The Dark Knight Collection, Then And Now

Batman 1989 emblem

There’s been a lot of Bat-talk lately. The 1966 stuff is seeing a mass resurgence in popularity, there’s a new cartoon “Beware The Batman”, the Nolan trilogy is fairly fresh in everyone’s minds, and let’s not forget a month ago when the fanboy nation descended upon Ben Afleck.  But they never talk about the mean one.  The dark one back when dark meant troubled, and not sad.   The one that wasn’t going to quit over a woman.  It was something he had to do because nobody else could.  The one that danced with the Devil by the pale moon light.

I had always found Batman fascinating although I could never really tell you why.  He was just always my favorite.  My first exposure to him was likely the ’66 tv series and movie,  and the Super Powers figure by Kenner.  He looked so different from other Super Heroes.  It was somewhere in the mask and the cape, and the belt, and the car. It was all those things, but it always more.     Superman you always knew would save the day, but with Batman you were right there alongside him.  Bats wasn’t super powered like many of his peers.  He wasn’t given special abilities due to some freak accident.  This was a man of wits and strength.

It was the Summer of 1989 and you couldn’t walk down the street without seeing a wide yellow oval struck dead center by the unmistakable silhouette of a Bat.  I remember it fondly.  I was young and impressionable and obsessed.  The bitch of it was I wasn’t actually allowed to see the movie because I was too young and it was deemed too dark.  My parents were of the generation when Batman was synonymous with brightly colored words such as “BONK” and “KAPOW”.  For better or worse their Batman was campy; he surfed and he danced.  He didn’t wear black, and he certainly did not kill.

I don’t remember exactly when I first saw it, all I remember is the vivid opening number that still gives me chills to this day.  The spreading of wings revealing the stark contrast of yellow on black.  Somewhere high above the vile streets of Gotham City he stood there cloaked in darkness with his fists clenched tight around the collar of some scumbag, and it was then he spoke two words that would forever change the life of a five-year-old kid, “I’m Batman.”

In terms of marketing the Bat signal was everywhere.  There was Batman cereal, Batman magazines, sticker books, playdoh, trading cards (remember them?), etc. etc.  But it still wasn’t like today where the toys are rotting on the shelves months before the film even hits.  And much like the Star Wars some twelve years earlier it seemed to take the Dark Knight a little while to get to Toys R Us, or in my case K-Mart.

Toybiz

I never actually owned the classic blue and gray Super Powers Batman until my collecting years. The first Batman figure I ever owned was a shoddy piece of black plastic that paled in comparison to the six-foot bat in Gotham City, and I LOVED him.  While the majority of Toybiz’s awful DC Super Heroes line was made from poorly rehashed Super Powers molds their Batman was an all new piece. The figure featured a retractable zipline built within his Utility Belt, the front of which doubles as a grapple. If you hold the belt and pull Bats down then release him he’ll race up the line.  Warner Brothers eventually revoked Toybiz’s DC Comics license and gave it back to Kenner who would later use the franchise to make the Bat a staple on toy shelves for decades to come, but this is where it all began.

Toybiz Batman

Bikin

This one I’ve included just for our International friends as from what I understand these were only available in Belgium and Australia. He came into my possession somewhat accidetly several years ago when I was collecting Mego’s World’s greatest Superheroes line.  The makers of this toy were obviously trying to emulate those figures from the 70s. The body in particular has a definite Mego feel to it except for the wrists which are not jointed. The cape is my favorite part of the figure. Its made of vinyl and with his arms at his sides it hangs perfectly.  The belt and boots are also detailed nicely as well.

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Kenner

It was quite possibly THE line that would completely change the 90s toy market because it was the first one to really embrace the infamous Bat-Variant. Mattel had been conning parents into pretty much buying the same toy over and over again for years, Kenner (now owned by Hasbro) took that a step further in 1990 by releasing four Batmen all the same exact sculpt only in four different color schemes with different accessories.  There was the standard all black, a comic-esque blue and grey, a two-tone blue version, and lastly a bright gold one.  The line would eventually see Bruce Wayne complete with a removable Batman costume sporting a spot-on likeness of Michael Keaton.  After Kenner’s The Dark Knight Collection ran its course it was followed by a what was essentially the exact same line under the Batman Returns logo.  Once again a bevy of Bat-variants ensued with wild accessories and even wilder costumes.  I seem to recall my brother had one in neon yellow.

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Hot Toys

Things were quite on the Keaton Batman front for a long time after the Returns line died out.  But that all changed in 2012 when Hot Toys released their Michael Keaton Batman. The movie Batman I’d been wanting since I was five.  Given a five-year-old would’ve obliterated this toy in a matter of hours.  The figure sports a rubber suit much like the actor did in the film, and came packaged with a slew of interchangeable hands, as well as the Bat-grapple, line-launcher gauntlet, smoke pellets, and of course the trusty Batarang. But perhaps my favorite part are the removable face “plates” allowing you to change up your display.  He’s the masterpiece in a series of 1989 Bat-related merchandise… at least for now, because its not over.  Its never over.  Its just something I have to do.

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Dark Knight Collection

6 Comments

Filed under Xander Martin

6 responses to “The Dark Knight Collection, Then And Now

  1. i remember very well when the Toy Biz stuff hit. It was odd that this new dark horse company had such a big license, and they were clearly not up to snuff in the product or distribution, the figures were very hard to find. Even as a kid, I could see how inferior they were to Super Powers, but if you wanted a black Batman like the movie, this was your jam.

    I went through a couple of them because if you pull the belt hook out and let it snap back without the Batarang in place, it will break. Leave it to 1989 Toy Biz to make a figure that you can destroy just by making it do something it naturally does anyway. We took it back to the store and got a rain check. I had lucked out and found one just after the movie came out, and didn’t get another one for months and months.

    I remember when Kenner got the license back, it was pretty clear what had happened there. Still, I remember those 3 nutty Toy Biz Batman figures fondly.

    • Xander Martin

      If I had to guess I’d say Toy Biz acquired (rented) the molds from Hasbro during their Kenner take over and made up some decent prototypes. Then they went to WB and expressed interest likely poking them in the ribs over the fact that they had a potential blockbuster on their hands and no toys to sell.

      Apart from Bats the only TB figure I have is Robin. Next to the Kenner version he’s like a cheap Mexican knockoff. I remember walking into Lionel Playworld and seeing the new Batman stuff. It was obvious the quality had shifted considerably along with old familiar Kenner logo. Hell, those figures actually had the actors likenesses on the package.

  2. Deane Aikins

    What mafia enforcer got TOYBIZ the job? Those figures stretched the definition of “toys”. So very, very bad.

    I loved the Kenner stuff. There are great “rumor-stories” about how they got screwed on the Danny DeVito Penguin sculpt and a rejected Robin figure.

  3. I remember that there was a Robin that looked like the then new design, a pretty decent Catwoman, and the Penguin figure was just a repainted in black Super Powers design…what’s the inside scoop?

  4. Deane Aikins

    Someone in the film, perhaps DeVito’s people, rejected the likeness sculpt at the last minute. Kenner needed a Penguin figure and pulled a repaint from the SUPER POWERS line. I’ve never seen a prototype, which may call this rumor into question. The BATMAN ANIMATED Penguin is darn close, and with a paint job, could be based on DeVito.

    Robin is even more of a rumor, based on the stories that Robin was to be played by Marlon Wayans.

    • Xander Martin

      I always imagined it was the outrage over Burton’s gruesome take on the Penguin that halted any figure actually resembling it.

      I’m still curious to know what line that infamous Batman: Year One Catwoman was supposed to have come from.

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