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Joker, Batman and Gray Ghost

Justice League
by yo go re

When crime haunts the night, a silent crusader carries the torch of justice! Those with evil hearts beware, for out of the darkness comes, the Gray Ghost!

As a child, Bruce Wayne would watch "The Gray Ghost" on TV and imagine himself as a masked vigilante, jumping from rooftop to rooftop and saving the city from terrifying villains. Now an adult, Wayne has created his own alter-ego - Batman. As the Caped Crusader, Bruce Wayne protects Gotham City from such nefarious villains as The Joker. His nostalgia for this childhood hero even extends to his Batcave, which was modeled after "The Gray Ghost Lair."

In a series full of excellent episodes, "Beware the Gray Ghost" is one of the best Batman the Animated Series ever offered. It's a wonderful story that both honors the history Batman and adds new material to it. Plus, by casting Adam West as actor Simon Trent, the creators both earned his implict blessing for the modern incarnation of Batman, and offered him a slice of redemption: he wasn't playing a hammy buffoon (*cough cough Family Guy*), he got to show that he really is an actor, delivering a pathos and subtlty his career has not often allowed him to display.

The Gray Ghost (the character) was based on pulp staples like the Shadow and the Spider. To that end, he wears a fedora and a pair of goggles to disguise his true identity. The head is very true to what we saw in the cartoon, with a big scowl and deep lines around his mouth. The only thing missing is the hair poking out the back of his mask - Simon's old, but he's not bald.

The Gray Ghost costume is, of course, a gray suit - the arms and legs are shared with other figures (Crimson Avenger, for instance), but the chest is all his. It's got a double-buttoned jacket, like the Rocketeer wore, and a few simple wrinkles where he'd bend (if JLU figures had joints beyond the Big Five). Someone wasn't thinking ahead, though, because if you look under his knee-length cape, you'll find engraved copyright information twice: once on the legs, and once on the back. You have to wonder if they were perhaps originally planning to give him a different pair of legs, or if it's really so vital to put their mark on every new piece.

This set is one of those classic Mattel three-packs that should have been a two-pack. Or maybe a one-pack. Gray Ghost would have sold by himself, is what we're saying. But no, he's packed in with two figures nobody wants, starting this time with another Batman. We honestly planned to just say "it's Batman" for this portion of the review and move on, but it turns out this actually is a figure worth talking about.

It's not the sculpt that does it - that's the same as the thousand other JLU Batmen Mattel released. No, what makes this figure noteworthy is his paintscheme. The suit is gray with a bright yellow utility belt and (in a move that's 100% unique among the JLU Bats) has a yellow circle around the bat symbol on his chest. His boots, gloves, trunks and cape are black, but the lining of the cape is blue. There's also a subtle blue highlight on his neck. What's that mean? The paint is referencing the BTAS design! How fun is that!

The final figure in the set really has no business being here. Remember how the back of the card mentioned Joker for no good reason? Well, that's because this set comes with a Joker for no good reason. The body was originally used in Mattel's 2002 animated Batman line; the head showed up in a 2007 three-pack, painted to look like the Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker version.

So, old head, older body... and new paint. Although the Joker had nothing at all to do with the single episode where Gray Ghost appeared, this figure is, like Batman, repainted to look like his BTAS incarnation. It's fine, we suppose, but why do it? Because Gray Ghost was a guaranteed seller, so they knew they could just throw any silly thing in with him and we'd still buy it? What an opportunity this would have been to make the Mad Bomber from the GG episode - you know, the character who was based on [and "voiced by" --ed.] Bruce Timm? That would have been right up there with toys of Todd McFarlane and Stan Lee. But instead, a rerelease of a Joker that went to clearance at least twice before.

This set certainly never went to clearance - it came out in 2010, when even Target was starting to falter in its support for JLU, so it barely ever reached the pegs. I had a lot of unexpected luck with this series, but still had to break down and buy the Gray Ghost online. GG himself is very nice, Batman is an unexpected treat, and Joker is not terrible. As far as these "buy three figures to get one" packs go, this is far from the worst.

-- 10/29/12

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