Monday, January 27, 2014

Toy Review – Quarter Scale Batman ’89 from NECA

I love Tim Burton’s Batman and no amount of internet snark or intolerance will ever change that. It was one of the most formative and influential movies of my youth and I’m honestly not sure there has been a movie since where I felt the hype and anticipation so keenly. More than that, the movie actually delivered.
Yes – there are flaws. I can admit that and I might even do a review soon like I did with Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. I’ve watched it within the past year or so, but just to enjoy it for the movie it is and the history I have with it. I’m not sure I’ve ever really looked at it with the history of Batman in mind. I was thirteen when I saw the movie, so to me it is part of my history of Batman. At the time I didn’t know the franchise like I do now. I knew I had read some comics that were much more serious than the TV show I grew up loving and that there was something about that darker tone that really appealed to me. And while Burton’s two movies were not as tonally dark as they could have been, they were certainly more serious than Adam West running around being concerned about a family of ducks (but maybe not by much).

As I’ve gotten older I have learned to embrace most of the vastly different depictions of Batman and his gallery of villains. I have my preferences, but I can appreciate the idea of different creative approaches and tonal shifts. My son is fortunate in that he lives in an age where the Batmans of Adam West, Kevin Conroy, Rino Romano, Michael Keaton, and Diedrich Bader are all as instantly accessible as Christian Bale’s. And before too much longer Ben Affleck’s. Lil’ Troublemaker gets all of the different Batmans at once and is able to pick his favorite (Kevin Conroy is his Batman).

I have been waiting since 1989 for a good figure of Michael Keaton (who I still feel is the best live action Batman/Bruce Wayne) as Batman.

Toy Biz and Kenner both produced smaller figures based on the movies, but I was never really satisfied with those. None of them were very well articulated and while they did actually have pretty decent likenesses of Michael Keaton (particularly one Bruce Wayne figure that changed into Batman), they just didn’t scratch my itch. And don’t even get me started on the repainted Super Powers Penguin. That’s one of the most insulting toys ever made.

I’ve longed for a well-sculpted, well-articulated Batman with a decent Keaton likeness. When Mattel launched their Movie Masters line I was full of hope that it would happen. When they launched the Batman ’66 line I was even more hopeful. If they were revisiting other eras of Batman, surely they would want to produce one of the most iconic versions in the character’s history. And while that hasn’t been ruled out entirely, it looks doubtful given Mattel’s seeming abandonment of 6” collector lines and announcement of 4” scale figures from the Burton films.

Then there’s the Hot Toys sixth scale Batman. I wanted that and the accompanying Joker figure so bad. I actually had them preordered from BigBad at one point. But I finally decided that I simply could not spend $500 on a couple of toys and cancelled. It was one of the most difficult toy decisions I have ever made. I don’t regret it, but I sure do wish I could have afforded them.

But along came NECA and the blockbuster announcement that they were adding the Batman license to their growing stable of large-scale figures. The first figures out of the gate were Adam West and Michael Keaton. I didn’t have any experience with NECA’s quarter-scale figures (other than regretting not buying their Iron Man), but the dozens of excellent smaller figures made me confident enough to order Keaton from my local comic book shop when it was offered.

I finally have my rubber-suited Dark Knight. Was he worth the wait? 

This thing is huge. And I didn’t realize it came with so many accessories. Seeing this box with that Batman inside is somewhat breathtaking.
Sorry the box pictures are so lousy. The cardboard and window are super shiny and tough to photograph. And also I am a bad photographer with a cheap camera.

This box is fucking weird. I mean, it’s just a window box, but the graphics look like Batman’s torso, except with the Bat symbol under his pecs and a window between his pecs with a whole other Batman peeking out. It’s just damned strange.
There are a bunch of pictures of the figure all over it and not one of Michael Keaton, which is kind of weird, but I don’t really care that much. I always think it’s strange when toy packaging is just a picture of the toy.
The graphics match the gold trimmed lettering of the movie logo.

Side Note: I still find it odd that all of the promotion for this movie used the standard Bat symbol that we all know and love:
But that the one on Keaton’s chest was this weird thing:
It bugged the shit out of me at the time. Now I don’t care; for a couple of reasons – 1) He had a proper Bat symbol in Batman Returns, 2) The costume problems became so much more egregious in Batman Forever and Batman & Robin.
As always, NECA credits the artists that made this figure happen.

Okay, right off the Bat I am not thrilled with this figure. I don’t know the source of the problem, but his torso joint is off-kilter:
The resulting look is of a Batman just finishing up a saucy dance move. And not even the Batusi.

There are a few odd problems with several of the joints on this figure, but this is the only one that actually creates a visual problem. I don’t know what to call this joint. It’s one of those that swivels and also moves side-to-side but isn’t a ball joint. I have had problems with these sorts of joints on other figures. If they aren’t seated properly this is what happens. On smaller figures it isn’t as noticeable, but on the larger ones it is. Obviously. I will say this, though – I messed with that joint quite forcefully in an attempt to get it straightened out. I put stresses on it that would have most certainly broken other figures. It never quite moved into the correct position, but it didn’t snap like I expected it to.

Okay, now that the bad is out of the way, let’s talk about the good.

This figure is not an idealized representation of the Batman from the movie. It’s a reproduction of Michael Keaton in his Batman suit. Granted, they didn’t include all of the seams and openings on the body, but the irregularities in the cowl and the different textures of the suit are here. I guess it’s actually sort of a halfway compromise. And I have to say – it looks pretty amazing.

The head and cowl are two separate pieces. The face sculpt is spot-on. The lips, the cheekbones, the frown lines, the very texture of the skin – it all activates that part of my brain that starts playing scenes from Batman and goes, “Damn – that’s exactly what he looked like.” The eyes are positioned correctly within the cowl and painted beautifully. They even blacked out the exposed skin around the eyes, just like in the movie. Not that I think that’s a detail NECA could have overlooked; it’s just impressive. The little nose holes crack me up.

The cowl is a slightly flexible plastic that has the rubbery texture that was so easily noticeable in the movie. It even has the slight variances and uneven bits. Michael Keaton was literally sewn into this piece before every scene and those stitches are visible in the back:
I’m not so sure about this choice, as those stitches were not visible in the movie when Keaton was being shot from behind (a different, open-faced cowl was used), but I suppose it is true to the movie suit. The lower portion of the cowl that comes down to cover the top of the cape is thin enough that you can adjust the pointed portions to facilitate moving the cape around. I still think these things make the Batsuit look a little Kermit-y. The attached Bat symbol is cleanly sculpted and has a precise paint job. This, like the torso, seemed a little off-center at first, but some adjustment of the head fixed that.
The cape is magnificent. The lining is satiny and the exterior is a very thin pleather-like material. The stitching on this thing is immaculate. The edges are folded over and even all the way around. Each point of the subtly scalloped edge has a stitch running up to the corresponding point on the bottom of the cowl. The lines are straight and even. The cape is designed to fold exactly as it did in the movie, even though the movie suit actually had several different capes. 
The edges can be folded back under the points on the cowl and over the shoulders, pulled forward over the front of the figure’s body, or extended all the way out to form the dramatic Bat shape from the rooftop scene near the beginning of the movie:
I need a bigger photo background. And a better camera.
This pose requires the assistance of some included rods. I’ll get to those later.

The upper torso is two separate pieces and a couple of textures as well. The upper torso piece gives the appearance of the muscled body armor on top of the black bodysuit. The armor portion is the chest and abdomen that hangs down over the bottom piece, as well as a sculpted piece in the back. The bottom piece is a much simpler round abdomen. The joint between these two pieces is the source of the problem. The sculpt itself is solid though, representing the look of the layered pieces of the movie Batsuit. The armor has a bit more of a gloss than the bodysuit, defining the intentional difference between the pieces.
The lower abdomen’s texture and gloss match the bodysuit portion of the upper abdomen. The sculpt is… detailed. All portions of Michael Keaton’s anatomy are represented. There is another joint between the waist and lower abdomen, but it seems to do what it is supposed to.

The utility belt is beautiful. While I am not a fan of the capsule-style belt, this is pretty much a perfect representation of the one in the movie. The buckle is immaculately detailed and the yellow of the belt is perfect. There’s a dark wash on the buckle to bring out the details there. The belt is a separate piece from the figure and can be moved around on the torso, but sits where it should on the figure’s waist when put there.
The arms are designed in the same manner as the torso – with sculpted armor on top of a bodysuit. The armor isn’t separate, but it is defined. There are pieces on the outside of the arms. The gauntlets and gloves look amazing. There is a base glove that is very similar to Darth Vader’s – it is glossy black and has seams running up the inside. The front of the forearm features an armor plate with the trademark pointy things attached. It’s a clever design and even with all of the magazines and books that I have read about this movie I never noticed they were constructed that way. 
The gloves themselves have seams and padding sculpted on the outside and nubby grips sculpted on the palms. This looks particularly impressive, as the palms are a flat black and the nubs are silver. As ludicrous as it sounds, I think the hands are my favorite part of the figure. A total of five interchangeable hands are included, and I’ll get to those later.

The legs feature the same armor design, with large plates on the thighs and outsides of the calves, as well as kneepads.
Batman’s boots are just as detailed as his gloves. The base boots are glossy black with detailed, flat black soles. There is a flat black armor plate on the front of the upper portion of the boot. The foot portion has another armor plate that sits on top of the upper plate. And it all looks so awesome.

This Batman comes with a huge number of accessories; a fact I was not aware of until I opened the box.
In addition to the three extra hands and cape baton things I mentioned above there’s a Batarang, a grappling hook, the grapple gun, a clear plastic line, and piece to connect the grapple gun to Batman’s utility belt.
The extra hands are right and left fists posed to hold the Batarang and a right hand posed to hold the grapple gun. The hands that come on the figure are fists. These extras look as good as the attached hands and are very easy to switch out while staying securely in place once attached.
The cape baton things look like a pair of tonfa, which is what I thought they were at first. Some kind of super-long, wacky Bat-tonfa. The handles are hard plastic and the extended portions are metal so that they can support the weight of the cape, which is fairly heavy thanks to the quality construction (good planning, NECA!). Since the figure doesn’t come with any instructions I had to figure out how these were supposed to work on my own. It doesn’t look quite right to me, but I’m not sure what else I could do.
The Batarang is an absolute delight of toymaking cleverness. It folds in three places:
To, in theory, become compact enough to be stored somewhere on the utility belt:
Granted, this figure doesn’t allow for that, but whatever. I stick to my assertion that all Batmans have a small backpack on the back of their utility belts that we just never see. Even without the folding action this would be a tremendous Batarang. It’s covered in detail and has silver paint accenting the pointed barbs on the ends.
The grapple gun comes in two pieces that combine to form the full gun. The front piece houses the folded up grappling hook and the back is the piece that Batman clips onto his belt before grabbing Vicky Vale and ascending (almost) to the rooftops. They fit together snugly and there is a piece that folds down to create a handle so the figure can hold it. This thing is very detailed and has a bit of paint on it, as well. The tines of the grappling hook are gold and the rivets and plate on the back of the handle are silver. The paint on the rivets is a bit sloppy, but the grapple gun still looks great.

The grappling hook is much sturdier than it looks (though I doubt it would support this figure’s weight, much less quarter-scale Batman + 27 pounds [Bonus Needless Points if you get that]). It’s a very solid, rigid plastic. The detailing is ridiculous. Every rivet and seam is defined. I can’t quite reconcile this thing with the front portion of the grapple gun, but whatever.

The clear plastic line has a black plug on the end and is clearly meant to interact with the grappling hook or grapple gun (or both?) in some way, but I sure can’t figure out how. The black plug doesn’t fit into anything. And while you can run the line through the tiny hole on the grappling hook, it doesn’t look right to have the black plug just sitting there. I have no clue what’s up with this thing.
The belt clip has a spot for each piece of the grapple gun and is meant to fit onto the utility belt. Within seconds of trying to figure out how to attach this piece, the slender support snapped right off:
The belt is not a soft rubber, so the clip is what had to give. If this had all been one piece it wouldn’t have been an issue, but since it was two pieces glued together I’m not at all surprised this happened.
This figure should have come with instructions. The problem isn’t that I can’t figure out what all of the pieces are for, it’s that I’m not positive I am using them correctly. And I am the kind of guy that needs that assurance. And a little helpful instruction as to how to attach the grapple clip to the belt might have kept me from breaking it, though I’m not sure about that because the thing is so fragile. Plus, it’s really frustrating to have an item like this clear plastic line and have no idea what to do with it.

Since this is a format I have never reviewed before, I’m going to run down the articulation.
The head is on a ball joint, but obviously that is restricted by the cowl. You can turn it just a bit left and right (mostly to adjust the position of the Bat symbol at the bottom of the cowl). While this replicates the design of the movie costume (Keaton had to turn his whole body to look to the side), is it better than if NECA had deviated and put a jointed head on top of the lower cowl piece? I don’t know. I don’t have a great need to move this figure’s head around – though being able to look up while aiming his grapple gun would be nice – but I can’t imagine I would have complained if this had been a more standard action figure design with a mobile, jointed head.

The shoulders are ball joints with slightly limited movement. This is mostly due to the size of the figure and the desire to not have the joints interfere with the sculpt too much. They do have a good range; better than some smaller scale figures I own.

The elbows are pivots with swivels at the top. They can’t bend very deeply, but again – this is due to the size and aesthetics of the figure.

There are swivels at the tops of the gauntlets and the wrists are natural swivels due to the interchangeability, but also pivot up and down. The joints are a bit tight, so be sure to loosen them up very carefully. Actually, that could be said of most of the joints on the figure. Spend a few minutes carefully testing and utilizing the joints to loosen them up a bit.
The torso joints are a problem, and considering what they’ve done to my figure I’d prefer they weren’t even present.
The hips are ball joints and have a much wider range of motion than I was expecting. Same with the knees – they are pivots with swivels at the top and bend much more deeply than I thought they would for a figure of this size and weight.

The ankles are swivels with just a bit of movement left-to-right and back-and-forth. Which is a problem, as I found out after leaving the figure downstairs for two days. I stood him on the coffee table that is currently home to Castle Grayskull (review coming soon – be patient; this one is intimidating) because I just didn’t have anywhere else to put a gigantic Batman at the time. When I went back down, ol’ Bruce was face down on the floor.

The figure feels quite sturdy and secure. I hadn’t spent a lot of time posing him carefully to make sure he was balanced to stand because it seemed like it wouldn’t be a problem. So I picked it up and messed with the pose a little bit to try and balance it better. An hour or so later he was on his face on the floor again. This would be fine for an Andy Capp figure, not so much for the World’s Greatest Detective. Looks like Bruce is gonna need a stand.
Having said that, this figure is a ton of fun. It’s amazingly poseable for such a huge figure and has all kinds of accessories to swap out and pose with. Even the cape provides a lot of options.
This Batman is extremely tough to score. As you can tell from my intro, this is something I have been waiting a long time for and very much wanted to love. But there are some flaws that I simply can’t excuse. The torso joints, the fragile belt clip, and the figure’s inability to stand are the big ones. I’m bothered by the inexplicable grapple line, but I’ll be generous and chalk that up to me being a dum-dum.

Then there are all of the wonderful things about the figure – the cape, the sculpt and paint, the better than expected articulation (which unfortunately contributes to some of the above problems), and the surplus of accessories. Batman is fun to play with and the figure itself is quite sturdy and looks great.

There were a few mis-steps, but I’m still glad to have the figure. Unless you want Mattel’s 4” scale figure (which I will buy and review because I am a sucker), this is the cheapest way you’re going to get a Michael Keaton Batman. By far. It’s not a bad figure by any means. It is a great figure with some bad flaws. I wanted so much to give it a higher score, but the issues add up to an average.

3 out of 5

Despite the problems, I still want NECA to produce a Joker to go with this Batman. And they have not ruled out that possibility.


  1. Wow! Thanks for the detail review.

  2. In many ways, I actually prefer this figure to the Hot Toys one. I think that it looks a lot more like Keaton: especially around the mouth & jaw. The Hot Toys effort looks a bit too youthful in my opinion. Hot Toys have the edge when it comes to the eyes & paint job.

    A very good review, but I don't think that your pictures do this figure justice: it makes the figure look too shiny.

    I have 4 Hot Toys figures. Even though they are amazing, I think that pound for pound, this figure represents a much better deal. It really does look terrific in person.

    I look forward to seeing Neca's Heath Ledger Joker, & hold out hope that they produce a Jack Nicholson Joker to complement this one.

    1. I would definitely buy a Jack Nicholson Joker, but I think it would look odd all in plastic as opposed to fabrics. And I'd love to invest in a better camera, but I keep buying all of these toys...