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Classic Detective Batman

DC Universe Classics
by Poe Ghostal

As I've mentioned elsewhere, I had a brief obsession with Batman when the original Tim Burton movie came out. That came and went in the midst of my Ninja Turtles period, and it wasn't until a year or so later that I really discovered comics in the form of X-Men. Within a year or two I had lost interest in that, though, and I moved on to other interests.

But I never lost my fondness for the comic medium, which was rejuvenated when I saw the Hellboy movie in 2004. Batman Begins strengthened that interest a year later. But nothing keeps me interested in a fad like a good toyline - and my latest love is DC Universe Classics.

Since obtaining the Batman license in 2003, Mattel has not been shy about putting out Batman after Batman, from the well-received (but under-articulated) Zipline Batman to lame variants to the excellent DCSH grey-and-black Bats. I'd argue that the latter is the definitive Batman action figure (for now...), but it has a strong rival in Classic Detective Batman.

After witnessing the murder of his parents as a child, Bruce Wayne dedicated his life and fortune to protecting the lives of the innocent while striking fear into the hearts of criminals. Armed with an arsenal of gadgets, Batman patrols the shadows of Gotham City keeping the streets safe from crime.

The DCUC line is taking its cue from the Super Powers line, so it's not surprising we're getting a very Super Powers-esque Batman in the first wave series. This is the Batman my generation remembers from their youth, the one from the 1970s and 1980s who was featured on the Super Friends cartoon and so forth. From the bright blue trim to the yellow oval on the chest, this is the "New Look" Batman that dominated from 1964 to the mid-1990s. When Tim Burton's Batman came out and sent everyone running to read the comics, this is the version they were introduced to, more or less.

Batman has the same body sculpt as Orion and Red Tornado, but with unique tooling for the gloves, boots, cape, belt, and of course, head. A lot of collectors were unhappy with the headsculpt on the DC Superheroes Batman, and many swapped on the head of the DC Direct "Hush" Batman. I don't understand all the dislike for the DCSH head - I like it a lot; it has a gritty, Frank Miller-esque vibe to it (yes, Monkey Boy, I've come 'round to your opinion on the matter). Fortunately, fans seem more pleased with this head. The "ears" are thick and not too long, and the look of angry concentration on Bruce's face is well done.

Neal Adams is considered by many to be the definitive Batman artist of the "New Look" era, and I'd like to think that the Horsemen's sculpt was at least partially inspired by his art. Truthfully, though, this is just a great generic Batman - I'm not sure there's any specific aspect of the sculpting that's reminiscent of Adams' work. Here's a gallery of iconic Batman artists - decide for yourself whose Batman this is.

For the most part, I like what's been done with the paint. Initially I'd hoped the figure would be a lighter shade of gray, more in line with its Super Powers counterpart (which had Neal Adams art on the card), but the dark gray has grown on me, particularly since it more closely resembles Adams' work. There's a nice wash on the body and a very slight one on the cape. The detail work on the bat-symbol is excellent - as clean as a decal but with the permanence of paint.

The shade of blue used for the trim is bright, but it's close to the coloring that was used in the comics and cartoons of the period. The balance between the gray and the blue looks better than that of the DCSH Series 3 Batman, which had an almost reverse-negative effect going on.

Previously, ToyBiz raised the industry bar sky-high for what could be done with action figure articulation in the 6" scale. Their first high-profile experiment in super-articulation was the "Blade with Anti-Vampire Weapons" figure in their toyline based on the 1998 Wesley Snipes movie. swoop! That figure had balljointed shoulders, articulation at the wrists and ankles, and - gasp! - articulated toes. Two years later, ToyBiz released their Spider-Man Classics line, which featured a Spider-Man with over 30 points of articulation, including the famous double-hinge joints at the elbows and knees, which allowed the figure to bend its forearm almost parallel to the bicep, or the calf to the thigh.

Many collectors loved this amazing articulation, which allowed for countless poses and interesting dioramas. Others thought it was just too much articulation, weakening the figure as a whole and making it prone to increased quality control problems; and some even thought the joints were too obvious and ugly, detracting from the quality of the sculpt. (We call those people "fools.")

DC Universe Classics' standard articulation includes balljoints at the neck and shoulders, hinge joints at the elbows, knees, ankles and abdomen, those post-hinge joint things at the hips, swivel joints at the wrists, biceps, thighs and waist, and slight side-to-side motion on the ankles for balance.

Bruce comes with a batarang and a grappling gun. The batarang is fine, if a little plain (my favorite is still the Batman Begins-style one that came with the DCSH3 Batman). I didn't think I'd like the grappling gun, but it's actually pretty neat - it comes with a small amount of thread and you can hook it on something and hang Bats in a classic pose. And of course, there's the Metamorpho part. Bruce comes with the lava-like right arm, including an oversized hand - yes, the series BAF has accessories, too.

There's an odd packaging variant for this figure. It's not the accessories, or the way he's posed or any of the normal things. No, this is a figure with two names. Some of the packages call him "Classic Detective" Batman (in an upright font) while others identify the figure as "Crime Stopper" Batman (in italics). And it's like this both on the blister insert and on the cardback. Why the change? Mattel had to pay to reprint the cards, so it can't have just been a random whim. There are no differences between the actual figures (no matter what some wishful thinking has imagined), and neither name is really very good, so why take that step?

My one big problem with this figure is the black on the cowl. Batman has often been drawn with that, but it's supposed to represent a shadow - not an actual color on the cowl. The 1960s TV show made the black-colored cowl (and the silly blue eyebrows) a permanent part of the costume, and I suspect Mattel decided to go with this coloring in order to attract nostalgic fans of the show. But technically, that black paint represents an incredible dark wash. I'd have much preferred to have no paint on the cowl at all. Fortunately, the black can be removed with the careful application of a solvent such as acetone or paint thinner. With any luck, Mattel will also release a variant or exclusive without the forehead shadow.

-- 02/09/08

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