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Monday, August 16, 2021

1989 Batman Toy Biz action figures -- what a time to be alive!

For the past three months my social media feeds has been lit up with enthusiasm for the 1989 Batman film (directed by Tim Burton), and with good reason... last week saw the launch of the new Batman 89 comic book series (written by Sam Hamm and illustrated by Joe Quinones). It's been a summer of build-up -- with fans talking about their hopes and dreams for the series, as well as Quinones dropping sneak peaks of finished art on his Instagram and Twitter accounts. It almost feels like... 1989 Batmania all over again... 

...well, not really,... but it does make me want to reminisce about it. Namely, those very cool Batman action figures released by Toy Biz in 1989:

For those of you who were too young to remember (or weren't born yet), the Batman movie was a pretty BIG deal for just about anyone between the ages of 8 to 18 old that summer as it was THE summer blockbuster event of 1989. I mean, the advertising dollars Warner Bros. put into marketing this film must've been insane (yet 100% effective). Tied in with the marketing was the merchandising, and thus yielded the first of a whole NEW set of DC action figures to add to our Kenner Super Powers collection:

Magazine ad for Toy Biz Batman action figures. source: www.1989batman.com 

In 1989 and I was eight years old. The internet wasn't round, yet, so we either found out about cool new toys by way of Saturday morning TV commercials...


...or the ultra-precious toy catalog that arrived in the mail maybe twice a year:

This is actually an excerpt from the 1989 Warner Bros. Catalog Brochure. Note the prices on the toys: the Batcave only cost $5 USD more than the Batwing! Wow! Underthegiantpenny.blogspot.com has a detailed article on it (with pics).  

Finding these in the toy aisle was pretty easy -- the colors for the packaging on the toys matched the 1989 Batman film logo (black lettering with a gold trim), so it quickly jumped out at you. The action figures came in a clear blister pack accompanied by a nice image of the character in a dynamic pose on the card. The back of the card showed the figure in greater detail with an explanation on how to activate their 'special feature'. There was also a profile card (disguised as the front page of the Gotham Globe) that you could cut out.

Only three action figures were released to coincide with the 1989 Batman film:

1) There was Batman (with a retractable Batrope that was hidden in his utility belt):





2) There was Joker (who was able to squirt water from a flower on his jacket):



3) Joker's henchman, Bob The Goon (who was able to kick a man while they were down):


Bob the Goon, played by Tracey Walter in the 1989 Batman film, was Joker's 'right-hand man' and acted as a loyal lackey to the clown prince of crime. This movie was sorely lacking in marketable characters (except for Batman and Joker, of course) so coming up with extra figures to add must've been a struggle. I mean, who else could they have added? That pesky reporter Alexander Knox? Ace photo-journalist Vicki Vale? (actually, that probably wouldn't have been a terrible idea)

Joker (Jack Nicholson) conversing with Bob the Goon (Tracey Walter) in the 1989 Batman film


When taken out of the package, these figs did not disappoint. They were sturdy and durable with nice paint jobs. Kenner had the master toy license for DC comics in 1984, and gave us the greatest toy line ever created: the Super Powers Collection. At some point, presumably in 1986/1987, Kenner lost the master toy license and Toy Biz obtained it. While it was speculated that Toy Biz purchased the original molds from Kenner, these three 1989 Batman figures appeared to use all-new molds and were more-or-less in scale with the Kenner figs from several years back: 

1989 Toy Biz Batman stands between Kenner Super Powers Firestorm and Green Lantern.

1989 Toy Biz Batman up close 

Similar to the Kenner figures, 1989 Toy Biz Batman has six points of articulation (knees, hips, and shoulders) but, for some reason, his head isn't able to turn (very true-to-life to the Batman costume Michael Keaton wore in the film). 

So, while Toy Biz only had 3 action figures in its 1989 Batman toy line, it had a ton of vehicles -- Batman and Joker never had so many way to cruise around Gotham City.

There was, of course, the ever-important Batmobile:

Front of box.
Back of box.

Batmobile. source: unknown


The super-impressive Batwing:

Front of box.
Back of box.

Complete Batwing. I don't think these were the proper missiles for the toy. Source: ebay
Not shown in the photo: the Batwing had a handle underneath so you could hold it like a gun.


The... uh... Batcycle that never appeared in the film:

Front of box. image source: This Stuff For Trade

Back of box

Batman driving Batcycle. Photo source: www.1989batman.com1989batman.com has a really detailed article on the Toy Biz Batcycle (with lots of hi-res pics)

The fictional Joker Cycle (which also never appeared in the film, but admittedly looks way more fun than the Batcycle):

Front of box
Back of box. source: www.1989batman.com


Joker Cycle with Joker driving and Bob the Goon in the sidecar. Photo source: www.1989batman.com
1989batman.com has a really detailed article on the Toy Biz Joker Cycle (with lots of hi-res pics)

...and the Joker Van

front of box
back of box


The Joker Van up close. source: ebay


..and finally, the pièce de résistance, The Batcave!
 
front of box

back of box

The Batcave was one of those playsets that I've never actually seen in its complete form. It was one of those toys with really small parts that were typically lost or broken within a week. Only one kid I knew in elementary school had this playset, and by the time I finally got to see it in person all he had left were the computer chairs, the computer console and a few blue platforms. I think we were just harder on our toys back then.

What was fun about The Batcave was that it was actually two locales in one. The front of the playset was the Batcave (as seen in the film):

Photo source: www.horrormoviebbq.com

...and the back of the playset appears to be an industrial site of some sort (perhaps based on the Axis Chemicals scene where Joker falls into the vat of chemicals?):

Photo source: www.horrormoviebbq.com

Horrormoviebbq.com has a nice, in-depth article (complete with hi-res pics) examining the Toy Biz Batcave in great detail.

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Believe it or not, collecting all the figures, vehicles and playsets for this toy line was a little daunting. I, like every other kid in my town, bought our toys from the Zellers toy department. While I vividly remember seeing the three action figures on the toy racks (Batman and Joker were the first to sell out, after that it was nothing but an ocean of Bob the Goons), I had also seen Batmobiles and Batwings, but I had never seen the Batcycle, Joker Cycle or Joker Van (which makes me wonder if those were US exclusives). There were a few Batcaves lingering around, but man, I was eight years old and there was no way I could convince my parents to buy it for me -- I already had a MASSIVE toy collection at home so a new playset was out of the question.

It's thirty-plus years later and you're thinking of collecting this toy line for nostalgia's sake? Well, your best bet is to try to get them carded or CIB (complete in box) which is still a realistic and achievable goal. If you're buying this collection as loose figs and vehicles (which is significantly cheaper), keep in mind that the figs came with a lot of little accessories that were easy to lose and the vehicles all had attachments that kept falling off. (To date, I've never seen a loose Bob the Goon with his hat included. The hat always seems to be the first thing to get lost.) The vehicles are frequently missing the missiles, and a Batwing with an attached canopy is a rarity. If you see Batman with his original cape, functioning utility belt/batrope, batarang & grappling gun (for a reasonable price), grab it because that's as good as it gets. 

For a hardcore collector, things get tricky when you realize there were at least three different variations of the Batmobile: one version included a plastic mold to be used as protective cocoon (like in the film), one version did NOT have that plastic mold, and one version made a clicking sound to emulate the engine roaring to life.

Toy Biz Batmobile with protective cocoon. Source: altoys.blogspot.com

HERO ILLUSTRATED, a publication that seemed like a splitting image of Wizard magazine, reported that the Toy Biz Batman figure was extremely hard to find due to poor distribution (this was contrary to my experience of almost every second kid in my town having a Batman). It was also pointed out that at least 4 different variations of Batman and 2 variations of Joker were floating around out there:

source: HERO ILLUSTRATED v1 #9 (1994)

Oddly enough, there is no significant price jumps between the variants, as most collectors don't seem to care which ones they get. I didn't have a Toy Biz Batman when I was younger -- I had the Super Powers Batman (blue and grey costume) which was good enough for me. A few kids on my street had the Toy Biz Batman figs, so they'd let me play with them. It was only in the last several years that I decided I REALLY wanted a Toy Biz Batman and managed to find one. The images you saw above with Batman posing in front of the books is mine. ;)

Batmania 89 (and the influx of merchandising that came with it) was a pretty big deal and I can't even express the cultural impact it had on media that summer. Fans who lived through it still wax nostalgic about it (myself included). You know you're culturally significant when Wacky Packages makes a card parodying your product:
Topps Wacky Packages (1991 series)

After the initial wave of 1989 Batman figures, Toy Biz produced a second wave of DC figures -- this time with more Bat-villains (Mr Freeze, Penguin, Riddler) and a Robin. Toy Biz would go on to produce yet more DC figs in 1990, but that will be an article for another time.

Curiously, Toy Biz did NOT produce the Batman Returns action figures, as the master toy license went back to Kenner at that point.

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Before I sign off, I just wanted to thank our friends who gave us permission to use their photos. Some of these photos are uncredited because they were found on ebay or pinterest. If any of these are yours, please message us and we'll add the name of your website and etc. 

www.1989Batman.com is an amazing resource for all things related to the 1989 Batman movie and Batman Returns. I could spend hours perusing this site.

Chad from the Horror Movie BBQ was super cool in allowing us to use his Batcave photos for this article. Chad also writes really fun articles about all the memorabilia I grew up collecting. I'm going to spotlight this article -- Essential Batman 89 Merchandise -- because it fits with today's theme.

Under The Giant Penny is a great site maintained by a Batman merchandise collector. Lots of great posts on Batman 89 merchandise in here.

I'm pretty sure that some of the unsourced images in this article came from Figure Realm, so I'm just going to give them a shout out, regardless. They have a neat section on the Toy Biz Batman toy line.


-Justin

1 comment:

  1. Even as a kid, I was bizarrely intrigued by the Bob the Goon figure. Just the fact that he existed, and that they added "the goon" so you'd know his profession and also so kids wouldn't be faced with the prospect of buying a "Bob" action figure. It probably helped give me my lifelong affection for henchfolk.

    -JH

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