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Thursday, June 13, 2024

We Build The LEGO Batcave, A Shadow Box Stuffed With Details

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The LEGO Batcave, out now on the LEGO Store, is ingenious. It is impressive for all the reasons that LEGO sets of this magnitude are usually impressive: their attention to detail, their appropriation of old pieces into new contexts, their use of creative building techniques to make them sturdy.

LEGO Batcave Shadow BoxLEGO Batcave Shadow Box $399.99

But this set also innovates, via a new means of presentation. The designers enclosed the entire Batcave in a buildable shadow box—a display casing similar to a diorama. The shadow box allows a viewer to "look in" and appreciate the scenery's depth, and it also opens up and folds out, allowing the viewer a closer, personal look at all of the set's elements.

LEGO Batman sets face a unique challenge that other set themes do not. They are composed predominantly of black pieces, which, arranged thoughtlessly, can be redundant to build and monotonous to look at. And although many Star Wars sets face a similar problem with their predominance of light gray, it is not quite the same. Light gray simply reads better; it is easier to make out and appreciate detail against a gray background, whereas black has a flattening, blurring effect.

We Build the LEGO Batcave Shadow Box

Thus, rather than focusing on minute greebling–surface-level detailing to create the illusion of depth–the shadow box swings for the fences. Its visual centerpiece is a massive, Batman Symbol-shaped window on the box's front, accomplished by arranging hundreds of small bricks into a stacked, staggered pattern, and anchoring them via pins to the set's foundation.

The designers hid the box's sharp edges when viewing it from the inside, by incorporating rock formations, stalactites, and stalagmites around the scenery's borders. And when the set designers needed to incorporate black-on-black, they played around with surface textures. They mixed studded surfaces with smooth surfaces with latticed surfaces to clearly distinguish between multiple details.

The set has 29 construction phases, set across four instruction booklets. It comes with a single sticker sheet, rather than printed elements directly onto the bricks. There are seven minifigures: two versions of Batman (one with a cloth cape, and one with a swooping, dramatic plastic cape), Bruce Wayne, Alfred Pennyworth, The Penguin, Catwoman, and Max Shreck, The set also contains multiple minifigure accessories, like Batman's grapple hook and numerous Batarangs. Unlike most sets, which have no place to store these loose elements, the Batcave has a weapons area that allows you to clip them to a weapons rack, eliminating the risk of losing them.

The first thing you build is the Batmobile. LEGO released a large replica of the Batmobile from the original 1989 movie, which we previewed in 2019. But this smaller model also captures the dimensions and feel of the iconic vehicle. If you turn the knob on the vehicle's side, dual machine guns pop out of the car's hood. LEGO could release this vehicle on its own, as a lower-priced set with a lower age range, and it would sell like hotcakes.

Then, you build the shadow box. You start with the foundation of it, and you build the supports and struts for multiple floors, which you will flesh out over the remainder of the build. You build a platform for the Batmobile, which is nestled between the shadow box and its window. And you also build the hinge elements for the eventual window, which swings outwards when you open the box.

While you're building the foundations, you're also incorporating rods and interlocking gears, which will eventually connect to the set's moving elements. The chair in front of the console swings around 360 degrees. The weapons are concealed behind two doors, which shift to opposite sides to reveal what's inside. The console has a changeable large display—one which shows the Penguin, and the other which shows Catwoman—which moves on a toothed track. Lastly, there's a LEGO light brick that illuminates the area where Batman stores his costume. Once you connect these elements to their gears, you can move them by turning external knobs, just like the ones on the recent Indiana Jones set.

There are other, more understated moving elements. There's a trap door on the box's side, which opens to let the Batmobile out, and closes with the press of a rubber mechanism. There's a nice, catching "click" when you close the box, a testament to the foresight that goes into planning a build like this one. It reminds me of this documentary I watched about building massive cruise ships. The designers build them in sections, and there's that stressful moment of truth, where the two halves of the ship have to meet and weld together in the middle. I felt a bit of that when closing the box for the first time. Precision is paramount.

It is nothing if not impressive—so many tiny pieces of varying heights and dimensions come together and form a cohesive structure with defined edges and angles. It is a long build, and in the middle of it, it can be disorienting, because the progress is so slow and incremental. But the end result is appropriately impactful. And once it's complete, the LEGO Batcave is playful in a distinctly adult manner—the pleasure comes not from playing pretend and staging scenarios within the box (although you can do that too!), but from exploring the construction and clockwork of the box itself.

The LEGO Batcave — Shadow Box, Set #762562, retails for $399.99. It is composed of 3981 pieces, and it is available now exclusively at the LEGO Store.

For more, check out our picks for the best Marvel LEGO sets, as well as the best LEGO sets for adults and the best LEGO Nintendo sets.

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