Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Toy Review – Batman: The Animated Series The Joker from DC Collectibles

I’ve been saying for years that in my opinion every depiction of The Joker in media is valid.

He’s been portrayed so many different ways just in the comics that I feel like Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, and whatever the heck Jared Leto ends up doing are all within the definition of the character. More so than Batman, these very different portrayals could even be the same individual. Sometimes Joker is playing a childish prank, sometimes he’s trying to murder an entire city full of people.

But if I had to pick one single portrayal of the character as my favorite, one actor that has truly captured the mania, glee, and menace of the Joker, the winner is Mark Hamill.

I’ve mentioned before that Batman: The Animated Series is my go-to media for the Caped Crusader. It and the rest of the DC Animated Universe (which I hope this toy line will someday encompass) presented the very best versions of a huge portion of the characters of the DC Universe. In most cases that was easy. Aside from the major players, the DC characters didn’t have truly definitive versions in 1992. 
 
Even Batman only had Adam West and Michael Keaton. West’s portrayal, while beloved, was campy and far enough removed from the modern, darker Batman to not factor in. Keaton’s Batman was much closer to DC’s vision for the Dark Knight Detective at the time, but the character that B:TAS presented skewed so much closer to the comics than what Tim Burton’s movie had done that from the start we knew this was something different and special.

And then there was the Joker. Cesar Romero’s Joker is the one most of us had grown up with. He looked the part and laughed a lot, but otherwise wasn’t nearly as distinctive as ’66 Batman’s other mainstay villains. In 1989 Jack Nicholson’s Joker was the star of his movie. We all loved Batman, but the most compelling imagery and merchandise was that of the Clown Prince of Crime. Nicholson’s Joker was off-spec from the comics, but was a massive force of nature and personality. He was violent and charismatic and visually imposing. He would be a tough act to follow.

Obviously we all know now that Mark Hamill is phenomenal. He has played one of the most innocent and virtuous characters in cinematic history as well as two completely different kinds of crazy with the live-action Trickster and the animated Joker. There are many more roles and ranges between those three extremes, but those are the ones we all know. And Hamill’s Joker is like no other character ever portrayed. As much as I love Nicholson’s and as near and dear as Romero’s is to me, neither of them would have been the Joker without the makeup and the wardrobe. But Mark Hamill – who performed without the makeup and the wardrobe – created a voice and a presence that is undeniably that of Batman’s ultimate nemesis. Even without the visual trappings, there’s no mistaking that voice. 
 
FIRST GLANCE

My first thought was “Where is his collar?”, but ten seconds of internet searching showed me that the Animated Series design did not feature a distinct collar. That’s really a pretty crappy first thought to have had, but I was taking these pictures right after playing with the phenomenal Mezco One:12 Collective Batman, so I was being extra picky.

Like the other DC Animated figures so far, Joker’s head is particularly striking. The designs on all of these characters are so simple, yet I feel like it would be very easy to get them wrong in the 3D form. This likeness is just fantastic. It does make me hope that when DCC produces the New Adventures version we get some extra heads with different facial expressions, like many of the toy companies have done with Jack Skellington over the years. I might be misremembering, but I think that later Joker was much more expressive than this one. I’m not saying that Animated Series Joker didn’t make different faces, but when I think about the differences I picture a vast array of looks from the simpler Joker.

PACKAGING

It’s the DCC blister card, just like every other release from the line (except for the forthcoming Man-Bat, which I am very excited to write about). I love the design and how easy it is to open. But the best part is the creator credits that DC Collectibles prints right there on the front:

LOOKS

I love the hair. The hair is perfect.

It’s funny – in the Robin review I mentioned the smile first, but Joker’s review gets a hair commendation. Obviously this Joker’s smile is spot-on, and I’ll get to it in a minute, but the shape of and paint on the hair is just excellent. In many instances the color of things in Batman: The Animated Series was determined by highlights and small patches of color. Joker has green hair, but it is colored as black except for that very specifically-shaped streak at the front and sides, depending on how he’s standing. This figure captures that perfectly.

The eyes are pure malice. They’re so much better than the eyes of the old Kenner figure (great though that figure is) and I think it’s because these eyes are too creepy and evil to give to a child. The US government that doesn’t allow projectiles to fire more than eight inches and has eliminated sharp edges from toys would never allow a figure this terrifying to be produced as anything other than an Adult Collectible.

Okay, now the mouth. It’s rendered in incredible detail. They stopped just shy of sculpting each individual tooth, but the rows of teeth are sculpted. The lips are thick and definitive, which allows the red to sit just inside them and look even more defined than if just the outside were colored. That may sound a little confusing, but once you see this fiend in person you’ll know what I mean.
I’ve already spent three paragraphs talking about the head, so I might as well do one more. The nose and ears protrude nicely from the head and are much more distinctive than you would get at a smaller scale. All of the features have plenty of little details to make this head unique and recognizable as Mister J.

It’s a good thing the head inspired me to write so much, because once you get past that this is pretty much just a guy in a suit. The upper body has that “V” shape that is so specific to this style of animation. The jacket has wide shoulders and lapels with Joker’s signature flower on the front. Both that and the string tie look independent, like separate sculpts. It’s a nice effect that adds to the perceived quality of this figure.

Another wrong instinct that I had was that the tails on his coat were too short. They’re not. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like them to be longer, but that would be inaccurate. I’d bet they were animated shorter because it makes them easier to deal with when in motion.

Joker’s hands are encased in almost comically oversized gloves. They look good and also tremendously creepy. Those are stranglin’ hands. These make me realize that I would have had no idea what to say if somebody had asked me what color this Joker’s hands should be prior to my getting this figure. The white seemed odd at first, but is correct. New Adventures Joker had purple gloves and as I’m writing this review I’m realizing that I might prefer that version. More on that whenever DCC releases it.

Joker’s trousers are big and baggy. They look great, but the narrowness and depth of the shape makes those fugly hip joints absolutely atrocious when the figure is posed. I’m also not a fan of how high up on the ankles the trousers are. This actually is off-spec and looks weird. They definitely could have been a bit longer and improved the look fo the figure significantly. As-is it looks like Joker is anticipating a flood. Which, granted, he may be.

The colors are very simple on this figure. A such, it was very important that they be right and they are. His suit is a uniform purple (that’s really more lavender) despite the use of different plastics. The whites are all vibrant and the painted details – lips, hair, flower, tie, etc. – are tightly done. Even the painted white spats on his shoes are solid and don’t have any black showing through.

ACCESSORIES

Joker comes with a stand, four extra hands, a necklace, a screwdriver, a comb, a telescope, and a space helmet.

The stand is the dual-support variety that DCC has been packing in with the larger figures. It’s adjustable both horizontally and vertically. The prongs that hold the figure can also be adjusted. There’s a neat character turnaround on the base that also illustrates that the coat tails are, in fact, correct.

The hands are flaking paint like crazy. But the plastic underneath is white, so it isn’t a huge deal. It’s mostly around the hinges. These swap out easily and stay in place. The extras are in various poses to interact with the other accessories. I do find it odd that one set is clearly posed to hold pistols but there are no pistols. It’s just odd that there aren’t guns. Maybe Joker never used guns in the cartoon. I’m honestly not sure.

The random stuff almost certainly isn’t random. I’m not a Batman: The Animated Series episode guide, so I can’t tell you which episodes these appeared in. They all look good and interact well with the figure except for the telescope. If he’s actually supposed to be able to look through it… well, that’s a fail. I will say that considering Batman’s origin the pearl necklace is kind of demented.

I love space helmets, especially big, fishbowl style ones. I don’t recall what episode this appeared in, either (Googling “Joker Space Helmet” produces some weird but irrelevant stuff) and I don’t care. Space helmet. It’s nice and clear and looks great.

FUN

As long as you avoid posing those fugly hip joints certain ways this figure is lots of fun.
There’s plenty of articulation to achieve most poses you might want the Joker to assume. My favorite is standing straight, slightly bent at the waist, with his arms behind his back. There’s a sort of condescending menace there.

I don’t necessarily appreciate the accessories that the figure came with, but I did have fun figuring out ways for it to interact with them. I’m sure I’ll have more appreciation for them when I have context. As of now they just seem like a random assortment of things that Joker stole out of somebody’s drawer while he was lacing their house with explosives. Which is, perhaps, appropriate anyway.

OVERALL

I’ve got to believe that there was a better assortment of accessories that could have been packed in with Mister J. Throw all of this out and give is the jet pack from Mask of the Phantasm (although that probably warrants a whole new figure).

Still, this is a fantastic Animated Series Joker. I may have realized that I prefer the later version, but this is definitely the more iconic and probably well-known version. I daresay this might be the most recognizable Joker ever made to most people. It’s a good figure. If you’re a fan of the Clown Prince of Crime then this is a must-have.

4 out of 5

And if you must have it, please go to Amazon and buy it so you can help out Needless Things!:


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