Dark Knight Returns
Batman, Joker, Superman, Robin

In 1986, Frank Miller penned the Batman storyline "The Dark Knight Returns".  It revitalized the hero, giving him an edgier, darker feel than ever before.  It also spoke of the later years, what might happen in a future where vigilante's aren't appreciated.

This darker version has colored every book since, and the series is considered one of the greatest Batman stories of all time.  The combination of dark art and violent themes brought many adult readers back to their childhood hero.

Fans have been clamoring for figures for years.  The Dark Knight version of Batman is one of the most common customs out there, with such a unique visual style that he stands out clearly from the pack.  DC Direct has finally brought the fans the first series of figures based on the comics.

This first run includes Batman, Robin, Superman and the Joker, the key players in the books.  Series 2 hasn't been announced yet that I know of, but really would need to include Gordon and Green Arrow.

Retail runs around $15 each, although there's some places you can find them cheaper.  I have some suggestions at the end of the review as usual!

Packaging - ***
DC Direct continues with their usual boxes for the figures, although these are a little more attractive than the Hush boxes.  They won't hold up too well to shelf wear, but seem sturdier to me than previous boxes as well.  The big problem here is that they really don't sell the figures particularly well - they aren't likely to catch your eye, and blend in with the other lines.

Sculpting - Supes, Joker ***1/2; Bats, Robin ***
The artwork of the series was truly unique, but not particularly easy to capture.  They've done a decent job here, although there's a couple odd choices in pose and stance.

Superman is my favorite of the bunch, and considering this is a Batman line, that's not particularly good.  Now, it's been a decade since the last time I read the trade paperbacks, but he seems to capture the look of the comic extremely well.  The pose looks great, he stands well on his own, and his hands are sculpted in such a way to work with the accessories.

Batman is probably my biggest disappointment, due to the pose more than anything else.  The detail and style are there, but the pose they've selected is very difficult to work with, and leaves you very few display options.

My biggest complaint is in the ankle/foot sculpt.  The are done in such a way as to force Bruce to be in a crouch, dependent on the knee articulation.  I did find that if I straightened out the left leg more, and crouched the front knee to match up the feet, he stood very well.  It took some playing around with, but eventually worked nicely.  Still, why give you knee joints when the ankles leave you with so few choices?

Add to that the head/neck position, and you get a lower score for Bats.  You can't do much with the head, and the cut joint leaves you with only one position in which the head actually looks decent.  Turn it at all, and he ends up looking off at weird angles.

Robin has a similar problem with her neck.  She looks best - yes, she, as Robin is a teenage girl in these books - looking over her left shoulder slightly.  Looking forward tilts her head at an odd angle.  However, she stands great on her own, and the style and detail of the sculpt are extremely good.

The Joker caused me the most confusion.  First I liked him, then I didn't, then I liked him again.  He's the least articulated, and required the best design because of it.  It works fairly well, and surprisingly even with the less articulation, has more options with his neck and shoulders.  He does have a rather odd stance, and the left foot is posed with the heel off the ground, but you can get him to stand fine on his own.  It takes a little effort to find the sweet spot, but you can manage it with the arms in several poses.

I don't know though - I suspect I'll be going back and forth on the Joker for some time.

The hand sculpts on all the figures are worth noting, as they've been done to handle their accessories.  This works particularly well with the Joker and Robin, but both Supes and Bats are able to hold their accessories nicely as well.

Scale is unique on these, with much bulkier bodies and greater height than most of the 'regular' DC Direct Batman lines.  They'll look fine with the Hush line though, if you're a fan of the books and understand the differences.

Paint - ***
The paint ops are solid across the board, with a consistency we have rarely seen with DC Direct figures.  While they have their issues here and there, the quality is at least consistent from figure to figure.

All of them have some issues with the definition between colors, particularly at the wrists and ankles.  There were a few rub marks here and there, and the occasional gloppiness.  Still, these are better than some of the other recent lines we've seen, and some of the details are really very well done.

I was particularly impressed with the eyes of Robin, since they are difficult to see through the goggles, but still done with precision and quality.

The Joker has one issue that I'm not sure about - the washed appearance of his face paint.  The skin shows through the white face paint, and I believe that it matches the source material, but my memory is a tad fuzzy.  If it's not intentional, then it's a huge problem, however, if it was done to match the comic as I believe, then it's understandable.

Articulation - **1/2
Unfortunately, while the boxes claim 'multiple points of articulation', they're being pretty generous.

Batman and Superman both have ball jointed shoulders, neck, elbow, hips and knees.  That actually sounds pretty good til you start to play around with them.  The shoulders are very limited due to the tight fit of the ball, and the short post inside.  The elbows are useful, but cut joints at the wrists or gloves would have gone a long way to making the arms more poseable.  And while the neck joints are there, they are also very limited in use.

NOTE:  I've heard from several readers that can get Bats arms to twist at the top of the gloves, so mine are simply stuck.  

The best joint on both figures is the ball jointed hips.  I'm calling them ball jointed for lack of a better term, as they move forward and back, in and out, within the torso very smoothly. They joints are painted to make the legs look good in any position, and they have a decent range of motion.

The Joker is almost a statue, with just neck, shoulders, waist and wrists.  However, you can find a couple decent poses for him, and I like how the articulation works with the sculpted pose.

Robin has neck, ball jointed shoulders (again, very limited range of motion), wrists, waist, and hips.  You can get the arms in a position where she is 'firing' her slingshot, although it's a little awkward looking.  She stands great on her own.

Accessories - Supes, Joker ***1/2; Batman, Robin ***
This is a category in which DC Direct usually has problems, but not this time.  They used the story and some creative thinking to include items that make tons of sense.

All four of the figures come with a small base designed to look like a chunk of sidewalk.  These bases can hook together with small plastic connectors, and include pegs for the feet.

That's the big problem with the bases - the pegs.  I had a tough time getting any of them to fit properly in either the bases or the feet.  Either they were too large (most of the time), or too small.  It's a good thing that the figures stand fine on their own, and the display stand do look good together.

Robin's stand also comes with a two piece light post.  Since Robin is so small, it makes sense to boost her accessories, but the post is really the only additional item.  Okay, not really - the slingshot is a separate accessory as well, and fits nicely in her right hand.

The Joker has three additional accessories - two guns, and the evil doll he used in the comic books.  The doll is excellent, with a perfect sculpt and paint ops, and even an articulated neck, hips and shoulders!  The guns fit nicely in his hands, and this is a good example of sensible accessories.

Bats comes with only one accessory in addition to the stand - a batarang with rope attached.  That's light considering all the possibilities that could have came right out of the books.

Supes does much better, with two very cool accessories - the Batman's cowl, and the Kryptonite arrow used against him by Green Arrow.  The arrow comes apart to allow you to place it in his left hand, and he can grip the rumpled cowl in his right.

At this price point, additional items with Batman and Robin would have been nice, but DC Direct gets points for creativity with Joker and Superman.

Value - **1/2
The DC Direct toys continue to be some of the more expensive, although other lines are catching up quickly.  At $15 each, these are a couple bucks more than they should be, but if you can manage to pick them up closer to $10 each, you're getting a solid value.

Overall - Supes ***1/2; Bats, Joker, Robin ***
I'm a big fan of both Batman and Frank Miller, so I've been looking forward to these figures.  There are lots of people who don't like the style of artwork, so it's not likely that they'll enjoy these figures, but for fans, these match up to the source material extremely well.

At this price point though, and in today's market, these are only slightly above average.  Superman is the best of the bunch, with the best looking combination of sculpt and articulation, and the best accessories to boot.  I'd like to see a second version of Batman, perhaps a final battle version, without the forced crouch.  And a one armed Green Arrow and retiring Gordon would be great to add to the set.

Where to Buy - 
Your local comic shop should have gotten these in last week.  On-line options include:

- Qwiksand Collectibles has the best price if you're looking for them individually at $11 - $12.50 per figure, but won't have them in for another week.

- Alter Ego Comics has the set for $50, or individual figures for $13.

- Killer Toys also has the set for $50, but different prices for different individual figures - ten bucks each for Robin and Joker, $17 for Superman, and $16 for Batman.

- CornerStoreComics has the set for $50, or individual figures for $13.

Figure from the collection of Michael Crawford.

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