Saturday 27 June 2015

Toybox REVIEW: DC Collectibles "Batman: The Animated Series" Joker

There have been many different popular interpretations of the Joker in television and film over the years - Caesar Romero in the Adam West Batman series, Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton's 1989 movie, Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, and a variety of different animated versions voiced by different actors. But when asked which of all of these versions is the best, it's fair to say that most fans will agree on the DC Animated Universe version voiced by Mark Hamill. Appearing in Batman: The Animated Series and The New Batman Adventures all the way up into Batman Beyond and Justice League, Hamill's Joker has even reached a new audience in the form of the Arkham series video games. So when DC Collectibles revealed they would be doing a new line of animated series figures based on Bruce Timm's iconic designs, it's unsurprising that the Joker was quickly among the planned lineup.

However not being in the first wave of figures seems to have worked to the Joker's advantage, as after numerous reports of bad quality control and breakages DC Collectibles postponed the release of wave two in order to tweak them in light of these issues. About time considering how infamous breakable their lines are, but still definitely a good move on DCC's part. So with the wave two figures finally upon us, what we should be seeing here is a Clown Prince of Crime figure far more suited to it's "collectible" status and accompanying price tag.

While the style of packaging isn't all that different at all from the Batman or Two-Face figures, Joker marks a first for this blog in that he boasts the Batman: The Animated Series version of the packaging rather than The New Batman Adventures kind. Joker is the only the second release in the line to have this cardback, as Catwoman was the only B:TAS design in the first wave. The only real differences are that the blue New Batman Adventures logo on the card has been replaced by the much more familiar red B:TAS logo, and the text logo on the front of the bubble card is also different to reflect this change. Other than that everything's pretty much the same, and inside the Joker and his accessories are spread across two plastic trays (the second smaller one hidden underneath the larger tray). The Joker is the fifth figure in the line, making him the first release of this second wave of characters.

Also packed in with the figure is a small leaflet with pictures of the first three planned waves of figures (previously pictured in my Batman review), as well as a strange little instruction leaflet that features diagrams of some of this wave's features. The other side also features instructions on how to use the included. Considering all the instructions included on this flyer are extremely self-explanatory and something a child could figure out (how to change hands, how to put a helmet over a figure's head), one has to wonder why exactly why DC Collectibles even considered this worth packing in.

As stated earlier, this is the Joker based on his original design in Batman: The Animated Series rather than the considerably more simplified version that appeared in The New Batman Adventures (or the third mid-tier design from Justice League and Batman Beyond: The Return of the Joker). After the rather head scratching decisions to release the TNBA versions of Batman and Mr Freeze over their superior/more iconic B:TAS designs in wave one, at least DC Collectibles made the right choice here. While this is easily the best figure of the animated Joker that's ever been released and definitely passes in terms of sculpt, I still feel it lacks some of the more minute details that really make it feel like Bruce Timm's design in 3D form. The head sculpt has this wonderfully demonic grin, but the sheet white colouring looks awfully blank without the shading to bring out the face's more defined features. It's a minor quibble on what otherwise is a great looking figure (from a purely aesthetic standpoint), and with any other company unlikely to tackle an animated Joker anytime soon this will likely go down as the definitive figure for this version of the character.

And to give credit where it's due, there's definitely been a significant overhaul in the articulation department compared to the previous two figures I've bought from this line. After my Batman's ankle snapped off just from trying to move the joint upwards, I've been extremely hesitant to move the limbs on these figures in even the most basic poses. But nothing on the Joker feels overly tight, and all of the joints move comfortably without feeling like they're about to snap in half just from being touched. That said though, the actual range of articulation still leaves a fair bit to be desired. The inclusion of a waist cut is most welcome, but the lack of ankle tilts mean any sort of action posing leaves Joker looking like he's suffering with some badly broken ankles. Similarly while the shoulders and elbows do offer a fair range of movement, they are rather restricted by the shape of the jacket. Overall the articulation is passable, but in an age of highly articulated toys more could have easily been done without having to compromise too much on the accuracy of the sculpt.

But the main area that DC Collectibles really need to get their act together is the paint application. My Joker has some pretty spotty paint applications as it is (unpainted white patches in the hair, purple spots in the flower etc) but issues like that you tend to just chalk up to luck of the draw after a while. However the way DC Collectibles have handled painting the alternate hands included with this figure is absolute joke (no pun intended). Each hand has had that bluish-grey paint slopped all over it, without any concern of how this affects plugging them into the actual figure. So after squeezing the hand in and then taking it out later, you'll likely find the peg section of the hand stripped of the paint altogether and it left inside of the wrist plug hole - making the next hand even more of a squeeze to get in. And as you can see, even though its usually hidden by the hands it leaves a pretty unattractive mess on the figure. A company named DC Collectibles shouldn't really be producing figures that can have the paint stripped off them just by doing what you're supposed to do with them, even if it is on an otherwise hidden area of it.

Like all of the other figures in the line this Joker is supposed to represent a particular episode from Batman: The Animated Series, and the one DC Collectibles have chosen is season one's "The Last Laugh". While not quite the Joker episode I expected this figure to be representing, it's actually one of my favourite B:TAS episodes so it's nice to see it getting this kind of acknowledgement. However the problem is that this episode doesn't really have anything in the way of iconic accessories - unless there's some sort of Captain Clown figure coming out that I'm unaware of. Altogether there are three pairs of hands, an ice pick, comb, pearl necklace, telescope and oxygen mask. Pretty disappointing when you consider this is the Joker we're talking about - when it comes to iconic accessories he's a character that can't really could have been beat. They could have just done a "The Laughing Fish" Joker, given him just a laughing fish and that would have been more relevant than all of this. Seems pointless doing episode-specific figure is it's just going to result in lacklustre accessories.

What makes matters worse is that thanks to the figure's limited articulation he can't even do very much with what he does have. The ice pick, necklace and helmet are all well and good (although the pick is pretty loose in his grip and the helmet is just a clear plastic bowl that fits over his head), but you can't get the comb anywhere near the figure's head for a semi-decent pose and the telescope...well, he can't hold that properly whatsoever. It was a pretty disappointing section to begin with, to find the figure can't even use this things is just doubly underwhelming.

The Joker also comes with a designated display stand just like the other figures in the line, featuring turnaround artwork of the character on the base as well as the Batman: The Animated Series logo. Like Two-Face's before him (as well as probably the other villains released so far), Joker's stand piece includes adjustable depth as well as movement - something I don't really feel is all that necessary unless you have some sort of wide pose in mind (and in that case, the base is far too small and the figure isn't exactly capable of a whole lot either). As it stands it just seems like a waste of plastic and shelf space to have those long rods sticking out of the back.

The Joker was the Batman: The Animated Series/The New Batman Adventures figure I was looking forward to most of all, and I was more than happy to wait those extra few months in order to get a superior product. And while I will happily acknowledge that DC Collectibles have fixed a lot of this line's shortcomings in terms of articulation, I still seem to find myself rather underwhelmed with this figure. Between the sloppy paint, extremely poor choice of accessories and still rather limited articulation range, there isn't actually that much to enjoy about this figure other than being the best looking figure of this version of the Joker. My attachment to the character is thankfully stopping me from feeling like this was a totally regrettable purchase, but for something that was supposed to be better this feels like something of a step down from the flawed Batman and Two-Face I was enjoying a few months ago.

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