REVIEW: WALMART EXCLUSIVE DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS BATMAN & ROBIN TWO-PACK
Mattel's amazing line of DC Universe Classics figures continues to impress, and every so often, there are some interesting store exclusives that come along in the line, as well. Walmart seems to be getting quite a few of these, including a recent assortment of two-packs. One of these two-packs features the Dynamic Duo themselves, the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder -- BATMAN AND ROBIN.
Now, both characters have been part of the DC Universe line before. The modern Robin turned up in Series 4. Batman is another matter, however. The predecessor line to DC Universe Classics was known as DC Universe Super-Heroes, and was much more centered on Batman and Superman, and their related characters. As such, a modern Batman was produced as part of that line.
Mattel, understandably, was reluctant to bring in straightforward versions of the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel too soon after switching the line to the more expansive DC Universe Classics. With now the entire DC Universe to work with, it's not surprising that Mattel didn't want to put contemporary versions of these two right into the line to start with. Admittedly, there was a Batman figure in Series 1 of DC Universe Classics, but it was denoted as "Detective Batman" and featured an earlier color scheme, giving the figure a darker gray than he usually wears these days, blue cowl, cape, boots, and gloves (with black around the face part of the cowl), and a yellow circle around the Bat-emblem.
Batman has popped up a few times since then. There was even a Batman Beyond figure. There has been a black-costumed Batman, a Batman in the modern uniform colors but with the yellow circle around the Bat-emblem, and even a fully contemporary Batman -- who had the misfortune of being placed in a two-pack with a Clayface figure, and was painted with clay splatters.
Finally, this Walmart two-pack offers us what I would definitely have to call -- the right Batman.
Now, I'm not going to insult you by delving too far into Batman's background. There are some characters I feel it is appropriate to do that for. Not everyone is familiar with Eclipso, or the Spectre, or Dr. Fate. But if you need me to tell you who Batman is and where he came from, might I humbly suggest a different hobby that is not quite so dependent on pop culture?
I will say this -- this Batman is intended to be Bruce Wayne. Says so right on the box. It's not Dick Grayson, filling the uniform until Bruce Wayne gets back, which as of this writing, I suspect is impending, as DC Comics has announced a forthcoming mini-series "The Return of Bruce Wayne", thus correcting one of the more boneheaded things to have come out of the admittedly less-than-impressive Final Crisis a couple of years back. Now if we can just get the New Gods back on track we'll be all set.
Let me say this as a quick aside. Consider the number of supposedly deceased heroes that have made very successful comebacks. Hal Jordan is back as Green Lantern. Barry Allen is back as the Flash. Oliver Queen came back as Green Arrow. Arthur Curry is back as Aquaman. Martian Manhunter has returned. Supergirl is back as Superman's cousin and not some weird alien protoplasmic whatever. Now, I have no real problem with some of the people that filled in for these heroes. Kyle Rayner remains part of the Green Lantern Corps. Wally West is still a Flash. I don't offhand know what happened to Connor Hawke, who did his best as Green Arrow for a time.
But -- I think it's way past due for the powers-that-be and the creative personnel to realize that killing off a hero and trying to replace him with someone else just isn't the best strategy. At best, you'll get a capable hero who may enjoy a period of popularity, but who is still always going to be compared to his better-known predecessor. At worst, you'll screw up a legend and the company will have to hope they can find someone with enough talent to undo the mess. The "Shazam" fiasco leaps to mind here.
There's a song by the late Jim Croce that includes the lyric, "You don't tug on Superman's cape." Yeah, and it's not a good idea to put different people in the costumes of his closest friends, either. For me, effective comics storytelling does not involve killing off a major character and rebooting the entire concept with different people as something new and dynamic to suit some writer's notions that he can do something more amazing than has ever been done before. If anything, that's a combination of laziness -- not wanting to do your homework on an established character -- and ego -- thinking you can exceed an established classic. Effective comics storytelling means knowing and understanding who these characters and their established histories are, and having the talent and imagination to build remarkable and interesting new stories around them within those parameters.
I'll get off my soap-box now, but I've wanted to say that in some public format for some time. And within that context, Batman is Bruce Wayne, and that's certainly who this figure is.
The figure is entirely correct for the modern visual interpretation of Batman. Black cowl, cape, gloves, trunks, and boots. A slightly lighter gray uniform than he's had in the past. This used to bother me on a few previous figures, since I really thought it should be darker. However, after studying some of the current artwork, he really is wearing a slightly lighter gray. Okay, fair enough. Proper yellow utility belt around the waist. Interestingly enough, the photo on the back of the package shows a belt with very bulky pouches. Batman has worn such a belt from time to time. However, I admit I prefer a somewhat trimmer belt, and that's what the figure was ultimately given in production. I'm pleased with that.
Most significant is the Bat-emblem. The closest current-style Batman was the Batman figure that came in a Walmart five-pack in 2009, that also included an entirely correct modern Superman, as well as figures of Two-Face, Catwoman, and Lex Luthor. The only quibble about that otherwise very excellent Batman figure was the yellow circle around the Bat-emblem.
Certainly Batman has had a yellow circle around the Bat. Over the entire course of his history, he's probably had it more than he hasn't. But he didn't start out with one, and he doesn't have one these days, and also as such, the Bat-emblem is somewhat larger than in the past.
I am very pleased to report that this Batman figure has the correct, modern Bat-emblem. It's quite large, and it categorically doesn't have a yellow circle around it. THIS -- is the Batman I've been waiting for!
Overall detail on the figure is excellent. Mattel has created an excellent set of basic body molds that are used on many of their "male hero" figures. Many of these molds are also used for Batman, of course, but there are a number of unique parts, including the gloves and boots. Have to have those little jagged flares on the gloves, and the boots are sculpted detail, as well, rather than just painted on. One other note of difference between the production figure and the prototype on the package. The prototype shows Batman's boots as having very thick soles, and indeed, sometimes Batman's boots are. The figure, though, has more traditional soles, and as with the belt, I'm pleased that this is the route they went.
The cape looks excellent, and is not at all "pre-posed", and is decently flexible. Of course, the figure is superbly articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. Batman also comes with a small Batarang accessory.
Now, let's consider the ROBIN figure.
Robin's history is a rather convoluted one. Of course, the character started out as Dick Grayson, introduced in 1940 as a way of mollifying what was then a very dark character in Batman. In the 1980's, a more grown-up Dick Grayson traded in his Robin uniform for the new persona of Nightwing.
Robin became Jason Todd, initially a fairly generic character, but soon reworked into a streetwise kid with a bad attitude. This Robin was not as well received by the fans, and in the late 1980's, as the result of a phone poll (this was pretty much the pre-Internet days), Jason Todd seemingly met his fate at the hands of a thorough beating on the part of the Joker, and a subsequent bomb placed by that same Crown Prince of Crime.
DC Comics, however, did not want Batman to be without a Robin for too long. But how to handle it? Jason Todd had been a mistake, that much was evident. What was needed was a more forthright character that also, if at all possible, had the blessing of the original Robin, Dick Grayson.
Enter Tim Drake. Here was a boy who had, through some impressive deductive reasoning, figured out who Batman and Robin really were. He had met the young Dick Grayson when barely a toddler himself, and had followed Grayson's career. He knew that Grayson had been taken in by Bruce Wayne after Grayson's parents were killed. And then, watching a news report of the exploits of Batman and Robin, he saw Robin pull an acrobatic stunt during a fight that only young Grayson had been capable of. Working from that premise, he was able to track down the rest.
After the loss of Jason Todd, Batman became a grimmer customer than ever -- and reckless. He needed someone to moderate him somewhat. Tim Drake decided that he needed Robin, but when he contacted Dick Grayson, the man now known as Nightwing was unwilling to resume his former role. So Tim Drake donned the Robin costume and entered the fray, and ultimately, Batman had a new partner.
Tim Drake has served admirably well as Robin since that time, and has had his own quite long-running comic book, and been active in both Young Justice and the Teen Titans. His character was Robin for quite some time in the Batman animated series, as well.
Let's talk costumes. One of the first things Bruce Wayne did was to design a new costume for his new sidekick. The stated reason was to create a costume that offered greater protection. The unstated reason, I suspect, is that while maybe you can put a kid in green speedos and pixie boots in 1940 and get away with it, that sort of thing is going to raise eyebrows these days.
When the DC Universe Classics line got around to making Robin as part of Series 4, they used Robin's then most recent costume, which was actually not the costume that Tim Drake started out in. Following the "One Year Later" jump on the heels of "Infinite Crisis", Robin took on a new costume, that was moderately reminiscent of one which he had worn in the Batman animated series. That costume was largely red, with long sleeves, black trunks, gloves boots, and mask, and a black cape with a yellow interior. It's a good costume, and it certainly works well for the character, even if it's not quite as close to traditional as the Robin costume that Tim Drake started out with.
The Robin figure in this two-pack is a repaint, that gives the figure a very close version of the first Tim Drake costume. Fortunately, Bruce Wayne decided to get rid of the green speedos, bare legs, and pixie boots. The costume is designed to have a red tunic and trunks, green short sleeves, green gloves, green leggings, black boots, and a black cape with a yellow interior. Mattel also chose to give Robin a green mask.
So, how's it look? Very effective. I only have two issues with it, and they're both minor ones, one of which I expected would be the case. Since the first version of this figure had long sleeves, and since this figure is strictly a recoloration, there is no spot on the upper arms to allow for a sculpted division marking the short sleeves. The arms simply transition from the green short sleeves to flesh-tone until we get to the gloves, which do have sculpted detail. Honestly, isn't not that big a deal, and the figure looks perfectly fine.
The other minor gripe is with the Robin emblem. When Robin wore this costume, the "R" was much more stylized. The "R" on this costume is much more straightforward. It's a minor point, but this is one that I think could have been corrected. If Mattel is willing to create a few new paint stencils, which I'm sure they had to do for the arms at the very least, then I would think they could have also created a new logo imprint or whatever process was used.
But these are both relatively minor issues on an otherwise superb figure. The headsculpt is excellent, especially in facial detail and the attention paid to Robin's somewhat frizzy hair. The clasps on his tunic are fully sculpted, and he has a large utility belt with plenty of equipment pouches. The cape is well-made, not at all pre-posed, and decently flexible.
The Robin figure, unlike the Batman figure, is an entirely unique figure with parts that aren't really designed to be shared around. Of course, the figure is shorter than Batman, representing a younger character. Robin stands slightly over 5-1/2" relative to Batman's 6-1/2" -- including pointy ears. A few of his "plainer" body sections have, I believe, been used on a couple of other "teen hero" characters, such as Kid Flash and Beast Boy, but a lot of the parts, including the sculpted-detailed torso, are very Robin-specific, and certainly the gloves are!
Of course, the Boy Wonder is as well-articulated as the Dark Knight. Robin is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles.
I have to say that I prefer this Robin costume just a bit over the one that was previously released in DC Universe Classics. That's not a complaint about either of the figures. I'm glad to have them both. But I do feel that Robin should have a bit of green in his costume, and that's something that was sorely lacking in the other costume. It's present and accounted for here, and I'm glad of it.
So, what's my final word? This Walmart-exclusive two-pack is immensely impressive to me. It includes the correct, modern Batman that DC Universe Classics has richly needed and certainly deserved for some time, and it includes a cool take on Robin that, in my opinion, anyway, features the character in a preferable costume to the one previously offered. Really, from that standpoint, there's no way to go wrong with this set.
Given the largely gaping hole on the shelf that was left when I picked up this two-pack, I would have to say that as of the time of this writing -- which was the same weekend as I purchased the set -- that this is likely to be an extremely popular set. I have no idea what it's long-term availability is likely to be, but I will say that if this is a set that would be of interest to you, and if you're any sort of Batman and/or DC Universe Classics fan, it certainly should be, then if you see it -- do not hesitate! Get it immediately!
And, of course, the DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS Walmart-exclusive DYNAMIC DUO Two-Pack featuring BATMAN & ROBIN definitely has my highest recommendation!