30 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 - enjoy!

 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 Spiderman.

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 years.

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 somewhere.

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 superheroes.

This page copyright 2003, Michael Crawford. All rights reserved. Hosted by 1 Hour