It used to be a debate that raged across various toy-related bulletin boards, and among collectors in general. It was the equivalent of Miller Lite’s “Tastes Great” versus “Less Filling,” except more often than not, you could only get one of the two in a single product.
I’m speaking, of course, of sculpt versus articulation. In the ’90s, Todd McFarlane revolutionized the toy business by demonstrating that action figures didn’t have to have simplistic sculpts, but could be every bit as highly detailed as collectible statues. Once he had that figured out, however, he went more in a statue-style direction, with characters intended to be placed in one pose and one pose only, perhaps with some articulation just to get the thing balanced correctly. Some other companies followed suit; others did not. But it was widely assumed at the time that if you wanted a much more poseable figure, the trade-off was seeing large hinges and joints that detracted from any semblance of realism. These days, you might look at McFarlane’s Halo figures and wonder how anyone ever doubted that a detailed sculpt need conflict with essential battle poses.
Still, the ultimate in authenticity would be to do an action figure that, like an actual person, featured joints and a skeleton inside, but no seams on the skin. And it has been tried over the years: Jakks Pacific attempted a few iterations with their WWE figures, and McFarlane’s Sleepy Hollow Headless Horseman had rubber-over-joints in his legs (both featured the same downside – the rubbery material rots and tears quicker than most toys decay). Now Mattel is trying again with Stealth Fusion Batman, which I managed to snag on Mattycollector.com two weeks ago. As the package says, they really want you to think of this as the next level in action-figure authenticity.
Mattel did a Swamp Thing figure like this a couple of Comic-Cons ago, one that really disappointed a lot of DC collectors when it turned out to be large (8″ scale) and out-of-sync with the rest of their DC figures. Technically, yes, Swamp Thing can grow to giant size, but that’s not the version most people want to see. This Batman, more in scale if you imagine Swampy would still be significantly taller than Christian Bale, was released online only. That both of these figures got such limited release suggests Mattel isn’t yet confident in the scale and/or technology, and are testing the waters, which, if I may say so, are damned murky.
Stealth Fusion Batman’s packaging has a bat-shaped hole in the front so you can feel the rubbery goods inside, and since I used the word “packaging,” let’s add that he feels like a sex toy. And no, I’m not going to play the “don’t ask me how I know that” line. We’re adults here. Sex toys have been touched. Live with the image. Perhaps the real Batsuit actually does feel like these. George Clooney’s nippled version, anyway.
In the package, his cloth cape is held by those annoying plastic things that price tags on clothes are attached to. Stupid. You’ll need nail clippers for this. And while it’s nice that a cloth cape is included – at this scale, fabric can hang decently – it’s a really narrow one. No way to spread it out in true Batman style.
Batman comes with two small Batarangs that can be held in either hand, and a generic base with multiple foot pegs for different posing options, all of which seem designed to put him in an awkwardly crooked pose. They’re clearly hoping to get repeat usage out of the design, but it’s sad that Swamp Thing got a way-cooler one.
His head is regular plastic, sorta-but-just-barely ball-jointed, and he’s making a scowly face that looks like the one I make when I’m trying to shave my chin. The waist joint is a cut joint, and the one place where the outer, rubbery shell is cut. The other internal joints are suitably clicky to hold poses, and don’t make the skin bunch up too much, but they don’t have the widest range of motion; I’m afraid to try forcing his arms upward above his head. The clicks of the joints already sound scarily like something breaking.
The Dark Knight Rises is clearly a tough movie for Mattel to get a handle on, toy-wise. They’ve got those tiny figures of Batman and Bane that look like Happy Meal toys, and a collector-based line that mostly consists of ordinary looking guys in everyday clothes, all of whom you have to collect in order to build the Bat-Signal. Hot Toys is going (pun intended) batshit insane with a 12″-scale Bat flying vehicle that’ll probably run close to a grand, but if you have that kind of money to throw around, you ain’t me. So this is really being positioned as the cool collectible for older fans. Except it isn’t that cool. The sex-toy feel makes it icky to even pick up, and the sculpt’s not better than that of the 12″ figure Mattel made for the last movie. So maybe it won’t break your heart to hear this figure’s no longer available online… but if you’d like a loose one, I might know one that’s looking for a home. Just promise you’ll never tell me what you plan on doing with it.
In unrelated news, it’s rare that I find a figure I fall for right away and just have to have right then and there, unless it’s part of a line I already collect. But NECA’s figure of Henrietta from Evil Dead 2 was love at first sight, and I still can’t believe stuff like this gets sold at Toys R Us sometimes. Fully articulated and loaded with gory detail (including actual hair!), this is the toy that brings the Miller Lite sides together. And only half the price of Rubber Batman.