Interviews Reviews Guest Stars Fanzine Misc

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

image source:

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.

image source:

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.

image source:

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.

image source:

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.

image source:

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. 


image source:

image source:

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.

image source:

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

1 comment:

  1. Got that first series in the comic store on a Friday afternoon, and we had them all sold by Friday night. At least ten boxes.
    C K-E