Say what you will about their toys, but Mattel has to be one of the most mismanaged companies in the toy industry.
Ignoring the Batman/Keldor raffle idiocy for the moment (hey, Mattel, does the phrase "screamingly asinine" mean anything to you?), we can still find plenty of blame to cast their way.
Mattel's intense love of character variations has already been well-documented, and it shows no sign of slowing; the next few He-man series are chock-full of stupid costumes and insipid repaints, while their Justice League line is, predictably, over-run with more of the same.
Of course, those vile repaints might not be such a problem if Mattel knew how to assign a case assortment. The company seems perpetually mystified that no one is buying Urban Assault He-Man or Wild West Skeletor, despite the fact that they're filling 80% of their shipments with the pair. While He-Man and Skeletor gather dust on shelves, the one-per-case figures are the ones customers are actually looking to buy. Evil-Lyn, for instance. She's Skeletor's second in command on the cartoon, but Mattel thinks kids won't be interested? She routinely kicks He-Man's butt! Kids love that!
Sadly, Mattel's new Batman line is going to follow these trends right into the ground. The first assortment features three decent characters - Batman, Robin and the Joker - and three absolutely tedious variations: Martial-Arts Batman, Hydro-Suit Batman and Battle Armor Batman. And of course, the case packs are as imbecilic as anything else: three each of the variants, two Ziplines and only one Robin or one Joker. WTF?!
Of course, the shortpacked Zipline Batman is the best-looking figure. Based on Batman's current comicbook look, he's wearing his grey costume and the utility belt with pockets instead of capsules. Really, that old-style belt never made any sense to me; how is he supposed to be able to store any equipment in a glorified lipstick tube?
There's no yellow around the bat on his chest, which a lot of writers and artists seem to prefer. Personally, I never saw any problem with the lighter element; the bat is a target, designed to draw focus away from his head - it should be brighter. But current style has the bat insignia flying solo, so that's what the figure represents.
Like the under-articulated MotU figures, Batman moves at the neck, shoulders, wrists (in his case, the tops of his gloves), waist, hips and knees. Would it really kill Mattel to give us a bit more, especially since they're charging $8 per figure? Their competition for the superhero action figure market is not only ToyBiz's value-packed Marvel Legends, but also a bit of in-house jostling from DC Direct, which is certainly more expensive but also offers better articulation and paint apps. Plus, DCD is focusing on characters instead of variations.
One area in which Mattel does excel is the sculpt. Handled by the Four Horsemen, the DC line is just as superbly crafted as MotU and the work the guys did for McToys. The poses are fairly straightforward - that's nothing new - which might be part of the Horsemen's style, but might also be a request on the part of Mattel: it's easier to build costume changes for a static figure than it is to work around a dynamic pose.
The paint does nothing to accentuate Zipline Batman's sculpt; he's flat black and grey, with a flat yellow belt. Of course, after Mattel's dubious efforts at black washes and dry brushes, that may be a good thing.
The tips of Batman's ears just clear the 6 1/2" mark, which puts him nearly in scale with both DC Direct and Marvel Legends. His hands are molded from a pliable rubber that allows him to hold his accessories. His cape is molded rubber around the shoulders, with black cloth draped beneath. The bottom edge has the angular bat's wing look that fans demand.
Zipline Batman's accessories are where the figure gets its name: he's got a grappling hook and a free-wheeling pulley from which he can dangle, zooming down toward an enemy below. The hook's launcher, embarrassingly called a Batarang on the package, fires either the hook or another included missile. The handle from which Batman hangs, as well as the anchor at one end of the zipline, both look like actual in-scale Batarangs, so that's at least a small bonus.
I really would have preferred that rather than "Zipline Batman," this figure was just "Batman" and came with some simpler accessories: a real Batarang, maybe some bat-cuffs or that launcher he uses to fire his line across to other buildings. You know, the sort of things that came with the Con Exclusive Silver Age Batman.
The packaging for this Batman line has a nice design. The Batsignal shines in the upper right corner, and the blister above is molded to reflect that shape. Two lines are embossed across the front of the blister, running from the Batsignal down to the lower left to simulate the beam of light that would be stabbing into the night sky from the roof of police headquarters. It's not the most innovative packaging ever, but it is fairly clever and suits the line well.
Enjoy these good Batman selections while you can; the line will soon degenerate into even more ridiculous territory. While Sub-Zero Batman is a nice complement to the very cool Mr. Freeze, there's just no excuse for things like Street Luge Batman. Yes, Street Luge Batman; how I wish I was kidding.
Why would it take to get Mattel caught up with reality? Tell us on our message board, the Loafing Lounge.