ROBIN WEEK: Technically, it’s more than 13, but you’ll see what we mean…
Welcome to ROBIN WEEK! One of the greatest heroes in comics history debuted 80 years ago this month — and we’re celebrating with a series of features saluting the Boys, Girls and Teens Wonder. For the complete index of features, click here.
Our buddy and toy maven Chris Franklin of the Fire and Water Podcast Network has carved out a nice little niche here at the ol’ 13th Dimension: Over the last couple of years, he’s ranked the TOP 13 BATMAN AND CATWOMAN FIGURES (click here), the TOP 13 BATMAN ’89 FIGURES (click here), the TOP 13 JOKER FIGURES (click here), an installment of 13 CLASSIC TOYS WE’D LIKE TO SEE RE-RELEASED (click here) — and even the TOP 13 HEROES WORLD CATALOG PAGES (click here).
So naturally he’s here for ROBIN WEEK.
By CHRIS FRANKLIN
The Sensational Character Find of 1940 was an immediate hit in comics. Just like Bob Kane, Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson had surmised, readers instantly identified with Batman’s young partner in peril. But, like his mentor, Robin’s success didn’t immediately translate into merchandise.
It took 26 years for the Dynamic Duo to make it to toy store shelves, catapulted to overnight fame by the meteoric rise of the 1966 Batman TV series. From that point on, few were the years where Robin wasn’t visible at retail in some form or another. Although other characters took over from Dick Grayson beginning in the mid-’80s, if Batman had an action figure in a line, a Robin was almost sure to follow.
Much has been written in the past 50 years about an increasingly more serious and dour Batman’s need for a Robin. But there’s no denying the appeal of a united Dynamic Duo, whether in play in the backyard, or standing on a collector’s shelf. A Batman figure begs for a Robin, and vice versa. The visual contrast of the shadowy Caped Crusader against the brightly colored Boy Wonder is just too powerful to ignore.
Here are THE TOP 13 ROBIN ACTION FIGURES EVER – RANKED:
13. DC Icons Robin (Damian Wayne) – DC Collectibles. Sigh. OK, full disclosure time: I hate the character of Damian Wayne. I understand he has many fans out there, and I respect your opinion of him, but I can’t abide him. Having said that, the one place where I actually enjoyed his presence was in the initial Super Sons comic, where he was paired with the much more likeable and welcome addition of young Jon Kent, AKA Superboy.
So, it’s no wonder my favorite figural version of the character comes from a two-pack he shares with Jon from the DC Icons line of figures. Damian’s costume is a rather complicated affair, and one I often feel looks overwrought and confused in its design. But this figure really makes it work, and it’s a sharp visual for sure. The smirking face sculpt captures the mischievous arrogance of the character perfectly, as well.
12. 12 1/2-Inch Robin, Hamilton Presents. Despite being left out of the 1989 Batman film, Robin still managed to enjoy a resurgence in merchandise from the film. That wave continued into 1990, when Hamilton Presents created a Teen Wonder to go with their comic accurate Batman from the previous year. Towering above most of the Robins on your shelf at 12 and a half inches, this Robin looks a bit like the Super Powers figure, no doubt channeling some of that same Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez (Praised Be His Name) style-guide art that informed the former. But there’s a bit of Burt Ward in him as well, and the overall presentation of the figure is actually the best in the line, despite his head being perhaps just a tad too large. Nevertheless, this Robin is a solid figure, and a must-have for your shelf, whether he’s anchoring your Robin Shrine or standing alongside Batman.
11. Crisis on Infinite Earths Earth-Two Robin, DC Direct. Hey, this is my list, so I get to indulge myself and put in a personal favorite. I’ve been a fan of the “adult” Robin of Earth-Two ever since I first met him in All-Star Comics #74 in 1978. The costume was designed by Neal Adams and first used as an alternate for the Earth-One Dick Grayson, who wore it in 1971’s Justice League of America #92. My favorite single comic of all-time is The Brave and the Bold #182, where Alan Brennert and Jim Aparo team the aged Dick Grayson with the Earth-One doppelganger of his deceased mentor. That version of his costume, drawn by Aparo with a half cowl and no collar, is my favorite, but other artists went with a more traditional Robin style mask.
This is the version drawn by George Perez and Jerry Ordway in Crisis on Infinite Earths, where Robin was dealt two blows. One, he woke up one day to find his Earth was gone and that no one outside of the superhero community remembered his existence. And then a falling brick wall killed him along with his pseudo-sibling/love interest (it’s complicated), the Huntress. But either way, he looked great, and this figure from DC Direct captures his appearance in that series quite well.
10. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Carrie Kelley Robin, DC Direct. Merchandise from Frank Miller’s seminal work was hard to come by in the first 15 years of so after its publication. DC Direct finally gave us action figures based on four of the key players in the series, Batman (of course), the Joker, Superman, and Miller’s most iconoclastic addition to the mythos (at least visually), the first female Robin, Carrie Kelley. The articulation on these figures barely qualifies their placement in the “action” territory, but there’s no denying that they look as if they leaped from this perennially in print graphic novel, deftly capturing Miller and inker Klaus Janson’s somewhat amorphous style, as well as the colors of Lynn Varley.
With her translucent green shades, swooping punk rock hairdo, and trademark slingshot, Carrie strikes quite a figure on the shelf and gives the Robin costume a totally fresh look, despite it being the same uniform we all knew and loved from the prior 46 years.
9. Batman Returns Robin, Kenner. There’s some controversy surrounding the origins of this figure. Having been excised from the 1989 Tim Burton-helmed Batman film at script level, Robin was set to debut in the follow-up, 1992’s Batman Returns. Marlon Wayans was cast as the Robin to Michael Keaton’s Dark Knight, but his part was quickly written out, and Wayans managed to get a nice paycheck, despite never having to shoot a single reel of film.
Between the two movies, DC had made great strides to wash away the sins of its past, and developed Tim Drake as an heir worthy of Dick Grayson’s vaunted title. With a new, armored costume designed by Neal Adams and supposedly hand approved for a future film by Burton, Tim Drake was on his way to becoming a Boy Wonder for the ages.
The lack of Robin in the film, though, didn’t dissuade Kenner from bolstering its action figure range, giving us a comic-accurate interpretation of Tim’s awesome new togs just two short years after his in-costume debut. But then there’s the matter of that head sculpt. Was his moussed-up hairdo Kenner’s way of interpreting Tim’s trademark punkoid locks, or was it once meant to resemble Wayan’s then-current high-top fade? Fans have speculated for decades, but either way, it was great to get a nice figure of Tim Drake so early on in his comic life.
8. Batman: The Animated Series and The New Batman Adventures Robin (tie), DC Collectibles.
Kenner released its line of Batman: The Animated Series figures concurrently with the series, and almost every figure stands as a three-dimensional interpretation of the characters’ model sheets. Except Robin. Frugal Kenner decided to reuse the previously mentioned Robin body sculpt from the Batman Returns line, leaving us with an animated Robin whose muscular body in no way fit the Bruce Timm aesthetic of the show. Kenner did right by Dick with their subsequent Nightwing figure in their New Batman Adventures line, and their Tim Drake Robin figure was also on model, thankfully.
But fans would have to wait over 20 years to get a properly designed BTAS Robin figure, thanks to DC Collectibles. You can just hear Loren Lester’s snarky voice when you pose this very articulated figure. The colors are also spot on, which is something the animated crew actually struggled with, especially in regard to Robin’s greens.
The corresponding figure of Tim Drake’s Robin is equally great, and if you have one, you really need the other, spanning the two eras of the show. Plus Tim’s all red-and-black design is a nice contrast to Dick’s more colorful attire. A tie!
7. 13-Inch Deluxe Action Figure Collection Robin, DC Direct. DC Direct’s line of 13-inch figures seems to have been forgotten by many collectors. The strange decision to slightly up the 1/6 scale from 12 inches to 13 probably didn’t help, nor did the aesthetic change midstream to try and capture some of the photorealism of Hot Toys (with less than stellar results). Fortunately, this Robin figure comes from the line’s earlier days, when DCD was content to just create nicely realized large-format action figures in cloth costumes at a fair price. He’s also a bit shorter than most of the males in the line, actually standing at 12 inches.
This may be the ultimate figural interpretation of Dick Grayson in his Teen Wonder years. The face sculpt captures an older and more mature looking Robin, but one that is still full of that youthful optimism that made the character famous. The costume detailing is top notch, and the best part is you get to pick between a removable black domino mask, or a green one, to match that nuance of green highlight added to the disguise in the mid-’70s. Pair this with the line’s Nightwing figure, and it’s clear the creators meant for this Robin to grow into that figure.
6. DC Universe Classics Robin, Mattel. Mattel’s DC Universe Classics line may one day be looked at as the best DC action figure line ever created as a whole. With all the figures sculpted by the fan-favorite Four Horsemen Studios, there is a consistency across the range that is often lacking from most toy lines, even those targeted at collectors. The 4H were really keen on recapturing the feeling of Kenner’s revered Super Powers line, and thus their Robin looks like a scaled-up and modernized version of that classic figure.
The regular version depicts the Teen Wonder Dick Grayson again, but a variant has a different head sculpt, with Dick’s original twin spit curls. Or, is this post-Crisis Jason Todd? The somewhat scowling look of this sculpt versus the smiling face of the Teen Wonder version seems to point toward the latter. Either way, you can’t go wrong with either in your collection.
5. World’s Greatest Super-Heroes Large-Scale Robin Figures, Mego. Mego’s Canadian distributor, Parkdale Novelty, spearheaded the development of a 12 1/2-inch line of World’s Greatest Super-Heroes figures to complement the enormously successful 8-inch scale. New head sculpts were commissioned, and Robin was finally able to move into the ’70s with his side-parted hairstyle, as seen in comics and on TV from 1964 onward. Mego also finally addressed the scale issue with the Dynamic Duo by giving this Robin a 10-inch body, making him two and a half inches shorter than Batman.
While this is a great figure in its own right, Mego’s later 12 1/2-inch Robin bests him in several categories. This figure portrays a very mature, college-age Robin, with a lantern jaw and a determined visage. Interestingly, this head sculpt was modified from one used for several other toy lines, including Gabriel’s Lone Ranger and Hasbro’s Super Joe!
The manly head sits atop the standard 12 1/2-inch body, as opposed to the muscle-bound Batman released at the same time. The initial version of this figure shared a cool play gimmick with his mentor: He and Batman came with magnetic hands and feet, allowing them to stick to almost any metal surface, and perform acrobatic acts together. In the waning days of the brand, Mego released this sculpt minus the magnets (which is the version I own). Both versions portray, for the first time, a mature Robin ready to fly from the nest.
4. Captain Action Action Boy Robin Uniform and Equipment Set, Ideal. If not for Robin, Action Boy wouldn’t exist. You can’t imagine the Ideal toy company expanding their 12-inch Captain Action range with a whole new 9-inch junior figure in 1967 if not for the popularity of Robin on the Batman TV series. So fellow DC heroes Superboy and Aqualad also owe their first fully articulated figural offerings to comics’ original kid sidekick.
That would be enough for this set to make the list, but it’s one of the nicest offerings in the whole Captain Action line. From the face mask harkening back to the Golden Age double spit curls, to his expertly crafted outfit and the cool accessories like red Batarangs and Bat-grenades, the Robin outfit is actually much nicer and more comic accurate than the previous year’s Batman set! Ideal had made a small Robin figurine in their Justice League of America/Batman series a year prior, but while it is very nicely done, this Robin set just screams “premium,” then and now. The lovely box art by comic legend Murphy Anderson doesn’t hurt, either!
3. Batman Classic TV Series Robin, Hot Toys. A few years back, fans of the 1966 Batman TV series received two things they thought they would never see: The series officially released on home media, and a bevy of merchandise to go with it. Many toy companies gave us figures of Burt Ward’s dead-on interpretation of the Boy Wonder, from Mattel to Funko, but no one captured the perfectly cast Ward like Hot Toys.
It comes as no surprise to anyone that they completely nailed the likeness of Ward, and all of the various costume details, from the capsules on his utility belt, to the shape of his pixie boots. My only minor quibble is that like many Hot Toys figures, his skin tone is a bit dark. But who cares? Whether standing on his own, punching his fist into his other hand’s open palm, or posed running alongside Hot Toys’ equally masterful Adam West Batman, THIS is the first and last word on toy interpretations of the screen’s greatest Robin.
2. Super Powers Collection Robin, Kenner. Much has been written about Kenner’s Super Powers Collection. It stands as one of, if not the best comic-based action-figure lines of all time. And you’d be hard pressed to find a better-realized figure in the line than Robin. Looking as if he stepped off the Garcia-Lopez style guide art, Robin evokes the Bronze Age Teen Wonder version of the character.
His smile portrays a young man still fine with making a bad pun or two in battle, representing happier times with Batman, before the philosophical differences between the two began to manifest in the comics. At the time of the Super Powers launch, Dick Grayson had already taken the identity of Nightwing, and Jason Todd was the new Robin. But this is clearly Dick Grayson. His file card on the back of the package even says so. His “Power Action Karate Chop” is also one of the better action features in the line, and man he just looks fantastic sitting in the passenger seat of that sweet Super Powers Batmobile.
1. World’s Greatest Super-Heroes 8-Inch Robin, Mego. Perhaps the most produced and widely circulated Robin figure ever made, the Mego Boy Wonder was one of the first four characters released in the legendary line, and was also in the last assortment shipped out of the factory when Mego succumbed to financial woes.
After initially producing him with a removable mask, Mego quickly began painting the mask over the Dick Grayson sculpt, so kids wouldn’t be forever searching for the easily lost disguise. The second version is much more common, and if you can find a first issue figure with the original, tiny and very fragile mask intact, consider yourself lucky. Consider yourself even luckier if you happen to own the rare Montgomery Ward exclusive Dick Grayson set that came with an unmasked head and a wardrobe of VERY ’70s-specific clothes to pop onto your Robin figure.
Mego carried on the spit-curl look, which I initially only knew from the animated opening of the ’60s TV series. Robin’s costume was accurately depicted, with his rubbery pixie boots being a bit more successful than the oven-mitt gloves he and Batman wore. But that didn’t matter. To a whole generation of kids, this is THE Robin action figure, and a fond friend from childhood.
— The ROBIN WEEK Index of Features. Click here.
— The TOP 13 ROBIN COSTUMES Ever — RANKED. Click here.
Chris Franklin is the producer and co-host of JLUCast and Super Mates, and the co-host of Batman: Knightcast, Superman Movie Minute and The Power Records Podcast, all available at fireandwaterpodcast.com.