Welcome to comic nerd confessional blog #452 : I love when superheroes and villains get mashed together into brand new, ridiculous, probably stupid characters. Sure, there’s always some convoluted and unimportant plot point to make it work, but it’s more of a design thing : merging two distinct iconographies into one new thing is a bit of a designer’s dream. And it happens a LOT.
In the case of Composite Superman, writer Edmond Hamilton and legendary illustrator Curt Swan just split Batman and Superman in half, made their skin green, and slapped them back together, which is total Silver Age madness. Why did it happen? Action figures and lightning.
The ’90s Amalgam Comics character Dark Claw merges Batman and Wolverine. Why? A universe-colliding, label-spanning story arc smooshes kinda-similar characters from DC and Marvel together. It’s not the greatest story, but it’s pretty cool distillation and re-imagining of both characters as one.
And for all of today’s ‘Venomized’ versions of heroes and villains? Just add some black goop and pointy teeth and you have a whole new bad guy. Since Venom is a symbiotic organism, it makes sense. Probably.
In a similar way, Play Arts’ Batman ‘Rogues Gallery’ series pushes all of the right nerd buttons. It’s Batman… but it’s also Batman combined with characters like The Joker, or Two-Face, or Mr. Freeze. Except if you’re a well-read comic dork, it’s probably not what you’re thinking.
Canonically, Joker/Batman hybrids are nothing new. ‘The Batman Who Laughs’ is a Batman-Joker that slipped into DC Comics’ main reality from an alternate, rotten reality – one in which Bruce Wayne is infected with Joker toxin, and serves a Bat-god named Batbatos. There’s also Joker : Year of the Villain #1, where Joker slips on the cowl… and there are a bunch of other examples throughout the history of Batman comics. But this Play Arts figure isn’t that.
Nor is Play Arts’ Two-Face Batman a reference to World’s Finest Comics #173, when Batman drinks a soda filled with ‘hyper hormones’ that compels him to act (and look like) like Two-Face, a villain he apparently fears the most at that point in his career, due to his unpredictability. And in Batman #690 and #691, we briefly glimpsed a Two-Face Batman again, as a toxin-induced hallucination over the real Two-Face, who had infiltrated the Batcave. Play Arts embraces an artistic vision of these characters, untethered by the comics, and for $150 each, their action figures are beautiful examples of the form.
So, how are the same figures in bootleg form, for less than a third of the price? Just like last time, they’re totally not bad. And at twice the bulk of a standard 6″ action figure, $50 feels like a completely reasonable price to pay for what’s described as the “China version” with looser joints and “chromatic aberrations” (paint problems). If you don’t like it, “please go to other shop”. Fair enough!
Joker Batman measures 11″ tall, and weighs a little over 13oz, which is huge, allowing for a huge amount of details. Because the aesthetic nature of this is really chaotic, with intentionally smeared paint and a creepy vibe, it’s really easy to overlook any of the imperfections that might come with a low-end version of the real thing. All of the accessories are there, and the figure is undeniably a presence. If the figure has one major flaw, it’s the joints – and this applies to all of these similar bootleg figures.
In practice, the joints are great; they allow some parts to pop out without breaking the joint permanently (which is a huge problem with most ‘American’ toys), and in many cases, they ratchet into place using just a little bit of friction and some well-placed bumps. But because this kind of thing requires really careful engineering and production, a lot of these joints are just super weak, so you’ll be relying a lot on balance to get these guys to pose, whereas that’s not so much an issue with the real thing. Add to this the fact that the joints are pretty visible at times, and unpainted, you may be bothered. I’m not. Each of these comes with a pretty elaborate base in translucent plastic, with two sizes of pincers to hold up your figure, so it’s really not a big deal. I really, really like this stupidly huge, overly-edgy, grotesque Batman.
Two-Face Batman is more of the same – intentionally ragged, hugely detailed, weighty, and exuberantly over-wrought. Same wobbly, exposed joint problems, with the same solutions as before. Even this cheapo version is so good that I selfishly wish that Play Arts made more than just three Rogues in this style. A Clayface-masquerading-as-Batman would totally make sense, as would some Scarecrow-toxin induced vision of Batman as a gangly dispenser of fear. And it’s always a bit of a bold move for a toy company to make something that doesn’t directly adhere to something that’s happened on the page or screen.
The questionable morality of buying bootleg toys aside, since it’s an economic issue far too complex to pick apart here, these are incredible, especially at a price point that hovers around $45, even with international shipping included. But is a crappy toy your only risk?
I recently had someone write to me and ask how to know if a bootleg shop on eBay is safe, and the honest answer is that there’s no great way to know – but eBay is extremely helpful when it comes to you, as a customer, possibly getting ripped off. Feedback scores don’t mean a whole lot, since those can be gamed. Longevity on the site might not mean a whole lot either, since old accounts that look legit can be traded and sold. And chances are that anyone selling less-then-legal items on eBay will be shut down before too long, so short-lived accounts who will reliably send you what you’ve paid for will be vanquished, and quickly pop back up again. The short answer? If you find yourself screwed by a seller, just call eBay and explain the situation.
And even though I was almost scammed twice on Joker Batman (one never send, one sent the wrong item on purpose), I’d still buy these again. it’s worth the effort.
C. David is a writer and artist living in the Hudson Valley, NY. He loves pinball, Wazmo Nariz, Rem Lezar, MODOK, pogs, Ultra Monsters, 80s horror, and is secretly very enthusiastic about everything else not listed here.