Monday, April 6, 2015

Toy Review – Previews Exclusive One:12 Collective The Dark Knight Returns Batman from Mezco

It’s not often that an entirely new style of action figure is released.

Granted, there’s nothing new under the sun, but every once in a while something is created that is distinctive enough and combines enough disparate elements to stand as a new and unique item amongst the hordes of 3.75”, 6”, 12”, and whatever other sizes and styles that are available in the toy market. I can really only think of a few times in my nearly four decades of toy collecting that a line or figure has struck me as truly being something different and special.

Hasbro’s GI Joe: A Real American Hero blew me away. The improvements in articulation over the Star Wars figures I had been collecting made them so much more fun to play with. I still remember being amazed at the innovations. And it wasn’t just the articulation – the accessories were a major step ahead. Removable backpacks and helmets that came with the figures rather than coming in the mail!

Todd Toys’ (now McFarlane Toys) Spawn line changed the market forever. The initial releases featured sculpts the likes of which we had never seen before. But there was so much more to the line than just the style. As a matter of fact, the impact was so huge that it warrants a whole article.

Memo to Myself – write McFarlane Toys article.

Some releases were more singular and didn’t exactly change the world, but to me were still impactful and innovative. Flatt World’s Dracula figure was one of these. Inspired by Mego but featuring dramatic improvements in sculpting, detail, and quality, this figure stands as one of the finest pieces in my collection and something that to this day hasn’t been matched. In a way, it’s the closest thing to the Batman I’m reviewing today.

Finally there was Toy Biz’s Spider-Man Classics line, which led to Marvel Legends. These sparked the twelfth scale revolution that is still going on a decade and a half later. This remains my favorite scale and style of toy. That first Spider-Man has been improved upon since, but to me is one of the most significant action figures ever released.

Today I am reviewing a figure that I have been equal parts excited and doubtful about. As I’ve followed its development online it has seemed like a new paradigm in toys - potentially a significant leap ahead in design and technology. A combination of superior sculpting, super articulation, and state-of-the-art soft goods that might yield a new high-water mark of twelfth scale action figures.

It was also fraught with potential (likely, even) disappointments. There are so many problems that can occur with figures of this nature. Joints can function poorly or break. 
Interchangeable parts can be difficult to switch, to the point of not being worthwhile. Plastics can be too brittle or too soft. Accessories can be soft, brittle, or simply not interact with the figure in the way they were meant. Paint can be inconsistent. The figure might be difficult to stand up. And we all know what kinds of disasters soft goods can be at this scale.

And then there was the price tag – seventy bucks for a twelfth scale (six inch) action figure. Even if all of the elements came together successfully, could such a figure really be worth that much?

I doubted it. But I was so excited about the potential of the figure and about reviewing something that felt so new that I went ahead and ordered this version from my Local Comic Book Shop.

Side Note: If you don’t have a subscription service set up at your Local Comic Book Shop, you should. Most stores will give you a discount - possibly up to 20% off – on your merchandise if you have a sub in place. That made this figure – and many others I buy – more affordable.

I was going to write a little something about The Dark Knight Returns here, but I’m pretty sure you guys are ready to read about this figure by now. Also, that can probably be its own article.

Memo to Myself – write The Dark Knight Returns article. 
 
FIRST GLANCE

I was determined to be hard on this figure. I knew that I was excited about a new style and also that it was Batman. I neglected to mention it in the intro, but obviously the fact that this first One:12 Collective figure is the Dark Knight made a huge difference in my purchasing decision. If this had been just about any other character I wouldn’t have been nearly as likely to make the investment.

So knowing that not only was it Batman but that I wanted to like this figure and for it to be a success, I did my best to put on my most critical mindset for the review. 
 
I mean, as soon as I opened the box I was in love with it, but I tried to tell myself, “Yeah, it’s going to break as soon as you touch it”. Just looking at it, though – beautiful. Visually it’s a true work of art – both the style and the proportions of Frank Miller’s older Batman are captured.

I’ll go ahead and say this now – the camera picks up details of the fabric that are not as apparent in person. I don’t feel that these pictures are properly representative of the figure, as it looks much better in person.

PACKAGING

If you’re charging seventy bucks for an action figure it’s fairly important that you sell it in a fancy-pants box. Mezco has definitely done that. This thing is gorgeous.

The exterior shell is a plastic slipcover with various elements printed on it such as the title logo, Batman’s silhouette, and all of the images of the figure on the back. The graphics are beautiful and eye-catching and it’s clear that a lot of thought went into putting over the fact that this is a deluxe toy. This piece slides off easily.

The box itself has the background elements printed on it and aside from the distinctive lightning bolt on the front consists of the subdued blue colors associated with DKR. It’s all done in a lovely flat finish that looks so much classier than glossier print. The box is made of a thick, sturdy cardboard.

The front panel opens to reveal the figure and accessories and an embossed silver Bat-symbol. I dare anyone to not say “Holy shit” the first time they see this figure in person.

The box opens easily. Inside there are two plastic trays, each with their own cover. These separate easily and are not taped together, which I liked. The bottom tray holds the arm and armature for the display stand. Everything else in is in the top tray.

This is a fantastic box. It’s a perfect combination of everything that collector packaging should be – it has a beautiful design, it’s easy to open and remove the figure, and it’s also completely resealable with no sign of damage; not even tape marks. Mezco put together a box that is utilitarian and attractive and it might well be the best I’ve ever owned. I didn’t have even a second of difficulty removing any piece of the toy from the box, and that’s significant.

LOOKS

The suit is sewn onto the figure. It’s not meant to be removable and that was the right decision because that would have totally ruined the aesthetics of the fabric. The elimination of closures and points of egress keep the fabric snug and form-fitting. It’s actually a loose weave, which allows it to stretch and move as the figure is posed. The plastic underneath is the same grey as the figure, so the illusion of solid fabric is maintained. This was the first extremely clever thing I noticed about the figure, but far from the last.

I don’t know how the suit is attached to the body underneath the boots and gloves, but it is secure. I’d love to see a video or series of pictures of how these are assembled, because things that shouldn’t work, do. As the figure is posed the suit has no problems shifting and accommodating the poses. The genius of this design is that the fabric suit covers the joints, creating a clean profile the likes of which I’ve never seen on a figure in this scale.

The Bat symbol is also ingenious. A sticker wouldn’t work, obviously. And the loose weave of the suit wouldn’t have allowed for screen printing. Instead, Mezco essentially grafted a rubber symbol onto the chest of the suit and it looks great. It has a thickness to it that is much nicer than screen printing would have been. It flexes a bit, but is solid enough that it won’t crack or tear.

The head sculpt the same quality you might expect to see on a statue. The lines and thickness of the detail capture Miller’s design. The paint application is a step above anything else at this scale and absolutely nails the color palette of the comics – the faded blue and skin tones contrast with the stark white eyes and teeth and the black in the mouth.

The boots are plastic pieces that rotate independently of the legs without pulling on the suit. There are sculpted folds, seams, and treads. There is a thickness and a level of detail that makes them really impressive.

The utility belt and trunks are separate pieces from the figure. The trunks are the main thing that looks much better in person. They are cut and sewn in a way that works with the shape of the figure and they stay in place well. The utility belt is my favorite that I’ve seen on a Batman figure. As I’ve said many times before, I am a pouch guy. I think it’s only practical for Batman to have pouches rather than cylinders or little rectangles that are barely big enough to fit packs of gum. This thing is sculpted and painted at an amazing level. The dark wash brings out the details of the seams and each buckle and closure has a perfectly applied bit of silver paint. Moreover, it is designed so that the belt rests on top of the trunks with the pouches hanging over. This keeps the utility belt in place and covers the top of the trunks, maintaining the proper look.

The cape is another marvel of design. There is a plastic collar around the neck of the figure that is meant to be the bottom portion of the cowl. The fabric cape is attached to this to keep it in place. One of the things that makes the combination of mediums work on this figure is how perfectly the designers matched the colors – the plastics and fabrics are almost identical in hue and are even remarkably similar in gloss. The texture is really the only major difference.

The fabric of the cape is light enough for the scale but hangs beautifully on the figure. This is due to rubber panels grafted onto the points at the edges that weight it down and keep it folded in a natural way. And there’s a lot of cape. It’s pretty amazing that it works while the figure is standing but also unfurls enough to recreate pretty much any of the iconic scenes from the source comic. The fabric is sturdy enough for normal handling, but you do not want to expose it to anything that could potentially snag it – whether that be a concrete floor or very dry skin. Also, I don’t know how they sealed the edges without a seam, but they seem solid enough. I’m hoping they won’t fray over time.

The tops of the gloves rotate around the forearms independent of the arms or the hands. Like the boots, the gloves have detailed seams and folds. 
 
This figure is exactly as it was designed to be. There are no errors – no paint blotches, no stuck joints, no misplaced parts. I seems to me that there is virtually no difference between what was designed and what the factory produced. And that’s nigh unto a miracle.

ACCESSORIES

Old Man Batman comes with:

A base with a stand and an armature

A grappling hook and line

A rifle

A leg belt of pouches

An extra head

Three extra sets of hands

A bag to store the accessories

The extra hands are full of detail. You get “I’m Wolverine, but with Batarangs” hands, “I’m about to break some of your bones” hands, and “I am Batman but I still might use a rifle (but only to shoot a grappling hook” hands. 
 
The wrist pegs that the hands attach to have subtle ridges that hold the hands in place but keep changing hands easy – it’s not a struggle to get the hands on and off. 
 
The extra head features a more neutral expression. The stick head looks great, but I prefer this one. It’s attached to the neck by a large ball joint. Like the hands, it stays on but is easy to take off.

The stand features a clear base with the Bat symbol. I wish they had painted the symbol on the bottom, because I slipped and scratched mine while putting the armature on it and now I have two scratches on mine forever. 
 
The peg on the base is for simply standing Batman on it. If you want to get fancier, you can use the bottom of the stand to pop the peg out from the bottom. The stand plugs into that hole. There are four joints on the stand that can be tightened using the screws at each joint so that you can have Batman “jumping” or “dropping” or whatever in many different ways.
 
The final piece is an armature that clips onto the stand. There are four sturdy wires with clips at the end. These clips attach to Batman’s cape so that it can be posed in various ways. It takes a little practice to get the hang of this, and I can’t honestly say that I had it by the time I stopped taking reference pictures. It’s a bit tricky, but very cool – far superior to wires being built into the cape.

The thigh belt looks every bit as good as the waist utility belt. It’s made out of soft rubber and has a hard peg fastener, so it is very easy to snap shut. Yet another clever feature is that there are little nubbies lining the belt so that it stays in place on the fabric.

The grappling hook is unreasonably awesome. The sculpt shows the hinges where it would open up and the silver paint with the wash looks good. The attached line is strong and exactly long enough to be useful if you want to do something like have Batman climb a wall:

Batman climbing a wall.

The rifle is easily the most boring thing about this figure, and yet it’s awesome. The sculpt is great and I love the wash on the gunmetal portions. The rifle itself is firm plastic while the strap is rubber. It fits nicely over the figure’s shoulder (though not across his chest as it was in the comics) and also perfectly into the appropriate hands.

The bag doesn’t get its own picture. It’s great that Mezco included something to store the accessories in, but it is just a bag.

FUN

I spent about two hours messing around with this figure after I got it. Then we had to go and run some errands, Lil’ Troublemaker got home from school, we did homework, had dinner, etc. Later that night I spent at least another hour posing the figure and taking pictures. Sitting here writing this review makes me want to play with it some more. This thing is loaded with brilliant articulation and features. It might not ever leave my desk.

I don’t know that I can properly run down the articulation, but I’ll start with the parts I took pictures of in action:

The shoulders are double jointed. I can’t quite explain this, but Batman can shrug and move his shoulders back and forth. There are swivels at the biceps and the elbows are either double jointed or very deeply single jointed. I can’t tell because of the gloves, but they bend as much as they need to. The glove tops are soft enough to give a bit and allow a bit deeper bend on the elbow than is apparent. The wrists swivel on the pegs and at the point of attachment to the glove tops. There is a pivot at the base of the peg.

The hips are ball jointed with thigh swivels. The knees are double jointed. The boots swivel and the ankles have deep pivots with rocker joints at the foot connection:

Those are the specific joints I wanted to spotlight. You can see the rest of the articulation throughout the pictures in the article, but I’ll describe some more here – the neck joint has a deep pivot and, when used in conjunction with the abdominal joint, creates the all-important “looking straight up” or “flying” pose. That abdominal joint functions like a ball joint and allows movement in any direction. The waist features a similar joint, so that between the two of them you can have a sufficiently hunched-over Old Man Batman.

Fantastic articulation and tons of accessories make this figure more fun than most that I buy. I was fascinated just by bending it and posing it and watching how the suit and all of the parts interacted. Everything is extraordinarily well thought out and engineered. It’s all just so functional. At no point did I think, “Oh, well – I can see how this was supposed to work”. It all works.

OVERALL

This is a magnificent action figure and easily the best I own. To compare it to same-sized figure, it has much more practically functional articulation that is almost completely concealed by the suit, as well as a fabric cape that does what capes are supposed to do. 
Additionally, it has tons of accessories and a stand that is more than just a piece of plastic.

To compare it to aesthetically similar figures (by which I mean sixth scale figures), this Batman is far more poseable than any I have owned. While sixth scale figures tend to look magnificent with their larger scale and more intricate costumes, those same costumes often get in the way of utilizing the great articulation on those figures. Whether the fabric is too stiff or thick or the layers become unsorted and disheveled from posing, I’ve found that sixth scale figures usually aren’t great for playing with.

That leaves Mego reproductions and NECA’s cloth retro figures. I have a nostalgic love for the Mego repros, but they don’t hold a candle to this figure. The rubber band articulation is sub-par and while the sculpts are fun, they simply do not compete. I have a number of NECA’s retro figures, but I haven’t opened any because I don’t really have a good shelf for them. Right now they’re all hanging on a wall. And I have to admit – they look fantastic, cost less than half as much as this guy, and are actually larger figures. The only question is how functional their articulation is. I suppose I’m going to have to open one and find out.

Having said all of that, this figure surpassed the almost ridiculously high standards I had set for it. Prior to opening the figure I had trouble imagining how it could have articulation that was on par with other twelfth scale releases, let alone that was better and more functional. Visually this Batman appeared to be great, but the final product often differs significantly from the production versions. Not so here. The creators clearly intended for this to e a work of art – a new level of action figure. And they succeeded in every way.

5 out of 5

Is it worth seventy bucks? That’s a tough call. I feel like I got my money’s worth because I experienced an exciting new format of action figure. As far as I’m concerned the figure delivered beyond my wildest expectations. I cannot overemphasize the fact that there was not one disappointing thing about this Batman. While I love action figures and enjoy reviewing and collecting them, every figure ever has something disappointing about it. 
Typically if I’m awarding something a five it’s because there was only a minor flaw or there was something I didn’t like but understand is a production necessity.

This Dark Knight offered no such compromises. It’s truly awesome.

Now I’m fascinated by the promise of this One:12 Collective line. Judge Dredd has been solicited in Previews and we saw the head mutant from Dark Knight Returns at Toy Fair, where Mezco also teased a Lawmaster for Dredd (similar to what Matty did with the Battle Ram years ago). I didn’t order Dredd because he’s not a character that I wanted to invest this kind of money in, but now I’m curious. How did they handle his leather-like uniform? It can’t be the same loose weave as Batman’s. Will all of the articulation be as functional? I really want to know. 
 
Mezco also displayed a ton of licenses for this line, so I’m trying to imagine what could be next. This is a high price point for twelfth scale figures, so they have to be extremely careful with what they offer and when. I’ll be following this line closely and certainly rooting for its success. I don’t have the money or the discipline to stick to just one line that it would take to collect these, but I sure am impressed with what Mezco has done.

Oh, and three different versions of this Batman were offered at retail. This light blue costume is a Previews Exclusive. There’s a dark blue version that was a Mezco online store Exclusive, and the regular retail version is black. If you’re a toy collector that has an interest in the history of toys and a desire for new and innovative stuff, I recommend you track one down.

Perhaps from Amazon, and help out Needless Things!:


 

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