Anyone who’s spent any time on eBay buying weird toys has probably stumbled across a vast collection of auctions originating from China, featuring unusual, unreleased, and high-end toys at giveaway prices. The accounts don’t always last long, and the feedback isn’t always great, so is it worth the risk? With the protections of PayPal in place, we’ve checked out some of these cheap handheld video game consoles (not always worth it), and some LEGO (worth it)… but what happens when you decide to go cheap with higher-end collectibles? I took the plunge with two Bootleg Batmen : Amazing Yamaguchi Batman (originally by Revoltech, $80 retail), and Timeless Sparta Batman Play Arts Kai (originally by Square Enix, $150 retail).
The Amazing Yamaguchi line is basically comics nearly come to life : super-articulated, stylized, and the perfect action figure for adults. Revoltech makes figures that can be almost completely disassembled; ingenious friction-fit ball joints join together every appendage, combined with highly detailed scupting. If a joint is overextended, it just pops out and can be slid back in. Should one of these ball joints break (and I’ve never seen it happen on a real Revoltech toy), most figures include a few extras, so swap it out and keep going. It’s a modular system that deserves a much wider usage. Imagine if every toy you owned was a Xevoz, and every part could be replaced or repaired. More and more, the right to repair is a real consumer issue, mostly notably associated with cars and high-end electronics, but it seems like it should applicable to any toy you pay $80 for as well.
Having some experience with Revoltech and how their how system works, I purchased an Amazing Yamaguchi Batman on eBay for $25, with the caveat that this was “a good quality Chinese version with a reasonable price,” according to the description. For $55 off, it’s hard to argue. I expected the figure to be pretty fidgety and probably be a little brittle, but overall, a good display piece. I wasn’t disappointed.
Even without an actual Amazing Batman to compare this to, it’s probably safe to say that Bootleg Batman is a recast using the same molds, just with slightly cheaper plastic. Out of the package, one of the miraculous ball joints was already broken; thankfully, Batman’s cape had so many extra joints that it was easy to just swap out the broken bits. Score one for Revoltech’s ingenuity, but not one for the fake Revoltech joints, which don’t have the endurance of the real article. The cape pieces, which are many, also feel really brittle, and it feels like you have to be very cautious moving them around. Fortunately, there were no more breakages, but softer plastic would have made this whole thing a lot more enjoyable.
Like LEGO, Revoltech depends on a perfect fit to hold together. And while none of Batman’s joints were too loose to get a grip, a few were too tight. The result is a couple of pegs that stick out a little longer than they should, and a fear of forcing anything too hard due to the slight brittleness overall, but it’s nothing too terrible.
And the best feature? This is probably the first Batman to ever come with cape-gripping hand attachments. Difficult to pose so it doesn’t look weird, but pretty neat from the right angle
Add in a pile of accessories, including an angry face, and how does it all stack up? As a Batman enthusiast who enjoys this guy in his many odd forms and slight variations, it’s an incredible purchase for $25. It’s probably the most versatile Batman ever released in terms of poseability, and it’s not manga-fied like many other releases original to Japan are. There’s nothing wrong with that; Kaiyodo’s small, plastic statues and gashapon, and the Batman Black & White Kuwata statue, both offer some great interpretations of the Dark Knight. Who doesn’t like a bad guy named Lord Death Man?
If you have a lot of patience, and are willing to spend a little while being fiddly and careful, bootleg Amazing Yamaguchi Batman will look just as good as the real thing on your Batman shelf. And it’ll definitely have the coolest cape there, reminiscent of Spawn’s never-ending, fold-upon-fold nonsense. It may never look as good as the box art, but it’s all just different enough to be cool.
And then there’s Spartan Batman, purchased for the sum of $36, marking about $115 off of the original retail price. Like Amazing Batman, this one also came with a warning : “China version figure, not as good as original Japan one, but still OK with reasonable price.”
I respect the honesty of any company that calls their stuff “still OK”, so I bit the bullet and dropped a few bucks on what could have been a massive disappointment. I’ve purchased a few Play Arts Batman figures when I was feeling a little less poor, so I had a good idea of what to expect when it came to the real thing. But I was pretty unprepared for just how good a bootleg action figure could be.
When you’re used to American toy releases, where most companies regularly smudge paint or miss the lines on authentic $25 action figures, your tolerance for budget manufacturing probably grows. And without getting into the working conditions of factory facilities in China, or even what it takes to produce factory overrun figures (which I’m guessing some of these are), unless something is egregiously wrong, you just have to accept the human error. With this in mind, it’s not really a big deal when paint might not cover all of the right parts of a hand, or stray bits of paints appear where they shouldn’t. Just relax. If these things are deal-breakers, you’ve going to be disappointed with most toy lines.
If the other Batman skimps a little on plastic and friction tolerance, this one skimps just a little on paint, but the style of this gritty warrior Batman is so grungy that it’s not even really noticeable. The only flaw, and it’s a minor one, is that Batman’s shield is supposed to store two daggers; it only stores one, as the second sheath is misaligned enough to make the insertion of the second impossible. No big deal.
Overall, Spartan Batman is a behemoth. With interchangeable hands, multiple weapons, and a ball-jointed cape, everything here feels solid.
Most Batman figures are just about a slight costume change from blue to grey or a new style of outside-underwear, getting insane Batmen-through-time is great. Variety is what makes things like Funko Pops tolerable; if it’s one of the only ways we’re ever going to get a Zebra Batman, gotta respect. DC Direct released a set from The Return of Bruce Wayne story arc, which featured canonical versions of Batman as a cave-person, a pirate, a cowboy, and a “witch hunter”, so who’s to say that Batman never hung around during the Peloponnesian War? It’s not as though Batman’s story doesn’t have ties to Greek mythology and symbolism. The Brave and the Bold episode “Time Out for Vengeance” light-heartedly featured Batmanicus, with a totally different design, but similar in idea. In Batman #38, Batman and Robin even take an honest-to-god, not-an-Elseworlds trip back to Ancient Greece… because why the heck not? They already went to Ancient Rome in #24 under some wacky hypnosis.
Play Arts’ other offerings include other non-canon designs of Batman as a samurai, a steampunk fighter, a futuristic robot, and a heavily-armored version of himself, among others. Their even more interesting offerings merge the Dark Knight with his enemies: Joker, Mr. Freeze, and Two-Face so far. Visually merging heroes with their enemies has always been one of the more interesting aspects of remixing comic stories, whether it’s stuff like Superior Spider-Man, or Doctor Doom wearing the Future Foundation’s all-white costume. Professor X and Magneto join to form Onslaught. Marvel Adventures #9 even merged Captain America and MODOK. It’s a whole thing, and one of comics’ richest traditions. If by ‘richest’ we also mean ‘most wonderfully ridiculous’. Sending heroes to ancient times? Even more so.
Giant Spartan Bootleg Batman is a winner. So maybe it does pay to cheap out.
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.