05 September 2012

Made in The Shade

One of the more entertaining new comics from DC Entertainment has been THE SHADE, a cool jazz 12-issue limited series about a morally ambiguous character taking stock of his centuries-long life and getting into troubles along the way.

The Shade in 1942

Originally published in FLASH COMICS #33 (1942), The Shade was a villain who enjoyed testing The Flash and was later featured as a member of some nefarious Society of Injustice during the Sixties and other iconic appearances.  His costume was a jet-black unitard with some sort of ... shaw (?), a black head mask (?), a top hat, and sunglasses. His ability to create objects and shapes from a black force were supposedly due to the unearthly nature of his walking cane.

Yup.  That's what we're working with.  That outfit and that backstory.  Can you believe that DC actually made an action figure from that?

Thankfully, in the early Nineties, writer James Robinson had restored interest with The Shade in his magnum opus STARMAN, and the character's story continues in this new tale.  His backstory became drastically more interesting- he was the product of some Victorian-era demonic experiment which imbued him with an ability to tap into a black other-dimensional well of power and gave him immortality.  Over the years, that immortality developed a streak of ennui that lead him to "play with" the super-heroes of the Golden Age, more for sport than malice.  His character appearance in the STARMAN series charts his development from self-centered rogue to a man with a developing appreciation of other people, and almost *almost* of sense of heroism.

Missing Page from THE SHADE
Can you name the three heroes?

Dr Fate team up from SHOWCASE 1996

His wardrobe improved drastically, too.

The Shade by Andy Lee

With MATTEL's release of THREE different Starman figures ("Starmen?") in their DC Universe Classics line, we decided it was time to add this fantastic character to the fold, using his modern appearances as a style guide.

Our figure, based on a sketch by Chris Samnee

As our base, we used the MATTEL Gentleman Ghost, for a slender suited body.  His trench coat came from a PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN Captain Barbosa figure.  His arms and cane were donated from a WILLY WONKA figure.  The head is from DC Direct's Uncle Sam and the hat is from MATTEL's Zatanna.  That's a lot of figures!  The upside of such patchwork is that there was very little sculpting to do, aside from giving him a shave and creating a new collar for him.  His coat cuffs were sculpted and craft beads were used to make the distinctive buttons.

Color-wise, it seemed just so sad to paint him all black.  His shirt and gloves are NATO Black (slightly more grey), his shoes are Gloss Black and his shirt and pants are Matte Black.  His coat was painted with a Chaos Black acrylic that adheres wells with the rubber coat.  His cane was sprayed Metallic Black and his trademark cane topper was sculpted and painted Chrome Silver.  I painted his vest lapels to match the hat band.  Both Shade figures received sunglasses made from floral wire and styrene.

I think this new figure is a Shade for all seasons and makes a great addition to a collection from my favorite comic story of all time!

28 June 2012

Batmobile History Part II: The Golden Age (1941-1949)

It's 1941 and Pulp fiction is making way for the new kid on the block.

In my last installment I mentioned how writer Bill Finger and artist Bob Kane had originally devised for the mysterious Bat Man to fly over Gotham in a large "Bat Gyro".  While that made for a great visual, it probably was hard to contrive ways for him to get down to the scene of the crime.

Eventually, he was gonna need wheels.

The original Batmobile, circa Detective Comics #48 (1941)
The Golden Age of the Batmobile started in 1941 when Bob Kane and Bill Finger first coin the name "The Batmobile", with a red sedan with a bat-shaped Hood ornament.  Batman and Robin are all smiles  as they two-fist their way through thugs and The Joker.  Design-wise, the car appears based on a 812 Cord with an extended nose.  Perhaps Batman meant to reinforce the front end as a battering ram?

Plenty of space for a Bat-cape to blow in the wind...

Shortly thereafter, artist Jerry Robinson steps it up and designs the first Batmobile of note.  Remarkably, he jettisons most everything from the Batmobile Mark I and starts anew, using a sedan as the base car, with a scalloped dorsal fin and menacing bat shield on the hood as a proper method for bursting through garage doors.

The Batmobile as of BATMAN #5 (1941)
 Mr. Robinson's design influences 70+ years of Batman art.  It stays as the feature Batmobile, with only slight alterations, for 9 years.

The last time red is used in a Batmobile design until 1966
In the Golden Age of comicbooks, Batman flourished.  The Batman legend became established: While occasionally fantasy-oriented, Batman and Robin were crime fighters, taking on the mob and an outlandish rogues gallery.  The Batmobile was a solid fixture in their arsenal of justice, including the Batarang, Batcave, Batsignal, and Batplane.

BATMAN comics expanded into several comic publications including BATMAN, DETECTIVE COMICS, and WORLD'S FINEST.  He also enjoyed a daily newspaper comic.  Whereas Bob Kane took sole credit for all of the art produced for these publications, it was becoming increasingly clear that a number of artists contributed significantly to this work.

1949: The beginning of something different from artist Dick Sprang 

In 1949 artist Dick Sprang introduced a slight variation to the Batmobile.  Possibly inspired by the Hudson Commodore, the new Batmobile emerged as a sleek and powerful sedan with rear wheel skirts.
Over the last decade, the Mark II Batmobile was often drawn without the red pinstripes.  Here, Mr. Sprang returns to the two-tone concept with a bright blue highlight.  For the first (and last) time, the Batmobile was depicted as having amphibious abilitles.  Perhaps that fastback was hiding some real horsepower?

The Batmobile Mark III, as it appeared in Detective Comics #142 (December, 1948)

A design feature that was played with during the Golden Age was a "Bat-head" emblem, most notably on various Batplanes.  This was invariably short-lived, as most folks could figure out it was Batman's car or plane without it.

The Batmobile Mark III lasted about 6 issues.  Artist Lew Sayre Schwartz filled in on an issue or two and went back to the traditional Batmobile.   It was short lived, but a herald of what was to come.

In the span of a decade, Batman went from vigilante pulp hero to super-lawman.

In the early months of 1950, Dick Sprang would define the next era of Batman facing a bright future.

The first 10 years of Batmobiles!

COMING SOON: Batmobile History Part III: The Atomic Age (1950-1963).

01 June 2012

We Love Brave and Bold Women!

Everyone here at the Flying B Ranch can't get enough of women, especially those from the WB epic BATMAN THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD show!

Our next big challenge is to make three characters from the show.

Who are we making next?
As part of the fun, we leave you with three clues to their identities:

Mystery Woman #1 is priceless.

Mystery Woman #2 had no credited voice actress from her appearance in THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD.

In her first B&B appearance, Mystery Woman #3 stated: "I dig, Batman!  Besides, I can't often control the direction of my strange mutant power!"

31 May 2012

The DC nU 52 Batman Action Figure Review!


It's hard to imagine, but last September DC COMICS decided to re-invent their line of characters with all-new comicbook series.  The notion of these new comics (52 different titles in all) was that they cut themselves loose of the last 72 years worth of history and continuity, with an appeal to attracting new readers.  Part of this rebooting of their comics included new costumes designs, most of which were done by acclaimed artist Jim Lee.

Due to his enduring popularity, Batman's appearance in the "nU" DC Universe remains largely consistent with his 70 year publication history: He's still Bruce Wayne, his origin is pretty much the same, and there's still Alfred tending the Batcave (He's the lucky one- Robin, Batgirl, Catwoman and others have been re-imagined more severely).  His new costume reflects this Let's-Not-Mess-Much-With-Greatness approach, but slightly revising his utility belt and removing his trunks (neither design choice is original, as past artists have done similar revisions in the last twenty years of comics).

The biggest design revolution of the nU DC?


Jim Lee re-designed most of the Super-suits to have seams, perhaps in an effort to appeal to Hollywood wardrobe departments.  Batman's costume is now covered in seams.

DC Entertainment's BATMAN (2012)

To inaugurate the nU Universe of characters, DC Entertainment will release figures of the seven member Justice League, starting with Batman.  As you can see with the packaging, the box front has a "peel away" motif similar to the new DC company logo.

In the "nU 52", Batman's Mom made his costume (I kid)

The Batman figure is about what you would expect- he has hip and knee articulation that doesn't allow for a lot of options in posing.  Perhaps in a nod to recent MATTEL figures, the nU Batman has jointed shoulders and biceps that allow for arm rotation.

In the "nU 52", Batman drags his cape
 The figure is light on accessories.  There is no batarang and no base, which was a DC standard in past figure offerings.  The paint job is modestly done, with some black dabs on an inner elbow and paint marks on the back of the cape.

The Dynamic DnUo
An interesting aside is that this figure does not appear to be the first nU Look Batman figure! On the side of the box is another Batman that is a completely different sculpt!

This Batman, apparently, was not "seamy" enough...

Editorial policies and fan preferences may come and go, but Batman appears to remain resilient throughout them all.  I've never liked any of his trunkless costumes and the two-tone look without the trunks looks wrong.  It would have been more interesting to see what fashion designers would do with the Bat-suit, but then we probably only need to go the movies to see what that would look like...
In the "nU 52", boys have seams and girls have a zipper? 

22 May 2012

Happy Birthday TOM MANDRAKE!

Is it always Halloween in the art world of Tom Mandrake?

The Dark Knight of Tom Mandrake, circa 1983

My first exposure to Tom’s art was the BATMAN and DETECTIVE COMICS work he did in the mid Eighties.  I dug his compositions and use of ink, but found his characters a bit blocky.  By pure chance, I met Tom at a comic show at Eastern Michigan University and he drew a Batman pencil commission for me.  I was blown away- his delicate pencil shading conveyed more depth than the inked stuff in the comics- and hooked forever after that.

The Wraith of the God, by Sir Tom of Mandrake!

For my money, Tom hit his stride in his collaboration with John Ostrander on THE SPECTRE.  It was the perfect match for the character, as Ostrander understood how to blend the horror and mystery genres with the potent consideration of The Spectre as the biblical Wrath of God.  Tom took this narrative as a prime directive to - literally- unleash Hell onto the page.  Serial killers looked more depraved and the tropes of super-villains took on aspects of a Hieronymus Bosch painting.  Like Rodin’s Gates of Hell, the pages became wrought with the writhing damned.

Recently, Tom was featured in BATMAN RETROACTIVE 70’s, a new Batman story set in the conventions of his mid-1970’s appearances.  At the time, Len revived a large number of old villains, slightly updating their goofy appearances to make them more action-adventure story oriented.  While this new story was penned by Len Wein, the writer of those stories and the creator of character Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman in the movies), Tom might seem an odd choice as he wasn’t working on BATMAN at that time. 

Tom's most recent BATMAN publication (2011)

It’s become one of my recent favorite stories.  Len pitch-perfect nailed his style from those old BATMAN comics.  The new Retro story fits to his stories like a lost chapter, advancing the sub plot of Lucius Fox and inserting a new twist into the motives for all of the returning goofy golden age villains.  

Tom’s pages are filled with black- shadows, skyscrapers, and night scenes.  Mandrake returns the Batcave to an appearance of 40 years ago, with huge lumbering banks of computers with magnetic tapes maintaining the Bat Crime files on dated-looking terminals.  The colours also match Tom’s art- deep blues, dark greys, and none of the bright palette found in the reprinted story.

Tom Mandrake takes the Batmobile out for the night! 

I couldn’t resist and grabbed my favorite of Tom’s original pages for the book.  The top panel has Tom’s sole rendering of the golden age Bat-villain 3-pack, THE TERRIBLE TRIO.  This group of gangsters super power was to wear ridiculous masks while plotting crimes.  Then we get classic Alfred and Bruce in the 70’s Batcave illustrations in the center panel.  Finally, the bottom third of the page is the crème de la crème: Tom’s loving take of the classic “Super Powers Batmobile”.  Tom used a great deal of splattered paint to convey the movement and energy of Batman heading off to kick some Batusi.  I love it.

So, if you’re tired waiting for the new season of WALKING DEAD episodes, do yourself a favor and pick up Tom’s SPECTRE comics, or if you need more superheroics with your Halloween monsters, grab his BATMAN AND SUPERMAN VS. VAMPIRES AND WEREWOLVES and it’s sequel BATMAN VS THE UNDEAD and celebrate the man!

Happy Birthday!

19 May 2012


The boys in the lab are pleased as punch to unveil their latest creation:  Catwoman from "The Night of the Batmen" episode!


 Pops was over tonight and nixed the pipe cleaner tail.  I think he was right.

We're very happy with the outcome and we hope our GIVEAWAY winner is happy with it too!

Our next Brave & Bold Lady?  Someone priceless...  How's that for a hint?

3, 2, 1...


06 April 2012

NEW FRONTIER Aquaman figure!

Darwyn Cooke wrote a pitch-perfect tribute to the Silver Age of comic books with the NEW FRONTIER series.  At the center of the story was the origin of the Justice League of America.  DC Comics grabbed on to the popularity of the book and released seven figures of the JLA "big" eight members.

They forgot Aquaman.

After recently re-reading the book, I was inspired to right this wrong:

I had seen a similar figure on the net and used a NEW GODS Metron body with the Hal Jordan head that came with my NEW FRONTIER Green Lantern figure.  I sculpted gloves on the body and added calf fins.  In the NEW FRONTIER, Aquaman doesn't have the black trunks, but I think they add great contrast.  

The Justice League of America, Darwyn Cooke style!

A great book and a fun animated movie, now the team is complete!

29 March 2012

New BRAVE AND BOLD Figures: Friends Like These...

Batman team-up comics were a sure hit with me as a kid.  My favorites were likely popular with many, as Batman had a short list of recurrent guest stars.  We've already featured Aquaman and Plastic Man "upgrade" figures, so today we focus on three more characters that often appeared in the Brave & Bold comic and made it to the show!

Some of the best Brave and Bold comics featured these Bat-friends!


Neal Adams was on fire when he drew these features and Batman teaming up with a ghost to solve his murder is the perfect B&B story.  I made this figure for last Halloween and had to bring him back out for this.

Arnold Drake and Carmine Infantino's DEADMAN

A Plastic Man figure with custom head sculpt

Green Arrow
 What's there not to love about a guy who copied both Batman and Robin Hood?  Green Arrow has a playful rivalry with Batman in the Brave and Bold TV show.  The idea that Batman has friends would make WB film execs cringe...

Weisinger and Papp's GREEN ARROW

Green Arrow was heavily modified from the MATTEL toy.  After removing the hex bolt holes, I sculpted his shirt sleeves and added boot cuffs.  A section of quiver from a DC DIRECT Red Arrow figure was added and the bow is the one from the GA figure, although significantly redone.  His quiver strap is now a separate belt, as opposed to a paint application.

With apologies to Sir Neal, I still love this costume...

I am a huge Wildcat fan and his Brave and Bold comic appearances need a little explaining.

Wildcat was created in 1942 by Batman co-creator Bill Finger and illustrated by cartoonist Irwin Hansen (DONDI).  He is a prize fighter.  His super power is that he puts on a cat costume and hits people.  He was a some-what popular feature and eventually joined the Justice Society of America, making two-appearances before the end of the Golden Age of comics.

When Sixties comic writer Gardner Fox brought back the WWII-era Golden Age characters, he went to great lengths to describe the science fiction basis for how these characters lived in a another universe "Earth Two" and how they weren't from Batman's world "Earth One" and how they could visit each other, etc.  These appearances were popular and became a summertime tradition, with each publication repeating this bizarre elaboration...

... except for the Brave and Bold issues.  Wildcat would just show up and Batman would act like he was always there and off they would go to have an adventure.  THIS WOULD FREAK OUT THE READERS!  They would write in and demand explanations, insisting that these issues were "existing" on some "new world".  It was very troubling to comic book readers of the Seventies.  

The comic book company pretty much ignored them.  Good thinking.

WILDCAT, by Batman-co-creator Bill Finger, drawn by Irwin Hasen!

A modified Batman figure, with a modified Sportsmaster head
 Join us next episode when we examine the color... of evil!

23 February 2012

BRAVE AND BOLD needs women!!

It wasn't lost to any of the caballeros at the Flying Batmobile Ranch that the BATMAN BRAVE AND BOLD action figure line was a little .... lonely.  Sure, there were plenty of bad guys to punch and cool gadgets to stick where ever, but that's not the end-all be-all of two-fisted crime fighting.

Crime fighting is also about them women.

That's why the eggheads in the labs miles below our ranch came to their conclusion:  If MATTEL wasn't going to make Female Action Figures (and they weren't), we were.

And we did.

We began with our mission statement:  To make a woman that would fit the scale and spirit of our modified BRAVE AND BOLD show male figures.   That meant:

1) Scale wise, the female figure had to look proportionate to the male figures in height and size.
2) The figure would need to be a standard "buck" that could be slightly modified for different female characters, similar to the method MATTEL used for the male figures.
3) No damn hex plugs!

Next, we began searching the pegs and the internet to see if there was anything out there that could give us a leg up.  After months of poking around, we finally found her:

Our Patron Figure

She wasn't cheap, but The Batman Selina Kyle figure had minimal detailing in the sculpt, allowing for a generic body type that could be modified to fit most of the B&B characters we wanted.

Our next step was to carefully remove the sculpted collar from the figure and create a series of molds:

Boxing Selina (someone call Fred Hembeck!)

With about 30 fl oz of rubber, we made everything we needed to populate Gotham.

Get Ready,

Get Set,


21 February 2012

The Batmen of All Nations: El Gaucho of Argentina

Don Santiago Vargas! 




One Bad-ass Action Figure!

El Gaucho de Argentina

Man, that Grant Morrison can spin a good yarn.  All the cowpokes here at the Flying Batmobile Ranch finish their daily chores and settle 'round the campfire for a reading of BATMAN INC.  One of the reasons his books are so popular with the boys is the fact that it includes one of our all-time favorite Batman stories, "The Batmen of All Nations".  Basically, the conceit of the Fifties Batman story was that Batman inspired crimefighters world wide to adopt similar methods.  Great Britain was protected by The Knight, Italy had The Legionary, etc.  On two occasions, these crime busters gathered with Batman to tear it up internationally.  Grant Morrison recently revisited this idea, expanding upon the team by adding the Native American Batman and Robin, and having them all represent Batman in his BATMAN, INC. concept.

Chief Man-of-Bats, El Gaucho, and The Knight

DC Direct definitely stepped up to the plate and delivered an impressive first wave of BATMAN INC figures.  Sadly, DC Direct is also known for dropping concepts after a first run and no future releases are expected for BATMAN INC figures.  We've come to the table with Hong Kong's very own Batgirl, Black Bat, and we now turn to this Cowboy Crimefighter to step it up.

Two great MATTEL action figures were used to make one great El Gaucho!
 Just as Black Bat was an easy modification of a MATTEL DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure, we went back to MATTEL for outstanding sculpts of street clothes.  Our design goal was Yanick Paquette's depiction of El Gaucho from BATMAN INC #3.  Other artists had given El Gaucho a deisgn similar to El Mariachi, which is from Mexico.  We really liked the rugged look of Paquette's figure: Wealthy Don Santiago would shrug off his finery for a leather jacket, work boots, and a simple mask to kick some Sombrero ass.  Our figure is the MATTEL Jack Knight Starman with the sleeves and modified jacket of the Mister Terrific figure.

Who should be the next member to join the team?

  Our dear friend from across the pond also decided to declare a love for all things super Argentina by creating Los Super Malon, the Justice League of Argentina, if you will.  We think she did a bang-up job with such a wild bunch!  Read about it here!

We salute the Batmen of All Nations!  Who should be the next member to join?  Sidekicks?

15 February 2012

GIVEAWAY: And The Winner Is...


as requested by "TotalToyz" 

The buckaroos here at the Flying Batmobile Ranch received 20 valid ballots for the Custom Brave and Bold Female Figure Giveaway.

Hands down, the most requested character was Catwoman (5 total unique votes).

Second place was Batwoman with four unique votes.  Huntress and Black Canary tied for Third with two unique votes each.

Votes were also placed for a great variety of DC's Super Ladies, Mera, Platinum, Phantom Lady, and Black Orchid.

The twenty ballots were placed into a cowl so that one lucky winner could be selected.

Each week, we will post progress notes with the creation of this super-awesome action figure!

Batteries to power,

Turbines to speed!

14 February 2012

Happy Valentine's Day, Batmobile!

Finally, the world has come to it's senses and released Batmobile Valentines!

That's sixty years worth of Bat-car love!

Two of my favorites.

The biggest card goes to the current movie Batmobile

On the back of each card has this extra from Shawn Martinbrough
It probably isn't hard to guess my favorite, but can you identify them all?

Tomorrow we announce the winner of the Brave and Bold Female Figure Giveaway!

Same Bat Time,

Same Bat Channel