TOYHEM! The greatest places to hang your little cowl…
Welcome to TOYHEM! For the third straight holiday season, we’re bringing you a series of features and columns celebrating the toys of our youth, which often made for the best memories this time of year. Click here to check out the complete index of stories — and have a Merry Christmas, a Happy Chanukah and Happy Holidays! — Dan
Every year on the first night of Chanukah, I run my own little memoir of the Mego Batcave. But it’s not like that was the only one ever produced. Far, far, far from it. So this year, I’ve enlisted podcaster and recurring 13th Dimension contributor Chris Franklin — a Batfan of the highest rank — to survey Batman’s subterranean HQ through the decades.
Now, why are we running this today? Well, it’s an offbeat reason, actually: Late artist Frank Springer was born 92 years ago — and it just so happens that he illustrated the grooviest Batcave cutaway in comics history. You can click here to check out 13 QUICK THOUGHTS ON THE GLORIOUS SECRETS OF THE BATCAVE — 1968.
But before you do — dig THE TOP 13 BATCAVE PLAYSETS EVER — RANKED:
By CHRIS FRANKLIN
The Batcave is the greatest headquarters in pop culture history. Name me one base that’s more iconic than the subterranean stronghold beneath Stately Wayne Manor. Even Superman’s Fortress of Solitude isn’t nearly as well known as the Caped Crusader’s cavernous home.
And since Batman has been the darling of the toy industry for 55 years running, with very few lean years in between, there have been many replicas of his HQ over the decades. What follows are a list of the best of those, from source accurate, to just plain fun. From toys aimed at kids, to expensive collectibles aimed solely at adults. So, open up the hidden door behind the grandfather clock, or flip up the head on that Shakespeare bust, and lets go spelunking, shall we?
To the Batcave!
13. Hallmark “To the Batcave” Keepsake Magic Ornament (2021). While not quite a playset, I couldn’t leave this new Batcave off the list. This battery operated, HEAVY ornament depicts Bruce Wayne’s study from the classic ’60s television series up top. Press the button and the Batphone beeps, and we hear Commissioner Gordon’s voice (although it’s not Neil Hamilton) pleading as always for help (must be a jaywalker on the loose).
Standing ready at the Batpoles, Bruce and Dick respond (and it IS the voices of Adam West and Burt Ward), and as the theme song begins, the bookcase closes, and below a door opens to the Batcave, revealing the Dynamic Duo at the poles in their fighting togs, as the Batcomputer’s lights flash. We hear the Batmobile roar out, and the whole thing resets to play again. The $60 price is a bit hefty, but I can attest that in person, this thing is as charming as it sounds.
12. Kenner Batman Forever (1995). Certainly the largest Batcave playset to date, the Batman Forever version matches the aesthetics from the Joel Schumacher films. Play features either mimic or evoke some of the set pieces in the movie, such as the transforming elevator for Bruce Wayne, the rotating turntable for the Batmobile, hanging Batwing docking station, and the “villain trapping spikes” (which Two-Face met his end on elsewhere at the film’s climax). Despite this, the massive, sprawling set seems more like separate stations connected with a few bridge pieces than a cohesive environment. Give me the older Kenner Batcave Command Center any day. Also much easier to store and display!
11. Fisher-Price Imaginext DC Super Friends (2008). Fisher-Price has released many, MANY Batcave playsets in their Imaginext line over the last decade and a half. Each year they seem to top the previous year’s effort. But I will always have a soft spot for their original Batcave, first released in 2008. It featured five activation points that cause various special features to work, such as an elevator, draw bridge, firing grappling hook, and secret entrance. The set came with Batman, Robin and a Batcycle, and was emblazoned with the Bat-symbol on the outside. Not exactly conducive to a secret headquarters, but hey, this is for little kids! The reason this one holds a special place in my heart is that both of my kids played with this one for years and years, and we had a lot of fun together with this and all the Imaginext DC Super Friends toys.
10. McFarlane Toys Batman Classic TV Series (2021). Like most fans, I was surprised when McFarlane announced a range of Batman ’66 product earlier this year. I figured that Batboat had mostly sailed when Mattel got out of the Bat-game. But McFarlane created something Mattel never did in their TV series-inspired line: the Batcave.
Affordably priced at $30, this Batcave is not entirely show accurate with its colors and presentation, but it FEELS like the Batcave from the series. The all-important atomic pile is front and center, and there are even plenty of railings and a ladder. The Batcave’s famous, intricately labeled equipment is also on hand, and you can arrange it how you like. They even threw in Batpoles, although they are, like much of the playset, quite flimsy. I doubt it would stand up to much play, but the set makes for a fun display with the 6-inch figures from McFarlane OR Mattel. That said, the scale of everything seems to better fit the 3.75-inch Funko Batman figures from a few years back, or perhaps the upcoming Mezco 5 Points figures of the same size. What charms me most about this set is the nostalgic, toyetic feel it gives off. Many elements of this set (the yellow plastic railings, bright colors, etc.) feel like playsets of old. Surprising, coming from the usually dark and edgy McFarlane Toys.
9. Mego Pocket Super Heroes (1979). The Batcave proved so popular Mego produced it twice! In addition to the legendary 8-inch-scale version, Mego also created a playset for their 3.75-inch Pocket Super Heroes line. At first glance this Batcave looks like a serious upgrade into the more modern techniques introduced into playsets in the 1980s. But alas, it’s a minor step, as this set is made from vacuuform, and not solid plastic. This makes the toy somewhat fragile and prone to cracking.
That doesn’t take away from the nice design, which includes a working jail cell, a Batpole, an entrance for the Pocket Super Heroes Batmobile, and a “crime laboratory” with two seats. The included chairs, and overall design of the playset are shared with Mego’s concurrent Enterprise Bridge playset from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Lower production numbers and the fragile nature of the plastic make this Batcave quite scarce. I’ve been after one for over 40 years!
8. Toy Biz Batman (1989). Fledgling Toy Biz acquired the master action-figure license for Batman during the fateful year of 1989, and needless to say, the results were mixed. I think most can agree however, the original vehicles and playset were more successful than their reheated Super Powers-based figure offerings. The Batcave is the jewel of the line, taking Anton Furst’s industrial-meets-earthy design and casting it in bright grays, blues and reds. Features like rotating computer screens, a trap door, bottomless pit, elevator and footholds to hang from add to the fun. The set still makes for a great display piece to this day, even if placing a moveable boulder above your workstation is NEVER a good idea.
7. DC Collectibles Batman: The Animated Series (2017). The Batman: The Animated Series line from DC Collectibles is incredibly overlooked in a lot of ways, even by myself. Despite owning quite a few figures, and the Batmobile, I sometimes take for granted this line existed. And now that DC Collectibles/DC Direct is no more, that saddens me.
Aside from the massive Batwing they made, the other huge focal point for this line is their impressive Batcave. This painstakingly show accurate set depicts the center of the BTAS HQ, the Batcomputer, in all its industrial red glory. There are working lights, other sundry pieces of equipment, and swappable decals to change what case Batman is on. The decals are apparently the only ding with this set, as the initial release featured versions that did not cling to the monitor screens, and replacements had to be issued. Along with a printed backdrop to complete the scene, you get an exclusive figure of Alfred Pennyworth, complete with serving tray, feather duster, and that droll stare he would often cut Master Bruce. You can almost hear Efrem Zimbalist’s dripping, sardonic tones.
6. Mego World’s Greatest Super-Heroes Wayne Foundation (1977). The success of Mego’s Batman sub-line led to this large, deluxe playset, one of the last new offerings in the 8-inch World’s Greatest Super-Heroes series. In the comics, Batman had just opened a new Batcave under the Wayne Foundation building, so the synergy here is quite impressive. In print, Bruce kept his nocturnal activities underground, whereas Mego decided to make his new HQ take up four floors!
This is essentially Mego copying Barbie’s Dreamhouse, complete with working elevator. But the accessories and graphics, provided by none other than Neal Adams and his Continuity Associates studio, make up for it. The classic trophies of the robot T-Rex and giant penny are there. Even a statue of Bat-Mite can be seen! Computer monitors tease Megos that never were, from Lex Luthor to… Gold of the Metal Men? I have long coveted this playset, but it’s quite rare, and very pricey, especially when it’s complete. It’s an impressive monster of a display piece that would have been higher on the list if not for its rather non-cavernous design.
5. Ideal Justice League of America/Batman (1966). The very first toy ever produced of the Batcave was made by master Batman licensee Ideal in THE year of Batmania, 1966. This vinyl-covered cardboard carry case, complete with handle, was designed for the 3-inch figurines released in the Justice League of America line, and it’s Batman sub-line. The front depicts Batman swinging down in front of the Batcave, while Robin rockets out of the secret entrance in the Batmobile. Inside we see the atomic pile from the 1966 series, so this one is pretty authentic to the time.
There are a few other pieces of vacuuform Bat-equipment and a non-rolling Batmobile, so you may want to swap in the full version Ideal sold elsewhere, to take it out of the hidden exit. Oddly enough this same playset was redressed as “The Action Cave” the next year for Ideal’s Captain Action line.
4. Factory Entertainment Desktop Sculpture, 1:50 Scale (2018). Looking as if someone time traveled to the actual set of the 1966 Batman TV series and used some Pym Particles on it, the Factory Entertainment Batcave is the final word in show accuracy. Everything looks dead-on, only smaller. The materials, the lighting, the paints all ring true. The Atomic Pile features pulsating colored lights, the various movable monitors and computers flash, and the Batmobile turntable rotates by hand. Outside of the cave exit stands the famous “Gotham City 14 Miles” sign. The only thing missing is our heroes and that iconic Batmobile, but scaled models can be found elsewhere.
Not really a toy, but more of a work of art, this impressive set comes at an impressive price. But with this level of accuracy, you can see why. I know 13th Dimension’s own Dan Greenfield is a proud owner of this, and were it not for budget constraints and space to display it, I would be too! (Dan adds: Everything Chris says is on the money and it appears that Factory Entertainment will be re-releasing it in 2022 at $899.99. Full disclosure: I was a proud consultant on the project.)
3. Lego Batman Classic TV Series (2016). Lego has been making various Batcave playsets since acquiring the Batman license in 2006, but by far their best effort was the version based on the classic TV series. The massive 2,526-piece set contains everything you need for derring-do adventures, including the Batmobile, Batcycle and Batcopter, as well as mini figures of Batman, Robin, Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, Alfred, Joker, Penguin, Riddler and Catwoman. The structure depicts a section of Wayne Manor on the outside, and Bruce’s study on the inside, complete with Batphone and Shakespeare bust. A sliding bookcase reveals the Batpoles. Beneath the study, working poles allow the Dynamic Duo to descend into the cavern itself.
The set comes equipped with atomic pile, and various computer and lab components. There’s an entrance/exit for the Batmobile, with the top working as a landing pad for the Batcopter. My kids and I spent several weeks slowly assembling this set, so we could enjoy the process. It helped lead to my daughter becoming completely Lego-obsessed!
2. Kenner Batman Returns Batcave Command Center (1992). For a generation of kids (and collectors) this is THE toy Batcave. Originally shown in catalogs for Kenner’s Dark Knight Collection line (which appeared in 1990 after Kenner won back the toy rights from Toy Biz), the Batcave didn’t go into production until 1992 with Batman Returns. The piece includes three play environments: a façade of the front of Wayne Manor, complete with breakaway skylight (in case Batman forgets his keys, I guess?); a villains hideout (that looks a lot like Axis Chemical) with a trap door and a vat to dump someone in, if you’re out to make a new arch-enemy; and most impressively, the Batcave itself, with computer monitor bank and chair, double doors (one for the Batcave, one for entering the secret chambers, through a grandfather clock no less!) and most impressively, a quick-change chamber/costume vault to transform Bruce to Batman.
Not only did Kenner (and later Hasbro when they acquired the company) release multiple versions of this playset in various colors over the remainder of the decade, (including a Batman: The Animated Series version), Mattel acquired the molds and sold it themselves when they took over the Batman license in the early 2000s!
1. Mego World’s Greatest Super Heroes (1974). Perhaps the most widely produced and popular Batcave ever made was the Mego Batcave, produced for its 8-inch World’s Greatest Super-Heroes series. The first version ever produced to work with movable action figures, the Mego Batcave utilized the then-industry standard of vinyl covered cardboard, much like Ideal’s earlier version. But Mego was more inventive, and created a playset that opened up into a 3D environment, complete with Batpole (just one, so let’s hope Bruce and Dick don’t get their costumes mixed up!), cardstock Batcomputer, floor mat, and working Batsignal! The secret exit flipped down, so the Batmobile could roar out, just like on TV.
There are some nice hidden gems in the printing of the cave, such as the hotline phone and image of the Joker on the monitor of the Batcomputer, and the Batboat sitting in a moor behind the Batpole. Mego used this same design for playsets in their Action Jackson and Planet of the Apes figure lines, but the Batcave is far more iconic, and is universally recognized as the most popular playset Mego ever produced. The centerpiece of Mego’s incredibly successful sub-line of Batman figures and vehicles, millions of afternoon adventures started and ended here.
— The Complete TOYHEM INDEX of Stories and Features. Click here.
— THE MEGO BATCAVE AND ME: A Chanukah Story. Click here.
Chris Franklin co-hosts several shows on the Fire and Water Podcast Network, including Superman Movie Minute (with Rob Kelly), and Super Mates and JLUCast (with his wife Cindy), the latter two he also produces. He also contributed essays to Jim Beard’s Subterranean Blue Grotto Essays on Batman ’66 – Seasons One and Two.