Anyone who was alive in 1989 can attest to the fact that Batman was a phenomenon and Batmania was in full force that year. The classic Batman movie starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson and directed by Tim Burton was released on June 23 amid much publicity and hype. It seemed that wherever you looked you saw some kind of Batman related merchandise. Posters, books, t-shirts, pins, comics, action figures, pvc figures, die cast vehicles, trading cards, Taco Bell cups, soundtracks, costumes, video games, children’s wear, hats, tooth brushes, and much much more. Practically any object that was large enough to affix a bat logo onto became an officially licensed product. Helping perpetuate the marketing blitz was a movie that was awesome and stayed in theatres long enough to rake in $411,348,924. Not a bad take, but the merchandise sales amounted to over $750 million. I remember going to K-Mart the week Batman was released on video cassette to purchase a copy. It’s release was like an event. There were endcaps at the store stocked completely full of nothing but Batman VHS tapes.
Batman was making waves well before the movie was in theatres. A controversy erupted over the casting of Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader. So many people were outraged that a petition began circulating in an attempt to convince Warner Brothers to reconsider and remove him from the film. After all, the comedian who played Mr. Mom certainly couldn’t do even a serviceable job as Batman.
Once the movie was released any concerns about Michael Keaton as Batman were put to rest. His work as the Dark Knight was so outstanding that over 25 years later many people still consider his rendition to be the definitive portrayal of the character. That is no small feat when you consider all of the various actors that have played the part through the years.
Looking back it’s astounding that Batman was able to completely dominate the year based on the quality of competing movies released in 1989. That year had to be one of the finest in Hollywood history. I certainly cannot think of any single year since that has come close to matching the heavy hitters released. See for yourself:
- April 7, Major League
- April 23, Field of Dreams
- May 24, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
- June 9, Star Trek V: Final Frontier
- June 13, License to Kill
- June 16, Ghostbusters II
- June 23, Batman
- June 23, Honey I Shrunk the Kids
- July 7, Lethal Weapon 2
- October 13, Look Who’s Talking
- November 17, The Little Mermaid
- November 22, Back to the Future Part II
- December 1, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
Sweet merciful crap! That’s a lot of big names or downright classic films released in a single year. I even left off some other well known marketable movies that don’t really fit in well with that list such as Driving Miss Daisy and Dead Poet’s Society. Sure License to Kill and Star Trek V were flops but they were well known franchises with a lot of hype surrounding them. Long after the Ghostbusters II marketing campaign faded into obscurity like the career of the guy who played Mayor Lenny in the films, Batman’s merchandise kept racking up historic numbers.
Toy Biz was the lucky company to receive the rights to produce action figures and vehicles for the movie. Surely this would be a no brainer cash cow right? Not so much. Although I’m sure a tidy profit was made, Toy Biz really dropped the ball with their handling of the license and they ended up losing out to Kenner a few years later who did a much better job taking people’s money. All Toy Biz had to do was make a hunk of plastic out of every character who received any kind of screen time at all and they would have cleaned up.
So what did the 1989 Batman Toy Biz line consist of? Three figures. With all of the possibilities available to them they made three figures. The characters produced were Batman, Joker, and Bob the Goon. No Bruce Wayne, no Alfred, no Commissioner Gordon, no Vicki Vale, heck I’m sure they could have made a figure of Lieutenant Eckhardt and sold a ton of them. The movie was so hot that anything with a Batman logo on it was flying off the shelves. Instead we got three figures.
As a kid I used to love the scene where Eckhardt got shot. I would rewind the tape and watch his death over and over again. “Eckhardt! Think about the future!” It wasn’t supposed to be humorous but for whatever reason I used to laugh hysterically every time. I would repeatedly watch the same actor die during the Death Star trench run in Star Wars as Jek Porkins while laughing as well. Maybe I had problems.
Now that I’ve rambled on for almost 800 words I suppose it’s time to get to the matter at hand, the Toy Biz rendition of the 1989 Batman. When this thing was released it was near impossible to find in stores. All through the summer and into Christmas 1989 Batman toys were a hot ticket item and while Bob the Goon clogged the pegs of your local Children’s Palace, Batman was barely out of the shipping crate before he was in a shopping cart.
Batman came with a batarang and a gun which he used on screen to shoot out a zip line. He had a cloth cape and the unique feature of this figure was that the utility belt would pull off of his body, attached to a string. You would pull the belt out and Batman would “climb” the rope as it retracted back into the figure’s waist. Not a bad feature and it seemed executed well enough. His legs were articulated at the knees and hips, his arms at the elbows and shoulders, and his head could move side to side. Nothing outstanding but not bad either. One thing that used to bother me as a kid was the length of his cape. I always felt it should have been longer as it barely extends beyond his waist.
Three variations of the figure existed. I had the rounded face Batman on the right but apparently a “square jaw” and a “big lipped” Batman were also produced. Collectors of variants have documented these but I’ve never personally seen any figure besides the round face. Aside from the face, the sculpting seems to be accurate enough. Batman’s body armor complete with pecs and abs is present as well as his forearm and shin armor. Overall, it would be impossible to mistake the figure as anyone but Batman.
Kenner would take over the reigns before the release of Batman Returns and wound up re-releasing several figures from the 1989 film. It would have been interesting to see what they would have done had they had the license upon release. I mean, Kenner produced a Robin figure for Batman Returns despite the character not even appearing in the film. Surely they would have manufactured some gun totting mimes or an Alexander Knox figure complete with baseball bat and dust mask. At least what we got quenched our thirst for a black clad Batman figure at the minimum so we have that to be thankful for.