Building the ’89 Batwing – Review: 76161

The Batwing was only given a couple of minutes of screen time in Tim Burton’s BATMAN (1989), but it was key to a number of iconic images from that film. The LEGO Group sent over a copy of the new 76161 to review: how does it fit in

It was the mid-year holidays in 1989, and Blockbuster movies were yet to have global release dates. And in the Northern Summer of 1989, this was one of the greatest years for the popcorn industry: Ghostbusters II, Star Trek V, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: as these franchises were coming to an end, one was threatening to rise up: In Australia, we had heard tales from across the seas, of people buying a full priced ticket in the US that summer, just to see the trailer for Tim Burton’s Batman – and then leaving the cinema.

I had discovered comics as a ‘serious read’ a year or two earlier, with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen, as well as Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns high on the list of books that I read early on.

Burton’s Batman certainly drew on that darkness, but we were a little concerned about Michael Keaton in the role. Beetlejuice may have come out the year before, but many of us had been scarred by his role in Mr Mom from a 1983. But still, this film had a great Batmobile, lots of brooding, and a suitably maniacal Joker played by Jack Nicholson. I was a little surprised to discover a local reprint of the movie’s comic adaptation still sitting on my bookshelf after all these years.

Last year, we saw the Batmobile from that movie leap into large scale LEGO® form, and this year, we see another Batvehicle make the transformation: 76161 1989 Batwing. This Batlogo shaped aircraft was instrumental in disrupting Joker’s attempts to kill thousands of Gotham City’s citizens, but at the same time was downed by a comically oversized handgun – seeing it crash into the steps of the Gotham Cathedral.

The new LEGO® set based on this model is now available for LEGO VIPs, and will receive general release into LEGO Branded stores on 1st of November. It has 2363 pieces, 3 minifigures and a RRP of $AUD299.99 ($USD199.99;  £179.99, €199.99).

I was excited to be sent a copy of this set by the LEGO Group for review purposes, and was curious to see how it would line up with my memories of this memorable vehicle. Although it was only on screen for a couple of minutes, there is no doubt that the silhouette against the full moon was a iconic shot. I wonder why they left that image out of the comic?

The box for this set displays the now familiar 18+ strip along the bottom of the box, detailing set and part numbers. As we have come to expect, the box is black, with a picture of the model viewed from above. We have the requisite logos from DC and the movie. On the reverse side, we see the model from an oblique left frontal view, a picture of it on display on the stand, and a demonstration of the ‘Wall Hanging’ Feature. Given the sheer dimensions of the model we might well be grateful for this ability.

Let’s wander through the build, look at some of the things to learn in building this model, and then take a look at the minifigures and the completed model.

The Build

Looking at the finished model, and the source material, it becomes apparent that the Batwing is essentially a flat disk – with some interesting cutaway curves applied to it – around a thicker central fuselage. So, how did Adam Zabowski, the senior designer on this set, achieve that look?

Bag 1: Laying The Framework For A Great Build

We start off our build with the Batman. Thank heavens: nothing else here looks like it will be visible on our final model. As ius becoming an established technique for covering an area rapidly, we connect a number of technic frames. More than 30 of them, overall! We are getting a vague idea of the general shape, but of course, we dont have any feeling for the actual curves yet. It is potentially easy to get confused in your orientation in this and the following steps, and so there are some handy-dandy orientation bricks used: technic 1×2 bricks in red and green. Red to port (left), and the front. Green marks the starboard (right) and tail.

Bag 2: Back In Black

In bag 2, we start work on the underbelly. Most of the ‘curves’ are made using compound triangles, while some cutaway curved plates are used near the tail end of the vehicle.

Bag 3: Filling The Gaps

Bag three consists mainly of bricks, and plates: the bricks fill up the spaces inside the frames and add to the strength and weight. The whole model starts to feel pretty solid at this point. I thought this was more interesting than the plates on top. You will see those in a couple of steps. You can also see the hanging element, for future wall mounting. Just behind it is a blue/red hole, where the stand will eventually go, for tabletop display.

In the front and rear cutout sections, we add rows of brackets – We set up rows of both upper and lower brackets in the front and back of the ‘wing’ parts here, and cover them over with 2x16black plate.

Bag 4: Getting Curvy.

The most important aspect of the Batwing is the silhouette, and in this step, we start to get these shapes happening. The curves are brick built using 2 stud thick slopes and inverse arches. These curves then plug into the wing cutouts. This is a great example of a technique exploiting the fact that the main construction being 5 plates thick ( the frame bricks plus plates on top and below) having the same height as 2 studs of length/height.

A view towards the right hand/front end fuselage, showing upper and lower reaching brackets, spanning 2 studs thick: just perfect for attaching some future plates.

This is the first time I have seen the 2x6x1 upwards bracket (seen partially obscured in the above picture in tan).

A clear example of 5 plates thick having the same measurement as 2 bricks wide.

At the end of this bag, we are seeing the Batwing really taking shape. The outer edges are a little messy, but I suspect we will tidy them up soon. We are yet to even look at the front ent of the fuselage.

Bag 5-6: Wrapping It Up

These two bags have many elements in common: and given that they essentially smooth the curves on the outer rims of both wings, that is not surprising. We start off by adding the yellow elements: 1×1 cylinders, as well as ‘tap’ elements to the main body. The reason will become apparent shortly.

There are lots of horizontal hinges, in black and dark stone grey, as well as curved slopes – 1 plates thick. It is safe to presume that there will be a number of segments that will join together. I am more intrigued by the presence of two eleactic bands.

The hinges are used in a double layer, at right angles, for the first few connections, working out fron the middle.This is typical of the construction for several of the units. I like this double layer technique: it hads strength to the hinges, as well as the sections they are joining.

Towards the front and back, we incorporate the elastic bands in a couple of segments:

Ultimately, we have around 10 segments per side, connected in a strip, which we wrap around the outside of the wings. Curious, out of grid, connections include a spanner onto a tap, as well as a stud with handle, plug into a slightly rotated headlamp brick.

There are also some intriguing connections around the ‘taps’ with the rubber bands, which are ultimately secured by placing plates over the top. These are a little fiddly, but not too much so.

At this point, It becomes apparent that this is an impractical set to photograph inside a Foldio soft box…

Bag 7: Getting Greebly

Bag seven brings us the so called ‘Boom Box Goon’, one of Joker’s henchmen, who I believe might actually be named Lawrence. Bob was Joker’s #1 henchman in this film – but more of their tale later.

Lots of black elements in this bag suggests that most of them will be on display eventually: and for sure there are many, many grilles to be seen, and placed, here. There are over 80 in the set, and I think we deal with many of them here: split between the wing surfaces.

A delightfully retro boom box, but it might have been a littl more intrusive in the movie.

As well as the surface details, we start work on the interior of the cockpit, with these two sloped bricks that are promptly stickered.

BEWARE: use bright lights and corrective lenses if you have them! I placed the lower sticker here upside down: the red screen should be to the right of the brick. I now have a gas emitting clown upside down in my model!

Bag 9: Building up the Body

We start this bag off building up the radiator fins which trail behind the main cabin of the plane, as well as add some to the front end of the cabin. We also add plenty of arches to the side of fuselage, giving it a rounded shape.

Bag 10: Detailing The Seedy Underbelly

In this step, we build symmetrical spines, with flexible fins. These then attach to the base of the plane, and essentially form the sole texturing on the base the bricks with studs on the side plug nicely into the plates on the base. The inner edges of the two modules are in close apposition- with an almost seamless connection. There are also two lateral, underwing pods to ensure appropriate support, should you leave the craft on a flat surface.

Bag 10: Getting To The Pointy Ends.

With this bag we build out the front end of the fuselage: the distinctive ‘bat ear’ shape is not quite perfect here, but is pretty close. Especially considering the fact that the prows are tapering from side to side as well as above and below.

I am disappointed that the one feature that the Batwing demonstrates in the film – snagging scissors used to cut loose the Joker’s balloons – do not seem to be present.

We do get a nice curved slope at the front of the Batwing

We have also filled in the front tips of the wings:

Bag 11: Somewhere To Sit; Forewarned Is Forearmed

The primary goal of bag 11 is to get the front guns added onto the vehicle, and to trickout the cockpit.

There are a few more stickers that are featured in the cockpit, including

As we start to build the seat, it becomes apparent that the vehicle is larger than minifigure scale… by a factor of two or three. Perhaps Belville will work a little better…? The base of the seat is 3 studs long, as well as a little leg room under the panel. We also build up some control levels.

On the back cowl, we place a sticker labelled ‘Bat Engine’ – a marvellous nod to the excessive bat-labelling of the 1960’s television series.

Finally we add the ailerons – breaking up the black with dark stone grey. The 2×1 ‘cheese grater’ slope adds

Bag 12: Put A Lid On It

In our final bag for building the set, we assemble the guns and missiles: the machine guns are remarkably parts intensive while the dark red missles provide a welcome breakup in the black on black, with a touch of very dark grey.

We add two angled, swept back tail planes

The windscreen for the cockpit is made from several curved panels, and a truncated cone in transparent black, supplemented with some round/curved bricks. Half a bulbous cone is placed behind the cockpit, in elegant alignment with the windscreen.

Bag 13: A Stand To Sit On

In bag 13, we finally find the Joker minifigure, and build up the display stand, which is able to support the Batwing flying up or down, but not sideways on an anle, which might be the most useful angle to view it on.

The Minifigures:

This set comes with three minifigures, and they are displayed seperate to the main model, on their own version of a Gotham rooftop, complete with grotesques.

We have Batman, with a double sided head print, and the obligatory tennis head band. There is extremely detailed torso printing, and the bat emblem is printed on the combined cape and cowl unit, which appears to be made of a softer rubber like material. He is essentially the same figure that appeared in last year’s 76139: 1989 Batmobile, as is the display rack for the figures..

Next, we have the Boom Box Goon, carrying his boom box from scene to scene, ready to pump out some funky hits by Prince. The boom box looks suitably retro, but is light grey, as opposed to black in the film and comic adaptation. But why him, and not Bob, who seemed to be the main go-to guy ?

Finally, we have the Joker in a mime costume: This is the outfit he was wearing when he completed his takeover of the Gotham City Crimial syndicates. He has cloth tails to go with his jacket, and carries a quill. The minifigure gives a pretty good rendition of the material from the comic, particularly with the jacket, corsage and waistcoat. The minifigure lacks the printed detail seen in the cravat, but I think it is still a good overall representation.

I was confused as to why we have the Boom Box Goon, known to some as Lawrence, with this set. Bob seems to be the Joker’s major henchman for most of the film. Don’t get me wrong, Lawrence is there too, but Bob is the main man. But then, as the Batwing appears, comes the moment where Bob has failed to keep his boss informed on all that is going on in Gotham…

And then Bob was gone. As a henchman, it is important to keep your upline manager informed about potential risks to the organisation. Especially if they might potentially stall any plans you have in play. Bob failed to do this, and as such, paid the price. And so, we have Lawrence, the Boom Box Goon, accompanying Joker in this set. Workplace Health and Safety Authorities have been made aware of this behaviour.

The Finished Product.

I really like the final model, and it bears good resemblence to the source material. I am disappointed that the scissors/clamp that is used to remove the balloons from the parade are not present in this model, but I am otherwise very happy with the way the final product looks.

The stand works well for forward facing display, and while stable in the opposite direction, it is disappointing that it is not possible to display the Batwing side on, slightly banked.

Images on the left show plates not cleaned after construction, those on the right hand side – after brushing, wiping with alcohol wipes and following up with a microfibre cloth.

The major drawback with this set, as for the LEGO Ideas Grand Piano, which we looked at last week, is the fact that black plastic rapidly accumulates fingerprints. Big black models are also difficult to photograph well. I am looking forward to something smaller and more brightly coloured in the near future.

Keeping it clean is always a challenge when the audience is 18+…

Overall, if you like Batman, and especially the 1989 Burton/ Keaton movie, you will appreciate this set. It may have only had a few minutes of screen time, but the Batwing made a sizable impression on the audiences of the time. It is a sizeable model, and I am disappointed that I did not have an appropriate place to hang the set on my wall, because I think it would be an excellent way to display it.

As a MOC builder, there are some interesting techniques to lookout, including the way that the shape is aschieved by ‘wrapping’ an edging around the trays of plates and bricks.

The set is a little too hard to ‘Swoosh’, but has a good amount of detail, and is quite heavy, feeling solid in the hands. As a symmetrical structure, there is plent of repetition in the constructions, but not too much so. I give it 4 out of 5 abitrary praise units.

The is available now for LEGO VIPs, and is officially on sale November 1st for £179.99, €199.99, $USD199.99, $AUD299.99

I’d love to know what you think of this set. Is it a transport of delight, or a five minute wonder for you?

Why not leave your comments below, and until next time, Play Well.

This set was sent to me for review by the LEGO Group. All opinions are my own.


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