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Batman & Joker

by Rustin Parr

Hasbro has been a trendsetter over the last five years or so. When they picked up the Marvel toy rights and announced a 3¾" line, everyone figured this meant the industry was moving entirely to that scale, abandoning 6" as the standard, as other companies started to follow suit. When they successfully branched all of their brands into the cute PVC "Heroes" format, other companies reached out into similar formats. When they unrolled Mighty Muggs and that took off with their different brands, other companies shortly unveiled their own "urban vinyl" style figures. However, each step of the way the perception has proved an exception rather than a rule. 3¾" never universally replaced larger figures (Hasbro even announced at SDCC last year they're bringing back not just one but at least two lines of 6" Marvel figures), all Heroes-style PVC figures have been discontinued or reworked to lessen output, and Mighty Muggs have been retired. In most cases no competitors brought their follow-ups to market, but once more there was an exception at every step: Mezco. They rolled out 3¾" and Heroes-style Hellboy 2 and New Line Horror figures, neither to great success. They then launched Mez-Itz, a 6" reworking of their small figure format from a couple years back in almost an identical style to Mighty Muggs.

The new Mez-Itz share the pear-shaped proportions of their predecessors but now have reused/repainted heads, rather than individually sculpted ones. Unlike their previous efforts to follow in Hasbro's footsteps the Mez-Itz appear to have succeeded in getting multiple figures out, though most eventually ended up on clearance. The releases have been a hodgepodge of various licenses, all they really needed was something big to anchor them in the market place and give consumers a brand they could follow. Mezco accomplished this with the major announcement of having landed the DC Comics license for Mez-Itz, and they chose San Diego Comic Con as the ideal place to launch the line. And boy did they come out swinging releasing a two-pack of Batman and the Joker!

The package follows the "black box with white text" format of all previous Mez-Itz releases, but while those were window boxes this is solid with images of the figures and the front/sides and back (the ones on the back at 1:1 sized with the figures). I'm not sure why there are no windows to the actual product; maybe it's a contractual thing like back when Marvel wouldn't allow Minimates to be visible in the package. At any rate the package includes a wax seal looking sticker indicating this set's exclusivity to 2010 Conventions.

As mentioned, these figures follow the Mighty Mugg format of having a generic, stylized body with the only differences being paint. This follows in the Asian and urban vinyl format, and for my money Mezco has taken what Hasbro started and done a much better job of executing it. They brought two things that significantly improved the format - balljointed heads and super-detailed paint.

Mez-Itz are made of six parts: two legs, two arms, a torso and a head. The limbs all connect with a swivel joint, but the head is a ball-in-socket joint allowing for just enough poseability for these to be fun to pose, not just to look at. Too much articulation would undermine the "designer" style of the figures so this one addition is just right.

When Mighty Muggs were first introduced by Hasbro the concept was to be as simple as possible. As result many earlier figures, like Boba Fett and Captain America, were pretty underwhelming. While this look worked for some figures, Hasbro slowly began increasing the level of paint detail, but still maintained a stylized look. When Mez-Itz came on the scene they were more reserved as well, but by the time the second release was prepped this new style of hyper detail paint (in relation to Mighty Muggs' origins) was in place and set Mez-Itz ahead of the curve. Mezco understood that the action figure marketplace is one of super detailing, and if they stylistically couldn't deliver that in sculpt then by gum they would in paint - and Batman and the Joker are perfect examples.

Shadowing abounds, giving Batman more musculature and mystique than the base body could otherwise allow. Likewise, the Joker hides in a loose-fitting coat and is brutally insane with his trademark disturbing smile and contorted face. This Joker is in the trenchcoat look of the '70s which, for me, is one of his very best looks and is sorely under-represented in toy form.

The promotional and box art show Batman in dark gray and a very dark blue, which looks great and would compliment this Joker well, but in final production the colors are lighter than expected. It's still a great Dark Knight, and is closer in color to the Jim Lee Batman, which this figure's face brings to mind; I just would have preferred the darker hues from the control art.

Sculpturally, Batman also includes not one, but three new pieces - a new bat-eared head and three-finned bat-glove arms. The investment in these new tools makes perfect sense because if you have Batman you're damn sure going to make a lot of Batmen (right, DC Direct?) but I can't help but wonder what other characters could utilize these tools. (Hey Mezco - the head would be perfect for Bram Stoker's Dracula Armored Vlad - MAKE IT HAPPEN!!!) Batman also sports a cloth cape. They accomplished the exceptionally difficult by matching the color of cape and cowl across mediums particularly well. I do wish they would have gone sculpted cape, however, as I've never been a fan of softgoods on toys, not to mention there is something mildly "child's costume-ish" about the way it drapes on the figure. At least there's more goodies to up the cool-factor!

What's this? Accessories! One for each figure in fact, another pleasant improvement on the Mighty Mugg format. Joker gets a fedora hat, it's the same piece that was intended for the cancelled Rorschach Mez-It from Watchmen, and is cast in a surprisingly thin plastic. It still looks good, though, and can fit on the head in multiple ways. Meanwhile Batman comes with the ubiquitous Batarang, which is the classic arc shape and is thick enough to fit in the Mez-It hand.

Overall these are great representations of old favorites and are very promising for the DC line of Mez-Itz to follow. I can only hope that there are enough of us Mugg/Mez-Itz fans still out there to carry this brand far into the future. Mezco had to obtain their license with Mattel's blessing, so there are restrictions similar to what NECA had with their TMNT figures: namely these are specialty-market-only figures. No Toys Я Us for them, which is a shame as TRU has been Mez-Itz's (and Mezco's) biggest supportor to date. With the limited distribution, Mezco is playing it pretty safe for year one, with only four two-figure releases in the 6" scale. We'll see more classic versions of Batman and Joker, followed by Batman and Joker from The Dark Knight (the only movie license they have so far), Green Lantern and Sinestro, and Superman with Darkseid. Or at least that's what they were telling us at SDCC. I'm a little concerned that they're overloaded Batman and Joker for year one. All of the figures look amazing so I'll certainly be getting them all, and hope you do as well!

-- 05/02/11

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