Lego's line of Batman sets has already given us some darn impressive sets, even though only one assortment has been released so far. We've had a plane, a couple cars, a boat, and the big showcase piece, the mighty and massive Batcave. And though they haven't quite reached the point where they're offering a huge Wayne Manor (yet), there is one other architecturally impressive set, Arkham Aylum.
The closest thing most of Batman's foes have to a permanent address, Arkham is obviously named in honor of HP Lovecraft's dreary and dangerous Massachusetts town, and the sanitarium located therein. A Toys Я Us exclusive, Arkham Asylum is built from 860 pieces and is certainly the most expansive set in this initial assortment - it comprises three buildings, two structures and three vehicles (or modes of transport, at least). In addition to the usual assortment of black and grey bricks used to create most of the Batman sets, Arkham also features a nice number of brown blocks, which keep it looking appropriately drab while setting it apart from the things that Batman has designed and built.
In the comics, Arkham started off as a family home and was converted to a mental hospital, so we'll start with what was once the main house. Lovecraft described his Arkham as a town of "sagging gambrel roofs and crumbling Georgian balustrades," and this set actually captures at least half of that. The roof is a single high slant, but the facade does indeed have that sort of austere, regular appearance. The building is three stories tall, and a sign on the door informs visitors that this is the Maximum Security area. Enforcing that idea, when you open the door you're met by steel bars.
Arkham follows that fine old playset tradition of not being a complete building, but rather having an exposed back to facilitate play. Personally, I always liked the hinged sets, that you can open. Castle Greyskull, for instance. Something with a back on it. Anywa, the steel door slides away so guards can enter the ground floor, where they'll find a computer monitoring station, comeplete with phone and swivel chair. Upstairs we find cells for Joker, Two-Face and Penguin. Sliding a tab that juts from the side of the building causes all three celldoors to swing open in unison, revealing the sparse accommodations within.
The attic conceals a wicked laboratory - probably used on the inmates
rather than by them. There's a bed under an adjustable overhead light, a pull-out tool tray (with a hatchet and a chainsaw, in this case), a table with specimen jars and a skull, and a whip mounted on the wall. Yeesh, no wonder everyone wants to escape! Thankfully, there's a secret hatch in the roof, and a bedsheet rope drops out when you open it.
With that out of the way, we begin exploring the grounds and come across a solitary tower. Looking much like a castle's parapet, this three-story building features a pointed roof with smaller turrets rising from it and what looks like the Grim Reaper floating outside the window, the window, the second story window. There are two cells on the back: on the ground floor, we have a glass enclosure that's filled with plants; above that, a traditional heavy wooden door. The attic here is empty - save for a brown rat. Probably hard to get an exterminator to come out when there's a 50-50 chance Killer Croc will bite his head off, you know? The flying spectre is a trick, by the way: hit it, and a plunger knocks the door (and the wall it's attached to) open, allowing anyone inside to escape. Or hang themselves, in a nicely gruesome display.
Next, we find a short, squat building. If Arkham really started as a house, this was probably the servants' quarters. These days there's a satellite dish on the roof - probably a recent addition. While the upper level seems to house the Asylum's arsenal, the ground floor has a rounded cage with a padlock on the top. What villain could require a cell of this type? The green question marks all over the floor should give you a clue.
If that's all you got, this would still be a decent set, but Lego didn't stop there. There are two pieces designed specifically to deal with Arkham's status as a
prison facility for dangerous criminals. The first is a guard tower, with a ladder and a huge, swiveling spotlight; the second is the armored front gate, complete with a security camera and weeds growing through the stone. Both pieces are really cool, clever ideas, and convey that "penitentiary" feel.
One of the vehicles in this set is the Asylum's ambulance,
an impressive set of wheels. It's similar to the armored car Two-Face drove, but still distinct enough to not be a direct copy. The ambulance is 5½" long, and doesn't have any action features, either. The grill is covered by a big brush guard - probably in case the driver needs to ram anything during an escape attempt. The rear doors open, and a stretcher pulls out.
The stretcher even has a fold-over restraint system, to keep the crazies from getting twitchy. In order to get a figure into the front seat, sadly, you have to take off the entire roof - whatever happened to hinged doors? Inside, there are bars between the patient and the driver, and there are yellow and blue lights on the roof.
Sometimes a Batmobile is just too large and unwieldy to get around town the way you want, which is why this set includes a motorcycle. About 3" long, the bike is entirely black, save for the white V on the front - Nightwing's symbol. The wheels spin freely, and two flame jets stick outthe back, to help speed the bike on its way.
And finally, for those times when you need to get over prison walls silently, we have a small Batglider.
When Art Asylum made one of these in their C3 line, it was a complex technological marvel with fully positionable wings, turbines and a safety harness. Lego's version is... not as good. The wings are single, solid pieces on pivots, and while the bulky body of the glider is nice, it still looks cheap. This looks less like an actual Lego-originated design, and more like what you might come up with just by sticking random pieces together. On the plus side, the base of the glider allows it to perch on several of the Arkham roofs. That's kind of neat.
Like the Batcave, Arkham Asylum comes with seven minifigs: Batman, Nightwing, Riddler, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow and two guards. No henchmen in this set. The figs are the Lego standard, of course - which means they're okay, but not as nice as Minimates. They move at the hips, wrists, shoulders and neck, every one of 'em.
The guards are fairly plain, but still detailed well.
Their grey shirts are painted with buttons, pockets, a belt and even a shiny gold badge. Their hands are black, suggesting gloves, and they wear black caps. There's one white guard and one black guard - Arkham is an equal opportunity employer, it seems. They have decent health insurance, too, because the black guy's wearing glasses.
The Batman in this set is the same as every other Batman: the goofy, oversized mask, the white stripe on the forehead, the painted-on utility belt, everything.
This is an all-black costume, so he can lurk in the shadows. Just as Robin was available in the Batcave, Nightwing is visiting Arkham. Because Lego can only do so much with their paint apps, his arms are entirely blue, rathr than just having a blue stripe down the outsides. His hair is one of the spiky anime-style pieces seen on the Exo-Force figures and a few others. This figure really suffers when compared to the Minimate Nightwing, which is due for re-release next year. Nightwing's preferred fighting weapons, escrima sticks, are included, and can be plugged onto the back of his bike.
Another figure that doesn't compare favorably to his Minimate counterpart is the Riddler. He has one big purple question mark on his green suit, and he's wearing grey gloves. He's got a purple mask, and the wrinkles around his mouth let us know he's smiling. His hair is that smooth-combed dome Lego men have sported for years. His torso is painted with a purple belt, but it stops at the sides: it doesn't continue around the sides, and it doesn't pick up again on the back.
Our final two inmates haven't been "Minimated,"
so they don't have any standards to live up to. Is that why these two seem so good, or are they actually a step up? Scarecrow is wearing his ragged brown suit, though the detailing is, of course, only on the front. His head is translucent yellow, for some odd reason, but it's painted with red eyes and a crooked little mouth. He's wearing a pointed black hat, and looks nice wearing Batman's cape. He has a very clever scythe made from four pieces, including one of the katanas that first came with the ninja sets years ago.
Poison Ivy has long red hair, green lipstick, and is wearing her usual leafy green bodice. Her legs are lighter green, suggesting stockings, and since Lego only paints the front of their figures, it looks like she's going topless - maybe she's trying to get some sun on her peaches?
It's disappointing to see how many stickers Lego has included for this set - one or two is okay, but an entire sheet is just too many - especially when stickers go over two or more blocks. Why is the Arkham Asylum sign over the front gate a decal on two blocks? Why not just print it on one block? Putting clear stickers of vines on Ivy's clear cell is a recipe for clearly visible fingerprints. Could they really not have printed their own batsymbol on the back of the glider? Less stickers, Lego, and more paint apps.
Despite that, however, Arkham Asylum is a great set. The buildings are really well designed, the vehicles are fun (especially the ambulance) and you get a handful of minifigures, including two nice generics - something no Minimate set has given us, that's for sure. If you do want to fill your Arkham with Minimates, though, don't worry; the scale may not be quite right, but it's close enough that you can still have fun. So definitely check out this set, and sleep soundly at night knowing your most evil Legos are safely locked behind bars... at least until they escape, of course.