An ANNIVERSARY SALUTE to the ground-breaking TV show…


On Sept. 5, 1992, the BEST iteration of the Batman mythos first flashed across the screen. Batman: The Animated Series took afternoon “cartoons” and made them art, through stunning visuals, sophisticated storytelling, cinema-worthy music, and compelling acting. The game was officially changed, with every subsequent comic-to-media project measured against its greatness. It begat an entire universe (the DC Animated Universe, or DCAU), continuing the same level of quality for another decade and a half. What Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski, Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Andrea Romano, Shirley Walker, Jean MacCurdy and the talented crew at Warner Bros. Animation gave us still stands up today. The gold standard for comic adaptations to the screen, animated or otherwise. The show appealed to kids for colorful characters and action, but teens and adults picked up on the more mature subject matter… not unlike a previous Batman TV series from 25 years or so prior.

But it was indeed an afternoon “cartoon” too, and as such… there were toys. Toys ostensibly aimed at kids, but also instantly appealing to adult collectors who couldn’t get enough of the Dark Knight in the wake of 1989’s Batman live-action film. Cincinnati-based toy giant Kenner, who a decade earlier had produced the legendary Super Powers Collection of DC-inspired toys, wrestled the Batman action figure license away from fledgling Toy Biz after that initial wave of Batmania. They began producing figures based on the first film for The Dark Knight Collection, featuring the likeness of Michael Keaton, and had then segued into the sequel film Batman Returns. Aside from some beautiful work on those lines, Kenner had found its formula: release as many Batman figures as possible. Change the color of his suit, and throw in a new accessory gizmo, and name him “Tec-Shield Batman” or something like that.

Now focusing on Batman: The Animated Series, Kenner would continue in that vein, but unlike the films, they had a whole gallery of supporting heroes and villains to work from, not just Batman and one or two flashy opponents. As a teenage collector when the line first hit, I bemoaned all the rainbow Batmen that I felt were clogging the shelves, but at least I could walk into a local Walmart and find Two-Face and the Riddler. While their business model may have been somewhat suspect, one couldn’t argue about the quality of Kenner’s BTAS product. For the most part, the figures looked like they stepped right off the screen, brilliantly capturing the design aesthetic set forth by Bruce Timm. Even the matte finish of the earlier figures seemed to evoke that cel animation feel, and the Dark Deco paints Eric Radomski applied to the black backgrounds.

All of the fabulous photography you’re about to see is by Chris Franklin. Don’t be a jerk and steal it. Thanks! — Dan

The TV series evolved, first with a subtle, network-mandated name change to The Adventures of Batman and Robin, and then, a few years and a new network later, The New Batman Adventures, with a near total visual reboot. Kenner was there through it all, and by the time they had been absorbed by their one-time rival Hasbro and had given up the license to Mattel at the start of the new millennium, they had ultimately served the series well, giving us at least one figure of just about every major hero, supporting player, and villain. What follows are my personal favorites, based mostly on how Kenner captured the essence of the character, the style of the show, and sometimes, the fun play value they also managed to work in. Like the series that inspired them, the figures worked on two levels: fun for kids, entrancing for adults.


Honorable Mention: Retro Batman (Batman: Mask of the Phantasm)


A curious inclusion in the Mask of the Phantasm line, because we only see this costume in silhouette in the film. But we HAD seen Batman’s early costume in flashbacks in episodes such as my personal favorite “Robin’s Reckoning, Part 1.” While this costume is meant to be Batman’s earliest look, it also points to what he will look like in future DCAU productions from Timm and company. The lack of the yellow oval and pouch belt point toward The New Batman Adventures redesign, and the longer ears will be added to that look in Justice League. Kenner did a great job capturing that combination of Batman’s actual Golden Age look, and David Mazzucchelli’s Year One design. Slight ding and omission from the actual list for going with a metallic blue/gray on the body suit. But his action feature is pretty cool, allowing him to swing the included Bat-bo staff around via a wheel in his back.

13. Undercover Bruce Wayne (The New Batman Adventures)


Kenner had released a few Bruce Wayne/Batman figures before this. The first one is really neat, with snap-on Batman armor that looks somewhat like the design from Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns. The second originated in The Mask of the Phantasm line. It’s fine, but pales compared to the other two. My personal favorite came from The New Batman Adventures era. The figure was essentially a pretty standard Bruce Wayne based on the new, sleeker TNBA design that Timm conceived. Take off the outer trench coat covering and reveal a Batman suit beneath. Pop on the cape and cowl and the two huge gauntlets and you have an instant Batman variant. The initial release on the single TNBA card gave Bruce a red trench coat and Batman shirt. Not entirely inaccurate, since Batman’s bodysuit was red for many years in some foreign markets. The second version, now with orange coat and shirt came from the hodge-podge repaint line released for Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. Third times the charm, as Bruce got a more appropriate gray coat and shirt in one of the many Kenner/Hasbro reissue box sets “Puppets of Crime,” which featured the first action figures of the Ventriloquist and Scarface. They weren’t all that great, but this figure of Bruce gives us a pretty classic-looking, civilian version of the billionaire playboy. We rarely get standard Bruce Waynes like this, even in today’s collector’s market.

12. Commissioner Gordon (TNBA)

It took nearly 60 years (!), but Jim Gordon FINALLY received his first action figure in 1998 in The New Batman Adventures 5-pack box set “Gotham Enforcement Team.” This was the older, thinner, Jim Gordon of the reboot. Gone was his Dairy Queen swirl hairdo and beefy build, and instead he had a crewcut, and appeared gaunt and somewhat withered. I often wondered if Jim had suffered a heart attack, a stroke, or some other ailment in the “Lost Years” between the two series. The figure captures this look, and despite the mileage, the determination and strength of character Gordon still has. It’s slightly disappointing that they didn’t include his signature trench coat, but the rolled-up sleeves and shoulder holster (with sculpted in pistol) give him a bit of noirish grit. The oversized pistols packed with Gordon are nothing short of ridiculous, and reuses of earlier Joker weapons, which suit the Crime Clown, but not Jim Gordon! Oddly enough, this box set also gave us one of the most accurate animated figures of Gordon’s daughter Batgirl, but it was still off-model. Kenner initially flubbed their accurate BTAS sculpt with a random variant paint job as “Wind Blitz Batgirl.” Subsequent repaints hued closer to her TNBA black and yellow color scheme, but never gave us a new sculpt to match the reboot style. The only reason Batgirl isn’t on this list, is they never released a screen accurate version of either iteration.

11. The Joker (The Adventures of Batman and Robin)


Released in the same series as the first Harley Quinn figure, this second Joker sculpt is in my opinion slightly superior to the original version released in the second wave of the BTAS figures. While that first Joker is depicted in his iconic purple tux, this sculpt gives us the Clown Prince of Crime in his stylish trench coat and flat-brimmed hat, as seen in such episodes as “Joker’s Favor.” The look is far more sinister and intimidating, and screams “gangster” on top of “psychopath.” The Joker wore similar outerwear back in the ’40s, but Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin brought it back to prominence during their legendary Detective Comics run with Steve Englehart. And of course, Jack Nicholson sported a similar look in the ’89 Batman film as well. Kenner masterfully represented Joker’s sick sartorial style. His screen-accurate accessories of a branded bomb and tommy gun just helped to convey that this Joker figure was nothing to laugh at, despite Mark Hamill’s often honestly hilarious, other times frightening, performance.

10. Crime Solver Nightwing/Crime Fighter Robin (The New Batman Adventures)


Yes, I’m cheating by making this a twofer. It’s my list. But I have a reason. The first version of Robin SHOULD have made this list. But one of Kenner’s only misfires in the early days of the line was reusing the body mold of the just-released Robin figure from their Batman Returns line. No, Robin WASN’T in the Batman Returns film, but he was supposed to be. Damon Wayons was hired to play him, but he was dropped from the movie late in the game, too late for Kenner to scrap the figure they designed. Based on the new Robin costume designed by Neal Adams and picked by Tim Burton for DC Comics’ latest Boy Wonder, Tim Drake, and for future movie usage. The figure featured more realistic musculature and extensive costume detailing, so despite it being cast in the proper animated colors, it stuck out like a sore thumb among the line, even with a proper animated style head attached. BTAS depicted Robin as a college-era Dick Grayson, but he shouldn’t be more cut than Batman! Despite my complaints, I was still thrilled to get Dick Grayson voice actor Loren Lester to sign my carded copy at a convention a few years ago.

By the time the TNBA era was upon us, the creative team jumped the story ahead a few years. Dick had ended his partnership with Batman (as detailed in the excellent episode “Old Wounds”) and taken the fan-favorite identity of Nightwing. Timm and designer/producer Glen Murakimi took the most recent Nightwing suit from the comics (pretty much what he still wears today) and streamlined it further, taking the “V” shape on his chest and elaborating on the bird motif. It’s a stunning visual and gives Dick an almost ninja-like quality (oddly enough Kenner had made a pretty cool “Ninja Robin” figure a few years prior). Kenner’s figure evoked the simple but elegant details of the look… including the infamous mullet, that even Timm now bemoans. Oh, the accessories are pretty out there, with the line trying for a detective/decoder gimmick, but at least they gave him some flying wings, since the figure didn’t include his underarm gliders. It was one of the earliest Nightwing figures, and I was happy to have it.

With Dick off as Nightwing, Batman needed a new Robin, and so the DCAU version of Tim Drake was born. Origin-wise, he was equal parts Tim and in-between Robin Jason Todd, but the animated Tim had a youthful exuberance both of those usually lacked, energetically voiced by Matthew Valencia. Again, Timm and Murakimi took the Adams design they had used prior and stripped it down to its bare essentials. The greens were gone, and now Robin stood in stark red and black, with a hint of yellow. Kenner again nailed the design, and the new rubber cape was a nice touch, and made the whole thing seem more on model in some ways. His accessory was a pretty large “Redwing Skyfighter” he could ride, making up for the smaller figure. Hey, at least Kenner was concerned about their value proposition, and fans finally got a screen accurate Boy Wonder.

9. Harley Quinn (The Adventures of Batman and Robin)


Since she’s now become a cottage industry, it’s hard to imagine a world without a Harley Quinn action figure, but that was the case until she appeared in The Adventures of Batman and Robin line in early 1997. Fans had clamored for her addition to the line after her debut in Paul Dini’s “Joker’s Favor” and subsequent appearances made her the breakout star of the series, due to her screwball antics and the late, great Arlen Sorkin’s endearing performance. Writer and co-creator Paul Dini based Harley on his friend Sorkin, who had once worn a jester’s costume in a dream sequence on Days of Our Lives. But BTAS’ best-loved original creation had to wait to make it into Kenner plastic. The wait was worth it. The sloe-eyed side glance and bell-to-bell smile Kenner gave the head sculpt shows both Harley’s inherent sexiness and playful demeanor, and also a bit of just how unhinged she can be. Is she going to make a pass at you, or blast you in the face with her oversized boxing glove cannon? The body sculpt is petite but curvy, and the paints on her intricate costume pattern are clean and precise, following Timm’s original design. She also comes with an oversized “BANG” flag gun, which just adds to the fun. Harley was short packed in cases, and initially hard to find. I remember being so excited when I found her in a store, I literally skipped over a few aisles to find my newlywed wife, beaming with a grin not unlike Harley’s here.

8. Scarecrow (BTAS)


Perhaps the most sinister looking figure in the line, Kenner’s Scarecrow is based on the second design of the character, which debuted in “Fear of Victory” after the early bag-on-head look just didn’t work. The madness and arrogant intelligence of Henry Polic II’s performance comes through in the face sculpt here. The slightly elongated and misshapen arms really evoke a scarecrow, and then there’s a crow accessory that you can snap on his arm to hammer that home. But the real thriller isn’t even the rather lethal looking “Thrashing Sickle” which you can have him spin around with a flick of the wheel in his back. No, it’s those haunting red light pipe eyes, similar to Kenner’s Darkseid figure from their Super Powers series! Shine a light thru the red lens in the top of his hat, and Scarecrow’s eyes glow with a menacingly hellish stare. Gaze at him too long, and you may think you’ve been exposed to fear toxin!

7. Poison Ivy (BTAS)


Bruce Timm famously struggled with his design for Poison Ivy. Artist Lynne Naylor ultimately created the finished BTAS design and helped Timm crack the code on how to draw females in his animated style. Kenner’s Poison Ivy figure (the character’s first ever) brilliantly captures Naylor’s design. Pamela Isley here exudes confidence and beauty, but there’s obviously something thorny about this rose! The figure is pre-posed in a way, and with her hand on her slightly cocked hip, you can hear actress Diane Pershing’s sultry, but slightly unhinged voice. Ivy comes with a version of the crossbow she used on the series, as well as a rather monstrous “Snapping Venus Flytrap” that can quite effectively put the bite on your Batman figures!

6. Insect Body Mr. Freeze (The New Batman Adventures Mission Masters)


By far the most horrific figure in the entire animated range, Insect Body Mr. Freeze looks like something that could have crawled out of a Cronenberg film, or John Carpenter’s The Thing. It’s also one of the most accurate figures as well. In TNBA episode “Cold Comfort,” Freeze returns with a colder, less humane attitude than ever before. Turns out it’s with good reason. His deteriorating medical condition has left him nothing more than a head in a jar… who sometimes crawls around with robot spider limbs. It’s a shocking reveal, and this figure is a perfect three-dimensional representation. In addition to the screen-accurate freeze gun, the figure’s head separates from the body, and can be placed on the enclosed robot legs. It’s just as disturbing as it sounds, but man, it sure is cool (pun intended) and no doubt was nightmare fuel for a lot of kids who were gifted this twisted little toy!

5. Phantasm (Batman: Mask of the Phantasm)


At one time the rarest and priciest figure in the Animated range, Phantasm caused quite a bit of controversy upon release. If you were lucky enough to find this figure BEFORE you saw the best Batman film ever (don’t argue with me), Mask of the Phantasm in its short theatrical window… well, you just had the movie spoiled for you. If you are reading this article, I assume you know that secret of the film: The titular Phantasm who is murdering Gotham’s top gangsters is none other than Bruce Wayne’s lost love Andrea Beaumont (voiced by Dana Delaney), and NOT her father (voiced by Stacey Keach, who also voiced the Phantasm in costume), whom Batman initially suspects. The figure comes with a removable hood, mask and cloak, BUT Kenner packaged her with the mask OFF, thus ruining the twist ending! Despite all of this, it’s a wonderful figure, capturing the creepy design Timm and crew came up with (no doubt influenced by Alan Davis’ Reaper from the comics’ Batman: Year Two storyline). The extra gas gun included works with the character’s MO, and that signature blade is HUGE and adds some real danger to the quite intimidating look.

4. Two-Face (BTAS) / Two-Face (TNBA)

A two-for-one! And of course, it’s totally appropriate for Harvey Dent to be beside himself. BTAS wisely introduced viewers to District Attorney Harvey Dent in the earliest episodes. By making him a friend of Bruce Wayne, instead of an ally of Batman’s, it humanized both characters. So, his fall from grace in Alan Burnett’s and Randy Rogel’s  beautifully tragic “Two-Face” two-parter (naturally) was all the more poignant, given voice by Richard Moll, who brought melodramatic angst to the role. Kenner’s work evokes the tragedy in the unscarred side of Harvey’s face, based on Golden Age Hollywood character actor Ralph Bellamy. But they didn’t slouch on the side of “Big Bad Harv” either, capturing the distorted and lesion-covered face Timm had given him. Two-Face’s lucky coin is represented by an easily lost medallion, and his double-barreled roulette wheel gun is pretty goofy, but the figure’s sculpt is solid and the blueish white / jet black two-toned suit make for a compelling image.

Fast-forward to the TNBA era, and the sad confusion captured in the original figure’s face has been replaced by a grim and twisted visage. There seems to be no remorse in this Two-Face, now lost to his madness. With his slicked-back hair on one side, and tussled bangs on the other, Harvey seems truly gone here. His intense eye with wild black eyebrows and snarled black lips hammers the anguish home. This Two-Face was only available in a 2-pack (naturally) with a pretty nice variant of the TNBA Batman. He came with a show-accurate tommy gun, a Houdini-like straight jacket, and the front gate sign to Arkham Asylum. If that didn’t sell how far-gone poor Harvey was, nothing did.

3. Man-Bat (BTAS)


If you told 3-year-old me, listening to his Power Records album with the audio adventure “Robin Meets Man-Bat” that we’d ever see Kirk Langstrom on TV, AND get an action figure of him, I’d say you were nuts. But Man-Bat was the very first villain on BTAS’ pilot episode “On Leather Wings.” Sure, Fox botched that perfect debut by showing one of the weakest early episodes “The Cat and The Claw, Part 1” as a sneak preview the Saturday prior, but let’s just forget that. Based on some design concepts by comic artist Kevin Nowlan, Kirk Langstrom’s nocturnal alter-ego was depicted as an actual MONSTER. This guy isn’t going to become Batman’s pal and get his private-eye license! Kenner perfectly encapsulated the design, breaking the figure format by giving him greater articulation at the elbows, shoulders and neck. He also has one of the best action features of the line; push the button on his back and he flaps his massive wings! The inhuman look of the character is kind of unsettling if you think about it. The torn pants are the only reminder that this was once Kirk Langstrom, and Kenner sells that, especially through the vacant yellow eyes. Use the included tow cable to take your Batman figure on a perilous night flight, just like in that classic first episode!

2. Mr. Freeze (BTAS)


The featured villain of arguably the greatest episode of the series, Paul Dini’s “Heart of Ice,” the tragic reinterpretation of Mr. Freeze also best represents the Art Deco, timeless aesthetic of the series set forth by Timm. But Timm didn’t design Mr. Freeze. Instead, he was conceived by comics maestro Mike Mignola, of Hellboy fame. Kenner’s take on that design is sublime. Sure, the water-squirting accessory and oversized freeze gun isn’t show accurate, but it still fits the character either way. From the circular buckle and coiled ribbing on his suit, to the slight wrinkling on this boots, the nuanced design elements are all there. But the real kicker is the clear, slightly frosted helmet, and the cold, determined face with the red blazing goggles beneath. You can almost hear Michael Ansara’s deep, mechanical tones just looking at it. This is Kenner at the top of their game, and their game was always the best in the business.

1. Combat Belt Batman (BTAS)


If you can only own ONE figure from this line, this is the one to get. This is the standard Batman figure that looks exactly as he appeared in the first two iterations of the series. Even his accessories make sense, if the upgraded utility belt and grapple launcher are a bit oversized. The cape is exactly what Kenner had been doing since the Super Powers line, but it works, and it allows you to drape it over the figure’s shoulders, as often seen on the series. But what a great sculpt! The barrel chest and broad shoulders, swept back ears and shorter legs are Timm’s instantly iconic design in 3D form. I was lucky enough to get my carded figure signed by THE Batman himself, Kevin Conroy, back in 2018, and of course I now cherish it more than ever. Repaints and resculpts of this first figure abounded, but this is the basis for the entire line, and its foundation is as solid as Batman’s granite jaw.



— Comics Creators Pick Favorite BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES Episodes. Click here.

13th Dimension contributor Chris Franklin is a graphic designer, illustrator, writer, and podcaster, who co-hosts and produces several shows on the Fire and Water Podcast Network, including Super Mates, which will soon launch their 10th annual House of Franklin-Stein series, and JLUCast, discussing Justice League Unlimited in particular, and the DCAU in general. He regrets nothing about happily skipping down toy aisles after a great find.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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