If there’s one thing nerds of a certain age universally agree on, it’s this…. kids Toys these days SUUUCK!
Oh, sure–today’s younglings have video games that would make 8 year old, Atari 2600 playing me drop dead of a pleasure-induced brain hemorrhage. And there will always be timeless classics like LEGO But as far as action figures–and their accompanying vehicles, playsets, and other miscellany go: The playthings of my 1980-90s childhood beat the piss out of anything the 21st century has yet to come up with–it’s not even a contest.
But this feature isn’t about how much new toys blow (that’s another feature), instead, the old and decrepit among the Nerd Bastards staff have decided to present you, the reader, with a series of tributes to the overpriced hunks of plastic of yore. Magnificent toy lines and other pieces of antiquity that make us forget how lonely and miserable our ACTUAL childhoods were.
This week, we get all Bat nostalgic with The Batman: The Animated Series toyline. It is Batman’s 75th anniversary after all, so what better way for us to contribute to his on going celebration than to look back at one of the characters better times.
I know it sounds cliched, but Batman sure meant a lot to me as a kid. He still does. Why did I get into Batman? I guess I became obsessed with the character for the same reasons so may others did. I love the idea of someone – one mortal man – doing the right thing. Standing up to the big bad guys, even when the odds aren’t in his favor. I love the idea of terrifying, maniacal mad men actually being afraid of a person dressed as bat who stalks them in the dark. A city in trouble turning their hopes to one man who vows to never stop fighting for them, that appeals to me.
The idea of a brave human dressed as a nocturnal winged created protecting you throughout the night is a reassuring, comforting thought for a young boy who might not be the toughest, biggest kid on the block.
My earliest memories involve Batman and, more specifically, Batman toys. My parents had a big brick fireplace and it was there my Batman would chase the Joker before the Joker, like in Tim Burton’s 1989 film, would fall to his death. It was on that fireplace that Batman would team up with Robin, where he would try and persuade Two-Face from a life of crime, where he would meet Commissioner Gordon (usually one of my G.I. Joes doing a decent stand-in) and where he would look after his troubled Gotham City.
My fun and games changed drastically in 1992. In early September, Fox debuted Batman, now universally known as Batman: The Animated Series. The show took off where Burton’s Batman left off: a dark, art-deco world of the Dark Knight filled with the usual rogue’s gallery. From its very debut, Batman changed the world of the caped crusader forever. It altered the way countless kids saw Batman and to this day is the definitive version of the character for many.
With the show’s success came a slew of Batman toys. And I mean a slew. Fox created a plethora of toys to accompany the series, introducing a line that was almost as large as the fabled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles of years past. Of course you had Batman and The Joker but you also had Man-Bat, Two Face, Mr. Freeze, Killer Croc, The Penguin, Scarecrow and Harley Quinn, a new character created for the show. Not only did we get some of these characters in plastic for the first time but they were unquestionably gorgeous. They were sturdy, smooth and expertly detailed.
The Two Face toy deserves specific praise. It was one of the most beautiful things I ever beheld and my little child hands worshipped it. It was so amazing, in fact, that I made a deliberate choice to wash my clammy paws every time before touching it. I know, right? Pretty damn impressive if it can cause a little kid to care about hygiene.
Unlike many toys that exist today, it felt that time and effort were put into these figures. It’s not rare for a TV show to get a toy line but it is rare for those toy lines to be so deftly crafted and detailed. It truly felt like the characters leapt from the screen to your hands.
To many, the biggest prize in the Animated Series line was Wayne Manor. For some odd reason, the toy set was called the “command center” but we all knew what it really was: Wayne Manor and The Batcave. That’s right, for a hefty sum, your parents could prove their love to you by giving you Batman’s personal, private lair. After much begging and pleading, my parents bought the set for me for my birthday and, boy, did my face light up. I had the Batmobile, I had all the villains, I had a plethora of Batmen and now I had Wayne Manor. I was truly the Batfan who had everything. To be fair, Wayne Manor was a bit cramped. There wasn’t a lot of space and it left out a ton but the fact remained that I had the ultimate Bat toy.
While Wayne Manor was amazing, there was one other Animated Series figure that was my pride and joy: Bruce Wayne, unmasked. Ever since early childhood, I’ve had a bizarre obsession with owning superhero toys which allow the characters to get out of their suits. Weird, I know, but I loved being able to assemble his outfit, put on his cape, throw on his gloves, get him ready for battle and…oh gosh, I am making myself sound really lame.
After much more begging and pleading, another holiday came around and my parents purchased me the Bruce Wayne figure, complete with attachable Batman suit (seen below). I was more than pleased. Rumor has it that a video was shot of me screaming like a psychopath when the wrapping paper came off. I’m not proud of young me but that’s the type of kid I was. I was a Batman fan. A die hard Batman fan. And these toys were the top of the top. These toys were it.
And then there were the commercials. Oh, toy commercials from yesteryear, will anything be as great as you? The enthusiasm from the child actors! The elaborate and expensive sets that I could only dream of! The accessories! Combined together, these commercials whetted a Batman fan’s appetite unlike anything else.
These were amazing times for young Batman fans, not just me and my growing collection of figures. We had a television show that perfectly captured what so many of us loved about the character and we had a line of toys that perfectly captured that show. Ah yes, things were really happening for Batfans. Of course, nothing good ever lasts forever and Batman: The Animated Series ran its course. After several great seasons, the show was reworked to feature more of Robin. In addition to that change, the animation style was altered too and a lot of what made The Animated Series so great was lost, especially in the writing department.
The toys, however, lasted ages. While I sadly lost all of mine (dammit!) due to moving, aging and simple carelessness, others have kept theirs in mint condition over all these years. To this day, they hold up. The look, the coloring, even the weight are still unmatched by most if not all of today’s contemporary mainstream toys. Batman wasn’t new, the character was as well known as Elvis Presley or Jesus Christ but The Animated Series, while not drastically altering the mythos, put Batman in a new light for many. A new, dark light that spurred the imagination of millions and set a high water mark for action figures everywhere. Looking on eBay, it’s obvious just how impressive these toys were. While some go for ten or twenty bucks, some of the sets – including Wayne Manor – sell for nearly $400. High water mark, indeed.
The Command Center is gone, the Bruce Wayne who took of his suit is no longer around but the legend of Batman: The Animated Series and its legendary toy line lives on.