Miniature scale villages have always appealed to me, especially the Dickensian kind populated with figurines of Scrooge being lead around by spirits. It’s home décor that tells a story and encourages creativity. The rich details of the buildings and landscapes and various other models beckon you closer to look more deeply and discover something new every time you pause to enjoy the small world you’ve created. However, I always hesitated to get involved in the hobby of collecting those model porcelain buildings because it seemed to be quite the expense for something that would only be displayed in my home for a single month out of the year! Well, it turns out that Department 56, one of the very first companies to craft these handsome ceramic towns, is going beyond A Christmas Carol and testing the waters of some unique IPs that are easier to showcase year-round. We’re talking detailed sculptures for brands like Harry Potter, Peanuts, and, yes, DC Comics. Imagine building your own Gotham or Metropolis! Their first wave of products includes Wayne Manor, The Batcave, The Daily Planet, and Themyscira, and I got my hands on three of them. So, without further delay, let’s get things started by taking a look at Wayne Manor…
First, here’s the official ad copy…
This majestic stone manor is the not-so-humble abode of Gotham’s most famous socialite: billionaire BRUCE WAYNE™; or as the criminals of the dark and seedy underbelly of Gotham City know him, the Batman. Includes gate and “Bruce Wayne & Alfred”.
- Set of 3 includes Lit building, Gate and coordinating accessory “Bruce Wayne & Alfred.
- Meticulously hand crafted and intricately hand painted porcelain and resin
- Measures 8 x 7 x 10″
- Electrical: Standard cord and bulb.
Now, let me tell you what I really think…
I think it’s gorgeous and well-crafted but could use another detail or two to really drive home the point that this is Wayne Manor. Let me put it this way… This does not look like the manor from the 66 TV series, Batman (1989), Batman: The Animated Series, Batman Forever, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight Rises (yes, they were different locations even if he did say he was going to build it back brick-for-brick), Beware the Batman (this one was actually Bat-shaped), or Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. And that’s fine. Wayne Manor’s architecture is always shifting from movie to movie, show to show, and even comic to comic. There’s no definitive look to it, no single iconic layout that all of us fans agree is the one true House of Wayne. We all have a favorite Batmobile or Batcave we can name instantly, but ask a Batfan for their favorite Wayne Manor and they’ll have to mull it over for a bit. “The Wayne Manor’s trademark ____” just isn’t a sentence we utter when describing it. It has no defining characteristic beyond being a grand old building.
If anything, Department 56’s design appears to be the lovechild of the Batman Returns manor (why isn’t this available in a version we can put in a fish tank?) and James Bond’s ancestral home, Skyfall. And that’s not a bad thing. You tell me this stately palace is the Wayne Manor and I believe it. But you have to tell me it’s Wayne Manor, first. And that’s the one issue I have with what is otherwise an exquisitely cast and painted sculpture. If it wasn’t for the inclusion of the Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth figurines, there would be nothing about Wayne Manor that makes it unique from any other model of a mansion. Even the gate accessory that was included does not feature the name “Wayne” sculpted in faux wrought iron. But even if that idea of slapping the Wayne name on the gate doesn’t work for you (it’s not terribly subtle, after all) it does make you ponder what details could have been added to really make it apparent that this could only be Wayne Manor. Ultimately, I decided that Department 56 should next come up with accessories that look like the Wayne Family cemetery/burial plot. If we had the graves of Thomas and Martha to layout separately from the manor, something your guests could squint at and then have that “Aha!” moment, I think that would be great. Otherwise, it’s an exceedingly handsome porcelain and resin sculpture with lovely hand-painted details, and I must say I adore the way it looks when all the windows are illuminated. It’s a piece that I fully intend to display year-round, and something that I plan to build upon with faux landscaping and, perhaps, a backdrop of a stormy Gotham sky and the Bat-Signal shining against the clouds far off in the distance. That’s the ticket!
But before I move on, I just want to comment a little more about the Silver Age inspired Bruce and Alfred figures. Specifically, the newspaper that Bruce is holding. They are not crafted to the same scale as the house itself, so you’ll need to position them a bit of clever forced perspective or, if you’re not a crazy person like myself, just don’t bother and enjoy. Anyway, what I dig about the figures is that there are actually printed headlines and faux articles about Batman, Catwoman, and Joker on the pages of the paper! It’s a really cool feature, and just the sort of fun surprise I love to see from miniatures. Next up, let’s go beneath the grounds of Wayne Manor and check out the Batcave…
When the Bat-Signal appears in the sky, the Dark Knight jumps into his beautiful black and red supercar: the Batmobile, modeled after its appearance in the classic 60s TV series. Also included is the hidden entrance to the Bat Cave.
- Set of 2 included Batmobile™ & Batcave™.
- Meticulously handcrafted and intricately hand-painted porcelain.
- Measures 4.25 x 6.5 x 11″
- Electrical: Battery Pack included. 2C batteries required.
What I really think…
The Department 56 Batcave has me a bit less excited. It is a Batcave entrance more than it is The Batcave, and as a result it comes off as an accessory more than it does a standalone display piece in its own right. I am a massive fan of the old Bill Dozier Batman TV series, so reading in the item description about it being inspired by the show’s visuals gets me excited… But what we get isn’t quite close enough to really scratch that 66 itch, in my opinion. And if it isn’t at least 90% accurate, then it is simply a rocky mound with a bit of foliage and a mouth. But even that would have been forgivable as a Wayne Manor accessory if the price wasn’t so high! For $125 I want something that is either much bigger or screen accurate. Yes, you get the added bonus of a ceramic Batmobile that can be positioned to look like it’s roaring out of the light-up cave mouth, but it still doesn’t satisfy me at that price tag. At least give me a 100% on-point George Barris Batmobile, ya know? The one that is included is a charming homage, but the purple highlights (it is not solid black like in the promotional images) and a long list of absent, iconic details prevent it from being a serviceable substitute. The below picture is what I want from a model of the 66 series cave and car, right? But what we get, while being well-made, just seems to be a cave miniature with the “BATMAN” name slapped on the packaging. And I foresee many fans getting this model and then gluing on extra bushes and definitely swapping out the included car for a more accurate Hot Wheels Batmobile. And I assure you those changes will make this piece sing! But at $125 you shouldn’t have to immediately perform any DIY to nudge it in the right direction.
If you want my real opinion, starting with a cave entrance wasn’t the right way to go. Nor was creating a Wayne Manor (even though I really like the Wayne Manor). After all, what other iconic Gotham City buildings can you think of with architecture that is immediately identifiable? Arkham Asylum, of course, Wayne Enterprises, maybe, the GCPD if you put a signal on the roof, and any model factory can become Ace Chemicals if you slap a sign on a smokestack. No, I think Department 56 should instead focus on the Batcave interior if they really want to get the most out of this IP. Instead of building a village or city, spending all your cash on buildings and streetlights and park benches, etc. etc. imagine that you had your very own customizable Batcave layout! Department 56 could sell things like The Giant Penny, The T-Rex, the Joker Card, the Jason Todd tribute, and Batcomputer individually and I would be emptying my wallet every. Stinking. Time. Heck, they could even sell hand-painted ceramic stalagmites for $25 a piece and my dumb ass would buy a dozen to make my Batcave look as lifelike as possible. Anyway, I’m getting off track.
The Batcave as a cave entrance looks okay, but doesn’t impress anywhere near as much as Wayne Manor does, and it absolutely feels like an overpriced accessory to the manor– one that will only really work to its fullest extent if you also invest in a faux hillside like the promotional images. I would also recommend making additions to it and swapping in a Hot Wheels car for the vehicle they included. But if you only want to stay on brand with your accessories, Department 56 also offers a Silver Age-inspired, hand-painted resin Batman and Robin, sold separately for $32.50. I really like these two, and think they’d look terrific atop a skyscraper miniature.
Bonus: The Daily Planet & Themyscira
Before we wrap things up here I just wanted to show off the other two big DC releases from Department 56: Themyscira, which I do not own but you can check out for yourself in the photos above, and The Daily Planet. Now, this section of the review is actually less of a “by the way, you can shop for these two as well, I guess” and more of a… well, it’s a shameful admission. What am I admitting to? Sigh… I have to be honest and say that, yes, I wholeheartedly believe that a Superman-related thing is better than a Batman-related thing…
I mean, come on. The Daily Planet miniature (at over 16 inches tall there’s really nothing mini about it) is one of the coolest Superman collectibles I have ever seen. Handcrafted porcelain, intricately painted art deco architecture featuring LED lit windows, the name of the newspaper clearly visible, and that trademark globe up top as well? It takes your breath away! And the artists behind this piece went the extra mile by adding a figurine of the Man of Steel that really does circle the building. I… I like to recommend ways in which a product could have been improved when I do these reviews, but the only thing I can think of to make The Daily Planet sculpture better is that the wire attached to the motorized flying Superman (it runs silently, so don’t worry) could’ve been clear plastic instead of black. That’s all I got! This is something that every fan of Superman should seriously consider picking up. You won’t regret it.
I think that stately Wayne Manor looks brilliant, is extremely well made, and would look phenomenal on display in any home or office. However, it could certainly use a few extra accents to make it more evident that it is in fact The House of Wayne and not just any million-dollar mansion. Of course, the perfect piece to assist in that regard would be the other subject of our review, the Batcave and Batmobile two-piece set. This set is more of an accessory to Wayne Manor than it is a standalone work of art in its own right, but even as an accessory I think that the Batcave and Batmobile set’s asking price is too high, whereas the manor is an excellent value. But, ultimately, if I could only recommend one Department 56 DC Comics miniature to you it would be… and, again, I can’t believe I’m saying this… it would be a Superman one. The Daily Planet building is worth every penny. It takes the hand-painted porcelain craftsmanship of the manor and goes so much further. It is one of the coolest things we’ve ever featured on our website.
The Wayner Manor is available from Entertainment Earth.
Disclaimer: Department 56 provided Batman News with samples of the products for the purpose of this review.
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