REVIEW: BATMAN UNLIMITED PLANET X BATMAN with BAT-MITE
Batman hasn't always been the grim-and-gritty Dark Knight of crime-ridden Gotham City. Oh, sure, he started out that way. And he's pretty much known as that today. But there was a period of time where that sort of attitude just wasn't really his trademark. If anything, the Batman of the comics came close -- close, but not spot-on -- to being something more akin to the campy Caped Crusader of the 1960's TV series, but with a somewhat sci-fi mindset that the budget for the 1960's TV series would have been hard-pressed to match.
This was actually well before the television series, and in fact took place mostly during the 1950's and early 1960's. This was not an easy time for the comic book world. Interest in comic books, for whatever reason, waned in the post-World War II years. Marvel, as we know it today, didn't even exist, and many of the Golden Age heroes of DC, then National Comics, such as the Jay Garrick Flash, the Alan Scott Green Lantern, and others, had pretty well hung up their tights. Superman, Batman, and a handful of others were hanging in there because of their considerable popularity.
Had it not been for the Silver Age of DC, that introduced us to the likes of Barry Allen, Hal Jordan, Martian Manhunter, and others, ushered in largely by the determination of DC's Julius Schwartz, we might not even have super-heroes with us today.
But the time period in which these characters came along was a special time for America. The space age -- and the space race -- were just beginning. It was a time of possibilities, of wild imaginings, where an animated series like The Jetsons, that proposed flying cars that looked more than a little like UFOs, hovering apartment buildings nestled in the clouds, and jobs that required little more than the occasional push of a button, seemed entirely plausible.
Even Batman managed to join in on such adventures, with wild uniforms, some of which would make even his more bizarre present-day action figures seem tame, fantastic technology, and crazy adventures that would likely have today's Dark Knight making it a priority to track down the records of those adventures and have Alfred dispose of them, if the DC universe hadn't undergone any number of resets since then.
Another reason for these more fantastic, light-hearted adventures isn't quite as pleasant. In the 1950's, comic books came under attack. Frankly, a great deal of entertainment at the time was under assorted scrutiny, some from very high up in society. There were those who believed that comic books, for a variety of reasons, were a bad influence on children. Although some of the outrage was directed towards some rather gruesome -- for the time, anyway -- horror-type titles, super-heroes were not immune. The comics world struggled to survive, quite a bit of it didn't, and the only real way for the capes-and-tights crowd to make it through was to lighten up for a while.
There wasn't really anything wrong with the adventures presented at the time. They were good, basic fun. They were just a little on the bland side at times.
However, this era does explain, at least in part, the existence of one of the more unusual figures to come out of Mattel's BATMAN UNLIMITED line of action figures, a sort of sideways sequel to their popular DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS line. At least the figures are generally compatible.
The character is known officially as BATMAN OF PLANET X, and if that doesn't sound like the title of a sci-fi story right out of the 1950's, I don't know what does. However, the figure as presented doesn't -- quite -- match his 1950's counterpart, nor does the artwork on the package. And there's a reason for that, that I'll get into as we get into the backstory of this character. Or perhaps I should say backstories.
The figure also came with a smaller figure of Bat-Mite, who's a story unto himself, so I plan to treat these two figures individually. Let's consider the Planet X Batman first.
The text on the package for these two figures reads: Planet X Batman and Bat-Mite are both living proof that the influence of Batman's quest for justice reaches far beyond Gotham City. While they differ greatly in size and origin, both were inspired to don Dark Knight-inspired costumes as masked heroes after observing Batman's crime fighting styles from afar. Planet X Batman, a native to the distant world Zur-En-Arrh, has prior experience successfully teaming up with the Caped Crusader, while the mischievous and fifth-dimensional Bat-Mite has been known to be more of a nuisance than an aid.
A fair enough description, and Bat-Mite has certainly proven to be an especially popular character, with many more appearances than the Planet X Batman. But, if this is their origin -- then why does the back of the package feature obviously modern artwork, presenting a rather horrific image of both individuals up against a storm-shattered backdrop, an image of obvious modern origin, that even had it been possible in the 1950's probably would have come under scrutiny for being far too fearsome-looking for little kids?
For this, we need to look into the complete backstory, particularly of Planet X Batman.
The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh first appeared in Batman #113, dated February 1958, in a story titled "Batman - The Superman of Planet-X" by writer France Herron and artist Dick Sprang. In this story, the character is an alien named Tlano from the planet Zur-En-Arrh.
In 2008, writer Grant Morrison resurrected the concept, this time as a backup personality of Bruce Wayne's. The persona was stored in Bruce's subconscious in case his mind was overwhelmed by psychological trauma. It surfaced in Batman #678, shortly before Wayne's apparent death. This version was psychotic, seeing images of Bat-Mite (called "Might") and other apparitions.
Zur-En-Arrh was first used as the name of a planet in France Herron and Dick Sprang's 1958 story Batman - The Superman of Planet-X featured in Batman #113. In the story, a Batman from Zur-En-Arrh brings Batman to his planet to help him battle giant robots piloted by an unidentified alien race. While on the planet, Earth's Batman found he developed "Superman-like" powers through similar means of the Superman of his world.
Decades later, one Crisis on Infinite Earths in between, and a far more serious take on comics characters prevalent, when Grant Morrison took over the Batman series in September 2006, he began referencing classic moments from the character's career, including utilizing a version of Bat-Mite and reusing a costume and dialogue from the then fifty-year-old Batman #156.
Among the references was the Zur-En-Arrh phrase, which appeared very nearly covering an alley and again on a dumpster in Batman #655 and continued to appear, usually as a background element graffiti, until the Batman R.I.P. story arc began, at which point it was brought to the forefront. The character was re-imagined as a delusional personality manufactured by Bruce himself to keep Batman able to fight in case he was mindwiped, or driven to insanity.
In the original story from 1958, one night, Bruce Wayne finds himself in a daze. He dresses as Batman and takes off in the Batplane while remaining unclear of his own actions. He soon finds that he has been teleported to another planet, Zur-En-Arrh. There he meets a scientist named Tlano who has been monitoring his activities on Earth, and has decided to become a version of Batman for his own planet.
On this planet, the Batman of Earth has enhanced abilities due to the different elements of the alien planet. The two Batmen join forces to defeat giant invading robots piloted by an unidentified alien race. After the robots are destroyed, the alien Batman gives Batman/Bruce Wayne his Bat-Radia device as a keepsake, and returns him to Earth.
In the modern story, at some point in the past, the psychiatrist Simon Hurt was hired by Batman to oversee an isolation experiment. During this process, he gave Bruce Wayne a post-hypnotic trigger connected to the phrase "Zur-En-Arrh", young Bruce Wayne's mishearing of his father's last words "the sad thing is they'd probably throw someone like Zorro in Arkham".
Many years later, Doctor Hurt was working with the Black Glove when they decided to target Batman and his allies, first spreading information to the effect that Batman's father somehow survived his murder by Joe Chill. Then, using the Zur-En-Arrh trigger, in conjunction with drugs, he sent a dazed and confused Bruce Wayne onto the streets of Gotham with no memory of his life.
In Batman #678, "Bat-Mite" appears on the last page, commenting, "uh-oh" to Batman's increasing delusions after Bruce has assembled a makeshift Batman costume of similar style to that worn by the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh. He then, throughout the whole Batman R.I.P. storyline, appears to counsel the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh, revealed over the course of the story to be a back-up personality created after a hallucination Batman suffered when exposed to Professor Milo's gas, intended to take over for Bruce Wayne if he was ever psychologically attacked in such a manner as to render Batman out of action.
The colorful costume expresses a greater confidence and demonstrates a greater willingness to torture and possibly kill his opponents; on one occasion the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh even describes himself as being "Batman without Bruce Wayne". Batman #680 reveals that Bat-Mite is indeed a product of Batman's imagination, being Batman's rationale to prevent the unstable Zur-En-Arrh persona from going too far, although he comments that he is from the fifth dimension because the fifth dimension is imagination.
The costumes of the two incarnations of the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh are the more or less same, consisting of gaudy, outlandish colors. In the modern continuity, the crazed Bruce Wayne comments that despite the ostentatiousness of the costume, Robin had dressed this way for years, implying that it reflects the confidence of the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh in his ability to attract the attention of his enemies where the Earth Batman dresses in dark colors to attack his foes in the shadows.
Tlano possessed much high-tech equipment, owing to his residence on a futuristic planet. His version of the Batmobile had an "atomic-powered" motor, and he flew a rocket-shaped Batplane.
His main device was the "Bat-radia", with which he could "jam atmospheric molecules", affecting the equipment of his enemies. At the end of the story, Tlano leaves Bruce with the device.
The Bruce Wayne incarnation also possesses a Bat-radia. This may or may not reflect a continuity between the two stories, as Grant Morrison has made efforts to treat Batman's entire publication history as his backstory. This version of the device scrambled security systems, for instance overriding and confusing Arkham Asylum's, as well as serving as a tracking device to allow Batman's allies to find him.
There is one additional appearance of the character, which in my opinion may be the coolest of all, and it was in one of the animated series. The Silver Age Batman of Zur-En-Arrh appeared in the series Batman: The Brave and the Bold voiced by Kevin Conroy (the actor that plays Bruce Wayne in the DC animated universe and other media). This version of Batman of Zur-En-Arrh has a Clark Kent-like identity, and has a robot butler named Alpha-Red. He also appears, in close ups, to resemble Batman from the 1992 animated series, as well as the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited shows. He shows an image of the "bats" from Zur-En-Arrh (brightly colored demonic winged creatures) explaining his garish costume.
So, how's the figure? Very interesting, really. Although the back of the package clearly relates the original incarnation's storyline -- probably since the modern version would either be a bit confusing or not especially appropriate for an action figure toy -- the figure itself is clearly based on the modern "Bruce Wayne's got a couple'a screws loose at the moment" version. Personally, I would've preferred something more classic, but it's still an interesting figure.
It's clearly Batman, but yeesh, what a color scheme. The cowl, gloves, trunks, boots, and cape are purple -- the same sort of purple one typically sees printed on a can of Grape Crush. This is a serious purple. The cape, in keeping with the more serious tone of the latter version of the character, looks like it's been through a shredder. It's scary-looking enough, for something that looks like it came out of a haunted house. Credit to the Four Horsemen, it's certainly an effective sculpt, not to mention a decided departure from their usual capes for these figures.
Batman's face is unshaven, what can be seen of it below the cowl, and Batman has a somewhat crazed-looking, teeth-baring grimace on his face.
The bulk of the costume is red, with yellow sleeves. The red and yellow are somewhat darkened, but the result is still a very garish look for Batman. The bat-emblem on the chest is rather extreme, as well. It features the yellow oval, but the "bat" itself, although black, has much more extended "wing points" than is typical for Batman.
Even the utility belt is different. It's narrower, and is lacking in the customary equipment pouches that one would expect Batman to have with him. There's a small device clipped to one side. The "Bat-Radia", I assume.
For the most part, the figure uses the standard body molds of most of the male heroes in the DC Universe line from Mattel, not to mention several previous Batman figures with those gloves and boots, so it's entirely compatible with the series. However, what's surprising and impressive to me is the number of distinctive parts.
The head is unique to the figure, and so is the cape, but somewhat surprising is the fact that so is the upper torso. This costume has rather ragged, flared shoulders, as well as a couple of patches of visible stitching, including on the cowl, and on the upper torso. I guess Bruce Wayne's alternate personality or whatever could use a few sewing lessons.
Paintwork on the figure is excellent. As for accessories, he comes with a ratty-looking (but nicely detailed) baseball bat. So much for futuristic hardware. Don't get me started on the potential pun of the Bat carrying a bat...
Let's consider Bat-Mite at this point. Bat-Mite made his first appearance in Detective Comics #267, dated May 1959 in a story titled "Batman Meets Bat-Mite" written by Bill Finger, with art by Sheldon Moldoff.
Bat-Mite is an Imp similar to the Superman villain Mr. Mxyzptlk. Appearing as a small childlike man in an ill-fitting costume, Bat-Mite possesses what appears to be near-infinite magical power, but in reality is highly-advanced technology from the fifth dimension that cannot be understood by our limited three-dimensional views.
Unlike Mxyzptlk, Bat-Mite idolizes his superhero target and thus he has visited Batman on various occasions, often setting up strange events so that he could see his hero in action. Bat-Mite is more of a nuisance than a supervillain, and often departs of his own accord upon realizing that he has angered his idol.
Bat-Mite regularly appeared in Batman, Detective Comics, and World's Finest Comics for about five years. Bat-Mite and Mr. Mxyzptlk teamed up four times in the pages of World's Finest Comics to plague Superman and Batman together, as well. In 1964, however, when the Batman titles were revamped under new editor Julius Schwartz, Bat-Mite vanished.
After this, only three more Bat-Mite stories were published in the pre-Crisis DC Universe: two Bat-Mite/Mr. Mxyzptlk team ups in World's Finest Comics #152 (August 1965) and #169 (September 1967), and "Bat-Mite's New York Adventure" from Detective Comics #482 (February–March 1979), in which the imp visits the DC Comics offices and insists that he be given his own feature in a Batman comic. This story featured protestors with picket signs shouting "We want Bat-Mite!" outside the Tishman Building (where DC's editorial offices were located at the time), and was accompanied by an editorial comment that this story was published specifically to acknowledge the actual requests of fans for this character's revival.
After the Crisis on Infinite Earths, Bat-Mite was mostly removed from the Batman comics canon. Bat-Mite made an appearance in the series Legends of the Dark Knight, although he may have been the hallucination of a drug-addled criminal named Bob Overdog. This comic states that Bat-Mite is one of the many admirers of superheroes from another dimension. This version of Bat-Mite later appeared in Mitefall, a one-shot book which was a parody of the "Knightfall" Batman storyline
In the post-Crisis issue Superman/Batman #25, it was revealed that the Joker had gained Fifth Dimensional powers by maintaining the essence of Mr. Mxyzptlk from the earlier "Emperor Joker" storyline; at the end, Bizarro was able to extract this latent magical essence from the Joker, which manifested in a form recognizable as Bat-Mite. As such, a Bat-Mite has been fully reestablished into the current continuity as an outgrowth of Mr. Mxyzptlk incubated within the Joker.
Following the aforementioned Grant Morrison story, in Superman/Batman #52, Bat-Mite appears having had a bet with Mr. Mxyzptlk. This Bat-Mite appears to admire Batman, and Batman addresses him with familiarity.
Bat-Mite was a regular character of the 1977 Filmation animated series The New Adventures of Batman voiced by Lou Scheimer (which would explain why he sounded almost exactly like Orko from Masters of the Universe). He was depicted as a well-meaning magical fan of the superhero. As such, he tried to help Batman even though he usually complicated matters, with a whiny "All I wanna do is help!" as a near-catchphrase. One episode featured his home planet called Ergo as well as a villain of Bat-Mite's species named Zarbor. He also has a crush on Batgirl.
An animatronic Bat-Mite briefly appeared in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Deep Freeze", voiced by Pat Fraley. Bat-Mite enthusiastically greeted Batman, saying "Greetings, Dynamic Duo! I'm your biggest fan!" before kissing Robin, who was shocked. It then malfunctions and falls apart, stuttering "I just wanna help!". It is revealed just to be a robot toy, created by robotics expert Karl Rossum. In the background, an animatronic Mister Mxyzptlk, Streaky the Supercat and Krypto the Superdog can also be seen in Rossum's apartment.
Bat-Mite also appeared in the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episodes "Legends of the Dark Mite", "Emperor Joker", "Bat-Mite Presents: Batman's Strangest Cases!" and the series finale, "Mitefall!". This version of Bat-Mite is powerful enough to regularly break the fourth wall and read to Batman his past, present and future exploits from real world comic books, and make fun of real-world comic convention fans.
So, how's the figure? Not bad for such a little guy. Notably, this is NOT the first Bat-Mite figure in the DC Universe line. There was another one, offered as a K-mart exclusive pack-in with the Silver Age Batman figure from the Batman Legacy collection, another spin-off of the DC Universe series.
The two figures are very similar, except for the fact that the K-mart version had a pleasanter expression on his face. Given the serious tone of the Grant Morrison story, this Bat-Mite figure has been given a new headsculpt, which as much as anything looks as though the imp is doing his best to match Batman's usual grim-and gritty scowl. This works about as well as Darkseid doing a stand-up comedy act.
Bat-Mite stands about 2-5/8" to the top of his head -- a full 3" if you count the one Bat-ear that's standing straight up. Bat-Mite always seemed to have a few costume problems, the most obvious of which was one constantly dropping ear. For a magical being from the fifth dimension, you'd think he could've found a better tailor. His "Bat-emblem" looks more like a black lightning bolt printed on a oval-shaped piece of white fabric, crudely stitched to the front of his shirt.
Otherwise, the colors are spot-on. Bat-Mite has a black cowl, capt, gloves, trunks, and boots, while the shirt and leggings are gray. He even has a small yellow utility belt.
It makes for an interesting color contrast. The big, bad, grimacing Batman is wearing a costume featuring colors normally reserved for a disco, while the cartoony little guy is dressed in the right color scheme.
Especially impressive is how well articulated Bat-Mite is for his size, and decidedly skinny limbs and disproportionately large head. Bat-Mite is poseable at the head, arms, and legs. The only thing that annoys me about this is -- they couldn't do this for Tin, the diminutive member of the Metal Men, who was sold with Platinum a number of months back!? He doesn't have this much articulation!
So, what's my final word? This is certainly an interesting figure of Batman, with a curiously dual backstory, the two parts of which don't really reconcile all that well. If one accepts the interplanetary origin, then his modern appearance needs to be explained. Maybe somewhere along the way Tlano went a little more grim-and-gritty, but kept the uniform colors, and somehow had a few costume mishaps on his way to Earth? I don't really know.
In any case, both figures are impressive additions to Mattel's overall DC Universe Collection, which as it stands right now, sadly isn't going to have that many more additions. On that basis alone, I think they're worth bringing in.
The BATMAN OF PLANET X, and BAT-MITE, from Mattel's DC Universe BATMAN UNLIMITED collection, definitely have my highest recommendation!