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Friday, December 30, 2022

DC in the 80s wax nostalgic about Kenner's 1992 Batman The Animated Series action figures

Justin: Batman The Animated Series premiered in 1992. I would've been around 10 years old and still in elementary school.

Mark: I was in High School. I remember the commercials announcing an EVENING Batman cartoon, with the tone and imagery looking amazing. I can still remember first hearing Kevin Conroy's voice and thinking how perfect it was. I don’t remember the night it was on, but I was a Simpsons super-fan at the time, and a Batman cartoon in prime time on the same station made me super happy. After it premiered though, I remember hearing it wasn't doing well at all, and might be canceled, which upset me greatly. Luckily, they moved it to Saturday morning, and it became an all-time classic hit of a cartoon. Also, rest in peace to Kevin Conroy. He is the sound of Batman's voice when I read comics, and he was such an important part of the Batman myth.

Justin: BTAS premiered a few months after the theatrical release of Batman Returns (1992). So, from 1989 to 1992, we were getting A LOT of new Batman thrown our way (ex: comics, books, movies, toys, video games, etc...). I’m trying to remember where I was when I first watched BTAS. This was, like, 30 years ago. I probably watched it in my living room, and I’m pretty sure it played once a week on Global TV on Sunday afternoons around dinner time. I might be misremembering, though. I know it played on Global TV since I lived in Canada and we didn’t get FOX TV, yet. I also remember it being an ‘event’. Like, this was the thing you looked forward to all week and made sure not to miss.

Mark: I watched the premier, but I don’t remember going out of my way to watch it weekly. Maybe it’s because it was on Saturday nights and I was about 16, 17 at the time. So I was out. Maybe I recorded it? I didn’t get really into it until it moved to Saturday morning. By the time I went to college, it was on weekdays right next to Power Rangers, and I watched it almost everyday after classes.

Justin: Something I do remember is NOT being disappointed by the cartoon. I think everyone I knew unanimously loved it. It kind of revised all of Batman’s rogues, but kept pretty true to the source material. I think the film noir atmosphere was really what gave it that 'oomph'. When I look back, it was kind of a strange mix of 1940s gangster-era (ex: fedoras and trench coats and tommy guns) and modern technology. Oh yeah, and everyone still bombed stuff using sticks of dynamite for some reason. I think the gangster aesthetic may have been influenced by the Dick Tracy summer blockbuster that came out in 1990? Just my theory. (Danny Elfman also did the score for that film)

Mark: I think it might be the best adaptation of Batman in history. It feels like the most Batman thing. I had been reading Batman comics for 7 years by the time it came out, and I felt it was better than them. And better than what's come out since. Not saying I didn't LOVE a lot of Batman comics (Year One, Mike W Barr and Alan Davis’ Detective run, Jim Aparo's 70's Batman) but BTAS just feels like they got it "right".


Justin: Alright, so, on to the main event... discussing Kenner's BTAS action figures. While the cardbacks all say '1992', these toys were released closer to January 1993 -- several months after the cartoon debuted. I still had a pretty big collection of Kenner Super Powers figs and the BTAS were pretty close in scale, so I was eagerly watching for new Bat-villains to top up my collection. The first wave consisted of six new action figures (two different versions of Batman, a Robin, a Two-Face, a Riddler and a Penguin): 

I find it a little hard to believe that Joker didn't make the 'first wave'.

Mark: I didn’t buy any of the action figures when they came out in the 90’s. In 2000, I had an ex-girlfriend give me a Batman action figure, and I’m pretty sure it was a movie one. I had stopped watching the show, but found myself at home everyday at about 4pm, when BTAS played with the Superman cartoon. One night just looking at the Batman action figure I thought "Why don't I get more?" I became obsessed with the hour of cartoons, and buying BTAS action figures. From there I bought two of each on e-bay. One to open, and one to hang. Of the first wave, I had all of them except the Robin with the glider -- which was pricey. I'll share pictures I took of my figs in 2000.

Here is my wall of carded figures. Mostly villains:

image source: Mark Belkin

Here are a few of uncarded figs, chilling with some Superman action figs:

image source: Mark Belkin

image source: Mark Belkin

Wave 1:

source: Amazon

Justin: Combat Belt Batman. This was the OG Batman fig in the set that everyone wanted, because all the other versions of Batman after this had odd color palettes (ex: burgundy, orange, black & white camo, etc...). If you wanted the grey suit with black cowl and cape, this was your guy. As of this writing, I'm seeing unopened Combat Belt Batmen on e-bay going for an average of $300 USD. This Batman included a huge plastic utility belt (that somewhat resembled a WWF championship belt) that allowed you to clip his gadgets onto it. He also came with a grappling gun accessory (spring-loaded).

Mark: I never saw this one. I believe I got a version similar to this in the Batmobile. Looks beautiful

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Justin: ...and this was the other Batman. Turbojet Batman. I see this figure being sold, loose, all the time at flea markets and yard sales... with no accessories, of course. Actually, before writing this article, I thought he was 'parachute Batman' because it looks like he's wearing parachute straps. Yeah, this was the second Batman in a six figure wave but this wasn't anything new; Kenner had started doing this with the Dark Knight Collection in 1990: just a lot of different variations of Batman in the same toyline. This was your 'jetpack Batman' -- complete with face shield and spring-loaded projectile weapon.

Mark: I never saw this one, either. They were already rare by 2000.

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Justin: Here's Robin. Also known to Mark as "the one that got away"... most likely aided by that turbo glider. All kidding aside, while I already had a Super Powers Robin, I was tempted to pick this one up for his hang-glider accessory. Also, while this was the cartoon's version of 'Dick Grayson' Robin, they decided to lose the green short shorts and designed him to look more like the 'Tim Drake' Robin introduced in 1991 -- so that was appealing to me. 

On a side note: Robin didn't appear in the early episodes of BTAS, probably because the writers wanted to establish how awesome Batman was on his own before introducing Robin, so this was a subtle reveal that Robin would appear at some point. I'm a little surprised they released Robin before Joker, but I guess Kenner reasoned Batman needed a partner to pummel Riddler and Two-Face with.

Mark: No, I had this one. I never liked it and sold it. I don't think I liked Dick Grayson Robin. I much prefer Nightwing and Tim Drake Robin.

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Justin: When I previously mentioned that BTAS revised some of the Bat-villains, I was mainly thinking Edward Nigma here. For the cartoon, the creators decided to go with a bowler hat and nice suit instead of the conventional green spandex outfit with question marks he was known for wearing during the Golden and Silver Age. This is a much more polished and dignified look for a villain who's all about outwitting his opponents more so than subduing them with brute force. 

Riddler's weapon accessory was a big question mark weapon that fired a spring-loaded loaded projectile and doubled as something he could use to rappel down a string for a quick getaway. Pretty clever, actually. I had a Toy Biz Riddler in the aforementioned green unitard, so I passed on this one.

Mark: I liked the revisions that the line had later, for the New Adventures season. I believe it was the last one, where they changed the animation style. The Riddler and Two Face from that are some of my favorite figures ever.

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Justin: Two-Face. Man, I wanted to add a Two-Face figure to my collection sooo badly. Two-Face was still a relatively obscure character only "real" Batman fans knew about, so I didn't know if this was the only Two-Face action fig that would ever be available [keep in mind, this was several years before Batman Forever when the world would be getting a lot more exposure to Two-Face]. I spent a solid two weeks agonizing over buying him or not, since I had a pretty limited disposable income at 11 years old. 

Prior to BTAS, I was just kinda/sorta familiar with Two-Face for being a duality-themed crime boss, but the animated series really sold the idea of Two-Face to me... so I had to have one. The only sticking point was his 'animated series' aesthetic -- I really wanted a Two-Face that looked like the classic version I had seen in my 80s Batman comics. Unbeknownst to me, Toy Biz had released a 'classic-looking' Two-Face fig several years prior -- that's the one I would've wanted. Not sure what happened, but I ended up opting to not purchase him. 

Two-Face came with an awkward-looking spring-loaded projectile weapon that doubled as a roulette table to represent his dual-nature with good and evil. He also came with a little 'coin-on-a-chain' necklace accessory that everyone seems to lose after opening. When a seller tells you they have a 'loose and 100% complete' Two-Face for sale, 9 times out of 10 it won't include his necklace accessory since everyone seems to forget it ever existed.  

Mark: Two-Face was my favorite character. This may have been the very first carded figure I purchased. The Two-Face origin story for the show may be the best two-parter in cartoon history. Even better than when Cobra kidnapped Shipwreck and tricked him into thinking G.I. Joe won.

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Justin: I love the Penguin, but found this version too 'cartoony' to fit in with my DC action figure collection. What can I say? I was very OCD. Also, I was sold on the Danny Devito version of the Penguin from Batman Returns, so that's the fig I ultimately wanted. This fig came with a cloth cape. I love cloth capes on Kenner figs, but cloth capes were usually the first things kids lost [probably sucked up by a vacuum cleaner] so keep that in mind when shopping for a loose BTAS Penguin. 

His weapon accessory was a spring-loaded cannon that rested on his arm and shot an umbrella projectile, but it could be used to mount the umbrella top over his shoulder so he could 'hypnotize' his enemies. While I can see why a cannon would appeal to kids, I always liked an actual umbrella accessory (à la Super Powers or Toy Biz) for Oswald Cobblepot best.

Combing through my collection of late 90s Toyfare magazines revealed that Penguin was one of the more sought-after figs and, apparently, by 1997 a mint-on-card Penguin retailed for $90 USD. [In comparison, the second most expensive fig from the first wave was a mint-on-card Riddler going for $35 USD.]  

Mark: I very much disliked Penguin toys growing up. But I'm kind of feeling this one. If I see this at a store, I think I would pick it up.

Justin: There were two vehicles released in the first wave [that I'm aware of], as well. 


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Justin: The Hoverbat: a cool little sci-fi hovercraft contraption with a mechanical arm to pick up action figures and another mechanical arm with a rocket launcher. I actually don't remember this one -- I don't think I've ever seen it on store shelves or at flea markers. I don't remember ever seeing it in an episode, either. I'm willing to bet this vehicle was re-purposed from another Kenner sci-fi toyline? Kenner was (in)famous for doing that. Anyways, if you happen to see a loose one of these being sold, ensure it has the grey missile since that's the item that kids lost within a few days of opening it.

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Justin: The second 'vehicle' was a Batcycle with a Batman permanently affixed to it. This vehicle required you to roll it forward a few times to build up momentum and then put him down and let him rip. Pressing down on Batman made his do a wheelie or something, I honestly don't remember. I'm not really a fan of vehicles with the character already attached, so I would've taken a hard pass on this.

Mark: No opinions on vehicles. Going back to He-Man, G.I. Joe and Super Powers, I never cared for vehicles. Even with Transformers, I preferred the boom box, insects or dinosaurs.

Justin: That's fair. Truthfully, vehicles would get better in the next few waves when we'd get a Batmobile, a Batplane, a Hydro Bat and a Jokermobile.


Justin: As an added bonus, if you were really serious about your BTAS action figure collection you owned the BTAS collectors case:




Justin: Apparently, this was manufactured by Tara Toy Corp. and I'm guessing it was released sometime after the second wave in 1993. Not sure of the details around this, and apparently action figure collector cases were more common than I thought.

Anyways, that wraps up this article. Maybe, someday when we're feeling ambitious, we'll move on to the second wave of BTAS action figures released in 1993. In the meantime, we're wishing you a happy 2023.

Mark: Happy New Year!

-DC in the 80s

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Cryptozoic Challenge of the Superfriends Card Game

Christmas came a bit early this year. Someone who knows me very well gifted me the Challenge of the Superfriends card game by Cryptozoic, knowing that I'm a pretty big fan of any game based on retro DC comic properties.  

Front of box

This is not a new game -- it was released in 2019 and I tried to convince Cryptozoic to send me a sample copy to review for this webzine [ha!] but had no luck. Them's the breaks. Anyone who tells you that blogging is a lucrative side hustle probably isn't referring to DC in the 80s. I like Cryptozoic and when I was experiencing an impulsive DC trading card collecting binge back in 2016 I picked up a few of their trading card sets which I reviewed here, here and here. They produce quality products, and I think they're based out of Montreal, and I know writer Martin Pasko was working with them in some capacity for a while before he passed away. Cryptozoic also created a few board games (i.e., Ghostbusters) and DC comics Deck-Building games that seemed to resonate with fans, so I was curious to see what Challenge of the Superfriends was going to be like. Truthfully, this was on my radar to pick up -- but life got in the way and I completely forgot about it. Better late than never.

Back of box

First up: this is NOT a Deck-Building game. It plays 2 to 4 players, and each player gets 10 power cards to play with throughout the game. In contrast, a Deck-Building game has players start with a small number of cards, but as the game progresses, you add cards to your deck thus altering your strategy. This just means that you only need to buy Challenge of the Superfriends to play it -- it's a complete game, and there are no expansions necessary/available. This is it.    


The game comes with 82 cards: four 10-card Player decks, one 10-card Challenge deck, and one 32-card Objective deck. The Challenge and Objective decks go in the middle. Each player picks a Player deck. You have four Player decks to choose from: Superman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and Batman & Robin. Each Player deck has three Special cards unique to the character, while the other seven are cards that every other Player deck has as well. 

In this scenario, there are three players -- one picked the Superman Player deck, another picked the Aquaman Player deck and the third player picked the Wonder Woman Player deck.

Okay, now that each player picked a Player deck, give your 10 cards a shuffle, pick 3 for your hand and don't show anyone. Now you're ready to play.


This game is based on an old playing card game we all played as kids because we didn't really have the patience or strategic thinking to play cribbage or gin or any other games that required more complexity and understanding of statistics. It was a game called 'war' and was usually played against another opponent who had a stack of cards equal to your cards, and you'd both just simultaneously flip playing cards and the highest-valued playing card would win the 'match'. Challenge of the Superfriends is 'war', but with more reading involved.

Okay, you're all sitting at the table and paying attention? Good. Flip a number of cards from the Objective cards face-side up on the table proportional to the amount of players playing. There's two of you playing? Flip two cards face-side up. There's three of you? Flip three cards face-side up. If there's a card with a negative value face-side up on your first round, put it to the side and flip another card until all cards face-side up have positive values. Shuffle those negative value cards back into your deck. You only do this for your first round

Three players = three Objective cards flipped up. Since Grundy is worth the most points, the dominant strategy is to win Grundy by playing the most powerful card. Second place would most likely grab Manta, and third place would end up with Cheetah. 

Okay, you've got x Objective cards face-side up? And they're all positive value? Great. Each player selects a card from their 3-cards in hand, puts in face down on the table, and then you'll all flip your cards at once. Just like 'war'. And, just like 'war', the highest value card wins, and that player gets first pick of which face-side up Objective card they want to add to their score pile. 

In this case, the Superman player flipped a Green Lantern card, the Aquaman player flipped the Flash card, and the Wonder Woman player flipped the Hawkman card. Green Lantern is worth '10', so he's the highest value in play. Ordinarily, he'd win the match and get first pick.

...but wait, there's more! As Player cards are flipped, there's text on the card that needs to be resolved -- sometimes the outcome will give you a bonus, screw over an opponent, or a bit of both. Some cards are only activated if you are the first player. Sometimes this will involve giving someone (even yourself) a Challenge card. Challenge cards typically aren't good things, so try to avoid receiving them. It's usually a negative modifier or something that will make your gameplay slightly more challenging. Objective cards with negative values will also have text on them, but that only starts to be an issue round two and beyond.

Hawkman's card says that he can swap for another player's card with an even value, so...

The Wonder Woman player now has the Green Lantern card, and Superman now has the Hawkman card. The Wonder Woman player also needs to pick up a Challenge card, as per Green Lantern's card text.

One last thing: If, while flipping your Power cards, two or more players play a card with the same value then it's a tie. The tie-breaker will be whoever has the highest secondary number following their primary number. 

If the Superman player and Wonder Woman player had both played their Green Lanterns, it would've been a tie since both are equal to 10... they'd both need to compare the secondary number to determine the tie-breaker. Superman's Green Lantern has a higher secondary number than Wonder Woman's Green Lantern, so Superman would win this one. Note: both player still need to pick up a Challenge card, as per Green Lantern's text.

Okay, that's everything you need to know. Play for six rounds. and the player with the most points in their score pile at the end wins the game.


The first time I played this game, out-of-the-box, was with one other player as we were 'test-driving it', so to speak. We read the rules, and did our best to follow the gameplay as outlined in the rulebook. Our first few rounds involved a lot of reading as we were trying to determine in what order the text on various Player, Objective and Challenge cards activated (hint: some are activated 'when revealed', some are conditional, and some last until next round) and what to do if a specific scenario came up where two or more text cards contradicted each other. Thankfully, the rulebook included in the game had all the answers -- and it was only 12 small pages. After a few rounds, we quickly got the hang of the game and then it was off to the races. 

After a few games a third player joined us. Of note: it's way easier to learn this game when someone shows you how to play. The game got a lot more interesting when there were three of us playing. We weren't able to recruit a fourth player, but played a few rounds and had a good time nonetheless. I'd describe the game as spontaneous and hard to strategize for. It's really a quick, chaotic little game. 


Alright, first of all, Cryptozoic wisely decided to go with the third season of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon: there was a larger cast of villains, more heroes, and Marvin & Wendy were noticeably absent (and replaced by the far more interesting Wonder Twins). Thankfully, the third season of the cartoon also saw more of the recently-introduced Apache Chief, Black Vulcan and Samurai featured in episodes. They're ALL accounted for in this game -- so, I'm very pleased with that.

The game's 4 starting Player decks (Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Batman & Robin) make sense since these were the 'original' Superfriends. The three specials in each Power deck are aptly thematic to the characters, and the designers picked some of the most meme-worthy images. 

That Batman & Robin 'Batmobile' Special is easily one of the best specials in the game -- if you can pull it off. The key thing about this game is that you can select which card to put down AFTER seeing the flipped-up Objective cards you are 'warring' for.

At a quick glance, all villains are represented in the Objectives deck and net you points based on their notoriety -- with Lex Luthor yielding you 15 points for his capture and Toyman getting you the least (3 points).

The Objective cards that DON'T feature villains are ones based on episodes, cost you points and will do something to change gameplay. So, things like this card, based on an episode I don't remember, will cost you 10 points if you have to pick it up, but also subtracts 2 from the value of everyone's Special cards played this round when it's flipped over:

This is an Objective card with a negative modifier.

I did mention Challenge cards, and they do quirky little things to your detriment. The didn't get very creative with these -- it's just white text on a purple background:


I really liked this game and can't think of any way that it could've been improved. It wasn't terribly complex, it only took 30 seconds to set up, the cards and box were very good quality, the game didn't last very long, and the designers obviously had knowledge of the Superfriends cartoon and how the characters interacted.

While this game is probably best played with people who grew up watching the cartoon, the two other players I played with had little to knowledge of the Superfriends and enjoyed it regardless. This is one of those games you play when you're killing time -- either on a coffee break, waiting for a plane, or waiting for your dinner to get delivered.

I also think this game would also be great to play with an elementary school student who is learning about addition and subtraction and has moderate reading skills -- it definitely exercises your logical order/sequence thinking.

What could Cryptozoic possibly do to add to this? I don't know... maybe an expansion integrating characters and episodes from The Galactic Guardians? Maybe get Firestorm and Cyborg in there? Darkseid, Desaad, Kalibak and some Parademons? Maybe that scarier-looking T-800 Brainiac? Hard to say: the game seems to perfectly balanced that I'd be hesitant to add something to alter the dynamics. 

Anyways, highly recommended. I hope Cryptozoic does more with the Superfriends IP someday. 


Monday, September 12, 2022

2022 Ottawa Comiccon

After a three-and-a-half year hiatus due to the pandemic, Ottawa Comiccon had finally returned. What better way to celebrate a grand return than having Gail Simone (Birds of Prey, Secret Six, Batgirl) as a featured guest? This was Simone's FIRST time visiting Ottawa and her visit was met with a lot of enthusiasm.

You're probably wondering how Ottawa's first post-COVID Comiccon went? On Sunday evening the Ottawa Comiccon media team reported an attendance of over 40,000 visitors over the weekend. Not bad considering this convention was later in the summer than usual and fell around the same time students were returning back to college and university.

Since we're a site that tends to zero in on DC comics and/or 80s properties, comic guests of interest included Ken Lashley (Legends of the DCU, Legion of Super Heroes), Marco Rudy (Swamp Thing), Janet Hetherington (Elvira), Ronn Sutton (Elvira, Edgar Rice Burroughs comic strips), Tom Fowler (Doom Patrol), Dan Parent (Archie), Richard Comely (Captain Canuck), Mark Shainblum (Captain Canuck), Jack Briglio (Legion of Super Heroes) and Casey Parsons (covers and pinups for various DC titles). Geof Isherwood (Suicide Squad) was scheduled to appear, but had to postpone. 

Marco Rudy told us about his new creator-owned graphic novel, RDW: A Tale of Lost Fantasy, which he wrote and illustrated and had total creative control of. "I'm making a move towards creator-owned properties", he explained. We flipped through a few pages of his new hardcover book and it looked gorgeous -- exactly what we've come to expect from Marco. If you're a fan of his painted work, you'll want to check this out. More information and how to order can be found here

RDW: A Tale of Lost Fantasy

Janet Hetherington told us about Galaxy Warriors, a new sci-fi film directed by Brett Kelly that was filmed here in Ottawa and premiering at the Gladstone Theatre that weekend. Janet wrote the screenplay for the film and described it as 'a throwback to the B-movie sci-fi exploitation films of the 1970s': 

This film looks pretty entertaining and I'm a big fan of anything filmed locally (I still remember attending early screenings of Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter back in 2001), so I was all over this. As an added bonus, the movie poster was illustrated by Ronn Sutton and colored by Geof Isherwood

Janet Hetherington and Ronn Sutton with poster for Galaxy Warriors.

How could you NOT want to see this film? Just look at this flyer:

We stopped to chat with Casey Parsons, freelance artist, co-editor and co-publisher of Cauldron supernatural anthology magazine, at his table to check out his art and latest copy of Cauldron published by RAID press. Writer Sam Noir, who's love of DC comics from the 1980s automatically makes him a kindred spirit, was also hanging around and we had a chance to chat with him about his favorite comics of the era and discuss some sort of future collab for the future -- stay tuned for more on that. Sam also gave a shout out to Eric Anthony's Cave of Solitude podcast (which were already huge fans of, but it never hurts to remind people).

Artist Casey Parsons posing with Cauldron Magazine and Baxter Stock

Once we finished prowling through Artists Alley, we made our way over to the vendor tables on the other side of the convention (which will be a separate article). For anyone wondering: yes, we did get an interview with Gail Simone, and we'll be posting it shortly. 

The cosplayers were out in full force on Saturday and Sunday. Lots of anime/manga characters and lots of Marvel and video game characters. In terms of DC comics cosplay, Harley Quinn and Joker were still the most popular costumes. We're always on the lookout for the obscure DC characters, a few that stood out included:  

Katana (seen with Batman). It's nice to know that she's still in the public consciousness after that first Suicide Squad film. I'm a fan and I hope we see more of her in the DCU:

Image source: Martin Lee Photo

Polka Dot Man. A decade ago I don't think anyone would've ever expected a 1960's z-list Batman villain to be recognizable enough to be cosplayed at a comic convention. Thanks to the last Suicide Squad film, here we are:

Image source: Ottawa Comiccon

Peacemaker (seen with Harley Quinn and... I think... Catwoman). You already know we're Peacemaker fans, so we pretty much went crazy for this cosplay.

image source: Lee Riggins Photography

Truth be told, that Peacemaker cosplayer knocked it out of the park and that previous pic doesn't really do her costume justice, so we managed to find a better photo of her:

image source: Tiggi/Goose

While there were a few Wonder Woman cosplayers, this was the only KINGDOM COME Wonder Woman cosplay we saw (of course, this could just as easily have been Wonder Woman 84 cosplay):

Image source: Martin Lee Photo

We immediately recognized Troia of the Teen Titans, but mistook the cosplayer on the left for Superman's father from the original Superman film. It was actually the Lords of Justice Superman from the DCAU:

image source: DC in the 80s

Batwoman and Knightmare Future Batman (as seen in Zack Snyder's Justice League). Every time Ottawa Knight's cosplay comes out to a convention they always slay: 

image source: DC in the 80s

This Wonder Woman cosplayer (with Spider-Man) really went for that classic WW look that was prevalent throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s. Got to love the classics:

Fitness trainers Natasha Aughey and Xavier Renart 
image source: DC in the 80s

There was a Bane cosplayer and a Tank Girl cosplayer wandering around, but we couldn't catch up to them in time to snap a pic (or find any online pics of them). Maybe something will surface eventually?


...and that's a summary of our visit to the 2022 Ottawa Comiccon. Thanks to Agence Pink for bringing Gail Simone to Ottawa and organizing a great show. We're looking forward to the next one.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

1989 Toy Biz DC Comics Super Heroes - p2

Welcome to the second part of our look back at Toy Biz' 1989 DC Comics Super Heroes action figures. In part one we took a look at all seven DC superheroes in the toyline. Today, we'll be looking at the supervillains (which was 80% Bat-villains) and any accessories, as well as hoping to answer that ever-important question "Why was this toyline so short-lived?".  

Before we continue, here is the only print advertising for the Toy Biz DC Comics Super Heroes action figures that I was able to find:

Toy Biz Robin appears in a scan from a 1990 JCPenny catalog!

Alrighty. Moving on with the super villains in the Toy Biz DC Comics Super Heroes set (circa 1989/1990):

1) Mr. Freeze

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I only owned several Toy Biz DC action figures when I was growing up, and this was one of them. I loved Mr Freeze! Not sure if I got him in a trade with a friend or if it was a gift from a relative, but I got a lot of use out of this guy. I was already familiar him (probably from The New Adventures of Batman cartoon) before I owned him, so that made him that much more desirable. An ice-themed character meant I could pretend to freeze his enemies into place or other cold-weather hijinks. My favorite thing about Mr Freeze was that if he dropped below a certain temperature his head and limbs turned blue. While I don't remember playing with him outside during our Canadian winters, he did spend a lot of time in my freezer. 

Toy Biz Mr Freeze before (left) and after (right) spending 30 minutes in my freezer. This photo isn't doing it justice, but I assure you his head and white arm & legs are slightly more blue than when I stuck him in. Image source: mine

As a kid I always wondered why Mr Freeze had such a close resemblance to Lex Luthor in his Power Suit (see: Super Powers Collection Lex Luthor), not realizing that Mr Freeze was actually included in 1986's third wave of Super Powers Collection figures. While both looked similar and included a removable clear plastic dome for his head, the big difference between the Kenner Mr Freeze and Toy Biz Mr Freeze was that the Kenner version had a power action and additional tubes from his calves to his torso, meanwhile Toy Biz Mr Freeze merely turned blue when he dropped below a certain temperature and didn't have any tubes attached to him (despite what the photo on the back of the card would lead you to believe). There was also a Toy Biz Mr Freeze variant where he had an orange helmet instead of a clear helmet -- which feels as trivial as 'completely green-armed' Aquaman.

Kenner's Super Powers Collection Mr Freeze
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2) The Penguin

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Ah, the Penguin. One of the few Super Powers Collection wave one villains that I didn't own -- so yeah, of course I wanted this guy. Actually, the Penguin is one of those characters I never managed to get my hands on even though the (almost) exact figure was released three times throughout my childhood: the 1984 Kenner version, this 1989 Toy Biz version, and the 1992 Batman Returns version (also from Kenner). This was a shame, because Penguin was one of my favorite Bat-villains. I recently managed to finally pick up a loose Toy Biz version... and the vendor generously included his spring-loaded umbrella-weapon accessory:

Note the long tip at the top of the umbrella.
Image source: mine

What's unique about this version of Mr. Cobblepot is that Toy Biz released three different versions packaged with different variants of the umbrella weapon: an umbrella that shot a 3/4" missile, an umbrella that shot a 1 1/2" missile, and an umbrella that simply shot off it's umbrella top. Wizard Magazine reported that the 3/4" missile variant was the scarcer one in the early 90s, so at the time that was the one selling at the highest value.

Whereas the umbrellas that fired missiles were three pieces, the umbrella that fired it's umbrella top was only two. Image source:

Additionally, some versions of Penguin also had 'coat tails' you clipped onto the back of him. There's literally no indication on the packaging which version is which, so you really had to know what you were looking for when examining these on the shelf. This was problematic if you were a "gotta catch 'em all" type of toy collector. 

Toy Biz Penguin on the left was the 'no tails' variant, Toy Biz Penguin on the right had two holes to clip his coat tails in.
image source: mine

3) Riddler

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The Riddler! He was a brand-new never-made-before Super Powers Collection-scaled figure and I wanted him soooo badly. Several months before actually owning him I'd dream up all sorts of scenarios in which he could be thwarting my favorite DC heroes. I wasn't worried about NOT getting one since he was one of the last Toy Biz figures left on my favorite toy store's shelves -- I mean they had piles of him and nothing else. I finally did get him... it was a gift from my older sister (probably an early birthday present or something) and man was he ever lackluster. He really is a case of 'what you see is what you get'; he didn't do anything special (no buttons, switches, cranks or squirting effects) and his weapon was a piece of paper with a dad joke written on it. He became more of a threat to Batman and the Justice League once I figured out how to wedge a sub-machine gun from one of my G.I. Joes into his right hand. 

I appreciate that they went with his silver-age look (aka: one-piece lime green body leotard with question marks printed on it), as this was the version I was most familiar with after growing up on episodes of Challenge of the Superfriends throughout my youth. If nothing else, this quashed my desire to pick up the Batman The Animated Series and Batman Forever Riddler action figures (both by Kenner).

Alex Toth drew this.
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It's been speculated that the Riddler is actually a repainted Super Powers Collection Flash torso and legs with a new head and arms. Can you see it? 

Super Powers Collection Flash (right) and Toy Biz Riddler (left)
image source: me

4) Lex Luthor

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While Toy Biz decided to go heavy on Bat-villains in the first wave of the DC Comics Super Heroes toyline (since the Batman 89 movie was the driving hype), they mercifully decided to let Superman have at least one villain... and so we got 'Business Suit' Lex Luthor.

'Business Suit' Lex, a far cry from 'Battle Suit' Lex Luthor, is inspired by the business tycoon Lex Luthor we were introduced to in the pages of John Byrne's Man of Steel mini-series from 1986. He's bald, he wears a suit, he's got a kryptonite ring on his left hand, he comes with a briefcase (to carry photos he's going to blackmail someone with) and a handgun to shoot any witnesses. Even though both of my Kenner and Toy Biz Lex Luthors were thrown/given/donated away by an overzealous family member while I was in college, I still managed to keep Toy Biz Lex's briefcase and handgun all this time. It was only recently I was able to re-acquire a Toy Biz Lex in pretty great shape:

It was a little difficult to play up Luthor as a sinister, criminal mastermind with that absurd derpy look on his face. No wonder he punched himself in the head. image source: mine

"Fool! Lex Luthor partners with NO ONE!"
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As you can see on the back of Lex, he had a small black switch that, when pressed, caused his left hand to punch himself in the head -- which was about as useful as Mattel's MOTU Two-Bad action figure  who's spring-loaded arms were only able to punch his conjoined twin in the side of the head. Truth be told, since I already had Super Powers Lex Luthor (who looked ready to throw down against Superman or any other Justice Leaguer) he got a lot more play than 'sitting behind a desk deciding which commodities to buy' Luthor. Also, Toy Biz Luthor was significantly taller standing next to Kenner Luthor.

The Geek Summit blog reported on a black-suited Toy Biz Lex Luthor without a button in the back, which they are pretty certain was the prototype for Lex:  

actual vs prototype Toy Biz Lex Luthor?
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5) Two-Face

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I only learned about this fig sometime in the late 90s. He was part of the that infamous second wave of DC Comics Super Heroes figures (which also included Hawkman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, and two different versions of the Flash) they never showed up in my toy store. [I lived in a small town in Canada, by the way.] Had he been available to me, I would've done everything in my power to convince a family member to buy him for me since this was a NEW character to add to my Super Powers toy collection. At the time, I was very into Batman and his Bat-villains, so a Two-Face figure would've seen a lot of use in my collection. I remember looking very hard at the Kenner Batman Forever Two-Face fig and making a hard pass. The Batman The Animated Series Two-Face action figure (also by Kenner) was a contender, but for reasons I cannot recall I did not end up purchasing him.  

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Two-Face's only accessory was a giant coin. Having never seen this action figure in action, I'm assuming you cranked that button on his left side to make him flip him coin. As mentioned, I was a pretty big fan of Two-Face thanks to Doug Moench's run on Batman:

Batman #397 (1986) cover illustrated by Tom Mandrake

It's only as I write this that I'm realizing that Toy Biz got Two-Face's suit colors inversed -- purple should be on his 'ugly' side, not his 'handsome' side. Doesn't matter, I still want this guy. 

A few accessories were available for this toy set, namely this carrying case (which held 12 figures)...

This case will hold 12 of your 15 Toy Biz DC action figures.
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...and all of the vehicles we reviewed in our Toy Biz Batman article. Which isn't so bad, really. All the Bat-villains can pile up in the Joker Van and hit the town.

In retrospect, I'm not surprised that Toy Biz decided to push the 'Batman agenda' and stuck mainly to Bat-villains since Batman's popularity was at an all-time high. To wit, Brainiac was the only villain from the first wave of the Super Powers Collection that wasn't included. More new supervillains would've been welcomed (ex: Ocean Master, Black Manta, Sinestro, Trickster, Captain Cold), but I guess Toy Biz was waiting for the third wave before they started rolling them out...  

...but we never saw a third wave of Toy Biz DC Comics Super Heroes action figures because DC license had reverted back to Kenner by 1990. Why? Rumor has it that DC was so disappointed in the quality of the DC Toy Biz figs that they pulled the licensing away. I actually have no firm proof of this, so this is all hearsay. 

Is it plausible? Well, in 1989, Toy Biz was just entering the action figure business and some of their DC figures were -- admittedly -- of mediocre quality and design (I'm looking at you 'squirting' Green Lantern, Aquaman and 'wind-up' Flash), especially in such a competitive action figure market.

That's alright, though, since Toy Biz would go on to greater things when they picked up the Marvel Comics license in 1990. Few remember the first wave of Marvel Toy Biz figures (probably because they flew off the shelves)...

The Toy Biz Marvel figures still had gimmicks, such as Punisher's ability to fire caps.
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Already, you begin to notice improvements in design and detail with Toy Biz's Marvel action figs. image source:

...but nobody reading and collecting comics in the early 90s can forget Toy Biz's 1991 X-Men action figures (actually part of Toy Biz's second wave of Marvel figs), which became a big hit among X-Men fans and anyone who liked Wolverine in general.

House ad for X-Men Toy Biz figs in the back of a Marvel comic. Now THIS is how you advertise a toyline aimed at comic readers.

Thankfully, Toy Biz's first few series of Marvel action figures managed to stay in-scale with their Toy Biz DC figures (if only slightly taller), which meant that Toy Biz's Marvel figs could also play more-or-less in scale with your Kenner Super Power Collection, too. This was great news if you ever wanted to see the X-Men slug it out with the Justice League.

Toy Biz Magneto (without helmet) stands next to Toy Biz Superman and Toy Biz Lex Luthor. By series 2, Toy Biz's Marvel figs started to get extra articulation in their arms. Lucky ducks.
image source: mine 

Well, since this is a DC comics blog and NOT a toy blog I'd better wrap it up here. While the history of Toy Biz and what happened to them throughout the late 90s and early 00s is pretty interesting, I'll leave you to research that one on your own.