“In good Bat-climbing, as in driving, one must never sacrifice safety for speed.”
Here it is. This is the action figure that Bat-nerds have been waiting almost fifty years for. And with a super-heroic sense of responsibility like that, who can blame them? Mattel, we really hope that you got this one right.
In case you never heard the wheezy rallying cry of the disenfranchised nerd, merchandise depicting Adam West as Batman has been tied up in a nightmare of licensing rights for a very long time. An excruciatingly long time, if you’re pained by such things. Until now, it was legally impossible to get any official product, aside from the classic Barris Batmobile, based on the 196os TV show. It’s not as though Adam West was an exceptional Batman, or that his TV series told any amazing stories, or even that West was the first live-action Batman (he was the third), but the psychedelic freakout of West’s pop-art Batman is memorable. Either you grew up with this sunshine-and-lollipops Batman, or you stumbled into him decades later and subsequently felt a sharp pang of revulsion which eventually ebbed away into begrudging appreciation. Like most of my ex-girlfriends, except in reverse. West’s Batman is less about comic books and more about a really weird attempt to bring the already-weird Silver Age of comics to television. What results is a beautiful Batman, anomalous to the Batman mythos, but indispensable nonetheless.
A nerd generally collects stuff to honor and support the things they love. It’s just kinda how the nerd brain works. Buying licensed products prolongs the life of a property, and in some cases, even resurrects it from cancellation, as with Family Guy, Futurama and Veronica Mars. Until now, nerd brains have been unable to fill the West-Batman-shaped spot in their hippocampi. Not with legal DVDs, and not with toys. Sometime in the past year, a licensing barrier broke wide open, and this year, companies are producing all shapes and sizes of Batman, Batmobiles, and Bat-villains, straight from the classic TV show. This 2-pack of Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin is the first of many offerings. (And as far as product announcements go, the only way to get a 6″ Burt Ward Robin.) Future 6″ figure offerings include Cesar Romero as The Joker, Frank Gorshin as The Riddler, and Burgess Meredith as The Penguin, as well as a “Surf’s Up” Batman, with swim trunks and a surfboard. If the line is successful, it’ll surely encompass some of the more obscure Batman bad guys – and hopefully, all three Catwomen and a Batgirl.
Batman and Robin come packaged in a diorama with a wall base, reproducing their classic “wall climbing gag”, in which the two crimefighters would be scaling a building, butts-to-nuts and perpetuating their unintentionally homoerotic subtext, while some B-list star of yesteryear popped their head out of a window and had a short, aggressively boring conversation with them. The gag was ever-so-clever because Batman and Robin weren’t actually climbing anything, but walking on a flat surface in front of a sideways camera. Sorry to spoil your fun, guys.
I’m going to make a potentially controversial statement here: while the 1960s Batman TV series was iconic and charming, the occasional Bat-rope-climbing gag was terrible. It would have been cute once. It could have been cute in every episode, in the way that something is funny, and then not funny, and so unfunny that it becomes an oroborous of hilarity and becomes funny again. The wall gag happened fourteen times, made ever-more-embarrassing by the tragically forced conversations between the costumed heroes and their guest stars. Why would Batman wish Colonel Klink well? Dude was a Nazi. Batman never had a good conversation on that wall, but if it’s the only way to get a Burt Ward Robin, I guess I’m in.
Batman is expressively non-heroic in his shape and stance, which is completely true to the show. Adam West was not an exceptionally muscular or fit Batman, and his action figure isn’t afraid to outfit him with a couple of realistically scrawny arms, a narrow body and a bit of a paunch. You might initially assume that this Batman is a marginally unkind depiction of West, but it’s actually really, really accurate. If the figure has one flaw, it’s an overemphasis on Batman’s cowl eyebrows, which weren’t quite as extensive in the show. Batman’s cape is lined with wire, allowing for action-cape-posing, but this wire stops short right before it reaches the neck, leaving a strangely pointy collar. The figure’s packaging also includes an inexplicable plastic tie which runs through the cape, leaving a small hole behind – but these are all minor points, vanishing underneath that inner glow you feel because you actually have an Adam West Batman action figure in your hand, even though they said it would never happen. Anything is possible now, guys. Anything. Unicorns. Starships. Doritos that don’t cut up your mouth or bind up your bowels. Anything.
This is the kind of toy that reveals the man in the costume, rather than the character he’s portraying. One of my favorite aspects of cheap Bandai kaiju figures is that they don’t really pretend to be monsters. They know that they’re made of stuntman in giant, awkward, hastily-assembled rubber costumes. There’s no idealization of West Batman. This is a guy in a ridiculous costume that bunches up a bit around the shoulders, and this is a toy that appreciates that. His trunks and gloves might have a slight, glittery shimmer… or maybe that’s just the magic leaking out. Of his pants.
West Batman has all of the articulation of a standard DC Mattel figure, which is extensive and well-cut. Skinny legs and thin ankle joints don’t allow for a lot of dynamic balance, but it’s a kind of articulation that suits the figure well.
The same can be said of Ward-Robin on almost all accounts, although Robin almost looks like he was caught doing something terrible. He’s got this ashamed look on his face that can only come from wearing underpants that strangle your junk to within an inch of its life.
But the wall… the wall base can be displayed horizontally, or displayed on your wall to maintain that vertical illusion. The problem is that it’s a really tricky illusion to maintain. First of all, the foot pegs provided for stability aren’t wide or deep enough to reliably support either figure. They kind of gently nestle into the figures’ feet, like a kitten into its mother’s warm belly; comfortable, but by no means constrained. Second, if this wall is truly designed to replicate the wall gag, Mattel would realize that Batman and Robin didn’t exactly keep their personal space in check while climbing, and these pegs are way too far apart.
In this scene, Robin finds himself accidentally impregnated.
The “Batrope” that Mattel includes is a cheap piece of black twine, which is pretty disappointing. Mattel didn’t take this whole thing seriously, and it’s really not possible to pose these guys on their wall, but at least the figures are exceptional.
Batman, through the ages, always reflects the pop culture psyche prevalent at the time. 1960s Batman was fun and light, while 1980s Batman was gritty.
And there are also some pretty weird ones in there also.
I’m also a little grateful that when I search for “Batman wall gag”, Google doesn’t ask me “Did you mean Batman ball gag?” Internet, you have not yet reached critical perversion mass.
And because I found Surfing Batman for $4.50, here are some pictures of that too, because Surfing Batman.
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.