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Monday, August 15, 2022

1989 Toy Biz DC Comics Super Heroes

As I have frequently harped about (and someday I'll even write an article about them), the Kenner Super Powers Collection action figures made a pretty strong impact during my formative years and most likely led to my die-hard love of DC comics during that era. Unfortunately, the last series of Kenner figures were released in 1986 and that was pretty much that. This was a shame because I was five years old at the time, and unless they were still on the shelves at my local department store there was no way I was going to be able to add more DC heroes/villains to my collection...

...and then, in 1989, Toy Biz released a line of 5" DC comics action figures -- aptly named:


(Just to be clear: this branding was used on quite a bit of DC comics merchandise at the time, and not just limited to the Toy Biz action figures. Here's an example I previously wrote about. Nevertheless, this was the logo that set my little heart racing when I was perusing the toy isles.) 

While 99% of action figure collectors will unanimously agree that the Toy Biz 5" figs were vastly inferior to the Kenner figs released several years prior, at the age of eight years old I really didn't care. All I knew was that the drought was over -- I actually didn't realize there was a distinction between Kenner and Toy Biz, I just thought "Hey, new DC action figures! And they're the same scale as my Super Powers Collection! I need these!".

The Toy Biz DC Comics Super Heroes had some pretty low-key advertising. So low-key, in fact, that I couldn't find any comic book or magazine ads promoting them. All I could find was this vintage TV ad on YouTube courtesy of Sum Square Stories (they have a really extensive archive of 80s and 90s commercials, do check them out): 



If memory serves correctly, the Toy Biz DC action figures were released in two waves, and the first wave included the three Batman 89 characters along with Mr Freeze, the Penguin, Riddler, Robin, Superman, Wonder Woman and Lex Luthor -- so we can essentially thank the Batman 89 film for Toy Biz picking up the license and making that first wave of figs. The second wave was thanks to The Flash TV series from 1990 -- this led to the release of Aquaman, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Two-Face and Flash action figures. Normally I'd discuss the action figs by order of release, but for this one I'm going to start with all the super heroes.

As per usual, it's not just enough to look at the figure. To get the WHOLE experience you need to check out the packaging, too. The images in this article come from various sources (including pics of my own pics), many of these were images found doing media searches. I try to credit the source when I can, but if these are any of your photos and I didn't credit you, please feel free to drop us a line so we can come correct. Alright, upwards and onwards. Let's start with everybody's favorite Kryptonian:


1) Superman

The motion blur photography signifies Superman teetering from the ring's effects. 
image source: ebay.com

  
This was arguably the most popular figure in the toyline (that wasn't Batman or Joker) -- partly because the Richard Donner Superman films had cemented Superman as America's favorite super hero of the 80s and because 1988 was the 50th anniversary of the Man of Steel. I personally had no interest in this guy since I still had my Super Powers Collection version at this point (without cape, of course). Unlike his Kenner counterpart, this Superman didn't have any special power action feature, but came with a special 'kryptonite' ring instead. While Toy Biz chose not to directly rip-off Kenner and create 'power actions' that were triggered by squeezing a fig's arms or legs, they did try clever things to imitate power actions [sometimes it was a hit, and sometimes it was a miss]. Case in point: this Superman figure would start jerking sporadically if you held the kryptonite ring close to his chest. Why? Magnets. I actually found that to be pretty innovative. While most collectors trash this fig as the 'inferior' Superman, I did acquire one later in life from a dealer selling a bulk of DC figures and I was surprised at how well-constructed he was and could've been a dead ringer for my Super Powers Collection Superman.

SuperPowersWiki.com really went in-depth on describing the differences between the Kenner and Toy Biz versions of Superman, and this is a must read for anyone who is generally interested in the differences between the Kenner and Toy Biz figs.

Kenner on the left, Toy Biz on the right.
image source: www.superpowerswiki.com



2) Robin

image source: ebay.com

While Robin was absent in the Batman 89 film, it didn't mean that Toy Biz was going to exclude him from their first wave of DC figs. After all, what's a Batman without a Robin? If you cranked Robin's right arm upward he had a lever in his back (that was conveniently concealed by his cape) that, when pushed, would cause his right arm to come down in a 'karate chop' motion: 


Toy Biz Robin: Front and back. 
Image source: mine.

He also came with a grappling hook and (I'm pretty sure) the same batarang that Toy Biz Batman came with. Some Robins came mispackaged with Lex Luthor's handgun, which some collectors informally refer to as 'the Jason Todd variant'. Similar to Superman, I already had a Super Powers Robin so I wasn't really chasing this one down. As a kid I was very economical, so why would I need two Robins? One was just fine. I'd rather use the money I would've spent on the second Robin on another character I didn't have yet. I did get a Toy Biz Robin later on in life...

Super Powers Robin on the left, Toy Biz Robin on the right.
Image source: me

...and you can see, in a side-by-side comparison with the Super Powers Collection Robin, that they were more or less the same scale and build. Very similar molds, too. I'd probably argue that one was just as good as the other.



3) Wonder Woman

image source: ebay.com

You know what? I have nothing but great things to say about this fig. I didn't own the Super Powers version, and was lucky enough to the Toy Biz version in a clearance bin at my local Zellers sometime in 1991, so yeah... this fig brings back lots of great memories. That being said, I'm sure the Kenner version was superior in sculpt and quality, but I had no qualms with this version.

Wonder Woman came with a lasso (gold-colored thread) that she was able to 'throw' with her right arm when you pressed a button on her back. Because of this, her right arm was always sticking straight up like that eager kid in class who was dying to answer the teacher's question. No complaints here -- at least my JLA now had some diversity. 


Toy Biz Wonder Woman. Image source: mine.




4) Green Lantern

image source: ebay.com

This truly was the crappier version of Green Lantern. I had the Super Powers version and nothing could hold a candle to that one. I wouldn't have even looked twice if this was on the toy store shelves. First, it had some sort of squirt pump mechanism that caused water to shoot from his right fist. I truly disliked action figures that involved water running through them -- too many things could go wrong and they tended to get rusted quickly. [The Joker fig also involved a squirt mechanism, FYI.] Second, the actual mold looks shoddy: it looks like Hal is wearing a bright green turtleneck under a pale green sweater, and what's with those screws in the back? Yup, not a fan. The only thing I like about this fig is his little lantern accessory and the plastic ring he came with. That's not to say that I wouldn't pick him up if I found him for cheap somewhere, but I'm not actively chasing this one down. 


images from ebay.com


5) Aquaman

image source: ebay.com


I didn't own a Super Powers Collection Aquaman (and I still want one to this day), so I would've jumped at the opportunity to grab this if I had seen it on the shelves back then. Let it be known that I have never seen this fig... either carded or loose... anywhere. It's a true anomaly to me.

Toy Biz Aquaman included a little switch on his back that, when flicked, would cause his legs to kick giving the impression he was swimming. He also came with a huge trident weapon and a little plastic seahorse. 

images found on ebay.com

Apparently there's a 'green armed' variant of this Aquaman. I've never seen it in person, but I have seen it for sale online. I don't think there's a huge bump in price 

image source: ebay.com



6) Hawkman 

image source: ebay.com

Super Powers Hawkman was, bar none, my favorite Super Powers figure. I'm fairly certain that it contributed to my lifelong love of Hawkman, particularly the Tony Isabella and Dan Mishkin ongoing series from the 80s (we cover this and more in our 'Reboot' issue of Baxter Stock). While I didn't NEED another Hawkman action figure, I was always curious if he'd been improved on from the Kenner version. Unfortunately, I had also never seen this fig in person (either carded or loose) my entire life, and am still watching for one. Not only is this figure hard to find in the wild, but nobody seems to have any good, high quality photos of this fig. Thankfully, Cool Toy Review has a really nice gallery of hi-res shots: 


image source: www.cooltoyreview.com

From the pics I've examined, the big difference between Toy Biz Hawkman and Kenner Hawkman is that the Toy Biz Hawkman sculpt looks a bit 'boxier'. His wings still flapped, but only thanks to the button on his back that you pushed (versus the squeeze-the-legs 'power action' the Kenner version had). His included weapon/accessory was a mace with a reaaally long handle -- most likely to emulate a flail/morning star. Someday I hope to acquire one of these.


7) The Flash

 
image source: ebay.com


Rounding off our roster of re-made series one Super Powers Collection super heroes, we've got the Flash (presumably Barry Allen). I already had the Kenner Flash and didn't need another one, so I had no interest in this fig -- but that didn't matter since I'd never seen him on the toy store shelves. Now that I think about it, I don't think ANY wave 2 figures from this toyline ever made it to my local department store. This is probably a good thing since I did pick one up a few years ago at a flea market and have to agree that it is much crumbier than the Kenner version. By comparison, the Toy Biz Flash seemed like a very fragile wind-up toy: he had a crank on his back that you wound up in order to make his arms pump (giving the illusion of him running). I'll never know exactly how it worked, since the crank on my Toy Biz Flash didn't work anymore when I bought him.

Toy Biz Flash: front and back.
Image source: me


It's only when you stand the Kenner and Toy Biz Flash side-by-side with each other that you see just how much bigger the Toy Biz version is. The trend I'm noticing is that the Toy Biz figs had longer legs than their Kenner counterparts -- this sometimes made them fit awkwardly in the Super Powers Collection vehicles. 

Super Powers Flash on the left, Toy Biz Flash on the right
This could be Kid Flash (Wally West) standing next to the Flash (Barry Allen), really.
image source: mine


As previously mentioned, a new Flash TV series was being released in 1990, so Toy Biz offered this exact same figure in alternate packaging making the 'Flash' logo the central point of attention on the front of the card:

source: ebay.ca


Toy Biz released ANOTHER Flash action figure, this time with a 'turbo platform' (aka: a platform with wheels you propped Flash on, pulled back and released in order have it go hurtling forward). I've never actually seen this figure in stores or in person, so I can't tell you if he was sturdier than the other Toy Biz Flash. Regardless, here's the figure on card:    

image source: ebay.com

The Ubernerd, Beyond Lonesome blog wrote up a really in-depth review comparing the two different versions of the Toy Biz Flash. Highly recommend you check it out if this kind of stuff interests you.

I recall once seeing a carded Toy Biz Flash with the TV version of the Flash (in costume) as the image on the card. I believe I saw it in Wizard magazine or Hero Illustrated (or one of the hundred other 'comic magazines' available at the time). I can't find any info about this anywhere, so it may have been a custom job or I'm just misremembering what I saw. If you know what I'm referring to, leave us a comment.


Alright, that's enough for one article. In our next article, we'll take a look at the supervillains that were released for the Toy Biz DC Comics Super Heroes toyline. See you then!


-Justin

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