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Monday, June 27, 2022

1992 Batman Returns Kenner action figures

It's no secret by now that Batman Returns is my favorite super hero film of all time. It edges out my second place favorite super hero film, Batman 89, solely for the fact that I was eleven years old in 1992 and had a disposable income ($5 per week) allowing me to actually participate in this second wave of Batman excitement and feel more invested. Albeit the generated hype surrounding this film was much less extreme than its predecessor, Warner Bros made up for it with an ocean of merchandised products: books, magazines, posters, trading cards, activity books, school supplies, collectible medallions, t-shirts, baseball caps, McDonalds toys, cereal box prizes, video games,... and the action figures. Got to love those action figures. 


A little bit of history: having re-acquired the right to manufacture Batman toys again in 1990, Kenner sought to correct something that was sorely lacking from the Toy Biz Batman collection -- namely, more action figures and more vehicles. While the Toy Biz Batman collection only consisted of three figures, I suspect they were made to compliment the DC Comics Superheroes collection released by Toy Biz around the same time. Kenner wasted no time and quickly released The Dark Knight Collection: their own opportunity to add more figures and more vehicles keeping in tone with the Batman 89 film. They did not waste this opportunity; the collection consisted of 11 different variations of Batman, two variations of Joker, new variations of the Batmobile and Batwing, and some new vehicles. This might be one of the first instances of an action figure collection having way too many variations of a single character. Anyways, we'll have to take a look at these figs some other day since today's topic is Kenner's Batman Returns collection:

pics from the 1992 Kenner Action Toy Guide

Kenner's Batman Returns toyline was a curious collection indeed; among other things it included 18 different versions of Batman (many were repaints of the sculpt used in The Dark Knight Collection), a villain who didn't resemble his onscreen counterpart, and a character who didn't even appear in the film. It was the early 90s, so almost every figure either fired a spring-loaded projectile, had some sort of clip-on armor/accessory, or incorporated a water-squirting feature. While this may all sound incredibly cheesy, you need to remember that they really needed to sell the excitement of these figs as they were now competing with video games for that ever-important 6-to-12 year-old consumer demographic. Also appearing on the toy store shelves at this time: Toy Biz X-Men action figures, Hasbro's G.I. Joe and Transformers, and Playmate's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Other than X-Men, I'd say that all of the toylines were trying hard to stay afloat and kept re-releasing the same figs but in different variations.


I've got to say, their TV ads really captured my attention. These figs looked cool and the dioramas created for the commercials really sold the excitement. My interest was two-fold: I really liked the Tim Burton Batman films, and these figs appeared to be of the same scale as my cherished Super Powers Collection figs (also by Kenner) that I already owned -- so being able to add new DC figs into my collection was always on my mind. Because I'm a meticulous person, here are a few photos of figs I own and how they match up to scale with the Batman Returns figs:

Kenner's Laser Batman (center) standing among some Kenner Super Powers Collection figs.
Batman is more or less in scale with the rest of his colleagues. It would've really
helped if I had a loose Super Powers Collection Batman for comparison, but alas, I don't.


Kenner's Arctic Batman standing next to Toy Biz's Mr. Freeze: a fitting match-up.
Batman appears to be more or less on the same scale as Mr. Freeze. It works.


Kenner's Laser Batman standing next to Toy Biz Batman. Probably the only pic that matters.
Toy Biz's Batman appears to have slightly longer legs and torso than Kenner's Batman.
Also note that Toy Biz's Batman has articulation in his knees.



As an excuse to show you all of the Batman Returns figs available, here is collection of the carded figs (in alphabetical order) accompanied by my hot takes and anecdotal memories. Get ready to see a lot of Batmen in different colors. Some of these I owned once upon a time (but either went missing or got damaged beyond repair), some I remember my friends owning, and some I picked up at various flea markets and collectible shows over the last decade. I'm stating it now: unless otherwise noted, these photos most likely came from e-bay or other sources that didn't credit the photographer. My carded figs are stored away at another location and I figured I'd save myself the 45 minute drive by using images on the internet. These photos are for educational use only. I tried to credit the source whenever I could. If any of these pics are yours, please drop us a line and we'll post your credentials with the pic.

Aero Strike Batman

This gold-suited Batman comes with a spring-loaded projectile weapon AND a clip-on armor accessory. His cape was detachable. It was always struck me as a bit amusing that a character who relies on stealth to get the drop on his foes is wearing a flamboyantly non-stealthy costume. We're going to see this a few more times in this collection. This actually looks like the The Dark Knight Collection Tec-Shield Batman, only repackaged with new accessories. This is the Batman fig vendors are most likely going to include, sans cape or accessories (of course), as a deal 'sweetener' when you're buying a Kenner Batman vehicle from them. Why? Because, frankly, nobody really wants a gold-colored Batman.


Air Attack Batman


It's an arctic-camouflaged Batman with a snap-on chest harness with wings. The wings could be removed and put into reverse position, there was an infrared scanner that could cover his face, and missiles could be dropped from the wings. I can't remember if the missiles needed to be plucked off and dropped by hand or if there was a something you flicked to have the missiles dropped. His cape was also detachable. This was one of the two most decked-out Batmen in this set, appealing to kids who also liked Transformers and/or GI Joe. A pretty neat fig (if you have all the accessories), actually.


Arctic Batman


Well, it's Batman, and he's wearing white. Keen observers will note that this fig uses the same clip-on armor accessory as Aero Strike Batman (except just re-painted). Also, not only is his weapon spring-loaded, but it can also squirt water. His cape is removable. While I earlier ripped on Batmen not dressed in dark colors or camo, I'm actually partial to this one. The white-on-black color combo looks pretty good, and Batman has more than one cold-themed adversary (see: Mr Freeze) that he could battle against. It's all about economy, folks. I wonder how many kids played with this in the snow and lost the missile outside?  


Catwoman


We get more than a dozen different variations of Batman in this collection, and only one Catwoman fig? Go figure. Guess how hard it was to find this fig on the toy store racks among a sea of Batmen? This appears to be a fig designed just for this collection. Similar to the old Super Powers Collection figs, Catwoman had a 'power action feature' that caused her right arm to swing forward giving the illusion she was using her whip (if she had the whip in her hand, of course). She also came with a spring-loaded weapon. Catwoman was the fig most likely found propped up against something while playing because her legs made it very hard to keep her standing without assistance (especially if she was carrying her weapons). All things considered, this is a really nice fig with nice detailing and actually looks very similar to Michelle Pfeiffer in her Batman Returns Catwoman costume.  



Deep Dive Batman


This is the second of the two Batmen in this set who are totally decked-out with accessories. You might even say that he comes with his own vehicle. As pictured in the blister pack, he comes with a sea sled, a snap-on torso attachment, and little snap-on accessories for his legs. Of course, the sea sled was armed with a spring-loaded projectile. His cape was also removable. Seeing as how he was marketed as a water-themed Batman, kids probably played with him in the water -- leading to his little accessories getting lost. Now we know why Kenner decided to color him bright yellow -- so he'd be easier to spot at the bottom of the pool. Finding one of these in nice condition with all of his accessories in the wild is super rare. Best to just buy in his original packaging, if you can find him.  


Laser Batman


I rather like this fig. The color-scheme (black and grey/silver) works really well, and -- in contrast to the other Batman figs we've seen so far -- this one isn't just a re-paint of the same Batman sculpt. This Batman's torso, arms and legs have texture, giving him a 'padded armor' appearance. His cape was detachable. His weapon, a spring-loaded projectile-firing radar dish that attaches via a connecting arm that mounted onto his back, looks pretty cool and actually ties-in to the movie (he uses sonar to trick Penguin's Penguin Commandos to regroup somewhere else). There was a vehicle in the collection, The Laser Blade, that compliments this fig nicely. I'm not sure why this fig wasn't a pack-in figure exclusively offered with the vehicle, but I'm glad it wasn't. 


Penguin Commandos


I loved these things. They were necessary because, well... frankly... the Penguin is just a fat guy with a gun disguised as an umbrella, so he wasn't much of a physical adversary for Batman.  True to his comic book counterpart, the threat of the Penguin just doesn't really exist unless he has some lackeys to order around. Which is why his Penguin Commandos are so neat. Not only are they penguins, but they're fully armed penguins! They have little backpacks that snap on with spring-loaded missiles that fire! And they come two to a pack... now that's some serious value! Apparently, other kids didn't feel the same way and apparently retailers had trouble moving these things off the shelf. Value is in the eye of the beholder, I guess. These figs are the ones most likely to be found in a bucket of cheap plastic toy animals being sold at a flea market. All of their accessories will be missing, of course.

Cutest little heavily-armed spheniscidae ever.

   

The Penguin

Mr. Cobblepot here had the tragic misfortune of looking nothing like his movie counterpart, played by Danny Devito. This may have something to do with a rumor about the Batman Returns version of the Penguin being too frightening for kids (as per a test screening), or maybe it was just Kenner realizing they can save some money by reusing and repainting the original Penguin mold from the Super Powers Collection line. Either way, I was fine with it. I didn't own the Super Powers Collection or the DC Comics Superheroes versions, so this would do nicely. One problem though: the Batman Returns version of the Penguin didn't have any articulation in his knees. As if Oswald didn't have enough problems -- a short, pear-shaped, man reduced to planning capers involving birds -- but he also couldn't properly sit on a chair. That's okay though, he had a vehicle in the collection designed just for him: the Penguin Umbrella Jet (which looks just as ridiculous as it sounds). I didn't care, I still wanted one. I was extra bitter because he was one of the hardest figures to get, which is why I would've loved to have seen a variation of him in the Series II instead of just three Batmen. I do appreciate that his accessory was a spring-loaded umbrella launcher that doubled as an umbrella helicopter, which was par for the course for previous Penguin figs -- he always had some sort of tricked-out umbrella weapon as an accessory.  

Super Powers Collection version (left) and Batman Returns version (right)


Robin

It has now been established as fact that actor Marlon Wayans, probably best known to a lot of us over the age of forty as Homie D Clown in Living Color, was meant to play Robin in Batman Returns. He was cast and paid for the role. For reasons that are not totally clear (some speculate that it was because there were already too many characters), Robin was completely cut from the film. Thankfully, they didn't cut Robin from the action figure collection, so now Batman gets a little help when battling Catwoman and Penguin. Robin looks very good -- he appears to be a brand new mold/sculpt who looks nothing like Super Powers Collection Robin, and he's rocking the Tim Drake costume & color scheme [Tim Drake as Robin appeared in 1990 and had his first solo limited-series in 1991]. This fig came with a detachable cape and a spring-loaded projectile launcher attached to a string allowing him to emulate a grappling hook. The projectile launcher was clipped to his back and didn't include any mechanism to retract the string (that I remember), so you had to do it all by hand if you want to make it seem like he was climbing. It was great for having him swing around, though. I loved this figure, for nothing else than the fact I could have my Super Powers Collection Dick Grayson Robin & Batman Returns Tim Drake Robin assisting Batman in his crime-stopping. Tim stood a bit taller than Dick, but it wasn't enough to feel out of scale. Something that always perplexed me was the length and shape of this fig's head -- they gave him a much longer head to accommodate his flattop hairdo -- which didn't really mean much to me back then, but now that I know what I know it makes me wonder how narrowly Wayans missed out on having an action figure in his own likeness. Also worth noting that Robin also had a vehicle in this collection: The Robin Jet Foil Cycle.



This article was WAYYY longer than intended. For the sake of brevity, I'll end it here and cover the rest of the figs in this collection in another article.

Did I get a detail wrong? Do you know something I don't? Just want to share your memories of owning these figs? Go ahead and post a comment below. Always happy to hear from fans of this toyline.


-Justin

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Our favorite Peacemaker covers

Well, we're just a few short days away from the new Peacemaker live-action series premiering on HBO Max. This a milestone event for me -- I've been a Peacemaker fan since I first learned about him while flipping through the pages of Who's Who: Update '87. A lot has changed since I was 9 years old: I don't collect single comics like I used to (opting instead for TPBs, hardcover reprint volumes or digital media) because I just don't have the storage space like I used to, but I will make an exception for comics with iconic covers (which usually end up getting framed and mounted on my office wall). 

As a Peacemaker fan, here is a subjective list of 'must-have' Peacemaker covers (or let's at least gaze adoringly at them):  


1. The Peacemaker #1 & 2 (1967)

Peacemaker's first ever appearance was in Fightin' 5 #40 -- a comic book published by Charlton Comics in 1966. He received his own Charlton Comics solo title in 1967. The Peacemaker #1 is noteworthy since it's his first cover appearance on a comic book; hence it's a very iconic cover to fans of the character. He's running, he's holding a gun, there's aircraft and armed vehicles moving all around him -- it's going to be a good time. 

Because most casual comic collectors only target the first issue of a series, issue #2 is often overlooked.  In my humble opinion, the cover to The Peacemaker #2 is far superior to the cover of the first issue (keeping in mind they were both done by the same artist). Sure, it's just a headshot, but the details of his faceplate and helmet have been improved, there's highly-detailed aircraft crashing and shooting at each other, and the red background really make the foreground items 'pop'. Thankfully, if you're looking to collect these issues, Modern Comics reprinted them in 1978 and they are substantially cheaper than the 1967 Charlton Comics originals.

The Peacemaker #1 cover illustrated by co-creator Pat Boyette


The Peacemaker #2 cover also illustrated by Pat Boyette


2. Vigilante #36 (1986)

Without a doubt, 1985's Crisis On Infinite Earths #6 is Peacemaker's first appearance in the DCU... but it's a single panel of Peacemaker yelling in the rain. Not very exciting. So, while COIE #6 is technically Peacemaker's first appearance, we really get a sense of who/what he is in 1986's Vigilante #36. This is actually a really great issue on it's own merits. Written by Paul Kupperberg, pencilled by Denys Cowan and inked by Kyle Baker, we are introduced to Peacemaker: an unhinged government black ops agent who hears voices in his helmet and systematically neutralizes a crew of plane-jacking terrorists. Mike Grell (The Warlord, Green Arrow: Longbow Hunters) illustrated this dynamic cover, and this issue delivers exactly what the cover promises. This is how you make an entrance.


Vigilante #36 cover illustrated by Mike Grell



3. Peacemaker #2 & #3 (1988)

After his big debut in Vigilante, Peacemaker got his own solo 4-issue mini-series in 1988 written by Paul Kupperberg. I've actually reviewed this mini back in 2017 and, upon a quick re-read of the review, it still holds up. On a personal note, I cannot stand the cover of the first issue of this mini-series: it's a very large close-up of Peacemaker's face, who -- for some reason -- has a large, exaggerated chin. It's as if Jay Leno was wearing the Peacemaker helmet. [I'm not posting the cover -- you can go look it up yourself.] Instead, I will focus on my two favorite covers from this mini: issue #2 and #3. Issue #2 has Peacemaker posing heroically, guns blazing in each hand as enemy bullets bounce off his chest. I don't think anything can make this more 'action hero' other than a large American flag waving in the wind behind him. Issue #3 has Peacemaker getting 'the last shot in' as he flies away heroically while Doctor Tzin-Tzin's large, superimposed head watches on in rage -- a very dynamic image fitting for a action film poster. All four covers of the mini were illustrated by Tod Smith

Cover of Peacemaker #2 illustrated by Tod Smith


Cover of Peacemaker #3 illustrated by Tod Smith


4. Suicide Squad #28 (1989)

The Janus Directive was a 1989 cross-over event that ended up becoming a huge fracas between the Suicide Squad, the Checkmate Organization, Task Force X, Peacemaker, the Captain Atom Project, The Force of July, Manhunter and... possibly Firestorm? [It's been a while since I read it.] Anyways, Peacemaker is featured prominently on a few covers of this 11-issue cross-over, and my favorite is Suicide Squad #28 (part 4 of the event) which moves at a fever pace and has a bunch of well-deserved slugfests. This Karl Kesel-illustrated cover is really striking -- Peacemaker has both Duchess and Major Force in his target sights, but who is he aiming at? A really great cover for a really great cross-over event proving once again that Peacemaker usually looks best when holding some sort of firearm.

Cover of Suicide Squad #28 illustrated by Karl Kesel.


 

5. Showcase '93 #6 (1993)

It's 1993 and DC has decided to give the superhero anthology comic another kick at the can. Showcase '93 was a twelve-issue maxi-series meant to spotlight DC characters who had fallen by the wayside, with a healthy dose of Batman Family thrown in (to wit, issues #7 - 8 were Batman: Knightfall tie-ins). To DC fans who were more interested in the non-mainstream characters, Showcase '93 brought us some really entertaining stuff -- most notably a 6-part Peacemaker story (written by Mike Baron) in which he teams up with Deathstroke, KatanaDeadshot, and Dr. Light to take down Kobra. This cover was drawn by Mike Zeck. In the 80s, Zeck drew a ton of covers for Marvel's Captain America and G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero comics. In the early 90s, Zeck was drawing Deathstoke, the Terminator covers. Zeck's illustration of Peacemaker on this cover captures the character's smug, self-important look that would be evident for a man who believes he is defending peace by killing for it. The blue hue is a really nice touch, as well.


Cover illustrated by Mike Zeck.
Note: Robin, Blue Devil and Peacemaker do NOT appear in a story together.


6. Eclipso #11 (1993)

After 1992's Eclipso: The Darkness Within cross-over event, Eclipso received an ongoing series (written by Keith Giffen and Robert Loren Flemming) detailing his quest to finish killing off mankind. After Eclipso takes over a small Latin American country, Amanda Waller assembles a team of 'fringe' DCU heroes to take down Eclipso. Peacemaker is one of the heroes recruited for Waller's squad (aptly named 'The Shadow Fighters'). I originally thought this was a Bart Sears cover. It is not. This cover was pencilled by Audwynn Jermaine Newman and inked by Ray Kryssing. [Sears pencilled the first three issues of this series before moving on to another project, hence my confusion.] This cover stands out to me simply for the fact that Peacemaker is front & centre, he's jacked and carrying ridiculously oversized firearms, all while being flanked by the rest of the Shadow Fighters. This is DC comics encapsulating the 'extreme 90s' in one cover: Peacemaker is the action hero we NEED. Too bad The Shadow Fighters only lasted three issues.

  

Cover of Eclipso #11 pencilled by Audwynn Jermaine Newman and inked by Ray Kryssing


7. Inferior Five #1 - Jeff Lemire variant cover (2019)

Keith Giffen and Jeff Lemire's limited series about the Inferior Five joining forces with Peacemaker was meant to be a twelve-issue maxi-series, but was cut down to 6 issues due to COVID. In fact, issue #5 and #6 were only released digitally. I like this variant cover for two reasons: Lemire illustrated it, and it's got a Dominator on it (these were one of the alien races trying to invade earth in DC's 1988 Invasion! cross-over event). Really, it's a throwback to the era of DC comics that I loved reading. Lemire also grew up reading DC comics in the 80s, and our co-editor, Mark Belkin, interviewed him about his love for that era



 

Well, that's it, folks! Can't wait to see what John Cena and HBO Max has in store for us.

-Justin


Sunday, January 2, 2022

2021: A Year In Review

 A lot of BIG things happened in comics this year, but we're pretty single-focused on DC comics (and it's characters and creators) from the 80s, so we're mainly going to target on that. See anything missing from this list? Drop us a comment below.

January 8th: Steve Lightle, best known for his work on Doom Patrol and Legion Of Super-Heroes, passed away. He had a passion for comics -- he never stopped creating. I believe he was his self-published Justin Zane was the last project he worked on. He will be greatly missed.



January: Netflix reveals it's first casting announcement for the new Sandman series it is developing. Still no word on a launch date, but fandom interest in Neil Gaiman's Sandman Universe is picking up.

March: With an announcement of a new Suicide Squad 2 film, fandom has a renewed interest in King SharkBloodsport and Peacemaker. Superman v2 #4 surges in value as collectors are buying up the first appearance of Bloodsport.

April 2nd: Warner Bros. announces that it has canceled development of the New Gods film slated to be directed by Ava DuVernay. The reason? It would create continuity issues with Zack Snyder's Justice League film.

April 13th: DC releases the massive, 1320-page Who's Who Omnibus volume 1. This reprints the first 26 issues of the 1985 Who's Who series, the 5 issues from the '87 Update, the 4 issues from the '88 Update and the Who's Who entries from the 1989 annuals. This is the first time DC has reprinted all of these issues in one tome, and this 8-pound hardcover book will surely cause your bookshelf to buckle. 

May 2nd: Comic book artist Jean Paul Leon passed away after a 14-year battle with cancer. From 1993 to 1995, JPL was heavily involved with the DC Milestone titles (Static, Shadow Cabinet, etc...)  

May 19th: David Anthony Kraft, writer for Marvel and DC Comics as well as founder of Comics Interview magazine, passed away. We chatted a few times on FB messenger (I even got a chance to show him my collection of Savage She-Hulk comics he wrote), but alas I was never able to lock down a time for that all-important interview I was hoping to have with him someday.


June 14th: Ty Templeton (Booster Gold, Justice League America, Batman Adventures) revealed that he has cancer stage-three colorectal cancer. Our thoughts are with Ty and his family during these difficult times.

July: Wild Dog depicted as a January 6th Capitol insurrectionist in Brain Azzarello/Alex Maleev's Suicide Squad: Get Joker?!? Neither Terry Beatty nor Max Allan Collins (the original creators of Wild Dog) were very pleased with this. 

July: Blue & Gold, a comic book series recounting the misadventures of Blue Beetle and Booster Gold that has been hinted at since the early 90s, finally hit the shelves.... and it's written by Dan Jurgens



August 12th: Robin (Tim Drake) outed as a bisexual by DC comics.

August: DC Pride #1 debuts and introduces Justice League Queer (members include Tasmanian Devil of the Global Guardians, The Ray and Extrano of the New Guardians).

August: The new Black Adam film (starring Dwayne Johnson as Black Adam) that has been hinted at since 2014 confirms that Dr. Fate, Hawkman and members of Justice Society of America (Atom Smasher, so far) have been confirmed and cast for the film. This is exciting for all sorts of reasons.

August: Eclipso makes his television debut as the newest villain on the second season of Stargirl. Kind of makes you want to dig out those Eclipso: The Darkness Within tie-in books now, eh?

August: DC launches Batman '89 -- a much anticipated comic book series following the events of Tim Burton's Batman Returns (written by Sam Hamm and illustrated by Joe Quinones).



September: HBO Max announces that a Peacemaker series is launching soon. As if he wasn't a hot enough commodity already... Peacemaker might be a household name by mid-2022.

September: Madame Rogue, Monsieur Mallah, Brain and Garguax are confirmed to appear in season three of Doom Patrol. It's only a matter of time before Warp, Houngan, Plasmus and Phobia join the rest of the Brotherhood of Evil

October: DC launches the Superman '78 comic book series. In the same vein as Batman '89, this series picks up where Superman II left off. It's pretty safe to guess that Superman IV's Radioactive Man will NOT be making an appearance. Written by Robert Vendetti and illustrated by Wilfredo Torres

October: HBO Max reveals that Vigilante will be appearing in the new Peacemaker series. After scoping out the Peacemaker & Vigilante featurette, I'm pretty confident that this won't be the Adrian Chase Vigilante grim crusader of justice we all grew up reading about, but will be more of a goofy BFF to Peacemaker.



December 7th: George Perez, best known for his work on New Teen Titans and his Wonder Woman relaunch in the 80s (among many many other things), reveals that he has inoperable Stage 3 Pancreatic Cancer and estimates that he has 6 months to 1 year left to live. We at DC in the 80s are truly heart-broken to hear this.


PREDICTIONS FOR 2022

-Infinity Inc. will get a new ongoing series (since half of the roster is already appearing on CW's Stargirl). It will probably be nothing like the 1984 ongoing series we all knew and loved.

-There are rumors that Brian Bendis is currently working on a Legion of Super-Heroes adult animated TV series. LOSH fans around the world will celebrate, everybody else will have trouble understanding it.

-Neil Gaiman's Sandman will become even more popular than it already was. Expect spin-offs.

-DC Black Label will be the imprint to watch for. Brilliant creators + nostalgic characters = my hard-earned dollars. (Have you had a chance to check out The Other History of the DC Universe, yet?) I just hope they go back to comic-sized versus magazine-sized.

-The new Batman film (starring Robert Pattison) will cause a renewed buzz around the Batman Universe. It will generate a lot of hype, but not as much as Batmania 89 did.


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Addendum: added August's Black Adam casting announcement on February 8, 2022. Can't believe I forgot to include this the first time! -Justin