Years of Batman in Plastic
Posted - 09/01/00
When I was preparing this week's review of the 200th edition Batman figure from
Hasbro, it got me to thinking. Seems as though they've left out a few
figures, and skipped some pretty important Batman action figure history.
So I thought I'd present you with a brief chronology of Batman as action figure
The very first Batman figure is tough
to pinpoint. During the 60's there were a variety of plastic
version, but these had little or no articulation and so it could be argued
that they did not qualify as 'action figures'. Of course, that would
mean half of today's action figures don't qualify either, but that's
another rant. I feel the very first version was the Batman outfit
designed for the Captain Action figure of the late 60's. Captain
Action had many different costumes, including Batman, Superman, Spiderman,
etc. For the 60's, that was pretty much it - the dawn of licensed
toys had not yet broken.
"WAAAAAASSSSAAAAPPPPP!" Comic Action Heroes Batman
hanging with some friends at the Fortress of Solitude.
One of the neatest figures produced was the magnetic hands/feet Batman from
Mego. This 12" figure had magnets strategically placed so that his
hands and feet could attach to metal objects. Of course, a similar Robin
was also produced, so that Bruce wouldn't be the only one pretending to be
Mego was tremendously inventive, and
added a variety of playsets and vehicles. Batman had not only a
terrific Batcave/Wayne Manor,, but a Batmobile, Batcopter and Batcycle in
the 8" line. Perhaps most amusing of all was the Mobile Crime
Lab, a glorified VW bus.
But by the 1970's, licensing toys was in full swing. The first Planet of
the Apes movies proved it could be quite profitable, and tons of licensed toys
started to hit the shelves. Everything from lunch boxes to bed sheets
bared the likeness of Cornelius and the others.
Mego was the major player of the decade in this field, and produced Batman
figures in its 8" and 12" World's Finest lines, along with the first 3
3/4" versions in the Comic Action Heroes and Pocket Heroes lines.
Most people believe that Kenner, and their Star Wars line, were the first 3
3/4" figures, but Mego had them beat with this super hero line by a couple
|During the 80's, a new player got involved
with the Batman license - Kenner. The Super Powers version of Batman
and his corresponding friends and foes are arguably the best ever
produced. Terrific sculpts and action features combined with
excellent articulation made this a truly classic line.
But Kenner wasn't the only company making Batman during the 80's - Toybiz
produced a number of figures, vehicles and playsets, and originally
produced a set of figures for the first Batman movie. While many of
the figures were very lame, most simply knockoffs of previous Kenner work,
the vehicles and playsets were some of the nicest produced.
Toybiz was also very fond of putting
'action' in their action figures. They were fairly well articulated,
having knee and elbow joints normally, and came with some sort of action
feature. Pressing their legs together or spinning an arm often
resulted in something occurring. I'm sure there's a joke there
The 90's saw Kenner take over the helm of the Batman license completely.
And once Hasbro bought up Kenner half way into the decade, their clutches on the
license seemed secure.
Another unique line did not last as long - the Legends of the Dark Knight.
This line was intended to be similar to the comic series, portraying unique and
often dark images of the Batman world. At 8", it was one of the first
lines to follow the newer Mcfarlane standard for size and sculpting quality.
Unfortunately, the articulation was not what it could have been, but the unusual
and gritty characterizations set this line apart.
Unfortunately, the buying public didn't
take to well to this line. While I believe many collectors liked the
improved sculpting and size, this definitely wasn't your father's Batman,
and kids weren't coming to the party. Without the all important
kiddy-dollar, the line only lasted a short while. Still, several
very cool villains were produced, along with a great version of Batgirl.
While it's quite true that 90% of the extreme number of Batman figures produced
during the decade where simply color and theme variations, there were two lines
that stood out from the rest. The new Batman: The Animated Series was a
hit on TV, and with it came one of the greatest purely Batman based lines ever
produced. The sculpting was terrific, and the number of villains produced
far surpassed any previous line. Unfortunately, the articulation was not
as good as the previous Super Powers line, but the BTAS line of figures is a
true highlight for Batman in the 90's.
So what's to come? It's clear that Hasbro still has the license pretty
well tied up, but rumblings from the new DC Direct company, a subsidiary of
Warner Brothers itself who produce extremely nice action figures for the comic
book market, make it clear that the bar is being raised. Fans expect newer
Batman figures to have the highest quality sculpting, articulation and style
possible - Regurgitating Batman in Neon Pink isn't going to cut it.
We've already seen the advent of a new style and size - the DC 9" Superhero
figures have given us three Batman versions already, with a fourth shipping very
soon. Hasbro appears willing to test the market with new ideas, but only
time will tell how the fans truly react.
"Hey - cool batarang!" The new DC 9" clothed