BATMAN came out 33 years ago!
UPDATED 6/23/22: Batman ’89 was released June 23, 1989. Perfect time to re-present this piece from 2019’s BATMAN ’89 WEEK. Dig it. — Dan
It’s BATMAN ’89 WEEK! Tim Burton’s groundbreaking Batman was released June 23, 1989. All this week, we’re publishing a series of retrospectives and celebrations spotlighting various aspects of a movie that was less a film and more a pop-culture phenomenon. Click here for the complete index of features.
BATMAN ’89 WEEK wouldn’t be complete without a look at all the incredible swag that was produced to capitalize on the second coming of Batmania.
So, we’ve called upon Chris Franklin, host of the Fire & Water Network’s Those Wonderful Toys podcast to bring you, well, THE TOP 13 WONDERFUL BATMAN ’89 TOYS – RANKED.
Oh, and if you want even more Batman ’89 toyhem, be sure to check out his latest episode (click here). You’ll be really glad you did.
Meantime, dig this:
By CHRIS FRANKLIN
Like every geek with a pulse in 1989, I was eagerly anticipating the Batman film. But I was just as eagerly anticipating the TOYS that would tie into the movie! ]
Two years prior I had decided I was too old to play with toys anymore, but I could become… a COLLECTOR. The burn was I picked about the worst year in the history of superhero merchandising to do so. But the Batman movie would change all of that. And soon, the flood of merchandise began, as history repeated itself, and the Caped Crusader Dark Knight dominated the pop culture landscape and store shelves once more, just like he had in 1966.
The items ranged from movie accurate, to comic-inspired, but it didn’t matter. It was all hitting to coincide with the biggest planned media blitz in film history, one that set the template for blockbuster merchandising that is still being followed today.
Many awesome items based on the first movie have come since, but we’ll give Hot Toys and NECA a pass this time, and concentrate on the toys released around and after the first film (and before Batman Returns).
So here are THE TOP 13 WONDERFUL BATMAN ’89 TOYS — RANKED:
13. Toy Biz Batman Joker.This Joker figure has origins in the far superior Super Powers line. In fact, fledgling Toy Biz used repainted Joker and Batman figures from the previous Kenner series in early press materials and on all their packaging. But this isn’t a bad Joker by any means. While there’s very little Jack Nicholson in the sculpt, at least he comes with a hat and cane, so they were trying. His squirting orchid feature is actually pretty clever, and allows you to recreate his acid assault on Vicki Vale from the museum scene.
12. Topps Candy Heads. The Topps company had a lock not only on movie tie-in trading cards, but also movie-related candies! Just as they had with the Star Wars franchise, they released small, candy-filled heads of both Batman and the Joker. The sculpts are very nice, even if the simple deco on the Joker obscures the accurate Nicholson likeness. The less complicated Batman captures Keaton’s look surprisingly well, especially for such a cheap price point. Despite not being true toys, these are perhaps the most faithful depictions of the actors we got in the summer of 1989.
11. Toy Biz Batman Batmobile.Toy Biz’s Batmobile is a pretty solid depiction of the Anton Furst-designed car…minus the roof, unfortunately. No doubt left off to accommodate Batman’s ears and the gear shift that shot missiles from under the machine-gun hoods. The convertible design makes it an odd hybrid of the ’80s and ’60s Batmobiles. Later releases of the car came with the armored cocoon seen in the film, so I wish I’d held out a bit on this one!
10. Ertl Die-Cast Vehicles.Ertl was perhaps then best known for making accurate farm tractor replicas, but they took the ball dropped by Corgi sometime in the ’80s and ran with a line of die-cast vehicles based on the film. From micro sets to the usual 1/64 scale to bigger, heavier affairs, and even their unique Wrist Racers (cars that launch from a band on your wrist!), there seemed to be an endless supply of Batmobiles, Batwings and Joker Vans on the shelves everywhere. My only quibble was the Bat-symbol they slapped on everything (it’s kind of obvious who these vehicles belong to, people), and the strangely deformed Joker Van in the standard “Hot Wheels” scale. Other than that, this line still holds up. That large Batwing is HEAVY!
9. Toy Biz Batman Batwing. Batman’s new set of wings was quite the sight to behold in the film. Toy Biz accurately recreated Bruce Wayne’s ultimate expression of branding awareness, and even included the scissor-like mechanism in the front, good for stealing the Joker’s balloons, or just picking the figure up and subjecting him to the torture of 500 mph winds. If only the included missiles weren’t flimsy suction darts.
8. Toy Biz Batman Figure.Perhaps THE time capsule toy item for Batmania ’89, Toy Biz tried four times to get the head on their Batman right. I still prefer the chubby “round face” version, just because it’s the first one I owned. Not looking a thing like the Super Powers Batman in black we see on the package back, this Batman’s sculpt does resemble Michael Keaton’s costume for the most part, and his fun working Batrope- in-belt mechanism provides the means to recreate several key scenes in the movie. Mine still works like a charm, 30 years later!
7. Kenner Dark Knight Collection Sky Escape Joker.Kenner won the license back from Toy Biz in early 1990, and their first stab at the Joker actually reused the Super Powers body Toy Biz only hinted at. He did receive a new head sculpt appropriating a much thinner Jack Nicholson. He also came with a wacky mini-copter backpack to elude the Dark Knight. But the real neat thing about this figure is the color change action feature. Dip his head in cold water, and he goes from perma-white to Caucasian, so you can recreate those scenes in the mob board meeting, or the melee at the museum!
6. Toy Biz Batman Batcave.The centerpiece of Toy Biz’s line, the Batcave takes the exposed pipes, platforms and bridges from the movie set and recolors them in bright, toy-like hues, but it still looks great. Packed with some pretty inventive action features, it foreshadows the innovative company we would come to know through their later Marvel lines. The stickers showing actual movie scenes on the Batcomputer monitors was a nice touch, as was the inclusion of the bar you can hang your Batman upside down from, just like that strange scene during his sleepover with Vicki in the movie.
5. Kenner Dark Knight Collection Shadow Wing Batman.The second movie-accurate Batman released by Kenner in the Dark Knight line, after the first wave “Crime Attack” Batman figure, “Shadow Wing” Batman trumps that one with its Super Powers-like play feature. Squeeze his legs and his arms pop out at the side, spreading his attached cape. It’s a very simple way to convey the “Creature of the Night” aspect that was so important to this version of the character, and mimics how well Keaton used the suit. The sculpting captures all the armor details in the gloves, which the standard Batman mold does not.
4. Kid Biz 8-Inch Batman. Something I wasn’t aware of until a few years later was this foreign release of a Mego-style Batman figure. By 1989, Mego had been bankrupt and out of business for seven years, but apparently overseas the format still had its fans. A company called Kid Biz, apparently connected to Toy Biz in some way, produced an 8-inch Batman figure with cloth costume, and released it in Australia (Bikin released it in Belgium as well). While the head sculpt is a generic and rather happy-looking Dark Knight, the black suit, belt, boots, gauntlets and sculpted utility belt definitely make it a movie-tie-in. As does the card front, which uses the Toy Biz packaging design, with Jerry Ordway’s painting of Batman from the prestige version of the movie adaptation!
3. Hamilton Presents Large Figures.The Applause Company was ubiquitous at gift shops in the ’80s and ’90s, and released small PVC standing figures of Batman, Robin, Joker and Penguin in their classic designs, as well as dangling figures, hanging on ropes from a suction cup. But their lasting gift to Batman fans was their large, 15-inch scale figures, released through their Hamilton Presents subsidiary. Sculpted by Tim Bruckner, who would go on to work wonders with the DC Universe for DC Direct, these were as close to “collector dolls” as we were going to get in 1989. Batman (released in both comic blue and gray, and movie black) looked like a Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez drawing come to life. Robin had quite a bit of Burt Ward in him. And the Joker…man, he looked demented! These large figures really spruce up any Batman display, even today.
2. Kenner Dark Knight Collection Batmobile. Kenner showed Toy Biz how it’s done with their version of Furst’s Batmobile. Although the passenger seat is missing, Kenner did give us an accurate sliding roof, and the flip up machine guns seen in the film…even if they do rankle the feathers of longtime fans who know Batman would never use them. There’s a not so-accurate use of the turbine intake as a launching missile, but hey, every vehicle had to fire a missile back in the late ’80s/early ’90s. It was OSHA-required. Kenner tops the car off with a sweet button activated turbine flame in the back, harkening back not only to the film, but the classic TV series.
1. Kenner Dark Knight Collection Bruce Wayne Batman.Hands down my favorite figure in the Dark Knight Collection line. The likeness of Michael Keaton is still the best unmasked sculpt produced to date. Sure, the armor looks a bit clunky when in use, but there’s no denying the cool factor of putting the chest armor, gloves, boots and cape and cowl onto this figure. He looks fantastic just holding the cowl as well. Despite the fan outcry that followed his casting, Keaton’s nuanced, and damaged Batman has endured, and reached a new level of appreciation among many fans. With our beloved Adam West gone, he is to many the living embodiment of the Dark Knight of our youth. And who wouldn’t love to see him play Bruce Wayne once more in a Batman Beyond film?
— The Complete BATMAN ’89 WEEK Index. Click here.
— 13 THINGS You Might Not Know About BATMAN ’89. Click here.
Chris Franklin is a graphic designer, illustrator, and podcaster. Be sure to check out his Fire & Water Presents: Those Wonderful Toys episode on Toy Biz’s Batman ’89 line. Click here.
June 28, 2019
Look at all these WONDERFUL toys!
June 28, 2019
A joy to see. I really like the Batman toys that came out during this period, plus the artwork on the packaging. The Batmobiles are very cool. There were so many toys and games covering the three films back then, and I’ve managed to add a fair few catalogue images of them in my Batman post over at my site, but still a long way to go I reckon.
June 28, 2019
IMO, the best thing issued was the Topps “Deluxe Reissue” of the 1966 Batman card set that featured the art of Norm Saunders. One can argue that the reissue set is a superior product compared to the original – it was produced using the same film negatives as the original (i.e. not scanned) but printed on white card stock with a glossy finish. I love pulling out the set from time to time and flip thru the cards.
Today, the reissue set goes for $50 plus, but it’s still cheaper than trying to acquire an original set.
June 28, 2019
Yeah, I love that set! I picked it up that year, one of the first true “collector pieces” I ever bought. Still have the cards in a binder, and the box on display.
July 8, 2019
i couldnt resist the feeling of the batman 89 toys
September 2, 2019
The mini copter from the Sky Scape Joker is the same sculpt of the action figure of Claw from Police Academy cartoon series!
September 6, 2020
The Top 13? With all due respect I am not in agreement at all with this list. In my opinion this seems like a very basic thrown together list that did not have much thought behind it. Where are the tin Biliken Robots? Which to me (and probably many others) are the best Batman toy relating to the ’89 film. Or for that matter the Biliken Batman vinyl model? Or any of the plastic models? The Tonka Super Batman Playset is another great set that was left out. Not one Slot Car set? The Kenner Batcave Command Center is far better than the Toy Biz cave yet it’s not there. Topps Candy heads??? Really? Come on now.
February 19, 2021
Well, I’m sorry you didn’t agree with my list. These are all very subjective. I didn’t learn of the tin robots until years later, so they didn’t factor into my Batman ’89 experience. They are beautiful. I stretched the list into 1990 with the Dark Knight Collection, but I tried to keep it to my experience of the time, or I would have added the Hot Toys Batman and Joker figures in, and their ’89 Keaton would have been number 1 or 2. The Kenner Batcave Command Center was solicited in the catalogs, but wasn’t released in the DKC line (despite appearing in Kenner catalogs that year), but had to wait for Batman Returns, so it was nixed from the list. I do prefer it to the Toy Biz version. As for the Topps candy heads…yeah! They were part of my Batman ’89 experience, and I still remember them sitting on the counter of my local drug store. And I love the sculpts.
September 7, 2020
For me, personally, one of the greatest things to come out of the movie toy line was the DC Comics Super Heroes figures that jumped off the Batman ’89 figure toy line. I’ll never forget the pure excitement and glee I had (as a kid watching Batman ’66 reruns on TV each afternoon at the time) when I found that Toy Biz Riddler action figure.
September 9, 2020
Thanks for the article, Chris. That Hamilton Batman is still one of my favorite Batman pieces that I own. It looks like a larger Super Powers or a 3-D Jose Luis Garcia Lopez design. It has some weird copyright date like 1982, when it didn’t come out until the late 80s.
Do you know for sure that it came out in ’89? I got mine for Christmas in either 88, 89 or 90. I can’t remember.
December 16, 2020
This is an awesome list. I’m glad that the Michael Keaton Bruce Wayne change to Batman figure was number one. On my list, that would be the exact same. When it came to the 2 Batmobiles, neither are perfect because each lacks something really important. Although the ToyBiz Batmobile lacks a roof, I give that Batmobile a greater vote because it’s at least a 2 seater. Kenner’s Batmobile is more movie accurate, BUT Kenner and Hasbro decided to make their Batmobiles one seater vehicles. BAD IDEA!! I still would want my Robin figures riding shotgun with my Batman figures. Although the Sky Escape Joker was a good figure with a likeness of Jack Nicholson, I’d rather have the Knock Out Joker, who looks like Jack and has a better physique. The Sky Escape Joker reuses the Super Powers body, plus he needs a better paint job. Although ToyBiz I felt did a poor job with the DC Super Heroes, they did great with the Batman movie line. The Batmobile, BatCave, Batman, the Joker and Bob the Goon. Two thumbs up with this list 🙂
June 23, 2022
I remember this era quite well, there were two groups of releases, those that featured the blue and gray Batman (like the Hamilton Gifts figure) were released in 1988 and the absolutely terrific Topps Card Re-Release (best item of Batmania) – which is when merchandise officially began, and then when June 19th hit it was all Black Batman. I’m a fan of all the blue and gray merchandise, including a fun PVC figure that was hanging on a string, and some other small figures, but I never got behind the black suit stuff– and friends and family buried me in that stuff even though I had no interest in it (not their fault and I didn’t have the heart to explain the difference).