A few years ago, Mattel released a Batman action figure that paid tribute to The Dark Knight Returns comic book. The use of a Masters of the Universe Classics base body lent itself quite well to the chunky, slightly disproportionate look of Frank Miller’s artwork from the book, and this Batman existed as an interesting one-off release until now, as the new DC Multiverse opted to release an entire toy line based on the iconic miniseries.
Exclusive to Wal-Mart, this new line of figures once again employs the bulky MOTU base bodies to appropriate Miller’s art style, along with some incredible new headsculpts courtesy of the Four Horsemen. We get three new figures in this exclusive lineup– a new version of DKR Batman, as well as Miller’s rendition of Superman, and an army builder of the Son of Batman, one of the legion of thugs who subscribes to the Dark Knight’s militant way of thinking during the story.
Let’s start with Batman. Initially, I was planning to skip this figure, since I had the previous release from the Legacy Collection. But there were a few things that motivated me to pick him up, after all. The most notable change is in Batman’s costume– Bruce Wayne wears several different version of his costume throughout the comic series, and while Mattel’s previous release went for the more memorable grey and black version, the new figure delivers Bats in his grey and blue outfit, complete with the oversized yellow-back insignia on his chest. The figure also includes a brand new portrait, which nails Miller’s distinct, scowling Batman much better than the older release. Like the previous figure, this Batman comes packed with a Batarang accessory, now cast in blue to match his cape and cowl.
Until now, we’ve never seen Mattel tackle a Miller-style Superman, but this figure is so well done, I don’t know that we’ll ever need a second one. Like Batman, the Last Son of Krypton makes great use of a MOTU buck body, with new boot and belt details, and a headsculpt which perfectly captured Miller’s Superman, from the intense– yet slightly troubled eyes– to the overly-exaggerated spit-curl in his hair. It’s really a perfect three dimensional adaptation of this slightly cartoony spin on the classic hero… the best we’ve ever seen in toy form, and the best we are likely to see anytime in the near future. Superman’s royal blue uniform matches Batman’s pallet perfectly (although both seem slightly too dark compared to their comic book appearances), and the government’s hero also includes a Kryptonite-studded arrow, courtesy of the elder Green Arrow.
Rounding out this first lineup is Son of Batman, an army builder figure based on the former Mutant gang members who convert to following Batman’s particular brand of vigilante justice during the span of the comic series. The SOB uses a DC Universe Classics base body (Guy Gardner, in particular), which is a brilliant way to make him look less super hero-y than Batman and Superman, while still retaining the bulky character design of Miller’s artwork. Gardner’s jacket, leather boots, and popped collar lend themselves pretty well to the makeshift uniform of Batman’s vigilantes, and the new portrait from the Horsemen does a great job of capturing the anger and single minded devotion these guys offered to their leader.
The Son of Batman includes both a torch and a double barrel shotgun as accessories. I like that either piece can be applied to Batman himself, though technically Batman’s grapple gun rifle was a single-barrel weapon, which is not represented in this toy line. The SOB shares the same pallet as Batman and Superman, which makes the trio very uniform in their colors, which is particularly effective in connecting Batman to his followers.
One issue with said followers is this– the Son of Batman is short-packed in every assortment of this line we’ve seen thus far. At best, the packout ratio for this series seems to be: 3x Batman, 2x Superman, 1x Son of Batman. For the life of me, I cannot imagine why Mattel didn’t even pack all three figures… I get that, outside the collector demographic, Batman and Superman will be far more desirable than the SOB, but since the latter is an army builder, most adult collectors will probably be after multiples of this guy. And even packout of 2x2x2 seems to make the most sense to me, as opposed to what we get, which leaves a few extra Batman’s to hang out at the store, a perfect ration of Superman’s, and a glaring shortage of Batman’s legion… I’ll readily admit my second Son of Batman was bought on eBay from a Hot Wheels scalper… a choice I came to only after several hours spent debating if my time was worth haunting the same stores day after day, which had already sold out of their one and only SOB.
Despite a few snafus when it comes to color, and the strange distribution packouts we’re seeing at retail, it’s impossible to call Mattel’s Dark Knight Returns series as anything other than a success. The positives of this trio far outweighs any negatives, and they are well worth the effort to chase down, especially if you’re a fan of Frank Miller’s comic series. Mattel showed off two new figures for this line, including the Mutant Leader and Armored Batman… whether these new figures will also be exclusive to Wal-Mart remains to be seen. But regardless, it’s already a given I will be adding them to my toy collection… How about you?