My father was no exception, and I like to think his two rabid, Bat-fan sons helped in his motivation to buy the kit. Either way, he did buy it, and after building and painting, he left it to reside on a display shelf in the room my brother and I shared.
Now, my brother and I loved that kit. I mean LOVED it. We kept climbing up on furniture to get it off the high shelf and just admire it. At some point though, that wasn't enough; eventually, and on a regular basis, we would detach the figure from its base and play with it like an action figure. I have to admit, I don't know if it's a testament to the durability of the plastic Aurora used, or the innate care my brother and I took with our toys, but with all that handling, the figure was NEVER broken. Not once. It seems hard to believe, but it's true. I do think some of the lower branches of the tree didn't survive, and one of the bats on a thin twig of a branch got broken off once, but that was easily repaired. As for the possible missing branches, that wasn't so much of an issue for me.
Oh, before I go on, let me just say that the pics shown here are of the kit after restoration, like this one:
Alright, back to the story: over the years, as I became an ever more avid model builder, the stewardship of the kit fell into my hands. I kept it clean and free of dust (when I remembered to dust, which was not often), and made sure it remained unbroken through all the moves I made and all the times I packed it up. Until finally, I took a good look at it, and looked at the kits I was building on my own, and decided it was time for an upgrade. I'd learned enough and had enough experience that I felt I could do the kit justice and make it the "ultimate" comic book version of the Batman, at least in my eyes.
So, for one final time, I removed the figure from its base so I could set about determining what fixes (if any) I'd need to make in the build. At this point, it seemed only the paint up and seam finishing was lacking. My father had simply broken pieces off the sprue, added a little color where he felt it was needed, and assembled the thing. I wish I had pics of what it looked like before the restoration. Here's a pic I found online, showing the original colors of the pieces:
In finishing his kit, my dad had used basic Testors enamel paint; "standard" blue paint for the cape, cowl, gloves trunks and boots, "standard" yellow for the belt and bat chest symbol outer circle, flat black for the bat in the chest symbol, and "flesh" for the lower part of Batman's face. Maybe a little white in the eyes, too, though I can't remember how much was there. He'd left the Batman's tights in the light blue molded color, and the base mostly unpainted: some yellow for the owls feet, beak and eyes, yellow on the "Batman" logo on the tree, but the bats, trees, and rocky ground were all still in the dark brown original color of the plastic. So, when it came time to strip the paint, it was pretty easy.
I did find one build problem, though: the head was not set properly on the neck. I had never noticed it before, but once I did, it was pretty glaring; the head was angled forward and looking down. That meant going at the neck with an x-acto knife until the old Testors glue gave way. I'll admit that I white knuckled it a bit through that, not knowing just how much force to apply to get the pieces separated. I was sure I was going to break it, but thankfully the resounding "CRACK" I heard when the head came away revealed only old glue that had broken, not the plastic. Man, that stuff IS tougher than I thought!
The old glue was sanded away, and I set about filing down and filling existing seams, which actually didn't take very long at all. My Dad was a fair model builder in his own right, and the assembly of this kit showed that. Maybe that's also what kept it from breaking over the years.
Before I go on with the paint scheme, I just want to point out that this kit has always struck me as a bit of an anomaly in the way it represents Batman. In some ways, it's definitely a representation of the Batman of the mid-60's; the Batman that Carmine Infantino had re-defined in 1964. The yellow circle around the bat on his chest is a clear marker of that. It had not existed before Infantino. Even the box art is Infantino's Batman. Here's another example of the "new look" for the 1960's:
But looking at the face of the kit, it has the square jawed angularity of the Batman of the 1950's.
In fact the whole head sculpt, with it's peculiar bat ears, scribed in line to delineate the black portion of the face mask, and overall profile looks more like the 1950's Batman. It's caused me to wonder if two different artists worked on the kit, or if it was one, what source material was he working from? And for that matter, why is Batman swinging among some old dead trees, when he'd typically be in a more urban setting? Weird figure of the night, indeed... ;)
In any case, I wanted a color scheme that was true, in my opinion, to how the character would look if he were "real" and so went with a subdued blue and gray for the suit overall, with bright yellow for the belt and bat symbol. One thing I had not noticed until that time was the reason (for me) the face always felt kind of "off". The eyebrows. My Dad had never painted them on, since there was no sculpted element to represent them, not even scribed lines. It was up to the builder and their own artistry to get the right look to the brows and their placement.
As for the base, all the elements were beautifully sculpted, and I wanted a paint job that would bring out the best in each piece, particularly the large tree and the owl. I think I spent more time on the paint job for the owl than the rest of the kit combined. It's a great horned owl, and I looked up pics of one in a field manual so I'd get the coloration of its feathers correct. The bats were painted up like the Little Brown Bat, with brown fur on the body and black exposed skin. Accurate color schemes like this are totally worth it, in my opinion. And speaking of opinions, another one of mine has to do with small elements like that. Many times I feel small pieces like that get ignored, or at the very least glossed over and the result is a kit that just doesn't look as good as it could, no matter how expertly the rest is done. Details make the difference, and they have to be given as much attention as any other element of the kit, otherwise.... it just doesn't live up to its potential.
Batman's paint up was pretty straightforward, with some masking at the edges of gloves, boots and trunks, then shading with ground up pastel chalks. The only anxiety inducing portion of the paint up were the eyebrows, as I've mentioned. They had to be done free-hand, and done right the first time; painting over any mistakes would still leave a textural element that could be seen, and I didn't want that to mar the smooth black surface on the face of the cowl. Thankfully, a slow and steady approach paid off, I think, and for the first time, looking at the figure's face, I got a TRUE sense of the likeness to the Batman in the comics.
Re-assembly was a breeze, only involving the re-attachment of the cape and head to the body, and the figure back onto the base. A couple more things about that base. Apparently, the prototype of the kit had a base only about half as long as the production model. The short stump with the bats was not included. But from what I've read, the weight of the figure kept tipping the model over, so the longer base was added for stability. Taking a look at the original pattern here, I can see what the designers were going for; the focus is more narrowly directed at the figure of Batman itself:
Also, in later versions of the kit, the "Batman" lettering on the large tree was removed. Personally, I love it being there. Makes the whole thing look like a splash page in an old comic. That being said, I went back to a Batman comic from the 40's that used similar lettering, and painted it up as they colored it in the comics: yellow with a red border. For me it really is a finishing touch that makes the whole kit more interesting.
I have to say, I've built other Batman kits since, but none have quite the same impact as this one. Sure, there's a heaping dose of nostalgia coloring my opinion, but regardless, I've been hard pressed to find a kit produced that better represents the Dark Knight as he was in the comics. At least, in the "Silver Age", that is. :) Thanks for following along; I hope you enjoyed this little retrospective of this great old kit!