One of the greatest super hero lines ever produced was based on the Batman Animated Series. Some would argue that this line was the best, with great style and play value.
The cartoon broke ground, with its dark backgrounds, edgy story lines, and retro style. Both children and adults responded with pleasure, and the show became for many one of the best versions of Batman ever created on T.V., film or print.
The line followed the style of the show, and is the longest running super hero line ever produced. The line first debuted in 1992, and we are still getting a few characters each year. Rumor has it that the final end may come this year, but we’ve been fortunate to get 9 years of excellent action figures. The show went through several versions, with some style changes and character changes over time. The action figures followed these changes, and altered the characters along the way.
Kenner, and then Hasbro once they bought them out, have produced the series, and like all Kenner/Hasbro lines, there have been plenty of ridiculous Batman variations. But we’ve also been treated to some great ones, including versions that match each style change of the show or movies, and unique ones like Retro Batman which are excellent designs on their own.
Robin was also produced, though in far fewer numbers. The first Robin was the weakest, using the old Robin body from the movie line with an animated style head. The improved as time went on, and the small Robin from the Adventures of Batman and Robin was certainly the best.
Cloth capes were used early in the series, but these switched to plastic capes later on. I still prefer the cloth, and the very first Batman they produced, Combat Belt Batman, is still the finest version in the entire line. Batman and Robin couldn’t do all the work themselves, and several of the good guy supporting cast was also produced. Batgirl, Nightwing, Commissioner Gordon and fan favorite Alfred were all immortalized in plastic. It is extremely rare for any super hero line to produce these types of second string heroes, and while it took awhile to get them, Hasbro has to be applauded for the effort.
Tons of villains were produced during the entire run of figures. No other DC based line has ever had this number of bad guys, driven both by the large selection in Batman’s Rogue’s Gallery, and by the unusual willingness of Hasbro to produce them. First produced were the classics of course – Penguin, Joker, Riddler, Catwoman, Scarecrow, Mr. Freeze, etc. Many of these figures were produced in lower numbers than later figures, and the Penguin and Riddler are still two of the hardest figures to find.
The Joker has always been the most popular Batman foe, and this line was no exception. There were plenty of bizarre variations, but also some great ones. The style of the Machine Gun Joker, the 40’s look of the Jet Pack Joker, and the simple style of several others gave the Joker fans more than they could have ever expected.
During the run of this line, the league of female action figure collectors was just starting to build. They were thrilled to get several key female figures in this line, including Batgirl, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and the surprise villain from Mask of the Phantasm. This movie, based on the T.V. show, is still one of the best Batman movies to ever reach the big screen.
Some of the villains produced were seen in many episodes, like Ras Al Ghul, or the Joker. Others, like Bane or the Mad Hatter, might only be in one or two episodes. But their visually striking designs made it to plastic and stood toe to toe with the more common characters.
While some of the villains were done in multiple versions, some of the quite silly, others were actually done in versions that matched the changing style of the show. Examples like Riddler, Two Face and Mr. Freeze, are great examples of the evolving animated style. This is a classic series of figures, and is one of my all time favorites. There are only two DC lines that are must haves for the action figure collector – BTAS and Super Powers. If you’re looking for a terrific line with great variation and excellent design to collect, I can’t recommend another more highly than this.
I thought I’d present you with a brief chronology of Batman as action figure. The very first Batman figure is tough to pinpoint. 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.
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. 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.