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By Thomas Wheeler

As much as I am enjoying the DC Universe Classics line of action figures, increasingly so since Mattel seems to be paying more attention to quality control with it, a trend I sincerely hope I am correct about and which I sincerely hope continues, there is one thing about the DCUC line that really bothers me:

There's no good, basic, straightforward, Batman or Superman in it.

The reason for this is obvious. Before it was DC Universe Classics, this line of 6" scale action figures was called DC Super-Heroes, and was very Batman/Superman centric. Fine and well, except for two little problems. I wasn't really following the line at that point, and I'm not sure that those figures used the excellent, commonly used body molds that have been crafted for use in many of the male heroes in this line.

Now, in fairness, there have been some Batman and Superman figures in DCUC. However, I'm not all that interested in a Batman that looks like he's out of the 60's or 70's, nor am I all that interested in Superman when he had a mullet. The next Superman planned will be packaged with a Brainiac figure, and his eyes appear to be firing his heat vision. The next Batman planned comes in a two-pack with a Clayface figure.

It is my sincere hope that Mattel continues to work out the remaining quality control problems, and that the DC Universe Classics line will continue to prosper for many years to come. It is also my hope that at some point, when perhaps Mattel feels enough time has passed since the DC Super-Heroes line has given way, that they might present us with good, basic, straightforward, modern incarnations of these two iconic heroes.

Meanwhile, there is a line under Mattel's umbrella where these characters can be found. And it is in the 3-3/4" scale DC UNIVERSE INFINITE HEROES line. I acquired Superman in a three-pack with Supergirl and Wonder Girl a while back. Batman recently turned up carded on his own, and I decided to bring him in, even though the Infinite Heroes line is not as much of a priority for me as is Universe Classics. But I'm willing to add the occasional Infinite Heroes figure here and there. Same with Justice League Unlimited. They're all cool lines. And I wanted one, good, basic, realistic Batman.

Relating too much of Batman's background would probably be insulting. He's hardly an obscure character. He debuted seventy years ago, in 1939. Since that time, he's not only been a steady presence in the comics, but he's been in radio serials, movie serials, live-action television, animated television, more recent movies, video games, Lego sets, books, direct-to-video releases, and Lord knows what else. He's probably made as much money for DC Comics as Bruce Wayne's fortune. He's one of the most recognizable pop culture icons on the face of the planet.

Nevertheless, I present some very select portions of his background:

Batman was co-created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger (although only Kane receives official credit on the comics pages), appearing in publications by DC Comics. The character first appeared in Detective Comics #27 (May 1939)

Batman's secret identity is Bruce Wayne, a wealthy industrialist, playboy, and philanthropist. Witnessing the murder of his parents as a child, Wayne trains himself both physically and intellectually and dons a bat-themed costume in order to fight crime. Batman operates in the fictional American Gotham City, assisted by various supporting characters including his sidekick Robin and his butler Alfred Pennyworth, and fights an assortment of villains influenced by the characters' roots in film and pulp magazines. Unlike most superheroes, he does not possess any superpowers; he makes use of intellect, detective skills, science and technology, wealth, physical prowess, and intimidation in his war on crime.

Batman was one of the few superhero characters to be continuously published as interest in the genre waned during the 1950s. In the story "The Mightiest Team in the World" in Superman #76 (June 1952), Batman teams up with Superman for the first time and the pair discovers each other's secret identity. Following the success of this story, World's Finest Comics was revamped so it featured stories starring both heroes together, instead of the separate Batman and Superman features that had been running before. The team-up of the characters was a financial success in an era when those were few and far between; this series of stories ran until the book's cancellation in 1986.

In the late 1950s Batman stories gradually become more science fiction-oriented, an attempt at mimicking the success of other DC characters that had dabbled in the genre. New characters such as Batwoman, Ace the Bat-Hound, and Bat-Mite were introduced. Batman's adventures often involved odd transformations or bizarre space aliens. In 1960, Batman debuted as a member of the Justice League of America in The Brave and the Bold #28 (February 1960), and went on to appear in several Justice League comic series starting later that same year.

By 1964, sales on Batman titles had fallen drastically. Bob Kane noted that, as a result, DC was "planning to kill Batman off altogether." In response to this, editor Julius Schwartz was assigned to the Batman titles. He presided over drastic changes, beginning with 1964's Detective Comics #327 (May 1964), which was cover-billed as the "New Look". Schwartz introduced changes designed to make Batman more contemporary, and to return him to more detective-oriented stories. He brought in artist Carmine Infantino to help overhaul the character. The Batmobile was redesigned, and Batman's costume was modified to incorporate a yellow ellipse behind the bat-insignia. The space aliens and characters of the 1950's such as Batwoman, Ace, and Bat-Mite were retired.

Starting in 1969, writer Dennis O'Neil and artist Neal Adams made a deliberate effort to distance Batman from the campy portrayal of the 1960s TV series and to return the character to his roots as a "grim avenger of the night". O'Neil said his idea was "simply to take it back to where it started. I went to the DC library and read some of the early stories. I tried to get a sense of what Bob Kane and Bill Finger were after".

The Batman comics garnered major attention in 1988 when DC Comics created a 900 number for readers to call to vote on whether Jason Todd, the second Robin, lived or died. Voters decided in favor of Jason's death by a narrow margin of 28 votes.

The following year saw the release of Tim Burton's Batman feature film, which firmly brought the character back to the public's attention, grossing millions of dollars at the box office, and millions more in merchandising. In the same year, the first issue of Legends of the Dark Knight, the first new solo Batman title in nearly fifty years, sold close to a million copies.

The 1993 "Knightfall" story arc introduced a new villain, Bane, who critically injures Bruce Wayne. Jean-Paul Valley, known as Azrael, is called upon to wear the Batsuit during Wayne's convalescence. Writers Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, and Alan Grant worked on the Batman titles during "Knightfall", and would also contribute to other Batman crossovers throughout the 1990s. 1998's "Cataclysm" storyline served as the precursor to 1999's "No Man's Land", a year-long storyline that ran through all the Batman-related titles dealing with the effects of an earthquake-ravaged Gotham City.

Grant Morrison's 2008 storyline, "Batman R.I.P.", featuring Batman being physically and mentally broken by the enigmatic "Black Glove", garnered much news coverage in advance of its highly-promoted conclusion, which would supposedly feature the death of Bruce Wayne.

The intention was, in fact, not for Batman to die in the pages of "R.I.P." but for the story to continue with the concurrent DC event Final Crisis, and have the death occur there. However, out of desire to give the storyline of "R.I.P." a suitable conclusion in an of itself, Batman appeared to die in the final chapter of the story, only to turn up alive in the very next issues as a prisoner of "Crisis" villain Darkseid. The death came a month later, in the limited series Final Crisis, during which Batman confronts the story's villain Darkseid. Making rare exception, Batman uses a gun, loaded with a Radion (which is poisonous to the New Gods) bullet, to shoot Darkseid's shoulder, just as Darkseid unleashes his Omega Sanction, the "life that is death", upon Batman and his charred corpse is recovered by Superman.

However, the Omega Sanction does not kill its victims: instead, it sends their consciousness travelling through parallel worlds, and at the conclusion of Final Crisis, it is made clear that this is the fate that has befallen the still-living Batman, as he watches the passing of Anthro, a prehistoric character in the DC Universe, in the distant past.

Stepping away for a moment, I want to make the observation that I think the current "Batman R.I.P." storyline has been a massive mistake. While I generally enjoy DC titles more than Marvel titles at this point in time, that doesn't mean I think that DC is perfect. Their "Final Crisis" story wasn't exactly one for the ages, either, but breaking Batman down as he was and then seemingly killing him off was nothing more than a publicity stunt akin to Marvel killing off Captain America (another mistake). Currently, many of the Batman titles are on hiatus while a new Batman is chosen, new creators are taking over the titles, and one of them will feature the exploits of the lesbian Batwoman, whom I'd really hoped had faded to obscurity after the "One Year Later" sequence.

However, I take some solace in the fact that Bruce Wayne is apparently alive. That last scene in the aforemetnioned comic has Wayne sketching a Bat symbol on a cave wall. Sooner or later someone's going to see that in the present day, and there's no shortage of time-traveling heroes in the DC Universe. He'll be back.

As far as epic storylines are concerned, sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. One that I think did work superbly well was the Cataclysm/No Man's Land storyline, the vast majority of which can be found in a series of six trade paperbacks these days, which I highly recommend.

In his secret identity, Batman is Bruce Wayne, a wealthy businessman who lives in Gotham City. To the world at large, Bruce Wayne is often seen as an irresponsible, superficial playboy who lives off his family's personal fortune (amassed when Bruce's family invested in Gotham real estate before the city was a bustling metropolis) and the profits of Wayne Enterprises, a major private technology firm that he inherits. However, Wayne is also known for his contributions to charity, notably through his Wayne Foundation. Bruce creates the playboy public persona to aid in throwing off suspicion of his secret identity, often acting dim-witted and self-absorbed to further the act.

There's not a lot of point in going into "Powers and Abilities", because Batman doesn't have any super-powers. What he does have is an amazingly keen mind, astonishing detective skills, the wealth to do what he does, a phenomenally trained physique with an expert level knowledge of just about any fighting form you'd care to name, and no shortage of attitude.

Although I am reluctant to draw cross-company comparisons, one gets the impression that he's not quite as smart as Reed Richards, and doesn't quite possess the inventiveness of Tony Stark. What he does have is resources to make things happen, and enough considerable intellect and inventiveness to at least come up with most of his own ideas and hardware. And in the legendary JLA/Avengers cross-over, Captain America and Batman took a few tentative steps, and realized that they were so evenly matched that any fight between them would go on for a very long time, and probably not resolve a thing.

Batman's cultural impact cannot be underestimated. He's been mentioned in places you wouldn't expect: Forbes Magazine estimated Bruce Wayne to be the 7th-richest fictional character with his $6.8 billion fortune, while BusinessWeek listed the character as one of the ten most intelligent superheroes appearing in American comics.

Forbes? BusinessWeek? Not too shabby there, Bruce.

So how's the figure? Really very nice. Here is what we need to see in the 6" DC Universe Classics size, but in the meantime, I'll take what I can get.

Batman's uniform has remained reasonably consistent in basic configuration since its inception. The only thing that's changed to any degree here and there is the colors. As a rule, Batman's uniform is grey, with trunks, gloves, boots, cowl, and cape that are either a very dark blue, or sometimes shown as black.

For this figure, they're black, which is fine and well. However, I should mention that there is a variant of this figure available with blue cape, cowl, etc. I saw the black first, and honestly preferred it. Just one thing gets me, though -- how hard is it to formulate a decently dark grey plastic? A while back, I saw this set of dolls. They were these little kid dolls associated with the Barbie line, named Tommy and Kelly. This set had Tommy dressed as Batman and Kelly dressed as Catwoman. The figures were wearing cloth outfits, but the dark grey on Tommy's Batman uniform was absolutely perfect! I reviewed those toys, and said in that review that the next time Mattel's action figure department wants to make a Batman, that this doll should be taken over to their color department or whatever it is, with the instructions, "Match this!"

That's still valid. Look, I'm glad to have a good, modern, Batman action figure. And I really can't fault this figure in any significant way. I just really wish that the costume were a darker grey, that's all.

For years, Batman had a yellow circle around the Bat insignia on his costume. That was dropped a number of years ago, and as if freed from a yellow, oval-shaped cage, the Bat emblem seemed to grow, until it spread its wings across the better part of Batman's chest. That only seemed to increase the fearsomeness of Batman's overall appearance, since the Bat emblem alone took on a rather frightening look. That's been duplicated very nicely on the figure here, which has a large and impressive black Bat-emblem emblazoned on it.

The figure is not entirely colorless, though. There's still the yellow utility belt. Along about the time of No Man's Land, Batman realized that the tiny encapsulated accessories that he carried in his rather stylish belt were somewhat limited. He soon switched to a more practical utility belt that featured a wide range of larger pouches. This is the belt this Batman figure is wearing, and it looks good.

The body of the figure is based on one of several devised for this Infinite Heroes line, although the lower arms with the "Bat-flares" on the gloves are unique, as is the head, of course. Batman has an appropriately grim expression on his face, and the cowl looks excellent, fairly narrow, with properly long Bat-ears.

The paint work is decent, with narrow white slits for the eyes, and skin tone for the exposed lower part of his face. It's just a little sloppy around the top, but that's nothing I can't deal with, and I'll take a little "overflow" as opposed to some ugly blotch of excess paint that would've made him look like he had a horrible skin condition. I've seen that once too often on other figures, and there's not much to be done for it, unfortunately.

Of course, Batman has his cape, and as we all know, Batman's cape is more distinctive than most, with those scalloped flaps at the end of it. It's presented very well here, not the least bit pre-posed (pre-posed capes drive me nuts), and what I find especially impressive is how flexible the cape is, especially in light of two caped specimens I recently acquired in the DC Universe Classics line, specifically Mister Miracle and Big Barda. So, whatever plastic that Mattel made Batman's cape out of -- is it not available in red or dark green? This is something that Mattel needs to address in DCUC, because it actually infringes on the degree to which the figure can move.

Batman has a good level of articulation, though. He is poseable at the head, arms (outwards as well as back and forth), elbows, waist, legs, and knees. Some people have criticized the DC Infinite Heroes line for not being articulated enough. My only gripe, and I'll admit it's a fairly significant one, with the DCIH line, is the articulated on their female figures. There has to be some way to articulate their elbows, and adjust the leg articulation so it's more straightforward.

However, I wouldn't want to see the overall articulation on the male figures increased too much. Here's my thought on that. It's nice to have a lot of articulation -- up to the point where it starts to adversely affect the overall look of the figure, where it looks more like a toy and less like a character. I realize that's a fine point. But some of the other figures from other lines in this scale -- one that leaps to mind is Marvel's Superhero Showdown from a few years back -- strove to incorporate so much articulation that all you could see were the articulation points. It didn't really look like Spider-Man, or Iron Man, or whomever. Ultimately, I believe there are limits to what can be done with plastic in this scale range. Not everything can, or has to be, super-articulated. I believe that DC Infinite Heroes has struck a good level of articulation without compromising the look of the toy as representative of the character.

Batman does have a little trouble balancing. He's a lightweight figure, as they all are, and the cape, not surprisingly, makes him a little back-heavy. But neither it is impossible to get him to stand up, either.

One other quick note. When I bought this Batman, the belt was off-center. The buckle was over to one side a bit. I've encountered some people who have turned down figures (Superman also has a separate-piece belt) because they think it's been misassembled. This particular instance is not a problem. It's a simple matter to rotate the belt, which is not glued down, around a bit so it's properly centered.

So, what's my final word here? As much as my priority may be on DC Universe Classics, I have no problem with the DC Infinite Heroes line. It's turning out some very cool figures and characters of its own, and for whatever reason doesn't seem plagued by some of the quality control issues that, hopefully, Mattel is resolving in DCUC. The worst thing I can say about any of the DCIH figures I have brought in is that sometimes it's hard to find a really neatly done paint job. But it's not impossible. And each of the two lines has some characters that don't -- yet, anyway -- exist in the other line.

And one of those, as far as I'm concerned, is a good, straightforward, Batman. I'm sure there was one that was part of the predecessor line. But I'd want to know how much of a match it really is for the current style in DCUC.

And in the meantime, and very much on its own, as well, this DC Infinite Heroes figure is one cool Batman. He could stand to be a little darker, but that's a minor point. This is Batman, and it's an extremely impressive rendition of him. If you're looking for a very nicely done, small-scale Batman action figure, look no further. Here he is.

The DC UNIVERSE INFINITE HEROES BATMAN definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!