He sat in the ragged chair. Its yellowed stuffing burst from a dozen seams. A small TV flickered before him. It was one of his favorite programs–CCTV footage spliced from the TYGER cameras that loomed over every street corner of the so-called Arkham City.
The footage, barely visible, showed a small, dark figure skulking about a rooftop. Abruptly he stopped and ducked behind an HVAC unit. And then–enter stage left!–a group of well-armored security officers–TYGER thugs, he knew–creeped into view. They kept their automatic rifles in front of them, evidently aware of the intruder’s presence.
Then there was a blur of motion. Perhaps twenty seconds past, and when it was over, five TYGER officers were on the ground, moaning, and the figure was leaping off the roof into the darkness.
A short laugh–more a dry cough, really–crackled from his bloody throat. He idly fingered the tip of the item in his hand. It was a tire iron…a very special tire iron, one he had kept safe for years now. Too many good memories. And who knew? Maybe it had a few more in store.
The Arkham videogames have quickly become big business for DC Comics. While DC attempts to draw in new readers with the New 52 initiative, today’s young generation is becoming familiar with their characters much more from movies like The Dark Knight and videogames like Batman: Arkham City. I wonder how the two million copies of Arkham City sold in October compares to the total money the comics division of DC Entertainment will make in 2011.
It doesn’t hurt that the Arkham games are excellent, with top-notch gameplay and compelling stories written by master Batman scribe Paul Dini. To me, the Arkham games have felt like a more adult version of the 1990s animated series, which makes sense given the staff involved (Dini writing, Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill voicing Batman and the Joker, respectively).
But perhaps my favorite thing about the games is their aesthetic. The art style and character designs walk a fine line between the realism of The Dark Knight and the look of the comics. It’s a difficult balance that could easily come out looking terrible, but the art team at Rocksteady Studios nailed it. In some ways it’s the superhero equivalent of Hasbro’s G.I. Joe: The Pursuit of Cobra toys–more realistic takes on iconic character designs.
Because the aesthetic is so distinctive and the games so popular, it’s not surprising toymakers ranging from DC Direct to Mattel to Square Enix have all jumped on the bandwagon. The figures from each company differ significantly; Mattel’s are more articulated but the sculpts are soft; DC Direct’s are better-sculpted but less articulated; and while the Square Enix figures look like they’ll have both great sculpting and great articulation, they’re based more on the game’s concept art and SE’s own artistic interpretation than the in-game models.
I reviewed Mattel’s Arkham City Batman & Two-Face set a few months back, and found it disappointing. I didn’t mind the sculpt so much as the poorly-engineered articulation. Let’s see how the second two-pack, Robin and the Joker, fares.
Design & Sculpt: Robin has a very limited role in Arkham City. Aside from a brief cameo in the campaign, the only time you get to do anything with him is in the challenges, and even then only if you got the DCL as part of your Gamestop preorder (which I did). Like every Bat-character he also got an Arkham-ized redesign.
I have mixed feelings on Rocksteady’s redesign of Robin. The shaved head bugs me the most–it’s just so clichéd in videogames these days–but it’s a moot point since you can’t see his head due to the hood. I like the hood, however; while it seems derivative of Assassin’s Creed, it’s a cool look for Robin. The rest of the outfit manages to pay homage to the classic Robin suit, with its red, black and touch of yellow on the cape, while looking like something you might actually wear to fight crooks. Frankly I’d rather see Tim Drake wearing this outfit than his current bird-suit.
Though the packaging doesn’t specify it, the Joker is obviously sickened version (in the game, the Joker is dying from being poisoned by the Titan muscle-enhancement formula he took in Arkham Asylum).
Like the Batman & Two-Face set, these figures are not the Four Horsemen’s work (although the upcoming AC Harley Quinn and Nightwing will be). But they’re both wholly original sculpts. As with the previous set, the sculpts come out looking a little soft. You can see it on details like the Joker’s tie and Robin’s face. I’m not sure whether this is due to the original sculpting or the production process at the factory.
The head sculpt on Robin is passable, but The Joker’s head is terrible. It’s way too small, and it doesn’t look much like the game. I didn’t think the DC Direct version looked quite accurate to the game either, but this one’s worse. The face is too narrow, the smile too big, the face too thin, the eyes too long and wide–it’s just a mess.
Finally, there’s the Joker’s tie. In the game he has a simple bow tie. I can’t find a reference from either game with a tie like that except for a few pieces of concept art, so I’m not sure how it ended up on this figure.
Paint: Obviously the paint apps here aren’t as nice as what we’ve gotten on the DC Direct figures. Robin’s chest looks a bit too toyish due to the red plastic, and the red piping is a bit thick, but for the most part, he looks all right.
The Joker has some decent work on the pinstripes of his suit, but the suit itself is too glossy, and the tie is both gloppy and glossy.
On a side note, I’ve read there’s supposedly a running change variant of Robin with a brighter red on the chest and a differently-styled “R.” I haven’t been able to find comparison pics so I’m not sure if I’ve got the brighter or muted version.
Articulation: This is the main selling point of these figures. Like Batman and Two-Face, it’s a mixed bag.
Robin has a ball jointed head, but due to the hood it’s difficult to get it to look up or down. He also has ball jointed shoulders, swivel biceps, hinged elbows, swivel wrists, a swivel waist, H-hinge hips, swivel thighs, hinged knees, and hinged ankles. There’s no abdomen joint, which I think was a mistake for such an acrobatic character. And as with all Arkham City figures so far, the ankles lack the rocker joint, which I hate.
The Joker has almost all the same articulation, except for the following: his feet don’t move at all and his head isn’t a ball joint, but he does have an abdomen joint. This makes no sense to me at all. I’d much rather have had an ab joint on Robin than the Joker. The lack of the ball jointed head is just annoying.
Accessories: Here’s one place where Mattel could have made up some ground, but no. No Mattel Arkham City has had an accessory yet, and apparently they weren’t going to start now. For the Joker it’s not that big a deal, I suppose, but it seems ridiculous to have a Robin with no staff. On the other hand, since one hand is sculpted as a fist and the other is almost completely open, he couldn’t hold a staff even if you tried to give him one.
Quality Control: No problems.
Overall: With this set, you get two unique-but-mediocre sculpts with disappointing articulation and no accessories. As an avowed Arkham Asylum/City fan, there was no way I could have skipped this set. But I can only recommend it to people who are big fans of the game. Don’t go looking for a replacement for your DCUC Robin or Joker here (although the Joker could arguably be decent with a replacement head–but he’ll still be too tall next to your DCUC figures). A DCD Robin is on his way, and while he’ll be less articulated I think he might be a more satisfying figure.
I’ll be honest: Robin has grown on me, despite his flaws. But the Joker? Bleh. It’s become clear that while DC Direct seems to be putting its A-squad on its Arkham figures, Mattel has been half-assing the line, at least until now. It will be interesting to see how the Four Horsemen-sculpted Nightwing and Harley Quinn turn out. But if you’re not an articulation junkie or an Arkham diehard like me, these are an easy pass, especially at this price (the cheapest I’ve seen is $25 at TRU, and that may just be a weekend deal).
- DC Direct: Arkham Asylum Batman, Scarecrow, Joker, Bane, Arkham City Sickened Joker
- Mattel: Arkham City Batman & Two-Face, Arkham Asylum Hot Wheels Batmobile