Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Toy Review – Batman Unlimited Beware the Batman Batman from Mattel

I love typing silly titles that use the same word too many times, so today’s review is a treat for me!

Read it again if you need to. It makes sense.

This review is a little late. This figure came out sometime last year and I got it around December. Amazon put a ton of the final DC Universe Classics-style releases on sale for five bucks or less and I ordered a bunch. Mostly they ended up as gifts, but I kept a couple for myself. This was one of those.

I did not like Beware the Batman at first. As a matter of fact, I kind of hated it. The look of the show was what bothered me the most. I don’t like CGI shows. I know I’m going to sound like some kind of old fogey, but they just don’t have any soul. Animation has a fluidity and style that CGI just cannot capture. It’s just boring to watch, no matter how clean or stylized it is. And Beware the Batman didn’t even look like top-notch CGI. The backgrounds felt sparse and bare and the characters looked too stiff.

I also didn’t care for the way the characters were portrayed. It’s been a while so I can’t remember any specific examples, but I know I was irritated by the actions or decisions that characters made on several occasions.

But because it was Batman we stuck with the show. And over the course of a few episodes the uniqueness of the tone and the smartness of the ongoing stories outweighed the negatives. I think it’s also possible that the negatives diminished somewhat as the creators figured out what they were doing. But whatever the case was, we all started to like the show. A lot. 
 
So of course Cartoon Network or Warner Bros. or whoever yanked it just as we were really getting into it.

Now, the last time this happened – with Green Lantern and Young Justice (both good shows, though YJ bordered on genius at times) – many important folks in the know laid the blame squarely at the feet of DC licensee Mattel, who seem incapable of launching a successful DC media tie-in line. According to insiders such as Bruce Timm, a licensed animated show cannot be sustained without a corresponding toy line. Mattel’s Young Justice line consisted of two different scales and styles that were both overpriced compared to other offerings on the market. The line tanked at retail and didn’t even get around to producing all of the main cast members of the show.

A line supporting Green Lantern: The Animated Series was apparently out of the question given the failure of Mattel’s line supporting the Green Lantern feature film. Which was also a failure, so the toy line issue wasn’t entirely Mattel’s fault. The Green Lantern movie toys were actually pretty neat.

So both Young Justice and Green Lantern were put on hiatus at one point and then cancelled once the completed seasons were aired.

While Beware the Batman was actually the recipient of one action figure, it looks like the show won’t even get as far as the unsupported GL series. So not only will this Batman stick out of your collection like a sore thumb, he’s never even going to have anybody to hang out with. He should make friends with ROM.

FIRST GLANCE

The only thing that this Batman has in common with the rest of Mattel’s 6” scale DC offerings is its size. Not only is it vastly different aesthetically, it has completely different types of articulation. It’s a striking, sleek figure and as soon as I pulled it out of the shipping box I knew I was going to have to keep one.

I collect Batmans. Not every Batman, but I like to buy new and different styles of Batman figures if they appeal to me. This one appealed to me.

PACKAGING

The last iteration of Mattel’s DCUC blister card, which was a bit overdone but was nice looking on the pegs. I still don’t understand the choice of orange as the base color, but otherwise this thing is appealing in all the right ways. It has a nice shape, the figure sits well in the blister, and the graphics are dynamic without looking too busy.

The back is crammed full of info. There’s a full bio as well as a list of abilities and facts. I like this kind of stuff and wish it wasn’t being neglected by so many toy companies now.

LOOKS

The first thing I thought upon seeing this was how much I would like to have a set of all of the animated Batmans throughout the years in the same scale. From Super Friends to The Animated Series to The Batman to Brave and the Bold. ALL of them.

This figure perfectly captures the stylized look of Batman from the most recent cartoon. This is a younger, leaner Dark Knight. It’s very different from any other Batman figure I own.

The head is a wedge shape with two long ears on top. It’s made of rubber so that those ears can be as long as they’re supposed to be. The face does have detail, unfortunately my flash has rendered the mouth invisible. 
 
The cape is a separate rubber piece. I still don’t know what the answer is regarding capes. I’ve never liked rubber, but it seems that it’s too expensive to use the right kind of soft goods. If this were a regular Batman figure I wouldn’t even care for the shape of the cape (The Shape of the Cape is the name of Batman’s one-off prog rock album from 1982), but it’s perfect for the way it looks and works in the cartoon. This version of the Bat-cape is not one that engulfs Batman or serves as a dramatic shroud or whatever. It’s purely functional and stays back and out of the way unless he’s using it in combat or for defense.

This Batman has a sleek, clean profile and the figure has captured that perfectly. He has a thick, powerful upper body with lean and agile-looking limbs. The sculpt is clean and even on these and there’s no trace of the asymmetry that was so common on the DCUC figures – things like torso sculpts being lopsided and making the arms hang funny. The joints on this figure aren’t undetectable, but they do blend into the profile quite nicely.

The gloves feature more prominent fins than a lot of Batman designs and a well-defined, sculpted line to mark where they begin. The right hand is sculpted open to hold an item and the left is in sort of a sneaking or balance pose. Both have distinctive hand sculpts with tapered, well-formed fingers as opposed to the blobby sausages we see on some figures.

The lower abdomen is a new design for this scale of Mattel figure. It has rounded openings that the hip joint is recessed into. It looks so much better than the big, ugly hinges we usually see on Mattel’s superheroes. The utility belt on this Batman looks cool, but seems incredibly impractical for squatting. That pointy part on the belt would dig right into the top of Bruce’s junk. And I am always opposed to utility belts with no pouches.

The boots have the same sculpted definition as the gloves; in the pointed shape of Batman’s traditional boot.

Most of this figure is flat black because that’s what the cartoon character looks like. The Bat symbol is a slightly glossier, darker black. The paint is applied accurately where it is used. This is especially impressive on the yellow utility belt – yellow has been a tough color for Mattel to figure out on several occasions. Here it is applied evenly and thickly so that no black is showing through.

ACCESSORIES

This is where Mattel completely and utterly failed. This Batman does not include one, single accessory and that is unacceptable. For a character that is known for his ingenious gimmicks – especially this version – to not even include a Batarang is ridiculous. Especially when you consider this:

VAST ARSENAL OF WEAPONS AND GADGETS

Oh really, idiots? Then where are they?

Even if Mattel had pieced together various Bat accessories from other toys throughout the years, this guy should have come with a few things. It thoroughly irritates me when an otherwise great figure is marred by one glaring omission.

FUN

Any figure with new articulation is by default a bit more fun to play with. Many of the joints come just shy of having the range I would like, but it’s nice to see Mattel trying something different. Or it would be if this line weren’t dead.

They finally implemented the hinged ball joint neck that the Marvel Legends line has been using forever. The shoulders are huge ball joints with a great range. The elbows have swivels on top of pivots, but the pivots don’t bend nearly as much as I’d like, mostly due to the design of the arm above the joint.

The waist swivels. A large ball joint here would have improved the figure a huge amount. It could have been incorporated into the belt sculpt rather than leaving an ugly line. Then again, that line probably could have been eliminated as well.

The hips have a pretty great range. The knees do about as much as could be expected. Double joints wouldn’t have worked well with this sculpt, but I do think they could have gotten a bit more out of the ankles.

All in all this Batman has about the same range as any of its DCUC relatives, but with much cleaner lines and a nicer profile. I would love to see a whole line of DC animated universe figures in this style. Good thing DC Collectibles is doing exactly that.

OVERALL

I really like this figure. Taking into account the design that it needed to stick to, it is superior to a great number of the DCUC releases. It looks cool, it has a ton of personality, and it’s a great - and in my case necessary – addition to the Batman shelf. It’s different enough that I couldn’t skip it and good enough that I didn’t want to.

The only mark against it is the lack of accessories, which is a problem that Mattel will continue to get away with as long as they maintain their grip on the DC license.

4 out of 5

By one now for super cheap on Amazon and help Needless Things pay the bills!:


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