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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. 
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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. 
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

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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.
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:


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!



  1. I loved these but could never get em.

  2. They started out selling really well in the comic store when they came out. The first wave people were buying cases of them. By the time the Two Face figure came and the Flash with the pull back sidewalk we couldn't move them.