Tag Archives: DC

Batman – The Adventures Continue #50: Batman

If you’re a repeat visitor here at The Nostalgia Spot, then you’ve probably noticed that around here there is a high opinion of the television show Batman – The Animated Series. I did a re-watch of the series that spanned more than two years and also checked out the various films based on the property. What I have never touched upon are the toys. Back in the 90s, there was a toyline from Kenner that was sold wherever toys were sold. It was fine, from what I remember, though I was too into X-Men to spare many resources when it came to that one. Of more interest to people my age now, is the line of action figures released by DC Collectibles. Over the past several years, I’ve seen this line sold at various comic shops and at online retailers, but I’ve never been able to pull the trigger. The figures do an okay job of matching the television show’s aesthetics, but at the cost of articulation. The figures never looked particularly imaginative, and since they usually featured a rather high price point I was never able to convince myself this was a line worth investing in.

2020 marked the end of DC Collectibles. As that part of DC’s business was winding down, a final line of figures based mostly on BTAS was making its way to retail. Dubbed Batman – The Adventures Continue, many of these figures were re-releases of past figures that may have been limited releases, or were changed-up in some way. Some also never made it out and were cancelled, like the new Catwoman featuring an unmasked head. And some were also separate from BTAS, but appeared to emulate the show’s style like the Knightfall Azrael as Batman figure. I don’t know what the numbers ended up being like for this apparently final wave of figures, but I had a hard time tracking any down. Though I also was not frequenting any comic shops and was mostly limited to online shopping. They appeared to sell out rather quickly though, which was unfortunate as I held off on pre-ordering any because the promotional shots left a lot of unanswered questions for me. They were basically limited to just the figure, and it wasn’t clear if any accessories were even being included. It had me thinking these were just leftovers that DC was trying to make a quick buck off of, which was really driven home by the fact that the images for the actual Batman figure matched the aesthetics of a previously released figure that came with the Batcycle. That Batman had a rather ugly ab crunch so he could fit properly on the bike. It’s a necessary evil for a figure with that kind of need, but as a stand-alone figure it made little sense.

Pictured: not the figure that was released. In this case, that’s probably for the best, but I can understand if some felt misled.

When the Batman figure was finally released though, it ended up being in the style of the original Batman figure from the BTAS line. Only this figure had re-tooled and improved articulation and a new paint job. When it came to BTAS, many figures cheated and just gave Batman a black cape and cowl even though it’s clearly blue in the show. They just go with black because Batman is often only shown at night so much of his cape and cowl are painted black with blue highlights. For the DC Collectibles figure, they did him all in black, but made the underside of the cape blue which looked okay. For this new one, someone finally had the bright idea to just paint the damn figure like the animators painted the character – what a concept! That means he’s still mostly black, but with blue accents and shading. It looked terrific in promotional images, and even though I was still unsold on the actual figure, this Batman at least looked enough like the character from the show that I wanted it, even if it would be my lone figure based on the classic series.

Batman may like to dwell in the dark, but we’re gonna need that flash to bring out those sweet blue accents.

Of course, by the time all of that was determined the figure was sold out. There is one retailer still, to this day, taking pre-orders on the figure at MSRP, but every month they push the release out another month leaving me to believe it will eventually just get cancelled. As far as I know, DC Collectibles is all done and product is out the door, but I could be wrong. At any rate, being unable to track this figure down at brick and mortar or finding it sold out everywhere online, I was left to turn to the dreaded secondary market. A lot of the figures form this final wave have been marked up by a few sellers considerably, as they know numbers were low. How much did I want this figure? Enough to pay essentially double the MSRP on it? As the weeks and months dragged on it became evident to me that I was just too curious about this figure to not give in. And the longer I waited, the higher the price would likely climb, so give-in I did.

Hopefully the artwork in the background is making it obvious that this is the proper way to paint a Batman from this show.

The Adventures Continue line all come packaged on a standard, non-resealable, blister. There’s a shadowy Batman on the back of the card with a yellow (interesting choice) backdrop. There are no product shots or cross-sells on the package, but there is a little booklet inside the box showcasing the other figures in the line. The figure is easy to get a look at and the accessories are in plain view as well. The actual Batman figure is held in place by one plastic tie at the waist and the cape is fed through the back of the blister, which is quite tight. When removing him, definitely be careful with that cape as you don’t want to scratch it.

That emblem is just perfection.

Once removed, Batman stands about 6.5″ tall and I believe that’s roughly the same height as the prior BTAS figures. The paint job on him is pretty damn flawless. I am very impressed with what is before me. The gray of his costume is a matte finish with some shading on his muscles. The black and blue is also nice and saturated and the added blue on the cape just makes this guy pop. From what I can tell, the entire cape is cast in blue plastic and it’s the black that’s been added. All of the other pieces are likely the reverse including the hands and head. He’s got a nice, square, jaw and his eyes are narrowed as some hoodlum must have just pissed him off. The proportions look great and if I have any issues there it’s with the hands, which seem a bit small. The bat logo on his chest is all molded and painted and I am in awe of how clean it turned out. I really wasn’t expecting that considering even Medicom had some issues with a much simpler logo on their figure. The only area where the paint could have been improved is around the trunks, where the line work on the thighs isn’t as sharp. The belt is also just a bright yellow and I feel like it would have benefitted from a little shading, at least around the center buckle. Overall though, I’m quite pleased with how this figure looks and this is definitely the best representation of this version of Batman that I’ve seen.

I have a feeling this is going to be the default look for most collectors with this figure because it’s basically his only interesting pose.

The aesthetics of this guy weren’t a tremendous concern for me going in, what gave me pause was the engineering and articulation. Even keeping my expectations low, I can’t say this figure is well articulated. I’m not sure he’s even fair in that regard. If you add up all of the points of articulation, he sounds fine, but it’s just not particularly functional. For starters, the cape is just soft plastic that hangs off of his back. It looks fine and I wasn’t expecting anything extravagant, but no posing is present there. At the head, we have just a single ball joint. He can turn his head to the side a bit, but his massive chin will prevent him from looking too far off to the side. If set looking straight ahead, he can look up and down a little, but once you turn it you basically loose any up-down articulation which sucks for grapple gun poses. At the shoulders we have ball-hinges and they’re pretty tight. I handled this guy with kid gloves since he was a secondary market purchase and should he break I am screwed. His arms will raise out to the side, and rotate forward and back until they hit the cape. When rotating forward, watch his pecs as you don’t want the arms to rub on the edges. At the elbow, we have single joints and a swivel with no biceps swivel. He can’t achieve a 90 degree angle at the elbow, and once bent he ends up with this weird elbow point that sticks out. It’s not a great setup. At the wrist, we have rotation and in-out hinges with no vertical hinges. There’s a waist twist, but he can only go so far before it looks weird. At the thigh, this is the area most improved over past releases as he has a more standard ball-joint where the leg meets the torso. He can do splits and kick forward and back. There is no thigh swivel, which stinks, but now he does have double-jointed knees which work just fine. He does swivel at the boot, and at the ankle we have hinges and rockers. The ankles are easily the best part of the figure, which is a good thing because he has small feet and you really need good rockers to get him to stand well.

The grapple gun pose is less convincing.

What holds this figure back is the lack of any thigh twist and the subpar arm articulation. You really don’t know how much you’ll miss something as simple as a thigh cut or twist until it’s gone, but it’s the legs that really add that dynamic quality to any pose. Some probably miss that ab crunch he was advertised as having, but I find that whole chest area too important to the sculpt of this particular version of Batman to want it broken up. I normally am not a fan of ab crunches, but I do like diaphragm joints, but the square-ness of Batman’s chest doesn’t lend itself well to such a joint so I’m not sad it isn’t present. I’ll make that sacrifice, but the arms and thighs could have easily been better. On the plus side, nothing is loose so this guy will hold a pose on your shelf. I am a little concerned about shelf dives out of him though since his feet are so small and he has a lot of added weight on his back due to the cape. He does have a peg hole on his right foot, but the feet are so small and thin resulting in a rather shallow peg hole that doesn’t fit any stands I have.

I suppose they did all right covering Batman’s essentials, but this is still an unimpressive array of accessories.

As far as accessories go, this Batman is pretty limited. He comes with fists out of the package and five additional hands: a set of gripping hands, a set of “batarang hands,” and a right hand with a grapple gun molded into it. He also has a batarang which also features the two-tone black/blue shading which looks pretty cool. It basically just rests in the included batarang hands so that you can position the figure as if he’s about to wind-up and throw it. If you want a tighter grip, it will fit in the gripping hands as well, but looks less elegant. Otherwise, those gripping hands serve no purpose on their own with this release. I don’t know if other figures come with something that would make sense for Batman to hold or not. I would have preferred something more dynamic like open hands or an alternate head in their place. The hands at least look fine and all have that blue shading on them. The paint on the grapple gun hand isn’t as clean. It will look fine from the shelf, but close inspection reveals they didn’t fill the space between his index and middle fingers where the grapple gun is exposed with gray paint. They also painted the area his thumb rests on the gun all black when it should probably be gray. The hands are easily removed from the figure and swapped, so that’s a plus.

Maybe with a good stand something more dynamic could be done with his lower half to sell this pose.

When all is said and done, this figure either met my expectations in some areas or exceeded them. I expected limited articulation, and I definitely found that. I expected the accessories to be a lon the slim side with nothing truly exciting, and that’s true as well. Where the figure exceeded expectations is with the paint-job. This is a very clean figure with some nice shading and little touches that really help it make a statement. I wish the articulation allowed him to show off a little more, but he looks sharp. It does feel like a missed opportunity that DC Collectibles couldn’t give us a second cape that draped around the arms for Batman’s more casual stance. The figure is so static that such an accessory would have made a lot of sense. And those gripping hands stand out as another missed opportunity since we could have had something else, like an effects piece for the grapple gun, which would have really been cool.

To close this one out, I guess we’ll compare the $25 figure to the $95 one. An unfair comparison to be sure, but it does drive home how static the BTAS Batman is. And yet, I do quite like him just for that toon aesthetic.

I had to pay over retail for this guy, but I’m not really bothered by that now that I have him. He really does get the job done and better than any of the other DC Collectibles versions of this character. I had considered going all out and springing for the expressions edition of the figure, but I’m glad I didn’t. That one has worse articulation and doesn’t have the paint touches this one has. Sure, extra heads are cool and all, but if the figure doesn’t really look the way I want it to then they won’t help much. Now I’m just left wondering if I want to add any other characters. Some are still easy to come by, most are not. The Joker from this line looks bad so he’s not something I want, but what about Mr. Freeze? He’s an awesome villain, though his figure looks even more static than Batman. I do wish I had grabbed Gray Ghost, and the H.A.R.D.A.C. Batman looks to have a really neat sculpt. We’ll see. If this ends up being the only figure I get from this line, at least I picked a good one and the most essential one, at that.


MAFEX No. 105 – Batman: Hush

Enter The Dark Knight and his massive cape.

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.

I am very excited to open this guy up.

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.

I feel like his thighs look bigger here than they do on the figure, but it could just be perspective messing with me.

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.

Here he is!
And here’s that cape!

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.

Sculpted bat logo – good. Paint not quite lining up with the sculpt – bad.

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.

Good elbow clearance.

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.

I have real mixed feelings about this cape.

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.

I’m actually a little surprised at how well the old figure looks next to the luxury model. If only he didn’t have the paint blemishes on his face.
Here the Mafex figure shows off its superior head-sculpt, but the DC Direct one still gets to brag about its massive chest.

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.

Sad bat blade 😦
Lets see what this guy can do!

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.

Lets see the 03 model pull this off!

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.

Time to fly!
Is that your grappling hook or are you just happy to see me?!

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 got a lot to talk about.
Extreme close-up!

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.

Do you prefer the figure be in focus…
…or the hook?!

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.

Swing!
Locked and loaded.

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…

Old reliable.
For those who prefer a more moon shaped batarang.

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.

And then of course we’ve got these hands with a rather nasty application of the batarang.
I’m guessing he doesn’t use these on your garden variety hoodlum.

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.

I should probably show you the Bruce Wayne head since it did come with the figure.
He is rather handsome.

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.

“WHERE’S THE MUTAGEN?!”
“Help! Krang!”

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.

“Nice costume, dude! Who’s your tailor?”
I bet you would like some comparisons, so here’s a couple: NECA Shredder and Super7 Raphael.

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.

And a final comparison with the Hasbro White Ranger and SHF Vegeta.

DC Direct Hush Batman

Probably the best pose in this entry, it’s all downhill from here!

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.

He strikes an impressive pose. Too bad it’s his only pose.

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.

His proportions are arguably better from the side. Except the ears.

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.

Lets turn on the flash to bring out those cape folds. It’s a pretty fine cape, all things considered.

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.

For those who prefer their Batman bathed in light.

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.

The worst place for paint defects.

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.

The extent to which his right arm can be raised.

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.

You’ll have to pretend he’s holding a grapple gun, because I can’t get that hand off.

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.

The grapple gun hand. It’s fine.

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.

I think I would have preferred a second head since his posing sucks anyway. And maybe that one would have had a better paint job.

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.

The stand is pretty cool, at least.

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.

So did you like that crossover with TMNT?
I didn’t have a Marvel Legends handy, so here’s a Hasbro Black Ranger and an old school Toy Biz Venom.

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.

We’ll end on a comparison with the RED Soundwave and the SHF Vegeta.

Superman (1978)

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.

This is a long movie, partly because we apparently need to see every decision made before this baby was sent rocketing through space.

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.

Jeff East plays young Clark and they try to make him look like Reeve, but it’s not very convincing.

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.

The film makes no attempt to hide the fact that Metropolis is just New York City.

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.

Kidder is a lot of fun as Lois Lane, especially when paired with Clark Kent, even though that pairing feels nonsensical at times.

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.

The Daily Planet just making it easy for Lex.

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.

Kryptonite is not his only weakness.

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.

Show off.

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.

The score for this film is fantastic, except for maybe this scene. Though there it’s not really the score’s fault.

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.

The film probably makes you wait too long to get to these moments, but at least when it does it pays off.

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 the type of hero who can save the world from a super villain like Lex Luthor, but also finds time to help a little girl get her cat out of a tree.

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.


#5 Best in TV Animation: Batman – The Animated Series

Batman_the_Animated_Series_logoChildren of today can probably hardly imagine a world in which super heroes aren’t dominating the pop culture landscape. We’re in an era where even the Fantastic Four have received three chances at making a successful movie and less popular characters like Antman and Dr. Strange have either become mainstream or soon will. That wasn’t the case before 1990. Prior to that, only Batman and Superman had ever made a buck at the box office while The Incredible Hulk had a semi-successful television series for Marvel. When it came to cartoons, there was basically the many variations on the Super Friends and the Marvel Action Hour. The quality for these cartoons was something less than satisfactory.

When Tim Burton and Michael Keaton helped to make Batman popular once again, the powers that be at DC and Warner Bros. decided to give television another go with the caped crusader. Instead of another colorful super hero mash-up they opted to adapt the more current iteration of Batman. The resulting “Batman” (often subtitled “The Animated Series)” returned Batman to the night from which he was born. Developed chiefly by Eric Radomski, Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, the show embodied much of the recent films as well as the tone of the current comics. Robin was there, but only in a handful of episodes initially and he no longer dressed like Tinker Bell’s older brother. Villains that were popular on the older 60’s television program returned, but with a more serious take. Joining them were the more grounded villains like Roland Dagget and Rupert Thorne, mobsters who waged war from the comfort of their homes. Adding even more of a sense of realism to the program was the fact that the villains (and cops) carried and fired realistic weaponry as opposed to cartoonish laser guns that are always conveniently set to stun.

The pervasive darkness of the show is like a character by itself.

The pervasive darkness of the show is like a character by itself.

The Batman present in the animated series was not the ever-present optimist from the 60’s with the serious, but often cheerful, demeanor. This Batman, voiced exceptionally well by Kevin Conroy, was a moody, no nonsense, hero who truly embodied the term The Dark Knight. He’s driven by a quiet anger, it’s root cause being the murder of his parents he bore witness to as a child. Batman is fiercely driven and consumed by his urge to avenge his parents by cleaning up the streets of Gotham, a seemingly never ending task. His alter-ego Bruce Wayne exists only as a cover for Batman. This Batman has a lot in common with Frank Miller’s, only the delivery isn’t so heavy-handed and extreme. As usual, Batman has allies around him. By his side is his butler, Alfred Pennyworth, who is more of a sidekick in the series as opposed to a moral arbiter. That role falls to Dr. Leslie Tompkins who often counsels Batman away from his life of crime-fighting. Commissioner Gordon heads the Gotham police department and relies on Batman probably more than he should while Detective Bullock is Gordon’s foil and often mistrusts the Batman. Robin is also around with an equally tragic backstory and Batgirl eventually comes into the fold during the second “season.”

Batman has no shortage of allies but he’d be nothing without his rogue’s gallery. The usual suspects are present such as The Joker (voiced by Mark Hamill) and Penguin. They’re presented well, but the show is best remembered for its fresh approach when adapting the lesser villains. Two-Face is introduced slowly as district attorney Harvey Dent before his eventual transformation. His character is handled with care and his sympathetic nature is sort of a calling card for the series. The villain most often cited as coming out of the show for the better is Mr. Freeze. Once a fairly corny player in the comics, the depiction of Freeze in the animated series is that of a vindictive killer. Juxtaposing his cold demeanor is the origins for his madness over his wife’s apparent murder. His debut episode, “Heart of Ice,” is often mentioned among the show’s best. The show doesn’t always rely on its villain of the week (day, actually, since the program aired week days originally) as illustrated in “Beware the Grey Ghost.” In this episode, the show runners have some fun by pairing Batman with an out of work actor typecast for his work as a super hero in an old television show. His voice actor? None other than Adam West.

The rogue's gallery for the show is a clever mix of classics and unknowns, with the unknowns often shining brightest.

The rogue’s gallery for the show is a clever mix of classics and unknowns, with the unknowns often shining brightest.

The artwork in the show is heavily based off of the set designs of Eric Radomski and the character designs of Bruce Timm. If you are not familiar with Timm’s work, it’s a low-detail approach with lots of angular lines. Lots of pointy-chinned females and square-headed males populate the show. His take on the various villains is often influenced by both classic works and the Burton films. Joker and Penguin are obviously takes on Jack Nicholson’s Joker and Danny DeVito’s more monstrous Penguin. Catwoman too resembles her look from Batman Returns but with the S&M aspect toned down. There’s a minimalist approach to the details with lots of flat, muted colors. Backgrounds were even done on black paper, most noticeably the opening title sequence, with light colors painted over them. This technique is credited to Radomski and often referred to as “Dark-Deco.” The show’s biggest contribution to the world of Batman though is easily the character of Harley Quinn, who first originated on television before making the leap to comics.

Whether you like the look of the show or not is a matter of opinion. It certainly needed to grow on me, but I appreciated the style of the show. Like the Burton films, Gotham is a modern city rooted in the stylings of the 30s and 40s. Batman possesses some pretty advanced technology but for some reason also watches a black and white television half the time. The low detail approach for the show’s look is a benefit to the animation itself. Rather than the somewhat stiff X-Men, Batman animates rather smoothly. The later series, The New Batman Adventures, who further reduce the detail to boost the animation but some would suggest they went too far as certain characters came across as too cartoonish.

The show maybe fairly serious in tone, but Batman still has plenty of toys at his disposal. Just no shark repellent this time.

The show maybe fairly serious in tone, but Batman still has plenty of toys at his disposal. Just no shark repellent this time.

Batman The Animated Series is truly one of the great achievements in kid’s programming. Its serious approach to the character of Batman and his many villains really enhanced the product above what is typically expected of children’s programming. The only thing holding it back is the show’s consistency. It was originally ordered as one season of 65 episodes which is a pretty daunting task to come up with 65 well-executed episodes. The show is often one of those programs where the good episodes are really special but there’s a lot of filler to work around. The show becomes more watered-down when the short second season is added to the mix as well as The New Adventures which surfaced years later. That run produced maybe 2 or 3 worthy episodes with the rest being kid stuff, sadly.

Even so, the good produced by Batman The Animated Series is worthy enough to place it at fifth on my top ten list for animated television programs. The show also spawned some feature films, though only one was released theatrically, the fantastic Mask of the Phantasm. When the films jumped the shark with Batman Forever and Batman and Robin, it was the animated series that kept Batman relevant. It’s unlikely another super hero show could ever surpass it.


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