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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.
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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.
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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.


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. 
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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. 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.
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2) Robin

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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. 
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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

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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

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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. 

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5) Aquaman

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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. 

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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 

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6) Hawkman 

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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: 

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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

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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 and cause his loose head to bobble (giving the illusion of him running).

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.
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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:


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:    

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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!