Secret Files Series 1: Rogues Gallery
Black Mask, Penguin, Killer Croc, Man-bat, Mr. Freeze

2005 is definitely the year of the Bat. Not only does he have a smooth new film, but DC Direct is giving him a serious treatment.  They have a ton of new lines coming out around the caped crusader and his various incarnations, and a brand new line hit this week.

Secret Files Series 1 covers some of the classic characters in his Rogues Gallery.  The first series includes Man-bat, Killer Croc, Black Mask, Penguin and Mr. Freeze.

Series two won't be quite so Batman-centric, but instead will cover another interesting topic - secret identities.  It will include Martian Manhunter, Batman, Batgirl, Superman, and the Joker, with alternate heads included to show them as J'onn J'onnz, Bruce Wayne, Barbara Gordon, Clark Kent and Red Hood.

Series 1 just shipped this week, and should be available at your local comic shop for the $12 - $15 each range.  I also have a number of sponsors at the end of the review that have these available.

Packaging - ***
The bubble card art is fairly basic, but has some interesting design aspects.  For example, I love the top banner, which shows Batman's eyes staring in at you, as though you were in a cell at Arkham.  That's a great touch!

The back isn't quite as impressive, since there is only very short blurbs about all five characters, rather than character specific backs giving us greater detail.  There's also a fair amount of wasted space in the trays, even with the larger figures like Man-Bat, and that's always annoying for the MOCers who have to store them.

Sculpting - Black Mask ****; Penguin ***1/2; Killer Croc, Man-bat, Mr. Freeze ***; 
The sculpting on this entire wave is well above average, but some of the figures stand out more than others.

Black Mask is by far my favorite sculpt of the group.  The detail work on the head sculpt is amazing, and the body pose has action and movement without being silly or extreme.  Both hands are sculpted to work perfectly with or without the accessories, and he stands perfectly on his own.  The sculpt isn't just great to look at, it works with the articulation nicely as well.

The Penguin head sculpt might be a little more extreme than some folks like, but I think it's terrific.  The grimace only really works well though with the cigarette in his mouth, and without it he looks more constipated than evil.  His body sculpt isn't quite as detailed as some of the others, with less texture, but scale is excellent, and he fits in better with other villains and Batmen than most previous versions. As an extra touch, the long silver chain from his monocle to his pocket is actually a chain, and not a cheap plastic imitation.

Mr. Freeze is a slightly different beast than the other four. He's done in a more maquette-style pose, which isn't necessarily a bad thing - it just doesn't match up well with the dynamic style of the rest of the series. He looks very out of place with the other four, and he's a tad too tall to be with the Mattel line.

The design also seems more cartoony, less realistic. There is less texture to his outfit, and the baggy appearance of this clothing lends itself to a more childish appearance. Even his head sculpt makes him appear slightly silly and soft, not the harsh, vengeful, hurt man we expect. The sculpt isn't terrible from a purely technical perspective, but it neither fits the series, or looks particularly exciting. There is a retro-charm to him though, as TSR mentioned on Fwoosh. He harkens back to the robot movies of the 50's in a way, and might fit in well with certain displays...just not with these other four figures.

Croc is less limited by his sculpt than you first might assume, due in large part to intelligent articulation.  The detail work on the scales is very realistic, and while the design might not be to your liking - he looks more like an anthropomorphic crocodile than ever - you can't argue with the fact that he's a damn realistic looking version.  One thing about the design that does bother me a bit - he has no tail.  A crocodile's tails is such an important part of his dangerous nature, that losing it knocked him down below Penguin and Mr. Freeze in this category for me.

NOTE:  Notice that I said "one thing about the design".  Yes, I realize this is based on Lee's art, and that Lee didn't give him a tail.  I never said he had a tail in the comics.  I said he should have a tail.  Now, you might say, "but Michael, these are based on a specific design, so they can't do that!".  And I'd agree - IF these were being sold as "Jim Lee" designs.  They aren't.  It's not mentioned on the cardback, it's not mentioned on their web site, it's not part of the selling method for these figures.  Yes, we know because we're special that it's based on Lee's art, but if you aren't saying that, then why should that be used as a yardstick to judge the applicability of the design?  If this figure was part of the Hush line, I would have cut them more slack.  He's not.  End rant.

He also has a blind left eye, with a chunk of scale growing through the center like scar tissue.  That's an interesting touch as well, and looks pretty good once you figure it out.  But with eyes on either side of your head, that's got to create one serious blind spot.

And then there's Man-Bat.  Don't get me wrong, he still gets an above average score in this category, and some of the dull nature of the appearance is really the paint ops fault and not the sculpt.  But when you first see him on the shelf, he's simply not going to move you quite the way some of the others will.

Once you free him though, you'll see there are more pros than cons.  His best feature is his soft, rubbery wings.  The material is soft and pliable, but very thick, so you're not likely to have issues with breakage.

The detail work on his face and body is actually quite good, but the paint doesn't do much to show it off - more on that in the next category.  He also has a nasty line across his jaw where it looks like he should be articulated, but isn't.  His lower jaw is a separate piece, probably due to tooling and manufacturing issues, but that means he has a rather obvious line right through his very cool head sculpt.

Of the set, he has the most trouble standing on his own, but you can get him to manage it given the right arm and wing position.

Scale in general is kind of a mixed bag.  I think the Penguin fits in great with either the Hush line or the Mattel Batman line, and can work with 6" and 7" scale figures.  But Mr. Freeze and Black Mask seem on the tall side for even the 7" scale Batman stuff, and both Killer Croc and Man-Bat, due to their bent legs, seem too short.

Paint - Killer Croc ***1/2; Penguin, Man-bat, Black Mask ***; Mr. Freeze **
DC Direct tends to have problems with paint applications.  Or at least, consistent paint applications.  More often than not, what one person gets isn't quite the same level of quality as what another gets.

My set varied from excellent to average.  Killer Croc has the most impressive paint work for me, with a very nice job on the tones of the outer and inner body.  There's a nice, fading transition from the extremely dark green of the back to the very light green of the inner body, and areas that you'd expect to be the lightest green - like the palms of the hands and soles of the feet - are much lighter.  There's very little slop on him, although there are some nicks in the paint on the highest points of the larger scales.

He also has a rather unique mouth and tongue, painted a bright mottled pink and purple.  It's growing on me.

Penguin and Man-Bat are both solid, but have a few additional issues.  Penguin has some bleed and slop around his tie and vest, pulling down his score slightly.  I do really like the work done on his face and hair though, especially the blue highlights, and the work on his teeth, nails and pant stripes is extremely clean.

Man-Bat suffers less from quality issues, and more from too much time spent in Dullsville.  He's brown, and while there's some nice transition work between the shades of brown on his hair, wings and face, he's still pretty much all brown, or green, which to the color blind among us might as well be the same damn thing.  From his pants to his skin to even his eye color - the various shades are just too close together to make him particularly interesting.  Had they just gone with another pant color, he would have been so much more visually interesting.  He also has some lighter paint used on both the palms and the soles of the feet, which makes sense in theory, but only worked on the feet in practice.  His hands just look like he's been watching HGTV, and decided to repaint the cave.

The detail work on him is good though, especially the fangs and claws.  There's no slop or bleed, at least on mine.

So with all this interesting paint work, what the hell happened with Mr. Freeze? It's almost as if a Trading Spaces designer started working at DC Direct. Where did these pastels come from? Okay, he may have actually appeared this way in the comics, but that doesn't necessarily make it okay.

Obviously, if you're a frozen dude, you're going to have a lot of blue in your color scheme. But baby blue? The color scheme ends up looking more like something out of a Playskool line. And then there's the quality issues...both the silver and dark blue of his outfit have problems with consistency. There's lighter and darker areas, thinner and thicker, and this adds to the mass market toy feel.

Black Mask was my biggest disappointment though, simply because in every other way he rocks.  The paint ops on his face are fantastic.  The two colors used for the burnt skin really bring out the detail, and there's no slop at all around the eyes or teeth.

The white and black are both very consistent, and there's a nice use of different finishes on the shoes, pants and shirt to give the impression of different materials.  Oh sure, the belt buckle is a tad sloppy, but I can live with that...

Until I check out his butt.  Now, I'm not generally in the habit of checking out the butts of my action figures.  Well, not the male ones. But when I was checking out his articulation - yea, it was his articulation - I noticed that he has two very large, very obvious white areas just inside the joint.  They aren't visible till you bend him over - okay, stop that! - but then they are quite obvious.  Let's hope yours doesn't suffer the same issue.

Articulation - Killer Croc, Black Mask, Mr. Freeze ***; Penguin, Man-Bat **1/2
While none of these are super articulated, most have a reasonable amount of points.

Killer Croc works surprisingly well with his articulation, and the legs stretch out further because of the useful hip joints.  He has ball jointed shoulders, pin elbows and knees, cut waist and wrists, and a pin jaw to go along with the hips and neck.

The ball jointed neck works fairly well, but on Croc it tends to show a tad too much thin neck.

Black Mask has very similar articulation, with ball jointed neck and shoulders, pin elbows and knees, hips, waist, and wrists.  Again, the articulation works well with the sculpt, and he stands great on his own.

Mr. Freeze is almost identical, but because of the design of the helmet doesn't have much of a ball jointed neck. Actually, just like Penguin, there is a ball joint up in there, but the design doesn't really allow the chin to tilt in any meaningful way. That's not a major issue though because of the helmet, since the helmet reduces the value of the joint anyway. 

The Penguin lacks the leg articulation - no pin knees or hips for him - as well as not having the ball jointed neck.  Actually, there might be a ball up in there if you pop off the head, but the design of the fat jowls and neck makes it useless even if it's there.

Finally, there's Man-Bat.  He has the ball jointed neck once again, although he doesn't quite have the range of movement of Killer Croc.  He also has ball jointed shoulders, pin elbows and cut wrists, but lacks the pin knees.  He does have hip joints and a cut waist, along with a funky chest joint that doesn't do much of anything.

The arm articulation doesn't work as well as you'd like though, and the ball joints don't move backward well enough to allow him to stretch his arms out wide.  You can get them about half way there, but that's about it, and that's a big loss. 

Accessories - Black Mask, Penguin ***; Mr. Freeze **1/2; Killer Croc **; Man-Bat *
All of the figures come with a small base, all identical.  It's useful for Man-Bat, since he has a tough time standing in too many positions without it, but the others really don't need it.

Man-Bat doesn't have any other accessories, and therefore he gets dinged pretty hard.  Oh, you have to be creative to come up with good accessories for him, but as we've seen in the past, it's doable.

Killer Croc only has one accessory, a human skull.  Scale is a smidge small, especially if you compare to the heads of Black Mask or Mr. Freeze, but it seems closer in size to the Hush Batman.  It's a nice looking skull, and includes a hole in the bottom to stick it on one of Croc's claws, but it's still just one accessory.

Mr. Freeze has two, so it's getting better.  He has his clear globe which fits over his head, and his freeze gun.  The helmet is very nice, and the sculpt and paint work on the gun is good, but there isn't any way to attach the gun to the backpack, so I'm assuming it's supposed to be some sort of self contained freeze pistol.

Penguin actually comes with three accessories, so now we're in the right ball park.  There's his hat, cigarette (remember kids, only villains smoke!), and umbrella.

The umbrella is a nice sculpt, including the penguiny handle.  It fits in his hand nicely, and is pretty much a required accessory.  The hat can fit on his head, and there's a special cut to it that takes some time to line up just right, but once you do, it stays on fairly well.

The ciggie, inside its classy holder, fits between his teeth for the best look.  Scale is really good here, although that meant making the cigarette and holder quite small.

Finally, there's Black Mask.  He comes with three accessories as well, and one of them is a hat too!  His bright yellow miner's helmet with a sculpted light on top.  The silver 'glass' of the light has paint consistency problems again, but the hat fits his head nice and tight and stays on with no problem.

He also has his bright yellow cordless drill and hacksaw.  Both are in scale, and fit nicely in his hands.

Fun Factor - ***
These figures are a lot more 'fun' than most specialty market stuff.  They have a reasonable amount of articulation, great sculpts and a handful of decent accessories.  They make for great bad guys, with visually unique looks, and can actually stand up to reasonably hard play as long as you free up the joints in advance.

Value - ***
Pay around $12 - $13, and you're getting a nice, decent value.  I bought all five of them for $65, and felt that was pretty good.  Of course, I also remember when you couldn't get a DC Direct figure for less than $15, and most were $18 - $20.  Thankfully, the price dropped and seems like it will stay there for awhile.

Things to Watch Out for - 
Be particularly careful with some of the wrist and elbow joints.  If they are painted tight, you can break them pretty easily, so you might want to try the freezer trick rather than just twisting away.

It's also a good idea to look at yours particularly closely for paint issues, since consistency seems to always be an issue.

Overall -  Black Mask ***1/2; Killer Croc, Man-Bat, Penguin ***; Mr. Freeze **1/2
This is a solid set, if not outstanding.  Bat-fans are likely to be happy with all of them, although the paint quality remains an inconsistent problem.

Some of the designs will also be less favored than others, and that's going to come down to a matter of personal taste.  I think Black Mask is the real standout here, with outstanding sculpting, reasonable articulation, and several cool accessories.  If it weren't for those paint splotches on his ass...

I'm not sure what happened with Mr. Freeze. Technically, he's not an awful figure, and were he in a line of action figures called Secret Files: Ambiguously Gay Rogues Gallery (and in this outfit, I don't think it's much of a 'secret file'), he'd score much better. But amongst the other highly detailed and realistic designs, he just doesn't measure up. Some folks complained about the original look of the prototype, but that was far more in line design-wise with the overall series than what we ended up getting.

Packaging - ***
Sculpt - Black Mask ****; Penguin, Killer Croc ***1/2; Mr. Freeze, Man-bat ***
Paint - Killer Croc ***1/2; Penguin, Man-bat, Black Mask ***; Mr. Freeze **
Articulation - Killer Croc, Black Mask, Mr. Freeze ***; Penguin, Man-Bat **1/2
Accessories - Black Mask, Penguin ***; Mr. Freeze **1/2; Killer Croc **; Man-Bat *
Fun Factor - ***
Value - **1/2
Overall - Black Mask ***1/2; Killer Croc, Man-Bat, Penguin ***; Mr. Freeze **1/2

Where to Buy -
I bought mine at the local comic shop, but there are also plenty of online options:

- Circle Red has a great sale price of all five for just $50.  They aren't in stock yet, but should ship in the next week or so.

- Alter Ego had a great preorder price of just $50.  Unfortunately, they are now sold out, but they have series 2 available for pre-order for that same great price.

- Amazing Toyz has the set for $52, or the individuals for around $12 each.

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

- Krypton Collectibles has the set for $55 as well.

- Yikes Comics has the set for $55 as well, or individual figures for $15.

Related Links -
I have tons and tons of various Batman links, as well as DC Direct reviews.  Check the 'All Reviews' listing for more info.

Figure from the collection of Michael Crawford.

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