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The Joker

The Dark Knight
by yo go re

Last year, NECA did the impossible by releasing a 7"-scale Michael Keaton Batman. This year they've done the impossible again - three times!

With the help of Lieutenant Jim Gordon and the committed new District Attorney, Harvey Dent, Batman sets out to destroy organized crime in Gotham City for good. The triumvirate initially proves to be effective, but they soon find themselves prey to a rising criminal mastermind known as The Joker, who thrusts Gotham City into anarchy and forces the Dark Knight ever closer to crossing the fine line between hero and vigilante.

Like last year's Batman, this figure is "not" released by NECA - they don't have the license rights for DC figures in this scale, because it's somehow split up between Mattel (6" figures) and DC Direct (6"ish-7"ish figures). The fact that they were able to release an 8-bit Batman was even a legal loophole that seems to have subsequently been closed. So this figure was produced and sold by Warner Bros., DC's parent company, who can apparently do whatever the heck they want.

Mattel made a Heath Ledger Joker in their Movie Masters line, and it was good - by Mattel standards. You know, the way Uwe Boll's Postal can be good by Uwe Boll standards. The Four Horsemen could sculpt a figure so beautiful that you'd weep if you saw it, but if Mattel doesn't spring for the production standards to match that, well, you get what you pay for. Or in this case, what they pay for. Other than the inch difference in their height, this Joker and Movie Masters Joker are fundamentally the same toy, but the difference between them is as great as night and cheese.

We'll start with the clothing. His purple overcoat has numerous small wrinkles, and a texture you can just make out with your fingertips (or under a very strong, direct light); Mattel's was smooth. His gloves have visible stitching around all the seams; Mattel's had three Mickey Mouse-style lines on the back of the hands. His vest has two pockets; Mattel's had none. His watch chain is real metal, not sculpted plastic. The pinstripes on his pants are sculpted elements, rather than just being painted. And then there's the head. Oh man, the head.

This figure was sculpted by Alex Heinke and Kyle Windrix, and we don't know who did what. And it's important to remember that this was originally sculpted to be a quarter-scale figure (18", in other words), which means there was a lot more canvas for them to work on. But still, this figure is so. much. better. than Mattel's it's almost a joke. This is as much of a step above the 6" figure as the 6" figure was above the 5" figure. Suddenly the Movie Master looks like the "strange hybrid animated style" that rumormongers were afraid of.

That's not to say that every facet of this figure is in every way superior to Mattel's. For instance, while his overcoat, gloves, and pants are three different shades of purple (something Matty's didn't do), his shoes are darker than they should be - in fact, they should be closer to the color Mattel used. His jacket is blue, as it should be (Matty's was pale purple), but the lining is purple when it should almost the same bronze as the lining of the overcoat. The back of the vest should be a checkered pattern that's a similar blue to the jacket, but that would be spending money on something no one would ever see. His necktie is perfect, but the complicated pattern of his shirt wasn't even attempted (Mattel didn't do a good job on it, but you can't say they didn't make the effort). The face paint on this figure isn't much more intricate than on Mattel's, but put it on a better mold and it looks a lot nicer. Plus, NECA painted the skintone wrinkles on his forehead, which is a nice touch.

It goes without saying that the articulation on this toy is superior. Given that eight years have passed since the Movie Masters version, it would be wrong if things hadn't improved. Joker has a balljointed head (which is centered on his neck, this time), swivel/hinge shoulders and elbows, balljointed wrists and waist, swivel/hinge hips and knees, swivel thighs, and balljointed ankles. Again, this makes the 6" figure look like a five-incher.

Also, he's got better accessories. There's his favorite knife, of course, a Smith & Wesson Extractor 1600 able to be held in his left hand. The Movie Master had the Rapala fillet knife seen in the promotional stills. But then there's also the two-tone Glock 18 with an extended 33-round magazine that he used in the bank, during the SWAT chase, and in the hospital. And then we're still not done, because he's also got the Smith & Wesson M76 he fires at the Bat-Pod. His right hand is shaped to hold either of the guns.

Just as the figure is a scaled-down version of the 18" release, so too is the packaging. Since NECA didn't have any retro inspiration for this, Joker is sold in a simple window box. The design is credited to Chris Raimo, but that's crossed out and the Joker has written "Me me me Me," so either he's taking credit for defacing the box, or he's imitating his favorite Muppet. The box is a purpley grey, with images of Joker's playing cards and torn strips of paper "taped" to it to identify the figure within. It's all done in red scratchy letters, like Joker did it himself with a pen. The back has more taped papers, some Polaroids of Joker, and a pencil. The backdrop beind the figure is all newspaper clippings that have been vandalized to fit Joker's twisted world-view. It really does present - and represent - the figure inside well.

Joker is one of three 7" NECA figures that Warner Bros. has just released. They were sold on WB's eBay store (bundled with a DVD of a movie you almost certainly wouldn't want), and are also available in limited numbers at certain Toys Я Us locations. If you can get him, you probably should. The only things we can say against it are that the shirt collar isn't painted perfectly, and that the nearly 6⅞" height means he can't fit in with the rest of your DC figures. That's all. There's no question that Heath Ledger gave an excellent performance as the Joker, and this is the figure he deserves, if not the one we need right now.

PS: it's a shame that NECA never made quarter-scale versions of Two-Face or Bane (for potential future scale-downs).

-- 11/12/15

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