the original books. I certainly knew of them, and I think I had read the inaugural issue on more than one occasion, but I had never gone deep. It was pretty fun, though when I was finished checking those out I found I had little curiosity in the other TMNT stories, be they more older ones like the Archie comics or the new ones published by IDW.
Late last year though, a lot of TMNT fans started singing the praises of a new TMNT story titled The Last Ronin. It’s basically a future “what-if?” styled story that could best be described as the TMNT version of the classic X-Men story “Days of Future Past.” I really didn’t know much about it, only that there was some really cool artwork based on the story being circulated online. I decided it was something worth checking out, though by the time I had done so the first issue had sold out. Thankfully, it was still attainable via online shops with only minimal markup. I eventually ordered a copy, and I also subscribed to the rest and even grabbed the Director’s Cut reprint of the first issue recently and I’m glad I did.
The Last Ronin tells the tale of a lone turtle in the future. He’s bundled from head to toe in robes and armor and is outfitted with the weapons longtime turtle fans know and love: katana, sai, nunchaku, bo. He sports a black mask and he’s a bit paunchy compared with other versions of the TMNT I’m used to, but that wasn’t something I read much into beforehand. Once I had the first issue in hand though, it was obvious this was an older turtle and when we meet him he’s sneaking into New York City which is now a Hell hole because this is a dystopian future story. High walls surround the city and massive skyscrapers have created a dual class system where the wealthy live above the city and the poor are left to fend for themselves at ground level, and below. The Foot run the show, though we don’t know who leads them, while our protagonist narrates to himself (and the reader) what’s about to go down.
It would seem this is a turtle on a suicide mission. He wants to sneak in and cause trouble in hopes of taking down whoever leads the Foot now. And as he talks to himself, he talks to the dead. It becomes obvious that this turtle is one of the four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the rest are dead. We don’t know which one (that’s saved for the end of the first issue), but it almost doesn’t matter as whoever this is he’s undergone a lot of trauma and has changed considerably.
I really don’t want to say anything more about the first issue as I don’t want to spoil anything. It’s a very action-packed issue as our turtle friend encounters trouble pretty much from the onset. It’s in-line too with the Mirage comics of old as there’s a considerable amount of violence and this turtle clearly plays for keeps. He also gives as good as he receives as this isn’t a superhero type of character capable of being a true one-man army. He’s plenty capable, for sure, of causing a ruckus and fending off multiple enemies, but he’s no Superman. It’s a bit of an uncomfortable read for someone who grew up adoring TMNT as it’s really not fun to think of them as dead, but here we are.
The Director’s Cut of issue #1 shows off a lot of the original treatment for this story. This plot originates from the 1980s when TMNT co-creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird dreamt up a finale of sorts to what they started. It never got made until now, and a lot was changed in the interim, but it’s pretty cool to see the original vision. Some of the writing can be hard to read, as it’s just scanned notes from 30 years ago, but it’s definitely worth a look. There’s also a look at the concept art for the series with annotations from Eastman that are pretty informative. I wouldn’t call the Director’s Cut essential for those who want to experience The Last Ronin, but if you’re interested in getting a copy of issue #1 I’d recommend it over the standard release.
The story for this one is shared amongst Eastman, Laird, and Tom Waltz with Eastman and Waltz handling the actual script (Laird’s credit appears to stem from the original story and I didn’t get the impression he had much involvement with it beyond that). Layouts were done by Eastman and pencils and inks were done by Esau and Isaac Escorza and the art in general looks terrific with colors by Luis Antonio Delgado. The team does a great job of evoking some of that rough Mirage art from the 80s but with a more refined touch. The colors are mostly muted which suits the grim atmosphere of the story with some of the flashbacks featuring a soft, glow, to them. There are several variant editions out there if that’s your fancy all with different covers. The main cover is by the book artists and the Director’s Cut cover features art by Eastman. The book is printed on thick paper as this is a special release. The cover is also thick and durable and it comes with a slightly higher retail cost of $8.99 per issue with the Director’s Cut coming in at $10.99.
The Last Ronin is off to a great start. It definitely seems to hit the tone it’s going for as this is a downer of a story. There’s a lot to uncover as this five part series moves along and issue #2 is already out with #3 expected in May. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in reading, I definitely recommend checking it out as I think it’s going to be an interesting ride. Of course, you could always wait for the inevitable TPB edition but that may not come until 2022 so why wait? And if there are any action figure makers reading, we need a Last Ronin figure!
Written by: Paul Dini, Stan Berkowitz, Alan Burnett, Rich Fogel, Steve Gerber
Animation: TMS – Kyuokoichi Corporation
Running Time: 61 minutes
Also Known As: Superman: The Animated Series episodes 39, 40, 41 “World’s Finest: Parts 1, 2, and 3”
When Warner Bros. launched its own network, The WB, in 1995 it had a bit of a conundrum on its hands. Warner had been in the business of producing hours upon hours of content, but it was all aired somewhere else and would be tied down by licensing agreements for yet a while longer. And in the 90s, most of those properties were airing as part of the Fox Kids Network and included the likes of Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, and Batman: The Animated Series. Warner needed to focus on parts of its portfolio that hadn’t already been licensed to Fox and it sure is nice to have a character like Superman to utilize as a fallback. While Fox held the broadcast rights to Batman, Warner essentially ceased taking episode orders for that show and instead tasked the team of Bruce Timm and Paul Dini that had done so well with Batman to do the same for Superman. Superman: The Animated Series was born, and unlike Batman, it was a brightly lit, modern styled, depiction of the classic hero. It was not quite as successful as Batman, but for a generation of comic book fans, this depiction of the man of steel is about as definitive as it gets replacing for many the character we saw on the big screen played by Christopher Reeve.
Following the successful first season of Superman, Warner once again had the broadcast rights to Batman and commissioned a new season. Re-titled, The New Batman Adventures, the caped crusader and his comrades would receive a makeover to bring it in-line with Superman while also accomplishing the goal of simplifying the models for overseas animation. The WB, which had launched its own children’s programming block called Kids’ WB, would air these new episodes of Batman alongside Superman creating The New Batman/Superman Adventures, an hour and a half block typically consisting of one Superman, one classic BTAS, and one New Adventures of Batman. To commemorate the union of these two titans of comics, a three-part episode was created for Superman called “World’s Finest” that would take-up the whole Batman/Superman block on October 4, 1997. These episodes would then be collected and released on VHS and DVD as The Batman/Superman Movie.
Given how long these two heroes have been around and in Warner’s portfolio, it’s actually rather incredible the two weren’t paired-up for a movie until 1997. This one is a bit of a cheat since it’s three episodes of an animated series, and Batman and Superman have shared space on the small screen for decades. They have since shared time on the big screen as well in one of the most love it or hate it film universes imaginable. In 1997, and even today, there is still a neat “geek” factor to the two teaming up, though I personally wish it could have happened sooner as come 97 I wasn’t watching much network television. I can recall catching bits and pieces of this story, but I don’t think I ever sat down and actually digested it. Since concluding the years long look-back at Batman: The Animated Series, the cross-overs with Superman were basically the few remaining missing links I had yet to look at, so I figured I would rectify that with a look at this pseudo movie.
“World’s Finest” is anchored by a pretty simple premise: How would Batman and Superman work together when their arch enemies team-up? It’s the type of thing any young, comic book, fan probably would have dreamed up as a starting point for a team-up as we have Joker (Mark Hamill) offering his services to Lex Luthor (Clancy Brown) to kill Superman (Tim Daly) for the not unreasonable sum of one billion dollars and it’s Batman (Kevin Conroy) who first sniffs out the scheme. It’s an interesting premise to see Joker turn himself into a hitman-for-hire, and especially interesting that he would be so arrogant that he would think he can take out Superman when he’s failed to do the same with Batman for years. Perhaps it owes to him not viewing Superman as his great rival as many have wondered if Joker really ever aimed to kill Batman, instead preferring to play with him like a cat and a ball of yarn, only in this case the ball of yarn always comes out definitively on top. There’s also a bit of shock factor to see Joker so nakedly offering to kill someone for money, but it is a nice callback, intentional or not, to Joker’s roots in this universe as a mob hitman as seen in Mask of the Phantasm.
Why is Joker offering to kill Superman for Luthor? For the simple fact that he needs money on account of Batman always foiling his plans and because he’s come across a rather large sum of kryptonite. Early in the film, Joker pulls off a heist in which he and Harley (Arleen Sorkin) snatch a dragon idol thought to be made of jade, but Batman knows otherwise and makes the move to Metropolis. It’s there he masquarades as Bruce Wayne, who has a business venture underway with Luthor, and makes acquaintances with both Lois Lane (Dana Delany) and Clark Kent. Lane is quite smitten with Wayne right out of the gate and the two start seeing quite a lot of each other, much to Clark’s disappointment.
The film wastes little time in establishing that Batman and Superman are going to be uneasy allies. Batman is setup to be Superman’s opposite. When we first see Batman inspecting the crime scene following Joker’s theft, Detective Bullock (Robert Costanzo) puts up a minor protest when Batman takes a piece of kryptonite left behind as tampering with a crime scene, but Commissioner Gordon (Bob Hastings) somewhat jokingly laughs it off suggesting to Bullock he be the one to stop Batman from doing what he wants. It’s played for laughs, but it’s kind of scary that Gordon essentially revealed he feels helpless when it comes to telling Batman what to do. Of course, we know he welcomes Batman’s aid in an unofficial capacity, but this scene seems to exist to remind the viewer that Batman operates outside the law. When he eventually crosses paths with Superman for the first time, Superman refers to him as a vigilante and that there’s no place for such in his town. Superman is our goody-two-shoes, the one who operates within the confines of the law, while Batman happily exists outside it. He’s also played as a jerk, as Batman introduces himself to Superman by arm-tossing him over his shoulder. It’s definitely beyond what we’re used to seeing out of the character previously in BTAS, that very patient detective working alongside Ra’s al Ghul and tolerating his subordinates slights is long gone. It’s somewhat in-line with the character we’ll see more of in The New Batman Adventures, but it’s definitely a change.
The Batman/Superman dynamic is the main anchor of the feature, but also entering the fray is the Lois Lane situation in which it’s clearly spelled out she’s attracted to Superman and Bruce Wayne, but turned off by Clark Kent and Batman. There’s also multiple scenes in which Joker and Luthor are pitted against each other, mostly via tense negotiations or dealing with the fallout of a Batman or Superman encounter. They’re actually quite entertaining and this is the best Joker we’ve seen in awhile. It would seem the time off between the end of the second season of BTAS and this feature did Dini and his crew well as this Joker feels fresh and exciting. As does his main squeeze Harley and the two actually work quite well together in this one with less signs of abuse on the part of Mr. J. It does mean the story basically ignores how we left off with the pair and we’re just left to assume that Harley eventually came crawling back. It’s a pretty entertaining story, albeit one that only runs a mere 61 minutes. It does follow a predictable arc, and I dislike that the ending basically has zero consequences long-term, but I definitely had a good time following along. There were some segments that were a bit too liberal with the notion that every bad guy in these shows is a terrible shot. Batman should have probably died ten times in this thing, but it’s just accepted that our hero is never going to get shot no matter how improbable the situation.
Being that this movie exists within the Superman show, it follows the same visual style as that show and The New Batman Adventures. There are no additional effects applied like we saw with a true feature in Mask of the Phantasm, but that doesn’t mean this one doesn’t look nice. Warner at least opened up its wallet for TMS to handle the animation. TMS was once upon a time a semi-regular in Warner animation, but come the mid-90s the studio’s reputation was beyond reproach and their services were essentially beyond Warner’s television budget. The studio wasn’t even called upon to handle the second BTAS feature, SubZero, so it was a bit surprising to see them utilized here. It certainly pays off as “World’s Finest” looks terrific. The animation is so smooth and so consistent frame by frame and it pays off as there’s plenty of action. There’s even a classic “Superman saves an airplane” segment probably just so they could have TMS animate such a sequence, because it’s otherwise a scene that’s completely unneeded for the plot. It’s certainly fun though, so I’m not complaining! The only drawback the film possesses from a visual perspective rests with the character designs. I really don’t like the redesign on Joker, and it’s so apparent in the scenes he shares with Luthor. Luthor looks like a person, while Joker looks like he belongs in a different series, something far more toony. That’s a problem I have with The New Batman Adventures as a whole though, not one unique or born from this arc.
The Batman/Superman Movie is probably not the spectacle the pairing deserves, but if I’m being honest, I’d rather watch this than the live-action one that would follow years later. Despite the short duration, it doesn’t cry out for additional material. If it had been a true feature we probably would have just been treated to more of Wayne and Lane’s romance which does move quite fast in this one (she appears poised to move to Gotham at one point) so that’s probably not realistic, but billionaires certainly have a knack for getting their own way despite logic and reason. I suspect some might not like the portrayal of Batman in this one as he really is just an asshole towards Superman. One has to wonder if he’s only interested in Lois to stick it to Superman. And given that their relationship progressed far enough for Lois to talk about moving, I’m going to make the assumption that she and Bruce slept together and if Bruce slept with her just to make Superman jealous or angry then that’s some pretty lowlife behavior on his part. Even without that piece of head-canon on my part, I felt pretty bad for Lane at times in this one as she’s just being used left and right. Bruce uses her to get info on Superman, Joker uses her as Superman bait, and all the while she thinks she’s met someone she’s ready to run away with. It’s quite a ride for Lois, and I wonder if Dini contemplated tossing Barbara Gordon into this whole mess, but thought better of it.
“World’s Finest” was just the first cross-over event between Superman and The New Batman Adventures, and not the last. There were two more in Superman, “Knight Time” and “The Demon Reborn.” There was only one in Batman, “Girl’s Night Out,” which I covered some time ago. Since I’ve covered so much of Batman: The Animated Series here, I would like to some day talk about those additional crossovers, but I also have no plans to at this time since I don’t own Superman: The Animated Series. Perhaps that will change one day, but the availability of this movie is what made this possible. If you want to check it out for yourself, you can do so either via Superman which is available on DVD and streaming on HBO Max, or you could buy the stand-alone movie which is quite affordable. I picked up a copy at a secondhand media store for a mere $2.97. For less than 3 bucks, this is a rather nice piece of entertainment.
You may have been wondering why I decided to devote an entry earlier this week to a nearly twenty year old action figure of mediocre quality, and if so, now you know why. I wanted to take a look at the DC Direct Batman based on his appearance in the Jeph Loeb written, Jim Lee illustrated, story Hush in anticipation of a look at what should be a much better figure based on the same Batman. The MAFEX Batman should be everything the DC Direct one was not as MAFEX action figures pride themselves on being highly detailed as well as super articulated. They’re also super expensive so they should be awesome.
My only experience with Medicom prior to this was nearly 15 years ago. Back then, Medicom was known to me for vinyl toys which were often stylized and often pretty expensive. Medicom did a deal with musician Glenn Danzig back then, and if you have not noticed that’s a favorite subject at The Nostalgia Spot, and I grabbed one. Medicom issued three figures, one based on each of Danzig’s bands, and I grabbed the one based on the band Danzig. The figure is basically a vinyl doll, it swivels at the arms and fists, but nowhere else. It might have swiveled at the head if not for the hair-sculpt. It was stylized though with its own unique look featuring an oversized head and fists with a somewhat round nose and underbite. It was cool, but also around $75 in 2006 money so it was hardly cheap and the reason why I only grabbed one.
My experience with Medicom is not at all applicable to its MAFEX line of figures. The only comparison is that both are expensive. I have seen plenty of MAFEX offerings over the years that looked pretty good and were thankfully not attractive to me since they do a lot of superhero stuff. I’ve also had some reservations as I’ve seen and heard many complaints about the MAFEX quality control over the years. Joints breaking, paint applications iffy, and so on. Often times reputations are earned, but it’s also important to remember not everyone’s experiences, or expectations, are the same. I’ve certainly seen a lot of complaints about NECA’s quality control online recently and yet I own somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 NECA figures and have yet to have one break. The worst I encountered was my toon Slash which arrived with a detached backpack strap which was easily fixed with a dab of glue.
Even with that reputation starting to build for MAFEX, it wasn’t the thing still giving me the greatest pause, it was the price. And it’s not necessarily the idea of spending around $100 on a figure. When I saw this Batman unveiled I was very interested as I felt this was THE Batman for me and I’d never need another and that has a pretty high price for me. It’s more what you get for the price. Each MAFEX figure is 1:12 scale which is fancy for six inch scale, for the most part. They’re not identical, but most people won’t notice the difference. You’re getting a figure with a good sculpt and a lot of articulation to go along with numerous extra parts like hands and heads, as well as character appropriate accessories and often (always?) a stand. It’s a good assortment of stuff, but the fact remains that quality figures in this scale just don’t carry this high a price. Bandai’s SH Figuarts are very comparable in terms of scale and quality and they usually retail for $60, at their high end (up until recently, of course, as we’re currently seeing a rise across the industry in prices). What is MAFEX doing to justify the added cost? It’s possible the licenses they go for just plain cost more, but Bandai has done Marvel and kept the price down, so that leaves me largely with one conclusion.
And that conclusion is “because they can.” We’ve been seeing a lot of boutique style collectibles start to crop up that really push what is expected in terms of price. And I think some manufacturers have realized that collectors are willing to pay a lot, and some are now willing to charge a lot as a result. Action figures are not known for having fantastic profit margins, but they do exist and most companies figure out a price that works for them. And then we have other companies that want more. It’s basically just capitalism at work, and if collectors buy it then producers are going to charge it. Did I want to contribute to making it acceptable to buy a 1:12 figure at $100? The short answer is, “No,” but I am both making an exception here and I felt I should have some personal experience with such a product before forming a final opinion, so here we are. And maybe I’m just ill-formed and Medicom pays its employees way better than the competition and thus, has to charge more. I doubt that’s the case, but since it’s a possibility I figured I would mention it.
I am going to keep this review objective, because that’s what I always do, and because subjectively I’m almost guaranteed to enjoy this action figure. The version of Batman depicted in Hush is fantastic, as far as I’m concerned, and this figure need only capture that. Price is a factor though, so I have to keep that in mind. This figure by itself might be great, but it needs to justify its cost. I can overlook some lazy sculpting or iffy paint in a Marvel Legends and still declare it’s pretty awesome because that figure costs around $25, but such things are not so easily overlooked when the price is quadrupled.
Well, for starters, MAFEX presents a good figure. The figure comes packaged in a collector friendly window box with appropriate colors and artwork. The rear features numerous product shots to demonstrate how the figure can be posed, and unlike a Lightning Collection release, I suspect all of these potential poses are actually achievable. I do wonder if these are actual product shots though as the colors are a bit different and the figure looks a bit beefier, especially the legs. It’s likely they’re just edited post photo, or the figure depicted is a final test sample that turned out a little differently. The figure comes in a blister tray with some actual Jim Lee artwork serving as the backsplash. The tray has a plastic overlay to keep everything in place and the included stand is taped to the back. I recommend removing that stand before removing the tray cover because that cover is the only thing securing all of the accessories and figure. Don’t do what I did and remove the cover and decide now is a good time to take off the stand and accidentally dump all of your parts on the floor. It’s not a fun time searching for batarangs on a carpeted floor.
There is no tape or tie-downs inside the box, so once that tray cover is removed you are free to pull your Batman out. He is pretty light to the touch and your first reaction is likely going to be, “Wow, that’s a big cape!” It’s massive and made of some kind of cotton, I assume. It’s well put together, but it will arrive wrinkled. Had Mafex used spandex or something more rubbery it likely would not wrinkle so easily. The stitching is clean though and I don’t see any fraying, so that’s a plus. It’s glued under the cowl and it’s a little messy and I worry about that piece eventually lifting off of the torso. Holding and moving Batman feels a lot like handling a SH Figuarts release. The joint system is pretty familiar and just the overall build quality feels pretty much the same, and that’s a good thing. The only negative for me right out of the box is that one of the blades on his left forearm came out bent and curled over, which you’ll see in virtually all of the images in this post. Since taking all of the pictures I was able to apply some heat to that curled blade and straighten it out a little. It’s not where it needs to be and it’s something I’ll have to keep at if I want to straighten out completely, or just learn to live with.
Once placed on a surface, Batman stands right around 6.5″ to the top of his ears, probably a little less. He’s shorter than the DC Direct figure I looked at who was around the same height to the crown of his noggin. The Mafex version is also less substantial. He’s a leaner Batman in comparison, which is not really page-accurate if we’re being technical. His chest could use a bit of beefing up as well as his thighs, though his biceps and shoulders look pretty good. The head shape is much better on this version and more reflective of the art, as is the color palette utilized which is a pale blue, almost a gray-blue, for the cape, cowl, gloves, boots, and trunks. The yellow belt is also pale and a little dingy. I think a touch of brown might have better achieved the effect they were going for, but in checking the source material this looks pretty close. The paint on this figure isn’t terrific. The head-sculpt must have been cast in blue because it shows through the flesh-colored paint around his mouth. There’s even a blue line under his lip, which isn’t great. It also shows through the teeth of the alternate head. On a shelf, it’s probably not a big deal, but this is a pricey figure so this shouldn’t be an issue. The paint around the bat emblem on his chest doesn’t fill the sculpted-out symbol giving it a gray outline, which is irritating. There’s a gray speck on one of the belt pouches and the paint around the boot cuffs is bad. It’s frustrating because there’s not a lot of paint that needed to be done, and what little there is wasn’t done particularly well. At least, the eyes came out well and there does appear to be a wash on the gray parts that looks good and brings out the musculature of the figure, though there is some paint slop on the left thigh of my figure.
The overall presentation of the figure is a mixed bag. The sculpt is good enough, even factoring in the price, but the paint is not while the cape size is going to be more subjective. I think the cape could have been smaller, but it could also work at this size with some improvements. I think the bulk of the cape, in particular how it bunches up at the shoulders, contributes to my feeling like this Batman seems undersized. If I flip the cape over a shoulder and just look at how it compares to the head and width of the upper body it looks pretty good. The cape in the books is certainly large, but it’s illustrated rather thin and heavy, almost leathery in behavior like a, you know, bat! There’s not a lot of material around the neck area as there is with this figure so that’s what’s throwing things off for me. If it wasn’t glued under the cowl way up inside the shoulders and on the pectorals, it would look so much better. They just brought it forward way too far.
I definitely have some nits to pick when it comes to the presentation of the figure, but I also haven’t talked about the articulation, so lets get to it. His head is on a ball peg which sits inside a neck piece that also connects via a ball peg in the torso. He can turn his head and look down pretty well, but the range going up isn’t great. What also isn’t great is that neck wants to turn with the head most of the time, and sometimes it doesn’t, and you may end up with Batman’s adam’s apple on the side of his neck or something. Something inside it also kind of chewed up the edge of the neck on mine as it rotated. It’s not a big deal because it sits far enough down in the torso that it can’t be seen unless you’re looking for it, but it’s something to watch out for. The shoulders are on ball-hinges with a butterfly joint that allows Batman to reach all the way across his chest. There’s a swivel at the biceps and double-jointed elbows that go well past 90 degrees and don’t look terrible. The hands are connected via ball pegs so they have pretty good range of motion, but they do pop off a little easily, which is better than the alternative. In the torso we have a ball-peg in the diaphragm so he can rotate and tilt pretty well. There is a waist swivel, but it’s a little tight. The belt is a separate piece that has a little give, but it’s either glued down or pegged in somewhere. The trunks are also a separate piece, but they’re pretty small and stay out of the way. The legs are on ball hinges so they can kick forward and back and raise out to the side far enough, but not a full split. They also can drop down for a little extra mobility and swivel at the thigh. The knees are double-jointed and molded at a slight angle so they look a little funky, but the joint is pretty clean. At the ankle we have a ball-hinge so they can raise up a little, go back a good amount, and rock side-to-side, though it takes a little finagling. There’s also a toe hinge.
The articulation is quite good. I like that Mafex avoided creating any real ugly joints on this guy. The clumsiest area is probably the shoulders where that giant cape works to the figure’s advantage. And speaking of the cape, it too is articulated. There are four, metal, wires running through it that connect at the cowl. Two wires run along the outer edge and then two more are inside. The wires on the outer part work very well to help pose this massive thing, while the two inner wires do very little. They basically help the cape to hold its shape, but what is missing is a center wire which would have aided this figure a whole lot. It certainly adds a fun dynamic to the figure since you can do a lot with that cape. And if you find it looks too bunched up at the shoulder, I recommend taking that outer wire and just sort of folding it back as opposed to trying to tuck the whole thing behind a shoulder.
We’ve talked about the sculpt, and we’ve now discussed the articulation, so really the last place for this figure to justify its cost rests with the accessories. And it’s a good thing that this figure has a boatload of accessories. For starters, he comes with a fairly neutral head and can swap to a teeth-gritting one. Both are pretty effective at evoking the Batman persona and which you display may come down to which has the better paint application. There’s also a Bruce Wayne head which has its own neck piece. The paint on that head looks much better since it’s probably not molded in blue and it’s fine, though who is going to display this figure as Wayne? Swapping heads is not terrible, but that neck joint is guaranteed to give away before the head so don’t be surprised when that neck releases the first time. Joining the three heads are seven sets of hands! Ready for them all: fists, fists with tiny tracks sculpted in them, fists with batarangs poking through from between the fingers, open hands, slightly open hands, curled hands (batarang hands), and grapple gun hands. That is a lot of hands, and they all actually seem viable. The fists with the tiny channels in them might stump some initially, but the opening is just wide enough to slide the cape edges into them and I think that’s their main function.
Those channel hands can also handle the grappling hook wire, which is another accessory. There are two hooks: one with a short cable and one with a long cable. Both peg into either grappling gun hand rather easily and look pretty cool. The wire on the longer one is metal and it does not appear to be bendy, so don’t snap it! It pegs in fairly gently too, so don’t force it, but it’s in snug enough for posing. I love that they used metal since it’s unlikely to sag or loose its shape. It’s also light enough that it doesn’t cause the arm to slowly drop. The grapple gun hands also look nice and are page-accurate as far as the placement of the trigger goes. I half-expected the paint job to be lacking with these hands, but they turned out well. Swapping hands is a bit of an exercise in patience. The hands pop off easy enough, but every hand except for the fists he comes packaged with are rather snug. You can even see that the diameter of the peg hole is smaller on the extra hands versus the fists. Nevertheless, they will go on, just be patient and don’t try to jam them on there. The ball joint that the pegs are on will fight you, but it’s manageable. I did not feel discouraged from swapping hands, which I sometimes do with other figures.
What would Batman be without some batarangs? Not much of a Batman, I’d argue. This figures comes with four: two bat-shaped ones and two more rounded ones. Both work well with the curled, style-posed, hands that I referred to as “batarang” hands before. They can slide in between the middle and index finger, or even wedge between the thumb and index finger. The channel fist hands can also work with them, though I don’t know how natural it looks. It’s hard for me to decide how to eventually pose this figure on a shelf as I like the batarangs, but the grapple gun attachments are also really cool and unique to this figure. Decisions, decisions…
Lastly, Batman comes with an included stand. I think all Mafex figures come with this particular stand and it’s pretty straight-forward. It comes in three pieces: the base, the articulating arm, and the claw. Snap it together and you’re good to go – or are you? If your stand is anything like mine, it will be way too loose to support the figure. He stands fine with out it, but if you want a swinging pose or something a bit more dramatic then you’ll need to grab a small, phillips head screwdriver and tighten each joint. Once you do then you should be fine as I had no problems getting the stand to support the figure’s weight, so long as I didn’t throw off the center of gravity too much. I wish there was a pre-drilled hole or something on the base to support a wall mount, but oh well. I suppose nothing is stopping me from adding one myself.
In terms of accessories, this figure came out quite well. There isn’t really anything missing. The only thing I would have liked to have seen included was yet another fist that had his Kryptonite ring sculpted onto it for battles with Superman. Apparently, that’s been included though with the Mafex Superman so that’s cool since you wouldn’t pose Batman with it on unless you have Superman, which I obviously do not and do not plan to get. That’s pretty much it though, these accessories are great, they’re easy to work with, and the only throw-away one really is the Bruce Wayne head. It looks fine, I’m just never going to choose to display a Batman figure without his mask.
As expected, I do like this figure. I have some quibbles about the overall aesthetics, but I think it looks like Batman and it’s easy to tell this is the version of the character from the Hush books. The articulation is great and I very much enjoy the accessories, but I’m still not sold on that price tag. This guy came out last summer and can still be purchased at various online shops and probably in some local comic book stores. No matter where you buy him, he’s going to end up costing right around $100 which is a lot for a figure in this scale. Some places will have him for around $80-$85, but they’ll likely have steep shipping charges while a place like Big Bad Toy Store has cheap shipping, but prices this guy at just under $95. Comparing him to my SH Figuarts Vegeta, which I paid $50 for not on clearance, and there’s just no comparison when it comes to value. That figure is physically shorter than this one so there’s less plastic involved, but the articulation is there, the sculpt is there, he has a ton of extra hands and faces, and is also an import figure of a popular licensed character. I can accept this Batman costing more than that figure, but nearly twice as much? No way.
That’s what it comes down to with the Mafex Batman figure from the pages of the Hush story. He’s a nice figure and if you like that version of the character you will like this action figure. What you are unlikely to enjoy about it is the sticker price. There are plenty of collectors out there who will convince themselves they’re getting an item that is definitely worth a hundred bucks and be fine with it – whatever floats your boat. I just, objectively speaking as someone who likes this figure, don’t see a justification for that kind of price here. And I especially don’t considering the iffy paint and slight inaccuracies when it comes to the source material and the sculpt. At this price and at this scale this figure should be objectively flawless in those areas, and it’s not. However, I still enjoy it and I’m happy to have it. It’s possible for an action figure to be both good and overpriced. I’m just not going to make a habit out of buying Mafex action figures.
Lastly, if you like this figure and feel like it’s worth adding to your collection, then by all means do so. However, I do want to point out there is a new version coming out any day now. It changes the color scheme of the figure swapping out the blue parts for black ones, but it also looks like Mafex did some adjustments with the cape. I think it’s still the same material and still features four wires, but the promotional images make it look like they adjusted how it’s glued to the figure and basically did it in the same manner I suggested in my review (this isn’t me taking credit for that since that figure was obviously designed way before I posted this, just in case anyone were to think I was trying to do so) which looks a lot better. They’re just promo images though in which the figure is supposed to look awesome, so maybe seek out some reviews or something. It does look like some people already have it. Mafex also swapped out the Bruce Wayne head, and maybe some hands, in favor of a gargoyle base for the figure which looks fantastic. I’m actually kind of mad at myself that I can’t be happy with a black and gray Batman as that edition honestly looks better than this one. I’m a blue boy though, so here we are. Whichever version you decide to get, or don’t, will result in you having a pretty nice Batman figure. Your wallet may just disagree on how valuable that is.
In the mid 90s the action figure underwent a rather substantial change. The gross, detailed, sculpted works of 80s and early 90s toy lines had started to fade away. In their place was the super hero from the likes of Toy Biz and Mattel which opted for simple sculpts, subtle paint, and a fairly standard roll out of articulation. Sure, there were some intentionally done “super articulated” editions of characters like Spider-Man, but largely the action figure had been distilled to the following joints: head, shoulder, elbow, leg, knee. All either swivel or hinges. Some might have a waist twist, or a wrist swivel, but most followed that general format.
Then came McFarlane. Founded in 1994 by comic book artist and writer Todd McFarlane, the new approach was a return to sculpting. McFarlane reasoned that the only thing holding figures back from being highly detailed was just a little bit of effort. A mold costs the same whether it’s intricate or plain, and mold creation is the biggest cost in producing action figures. Of course, it’s a little more nuanced than that since better molds require better artists spending more time than before and we all know time is money, but his point was made. McFarlane’s line of action figures, largely consisting of his Spawn character, blew away the competition when it came to sculpts. What they did for sculpting was felt in the toy world, especially by Toy Biz who was making action figures based on the various characters of Marvel Comics. Toy Biz started to produce collector grade figures as well, but this came at the downside of a reduction in articulation and a heightening of the scale. Kids and collectors who had been dying for a Jim Lee era Jean Grey finally got one in the Onslaught wave of figures marketed to specialty shops, but she was way out of scale with what had come before and awkwardly pre-posed.
While McFarlane continued to refine its sculpts, it did so at the cost of articulation. Many of the McFarlane figures of the late 90s and early 2000s were little more than mini statues. Some had basic articulation, but a lot of it wasn’t particularly functional as the figures were meant to assume one, specific, pose and that was it. Toy Biz was not content with that sort of approach as it released a new line of Spider-Man Classics. These were carried by major toy retailers making them easier to get ahold of than the previous Onslaught series, and best of all the figures were highly articulated while still retaining an impressive approach to sculpting. The Venom figure in particular was quite ambitious as it referenced a classic piece of artwork in which the alien costume is extending from the face of Eddie Brock. From the front, the figure looks like a Venom one, but with an elongated maw. From the side though, one can see the smiling visage of Brock underneath. It was a sculpt that rivaled what McFarlane was producing, to a degree, but the figure also retained an impressive array of articulation.
That line was the precursor to the now long-running Marvel Legends. Toy Biz would embark on a journey through the Marvel Universe that included impressive sculpt-work for its era combined with a great degree of articulation. Hasbro now has control of the line and has continued to release affordable action figures of popular characters at retail that combine quality sculpts with functional articulation. Some would probably argue that the line has become the greatest line of action figures of all time considering its longevity and overall quality. I don’t collect it any longer, but it is a remarkably consistent product.
Naturally, Toy Biz’s success lead to rival DC trying its own hand at collector-grade action figures of its classic characters. The company launched DC Direct to differentiate its products from the more mass market stuff that was being handled by Mattel. Unfortunately, DC Direct was seemingly always behind the curve when it came to its toys, and its 2003 line of action figures based on the Batman story Hush by writer Jeph Loeb and renowned artist Jim Lee is a great example.
Jim Lee became famous largely for his work on X-Men in the early 90s. By the middle part of the decade he had gone freelance and worked on other properties while creating his own super hero team in WildCats. He ended up being a pretty big get for DC when they brought him onboard to work on Batman. The Hush story was basically DC’s way of getting Lee to draw Batman and basically every character of importance in his sphere. It could have been a mess, but it was actually a pretty entertaining read. Lee’s Batman was also a pretty big hit which paved the way for the action figure line. At the time, I was a casual at best fan of Batman. I had enjoyed the films and the animated series, but I dabbled infrequently in the comics. I found myself quite taken by Lee’s interpretation of the caped crusader, which made the action figure very appealing.
Lee’s Batman is a muscle-bound, brooding, guy in a cape. He’s marked by a square jaw and short ears on his costume. He reminds me a bit of a cross between the Bruce Timm Batman and, oddly enough, the Adam West Batman. It’s the squareness of the head combined with those short ears that evokes both of those styles for me, but it’s Lee’s unique talents that bring it together. He has a gray and blue color scheme with a black emblem on his chest. The blue is a pale blue, and something about the choice of saturation really works for the character. I’ve always felt it made more sense for Batman to dress in black, or at least a really dark blue, but illogical as this outfit may seem, it looks terrific. It quickly became my favorite interpretation of the character and remains so to this day.
Because I liked the design so much, I felt drawn to the figure released in 2003 by DC Direct. Unfortunately, it wasn’t particularly cheap and the articulation was a real turn-off. I would see this figure on my many trips to GameStop or comic shops and I’d debate with myself if it was worth picking up. By today’s standards, I don’t think it was expensive, but I honestly can’t remember. I want to say it was over 10 bucks, but not as high as 20, and in a world where Marvel Legends were often 6-8 bucks that felt like a lot. I was also in college and money wasn’t abundant and my addiction to Legends meant I had only a little cash to consider spending on other lines. Eventually, I caved, probably sometime in 2004 and this edition of Batman has remained the last 6″ scale Batman I’ve purchased over the ensuing years. And he’s basically always occupied a prominent spot in my home, usually on a nightstand or dresser, so I guess money well spent.
Once upon a time, this figure came in a window box with the Hush era logo emblazoned upon it, but I’ve long since disposed of that box. Once removed, Batman stands six and a half inches to the top of his “ears” and strikes quite the intimidating posture on a shelf. His square-jawed head is set in a bit of a scowl with a lot of linework around the all-white eyes that have been tightened into narrow slits. The area around his neck has been sculpted for his cape with is almost seamlessly glued into the sculpted folds. It’s a rubbery material that hangs off of the figure and fans out ending at about the ankles. It’s smaller than what is depicted in the comic, but definitely more wieldy. Batman’s chest is puffed out with impressive mass and the logo is sculpted into his chest and painted a glossy black which contrasts well with the otherwise matte approach of the other colors. It’s hard to tell if the body is molded in gray or painted gray, but there’s definitely a paint application to bring out the muscles in his torso and biceps. The gloves have some nice detailing on them and the “fins” that stick off are slightly bendy so there’s less of a chance of any snapping. The belt is painted and features a tremendous amount of pouches, which was the style at the time. A black or gray wash has been applied to give it a worn, grimy, appearance which is suitable for the source material. There’s a liberal amount of gray paint on the legs and the blue-painted boots are fairly clean. A wash has been applied to them to bring out the folds around the ankle and the soles of the boots are painted black. The paint is sufficiently clean everywhere on my figure except the face, which unfortunately has a trio of blue dots around the mouth and chin. It also looks like some of the flesh-colored paint wound up on the very tip of his nose. I’ve never been able to get that speck off, even though I’m pretty sure the head is sculpted in blue plastic.
Even more than 15 years later, the figure largely looks the part. This is a very muscled Batman, but not overly so. The only aspect of the sculpt I’ve ever been not completely sold on are the rather massive thighs this guy has. It just seems like either they should be a little smaller, or the shoulders a little wider to compensate. The head might also be just a wee bit too small, but it’s pretty negligible. This looks good and I doubt anyone was really complaining about the figure’s aesthetics when it came out in 2003.
What they were critiquing though is the articulation, or lack thereof. With this figure, what you see is what you get. He’s not exactly pre-posed, but how he stands when removed from the box is basically all he can do. The head is on a ball-peg and it’s easily the best part about the figure, articulation-wise. Batman can rotate all the way around as well as look up pretty far, and even look down. There’s also a little tilt for good measure and no gapping is present when positioning his head. It’s great. After that though, everything gets bad. His shoulders are on some kind of a ball-peg system. They can rotate all the way around, but there’s no hinge and very little outward movement. The right arm can come out maybe 30 degrees while the left barely moves. This is for a reason, I suspect, we’ll get to when we talk about the accessories. And for the same reason, only the right wrist swivels at the glove while both arms have a single, elbow, hinge. There is no torso or waist articulation of any kind, which is a real bummer as a waist twist would help this guy out. At the leg, the thighs peg into the crotch so they can only go forward and back. He can extend pretty far in both directions, but the crotch starts to get ugly and weird looking as you do it. Plus, there’s a lot of rubbing and I would worry that extensive movement would harm the paint. You may be thinking to yourself, “Well, this is an older figure and there’s no rubbing yet,” but I also basically set this guy and left him as-is for 18 years. Batman does have knee hinges, but no boot cut.
Because of the limited articulation, Batman is little more than a statue. You can pose him looking down from a high perch, looking straight-ahead, or looking up at a target, but that’s kind of it. The range on those elbow and knee hinges is terrible and his left hand is pre-posed at an awkward angle so he can’t even fake throwing a punch. His legs also come off of his body in such a wide stance that you basically can’t bend his knees at all and expect him to stand. A boot cut would have been nice as you could then move his feet and get him into a slight perch. One of the more iconic images from the Hush books is Batman on a ledge with one foot raised and placed on a gargoyle statue, a simple pose that this figure cannot hope to imitate. About the only thing he can do is aim his grapple gun because one of his two accessories is a swappable right hand with the grapple gun molded into it. I believe that is why his right arm has more range than the left so he can aim it in a semi-natural way, but it’s not that convincing. I also can’t get his hand to come off anymore to actually use it, but it’s not something most people likely chose to utilize in their display as it’s painted rather poorly and isn’t page accurate. The only other accessory is a display stand which is fine. It’s in the shape of the Batman logo of the era and it’s screen-printed rather well. There are two pegs on it, but curiously only one foot has a peg hole. The other has an indentation like one is supposed to be there, but nope. He stands fine without it, but the added stability is nice to have. Plus, the stand adds a little flair to the display which is welcomed considering this figure just can’t do much of anything.
This is the type of figure that we had to deal with back in the early 2000s. Not everything was super-articulated, or even functionally articulated, and this Batman qualified. Now, obviously I’ve had this guy on display in my home as the lone Batman figure for years despite its shortcomings so clearly it got something right. It’s partly the result of a better figure just not coming along and capturing my attention, and the fact that I’m not a dedicated Batman collector has certainly helped to keep this guy around. This is a figure that is no longer available at retail, but the secondary market is plentiful enough for a figure almost 20 years old. And it’s a figure that really has not appreciated one bit. It’ll set you back only around 20 bucks if it’s something you want, and that’s for a figure in-box. If you’re shopping loose you might find a better deal. The sculpt is there, and the paint is solid, but the articulation is severely lacking so this is likely no one’s favorite depiction of Batman from this era. You can do better, though probably not cheaper if it’s a Hush Batman you’re after. I do like it, but it’s hard not to see a missed opportunity whenever I look at it.
When the original Superman was conceived for a theatrical release, the producers on the project were ambitious. Convincing audiences that a man could fly sure seemed like enough ambition for one film, but not Superman. Alexander and Ilya Salkind decided it would be more prudent to shoot the film and its sequel at the same time. Producer Pierre Spengler was onboard and they were able to find a director in Richard Donner willing to undertake the difficult task. At the time it made some sense since the films would be closely tied together thematically and the mercurial Marlon Brando was onboard to play Superman’s biological father, Jor-El. Brando was hard to secure and the type only willing to attend as little days of shooting as possible so shooting his parts for both films at the same time was basically a necessity. The production could reuse sets, the actors wouldn’t visibly change much, and it also meant Warner Bros. would have a sequel practically at the ready in the event the first film was the success everyone hoped it would be.
Of course, you know what they say about the best laid plans. Tensions between the Salkinds and Donner arose during filming as much of the project could be kindly described as disorganized, at best. Production would have to be halted in order for the first film to be properly edited and released, and it sounds like everyone just grew to hate one another. With the film approximately 75% complete, Donner was relieved of his duties and replaced by Richard Lester. By then, the first film had been a success and Brando had started crowing about his share of the box office causing the Salkinds to drop him from the sequel. Lester inherited a mess and set out to re-shooting several scenes, and even changed the ending. Despite all of that, Superman II was warmly received by fans and critics and for a long time it was considered the pinnacle of super hero films with its status really only being called into question when films like Spider-Man 2, X2, and Batman Begins were released in the 2000s.
As a kid, I grew up watching the Superman movies mostly on cable and Superman II was probably my favorite, though I did enjoy the zaniness of Superman III and I don’t think I ever saw the much maligned Superman IV. I wasn’t at all aware of the controversy surrounding the first sequel though and only came to find out about that as an adult. It took me awhile, but I finally got around to viewing the Richard Donner cut of the film recently. Released in 2006, brought along partially by a settlement with Brando’s estate to use his likeness, Donner was brought onboard to recut the film using all of the footage he had overseen which had been discarded by Lester. Editor Michael Thau did a lot of the grunt work of putting the film back together, which Donner would basically give a “yay” or “nay” to finished pieces. This meant Brando’s character could be restored to communicate with Reeve’s Superman and the original ending could be seen for the first time. Every scene Lester had re-shot could also be tossed, with the only stuff kept being the scenes Donner never got to shoot (mostly featuring the villains rampaging through the Midwest). The only truly cumbersome piece is re-assembled from screen test footage and features a confrontation of sorts between Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) and Clark Kent in a hotel room. It’s fair to wonder if some of the more effects heavy shots would have turned out better in post production with a bigger budget than what was available for a restoration, but this is a fairly different film, but also a complete one despite the circumstances.
I have not seen the Lester cut in years, so I’m less interested in the comparisons with the Donner cut and more interested in how this holds up as a film. In my return to the original Superman, I found the film quite long and at times humorless. Superman is presented in a very earnest way which plays differently now than it did in 1978. A hero saying he fights for truth, justice, and the American way without a hint of cynicism is just a bit hokey today. If this Superman were featured in a modern film there would be a character snickering at how wholesome he is right after he says his line. These films seek to present Superman as an idealized hero, a myth made man, which might not be for everyone.
With Superman II, most of that earnestness is still preserved, but the film is more willing to explore Superman’s weakness. And I don’t mean Kryptonite. His weakness is Lois Lane and his infatuation with her which naturally leads to a yearning for a normal life. That is on display in this film with Superman literally giving up his powers, and starting a trend for super hero sequels, in order to live life as an ordinary citizen of Earth. His timing proves terrible though as three criminals cast out from Krypton at the beginning of the first film, General Zod (Terence Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas), and Non (Jack O’Halloran), just so happen to find their way to Earth. Being fellow citizens of Krypton, they too are enhanced beyond normal men by Earth’s yellow sun and are essentially three supermen themselves. Three against one are daunting odds to begin with, but a powerless Superman obviously stands no match and apparently neither do the militaries of the world. Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) is still a presence as he seeks to benefit from the chaos created by these new beings, but strangely he keeps the information about the effects of Kryptonite to himself never once attempting to use it against these new enemies.
Superman II is a far brisker film since it doesn’t need to tell the origins of its hero and its villains are about as direct as villains get. It has a bit more action to it since Superman is pitted against villains that can actually match him blow for blow, and some of his powers were also held in reserve for the sequel. We get to see Superman utilize his laser eyes and his super breath in addition to his super speed and ability to fly. He doesn’t get to do anything as impressive as land an airplane, but there’s plenty of heroic feats for him to accomplish. The film is still at its best when Superman is doing more mundane things like saving a falling child while onlookers “oo” and “ahh.” The battle of Metropolis, which makes no attempts to disguise the fact that its New York, is not nearly as impressive to modern viewers as it would have been in 1980 which probably detracts from the spectacle some.
The film also spends a lot of time exploring just what it is that distinguishes Clark Kent from Superman. Some of the best comedy involves Lois trying to figure out if the two are one and the same and she goes to some incredible lengths to confirm her suspicions. Reeve and Kidder seem to possess better chemistry this time around though it can still be hard to see just what it is about Lois that makes Clark willing to give up everything just to be with her. There’s also no way to shake the feeling of deja vu the ending brings about, which was originally changed for that very reason. The ending Lester settled on was arguably dumber and was just different for the sake of being different. Both achieve the same end result, but neither is particularly satisfying.
One also cannot mention that with the loss of Donner originally came the loss of what was perhaps my favorite part of the first film: John Williams. His main Superman theme was present, but that’s all as creative differences with Richard Lester caused Williams to quit. Ken Thorne was brought on to score Superman II, but when Donner was asked to put his name on this new cut he wanted Williams back as well. Williams, unfortunately, was not able to score the film so Donner did the next best thing and simply reused much of the first film’s score and even some music that had not been used. Some of Thorne’s score is still present in the Richard Donner cut, but the presence of Williams really helps make the sequel feel like an extension of the first film.
The Richard Donner Cut of Superman II restores the sense of continuity the film shared with its predecessor. There’s no one who would watch these two films back to back and come away surprised they were mostly shot simultaneously. There’s a real, cohesive, feeling to both to the point where watching one and not the other almost feels silly. And yet, there’s no denying that Superman II is no longer a contender for the best super hero movie brought to cinema. While it’s probably still the best Superman film, I don’t find it as entertaining today as I once did. The villains are one-note and the film is quite eager to rely on the deus ex machina device to push its plot along. Superman has powers, then he doesn’t, then he does again despite being warned it was irreversible, and so on. Lex Luthor makes a proverbial deal with the devil, gets double-crossed by said devil, then makes yet another deal only to be double-crossed yet again! Some criminal genius. It’s a bit messy, but there are moments of fun and the more digestible run time means the film doesn’t overstay its welcome. Mostly, I’m left feeling happy for Richard Donner and fans of Superman that the original vision of the film was finally realized, even if it took more than 25 years for that to happen.
It might be hard to convince younger people today that superhero movies were once huge financial risks for production companies. It might further surprise them to learn that only one comic book company seemed to figure the whole thing out, and it wasn’t Marvel. While Marvel struggled to get Hollywood interested in its characters, Detective Comics did not. That’s because DC held what were easily the two most identifiable superheroes in existence: Superman and Batman. Both had successful runs in theaters as serials or theatrical animation. Both also made the jump to television and in the 1970s the most recent to find success on both the small and big screen was Batman by way of the Adam West starring show and film. That Batman, created in the 60s, was the definition of camp. It was pretty delightful, but come the 70s audiences seemed to want something else. The comics pivoted back more towards a serious tone, though it would take Hollywood awhile to do the same. In the 70s though, one hero was available to take comics to new heights on the big screen and his name was Superman.
I don’t think it’s a great stretch to say Superman is the most recognizable superhero in the world. He’s the first thing that comes to mind for me when I hear the term “superhero” and he can do all of the things I think of when I hear the term “super.” He can fly, he’s incredibly strong, invulnerable, absurdly fast, and to top it all off he can do other things like shoot lasers from his eyes and has super…blowing…power. There’s no way to phrase that without sounding awkward. Throughout the years, Superman also has been known to possess what is basically a super constitution as he fights for truth, justice, and the American way all without ever telling a lie (except for those that protect his secret identity). He’s so pure a character, that it’s hard not to take a cynical approach sometimes when interacting with him. And depending on the current temperature of society, it can make the timing difficult. Maybe that’s why Superman has mostly spun his tires in the world of modern cinema, but apparently 1978 was the perfect moment for him to hit the big screen because the film, Superman, was a massive hit.
Directed by Richard Donner, Superman is a film that had a long development cycle. There were numerous script rewrites and it took a long time to develop the proper techniques to convince an audience that what they’re seeing was plausible. Making a man fly is almost ho-hum in this modern world full of computer-generated imagery, but in the 70s it had yet to be perfected. On a technical level, Superman was extremely ambitious, but apparently that wasn’t enough. The visionaries behind it, Alexander and Ilya Salkind, together with producer Pierre Spengler, decided it wasn’t enough to make one movie and settled on filming two at the same time. It was a laborious process that was always behind schedule and over budget leading to constant conflict between Donner and the Salkinds eventually leading to the director’s firing before the sequel could be completed.
The film also assembled a pretty large cast of actors, some of which were heavy hitters and others were virtual unknowns. Christopher Reeve was cast in the lead role of adult Clark Kent and Superman after a lengthy search. Looking over the list of actors offered or asked to audition is pretty entertaining as Donner and the producers tried to find someone who could both act and look good in spandex. To give the film star power, the Salkinds brought in Marlon Brando to play Superman’s father, Jor-El, and paid him a princely sum to do so. Fellow Oscar winner Gene Hackman was cast as antagonist Lex Luthor while Margot Kidder played Lois Lane.
Superman as a film is designed to introduce the audience to the character as if it were the first time. This necessitates a rather laborious beginning where we see the events that lead to planet Krypton’s demise while Brando chews up screen time looking rather disinterested the whole time. Following that, the setting shifts to Earth where we need to see John and Martha Kent (Glenn Ford and Phyllis Thaxter) happen upon the young boy who spent years traveling to their planet in an odd-shaped pod. The film is forced to fast-forward to Clark’s teenaged years (where he’s awkwardly played by Jeff East with Reeve dubbed over) before we can finally get to Clark’s adult years when he officially dawns the cape and blue tights. It’s a long process to get to our hero, and it’s awkwardly paced. Donner clearly had some bullet points he wanted to hit, but the speed at which he hits them reduces their impact. When Clark’s adoptive father suffers a heart attack at the farm, we’ve only just met him and it’s hard for the actors to get the audience to feel the dread and fear of the moment the way their characters do.
At least when we finally get to Metropolis and the main meat of the film, it starts to soar. Kidder’s Lois Lane, who embodies a manic, hyper, persona as a go-go-reporter livens the film up and she plays off of Reeve’s bumbling Kent very well. Their first scenes together are movie magic and I wish we could spend more time with them, but the film is well over an hour at this point and needs to bring in its hero. Superman and Lane’s scenes together are far less interesting. There’s a romantic angle imbued into them that’s forced, and made painfully obvious during the infamous flying sequence where Lane recites a poem in her mind via voice over directed at her new super beau.
It’s also at this point the film’s main antagonist, Lex Luthor, is introduced. Hackman is charismatic in the role and he plays off of his bumbling sidekick Otis (Ned Beatty) and the dashing Eve Teschmacher (Valerie Perrine) in an entertaining fashion, but he doesn’t get enough time to convince us of his evil genius. The film just basically gives him kryptonite, and his scheme to create some expensive real estate for himself comes together quite rapidly. He’s at least wise enough, and I give the film credit for this, to know that Superman will be his enemy and that he needs to have a plan in place to deal with him before Superman is even aware of his existence. And his plan, at least as it pertains to Superman, is a good one. His overall plan though comes across as a bit camp, which is something this movie sort of struggles with. For much of the picture it plays things pretty straight, only slipping in a corny little line from the comics here and there, but Luthor’s plan feels like full camp to me. Some of Superman’s scenes are similar and it’s hard to know how the movie wants them to be interpreted. I think in most cases they’re playing it straight, but years of Superman parodies have left me damaged.
I don’t want to spoil the ending of the film, even though it’s over 40 years old at this point, but it is a problem with the film. The only aspect of the ending that I like is it asks Superman to make a decision that is essentially the character choosing to take the advice of his adoptive father over that of his biological one. Brando’s Jor-El hangs over the film as he’s able to pass on knowledge to his son via some crystals he packed in his space pod. The two even appear to have actual conversations which is rather confusing and feels like an unnecessary cheat. It’s hard not to make a biblical connection here as well as Jor-El gifts his only son to humanity for he sees potential in mankind and that child is Superman. The only thing missing is a resurrection angle. At any rate, the ending is setup early via a quote from Jor-El to his son, but it still feels kind of cheap and like a deus ex machina.
When Superman soars though, it’s pretty damn fun. The special effects have obviously aged quite a bit since 1978. You know you’re looking at an old movie when you watch it, but it’s not so aged that it takes the viewer out of the fantasy. The flying stuff looks fine, the only aspects of the effects that really stand out are the miniatures used for much of the climax. In fairness to them, no one ever envisioned these scenes being viewed in HD when they were shot and I suspect that’s a major part of the problem. Possibly the best part of the film occurs when Superman outs himself and is just soaring around Metropolis knocking off conventional crooks. There’s also a more extravagant scene where he saves Air Force One from a crash landing. It probably didn’t need the added drama of having the airplane be Air Force One, but it’s a great scene. It was so good that nearly 30 years later Superman Returns went back to that well to reintroduce the audience to Superman. The only issue with the film is it takes so long to get to that point, and it’s a relatively small portion of the film, but the moments are at least captivating enough to enrapture even the youngest viewer.
A part of the film that has not aged at all is the score. Composed by the renowned John Williams, Superman has what I consider a perfect score. There has never been a character or franchise more perfectly suited for its theme than Superman and the Williams composition. It’s triumphant, wonderous, and jubilant. Is it controversial to say this is the best main theme John Williams has come up with? I love the main theme from Star Wars, and Jaws is an all-timer, but Superman takes it to another level. I have to assume Williams had the old Superman theme, from the Fleischer cartoons, in the back of his head so a hat tip to those classics should be granted.
I had not seen Superman since I was a kid before re-watching it for this film. It was my choice for family movie night, and in that role is probably miscast. It was tough sledding for a five and a four-year-old to sit through for two and a half hours, even with an intermission. Thankfully, I didn’t go with the three hour cut. Yes, this film has multiple cuts at this point, but the original theatrical cut is probably still the best. The scenes Donner added back in years ago aren’t memorable and just increase the film’s already generous running time. The film also suffers for being shot with its sequel. There’s a sense one gets when viewing this that a lot is being intentionally held back to introduce in the sequel. It just feels like a setup for Superman II, a far more confident and direct film that many prefer to the original. It’s also a film I have not seen in decades so I’m not certain it’s the superior film, but I’m fairly certain it is.
Superman is still a worthwhile watch in 2021 and it’s better than any of the films starring the hero to come since the year 2000. Superman is a pretty simple character with a simple premise, but modern filmmakers struggle with him when they become fearful of how powerful he is or fail to see the character’s appeal. To make a moody, timid, Superman is to totally miss what’s appealing about him. He’s the ultimate hero who is nearly infallible. He doesn’t have to be perfect, but he’s a character that is always striving to be perfect. And even though I was probably more let down by this re-watch than I was rewarded, whenever that familiar John Williams score kicked up and the character came into view, I was a kid again and I was completely enthralled in what was playing before my eyes.
Sometimes a toy comes along that I just can’t ignore. There’s just something neat about it, or the aesthetic so on point, that I want to own it even if I have little or no attachment to the source material. Such is the case with the Boss Fight Studio release of Sam & Max. I am only aware of the existence of Steve Purcell’s Freelance Police duo. I mostly remember them from advertisements in video game magazines since their point and click adventures were fairly popular back in the day, at least, as popular as that genre ever could be. I’ve seen a little of the animated series that aired on Fox Kids and even covered the Christmas episode in 2019, but that’s the most in depth I’ve ever gone with the property. Still, I always found the duo pleasant to look at and I am drawn to the property as it certainly sounds like something I would enjoy (in particular the graphic novels), but I’ve just never taken the plunge.
When Boss Fight Studio started teasing these figures back in 2018 I mostly had no reaction. When the full reveal took place in February of 2019 I thought they looked nice, but was able to just file it away in the back of my mind. As time went by I’d get more and more looks at these guys and they just started to really captivate me. When they were finally released in late 2020 I was fully onboard and intrigued enough that I knew I wanted them, and I held out until Boss Fight Studio revealed their Christmas deals. Even though these guys weren’t on sale, I used the excuse of free shipping and the desire to add another Bucky O’Hare Storm Toad to grab a pair.
It’s probably a good thing that I wasn’t hooked from the get-go, as you probably noticed in that last paragraph that there was a lengthy development cycle associated with this duo. I don’t know if there were any challenges that pushed things back on the development side. I would guess since these guys are very much their own thing it takes some time to get stuff together at the factory. Boss Fight may have elected to wait for the pre-orders to clear a certain amount before going into full production to ensure profitability. And then, of course, COVID eventually messed things up. In the US, we tend to think of COVID as a 2020 problem, but for toy makers it was a 2019 problem as well when factories in China shut down as the virus spread and didn’t restart for months. And when they did restart it was with skeleton crews that persist to this day. Even big toy producers were hit hard, so a smaller shop like Boss Fight was especially impacted. Patience is a virtue though, and as the old saying goes, good things come to those who wait. Sam and Max have arrived, and hopefully for fans of the property, the wait was worth it.
Both Sam and Max come packaged in a very attractive window box. It features new artwork from Steve Purcell with a comic strip printed on the back. There are some product shots as well as a summary of the items on one side. Max is labeled as 01 and Sam 02 and I do not know if there are any plans for more figures in this line. My guess would be some variants are probably under consideration so that Boss Fight can squeeze a little more value out of these molds, but even if it’s just a duo, it’s a nice little display piece for collectors. And the box is attractive and it’s easy to reseal should you desire to. I’m a big fan of the resealable blister Boss Fight has utilized with Bucky O’Hare, but this is pretty nice too!
Since Max is considered the first figure in the wave, we’ll start with him. He’s rather diminutive and would be even in the smallish Bucky O’Hare line. He’s roughly about 3″ in height not including the ears. Since he’s essentially all white, or a slightly off-white, he has a really clean and simple appearance. The articulation is not overpowering so there’s very little that breaks up the sculpt. Even though the character is fairly simple in design, Boss Fight sculptor Daniel Rheaume should still be credited with nailing the expressions for Max. He comes packaged with an open mouthed, toothy, grin that imparts just a touch of Max’s somewhat maniacal nature. It’s never easy to go from 2D to 3D, but I suspect the video games aided in finding the right way to position the mouth, eyes, and nose on a spherical head.
The articulation for Max is fairly basic. His head sits on a ball-joint and can rotate freely with a little bit of room to move up and down. His shoulders are in sockets with hinges and he rotates above the elbow which contains a single hinge. The hands are just pegged in and can rotate. There’s no articulation in the torso or at the waist. His legs are on ball-joints with single-hinged knees. While I like how clean the sculpt is, I do think there’s room for more articulation with this guy. Boss Fight did say they tried to do something with the ankles, but apparently it wasn’t working. It seems strange since we have Bucky O’Hare, a fellow rabbit-thing, to compare to and he has ankle and toe articulation, but maybe they just didn’t like how it looked with Max. The other aspect of the articulation that’s a bit odd concerns the knees. Max is drawn with pronounced kneecaps so I see why Boss Fight sculpted those on, but it does look a bit weird when he bends his knee as the kneecap is attached to the lower leg. This is where a double-joint actually would help the sculpt as the kneecap can kind of exist in-between, but Boss Fight stuck with a single-joint. I think it may have looked better to have the kneecap affixed to the upper leg instead, but it’s not a big deal.
Max comes with an assortment of accessories to dress him up. Being that he is a mere 3″ and retails for $40, he kind of needs to justify his pricepoint with a lot of stuff and Boss Fight mostly delivers there. For starters, he comes with two extra heads. One has a huge grin and the other features no mouth at all. I will say, I love all 3 heads and choosing a display is tough. I actually like the no-mouth look for comedic reasons, though I can’t see myself going with that. Toy photographers will probably have a lot of fun with it though. Swapping heads is not exactly fun as his head is on there real tight. Heat it up and apply consistent force and you’ll get there. Getting the others on is also trying and requires both heat and patience. It’s a sturdy joint so the risk of breaking anything is probably minimal, but be careful. I did find that after swapping heads for the first time the joint appeared to be more loose. His head is rather heavy relative to the rest of the sculpt and it is just barely supported by the joint. One little touch on either side will cause it to bobble. The ears pop out and in easy enough though as they’re shared with all of the heads. Boss Fight also labeled them so you shouldn’t have any trouble remembering which is left and which is right. The hands are also quite tight and when removing them you will want to make sure you secure the figure’s forearm to prevent applying too much force to the elbow joint. If done incorrectly with a Bucky O’Hare figure, the peg above the elbow will usually just pop out and can be re-inserted, but I do not know if this figure is constructed in a similar manner. His arms are very thin so you definitely want to be as careful as you can. The good news is, switching hands will leave your own fingers a little sore and likely discourage you from putting too much stress on the figure over a short period of time.
In addition to the extra heads, Max also features 6 extra hands. He comes packed with dueling trigger fingers, but also has a set of open hands, fists, and one pointing right hand and one “peace sign” left hand. He’s also got some stuff he can hold with those trigger hands like his trusty pistol of German origin and a hammer, because a hammer is always useful. He also has an old rotary phone and I absolutely adore it. It has a spiral chord on it that’s plenty pliable and Max can hold the receiver just fine with his trigger hands. If the actual dial could spin, I’d be doing backflips. I don’t know why, I just think it’s neat. Lastly, there’s a rat. He’s painted really well for a non-articulated little figure and he’s holding up a finger. I’m not sure if he’s supposed to be taunting Max or how the two are supposed to feel about each other, but he looks pretty nice. It’s enough stuff that it makes settling on a shelf pose rather challenging. I like the expression hands like the pointing finger and peace sign, but I also like the accessories he can hold. They’re pretty easy to work into the hands too, which is certainly a plus. I almost feel like the fists are wasted as I don’t see myself ever posing him with those, but it’s always nice to have extras!
Figure number 2 is the canine shamus Sam! He is much bigger than his little buddy as he stands about 5 1/2″ without his hat. Popping him out of the box immediately feels a lot different than taking Max out. This is a chunky, dense, figure with a pretty intricate sculpt. He comes packaged with an open mouth happy face and he has three pieces of hair/fur sticking up on his head that the hat fits over. His torso is sculpted and painted all around it, even the parts hidden by his suit jacket, which is pretty impressive. No corners were cut here. His dress shirt looks so lifelike that it’s almost a shame to see it hidden under the coat. And the coat itself is soft plastic over his body with the sleeves part of the sculpt. This is a pretty common approach for jacketed characters and it works well here. The tie is soft plastic as well and can be moved and manipulated as needed since it’s attached to the collar which just slips over the ball-joint for his head. If you wanted your Sam to be more casual and ditch the tie you can just slip it off. He certainly looks the part and it’s hard not to be blown away by this sculpt.
Sam is articulated a bit more extravagantly than his partner. His head sits on a ball peg that can move around which would typically allow for more up and down movement, though his collar and jacket limits him there. At the shoulders, it looks like his jacket should keep his arms from being able to come out and up at his sides, but it’s engineered really well and the sleeve will actually dip under the shoulder pad in his coat pretty easily. Maybe if you do this a lot there will be some rubbing damage, but you should be safe to pose him however you wish as long as you don’t go nuts. The arms can go all the way around too and there’s the usual single-hinge with a swivel at the elbow and the hands are once again just on pegs. He has a nice ball-joint at the waist so he can not only swivel all the way around, but also tilt forward and back and side-to-side. And the sculpting of the shirt works in tandem with the articulation here and slides easily behind his belt and over it. It’s really satisfying to mess around with. His legs are on a barbell joint and can come out to the side quite a bit, though not a full split. There’s a swivel at the knee and a single hinge. At the feet, he has a hinge and a generous bit of tilt so he can rock side-to-side and swivel. And what I love about both figures is that their feet are nice and big so they’re very easy to stand.
I did have one issue with Sam though, and it was a pretty big issue. His paint looked great and all of his joints were quite free and easy out of the package except for those knees. They just peg into the thigh with the hinge below the peg. I’m not a fan of this method of knee articulation, and it’s something I didn’t like about the Super7 Raphael back when I reviewed that. When I bent a knee on that figure, the peg popped right out without much warning. I wish that had happened with Sam, for when I went to bend his left knee it snapped. There was really no warning either, it was just a quick, clean, break. I then tried the right knee with a little heat from some hot water and a more delicate touch – snap! That one left a bit of the peg still on the lower leg and just for shits and giggles I tried heating that stub up and seeing if I could get that hinge to budge and I had zero success. I then went to YouTube to see if I could find some video reviews and see how people handled theirs on camera and noticed most of the reviewers received a letter with their set basically warning them about tight joints and to just go ahead and heat these guys up. It sounded like Boss Fight wanted them to not even attempt to work the joints at all without first applying heat. They did not include such a letter with my order. I wish they did, but also I have to say every other joint on both Sam and Max worked great right out of the box. It was only these knees that offered any resistance so maybe I’m just unlucky and got a bad Sam.
I reached out to Boss Fight via email and it took them a couple of days to get back to me. When they did, the rep from their store apologized and promised to get replacement parts out to me soon. It was nice to not have to deal with any condescension as I was half-expecting a lecture on proper action figure handling. Maybe they saw how many orders I’ve place with them over the years without any quality control issues and took me at my word that I know what I’m doing. While waiting for the new parts to arrive, I was able to have a little fun at poor Sam’s expense. Max, to his credit, found it all very amusing.
A week later, Sam’s new legs arrived at no additional cost to me. Each one was in a separate bag and the knee was bent on both probably to make sure the joint was fine. Getting the old stumps off of Sam was pretty easy and getting the new legs on was no trouble at all. All in all, a minor inconvenience that was remedied by the manufacturer and that’s all you can ask of toy makers.
Sam comes packaged with a fair amount of accessories, as did Max. He comes packaged with gripping, trigger, hands and in the box are a set of open hands and a set of fists. Removing and swapping hands is easier than it is with Max, largely due to Sam just being a more generously proportioned creation. He also has a pseudo-extra hand in the form of a brown bag puppet with Max’s face on it. I believe this is from an episode of the cartoon, but the bag looks pretty great and has a peg inside of it so it can peg into Sam’s forearm. There’s also a set of orange, melty, popsicles that I take it Sam is a fan of. They’re pretty easy to position in his hand since the stick end is rather small. Lastly, Sam has his massive revolver. The barrel on it is curved slightly to really give it a toon quality and I absolutely love how it turned out. The handle on it is pretty substantial, so you’ll probably end up warming one of Sam’s hands up to fit it in properly. Once you do, chances are you won’t want to take it out.
Sam also comes with a pair of extra heads. His default look is an open-mouthed happy expression and Boss Fight chose to give him the same, but with angry eyes, as one option and another where he’s making an “O” mouth, as if he were talking or whistling. I don’t think of Sam as the angry type, so I’ll probably stick with the happy look. The whistling head is pretty tempting though as it’s quite cute. Popping Sam’s default head off is pretty easy and you’re likely to do it by accident when testing out the range of articulation at his neck. Getting the others on is definitely a struggle. Even just examining the different heads, the opening on the default head appears to be larger and there’s a gradual slope to the front of the opening that would appear to exist to facilitate swapping. The angry head has that as well, while the whistling one just has a hole. You will want to heat the heads up when swapping if you want any chance of getting them on properly. It was still a bit odd as they didn’t seem to “pop” into place even after heating, but just kind of slid on. It’s a real workout for the thumbs.
Sam and Max are mostly what I expected. Swapping parts has never been the strong suit of the Bucky O’Hare line and it isn’t here either. It’s kind of a chore, but I’m still glad to have the extra parts as they do a lot to liven up a display. The issues I had with Sam’s legs was something I did not anticipate, but to Boss Fight’s credit, they rectified it at no cost to me and without hassle. As a wise man once said, no harm, no foul. As for the figures themselves, what we have here is a tremendous representation of the characters in plastic form. Sam is easily the star for me, even with the broken legs, as he looks great and is a lot of fun to mess around with. Max also looks good, but his very basic articulation is a bit of a bummer. He’s kind of pushing it at $40 too, considering he’s a three inch figure. Niche license and a small company often means a bit of sticker shock. I know I had it with Bucky, and Sam & Max fans probably felt it a bit here. I suspect the Sam & Max diehards (and most fans might fall into that category) are okay with the cost. I obviously bought a set and I’m a casual at best fan and the cost didn’t deter me. Other, more casual, fans may want to wait a bit and see if there’s ever a promotion at Boss Fight or one of the third party retailers who are stocking this set. One likely isn’t coming anytime soon, but they probably won’t retail for $80 forever. As for me, I like these figures and I’m further comforted by the fact that I’m supporting a small toy maker that is also local to me. I think Boss Fight Studio runs their business the right way, and I like to support them and I intend to continue supporting them in the future.
The New Year holiday is a time for both reflection and looking forward. Almost every publication, network, YouTuber, blogger, etc. does some sort of “Best of the Year” segment or just a feature that recalls the events of the past 365 days (or in the case of 2020, 366) because it can be both fun and it’s easy to fill time during a period when everyone is looking to take time off. Toy producer Boss Fight Studio is no different in that regard for it did a webcast on its Facebook account recalling the events of 2020 as it pertained to its line of toys. It featured the partners and some of the designers at the company and it gave them a chance to maybe spotlight something that fell through the cracks and also draw attention to what collectors could look forward to in 2021. As a rabid collector of Boss Fight Studio’s Bucky O’Hare line, I tuned in to see if there was any news on that front. Captain Mimi LaFloo was released at the end of 2020 and it was the first figure in the line to see release without an announced figure in the pipeline. It’s a bit of a cruel reality for toy designers that once a new figure is put out fans immediately turn to ask “What’s next?!” but that’s the way it is.
Needless to say, the update on the Bucky franchise was not what I would consider promising. To paraphrase, the update (which is archived on Facebook) was that there is no update! There are plenty of figures in stock and ready to order, but the company is not ready to announce another figure to follow. It was, of course, stressed that they love Bucky and have enjoyed their relationship with the license holder, Continuity Comics, but that doesn’t change the reality that there appear to be no plans for Bucky O’Hare at this point in time. Sure, things can change and maybe something gets announced in the future, but for an industry that works on lags of more than a year from conception, to announcement, to release it can certainly be inferred that there will be no new Bucky product in 2021, and if there isn’t an announcement of some kind before the end of the year then you can probably write-off 2022 as well.
2020 was not a good year for a lot of people and things, but for Bucky O’Hare it was a significant improvement over 2019. 2019 was the first year since the line launched that there was no new Bucky product released. Anything that might have released in 2019 was pushed to 2020 due to a variety of reasons, one of which was undoubtedly COVID. It was pretty fruitful though as Boss Fight released two new characters, Bruiser and Mimi, as well as a fun variant of the Storm Toad Trooper. I, of course, got all three and even in the case of the Storm Toad I got two. I am all-in on this line and that pretty much includes new sculpts and variants at this point.
It should be noted that Bucky O’Hare was the first license Boss Fight Studio acquired. Since then, the company has added a bunch more and has released or is preparing to release action figures based on Sam & Max, Flash Gordon, Zorro, and more. It’s a small, Massachusetts-based, company that sells a lot of its product direct to consumers with a few internet outlets and comic shops also stocking product. Space is a real constraint for a company of Boss Fight Studio’s size and I took the comment from the Facebook Live event about having plenty of stock to mean there physically is not any more room for Bucky O’Hare figures in their warehouse. At least, the company does not want to devote more space to the line. Bucky O’Hare is, and I’ve said it many times, a niche license. The fanbase is small and has been given no reason to grow over the past few decades as pretty much the only new Bucky merch have been the toys of Boss Fight Studio. And being that this is a small company, it can be assumed the figures are being sold at a price that is as low as it can be, and at $35 a figure, it’s not priced to invite a casual fan that may have a fading memory of the old Hasbro line or Konami game. And the fact that they’re not in a lot of physical stores also means the company loses out on impulse buys. That’s all to say that Bucky O’Hare is dependent on its fanbase, and it’s a small, limited, fanbase.
If that sounds negative, I don’t intend for it to be. I think of it as a realist point of view. From what I understand in speaking with people who have some inside info on the line, it’s that it’s a pretty flat line in terms of sales. In some respects, that’s good as it implies that the fans have bought basically every character Boss Fight has put out in roughly equal numbers. They know what to expect, and since they’ve released 6 sculpts in the line they must not be losing money on it or else why keep putting figures out? Boss Fight Studio isn’t Hasbro or NECA where it can take on some pet projects that maybe just break even or actually come in at a loss, so the fact that the line has gone as long as it has tells me it’s not a loser. It just doesn’t appear to possess any growth potential, and when the company is launching new licenses that maybe have more active and excited fanbases, it’s easy to push Bucky aside. And it can also say to the company that if they do indeed come back to it they know what to expect sales-wise
All of this is to say that I’ve had this line and Bucky on my mind in general for the past few weeks. I’ve been in a reflective mood when it comes to this toy line. When Boss Fight Studio announced this toy line back in 2017, I was both surprised and psyched. Up to that point, Bucky O’Hare had come to feel like a forgotten property not even worthy of a true DVD release in the United States. It’s legacy seemed destined to be constrained to the retro gaming circle where the old Nintendo game was both praised and a bit of a hard-to-come-by item. If someone had told me I could have a modern Bucky O’Hare action figure I would have taken it and happily paid probably a dumb amount of money for it at that. A whole line though was a dream come true. I was also guarded from the moment it was announced though. The only other Bucky announcements from the 2000s had ended in cancellation before anything was officially produced. As a result, I’ve always approached this line with the thought that whatever figure I get could be the last one. An announcement or prototype unveiling didn’t necessarily mean I’d ever get my hands on the product, and that has even been true of this line. Boss Fight showed off additional variants of both Bucky and Dead-Eye that have gone unreleased, alongside a line of mini figure and vehicle combos that are apparently cancelled at this point.
Even though I’ve always had reservations about this line’s survival, it didn’t stop me from compiling a wish list for where I wanted the line to go. And even as I made that, I mostly acknowledged that the chances of seeing every character on that list get made was remote. Now that we’re at what can best be called a pause in the line, it has me wondering what it would take to end this whole thing on a happy note? To bring it all home, so to speak.
For most collectors I know who have been into this line, they’ve largely wanted to see it re-make the characters Hasbro did and if they could have got to Commander Dogstar’s crew then all the better. For me, I have a lot of nostalgic attachment to the cartoon so I’ve always wanted to see that embraced more than the classic toy line or even comic. A character like Mimi was one that excited me, but appeared to disappoint others. That said, we have presently received the following figures: Bucky, Jenny, Dead-Eye, Bruiser, Mimi, and the Storm Toad. It’s a selection heavy on good guys and naturally my greatest wants are bad guys at this point. The lowly Storm Toad Troopers have no one to lead them, and they’re hardly formidable even with leadership so without they’re just laser fodder. As much as I would love a Toadborg or Al Negator, it pains me to admit they’re now low priority, because if we want to end the line with a sense of closure, and only have room for a figure or two, I think we need to focus on Bucky’s crew.
When both the comic and animated series begins, Bucky’s crew consists of the following: Jenny, Dead-Eye, Chief Engineer Bruce, and A.F.C. Blinky. Bruce is the brother of Bruiser and he gets killed off rather quickly and is essentially replaced by Bruiser in the cartoon’s second episode. Bruiser, being a marine, is not really equipped to take over for Bruce and Bucky is forced to turn to the displaced human, Willy DuWitt, to serve as his new engineer. I am not a huge fan of the Willy character, but I can’t deny he is a member of Bucky’s crew after that first episode and is pretty essential for a toy line based on the property. Hasbro already provided the blueprint for a successful Willy figure back in ’91 and that’s to put him in his space suit (a holdover from Bruce) and equip him with his silly squirt gun. For Boss Fight, this does mean a whole new sculpt which isn’t a new thing for this line as basically every character is entirely unique. He possibly could reuse Bruiser’s feet, but that’s it. And it would mean the standard roll out of accessories: alternate hands, head (masked and unmasked), and a gun. And seeing how the glasses of the old Hasbro toy always seemed to break or fall off, it would be really cool and appreciated if he came with a spare set.
More important than Willy though, is that other character who was there from the start. Little Blinky was always a favorite of mine. He just has a nice, clean, and even cute design being that he’s a little robot with a giant eye for a head. The old Hasbro figure was not in-scale and he was the same size as everyone else when he should be noticeably shorter than Bucky and is absolutely dwarfed by the likes of Bruiser. I’ve wondered if the fact that he’s so small has turned off Boss Fight from doing him since he’d look so tiny beside the other figures, but would probably still need to retail for the standard MSRP. As we saw with their release of Max from Sam & Max (a review from me is coming, I promise), it seems like the solution there is to pack the figure with some more accessories, but with Blinky what do you give him? In the original comics and cartoon, he really doesn’t use anything. No guns, no signature items, and being that his head is just an eye he doesn’t really demand additional faceplates or heads. Sure, you can get creative and play with the size of the his pupil to illustrate surprise or even fear, but that’s all. Hasbro gave him a jetpack with a gun and I assume Boss Fight would just do the same, but what if they didn’t have to? He’s still a figure needing a unique sculpt, tooling, and production and being that I’m not an industry insider I don’t know how much cost accessories add to the package, but what if they could do a two-pack?
A final release in the line of just Willy and Blinky together as a two-pack would be a neat way to put a bow on the whole toy line. Could they price it closer to Bruiser’s retail? That I don’t know. Is there enough fandom to consider a made-to-order release? I suspect “no,” in that if Boss Fight solicited such a thing there might not be enough orders to satisfy a factory order at a tenable cost. And as neat as a two-pack would be, I don’t know that it makes any real financial sense since anyone who spends $35 on a Willy action figure will probably spend $35 on a Blinky. And honestly, if they could do a Blinky on the cheap compared with the other figures produced thus far I’d be totally fine with the company putting him out at the usual price-point to boost the profit margin on the line in hopes that it could help finance a Willy. Simply put, a two-pack makes sense only if Blinky has little or no accessories and if Boss Fight just wants to do one, last, release that completes the team.
As much as it would pain me to see this line come to an end, I’d feel a lot better about it if it ended with Bucky having his whole crew together. I think Boss Fight could do an awesome Toadborg, but I understand their reluctance considering he’d have to be another deluxe figure. If Bruiser underperformed relative to the other figures, it would make sense that the company would have little interest in doing another figure with a $55 price tag. Even though I personally think the fanbase would be more excited for Toadborg than it was Bruiser. If Toadborg can happen one day then I’ll jump for joy, but my focus is on the crew and I hope it’s a goal Boss Fight and Continuity has as well. We don’t know how the license works. It could have an expiration on it, it could expire if the company doesn’t release new product within a certain window of time, or it could be totally at-will with both parties able to cancel at anytime. It’s not like Continuity is fielding offers from other toy makers looking to get in on that Bucky “action.” My guess would be the license is Boss Fight’s until they no longer want it, but sometimes company’s can be unrealistic about the value of their property so who knows? Hopefully both parties have the same goal and can work towards that. For now, at least we have a great selection of characters that, in some respects, shouldn’t even exist! I’ll continue to hold out hope for more and if there’s any Bucky O’Hare news you’ll definitely be able to read about it here.