Bane Week continues with a look at “Azrael Batman” – at least that’s what Mattel calls him on the box. In the comics, he’s simply the second Batman, referred to by fans as “Azbat”. I don’t really care what he’s called, he’s a cool figure and it’s particularly fitting that he’s included as a character needed to build Bane.
Changes were afoot at DC Comics in the 1990s. Well, change is always afoot in comics, but the early 90s seemed to be doling it out left and right with big changes coming to Superman & Batman.
Going around the ‘net, I tend to feel like a man without a country when it comes to the aspects of DC Comics that I love. I spent my pre-K years reading reprints of older material: Doom Patrol, Metal Men, JLA/JSA team-ups, etc. I fell in love with new heroes (Firestorm) and old heroes (Dr. Fate) alike. And, as I got older, I continued to love old & new. I still have my preferences – I prefer late 60s/early 70s & mid-to-late 90s comics. I like the 90s particularly because they tossed conventions out the window. I won’t gush too much because I know my buds over at Critical Mess will give me grief, but I love the Reign of the Supermen, Kyle Rayner is still my all-time favorite part-time character, and I came to really appreciate Azrael (though that took a little while).
Don’t let the Batman tag fool you, at its heart, this is an Azrael figure – his second in the line. Jean-Paul Valley was first introduced in 1992 as an unwitting assassin that had been brainwashed to follow in his father’s footsteps as Azrael. He crossed paths with Batman and is quickly inducted into the “Bat-family”. This was all by editorial design because, within a year, Bane had snapped Batman like a twig and Valley became Batman II. While the stories treated this arrangement like it was the status quo, it really wasn’t. Valley was only Batman across two summers, from ’93 to ’94. And during his time as Batman, he became increasingly erratic and vicious to pave the way for Bruce’s return. His costume also progressed as his story played out. This figure represents his look towards the very end of the overall arc, just before the blue parts of the armor inexplicably turn red.
I’m not going to make any bones about it. I love this figure. While I appreciate that the buck system works well for DC Classics, I do miss the complex sculpts found on the earlier DC Superheroes figures from time to time. Azbat here feels like he hails from that previous line. There’s a ton of detail courtesy of being an almost entirely original sculpt (the lower torso, crotch, feet, and upper thighs are the only reused pieces that I see). The only complaint on the sculpt itself is an issue that I’m not sure I’m entirely behind. The blades/fins on his gauntlets should probably be facing the other way. I think it’s a minor issue that’s ballooned up because of how Mattel handled the situation. Many collectors pointed out that it needed to be fixed when Azbat debuted at SDCC 2009. Those concerns were assuaged by Toy Guru saying that it would be corrected on the final figure. That was July and the figures weren’t produced until December.
Personally, I don’t remember this version of his costume having such long fins on the gauntlets in the first place. There’s enough consensus out there to convince me I’m simply remembering incorrectly though.
Because of all the detail on the figure, I was surprised to find little to no paint slop. Almost all the details on the armor are painted well, even the little silver “rivets” throughout the costume. The only area where I had issues was with the red paint on the helmet. The visor isn’t painted fully to the edges and the paint on the small protrusion on his forehead bleeds out onto the rest of the helmet more than it should.
There’s some interesting articulation going on here and I’m happy with most of it. The head is ball-jointed and, while it’s blocked by the large collar piece, it’s not as blocked as much as I expected. There’s some convincing side to side movement and the figure can look up which is really great for deep crouches – which he can do! Azbat has double knees, but unlike Mercury and Creeper he doesn’t have ridiculously shallow ankles. They’re not rocker ankles like they should be, but the calves don’t block the hinges and the figure can really hunker down.
From the knees up to the head the figure has standard articulation, but the arms have been done in a unique way. Instead of a bicep swivel, Azbat has ball elbows (along with ball shoulders and ball wrists). I’m not usually a fan of this type of articulation, but I have to admit it works well for this particular figure.
As I said, it took me awhile to warm up to Azrael in the comics. If I could pick only one costume to get a figure in, it would probably be his red/white “Agent of the Bat” costume from No Man’s Land. That’s when Denny O’Neil (who created the character along with Marvel EiC Joe Quesada) finally made me really enjoy the character, which in turn made me better appreciate his role in the Knightfall saga. But despite my initial reluctance to enjoy Azrael as a character, I always liked the Azbat costume. I like change and I thought it answered that idea of a armored up, techno Batman for the 21st century (while the storyline also showcased why Bruce Wayne doesn’t need it).
The figure, free from any comic drama and just representing the design, turned out really well and is easily my favorite figure from the entire wave. I think this can be one of those cases where, even if you don’t have an appreciation for the design, you can still find some coolness in the figure itself. It’s got a killer sculpt, surprising range of articulation despite the bulky areas, and great colors. Even without full rocker ankles and correct gauntlets, Azbat is going to be hard for Mattel to top in 2011, but I certainly hope they’ll try.
For more DC reviews, check out our
DC Universe Classics Collector’s Guide.