The Batman
Man-Bat and Bane

The Batman continues to spark debate amongst the diehards - is it good? How does it compare to BTAS? Should you even compare in the first place? After a half dozen episodes, fans seem more polarized than ever.

And then there's the action figures from Mattel. This week two new villains started to hit, and both of them are big and bad. There's Bane, government created strength junkie gone bad, and Man-bat, humanitarian science experiment gone bad. They are shipping together, but there doesn't appear to be any new Batman variants with them, so it might be tough to tell if they've hit your area yet or not.

If you're interested in finding them, I'd be shopping now. Right now. Don't even bother to read the rest of this, but get up and head to your local Target or Meijers, both of whom have had these start hitting the pegs all across the country this week. Expect retail to be $6 to $7 each.

Packaging - **
The graphics are fairly decent on these basic card/bubble packages, but I'm not a fan of the whole tri-lingual thing. The big two have started using tri-lingual packaging here in the U.S. to save costs - they have to print up the tri-lingual cardbacks for the rest of the world, so why not just use them in the U.S. too - and it's really just clunky and unattractive.

There is a slight change to the bubble this time. They've added a scalloping to the front edge, that sort of mimics a batwing or symbol.

Sculpting - Bane ***; Man-bat ***1/2
The sculpting on both these figures is actually quite good for a mass market cartoon line produced by a major player. That's a nice way of saying it's not specialty market line from a small company good, but it's still not bad.

Bane's head sculpt is great, with a growling anger in his expression. He actually looks pissed and not constipated, which is always a good thing. There's a little vein/muscle detail in is shoulders, but it's not excessive, and overall he fits in with the style of the cartoon nicely. The serum tubes are soft rubber, with a yellow translucent appearance. You can actually remove the entire Venom apparatus, but the gray rivets it attaches to will remain.

He does have a couple issues, but they aren't major. First, he's definitely not in scale. When he pumped up on the show with the 'venom' serum, he was huge. Here he stands only slightly taller than Batman, although his bulk is quite impressive. If the sculpt didn't have him hunched with bent knees, he'd be a tad taller, but still no where near the proportions of the show.

That bulk causes his second issue - standing. Don't get me wrong, he does stand on his own. But you'll have to play around a bit to get the sweet spot, and his arms will have to help keep his center of balance just right.

The Man-bat sculpt is quite amazing for a Mattel toy. It's creative, well designed, and matches up with the source material much better than I had expected. Scale is less of an issue here as well, but that isn't surprising since Man-bat wasn't the behemoth that Bane was.

The detail work on MB fits with the show style perfectly, and the majority of the small detail work is in the face. While he's not quite my favorite Man-Bat - that's still the Dark Knight version - he is damn fine looking.

His feet are nice and large, so that he has no trouble standing. You can pose the arms in just about any way, and he'll still stay standing, a feat that is helped by the creative wing design.

Rather than go with a solid plastic like the BTAS Man-bat, or perhaps some sort of cloth, Mattel used a very tough, translucent plastic. The plastic is attached to the arms and a front wing bone, and little plastic rivets, hidden from view on the underside of the wings, hold the plastic in place. This design has two advantages over other possible materials. First, it's light weight, allowing him to stand as I mentioned earlier. Second, the plastic can fold up nicely, giving you a lot more posing possibilities, and allowing for greater articulation in the arms.

The material is much tougher than it first appears, and I doubt you'll have any issues with tearing or damage over time. Kids might find a way to tear it up, but kids has a special talent when it comes to destroying things.

Paint - Bane ***; Man-bat ***1/2
If there's one area that Mattel has improved in over their predecessors Hasbro, it's the paint ops. At the end of Hasbro's days with the animated figures, the paint ops had gone to downright awful, but even in the early days, they were no great shakes.

These figures sport great work though, with clean lines, and nice, bright, consistent colors. That consistent thing is important here, since there are fewer colors that cover large areas. These are some tough colors too, like the red and black of Bane's outfit, that often have trouble with bleed and consistency. That's not an issue here though, and I'm downright impressed.

Bane does have one issue that bugs me though, and that's in the area of finish. While the colors themselves are consistent, the finish is not. The black parts of his costume are quite shiny on his torso and legs, yet they are much more matte on his arms. The shiny finish really doesn't work well, and when it's contrasted with a matte version, only looks worse.

Man-bat doesn't have those issues, and while he has a pretty limited palette, what's here is extremely well done. I particularly like the printed bones and veins on the plastic wings, another extra touch that I could have easily seen them skipping.

Articulation - Bane **1/2; Man-bat ***
Neither of these figures is 'super articulated', and they won't get up into the four star range. But if you consider the design of the figure, the intended audience, and what articulation was possible, I think you'll agree that they had about as much as you could possibly want.

Man-bat is particularly impressive. He has a ball jointed neck, which actually allows him to look perfect in a standing pose OR a flying pose! How many flying action figures in your collection, including Superman, can you say that about?

He also has ball jointed shoulders, cut biceps and wrists, a joint at the front of the 'wing bone', a ball jointed chest, and hips. Sure, there's a couple more they could have thrown in, like waist and ankle, but they would have added very little to the figure. The only joint that's missing that would have really added something would have been the jaw.

Bane is fairly articulated for his design as well. He also has a ball jointed neck, but it's fairly restricted due to the Venom tube running out the back of his head. He also has shoulder, cut wrists, hips and waist. The waist joint is primarily there for the action feature.

Bane's style and size (along with his wonky center of gravity) make for fewer posing possibilities, but he's not a certified statue.

Accessories - Bupkis
The one area that disappoints is accessories. There are none. Now, I realize we're getting these rather large, and fairly complex figures at a great price, but this category is still a bupkis. It won't count against them quite as much as it would if they were a) cheaply designed and/or b) more expensive, but it wouldn't have killed them to through in piece of lab equipment with Man-bat, or a hunk of concrete with Bane.

Action Feature - ***
Let's try to keep in mind that these are toys, and as such, it's no surprise they have 'action features'. Both are fairly well designed, and work as advertised, but Man-bat's is really unusual.

Bane has a simple toss or smack Batman move with both arms. Pull back on his head or torso, and the lowered arms snap upward in a smooth motion. It's a little cumbersome to get a hold of him just right to make it work well, but the movement is smooth, and you can make it pretty forceful with a little practice.

Man-bat has a wing flapping feature. That seems straight forward enough until you see the complex design that Mattel came up with for it. On the back of the card it says to 'unlock the shoulders', and then you can flap his wings. The pictures aren't particularly helpful, but since this is a kids toy, they made it nice and sturdy, so I didn't worry about pulling and tugging too much.

Pull the arms out from the torso, and you'll hear a snap - you've unlocked the arm. It will flop at his side as if you've just dislocated his shoulder, which in essence you have. This again shows that the designer who worked on this figure really spent some time being creative, and developed a whole new shoulder joint to make this possible. There are two little 'nubs' on the shoulders that you can pinch together to flap them, or you can just shake his body since the arms will now flap freely. It doesn't work perfectly, but I have to give them extra points for trying so damn hard.

Fun Factor - Bane ***; Man-bat ****
If I were a kid, I'd love this Man-bat figure. The cool articulation lets me pose him as though he's flying, yet have him battle Batman toe to toe. The construction is solid, clearly intended for kids to use him hard - there are metal rivets rather than plastic pins in several of the joints, and the wing material is much tougher than I had expected.

Bane won't be quite as much fun, but he's still a solid toy. This line is works both for kids AND collectors, which is a breathe of fresh air.

Value - ***
I'm giving these a slightly above average rating, but I'm assuming you pay around $7. These are licensed figures, and fairly complex considering the Man-bat wings and Bane's serum tubing, but without any accessories I can't go higher than ***. However, I paid just $4.88 each with Target's sale this week, and at that price you can add another half or perhaps even a whole star! How many figures can you find that are this cool and under $5 these days?

Overall - Bane ***; Man-bat ***1/2
Of the "The Batman" figures released so far, Man-bat is easily my favorite. The wings took me back a bit at first, but they've grown on me, much as they did him. The arm articulation is great, and both the wing material and flapping action feature show that Mattel really put some thought into his design.

Bane is solid, but not nearly as exciting. With no accessories, and no way to hold them even if he had them, he's not quite as stellar. Still, he'll look great on the shelf with the rest of the line.

I'm more than willing at this point to make the call - this line of action figures is as good as BTAS was at this point in its history. If they show can grow legs, and Mattel can stay focused, this could be another long term great line. With only two real assortments and already three villains, we're getting a nice mix, and there are actually some decent Batman variations included. I have high hopes for the Penguin and Catwoman action figures, but we certainly need to see a 'normal' Batman soon.

Packaging - **
Sculpt - Bane ***; Man-Bat ***1/2
Paint - Bane ***; Man-Bat ***1/2
Articulation - Bane **1/2; Man-Bat ***
Accessories - Bupkis
Action Feature - ***
Fun Factor - Bane ***; Man-Bat ****
Value - ***
Overall - Bane ***; Man-bat ***1/2

Where to Buy - 
I picked up a set at Target for just $4.88 - The Batman figures are on sale this week! - and they are also at the local Meijers for $6.99. I'm assuming we'll see them at Toys R Us and Wal-mart very soon as well.

Figure from the collection of Michael Crawford.

This page copyright 2003, Michael Crawford. All rights reserved. Hosted by 1 Hour