Batman Begins
Batman and Scarecrow

The Batman franchise has never been really treated right by the big screen. Television gave us the animated series, but the three major films we've had in recent history all missed the mark at some level. While the first film with Keaton is arguably the best, it still doesn't capture the real context and feel for Batman, at least not for most fans, this one included.

This year, they try again with Batman Begins, starring Christian Bale. It is supposedly about how he becomes Batman, what drives him, his training, and his early escapades. This is an excellent story, one never really done fully, and could make for a terrific film. 'Could' being the operative word here. I have more faith in the director (Christopher Nolan of Memento fame) and writer (David Goyer of Dark City and the Blade films) than any previous behind the camera team, and they have an excellent A-list of actors. Now let's just see if they can execute.

As is almost always true with this kind of film, there's a toy line with plenty of action figures. Tonight I'm reviewing two of the basic figures, Scarecrow and Battle Gear Batman. These are popping up everywhere, especially after Saturday, which is the official release date for the toys. I found mine at Target, but I know lots of Wal-marts are putting them out early as well. Expect to pay between $6 and $7 for the basic figures.

If you're looking for another review of the Battle Gear Batman, News2Me did a great guest review a couple weeks ago.

Packaging - **1/2
It's the standard mass market cardback and bubble, but at least the colors are nifty. I like the beige and blacks, and it's very eye catching yet somehow matches up with the license. Perhaps I'm just going through a 'brown' phase, since I also like the similar color scheme for the Buffy figures from Diamond.

Unfortunately, there's almost no customization (outside of the basic name and contents on the front) from one character to the other. The Batman bio on back is painfully short and repeated on every package.

Sculpting - Batman **1/2; Scarecrow **
There's no way people won't compare this line to the past movie lines, and the Batman has his pluses and minuses.

On the plus side, he's in a slightly larger scale, and the detail work on his costume is much, much nicer. It's tough to tell in photos, or even in the package, because of the solid black appearance, but there's a lot of detail work on the body. I also like the cloth cape, and overall he strikes a pretty good look on the shelf.

The head sculpt doesn't look much like Bale, certainly not like the old Keaton sculpt looked like that actor. Even the versions with the cowl looked like Keaton, but I can't really pick out Bale here. The face is just too chubby for that to work. Of course, I'm not sure that it makes much sense for you to be able to see Bale in the 'disguised' version - wouldn't that pretty much negate the purpose of the cowl?

I've included a shot an old Keaton figure along with this Batman, just in case you've forgotten.  I wanted to shoot him with one of the Batmen from the old movies, but all I could find was my carded versions.  Hey, you'll still get the general idea.

I do like the proportions on this Batman.  he's lean and mean, not oddly bulked up or disproportionate in the usual comic book way.

The sculpt on the Scarecrow has decent detail as well, and has a spinning head feature. Press his right arm, and the head spins around. The back side (at least it's the backside in the packaged version of the non-blood version) has eyes that glow when a light is overhead. Kenner and Hasbro have used this trick many, many times, but having a clear plastic on top of the head that travels down to the eye, and therefore glows when a light is over head, but rarely has it worked this good. You can see that even in my photos, with bright light coming from all sides, the eyes glow bright enough to easily see. This is the coolest feature of an otherwise uninteresting figure.

The overall body sculpt is also very funky in terms of proportions, but the word on the street is that this is what the Scarecrow looks like to Batman through one of his fear hallucinations. That's nice and all, but a truly bad choice for a first version. Give me a relatively normal Scarecrow first please, and I'm sure that he must look pretty wicked in the costume at SOME point in the movie. Or so I hope.

Paint - **1/2
When you think paint ops, think mass market toy. You probably won't be as disappointed then.

Batman suffers more from a poor suit design - at least in terms of color - than truly poor application. He's all black, including his insignia (which makes zero sense), with only his lower face and belt standing out. Not two areas I would think you'd want people who are trying to shoot you to focus on, but that's what the costume designers for this film went with. Mattel did try to go with different finishes on different areas though, and that helps a little.

The application is decent, but nothing spectacular. There's some slop around the face and mask, so be careful picking yours out.

Scarecrow has more color, but also suffers from the needless variant syndrome. He comes in a normal version, and in a blood splatter version. I'm assuming that's what the bright orangish red paint on his straight jacket is supposed to be anyway - perhaps it's ketchup from a particularly nasty food fight at Arkham Asylum.

The rest of Scarecrow's ops are decent as well, but his 'normal' face suffers from a lack of distinguishing paint operations. What I mean by that is that it is very difficult to distinguish the eyes, nose, mouth and other features from the general wrinkly-ness of his burlap bag. A little better use of paint would have really helped here.

Articulation - Batman **1/2; Scarecrow *1/2
Neither character is outstanding, but Batman is certainly average. He's a step up from the old movie figures, but not super articulated.

He has cut neck, cut shoulders, pin elbows, waist, hips and pin knees. This is fairly average articulation for a 'kids' line, so it's not super surprising, and you can actually get him in a couple decent poses. It's enough articulation for a good fun factor, but not enough for adult collectors.

Small things could have really helped too - use ball joints for the shoulders and neck, and add in cut wrists, and you would have made a world of difference.

The Scarecrow actually has more points - neck, ball jointed shoulders, elbows, wrists (I think), waist, hips, and knees - but is a perfect example of why more isn't necessarily better. He has a funky action feature, in which you push his right arm in toward the body, and his head spins around to reveal the 'spooky' version. The action feature works well, but it means that his right arm is always out at an angle from the body, and there is only one good position he can be in, with his right hand up above his head. That's pretty weak, and leaves me cold, especially since I have no interest in displaying him with the dopey squirt gun.

Accessories - Batman ***1/2; Scarecrow *1/2
Now here's a category that this particular version of Batman fulfills nicely. He comes with a suitcase of gadgets, labeled Wayne Enterprises. It's a big case, not some wimpy briefcase, and holds a batarang, grappling hook/gun, and binocular eye that fits over his head.

The case itself looks great, snaps together tightly, and holds all the accessories well. The batarang is actually articulated, and can fold on a pin joint in the center. The eye piece/binocular fits over his head nicely, and lines up properly with his eye and face. Finally, the grappling gun and hook work in the reverse fashion. Rather than firing the hook out, you stretch the hook out on its string, attach it to something, and when you let go, the string retracts, pulling Bats along with it. It works alright, although the way the hook hangs limply in front of the gun is a tad unattractive.

Unfortunately, the Scarecrow does not measure up to the level set by Batman. He has but one accessories, a soft rubber gun that can be filled with water and used to squirt it in your annoying sister's eye. I'm not even positive that this gun makes an appearance anywhere in the film, so it's definitely hitting the red zone on the lame-o meter.

Fun Factor - Batman ***1/2, Scarecrow **
I really don't know what kids will do with the Scarecrow, other than toss him at the cat. He's a weak figure with weak execution, and better off forgotten all around. But kids will have a great time with this (and some of the other variant) Batman, especially with the cool accessories. This line won't be as popular with kids as Spider-man, simply because Batman is a hero that speaks more to adults, while Spider-man (due to his age and circumstances) tends to speak better to kids. But if the film is good, the line will do decent numbers.

Value - Batman ***; Scarecrow **
I paid just under $7 each for these, which is reasonable for Batman considering a) it's a movie license and b) he's got some nifty accessories. Paying the same for the Dark Lord Prince of Suckatude, the Scarecrow, is more than a bit of a rip.

Overall - Batman **1/2; Scarecrow **
While lots of people are trashing this line, I think it's fairly unjust. Don't get me wrong - the Batman versions aren't ever better than average, and certainly are no comparison to high end specialty market stuff like Sin City, Marvel Legends, or the recent Star Trek wave.

They certainly aren't Van Helsing bad though, and the sculpting is quite a bit better (along with more articulation) than past movie lines. I don't mind the 5" scale, since it fits in with past movies and the recent The Batman line, and also because maybe it means we'll get a cool Batcave out of the deal.

Then again, Scarecrow is weak. Of what I've seen so far, he's the weakest figure of the bunch, and considering that he's the only villain version we have at this point, that's simply depressing. The light up eyes gig was the only highlight, but I'm hoping we see better additional characters soon.

Actually, Scarecrow almost lost another half star in the overall score, but I have to admit I'm a bit of a sucker for the glowing eyes. That feature is done really well here, and makes up a little for the crushing disappointment.

Things to watch out for - 
You'll have a billion of these to choose from, so make sure you pay extra special attention to the paint ops to get your best possible pick.

Packaging - **1/2
Sculpt - Kor ****; Gorn, Kirk ***1/2
Paint - **1/2
Articulation - Batman **1/2; Scarecrow *1/2
Accessories - Batman ***1/2; Scarecrow *1/2
Fun Factor - Batman ***1/2; Scarecrow *1/2
Value - Batman ***; Scarecrow **
Overall - Batman **1/2; Scarecrow **

Where to Buy - 
You should be able to find these aplenty at any mass market toy retailer, like Meijers, Target, Wal-mart or Toys R Us, especially after Saturday.


Figure from the collection of Michael Crawford.

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