Bane, Az-Bats, Catwoman, 
Mask of Tengu Batman, Nightwing

During the 90's comic book boom, one of the more controversial Batman story arcs emerged - Knightsaga. In this storyline, a new villain appears, Bane. And yes, before you all write me hundreds of emails, I do realize Bane actually appeared first in the one shot Vengeance of Bane.

For all Bane's bulk (which was tremendously enhanced on demand by a serum that fed directly into his cerebral cortex), he wasn't just another muscle boy. He released all the prisoners of Arkham, knowing that it would completely wear Batman out battling every foe. Bane also figured out he was Bruce Wayne, and once Batman had exhausted himself battle dozens and dozens of bad guys, Bane showed up at Wayne Manor and did what no villain had truly done before - defeated Batman.

He did it in a truly cruel way, breaking Batman's back and leaving him paralyzed. Bruce turned to Jean-Paul Valley to take up the mantle of the Bat, but it was a poor choice. Valley was unstable, and eventually corrupted the Batman persona into his own more violent, less moral version. Of course, Bruce went off and got himself some rehab (along with some very helpful telepathic healing), spent some time training with Lady Shiva, and came back and reclaimed his spot as the top flying rodent.

The latest DC Direct release is based on the first arc of the Knightsaga story line, Knightfall. In this five figure set we get Bane of course, along with Az-bat (Valley's verison of Batman, with Azrael influences), Catwoman (the Knightsaga books crossed over into just about every Batman title that existed at the time), Nightwing, and Mask of Tengu Batman. They retail for $12 - $15 at most comic shops, and I have some online suggestions at the end of the review.

Packaging -  **1/2
One thing you can say about their packaging design - it's consistent. This one does match up nicely with the comic art though, and the coloars are vibrant. It's still a tad snooze inducing, but better than some of their other recent attempts. Or maybe I just like red.

Sculpting - Bane, Az-Bat ***1/2; Tengu Batman ***; Catwoman, Nightwing **1/2
Most of these figures are based on artwork from multiple artists, since the story line and main characters crossed over between so many books. Only Catwoman stands out as being extremely close to one artist's style - Jim Balent.

And yes, this is most definitely a Balent Catwoman. Or more accurately perhaps, those are definitely Balent Catwoman breasts. The poor girl needs an industrial strength sports bra, lest she start running from the police only to beat herself unconscious.

If you can tear your eyes away from the massive, gravity defying orbs on her chest, you'll see that the sculpt is good, although a little wonky on other proportions as well. The wide hips and thick thighs clash with the thin knees and ankles, but she does stand on her own. The claw-like fingers are extremely thin and soft, so some care should be taken when putting the whip in her hands. The hard sculpted hair reduces the mobility of the head, effectively leaving her head in a single position.

The other figures are based on artist work, but only not as closely as the artist specific lines.  I've been told the breakdown is:

- Bane sculpted by Jeremy Bush, Kelly Jones style
- Mask of Tengu sculpted by Barsom, Bret Blevins style
- Nightwing sculpted by John G. Matthews, Graham Nolan style
- Catwoman sculpted by Karen Palinko, Jim Balent style
- Azrael Batman sculpted by Brian Kucharek, Mike Manley style

Bane is my favorite sculpt of the bunch, although it was not the case at first. He has some funky shoulders, and he appears to be in a contest with Catwoman for 'biggest funbags in the Bat-universe' contest. The oddly sculpted, massive pecs on this guy bugged me at first, until I considered that this did resemble some of the Kelley Jones Bane artwork. Jones has definitely always been an artist with some funky proportions to his characters, and while I wouldn't outright call this a Jones' Bane, because there's also Nolan in there, but those influences are apparent. I wouldn't say this Bane is better than the DCSH version, but they both have good points and bad. The clear tubing on the DCSH version gives him the slight edge for me.

Az-bats' sculpt is also extremely good, and I like the fact that we're getting the Batman version of Azrael in stead of the red and gold version of Azrael. They've captured the general feel of the artwork, with the right amount of detail and style. The cape is heavy rubber, and yet he can stand up on his own.

The Mask of Tengu Batman is interesting, if not particularly exciting. It's a very basic sculpt, with little detail, but it does capture a unique version of Bruce Wayne. The mask is NOT removable, but you can swap the head from the Secret Identity Bruce Wayne onto the body if you're interested. Some of the sculpted flow in the clothing doesn't quite seem to match reality, especially around the 'cape', but it's not something that will severely hurt your overall enjoyment of the figure.

Finally, there's Nightwing. He sports a fairly good, if slightly generic, head sculpt, but the design and style aren't at the top of my list. The left fisted hand is sculpted with the fingers facing out, and without any wrist articulation, it's stuck in that pose. It doesn't particularly work well with any stance, although the right hand is sculpted to hold his accessory. He stands fine on his own in a duck-footed style, but the articulation and sculpt don't work together particularly well, so you aren't going to get too many options here.

Scale is one of those DC Direct issues that continues to plague them, and there will be plenty of folks that skip one or more of these figures because of inconsistencies with other lines. The worst is Catwoman, who is the second tallest figure in this set at about 7 1/8 inches, behind Bane, but ahead of Az-bats, Tengu Batman and Nightwing. She towers over most other DC Direct females, standing as tall as the Amazon, Wonder Woman. She's a big girl in more ways than one. Her humongous height took a half star off my sculpt score, since it is an issue for me.

Bane is also huge, although this is less of an issue than with other figures. He does tower over the Hush Batman, but because he's supposed to be a massive character, especially with the Venom coursing through his veins, you can rationalize the size difference. Bane tops in at a whopping 8 inches tall.

Nightwing, Az-bats and Tengu Bats are on the small end of this set, measuring right about 6 7/8 inches tall. This makes the whole line a little weird, since if it IS a 7" scale, the three men are all under six foot, while the woman is over.  Catwoman and Bane will fit in with the Alex Ross Batman alright (see the photo), but the other three males are a little too short to work with him, while they're a little too big to fit with the Hush lines.

Paint - Bane, Catwoman ***; Tengu Batman **1/2; Nightwing, Az-bat **
The paint application on recent DC Direct releases has improved, but there's some hit and miss work here. 

Bane is my favorite of the bunch, and they did give it the old college try. I like the use of different finishes (gloss, semi and matte) on various areas to give the impression of different materials for the pants, mask, gloves and boots. They also did a good job getting the colors that cover large areas - the tan body and black clothing - to be consistent and clean. Unfortunately, he does suffer from a little slop, especially around the edges of the black costume and tan upper body. Since the division between these two is sculpted fairly strong, the paint issues are more apparent. And while the black and tan are pretty consistent, both the silver belt and white mask show some areas where the plastic color beneath is visible.

Catwoman is also decent, if not perfect. The purple and black costume pieces are nice and consistent, and I love the high gloss finish on the boots and gloves. She does have some facial issues though, and on mine there's a very weird dark spot on her nose, probably from rubbing up against another figure in production. I'll let your imagination run wild with that for a minute.

She also has blue highlights in her black hair, and I actually think this works. Blue is often used in the comics to highlight black areas, but on actual 3 dimensional figures, it rarely works. The blue is very dark here though, and it isn't over done, so this more subtle approach looks good.

Az-bats has the bright colors of the comic, but the yellow does little for me. The bright yellow body armor doesn't quite match in color with the yellow belt and leg band (it's cast in yellow, rather than painted), and combining this bright of a color with black and purple looks a tad too bumble bee meets song bird for my tastes. Toning the yellow down a bit would have gone a long way to improving the look of the paint.

Az-bats also suffers from several areas where it appears that someone touched the paint before it was dry. These little finger prints hurt the otherwise consistent finish.

Tengu Batman also has a few spots like this, particularly on his 'cape'. However, they are much less noticable, and his overall paint work is quite a bit cleaner and neater than Az-Bats. He's not a particularly exciting figure, color-wise, but the work is decent.

Finally, there's Nightwing. I think I've just about bought my last disco suit Nightwing, thank you very much. The more modern suit is such a huge improvement, and I really dislike the metallic finish to his costume. The lines are clean and neat, especially on his face and hair, but the colors and design just ruin it for me.

Articulation - Bane, Tengu ***; Az-bat, Catwoman, Nightwing **1/2
The articulation on most of these figures won't be any surprise, since DC Direct has fallen into some pretty predictable patterns.

Bane is perhaps the only surprise, and it's a good surprise. He has a ball jointed neck, but unfortunately the design doesn't allow for any tilting, just forward, backward, right and left. He also has ball jointed shoulders with a decent range of movement, pin elbows and knees, a T hip joint, and pin ankles. All the joints are tight and very well made, with no weak pegs or fears of breakage through normal handling and play. A waist joint certainly would have gone a long way to adding more to his poses, and since he's wearing a sculpted belt, it certainly wouldn't have hurt the aesthetics. A little more arm articulation (like making the ball jointed shoulders jointed on both sides of the ball) would have also been nice, but he's still much better than I expected.

The Mas of Tengu Bats isn't bad either. Again, he has the ball jointed neck, but this time he has a much nicer range of movement, including the ability to tilt to the side. He also has ball jointed shoulders (impeded a bit by the plastic 'cape'), pin elbows and knees, T hips, cut wrists and - surprise! - cut ankles at the top of the boots. This last joint makes it possible for him to do some psuedo L stances, but a waist joint would have once again helped out a lot.

Az-Bats doesn't fair quite as well. He has the ball jointed neck and shoulders, both with decent mobility, pin elbows and knees, the T hips, and cut wrists. Be careful with those pin knees though, as mine seem fairly weak.

Catwoman has a similar set up, with ball jointed neck (rendered completely useless by the hard plastic hair sculpt), ball jointed shoulders, cut wrists, pin elbows and knees, cut joints at the top of the boots, and more of a V crotch. Actually, her hip joint is sort of a combination of the T hips and the more traditional V. The cut joint at the top of the boots is a nice addition, but the pin joints at both the elbows (especially the elbows) and knees are very weak.  In fact, it only took me about 10 minutes of posing the figure before I broke the joint on her right knee, and had to glue it permanently.  These weak pins and poor pin joints have been a regular problem for DC Direct, and something they need to correct.  If not for these breakage/weak joints, she would have scored much better in this category.

Finally, Nightwing rounds out the group with fairly standard DC Direct articulation - ball jointed neck and shoulders, pin elbows and knees, and T crotch. No additional cut joints here, including no wrists.  The lack of wrists hurts because of the angle of the sculpted hands.  He also has the same poor knee joints, and you best be careful with him.

Accessories - Catwoman, Nightwing **; Bane, Az-bat, Tengu *;
This line is seriously devoid of accessories, which is unfortunate considering the possibilities.

As I mentioned in the sculpt section, the mask is not removable on the Tengu Bats. There were originally plans to include a second head, but they dropped those, presumably due to cost. However, since a head was already available - the Secret Identity Bruce - it really is a let down that they didn't include that head with this figure.

Every figure does come with a small round base, emblazoned with the Knightfall logo, and a couple foot pegs. None of the characters will actually need this stand though, as the all remain upright (even Catwoman!) on their own.

Catwoman also has her cat-o-nine-tails, although technically there are only six tails. This whip is well sculpted, and made from a soft rubber. It fits over either hand nicely.

Nightwing comes with his version of the batarang, the little disc with the Nightwing symbol. It fits well enough in his right hand, and has a nice paint job.

That's pretty damn light though, considering the number of weapons characters like Nightwing, Az-bat and Mask of Tengu Batman used in the books. It didn't require a whole lot of imagination to come up with some other goodies, and at this price point, you should expect a little more bang for your buck.

Fun Factor - Bane, Az-Bat ***; the rest **1/2
Bane is a big honkin' hunk of plastic, with good articulation and plenty of play opportunity. Kids who are fans of Batman will know this guy well, since he's been in the movies and cartoons since his comic book debut. The towering scale also makes him an ideal all around bad guy. Az-bat has the cool looking costume, like Batman but not quite Batman. Kids are more likely to find this suit and the bright colors appealing.

The rest will leave most kids cold. Unless they happen to be about 12 or so, in which case Catwoman may leave them confused and bewildered, yet strangely excited.

Value - Bane, Catwoman, Nightwing **1/2; Tengu, As-bat **
Odds are pretty good that you're spending at least $13 each on these, and at some shops quite a bit more. At least Nightwing and Catwoman have an accessory, and Bane is a seriously large hunk of plastic. That still doesn't get them any where near an above average value score, but at least you'll feel slighly less abused.

Tengu Mask and Az-Bat don't come with jack (outside of the round base), and while they are nice figures, they certainly aren't worth well above a ten spot each.

Things to watch out for - 
As always with DC Direct, you'll want to look for the best paint ops. This is something that's gotten better, but they still need some more work. Also pay careful attention to the pin joints at the knees and elbows of Catwoman, to ensure you don't get one too bent or out of shape.

Overall -  Bane ***1/2; Az-bats, Tengu Bats ***; Catwoman **1/2; Nightwing **
If you're a huge fan of the designs, then you'll be happier with some of these than I was. The issues with Nightwing are largely due to my issues with the design and colors in general, and not really the fault of DC Direct.

There are a couple issues that continue to haunt DC Direct. One is scale of course, something that's been a problem for several years now, and shows no sign of ever going away. You'd think it would be easy for a company to pick a scale and then just stick with it, but this appears to be one of the great mysteries of modern mankind.

The other major issue I have with them is the poor knee joints on many of their figures, and the poor elbows predominately on the females. There's no excuse for the flimsy, thin plastic and soft pins, especially at this price point.

I'm really disappointed that we didn't get an actual Batman with this series, since Kelley Jones did much of the artwork during this period. A true Kelly Jones Bats is something I'd really like to add to the collection.  Let's hope we get a second series, adding in a few missing characters.

Packaging - **1/2
Sculpt - Bane, Az-Bat ***1/2; Tengu Batman ***; Catwoman, Nightwing **1/2
Paint - Bane, Catwoman ***; Tengu Batman **1/2; Nightwing, Az-bat **
Articulation - Bane, Tengu ***; Az-bat, Catwoman, Nightwing **1/2
Accessories - Catwoman, Nightwing **; Bane, Az-bat, Tengu *;
Fun Factor - Bane, Az-Bat ***; the rest **1/2
Value - Bane, Catwoman, Nightwing **1/2; Tengu, As-bat **
Overall -  Bane ***1/2; Az-bats, Tengu Bats ***; Catwoman **1/2; Nightwing **

Where to Buy -
Your local comic shop may get them in, or you can get them online:

- Alter Ego Comics has the full set listed at $50.

- YouBuyNow has the single figures for $12 each.

- CornerStoreComics has the set for $55, or the individuals for $13 each.

- Amazing Toyz has the individual figures for $13 each.

- Yikes Comics has the set for $55, or the singles for $15 each.

Related Links -
DC Direct has been pumping out the Batman lines. Here's just a few of the recent ones:

- most recently, they released the the Unmasked set, first series of Elseworlds figures, and the Long Halloween set.

- The Public Enemies line included Batman of course.

- The Alex Ross version of Batman was definitely a collector favorite.

- Last summer we got the Rogue's Gallery series.

- and of course my favorites, the series 1, series 2 and series 3 Hush figures.


Figure from the collection of Michael Crawford.

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