Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Hall of Action: An Action Figure Retrospective

In the late seventies, when Star Wars was all the rage, toy companies wisely realised that the elaborate vehicles and sets from the franchise would be too costly and cumbersome for 12 inch dolls. Thus, the action figure was born. Cheap, sturdy and miniature enough to be able to fit into larger vehicles (like the Millennium Falcon). Superhero action figures were released soon in the legendary 'Super Powers' line. 

As a kid growing up in the 90s, action figures grew more and more expensive as their popularity increased. This meant that unlike kids in the 80s and 70s, I didn't actually have that many, and it was a pretty big deal whenever I got a new one, although I did have quite a few. A vast, massive majority of them were Batman-related figures, particularly from the Animated Series. I also got a handful of figures from other franchises such as Superman, Star Wars, Spider-Man and even stuff like Power Rangers (a lot of these have been lost over the years). 

These toys meant the world to me and as a result of my lack of access to comic books (for the first half of my childhood, anyway) and the only occasional showing of cartoons like Batman and Superman, I would often spend hours dreaming up my own stories and scenarios, using miscellaneous figures as new characters. As far as I can tell, I was collecting and playing with action figures long after it was socially acceptable (which was a depressingly young age among my circle of friends). 

As the years have grown on, I grew less interested in collecting figures, for the sheer fact that they don't make 'em like they used to. When I was growing up, action figures were designed to be sturdy and durable rather than painstakingly accurate to the design on which they're based. Nowadays, figures sacrifice durability and toughness for design accuracy and they're anything but cheap. There's also this weird spectrum where size is concerned. Figures for 'serious collectors' (the people who leave them in the box or in a display case) are 9-10 inches and the ones for 'younger collectors' (kids who want to actually play with them) are as small as 4-5 inches. When I was a lad, figures were just right at 6-8 inches. 

With the advent of the Internet, the plummeting prices of DVD Boxsets, Graphic Novels and the growing realism and quality of video games, the question of whether kids are even bothered playing with toys anymore is a pretty interesting one. I know that if I had had a games like 'Lego Batman', 'Spider-Man 2', 'Arkham Asylum' (or a more kid-friendly version of it) or 'Batman: The Brave and the Bold' as a kid that I might be a little bit more inclined to want to be immersed in a virtual world of heroism before playing with bits of plastic. Maybe that's just the cynic in me, though. I've come to an interesting point in my life where I'm not really sure I want to keep my toys around anymore. Most of them aren't worth a penny, because they're so war-torn (plus, they're not in their original packaging), and some of them I just couldn't even imagine parting with, because of the sentimental value (even if it means they'll just be sitting in a box in my attic). The purpose of this post is to pictorially archive all the action figures I have left that mean anything to me. 

On the left is 'Combat Belt Batman', the first ever action figure I owned and the first figure from the Batman: The Animated Series line and probably my most cherished action figure. I remember the day I got it (my fourth birthday party) and I remember my mum putting the accessories away for safekeeping (I lost them all very quickly). On the right is Robin (not sure what his full name was) and although it wasn't the 'standard' design from the cartoon (I wouldn't get that figure for another twelve years), I loved it dearly. I got that one for Christmas 1995. I played with these figures more than any other figure I ever owned.

On the left is 'Capture Net Superman' from the 'Superman The Animated Series' Line. I remember the day I got Capture Net Superman, I scoured all of Dublin looking for Superman figures from the cartoon, finally finding this one in town. The S logo got badly chipped as seen in the picture, and I tried to paint it back in, but the paint was too weak and just stained the figure yellow. I played with it, anyway. On the right is 'Heat Vision Superman' (I think) with a bit of modding. A common trick for toymakers and action figure lines was to put out a stream of different designs for the core character, to get kids to go back and buy the colourful alternate version. This often left me with a load of weird looking figures I got as presents that I didn't really know what to do with. I made use of the black-suited Superman and pretended that he was a youthful clone of Superman that was created when Superman was struck by lightning. Superman named this clone 'Electric Superman' or 'Ez' for short. They became partners. Little did I know, in the 90s there actually was a character called 'Electric Superman' in the comics, and Superman had a youthful clone (Superboy) around this time as well. 

(Left to Right: Comedian, Iron Man, Nite-Owl (still in the box), Rorschach, Doctor Manhattan)

Not really sure why I never took Nite-Owl or Rorschach out of the box. I think I just liked the boxes and wasn't that pushed about taking them out. Iron Man, Comedian and Doc Manhattan actually belong to my brother (who is also at the end of his toy-collecting days, which makes me feel old). 

Two identical Azrael figures from the classic 'Legends of the Dark Knight' line. Having no access to Knightfall comics as a kid, we always just referred to this figure as 'The Batman with no mouth'. Notice how I tried to give Azrael a new cape (it was lost years ago), using paper and a cape from another figure. Last Summer I found the figure on the left for a dollar at Toronto Fan Expo. I asked the guy if I could just buy the cape for 50 cents, but he made me buy the whole figure. In the background is the 'KnightsEnd' Azrael, the later, deadlier suit he used in his battle against the original Batman. I also got this at Fan Expo, for a dollar. Man, what an awesome place.

Robin and Nightwing. I bought the Robin on the left on eBay in 2008 and it cost something like €25 altogether. But I love it, because he's just such an interesting design. He's the only Robin figure from the animated line that got the proper yellow and black cape and even though the head sculpt looks like the character from the cartoon, the body is all wrong, with far too much detailing and the wrong belt. The reason for this is that the makers re-used the body from the 'Batman Returns' Robin figure (yes, they made a Robin figure, even though he wasn't in the film). On the right is Nightwing (Dick Grayson two years older), who once belonged to my 19-year old brother. I'm inclined to say he didn't play with it as much as I did. 

The Riddler and the Penguin having the Bants beside the two Supermen. These were the first villain figures I owned from the Batman The Animated Series line and they've really stood the test of time. Unfortunately for the Penguin, I lost his coat, found a replacement years later from a friend who didn't really want it, only to lose it again, just recently. 

Yeeearrgh! This is one of the kookier figures from the 'Legends of the Dark Knight' line. A pirate version of Two-Face. When I was a kid, I thought Two-Face was badass, and I desperately wanted the Batman Forever version of the character, to no avail. I was absolutely delighted when I got this figure even though it was so crazy and I played with it for years. In case you were wondering, Two-Face's left hand was originally a hook and a sword, but they both got snapped off. Years later, I got an animated series version of Two-Face and it was really badass and had two-guns...but I haven't seen it in six years.

The Batmobile from 'The New Batman Adventures' and the first Batmobile I ever owned. I got this the day of my communion in 1998. I got it in Forbidden Planet (which was on Dawson Street back then) and it was one of the greatest days of my life as a result. Twelve years later, my mum (who works in the Blood Bank in town) met a mother and her kid at work who were going out to Forbidden Planet because it was the boy's communion. That orange missile there went missing more times than I could count, because of carelessness. One time, it went missing for over two weeks, only for me to find out that it was stuck in the inside of the car. It also stopped firing properly for a while. My Dad and I unscrewed it and discovered that there was a bit of a cocktail stick stuck in the spring. It still works today.

The seating of the TNBA Batmobile was such that Batman and Robin had to sit back to back. I still thought this was awesome. I loved this so much that I used to assign specific functions to every button on the sticker panel as well as the other buttons that were located around the interior of the car. There were stickers that went on the outside of the car as well, but these were pretty pointless and I got rid of them pretty soon.

The very first Michael Keaton Batman figure from 1989. I bought this in Toronto in a comic shop for 5 dollars. He's sitting in the Batmobile from 1997's Batman & Robin, which I got for something like €2 in a school fair, a couple of years ago. I'd give anything to get the Batmobile from Batman Forever or Batman Returns. 

Another 'mobile I bought only a couple of years ago, from the animated show 'The Batman' (not a bad show; not a good show, but not a bad one) from a few years back. The figure in it is a Bruce-to-Batman figure from the same line. I also got this car at a school fair, for piss-cheap. I actually think it's pretty cool, because while it is fearsome and intimidating-looking, it's also fairly discreet and looks like it would be a car someone like Batman would actually drive. 

It also has pop-out guns on the sides of it which are pretty cool.

The Batwing from the Animated Series. Another eBay purchase, from just a couple of years ago. I think this is really cool and I really wish I'd owned it when I was younger. The only thing I don't like about it is the green glass (it was blue in the cartoon). This one also has the back-to-back seating of the TNBA Batmobile.

A load more figures. The brown guy on the left is Ducard (or the 'real' Ra's Al Ghul to those of us who've seen the ending of Batman Begins) and the green guy is a repaint of him. This was one of the last figure I broke my heart trying to find, only to find it months later for practically nothing. In front of the two Liam Neesons is a Bruce-to-Batman figure that doesn't really look like Christian Bale. An awesome Scarecrow is hanging back behind everyone. Notice a couple of Marvel figures in here. I used to have Spider-Man and Mysterio from the 90s animated series, but they got lost. The only remaining Spidey figures I have are from 2007's Spider-Man 3, which had a great line of affordable figures from the entire trilogy. We have Green Goblin around somewhere but in the mean-time, there's Symbiote Spidey, New Gobin and Venom. I love that Venom figure. He just looks so delightedly evil.

Lex Luthor and Superman's Robot from the 'Superman: Doomsday' animated film. I didn't really care for the design of Luthor in this film. Too much white. I love that they gave Superman a robot servant though. I always love the idea of Superman having robot servants in the Fortress of Solitude. 

An Indiana Jones figure I got in Disneyland, Florida. He came with a whip, a pistol, a flaming torch and an emerald encrusted sword. Only the whip and the torch survived. That pistol was really cool. Wolverine there is from some Marvel line and came with a comic that was set in the future. It's a pretty renowned X-Men story that I'm sure other people reading this will know.

This Wolverine came with a giant robot battlesuit. I also got this in Florida in 2001 after begging my Dad to get it for me on the subject that I pay him back. The battle suit was crappy and fell apart after a few years, but I only really wanted the Wolverine figure anyway.

The Superman Returns Clark-to-Superman figure. I'm really glad this figure was so easy to find, as it's awesome. Superman has a wig attached to a pair of glasses, a shirt/waistcoat, slacks and shoes as a disguise. It's no wonder no one knows he's really Clark Kent.

Lex Luthor from Superman Returns, looking impressively like Kevin Spacey. This one was a lot harder to find but once it did start showing up, you could get it pretty much anywhere. He's holding a tube of Kryptonite and also came with a Kryptonian Crystal that you could squeeze into it, as Luthor did in the movie. He also came with a missile blaster that shot out the same Kryptonite missile from the movie. 

This figure was just badass. It was from the 'Man of Steel' line from the mid nineties. It was called 'Anti-Kryptonite Superman' and was supposed to be a suit Superman wore to protect him from Kryptonite poisoning. You could take the helmet and the armour off. Funnily enough, the head sculpt of Superman looked an awful lot like Nicolas Cage who had been cast as Superman around this time (in a thankfully never-made Tim Burton film), which has made me suspicious as to whether or not the head sculpt was from a Superman Lives concept figure.

As I got older, I started taking better care of the accessories that came with figures. While a lot of them still manage to get lost, there's a lot of really cool stuff here. 

A repaint of the classic Animated Series Batmobile (from before TNBA). This was another eBay purchase that I bought in tandem with the Batwing. I really like this, but again the green detailing spoils it and that silly glow in the dark logo is annoying. Still glad I bought it, though.

Terry McGinnis/Batman Beyond sitting in the 'Bathammer', one of the stupider vehicles from the third act of 'Batman & Robin', designed solely to sell toys. This was another school fair purchase. I'd never spend any real money on something as crappy as this. The figure in it is another story.

This is the 'Tumbler' Batmobile from Batman Begins. I got this for €15 about a year after the movie had actually come out, and it's awesome. It only fits one figure (and it doesn't do the Batpod thing from 'The Dark Knight') but if you push that middle button at the back there, weapons spring out from the side. The other buttons are sound and light buttons, which are also really cool. I never actually bought the Batpod one from the sequel, because it was one of those things where Batman was forcibly stuck to the Batpod and couldn't be removed. I always hated toys like that as a kid, because it took away from the fun if you couldn't remove the figure from the vehicle.

Another wide shot of all the figures. That other Batmobile is from Batman Beyond and also belongs to my brother. I never liked it that much, because of all the ridiculous stickers. At the far, far back is the Movie Masters Dark Knight figure, which is awesome.

All in all, I can't see myself parting with most of these. Hopefully, I can store them away safely until I have somewhere really permanent to display them or until the point where and if I live to have kids or nephews or nieces who will cherish them as much as I did growing up.


  1. That's great!! I have the Batmobile from 'The New Batman Adventures' and was also the first one along with a remote control one I owned, and i have the Ice-Batman version from Batman Forever and the Batman from the movie Batman & Robin, in colors grey and red, plus the Joker from Batman Beyond... is great to collect these pieces because they are part of our childhood :D

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