I’m not sure if it’s still trendy to pile onto DC Comics and their weird, misguided attempt at re-branding their entire universe. I’m certain that there’s been enough molten nerd-rage ejected from that sad, squishy volcano already.
What I do know is that during their restructuring, DC Comics, in addition to carpetbombing decades of continuity and tradition, also wiped out their awesome DC Direct brand of action figures and replaced it with DC Collectibles. The new version of this company focuses on current comic, movie and video game designs rather than DC Comics’ rich and interesting history of artists, as DC Direct once did. There’s no questioning DC’s motivation; product tie-ins make money. There’s a wider market for a Batman action figure based on a video game than there is for a Batman based on the art of Bob Kane or Neal Adams. People who are interested in classic comics are old, and subsequently, probably in the way.
So, when DC Comics decided to re-write every title in their collection, they also had to re-design every hero and villain to reflect this new universe. Jim Lee had a big part in designing the core Justice League characters for the “new” Justice League, and it pretty much involved him adding lots of complicated seams to everyone’s old costumes. Was this Jim Lee’s subtle way of saying that DC Comics was just adding unnecessary ornamentation to something that was already great, or was adding some non-functional lines to Superman’s costume really the best that Lee could do?
Instead of traditional heroic underwear, Lee gave our heroes single-color unitards. I don’t think I’m speaking from a very unusual place when I say that I’d rather be caught in my underpants than a unitard. In addition to the explosion of weird costume lines, the removal of the traditional heroic undies is probably the most egregious aspect of the redesign of these heroes. Jim Lee, what were you thinking?
Pictured above is Jim Lee’s ‘Justice League’ Batman, pictured at left, and Greg Capullo’s version of this same Batman. It’s like the Lee-designed Batman is desperate to make a difference, but it just doesn’t know how, so it starts adding lines to something that was already pretty awesome. Essentially, you can tell that Lee spent like two hours to draw the shading on his upper lip. Capullo’s simplification of this design is smart in every way it can be.
In addition to being a uselessly implemented design in general, it pretty much guaranteed that the Lee Batman action figure was going to be un-sculptable. These weird plates just don’t line up in the final figure, and it includes two kneepads of completely different sizes. But hey, Jim Lee, at least you got to give Batman kneepads with fucking BAT EARS ON THEM. Good for you. That was really necessary and important.
Enter Greg Capullo, the artist responsible for some of Batman’s first adventures in this new universe, and a dude stuck with someone else’s strictly-enforced design. In a better, previous world, DC Comics seemed to allow some leeway with artists and how they interpreted Batman, and there are hundreds upon hundreds of comics, and sculptures, to attest to this. With the New 52 universe, creators often reported that DC’s new “creative” department maintains a stifling amount of control over every aspect of their books, causing many creators to leave their stories prematurely. So, Capullo was stuck with a Batman covered in weird seam lines.
Even if I don’t like the costume, it’s now an important part of Batman’s canonical history, so it has an importance in a respectful Batman collection, just like a Batman Forever action figure might. Yes, Batman Forever is the Norbit of the DC Movie Universe, but it’s undeniable: that thing happened and now we have to live with it. Sometimes on our shelves. If anything, it functions as an object to remind ourselves not to take comics too seriously. Care about them, enjoy them, fight for them – but put them down when they start to hurt you.
As action figures go, it’s a good Batman: very serious, a bit aggressive, and well-constructed. Unfortunately, DC Collectibles’ quality control on paint doesn’t follow suit, with a smeared logo and some fairly large glue spots marring the back of his cape. For a $25 action figure “collectible”, this kind of oversight is never really acceptable. Anything over the $20 mark will either be awesome, or I’ll channel my inner old man and write some angry letters, usually resulting in coupons.
One of the signature aspects of Capullo’s run with the character is Batman’s penchant for holding a bunch of batarangs between his fingers, mostly because it kinda makes him look like a cool Wolverine. This figure comes with three easy-to-lose batarangs which more or less slip between the figure’s fingers, explaining some of the weird spaces in the hand sculpt. You can’t really get the full effect going, and it’s stupidly challenging to even get two in place, but the effort was there.
If you need just one “New 52” Batman, and you do if you care about this really weird era of comics, this is the one to get.If you’re into the evolution of Batman over time, this guy is the best representation of an artist trying to save another artist’s overwrought design after the publishing company lost all of their pride.
Maybe, in the future, the scientists in DC Comics’ world will figure out how to make costumes without a thousand little armor pouches. Or maybe the editorial department will wake up one day and punch themselves in the nards until we can get the good stuff back again. Either way, this happened, and now we have to live with it.
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.