The Batman
Batman, Bruce Wayne and the Joker


The Batman. A name that rings terror into the hearts of evil doers everywhere. It's also the name of a new animated cartoon on the WB this fall.

I reviewed the newly designed Batmobile last week, and this week I hit the three new regular figures from the first series of action figures - Batman, Bruce Wayne and the Joker. There are also three Bat-variants in this first wave, including Razor Whip, Inline Attack and Hover Attack. Have no fear though, as the regular Batman is four per case, Bruce is packed three per case, and the Joker is two per case, with only one each of the weirder variations.

And just to be technically correct, these figures are "Hammer Strike Joker, Zip Action Batman, and Bruce to Batman".  I don't feel like typing that over a dozen times however, so we'll stick with the short versions.

How will the show do? I'm willing to watch 3 or 4 episodes before I decide, but I have high hopes. I've also been looking forward to this line quite a bit, and while there are a few disappointments, overall, it's a fairly fun and interesting set.

Packaging - ***
The new logo for the show is prominently displayed on the front of the card, along with the new look for Batman. This is a very good thing, as I really like the artwork I've seen so far. The logo itself is very reminiscent of the old live action TV show, both in emblem style and in the typeface.

They aren't clamshells though, and they certainly aren't collector friendly. They shouldn't be too bad for MOCers to store though, since the bubbles are all about the same size.  The cardbacks seem to have a tendency to curl though, so be careful where you store them.

Sculpting - Batman ***; Bruce Wayne, Joker ***1/2
These are three very distinct looking characters, and Joker is downright unique. All have their strengths, but none are without weakness.

Batman himself has been highly anticipated. I know I've been searching for the past two weeks for him, scouring the local TRU's. I love the combination of the retro appearance - the short, squat ears, broader head, black and gray uniform - with the more modern style of animation and musculature. I think overall the design is fantastic, and that it will grow on even the naysayers, just as the original animated Batman did.

However, the execution on this particular version takes a major hit. The grappling hook on his right arm is a permanent fixture, due to the need to include the mechanism inside his arm and body. He'll get extra fun factor points for this very feature, but in the sculpt department, it hurts. Had he not had this attachment sculpted on, he would have easily been a 3 1/2 or even 4 star sculpt.

One of the positives of this figure is the cape, especially the length. They went with a cloth cape, very similar in design and execution to what we saw on the comic based Zipline Batman. They went with a nice long version though, hanging well past his feet.

The other two are free of funky arm accessories, and end up scoring better for it. Lots of people have complained about this Joker, but I think it's a really inventive re-imagining of a very tired character. C'mon, how many more times do I need to see him in a purple suit and white spats? How good this design ends up being will be extremely dependent on how good the back story on the Joker is in the new show.

This version looks like he's just escaped from Arkham. The jacket is actually a straight jacket with lots of funkitude. The end of the sleeves have clearly been torn or cut open to allow his hands to be free, and the large buckles across the front, thick collar and crotch strap are solid indications that this isn't his dinner jacket. The bare feet also indicate that he's just escaped from the looney bin, where they tend to take such personal frivolities away. I don't think this will be his 'regular' outfit, if anything he wears could be called regular, but will tie in very specifically to something we see early in the show.

And while he does look like the love child of Bob Marley and Edgar Winter, that's not necessarily a bad thing. The more I look at the insane appearance, the more I like it, and the more dangerous he appears. This is a much eviler appearing Joker than the Mark Hamill voiced version we're used to, but time will tell if he has the personality to match.

The third figure I picked up was Bruce Wayne, who transforms into Batman. This has been tried many times, some more successful than others. Of the previous versions, this one is near the top. Ignoring the Bat-ensemble, you get a nice if basic version of Bruce Wayne, wearing a black body suit. The head sculpt has good detail for the animated style, and he has a stern expression that doesn't scream "I'm irregular!". Since the body sculpt is almost identical in proportion to the Bats version (only the feet are smaller), you can expect customizers to be grabbing this figure up in quantity. Not happy about the goofy right arm on the regular Bats? Then buy one of these Bruces, pop off his right arm, repaint and add three fins on his forearm for the glove, and you have the perfect Batman.

Scale is a bit of an issue, as this really is an all new scale, somewhere between the comic book versions, and the old animated versions.

Paint - ***
Overall, the paint operations were of the kind of quality you expect in a mass market release action figure from a major manufacturer. In other words, the basics are covered but there's still some slop.

Of the three, Bruce had the fewest issues, but he had the fewest breaks between colors. The line between his forearms and shirt are a tad fuzzy, but the work on the head, face and eyes is excellent.

The Joker has the most color, and to go along with it, the most trouble with bleeding and poor edge definition between colors. The edges between the purple and green are fairly bad all around, and the white feet tend to bleed into the black paints.

Batman is in the middle. The colors are pretty obvious, and the definition is pretty good. I had a couple issues with consistency, particularly with the gray (it looks like glue might be the culprit there), but overall these paint operations were average to slightly above for these type of toys.

Articulation - Joker, Bruce ***; Batman **1/2
Mattel seems to be listening when it comes to articulation. The newer JLA figures all sport additional joints, and these figures improve on the comic based Batman line in this department as well.

Bruce has neck, shoulders, elbows, waist, hips and knees. The elbows have fairly restricted movement, and the shoulders should have been ball jointed, but other than that I have little to complain about with this figure.

Batman has neck, shoulders, the left elbow, waist, hips and knees. His lower score is due to the loss of the right elbow joint, again sacrificed to the all powerful God of Action Features.

Finally, the Joker has neck, shoulders, elbows, waist, hips and knees. These ten points are probably going to be the standard for the line. While he has the same ten points as Bruce, he has more posing possibilities due to the design of the joints and style of the figure. He also could have had joints at the 'wrists', where the forearms attach to the larger arms under the sleeves, but it appears as though these are glued tight.

The elbow and knee joints are pin joints, and while they are clearly obvious, I think they work fine on this animated style of figure. Remember, these are toys first, collectibles second. They aren't supposed to be little statues, but rather something kids can have some fun with. 

Accessories - Bruce ***1/2; Joker ***; Batman **1/2
All three figures come with a nice portfolio of accessories, although Bruce is the clear winner when it comes to sheer quantity.

He has his outfit, which includes snap on gloves and boots, and his cowl/cape. All of them fit fairly well, although you have to play around with the boots a bit. The cape is a tad short on this version, but the cloth and plastic combo look fine. My only complaint is the odd color choice - blue - and I think going with all black for these would have been the much better looking choice.

Bruce also comes with a large (very large!) batarang, which fits in his hand. It's asymmetrical in shape, which is a little unusual, and plagued by that weird blue color.

Batman is the low scorer here, but that's probably due to his added action feature. His only accessories is another forearm weapon, that you can attach to his unencumbered left arm. It fires a large, yellow bat-frisbee. I bet he and Bat-hound would have a lot of fun with this at the park.

The Joker has one accessory, but it's a big one. It's a massive wack-a-mole style mallet. It really reminds me of one of the small plastic mallets that babies often play with, and you get a squeak out of it whenever you smack it on something, like a parent's head. This is similar, except with nasty spikes on either side, and instead of squeaking, it fires a projectile spike with a pretty hefty spring. It's strong enough to knock Batman down at six or seven inches away, pretty good in this day and age of lawsuits.

Getting the Joker to hold the mallet and stand though is the real trick. His right hand is molded to wrap around the handle, but you'll have to prop the weapon against the floor to keep him standing, as it's simply too heavy to hold straight out. I did find I could balance it over his head, if I got the center of gravity just right...

Action Feature - Batman ***; Bruce, Joker Bupkis
Bruce and the Joker don't have action features per se. Sure, you can dress and undress Bruce as Batman, and the Joker's mallet fires projectiles, but I've already covered that in the accessories department.

But Batman has an action feature that was worth bringing up all on its own. The grappling hook device on his right arm has an automatically retracting batarang/batrope. Pull the batarang out and the rope extends, let go and it zips back into his arm, unseen. It works fairly smoothly, and is more than strong enough to lift Bats and another figure. It extends to about 7 1/2", so he can travel up about a story at a time in his scale.

Fun Factor - ***1/2
Once kid's get accustomed to the new show, I think this line will do well. It looks like Mattel is adding in the right kind of features for kids to enjoy, without getting too wacky and weird. Sure, we got three Bat variations here, but the heavy packed figures were the normal versions. The action features are solid, with good accessories and articulation, so most kids will enjoy battling it out with Rastafarian Joker, and figures from other similarly scaled lines.

Value - ***
At seven bucks each, these are just about right, at least in today's market. They compare pretty favorable to the basic Spider-Man line from Toybiz, although they don't have as much articulation. I'd give the current Spider-man figures a solid ***1/2 here, so about a half star less seems right for this line. Drop them a buck, and you are really getting a solid value.

Overall - ***
Hasbro has a tremendously successful run with the old animated Batman line. It was also one of the best Batman lines ever produced, giving us dozens of unique villains. I'm hopeful that Mattel does their damndest to repeat that success, and throws in a good, solid Rogues' Gallery.

I see a lot of people already poo-pooing this line - the Joker looks stupid, I hate the permanent grappling hook, the cartoon will be too 'kiddified' - but they are also ignoring that the case assortment made sense, we got solid characters right out of the gate, the designs are cool, we're getting a huge, new batcave, and they haven't even seen the final show yet. I'm more than willing to give both Mattel and the WB the benefit of the doubt on this one and watch the first 3 or 4 episodes before I pass final judgment.

Where to Buy - 
These are hitting regular retail locations right now. Toys R Us seems to be the first with them on the shelf (at $6.99), but you should see them at Wal-mart and Target soon as well.

Figure from the collection of Michael Crawford.

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