REVIEW: BATMAN LEGACY CATMAN
There's a new action figure line out there from Mattel, that proves that you don't have to carry the name "DC Universe Classics" on your package, to be an entirely compatible DC Universe Classics-style action figure.
The line's name is BATMAN: LEGACY, and as one might expect, it features characters from various eras of Batman's history. One character in particular in this series was of interest to me, and although he did indeed start his career in the DC Universe as an enemy of Batman, that wasn't the reason I was especially interested in him. It's his more recent career that I've enjoyed.
His name is CATMAN, and he's been a member of the team known as the SECRET SIX, ever since it debuted in its current form in the pages of the pre-Infinite Earths mini-series, "Villains United". The figure, thankfully, is a modern rendition of the character.
While a modern interpretation of Catman might be seen as a bit of a stretch for placement in a Batman-based line -- the two have not met all that often, and when they did in the pages of Secret Six, it was a fairly brief battle and discussion, during which time Catman actually got the Dark Knight to admit that he'd stopped off for Mexican food before going on patrol for the night. On the other hand, I've been wanting a DC Universe Classics figure of Catman for years. Two other members of the Six -- Deadshot and Bane -- have already been made. The title recently ended -- badly -- as part of the lead-in to the so-called "DC Relaunch" -- the less said about that the better as far as I'm concerned -- so I'm not sure we'll be seeing anyone else from the team, but -- we really needed Catman, and now we've got him.
Let's consider the history of the character. Catman is described as a modern reworking of a villain first introduced in Detective Comics #311, in January of 1963, created by Bill Finger and Jim Mooney. Although at that point clearly a villain and directed specifically against Batman, his more recent adventures have presented him as being both a more capable individual, and more of a so-called "anti-hero" than precisely a villain.
Catman was originally Thomas Blake, a world-famous trapper of jungle cats who turned to crime because he had grown bored with hunting and had squandered most of his fortune. He became a burglar who committed his crimes in a catsuit made out of an ancient African cloth that was said to confer a "nine-lives" ability.
His costume was modeled after Catwoman's, who was none too pleased to have her modus operandi copied, especially when she was wrongly implicated for his crimes, and actually helped Batman track down Catman. As with many Batman villains of the time, Catman was little more than a one-gimmick villain, who in this case stole items along a "cat" theme, such as cat statues, "cat's eyes" emeralds, and so forth.
Catman was first revived in the pages of Detective Comics, this time briefly working alongside Catwoman. The alliance didn't last.
In 1992, Catman appeared in the title "Batman: Shadow of the Bat", as a member of a team called The Misfits, led by Killer Moth, of all people. The group was portrayed as an assemblage of third-rate villains trying to prove themselves. Catman reappared in a 1995 crossover between Shadow of the Bat and Catwoman. In this story, the cloth that Catman's costume was made from was retconned as belonging to a South Sea cat cult. Catwoman was hired by the cult to return the cloth, but gave them a fake.
Catman remained in limbo until 2003, when he resurfaced as a foe of Green Arrow. Written by Brad Meltzer, Catman was portrayed as a pathetic, overweight loser who was looked down upon by other villains and who was easily defeated by Green Arrow. He had dyed his hair black, which he thought "made him look tougher".
In issue 20, the villainous gorilla Monsieur Mallah sends Warp to abduct Blake, the implication being that Catman had met a rather grisly end as Mallah's dinner. This situation was alluded to by Blake, when he joins the Secret Six: "You know you've hit rock bottom when a monkey and a Frenchman don't consider you worth killing."
In 2005, in the mini-series "Villains United", Catman resurfaced in Africa, where he had traveled to attempt to salvage his life and began living with a pride of lions. He used this time to lose weight, get himself in shape, and regain his sense of self-worth and fighting skills. This life would he shattered by the arrival of the Secret Society of Super-Villains. Seeking to unite all of Earth's super-villains under his control, Lex Luthor (in reality the alternate-Earth Alexander Luthor Jr.) sought to recruit Catman, only to be refused. In retaliation for being turned down by such a "nobody", Luthor had Catman's pride of lions killed.
Catman vowed revenge against Luthor, and was subsequently recruited into a small group of villains known as the Secret Six, all of whom had defied Luthor and were working under the direction of an individual known as Mockingbird.
Now portrayed as a cunning warrior with a sense of honor, Catman has become a potent anti-hero type of character. He is depicted with formidable fighting skills that allow him to fight Mallah to a standstill and to blind Captain Nazi. He is different from other villains, even some of his teammates, in that he has certain noble and heroic qualities, and a personal sense of honor. While one of his original teammates, Cheshire, notes that Blake behaves more like a hero than a villain, Catman sees heroes such as the Justice League as being arrogant and abusive of their power.
Catman and the rest of the Secret Six would continue to appear, in a second self-titled mini-series, as well as in the Birds of Prey title, and in the mini-series "Salvation Run."
Subsequent to this, Catman and the rest of the team starred in their own ongoing title, Secret Six, which takes place after Salvation Run. Blake apparently spent some time back in Africa, where he brutally attacked a gang of poachers. His actions have led Catman to wonder if he has the temperament to be considered a hero.
Catman would continue to serve as a mainstay of the Secret Six throughout its run, and more often than not was the voice of reason, or honor, or at least trying to do the right thing, when possible. He's had his difficult moments, including dealing with the fact that he sired a son with Cheshire during her time with the team, a son who was later kidnapped by a man who had hired the Six.
His origin story has been reworked or expanded slightly, in one story showing him to be the somewhat overweight son of a domineering and abusive father who victimized both him and his mother, and was consistently trying to get him to "act like a man", at one point causing him to accidentally shoot and kill his mother.
As to his powers and abilities, although he is not superhuman, Catman has trained himself to the level of an Olympic athlete, and is a highly skilled and agile hand-to-hand combatant, able to hold his own against some of the most proficient fighters in the DC universe, including Bronze Tiger and Batman. He is also one of the world's most foremost hunters and trackers, and has shown to have an extraordinary sense of smell.
He wears razor-tipped gauntlets and has been known to use a sharp-edged Catarang, and a utility belt similar to Batman's. Catman has claimed several times, both in his early appearances and at least once in the modern era, that his cape is mystical and able to restore mortal wounds.
So, how's the figure? Really outstanding, it really is. This is the Catman figure that I've been hoping would happen within the DC Universe Classics line, but the Batman Legacy line is entirely compatible, of course, and even uses the same body molds, so I could personally care less what sort of packaging the figure comes in.
In fairness, though, the Batman Legacy packaging is very nicely done. It sort of folds over the plastic bubble and is a little more ornate in design than the DC Universe Classics line, and obviously, being based around Batman, has a darker color scheme. In lieu of a "Collect and Connect" series of figure parts, the figures in he Batman Legacy line come with a display stand with their name on it, and a small poster.
As for Catman -- well, thank goodness they used his modern appearance, because I will readily admit that his original costume was pretty cornball. It was yellow, with an orange cowl, trunks, cape, gloves, and boots, and a rather contrived "CM" emblem on the chest where the "C" formed the better part of an oval that contained the "M".
Whatever else Thomas Blake might've gotten during his rejuvenation in Africa, it included a more impressive fashion sense. His modern costume is a fairly deep yellow-orange, with an orange-brown cowl, cape, gloves, trunks, and boots. And this is the costume that the figure is presented in. The "CM" emblem has been replaced by three ragged, curved claw marks, which look somewhat like three letter "C"'s, sometimes depending on which artist is drawing the character. In the comics, these marks on the costume are reflective of an actual scar on Blake's chest, inflicted early on by one of his pride of lions. A friendly greetings, I suppose...
Blake's cowl has two short, cat-like ears on either side, and his eyes are visible, as is his lower face. Blake's eyes have been painted superbly well, with blue irises, which are a small but interesting color offset to the rest of his costume. Blake's face is slightly unshaven, as it tends to be in the comics, and this has been dealt with very effectively with both the sculpt and the paint job, as a slight bit of stubble has been sculpted across the face, and given a very slight dark wash of paint. Barely enough to be perceptible, but just enough to be appropriate.
Catman's cape is attached to two narrow straps that run under his arms. It's an unusual appearance for a caped super-character, but it is reflected in the figure. In the comics, Catman hides a couple of nasty blades under the cape in sheaths attached to these straps. The figure doesn't go into quite this much detail. The straps do unfortunately keep the arms from resting entirely at the sides of the figure, but it's not that adverse an effect.
Tons of credit to the figure designers, the boots and gloves are surprisingly distinctive. Both have distinct cuffs, edged in metallic gold. Similarly, the feet of Catman's boots are slightly upturned at the toes, and the edges of the feet are trimmed in gold, and the soles of the boots have a distinct ridged pattern to them.
Catman's cape is quite lengthy, and orange-brown in color. It's very agreeably flexible, and nicely detailed. It's a quite large cape, as capes in the DC Universe line go, and it is heavy enough to make the figure slightly back-heavy. He tends to topple over backwards unless he's posed leaning slightly forward. I suppose the display stand might also rectify this, but I've never been in the habit of using display stands. Nothing against them, really, and I appreciate it's inclusion, it's just something I've not tended to use with any action figure lines if I can help it.
Catman also has a very nice utility belt, a slightly darker brown than the gloves and trunks and such (as are the straps under the cape). The belt is ridged, with numerous small pouches. The belt has been very nicely detailed, with silver clasps for each pouch, and a silver diamond-shaped buckle. The information I used for Catman's backstory indicates that sometimes, Catman's belt buckle appears as a "smiley face", in face a button "trophy" he took from a pilot that tried to back out of a deal the Secret Six had made with him. I remember the incident, but I don't offhand remember Blake wearing the button as a belt buckle on a regular basis. Then again, I might simply not have noticed. Time to break out the back issues.
The figure, however, definitely does not have a smiley-face belt buckle. Just as well. That might've been a little much.
One will tend to notice that, despite the difference in colors, Catman does have a certain resemblance to Batman. The cowl is similar, he has a utility belt and a cape, and the basic parameters of the costume are quite close. Has Catman ever been mistaken for Batman? Well, yes, on at least one occasion.
In the pages of Secret Six, following the apparent death of Batman during the events of Final Crisis, in the "Battle for the Cowl" storyline, several members of the Secret Six, notably Catman, Bane, and Ragdoll -- the first two of which had been enemies of Batman -- traveled to Gotham City to try to keep the criminal element under a certain amount of control in Batman's absence, as a point of honor. And please don't get me started on what Ragdoll looked like in the classic Robin costume...
Anyway, at one point, after rescuing a family, including a small child, from being kidnapped by terrorists, the young boy said, "Thank you for saving us, Batman" -- much to the considerable hilarity of Ragdoll. Catman was not particularly amused.
One sort of wonders, though, if one of the reasons Catman was brought into the Batman Legacy line was with some hope that he might sell better there if he was mistaken as some sort of off-color Batman. And there's certainly been no shortage of off-color Batman action figures over the years!
Catman is, of course, 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. I am also delighted to report that he has none of the needless and bad-looking double-jointed articulated that has inflicted itself here and there on the DC Universe Classics line.
Catman also comes with a couple of accessories, a pair of claws that can be attached to his hands. They're not Wolverine-like or anything, but you still wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of them.
So, what's my final word? Catman's inclusion in a Batman Legacy line is a little strange. He hasn't really been regarded as a Batman-specific villain for years, and has certainly come into his own thanks to the Secret Six. On the other hand, I'm certainly not going to complain about his inclusion in the line. As I said earlier, the Batman Legacy line is nicely compatible with the DC Universe Classics line, so as far as I'm concerned, this is a long overdue DC Universe Classics figure of Catman that just happened to be placed in a different package. As Garfield the Cat might say (and if I can't quote a cat in this review, then where can I?), "Big fat hairy deal."
If you're a fan of the Secret Six, then here's your chance to get a third member, along with Deadshot and Bane, who were part of the DC Universe Classics line. Even if you just want Catman because he was a Batman villain, well, here you go. Either way, it's a really excellent figure of a character that I consider to be long overdue given his recent popularity in the Secret Six title. The figure is well-made, certainly well-articulated, and the paint detailing is excellent. There's a certain amount of airbrush detailing on the main costume that is not at all intrusive and really serves to bring out the colors nicely. Best I've ever seen of this sort of thing. Regardless of how you may be a fan of Catman, you can't go wrong with this figure.
The DC UNIVERSE BATMAN LEGACY figure of CATMAN most definitely has my highest recommendation!