The toy business is a competitive field. There are only so many "surefire" licenses to go around, so companies need to get creative if they're going to get a piece of the action.
Gone are the days of the master license, when one company would be in charge of every piece of product that hit shelves, from obvious things like toys and playsets to the more unexpected bedsheets and toothpaste. Now licensors slice their properties, selling rights to everyone they can in order to maximize profits: Company A makes statues, Company B makes plushes, Company C makes action figures; or, more likely, Company C makes 6" figures, Company D makes 12" figures and Company E makes 3" figures.
Pretty complicated stuff, especially when the company with the 2-4" liscense makes 3.9" figures and the company with the 4-8" license makes 4.1" figures. But there's still more. What's the difference between a statue and a maquette? How about a replica? A bust? Does carving a niche in the back of something turn it into a votive candleholder, and put it in a category of its own? How does size differ from scale, and can that one little word in a contract really make all that much difference? There's a lot of wiggle room in these licenses, and thank god there is - that's the reason that Art Asylum has become the first company since Mego to produce figures of both Marvel and DC characters simultaneously.
DC Direct was already making those terrible little "Pocket Superheroes" in the 3" scale, so if (AA head) Digger wanted to create DC Minimates, he'd have to get creative. Fans demanded that DC 'mates be the same size as their Marvel collection, but the license to produce action figures of that size was already wrapped up. So how do you get around that? You find the wiggle room.
Art Asylum is not producing or selling 2" Minimate action figures of DC Comics characters. Instead, they're making building block toys of DC Comics properties that just happen to include 2" Minimate characters as accessories - in their case, the wiggle room was a simple indentation on the bottom of the feet that transformed the toys from action figures to construction sets. Go, Digger!
They named the sets C3, a bit of a play on words. While it technically means Construct, Customize and Conquer, the 3 can also be read as the mathematical symbol for "cubed" - the shape of the figures and the blocks built around them. Clever!
The first available C3 set was the exclusive Stealth Batwing - limited to 5,000 pieces, it was available from Art Asylum at the summer 2004 SDCC and Wizard World Chicago conventions.
We'll start with the building set itself, then do the included figures last. No real reason - it just seemed to work. If you're not interested in the construction set, just skip down a bit.
To set this set apart from the mass-market batwing, its plastic pieces are cast in translucent blue. Better that than clear, at least - the tint keeps it from looking like a poor attempt at Wonder Woman's invisible jet. Assembled from 110 pieces, the finished Batwing measures 9" across, 7 1/4" long and 3" tall. Its profile is undeniably that of the classic bat-logo; remember that scene in the first Batman movie where Bruce flew his plane up in front of the Gotham moon? Now you can do it yourself.
As a gimmicky vehicle, the set works well. It's got a working canopy, retractable landing gear, missile launchers and moveable air spoiler panels on the tops of the wings and a tiny removable escape pod. All pretty nice, especially for the type of plane that Batman would build himself. Unlike most Lego people, Batman can actually hold the plane's controls in his simple little hands.
The C3 modular bricks plug into each other just like Legos and Mega Bloks, and they hold together well - nice tight bonds, but easy enough to take apart when you want to. The instruction booklet isn't very clear about precisely where the blocks need to fit on what's been previously assembled, but it's not too terribly hard to figure out. The bat symbols and few instances of color are either painted on or decals applied at the factory - there's nothing that you'll need to put on yourself.
The press releases for this set announced that it would come with "2.5 Minimates," which some folks mis-understood to say that the figures would be 2 1/2" tall, putting them out of scale with the Marvel crew. Not so! These are the 2" bodies that fans demanded, but the set really does come with two and a half of them.
The DC Minimates share the same body as their Marvel counterparts, with a few minor differences: in addition to the holes in the soles of their feet, they have slightly redesigned shoulders that allow for a wider range of motion, which was one of the complaints about the early 2" 'mates. Of course, those elements are making their way into the Marvel and Lord of the Rings lines as well, so they won't be so different for long. Like all Minimates, they move at 14 points: neck, waist, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees and ankles.
The first figure is Pilot Batman, a repaint of the figure that will come with the regular set. To set him apart from the mass-market version, he's got yellow highlights instead of light blue. It still looks very good against the gray of his flight suit, though. His costume really does look like a jet pilot's uniform, complete with a removable helmet. The helmet has an oxygen feed that plugs into the figure's chest, and the visor can be rotated back to reveal Bruce's eyes. The visor is molded with a little pair of bat-ears that take this from a simple uniform to a perfect Batsuit.
The large yellow box in which this set was sold features the retro-influenced logo of the new animated series, The Batman. To fit with that, the second figure in the set is plain Bruce Wayne, modeled on his new cartoon appearance - he's a bit younger and a bit sleeker, with a more rounded look to the angular "Americanime" style created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm.
So that's two. The "and a half" figure is actually a result of the accessories - AA included gloves, boots, a chestpiece, cowl and cape to turn Bruce into Batman. The black pieces fit over the billionaire playboy's stylish sportcoat and conceal all evidence of his civilian clothes, turning him into a very good representation of the Dark Knight.
There was some question about how well Art Asylum could pull off the building sets - they'd never tried anything like this before, and the construction set market is already pretty full. Though the sets will necessarily be a bit expensive, this exclusive preview shows that a combination of long-awaited characters and good building toys will certainly be worth the price.
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