Friday, September 6, 2013

I'm A Grown Man And I Bought This: Batman Classic TV Series Action Figures

It's hard to believe, but the Batman TV series-- starring Adam West-- premiered on ABC way back in 1966. For you non-math majors, that's forty seven years ago! Forty seven!

Fans of the show have been hoping for a proper action figure line based on the series since the show first aired. Oh sure, there've been plenty of Batman figures released over the decades. Hundreds, maybe even thousands, but they've always been based on the comics or movies, never the versions from the TV series.

The reason for the lack of product? As always, legal woes. The show's rights have been tied up in a bureaucratic Gordian knot for over four decades.

But it looks like there's finally a light at the end of the long, dark tunnel. Merchandise is finally beginning to trickle out and DC is even publishing a monthly comic based on the show. Hopefully a proper release of the TV series on DVD is imminent, but I ain't holding my breath (the various parties had better hurry up and settle their differences and start selling DVDs before their core demographic dies off!).

And at long last, Mattel's finally released a wave of figures based on the Classic TV series.

So what's the verdict? Was it worth the wait? Read on, McDuff!

This wave consists of Batman, The Joker, The Penguin, The Riddler and Surf's Up Batman (from the Surf's Up, Joker's Under episode).

You may have noticed the absence of Batman's partner Robin in this wave; a seemingly huge omission. He is available, but only in an exclusive (another word for expensive) two pack with Batman. Most people won't need a second Batman, but they'll buy the set anyway just to get Robin, since you kind of need him to round out the Dynamic Duo. Well done, Mattel Marketing Department.

In a similar move, Catwoman was supposed to be part of this wave as well, but she was pulled at the last minute so that Mattel could underproduce her, making her more valuable and desirable. They can then sell her separately and charge more for her. You think I'm kidding, but I've seen it happen many, many times with female figures over the years.

There's also a Classic Batmobile available, scaled just for these figures. Supposedly it's a Toys R Us exclusive and is about as rare as hen's teeth right now. If anybody sees one out there for a reasonable price, let me know!

The packaging is colorful and fairly well designed, echoing the look of the show's opening credits, including the familiar and beloved Batman TV show logo.

The cards were obviously designed with the "mint-on-card-never-open-their-figures" collector crowd. For the record, I open all of my figures. If you're not going to open them then why buy 'em? You might as well just own a photo of them.

Each card features a different "Holy Blank" saying by Robin, which is surprising. Usually they just print one generic card for an entire wave of figures. I'm impressed that they went to the trouble to print (slightly) different versions for each figure.

That said, none of Robin's sayings seem to have anything to do with the figures and appear to have been chosen at random (with the exception of Surf's Up Batman). "Holy Forecast, Batman?" What the heck does that mean in regard to this figure? Maybe "Holy Non Sequitur, Batman" would have been more apt.

As the cards helpfully inform you, these toys are for the discriminating adult collector. Any time I see "adult collector" on anything, I hear "bowm chikka bowm bown" porn music in my head. I know, I'm fourteen years old.

"Holy Interplanetary Yardstick?" You got me what that one means. Maybe Robin said that in an episode starring the Joker?

Each of the cards also features an insert at the bottom of the plastic blister as well, emblazoned with the name of the character.

It's tough to see here, but the plastic blister on all the figures is embossed with a large "POW!" like that used in the fight scenes in the TV series. A nice touch, if you're the type to keep the packaging intact.

Whoops! "Holy KNICK Of Time?" Someone get DC and Mattel on the horn and tell them that the phrase is "Nick Of Time." "Knick" isn't even a word! 

This is the only card back in which Robin's catchphrase makes any sense.

Finally, here's Batman freed from his plastic prison in all his 1960s glory.

Sculpt-wise it looks like they're going for a normal everyday person's proportions rather than the usual overdeveloped superhero physique. I think that's a good idea, since these characters were all played by doughy actors rather than body builders with huge muscles.

At first though I thought they might have gone overboard and made Batman a little too thin, but after comparing the figure to the real deal I think he looks about right.

Sculpting-wise he looks OK. It's definitely Adam West-- the eyes behind the cowl look right, and they captured his lips and lower jaw pretty well. The bat ears on his cowl look a little stubby though, especially when compared to photos of the actual costume.

One big complaint-- the detailing on the figure looks very soft to me. Look at his ears and the folds of the cowl around his neck. There's no sharpness or crispness to it. It's almost like all the detail's melted.

It's entirely possible to have sharp details on a six inch figure like this. Take a look at this Arnold figure from NECA's Predator line. It's the same size as the Batman figure, but see how well defined the details are in his hair and clothing? That's the way all these figures ought to look. I'll be honest here-- I wish NECA had got the 6" figure license rather than Mattel.

Batman's almost, but not quite articulated enough to do the Batusi. So close, and yet so far.

Actually Mattel released a special San Diego ComicCon Exclusive Batusi Batman figure earlier in the year, which actually can do the Batusi move. It comes in a special box adorned with art by Shag and costs way more than it ought to.

This Batman might not be able to do the Batusi, but he can replicate Burt Reynold's infamous Playgirl centerfold pose from the 1970s. Rowrrr!
Batman's pretty well articulated. He's got elbow, knee and ankle joints, ball jointed shoulders and cut bicep, waist, neck and thigh joints.

I wish he didn't have that ugly "ab crunch" joint in the middle of his gut though. There are ways to include that bit of articulation without being so obvious. Plus it's virtually useless here. The ab joint allows his upper body to bend forward a whopping 1/8 inch at most. I honestly don't know why they even bothered. 

Here's Batman in his obligatory Bigfoot walking pose (sort of). 

Here's a rear view of Batman. I have never been a fan of cloth capes on action figures. I know there are a lot of people out there who like them, but I'm not one of 'em. It's all about scale. There's no way to make a tiny piece of cloth like this drape and fall like a five foot long cape. It makes the figure look exactly like what it is-- a toy.

This one's especially bad, as they tried to recreate the scalloped bottom of Batman's cape with less than acceptable results. Look how the ends are curling up. Sloppy, Mattel.

Molded plastic capes don't have this problem and look more realistic to my eyes. Of course there's a down side to plastic capes-- they make it impossible to pose a character in a sitting position.

I'm afraid this will always be one of those polarizing issues, like Coke vs. Pespi, Mac vs. PC and Ginger vs. Mary Ann.

At first I was going to complain that the colors of his suit are way off, but after looking him over I don't think they are. His suit has always varied wildly in color depending on the source material. Sometimes it looked gray and dark blue as it does here, other times it looked lavender and dark purple, depending on the lighting and film stock. I'm pretty sure these are the actual colors of the suit. 

Batman comes with exactly zero accessories. Not even one lousy little Batarang. Mattel's been making Batman figures for years so I know they have to have tons of them lying around; would it have killed them to have spent an extra half penny and thrown in a couple? Apparently so.

The only thing he comes with, and I do not count this as an accessory, is a stand with a background card. The figures all come with these stands and each is adorned with one of the sound effects used in the fight scenes on the show, which is a nice touch.

The background cards all feature images that when placed side by side form a panorama of the Batcave (sort of). More on these in a bit.

Next up is The Riddler. He's got the same slender build as Batman and it would not surprise me if they had some body parts in common.

You know, I've never understood The Riddler as a character. Sure I liked Frank Gorshin's manic portrayal of him, but he always seemed superfluous to me. He's pretty much a poor man's Joker. They both hop around and laugh maniacally, they both tell awful jokes, both wear humor themed costumes... they're the same damn character!

I guess we should count ourselves lucky they didn't give us The Jester, The Punner, The Wisecracker and The Amusing Anecdoter.

Poor Riddler here suffers from some severely mismatched colors. Take a look at the sea green thigh and chest pieces and how far off they are from the rest of his yellowish-green body. Again, sloppy, Mattel. Very sloppy.

Like Batman he also comes with absolutely zero accessories. For the price Mattel is charging for these things, this is unacceptable. The least they could have done is give him a cane with a question mark-shaped handle. He carried one like that on the show sometimes, didn't he?

Sculpt-wise he definitely looks like Frank Gorshin, but it's more of a stylized or cartoonish look rather than a photo-realistic likeness.

The Riddler has the same ugly and obvious ab crunch joint as Batman.

The Riddler's one of the more articulated figures of the bunch, as he's seen here practicing his yoga positions.

"So, I'm a cheap rip-off of The Joker, eh, Caped Clod?"

Next we have the Burgess Meredith version of The Penguin.

Something about this figure seems very familiar. Maybe I'm just imagining it, but Mattel's made Penguin figures before and it would not surprise me to find they're reusing parts here. Unfortunately I don't have any of my Penguin figures handy to check. If anyone out there can shed any light on this, let me know.

The Penguin's a little less articulated than the other figures, as he lacks the mid thigh cut joints, meaning he'll never be able to cross his legs.

He is the only figure though to come with an accessory. He comes with his trademark umbrella weapon, that's made out of extremely soft and limp plastic. Sadly, he cannot hold his umbrella. If you look closely you'll see I had to tie it to his hand with a clear elastic band. Once again Mattel, sloppy. Damn sloppy.

It would have been nice if they'd included two umbrellas, one closed and one open. That he could actually hold.

The Penquin definitely looks like actor Burgess Meredith, and is probably the best likeness in the whole wave. The sculpted monocle is a nice touch too, even though it's barely painted and is largely flesh colored. Sloppy!

Let's talk about that cigarette holder for a minute, shall we? First of all I'm stunned that they even included it in this day and age. Cigarettes, cigars and pipes are normally absolutely verboten in the world of action figures. Because you know, if a kid sees a toy that smokes, they'll immediately run out and get hooked on coffin nails themselves. It only makes sense. I guess these figures really are for the adult collector.

All that said... that has got to be the biggest cigarette holder I've ever seen in my life. Look at that thing! If this were a real person that holder would be two inches thick! I suppose they made it as thin as they could given the scale, but still... Also note that they cheaped out and didn't paint the cigarette on the end white. Cheap!

Maybe one of these days when I'm feeling brave I'll try to slice that hunk of beef jerky off his face and replace it with something a little thinner and more in scale.

Up next is The Joker. No, not the Heath Ledger version, the Caesar Romero one.

Like The Penguin, something about this figure seems familiar to me, like they're reusing parts. There've been a ton of various Joker figures made over the years though, so I can't be sure.

Surprisingly The Joker is quite well articulated, considering he's wearing a tux. He's even got the mid thigh cut joints that The Penguin lacks (making me wonder why he doesn't have them).

Unfortunately poor Joker suffers from the same color mismatching as his brother-in-crime The Riddler. Note how his lower legs are a paler purple than his upper thighs. Sloppy!

The tuxedo jacket is molded from a thin soft plastic and fits over the figure just like a real coat would. I'm amazed that it doesn't seem to restrict his movement in any way. Well done, Mattel. See, you can do a good job when you want to!

Something about his hunched shoulders here reminds me a lot of the Heath Ledger version.

The Joker can do the centerfold pose too. Sort of.

So what's up with The Joker's outstretched index finger? Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe it's so he can play a rousing game of "Pull My Finger" with Batman.

Likeness-wise, The Joker's not bad. That's definitely Caesar Romero there.

I don't know about anyone else, but the first thing I did when I took this figure out of the package was look for the mustache. And god bless Mattel, they actually added it! Woohoo! Twenty points for Gryffindor, er, I mean Mattel!

See, back in the day Caesar Romero was famous for playing Latin lovers in films and TV and he always sported a suave and sexy little mustache. When he was cast as the Joker, the makeup department told him he'd have to shave it off. He flat out refused to do so. The makeup man shrugged and just slathered the greasepaint right over the mustache!

I have to admit I never noticed this when I watched the show as a kid. I suspect it was due to the fact that back then TV sets had 25" screens and about 120 scan lines. Details like that just didn't show up. Nowadays though it's quite easy to see that he's got a mustache underneath his makeup, which is pretty darned odd.

Anyhoo, as I said they actually simulated his greasepaint-smeared mustache on the action figure! It's not molded onto his face, but they did go to the trouble of painting a slightly darker mustache-like shape above his upper lip! Kudos, Mattel!

Lastly we have Surf's Up Batman from Surf's Up, Joker's Under, the only episode-specific figure in the wave. In the episode The Joker plans to become "king of surfing" and Batman challenges him to a surfing contest. Yeah, you read that right. I'm assuming surfing was all the rage when this episode aired in 1967 and they were trying to be "hip" and "with it"in order to attract college age viewers. A lot of shows back then featured such episodes.

As near as I can tell Surf's Up Batman is identical to regular Batman with the exception of the thigh pieces, which form his board shorts. I'm impressed that they went to the trouble to sculpt and mold extra pieces instead of just painting the shorts onto his legs.

Surf's Up Batman is the only other figure in the line (apart from The Penguin of course) to come with an accessory. And brother, what an accessory-- his surfboard!

Best of all, if you fit Batman's feet onto the two pegs on the board, he can actually surf! Well, he can't really surf, but you know what I mean.

Earlier I mentioned the background cards that come with each figure (in lieu of a proper accessory). If you line them up side by side, they form an image of the Batcave-- sort of! For some reason The Riddler's card (seen here on the far right) doesn't seem to have anything to do with the others. I can't figure out any way to get it to line up, no matter how it's placed or turned.

More sloppiness on Mattel's part, or is this like some kind of very subtle in-joke? It is The Riddler's card after all. Is it messed up on purpose, like his idea of a joke?

Here are the various stands that come with each figure, each emblazoned with one of the sound effects from the ubiquitous fight scenes seen in each episode. Best of all it looks like they used the actual lettering from the title cards on the show. A nice touch.

It's fine that they included stands I suppose, but you shouldn't need them. All the figures stand under their own power with no trouble (a rarity in the world of action figures these days). 

And of course here's Batman next to a can of Pepsi Throwback (no high fructose corn syrup allowed in my house, thanks!) for scale. Batman clocks in at a hair under six inches high, so that puts him at 1/12 scale.

Now your TV Batman can fit in and party with all your other 1/12 scale toys.

You've probably noticed that I've been pretty hard on this toy line all through this review. That's because this is probably our one shot at ever getting Batman TV series action figures and they're not as good as they could be. They're not terrible, but they definitely could have been better.

The soft detailing, the mismatched colors and the near total lack of accessories-- there's no excuse for any of that, especially at the price Mattel is charging. I kind of wish anyone but Mattel would have made these.

On the other hand if a company like NECA had made them they'd definitely have looked better, but they'd also cost at least five dollars more apiece, and nobody wants or needs that. It's a toss up.

So what's the verdict? Should you buy them or not? If you're a fan of the show as I am, then I say go for it. They're far from perfect, but it's either these or wait another fifty years or so until another company comes along and makes them again.

Read all about the Batman And Robin Two Pack here!


  1. did you actually find them in a store, or order online? I kind of wanted to relive the experience of choosing my own of the metal hook at the store, but haven't actually found them anywhere yet.

  2. I got my set online. I did see a couple of them at the local comic shop, but I haven't seen any at regular retail yet. I've read that some people were finding them at Walmart, but I haven't seen any at the ones around here. Thrill of the hunt aside, if you want them I'd hurry and order them before they're sold out.

  3. The Catwoman figure is part of wave 3, JUST released. Should be arriving at my home between Wednesday and Friday. Wave one was Batman/Penguin/Riddler, wave 2 was Surf's Up Batman/Joker with additional rereleases of wave 1 filling the case. Wave 3 is both Batman figures with Joker/Catwoman in the case. Catwoman likely contains the card backdrop which connects the Riddler card to the rest of the image.

    I bought wave 1 online, but got my Joker and Surf's Up Batman at a NYC comic book store, and canceled my Amazon preorder for those figures since I got my comic book store versions first. Bought the Batmobile at Toys R Us in NY's Times Square for $60. That TRU had multiple units of Wave 1 in stock at the time, but quantities have dwindled in all TRU by this point.

    "Holy Interplanetary Yardstick" should be from the "Joker's Flying Saucer" episode of Batman. "Holy Sky Writing" should be from the Batman movie, where Riddler sent up multiple Polaris missiles that broke apart, leaving riddles in Sky Writing for Batman and Robin to decipher. "Holy Nick of Time" (albeit misspelled as you called out), should be from one of the Penguin episodes, but I'd need to rewatch. Either the first where Bruce Wayne escapes the conveyor belt that has him destined for a fiery furnace death, or the Penguin episode where they were strung up at the carnival behind a sheet where Commissioner Gordon was about to shoot them at the shooting gallery, or the one where Penguin had them trapped in a chamber that the air was being sucked out of and balloons were popping all around them as Batman and Robin lost oxygen. I'd have to rewatch, as I said.

    The plastic bubble doesn't just include "Pow", but also "Bam" in the upper corner.

    The Batman/Robin wall-climbing two-pack includes the batarang that you are missing from the single-packed figure. Appropriate, since they use the batarang to climb the building. I do wish the single-packed Batman had a unique accessory, perhaps the Batshield, but I'm grateful to get these toys at all.

    Batman/Robin two-pack also features bendy wires in the capes, allowing for additional posing, which could help with some of your complaints about lifelessness in the fabric. You will need to cut out the info tag that is sewn into the hem of the inside of the cape. It's quite large and unsightly.

    All sculpts are new, no reused limbs anywhere. Joker is likely pointing because he and other characters would gesture to make a pithy comment at Batman before the big batfight. Penguin has no thigh cut joint because he's two short. The umbrella fits into his other hand better, with the rear of the handle resting on the back of the cuff of his sleeve, with Penguin pointing the umbrella forward, as if he was going to joust with someone. Using the umbrella like a fencing foil. Try it.

    Also, Hot Wheels released a classic Batcycle a while back that is in scale with these figures. You'll need to research to find the right one, but Batman and Robin fit on it perfectly.

    Enjoy them, I fear these figures are all we will get. The attention paid to the sculpting and packaging (flaws in spelling and matching part color aside) is better than I ever expected to see in my lifetime (and I'm only 30!) and I will be forever grateful to have a part of nostalgia of watching all those reruns in my youth in these figures. Can't wait to receive Catwoman! Go on ebay and get her now!

  4. Whew! That's a comprehensive response!

    I just got Catwoman last week, and will review her shortly. I also got the Batmobile a couple weeks ago. I'll be reviewing it shortly as well. Busy!

    I got the Batman and Robin two pack a while back too. I posted a review of it here:

    I didn't know about the scaled Batcycle. Damn you! Now I have another thing to hunt down and spend money on! ;^)

    Like you, I'm happy we got these toys at all. Sadly, I don't think we'll get any more characters. Various toy message boards have reported that Mattel doesn't plan to continue the line.

  5. But wait! Surf's Up Joker just made an appearance at NY Comic Con this year. It's apparently due out in Summer 2014... Could this line have a future yet? Possibly a San Diego Comic Con exclusive, or maybe another wave in the making. I personally think the line needs a single-release Robin (no bendy wires in cape), Batgirl, Eartha Kitt Catwoman (an easy remake on the existing Catwoman body), and some extra villains (I'd be happy with Mr. Freeze, Mad Hatter, King Tut, Egghead, and Olga). My true wish list is much longer, but that's the ones I'd really miss if the line died.

  6. as far as the background cards go, you're missing one or 2, and that joker card you have at the end is supposed to go on the other side, thats why it doesnt make sense where you have it.


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