Collect ’em all! Or at least these 13…
McFarlane Toys’ new Super Powers line has had fans buzzing this summer and it got me to thinking of the best of the original 1980s Kenner run.
So I enlisted toys supermaven and pal Chris Franklin, a 13th Dimension contributor, to bring us an impregnable TOP 13 ranking.
Dude’s daring so he took on the challenge.
By CHRIS FRANKLIN
When Dan asked me to put this list together, I didn’t hesitate. Despite my love for Mego’s World’s Greatest Super Heroes, I feel Kenner’s Super Powers Collection is the greatest DC Comics-based toy line of all time.
Part of it is the exquisite craftsmanship that Kenner put into the series. The detailed sculpting and fidelity to the source material blew most toy lines out of the water in the ’80s, and it still holds up today. The figures looked like they leaped right from the pages of DC’s then-new style guide, drawn by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez (Praised Be His Name) and inked by Dick Giordano.
Heck, the line is so fondly remembered McFarlane Toys has revived the branding, scale and style for their new Super Powers line of figures, while other collector lines like Boss Fight Studios’ Power Stars, are a tribute to the format.
Another reason is that, in this fan’s opinion, Super Powers captured that last gasp of the Bronze Age before sweeping changes to both the publisher’s fictional universe, and the comic industry itself, changed the characters forever. Now, you can argue whether that was for good or ill, but the Super Powers line is a time capsule of the version of the DC Universe that many of us still consider our fantasy home-away-from-home.
But that made it EXTREMELY difficult to whittle this list down to 13 choices! With only 34 figures in the line, what is it that makes the TOP 13 stand out? Is it the sculpting? Is it the “Power Action Feature”? Their importance to the Super Powers franchise? The significance the figure’s inclusion had on that character moving forward? It’s all these things.
What WASN’T hard to do was figuring out what to do with the visuals for the article. Thanks to us both frequenting the Mego Museum, I was aware of some stunning images of the Super Powers figures from Super-Photographer Dwayne Pinkney. I reached out to Dwayne, and he graciously agreed to allow me to share the photos with 13th Dimension’s readers. He even created a couple new masterpieces to accompany this article! Thank you, Dwayne, your Power Action Feature is the most impressive of all!
Please understand, if your favorite isn’t on this list, it probably was at one time. Even some of my favorites got left off (like Dr. Fate) because I felt other figures were just more “important” to the line. If you don’t like my list, well, make your own. Like the Super Powers commercials used to say, “YOU DECIDE!!!”
13. Darkseid. Die-hard fans of the line may say “What, the pegwarmer?” Yes, it’s true; Darkseid figures lingered on the shelves in many toy aisles for years after the line was discontinued. But that was due more to him being packed in his own case due to his large size and card back, than a lack of popularity.
You could argue that Kenner dipped too deep into the Fourth World well, robbing us of the chance at figures like the Riddler, Bizarro and Captain Cold. But it was the ’80s, and a toy line (and tie-in cartoon) needed a central bad guy. Transformers had Megatron, G.I. Joe had Cobra, He-Man had Skeletor, and Super Powers had Darkseid. Jack Kirby got to redesign his creations and get royalties from them because of it. All of those redesigns make for great toys, so Darkseid is representing his entourage of evil here. I particularly love the Mantis figure.
But most importantly, the Super Powers franchise established Darkseid as THE Big Bad of the DCU, especially for media outside the comics. While the DCEU is divisive, the DCAU is almost universally loved, and ultimately Darkseid, and his rivalry with Superman played a huge part in that saga. And it all started here, with this large (but not insanely so) figure with TWO features: “Power Action Raging Motion” and “Power Action Omega Beam” eyes. Can’t you just hear Frank Welker’s gravelly portrayal when you look at him?
12. Firestorm. Firestorm proved that Kenner wasn’t just going for “your father’s superheroes”. The Nuclear Man was only seven years old by the time his figure hit the pegs, and at the time was the star of one of DC’s top-selling titles. He added a much-needed youthful perspective to Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show, proving to Hanna-Barbera, at last, that you don’t need to manufacture kid sidekicks for every cartoon. With his flaming hair and “Power Action Atomic Punch,” Ronnie Raymond (or as his SP file card says ROBBIE Raymond) cut a fun, impressive figure. Too bad they didn’t pack in a floating translucent Martin Stein head!
11. The Flash. The Scarlet Speedster had a static figure made in the Ideal Justice League of America line in 1966, but amazingly had never had an action figure until Kenner chose him for the Super Powers line. The folks at Kenner gave the Flash a lean, smaller, runner’s body, and that makes total sense, especially since Who’s Who tells us Barry Allen was 5’11’, a bit shorter than many of his JLA peers.
His “Power Action Lightning Legs” created the illusion of running, and thankfully the Super Powers figures had knee articulation, because if not, he’d look pretty silly! While Barry is sculpted smiling as in most of his Silver Age adventures, his contemporary comics had him embroiled in a never-ending murder trial. He briefly found happiness in the far future before sacrificing his life a year later in Crisis on Infinite Earths. So, if you bought this figure later in the run of the series, you had yourself somewhat of a memorial to a fallen, but not forgotten hero.
10. Lex Luthor. Superman’s arch-nemesis got a serious upgrade in Action Comics #544 (June 1983) via his George Perez-designed Power Armor. But that redesign was really done for the Super Powers line! Now Lex could rival Superman physically AND mentally, and that basic suit design has proven to be extremely popular.
Despite Lex being re-envisioned as a ruthless corporate tycoon in the post-Crisis era, the Power Armor has come back again and again, in the comics and other media. The figure itself has a nifty bit that most of the line doesn’t have. Remove Lex’s chest plate and his “Power Action Nuclear Punch” doesn’t work anymore! You could also plug Lex’s armor directly into his Lex-Soar 7 vehicle. The Joker didn’t even get his own ride in this line!
Luthor’s ally/rival Brainiac was redesigned by Ed Hannigan for the Super Powers line as well, also debuting in Action Comics #544. The new, all-robotic Brainiac was a truly frightening looking menace and action figure, but this version of Lex has had more staying power.
9. Batman. This is 13th Dimension, so if I didn’t include the Caped Crusader, I’m sure Dan would fire me on the spot. All kidding aside, I love this Batman figure, even if I do have a rare nitpick for this line; I think his very square lower jaw sticks out just a BIT too much.
But despite that minor quibble, this is a great, Bronze Age Darknight Detective Batman, just a few years before Frank Miller, Tim Burton and a legion of creators would change the way the character was presented forever.
Batman is grim and determined but not unhinged at all here. Which is good because although Superman was still front and center for this line, Batman provided much of the backbone, with his sidekick Robin, and three villains from his rogues gallery (Joker, Penguin, and a redesigned Mr. Freeze). He also got two vehicles; the very cool Batcopter, and the greatest toy of the Batmobile ever made (don’t argue with me).
His “Power Action Bat Punch” wasn’t the most creative in the line, but Batman was still known to punch his way out of many a fight thanks to reruns of the ’60s TV series still in syndication. The basic body sculpt was reused by Kenner 6 years later for their Dark Knight Collection movie line.
8. Aquaman. The Swift and Powerful Monarch of the Ocean had been well represented in figure form before, but the Super Powers version instantly became the (ahem) high-water mark. Perfectly capturing Garcia-Lopez’s take on the character with wavy, swept back hair, Arthur Curry looks like he just came back from a great swim.
The detailing on his scales was a great textural touch, as was the sharp fins on his calf muscles. His orange and green colors just really pop on this figure. The inclusion of his golden trident no doubt helped to make that accessory a constant companion in further toy and media interpretations. His “Power Action Deep Sea Kick” was a perfect feature for the King of the Seven Seas.
7. Hawkman. Visually one of the most striking figures in the line, the first-ever action figure of Hawkman was also an engineering feat for the folks at Kenner. The “Power Action Flight Wings” are a very effective feature for play but they look great just standing on a shelf too. The Silver/Bronze Age Katar Hol wasn’t nearly as savage as later iterations, but packed with his mace, Kenner’s Winged Wonder seemed like the kind of guy who wouldn’t mince words and tolerate a lot of nonsense. If I were Green Arrow, I wouldn’t try to antagonize him too much!
6. Wonder Woman. The Amazing Amazon is unfortunately the only female character in the line. Her appearance in the first series seemed like a good sign we’d see Batgirl, Supergirl and Catwoman, but it wasn’t to be. But thankfully Kenner did right by Princess Diana, and created the nicest action figure of her up to that point, and maybe of all time!
Diana looks strong but beautiful, just as she should. This was the first figure to replace her eagle emblem with her “WW” chest plate, after the 1982 change in the comics. Wonder Woman comes with her magic lasso (a thin piece of gold cord) and one of the line’s best features, “Power Action Deflector Bracelets,” allowing you to instantly recreate one of the character’s most iconic moves.
5. Robin. I made this the No. 2 figure on my list of TOP 13 ROBIN ACTION FIGURES EVER here at 13D, so of course I was going to put this one pretty high up in this article. Kenner perfectly captured the maturing, but still boyish, charm of a college-age Dick Grayson. He’s smaller than most of the line, but by no means a “Boy” Wonder. He looks like a young adult acrobat, as he should.
Robin’s “Power Action Karate Chop” is one of the most effectively satisfying action features in the series, sure to knock over any villain you point him at. In this author’s opinion, it’s the finest version of the Teen Wonder-era Robin in plastic form.
4. Green Arrow. What is it about Green Arrow that brings out the best in toy manufacturers? Mego hit a bullseye with their version of the Emerald Archer nearly a decade before, and Kenner pulled a Robin Hood and shot right through that arrow with their 5-inch Oliver Queen.
The Super Powers Green Arrow is a great interpretation of Neal Adams’ classic redesign; superheroics never had quite so much verdant flare. The fact that his “Power Action Archery Pull” actually allows him to position his bow and arrow right on target is pure gravy. Or maybe it’s Ollie’s chili? Kenner reused the Green Arrow body (as well as other pieces from the Super Powers line) for their 1991 Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves series.
3. Green Lantern. Amazingly, Hal Jordan had to mark time for over 25 years to get an action figure, but boy, was it worth the wait. The sculptors at Kenner perfectly captured the fearless confidence and swagger exuded by the protector of Space Sector 2814.
Despite not having his signature tan, you can just hear Super Friends voice actor Michael Rye when you squeeze GL’s legs and his “Power Action Ring Thrust” activates (“My Power Ring will take care of you!”). Including the Power Battery was a wonderful touch. If only he was articulated enough to be put into a charging position.
2. Cyborg. The Holy Grail of the line, the hardest figure to find then and now, and the one who you will likely have to pawn something to own nowadays. Cyborg was the new recruit in the final season of the Super Friends franchise known as Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians. Kenner gave him the star treatment by faithfully adapting George Perez’s original design, and vac-metalizing all the cybernetic parts of Victor Stone.
In addition to his “Power Action Thrusting Arms,” he has two replaceable weapons — a claw and a drill — to replace one of his robot hands.
The advent of Cyborg made fans hopeful other New Teen Titans figures might follow, but alas, that was not to be. I regret to this day that in 1986, at a local Walmart, I chose to buy Shazam! (Captain Marvel) over Cyborg. I never saw him again. He’s one of the few holes in my Super Powers collection! Maybe some day.
Despite his scarcity, Cyborg’s place in the line and on the animated series inspired future comic creators to pull him from the Titans bench for the Big League, a move that other media interpretations followed as well.
1. Superman/Clark Kent. Yes, I’m cheating. I told you whittling down this list to 13 was really hard! So, I’m combining the Man of Steel and his alter ego. After all, even the somewhat less-than-observant Jimmy Olsen (Marc McClure himself) noticed the similarities in a TV commercial promoting the Clark Kent figure!
Clark was the line’s second mail-away figure (the first being Steppenwolf) and was a must-have for me. I turned in my five proofs of purchase and waited by my mailbox, not unlike Ralphie Parker in A Christmas Story. Unlike him, when the full 14 weeks was up (TO THE DAY!), and the mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper arrived, I was ecstatic.
There was a bit of Christopher Reeve in this Clark Kent figure, and that was fine by me! There have been many figures of the Man of Steel, but not nearly as many of his secret identity. Clad in his patented blue suit and red-and-black striped tie, and with the same Power Action Feature as his Kryptonian counterpart, this is the definitive figure.
Superman is the central figure of the line. The success of the Christopher Reeve films and just his general standing as the original superhero gave him more brand recognition than just about any popular character on the planet.
Kenner did right by Kal-El by sculpting a powerful, muscular body, but also a face that was kind and benign. Just look at those baby blues! His “Power Action Punch” is one of the most basic gimmicks in the collection, but who cares? This is Superman, and many a child flew this figure through hundreds of adventures. And some even popped him into his Supermobile if Lex was nearby with Kryptonite! If you had to pick one figure to represent the entire Super Powers line, you’d almost have to pick Superman. And so, I did.
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Chris Franklin is a graphic designer, illustrator and podcaster, who co-hosts several shows on the Fire and Water Podcast Network, including JLUCast and Super Mates, which he produces with his wife, Cindy. He also contributed essays to Jim Beard’s Subterranean Blue Grotto series of Batman ’66 episode guides — Seasons One, Two and Three.