Batman Begins - Demon Batman and Scarecrow
Special limited edition 10th anniversary set from Hot Toys

   "The following is a guest review.  The review and photos do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Michael Crawford or Michael's Review of the Week, and are the opinion and work of the guest author."

Once in awhile, Hot Toys does something that makes collectors groan. One of those moves was the recent extremely limited released of two more figures in their Batman series, and Jeff Parker is here tonight to give us the lowdown. Take it away, Jeff!

Hot Toys have had a pretty meteoric rise to the top of their particular field, as to any serious collectors of 1/6th figures it is fair to say that this one company has come to dominate the market with an authority that makes the competition quake. And in so doing they have become such a part of the collectibles landscape that it’s also beginning to feel like they have been around forever. But in reality they have only legitimately existed for a mere ten years. And so to mark the first official decade of Hot Toys existence they held a massively impressive retrospective in Tokyo over the Christmas holiday period of 2010. To say it was a lavish affair would be an understatement and also do it a huge disservice, but the great and good of both the creative and collecting scenes in Asia were in attendance (Eddie Wong did some great coverage that you can see here).
I was lucky enough to receive an invite, however being based in the UK with a wife and two small children, it might not have gone down too well if daddy had been away for the whole Christmas break, even if in the spirit of the holiday period it had been to check out the coolest toys on the planet. But Jeez Louise would I have loved to actually be there, for a geeky fan-boy like me it looked like a dream gig!

Not only did they display the entire back catalogue of the figures released to date, but also a few prototypes that never made it to production, and on top of that a handful of sneak peaks of what will be coming our way through 2011 and beyond. There were also Q&A sessions with the creative staff and a chance to get them to sign your goodies.

But regardless of all this, one of the biggest draws for many collectors was the selection of ultra rare limited edition figures available almost exclusively only to attendees. There were four figures available as three sets. The selection divided fans, making some angry at the exclusive nature of these releases while others were mystified by the choices period!

The figures were the mysterious Friend from Naoki Urasawa’s seminal Manga ‘20th Century Boys’, then there was Michael Jackson based on the look he sported in the ‘Beat It’ video and lastly a double pack of the Demon Batman and Scarecrow from Batman Begins.
Many in the West scratched their heads over the ‘Friend’ figure, but the Manga was huge in Japan, even spawning three blockbuster movies, I guess you could liken it to the phenomenon that The Watchmen had on its original release in the West. Next up there’s Michael Jackson who has always divided opinion, so for every naysayer baying for blood in the crowd there was an equal number of people who were ecstatic with the choice (whilst being concerned they would never actually get their hands on him). Then lastly there was the Batman Begins set. I think its fair to say that a lot of people were wondering if any Hot Toys figures from this movie would ever see the light of day other than the original Batsuited versions, and here at last they did, but in such limited numbers that it was immediately obvious some people would end up pretty disappointed, miffed and unhappy.

But to be fair to Hot Toys, you don’t make an exclusive that no one wants, and it would appear that due to either cost or licensing issues the Scarecrow either wouldn’t or couldn’t come with a Cillian Murphy portrait, and the Demon Batman was seen so fleetingly in the movie as part of an induced hallucination that it was always only ever going to appeal to the hardcore Batman fans anyway… only trouble being THERE ARE A LOT OF HARDCORE BATMAN FANS (just ask Michael).

I see these sets as a thank you to the hardcore supporters, but also an exclusive carrot that could be dangled seductively under the noses of the addicted, luring these people to the exhibition for their fix of their chosen opiate. And so under the stewardship of Howard Chan, Franck Dubois and the promotions teams in Hong Kong and Tokyo I think they made a great job of it. It certainly had the collecting community talking, and there’s no such thing as bad publicity (unless of course you are Charlie Sheen, or perhaps Mel Gibson, or… I’ll stop there).

So at the end of the day here we are, I’m fortunate in having all the 10th Anniversary sets, but I wasn’t sure which of the figures in these three releases to cover first, however the amount of requests I was getting on Face Book and on the forums soon made me realise that the Batman set was proving by far and away the most popular, so lets kick off with that and break it down.

Packaging - ****
Classy, very, very classy! That was my first reaction when I saw the packaging that the 10th Anniversary figures came in. They all follow the same basic construction, but have colour coded interior slip cased containers with unique graphics. Bats and the Scarecrow come in a double slipcase, the outer shell being textured black hardboard.

The front even has a metal badge and seal letting us know that these units are limited to 2000 each in Hong Kong (and a further 2000 for Tokyo of course) but could that little bit of ambiguity lead to some sets being released to a Western market, say around SDCC time? I guess only time will tell!
Another cool detail that some might overlook in their excitement when un-boxing these figures is that the interior of the slip-case even has graphics, in the form of a rather moody comic book style Gotham city skyline. Things like this are the sweet details, and keep Hot Toys so consistently at the top of the game in all the aspects of their productions.

Two ribbon tabs protrude from the side, which allow you to slip the inner boxes out. The Batman figure is in a dark blue/purple box while the Scarecrow is nestled within a reddish brown one, the fronts have images of the characters in a simple monotone style behind a distressed bat sign. This front section now opens up like a book cover and once exposed you lift out a sheet of protective black foam to see the fully dressed figures within (well, you need to put Bats cape on which is housed beneath the figure), everything else is held gently in a die cut foam surround just like the M-Icon and DX series of figures.

To put it succinctly, Hot Toys pulled out all the stops to make every aspect of these 10th anniversary releases as impressive as possible, and they have managed it handsomely, the boxes alone are an understated work of art… but enough with the boxes already, we want to see what’s inside, so lets open them up and take a look!

Sculpting - Demon Bats ***3/4, Scarecrow ****
When we see the demon Batman in the movie he is a seething mass of paranoid hallucination with some pretty extreme lighting and post production effects, so gauging just how good this sculpt is was gonna prove tough. But then I found these rather nifty test shots for the suits used in the movie here then I also discovered these pics of a maquette bust sculpted for the production here which also helped a lot. I think Hot Toys have gone for a middle ground, somewhere between these static representations of the suit and what we saw on screen, and I for one am very happy with the result. The facial sculpt is the work of Joseph Tsang and is in a beautifully observed contorted grimace, as if the cowl is made flesh and able to show the tortured and malevolent features of its wearer, its teeth are bared in a snarl and look almost ready to bite… this is not the caped crusader you would want to meet down a dark alley!

The mask is then (as is the upper half of the suit and weathered cape), made to look damaged and distressed, as if the surface has been corroded by acid or fire. It’s a striking effect, and if you are lucky enough to own a figure of the original Batsuited figure, this makes for a stunning companion piece. He also comes with a selection of seven hands in various poses, but its my guess that unless you want to display him holding one of the special black Batarangs, just about everyone will go for the two hands in the more extreme ‘claw-like’ poses, as they certainly help set the vicious and vengeful tone of the figure perfectly.

As I already stated, we get no Cillian Murphy/ Dr Jonathan Crane sculpt here, what we get is a pure representation of the classic movie seen Scarecrow. The main area is obviously the head, this is also the work of Joseph Tsang, and he’s done a great job of representing the old distressed hop-sack material, with its criss-cross of ‘Frankenstein’ stitches and seams. The mouth is like a crude rip, but also manages to look like a nightmarish maw, incorporating the shape of jagged shark like teeth through the use of long angled stitches. Then there are the eyes, these work really well, kind of like the old Resi Evil 4 Ganado figure I reviewed here. Meaning you get the juxtaposition of the sculpted smooth wet eyes and flesh, playing against the dry, dirty textures of his sack mask. The rear of the head also carries some nice details where the frayed and tattered parts meet the rope and straps that are supposed to hold it in place on the head. I guess by Hot Toys and indeed Joseph’s standards, a portrait like this is a walk in the park, but that is not to diminish just how effective the overall final look is. Like Bats he also comes with a selection of hands, but not quite as many. We get a pair of relaxed hands attached to the figure plus a pointing right hand and an open gesturing left, not a huge selection, but enough to alter the mood of the figure depending on what pose you go for.

Paint - ****
These two figures required two very different paint apps. Bats is primarily very dark, and the paint is there to add texture and definition to the underlying sculpt, where as the Scarecrows paint is far more detailed and has to work much harder in defining the differing colours, tones, materials and textures of the implied ‘mixed media’ mask.
So in a nutshell the Batsuit is made of a dull matte rubber but has paint effect weathering and glossy highlights that look like tears are running from the dark eyes and also help in making the teeth contrast with the rest of the cowl. That really is pretty much it for the darkest knight.

The scarecrow however is far more complex, as all the details I mentioned in the sculpt category are picked out. The blue eyes are glossy and bright against the dull dirty weathering that the sack is given, and the leather straps at the back are also given a convincing finish. The only slight oversight seems to be that the small flash of hair visible at the back of the head, protruding from beneath the mask is given the same treatment as the sack instead of darker brown tone. The hands are also treated to look grimy and dirty and then lastly his boots are fully painted to mimic the antique style work boots that the character wore.

So there you have it, two completely different paint apps with hugely different degrees of complexity, but as both were overseen by the modern saviour of 1/6th paint apps ‘Mr JC Hong’ we end up with another faultless addition to the line up.

Outfit - ****
Bats outfit is in many ways like the original suit primarily constructed of black rubber/silicone. However, unlike the first suit, this one is made to look ravaged and distressed by fire or chemical attack. In the movie you only ever really see the top half of Bats during the hallucinatory episode that the Scarecrow has, and so Hot Toys have focused all the damage to this area, but the basic form and function is the same as the classic suit previously released. It’s made up of rubber boots with solid plastic soles, rubber trousers with solid plastic knee protectors an upper long sleeved rubber shirt that goes over the groin area and links under the crotch. Over this he wears a dark tarnished coppery coloured belt and on the lower arms he wears his gauntlets that are also given the distressed and corroded look. The last item in his wardrobe is the cape, this isn’t made of the same fabric as the earlier versions, and this seems to have been chosen for the fact it doesn’t fray when the edges are cut, so the tattered and torn fringes remain crisp and can define the shapes sliced into them. It also has some dark green stains and textured corrosion painted and welded to its surface. There are wires inside the two ‘arms’ that  stick out at the top, so to actually fit the cape you will need to pop the head off then curve the wires to fit snugly over the shoulders and insert the ends of the wires into the pre-made holes in the suit. Now just pop the head back on and futz till everything is to your liking. The new cape doesn’t drape quite as heavily or as well as the old style ones, but with minimum tweaking and arranging it can still look pretty darn convincing.

The Scarecrows outfit is pretty much all fabric. We have some moulded high-laced boots into which his suit trousers are tucked when in ‘straightjacket’ mode, or can be draped over the tops of the boots when just wearing the suit. Next up is his white collared shirt, blue tie and suit jacket. All the garments have working pockets and scaled buttons. The jacket is held closed with two small poppers and the general cut and finish to the tailoring is up with Hot Toys usual standards. The straightjacket is made from a scaled canvas material and has webbing straps that wrap around the body through a series of loops; it also has leather straps hanging from both of the wrists. To take it off you will need to loosen the straps and undo the five plastic popper studs that run up the back. It’s a far easier job if you remove the head and hands as you can leave most of the straps in place if you do it this way. The whole garment is airbrushed and weathered to look grubby and tattered and wires are inserted along the bottom hems to aid in the posing. All in all it’s a very impressive and striking looking outfit that stands well alongside Two-Face and the various Joker figures to add to the line up of Bat Mans foes.

Articulation - Scarecrow **** Bats ***1/4
Both these characters come with a basic True-Type body underneath their attire, so the only thing hampering its poseability is the outfit. Bats outfit is the same basic construction as the classic suit I reviewed here so expect some ‘limitations’ at all the major joints. But ‘limitation’ is the word, he’s certainly no static statue, and by working with the design of the suit and some gentle coaxing you can get some pretty impressive poses. Its also worth pointing out that due to the nature of the cowl’s design, especially where it spills down over his back, that the neck is virtually set in one position. There is a minor amount of movement, but hey, that’s one of the main reasons why Wayne redesigned the suit for The Dark Knight anyway, so that’s perfectly excusable in my opinion. However what Hot Toys take away with one hand they giveth back with the other, and one of the features I love on these suits is the use of the soft rubber boots, meaning the ankle articulation is excellent.

The Scarecrow is far more poseable than his nemesis, as we have what is primarily a fabric dressed character based around your classic True Type design. Admittedly he has multiple layers when fully kitted up in his full outfit, but as usual the scaling of the fabrics used along with the superfine 1/6th tailoring that Hot Toys utilise mean we end up with a representation that not only hangs well and looks natural, but can also strike pretty much any pose that you could if wearing the full ensemble. If I had to be picky then I guess its worth pointing out that the boots do limit ankle articulation, but it’s a slight by-product of the design, and wont effect my score for this category.

Accessories - ***
Neither of these guys are exactly what one could call laden with goodies, but we get everything we need to portray the character on the shelf. I know a Dr Crane portrait would have put the cherry on top for the Scarecrow figure, but alas it wasn’t to be.

So all we actually get is a selection of hands, an impressive seven for Bats and an average four for the Scarecrow. Bats also gets a couple of black Batarangs and both get a classic black figure stand, but that is essentially it. I guess it would also have been cool if the Scarecrow had come with the toxic nerve gas dispenser that he had concealed up his left sleeve, but I guess the fact it was ‘concealed’ means it’s something of a moot point anyway.

So, they have what they need to display well, but not enough to merit a full score.

Value - ***1/2
Now this category is basically open season out there on the secondary market, with some online retailers asking for some fairish prices and some rogue scalpers asking for the deeds to your house and your first born (and I fear some will be getting them). The official asking price for this set at the Tokyo event was JP¥ 28,000 (about $336) meaning you could break it down to $168 a piece which though far from cheap, is still in the ball park of the ever rising ‘going rate’. That said, I have linked below in the Where to Buy section to some eBay traders asking just $300 for the set which at $150 per figure is an even better deal (but then I spotted the hidden shipping charges of $150, so we’re back to square one!).

So, I base my score on the actual price charged at the event, and though I don’t give them a perfect score I have a feeling that those paying the secondary market prices might think $336 is total bargain!

Fun Factor - *** 3/4
There are so many factors that will without a doubt insure that these figures never ever actually get played with by a child, and they are-
1- Rarity
2- Price
3- Fragility
4- You would have to be mentally disturbed to let a kid even look at these, let alone touch them!
5- Did I mention the rarity and price?

So these are almost certainly going to end up exclusively in the possession of collectors (and serious collectors at that) who will either keep them mint and boxed in an hermetically sealed chamber, or carefully displayed on a shelf/cabinet (preferably behind glass, those rubber Batsuits are a dust magnet donchaknow!). So it’s hard to think in terms of actual fun ‘playing’ with them ‘per se’. But in terms of the actual joy and smug self satisfaction that you would get from the simple ownership of this set is almost immeasurable. To the 1/6th collecting community, especially the Batman fans within those ever swelling ranks, then these are the equivalent to a pair of Fabergé eggs, and as such it’s difficult to gauge them as any thing other than at least ‘approaching’ perfection, and I for one love’em!

Overall- Bats ***1/2, Scarecrow ****
This is a cool set whichever way you look at it, comprising of two figures that will have pretty much any fan of the Nolan Batman movies champing at the bit. Plus they have the added bonus of being from the first movie which so far has been much underexposed in terms of hi-end figures. I’d never dream of telling Hot Toys what to do (after all they are the kings of all they survey and I am a lowly reviewer), however I (like so many other fans) would so love to see figures of Gordon and Alfred (maybe even a limited edition Lucius) to really make the Batman line complete. Is this likely however? Well are bears catholic, I guess not, but a fan boy can dream!

So in terms of what these bring to the table, I am very happy. Truth be told even if we had got a Cillian Murphy portrait, I probably wouldn’t have used it, and the Demon Bats is such a strikingly cool looking figure he’s a bit of a ‘cult’ classic. That said I have already had ‘friends’ say, “WTF is that”, and “when did Batman ever actually look like that?” And so after explaining the scenario and plot back to these people (people who have actually seen the movie, people with memories like a goldfish) they tend to give knowing nods and say things like “ah yeah, that was cool, now I remember”. Needless to say, these are not the people who feel the necessity to own this set… but there again few people actually do. In point of fact, the reason that you will need to own this is because you, like me and a select few others are sad lost souls, totally addicted to not only geeky fan boy movies, but also severely addicted to Hot Toys 1/6th… we are a lost cause, I rest my case!

Where to buy
If you weren’t in attendance at the 10th Anniversary show, or you don’t have the kind of good connections who know where to score the top deals, then this is a bit on an unknown quantity. 

However eBay is as always an option, but be prepared to part with as much as $800 right down to what might seem like a reasonable deal, like the pair for $300 , but then I noticed that they had a whacked a $150 shipping charge on top of the $300… so just ignore that one! 

However with the popularity of the whole Batman franchise I can’t see the prices on these going anywhere but further and further north! You can always search eBay for yourself, looking for a new deal.

This product was provided free for the review by the manufacturer. Photos and text by Jeff Parker.

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