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.
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.
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.
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.
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.