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REVIEW: BATMAN - THE DARK KNIGHT RISES - CAPED CRUSADER BATMAN
By Thomas Wheeler

2012 definitely seems to be the summer of Marvel Comics' movies. The Avengers have already broken box office records and brought in over a billion dollars. Most other summer movies are going to consider themselves lucky to pull in a fraction of that. And if that wasn't enough, the amazing Spider-Man gets a fresh start with a new movie as well. Yes, it definitely seems to be the summer of Marvel Movies.

Now, you want to be the one to tell DC Comics' Batman that he can't come out and play? Yeah, didn't think so.

2012 is also the summer of the third and final movie in the current series of Batman movies starring Christian Bale as Gotham's grimmest son. Titled "The Dark Knight Rises", it features Batman as he goes up against the vicious villain known as Bane.

As one would expect, Mattel, the master licensee for DC Universe action figures, has turned out an extensive line based on the movie. This review will take a look at one particular figure, CAPED CRUSADER BATMAN. But first, let's have a brief look at the history of Batman, and of the most recent grouping of movies, which culminates with this final installment.

Batman was created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger. The character first appeared in Detective Comics #27 (May 1939), and since then has appeared in publications by DC Comics. Originally referred to as "The Bat-Man" and still referred to at times as "The Batman", he is additionally known as "The Caped Crusader", "The Dark Knight", and "The World's Greatest Detective," among other titles.

In the original version of the story and the vast majority of retellings, Batman's secret identity is Bruce Wayne, an American billionaire playboy, industrialist, and philanthropist. Having witnessed the murder of his parents as a child, he swore revenge on criminals, an oath tempered with the greater ideal of justice. 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 crime-fighting partner, Robin, his butler Alfred Pennyworth, the police commissioner Jim Gordon, and occasionally the heroine Batgirl. He fights an assortment of villains such as the Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler, Two-Face, Poison Ivy and Catwoman. Unlike most superheroes, he does not possess any superpowers; he makes use of intellect, detective skills, science and technology, wealth, physical prowess, martial arts skills, an indomitable will, fear, and intimidation in his continuous war on crime.

The character has also been a frequent member of the Justice League of America, including being considered a founding member of several versions of the team over the decades. He also founded and was a frequent member of another team of super-heroes known as the Outsiders.

Batman became a very popular character soon after his introduction and gained his own comic book title, Batman, in 1940. As the decades wore on, differing interpretations of the character emerged. The late 1960s Batman television series used a camp aesthetic which continued to be associated with the character for years after the show ended. Various creators worked to return the character to his dark roots, culminating in the 1986 miniseries The Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller, while the successes of Tim Burton's 1989 film Batman and Christopher Nolan's 2005 reboot Batman Begins also helped to reignite popular interest in the character. A cultural icon, Batman has been licensed and adapted into a variety of media, from radio to television and film, and appears on a variety of merchandise sold all over the world such as toys and video games.

As to the current batch of movies, these commenced with, as indicated, 2005's Batman Begins. It stars Christian Bale as Batman, along with Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, Morgan Freeman, Ken Watanabe, Tom Wilkinson, and Rutger Hauer. The film reboots the Batman film series, telling the origin story of the character and begins with Bruce Wayne's initial fear of bats, the death of his parents, and his journey to becoming Batman. It draws inspiration from classic comic book storylines such as The Man Who Falls, Batman: Year One, and Batman: The Long Halloween.

As a child, Bruce Wayne falls into an abandoned well filled with bats, causing him to develop a phobia, and later witnesses his parents' murder at the hands of mugger Joe Chill, leaving him to be raised by the family's butler Alfred Pennyworth. Years later, Chill is granted parole in exchange for agreeing to testify against crime boss Carmine Falcone. Bruce, now a young man, goes to the courthouse intending to shoot Chill, but one of Falcone's assassins does so first.

Bruce leaves Gotham to learn the ways of the criminal underworld, in hopes of learning skills that will allow him to return to Gotham and free it from the crime and corruption that threaten to consume it. He meets Ducard, who offers to train him as a ninja of the League of Shadows led by Ra's al Ghul. As he completes his training, Bruce learns of the League's true intentions: to liberate Gotham from the evils that plague it by destroying the city. He burns down the League's temple, killing Ra's in the process, while saving the life of Ducard.

Bruce returns to Gotham. While publicly posing as a reckless playboy, he takes an interest in his family's company, Wayne Enterprises, a technology and defense conglomerate run by the unscrupulous CEO William Earle, who intends to take the company public. Bruce meets Lucius Fox, who introduces him to several of Wayne's experimental prototype technologies, including an armored car and protective bodysuit, which Bruce uses to form his crime-fighting persona, Batman.

As Batman, Bruce intercepts an illegal drug shipment, empowering Sgt. Jim Gordon and the Gotham police to arrest the previously untouchable Falcone. Meanwhile, a Wayne Enterprises cargo ship is raided and an experimental weapon is stolen, a "Microwave Emitter" that uses microwaves to vaporize an enemy's water supply.

Back in Gotham, Falcone and his henchmen are declared mentally unfit for trial and transferred to Arkham Asylum by the corrupt Dr. Jonathan Crane, who had been using Falcone to import a dangerous hallucinogenic drug that causes severe psychosis. Crane exposes Falcone to the toxin while wearing a burlap mask, driving Falcone mad with fear of the "Scarecrow."

Later, at his birthday celebration at Wayne Manor, Bruce is confronted by Ducard, who reveals himself to be the real Ra's al Ghul. Bruce fakes a drunken tirade to get rid of his guests, leaving him alone with Ra's and his ninjas. Ra's reveals the League's plan to destroy Gotham: having stolen the Microwave Emitter and conspired with Crane, they intend to vaporize the city's toxin-riddled water supply, creating mass hysteria and violence.

Batman entrusts Sgt. Gordon with the Batmobile and pursues Ra's, who is using Gotham's train system to deliver the weapon throughout the city. Batman confronts Ra's on the train and escapes just as Gordon uses the Batmobile to destroy the elevated tracks, leaving Ra's to die in the ensuing crash.

Batman becomes a public hero, and Bruce buys a controlling stake in the now publicly-traded Wayne Enterprises, fires Earle, and replaces him with Fox. Jim Gordon is promoted to Lieutenant. He shows Batman the new Bat-Signal and mentions a new costumed criminal who leaves Joker cards at crime scenes. Batman promises to investigate, and disappears into the night.

This, of course, leads into the second movie, The Dark Knight. Christian Bale reprises the lead role of Bruce Wayne/Batman, with a returning cast of Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth, Gary Oldman as James Gordon and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox. The film introduces the character of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), Gotham's newly elected District Attorney, who joins Batman and the police in combating the new rising threat of a criminal calling himself the "Joker" (Heath Ledger).

Nolan's inspiration for the film was the Joker's comic book debut in 1940, and the 1996 series The Long Halloween, which retold Two-Face's origin.

In Gotham City, the Joker and his accomplices rob a mob owned bank. Batman and Lieutenant Jim Gordon decide to include sincere new district attorney Harvey Dent, in their plan to tackle the mob and Bruce offers him a fundraiser.

Mob bosses Sal Maroni, Gambol, and The Chechen are informed by Lau, a Chinese accountant, that he has hidden their funds and fled to Hong Kong. The Joker interrupts the meeting warning that Batman is unhindered by jurisdiction. They laughably refuse when Joker offers to kill Batman for half the money and Gambol puts a bounty on him. Later, the Joker kills Gambol and takes control of his men, while Batman captures Lau and delivers him back to Gotham where he agrees to testify.

The Joker issues an ultimatum that people will die each day unless Batman reveals his identity; resulting in the killings of Commissioner Gillian B. Loeb and the judge of the trials. The Joker targets Dent at the fundraiser but Bruce hides him.

The Joker tries to assassinate Mayor Garcia during Loeb's memorial service but Gordon takes the bullet and seemingly dies. As a result Bruce plans to reveal his identity, but Dent instead names himself as Batman to protect the truth. Dent is taken into protective custody and pursued by the Joker across the city as Batman rushes to his aid. Gordon helps apprehend the Joker and is promoted to Commissioner. However, Dent and his girlfriend Rachel disappear. Batman confronts the Joker and learns each are in separate buildings filled with explosives.

Batman finds Dent moments before the buildings explode, killing Rachel and scarring half of Dent's face. The Joker then uses a bomb to escape from the police department with Lau. The Joker kills Lau, and visits Dent in the hospital, convincing him to get revenge. Dent uses his burned lucky coin to decide the fates of those responsible for Rachel's death, killing some of the corrupt officials and mobsters involved.

Ultimately, Batman apprehends the Joker. Nevertheless, the Joker gloats he has won, as the citizens of Gotham will lose their hope once Dent's rampage goes public. Batman leaves to find Dent as the Joker is taken into custody. Dent lures Gordon to the building where Rachel died and holds his family hostage, as Batman confronts him.

Dent judges the fates of Batman, himself, and Gordon's son with three coin flips. As a result, he shoots Batman in the abdomen, spares himself and flips to determine the boy's fate. Batman, who was wearing body armor, tackles Dent before he can kill the boy, resulting in Dent's death.

And now there is the final installment, The Dark Knight Rises. The film takes place eight years after the events of The Dark Knight and introduces the characters of Selina Kyle and Bane—portrayed by Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy, respectively.

So, how's the figure? Well, no great surprise, there is a significant line of action figures from Mattel for this movie. Also no great surprise, most of those figures are of Batman.

Batman has almost certainly had more action figure versions of himself made over the past several decades than any other super-hero. He's certainly had no shortage of movies and animated series from which such figures can be based, and most of those respective action figure lines have developed versions of Batman that have not appeared within those or any other form of media, and it would also be fair to say that, in keeping with Batman's characterization, versions of Batman featuring costume colors that he wouldn't otherwise be caught dead in.

I'm sure they've all been popular enough as toys, but there are reason he's called "The Dark Knight", and those reasons don't include parading around in a costume that's mostly day-glo orange or neon green.

Now, I haven't seen those colors turn up in the action figure line for "The Dark Knight Rises" -- yet, anyway -- but I have seen a fairly extensive color palette for various versions of Batman, and I decided at the outset that if I was going to bring one Batman figure into my collection from this latest movie line, it was going to be as straightforward and movie-accurate a Batman as possible. I found that Batman with CAPED CRUSADER BATMAN.

I think there's a certain irony in the name, given that "Caped Crusader" was the moniker most often used by the 1960's campy television series, which is about as far removed in tone from the more recent Batman movies as it's possible to get. But, what's in a name?

Batman stands about 4" in height -- 4-1/8" if you count the ears. This may seem like an unusual scale for Mattel, which is likely best known for their larger-scale DC Universe Classics line, whereas Hasbro seems to specialize in 4" action figures, but Mattel is no stranger to the scale, even within the DC Universe, having produced figures in this scale for Young Justice, DC Infinite Heroes, and the Green Lantern movie.

The costume is impressive. Like the movie series prior to the current one, Batman doesn't just wear a costume. Let's face it, the guy's not buletproof. So the costume has more the look of high-tech body armor.

The costume appears to be a very thick, textured weave, perhaps a modern take on chain mail, certainly highly protective. The level of detail sculpted into the small figure is nothing short of amazing. Secured to this basic suit is a vast array of protective "plating", which I'm sure is flexible, of course, that mimics the musculature of the human form.

There have been armored, protective Bat-costumes since Michael Keaton first put one on, but I have to say that this particular design is one of the most impressive ever. The muscle plating is smooth, but has a ridged border around each piece, and this has been very effectively sculpted into the figure.

Naturally, there is the Bat-helmet, and I'm certain it's more helmet than mere cowl. Maintaining the cinematic look that was also established in Tim Burton's production, the area around Batman's eyes is painted black to blend in with the mask, although Batman doesn't have the "blank-eyed" look that he tends to have in the comics. His eyes are visible, and on the figure, have been painted white with brown irises. I never fail to be impressed at how effectively such small eyes can be painted. Each eye is not much more than 1/16" across, and the irises -- well, my ruler doesn't go that small.

Batman's lower face is visible, and has been painted in an appropriate flesh-tone. And really, that's about the extent of the painted detail on this figure, which is otherwise entirely black, except for the ever-popular utility belt. This is a separately molded piece, attached to the figure during assembly, and it's dark metallic gold color is the only other thing breaking up the color of the figure.

Along with the extensive armored padding on the costume, Batman of course has the Bat emblem on his outfit. It's embossed across the chestplates.

And as one would expect, Batman is also wearing a long black cape. What really surprised me here is that this cape is actual fabric! I can't remember the last time I saw an actual fabric cape, certainly not on a figure this small. Even larger super-hero figures tend to have flexible plastic capes these days. Actual fabric just doesn't turn up that often. Okay, a few Jedi robes and tunics here and there in the Star Wars lines, but that really seems to be about it. So this was a genuine surprise.

It's a nice cape, of a suitable size, and has the bat-like curves at the base. The cape is about 3-1/2" long, and is also 3-1/2" wide at the base, and is made from a lightweight enough fabric so that it flaps in the breeze rather well, and can also fold around Batman a good bit when he's standing. The cape is very effectively attached to the figure underneath a separately molded neck. Nice way to keep potential glue spills to a minimum.

The figure has a decent range of articulation, but not spectacular. He is poseable at the head, arms, legs, and knees. Okay, that's not all that extensive. But it's likely enough for kids, and there's something also to be said for maintaining the intricate detail of the figure. I'm all in favor of a good amount of articulation, and I'll readily admit that this figure likely could have had more. I'm not interested in collecting statues. But this isn't a statue. Batman is articulated, and certainly well enough to have a decent level of play value for what is ultimately Mattel's target audience.

Caped Crusader Batman comes with two accessories. One is a grappling hook launcher. It doesn't actually fire, but it's an impressive-looking piece. The other is a large Batarang, copper in color, with sharp little points that I don't think any of Gotham's bad guys would want to be caught on the wrong end of.

So, what's my final word? I hope this movie does well. Given my opinion of the state of the DC COMICS Universe these days, in light of the "New 52", I'd like to see some branch of the DC Universe fare decently well while still having some respect for the characters.

As for the action figure line, while there are those that will bemoan the limited articulation, and I can sympathize with that, I encourage them to look past that and see some amazing work and detail put into an otherwise highly impressive action figure, that is an excellent likeness of the current cinematic Batman.

CAPED CRUSADER BATMAN from THE DARK KNIGHT RISES definitely has my most enthusiastic recommendation!