Kenner’s Super Powers Collection: A Lament
Often times on GotS, I talk about some of the toys that I had fond memories of growing up. From Masters of the Universe, to Star Wars, to Marvel’s Secret Wars line, it’s no question I was a child of the 80s and did my fair share of playing with the plastic as a kid.
However, on today’s blog, I’m going to discuss a toy line that I didn’t have a ton of figures of as a child, and now that I’m an old man, I feel a deep sense of forlorn loss at not experiencing more of it. I’m talking about Kenner’s incredible Super Powers Collection set of toys!
The story begins back in 1984 when, DC Comics awarded the master toy license of their characters to Kenner, who had proven their action figure prowess with the unbeatable juggernaut which was their Star Wars toy line. DC really wanted to showcase their characters with action heavy toys similar to Mattel’s MOTU toy line. From my perspective the weridest thing about that was Mattel lost the bid to create the line which lead to another super hero toyline in…oops…I’m getting ahead of myself.
Anyways, to meet DC’s demands, Kenner created a toy line that had hidden mechanisms within the figures that would trigger an action when the figure’s legs or arms were squeezed. Things like Power punch or Karate kicks or whatever. This “super power” action couple with the notion that this was a line created around some of the most famous good guys and bad guys in the world led to the line being dubbed – The Super Powers Collection.
Another neat feature, and again taking a page out of The MOTU playbook, The Super Powers figured released in the first two waves were also packaged with a mini-comic featuring that character’s adventures. Even more than MOTU, this was a brilliant move as DC was also putting out a Super Powers monthly comic book by none other than comic book legend, Jack “the King” Kirby, so these little mini comics would serve as almost “gateway” drugs in the addiction known as comic book collecting. As a happy side note to all that, when New Gods characters like Darkseid, Kalibak, Desaad, and the Para demons were cast as the premiere bad guys for the Super Powers line, Jack Kirby got some of the only royalties of his very long career for his redesigns of those characters for the action figures, so kudos to him.
The rest of the line included figure designs based on one of my fellow cohost, Chad Smith’s favorite artists José Luis García-López’ who had created DC Universe Style Guides for promotional materials. That is excluding the designs of Cyborg and Lex Luthor who had been done by George Pérez and Ed Hannigan’s redesigned of Brainiac. Thus all this remarkable talent and toy engineering came together to create what some comic book fans consider one of the all time classic definitive collections of action figures in history.
And yours truly…completely missed the train.
Well, I should say that exactly. I did have a handful of these figures. However, that was mainly because I don’t think there was a toy line released in the 80s from which I didn’t have at least one or two figures, even some of the obscure ones like Crystar and the Inhumaniods. Come to think of it, I might not have owned any Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors or Rambo figures…or a Chuck Norris Karate Komando…but I digress.
But the issue was…even back then I wasn’t a DC guy, so these characters had very limited appeal to me. My parents got me the toys that would make my eyes light up, and if that was superhero toys, that meant Marvel’s Secret Wars line, because they knew I read me some Marvel and worshipped at the alter of Spidey and his friends. It also didn’t hurt that Secret Wars toys were a lot cheaper than the Super Powers ones due to the lack of action and more limited accessories. As another side note, did you know the Secret Wars series of figures came out in direct response to Marvel’s fears of DC cornering the toy market as well as Mattel being snubbed by its rival Kenner for the DC license? No? Well then I’m glad I could educate you…but again I’m getting off topic…
So as far as I can remember, I only owned the following figures from this line: Hawk Man, Brainiac, the Flash, and Firestorm. My younger brother did get a Superman as well which he promptly ditched one Christmas morning in 1986 in favor of my new Thundercat figures, so that was eventually added to my collection. But, unlike some of my other toy collections that survive pretty much intact to this day, my Super Powers Figures did not fare as well.
My Flash was eventually repainted into being The Whizzer of all characters during my teenage years in an attempt to recreate the Invaders team from Marvel’s Golden Age.
The Brainiac spent a couple years filling in for a variety of evil robots during play sessions, but in the end I always found the design of his figure “too scary” and allowed one of my friends to rip his arm off as a way to have an excuse not to play with him any more.
The Superman was again always too white bread and boring to play with but he did stick around for many years in my superhero toy box. Unfortunately, I’m not sure whatever happened to him as I don’t have him currently…and that’s really sad honestly.
So in the end, the two lone survivors of my Super Powers Collection are my Hawk Man and my Firestorm. I am happy to report though that these two figures are still going strong. Hawk Man’s wings still flap whether you squeeze his legs and ol’ Firestorm still has that good strong left/right hook. Plus, the paint and overall appearance is still nice making for some solid conversation starters whenever anyone looks at my comic book collection shelf and eventually pauses at the action figure section.
And I guess that’s my biggest lament and the reason I wrote this blog in the first place, as even I sometimes stare out at those two lonely representatives of the Justice League, and think to myself: “Boy, those are some terrific figures. Much better than the Secret Wars Guys. Why don’t I have more of those?!?”. This is especially true now that I’m older and have embraced both DC and Marvel as having quality characters worthy of my attention…well…other than DC having that shit pile they call a movie franchise.
Besides, one of my favorite Superhero related cartoons now as an adult is the short lived 8 episode season of Super Friends that came at the tail end of the run, with The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians, and that was mainly created to be a half hour commercial for this particular toy line. This super competent Saturday morning series is in some ways the precursor to what we’d eventually get with the TimmVerse series like Batman and Superman on Fox Kids/WB as it had Alan Burnett overseeing it.
Well the sad truth is although these figures were great, there were only three series of figures and accessories released from 1984 to 1986 before the line collapsed. As a result, the limited production life coupled with the continued interest in DC collectables and the incredibly well made and faithful interpretations of the characters makes for just the right combination which causes these figures to go for a pretty penny on Ebay nowadays. Especially some of the main characters like your Batmans, Wonder Women, and Supermans. Just a quick check on Ebay for Batman with Cape today brings up results of between 60 to 90 bucks loose, which really hurts a fella who just wants to display these on a toy shelf.
Some toy fans have mentioned to me that I’d be better off looking for figures from the 1989 Toy Biz DC Super Heroes toy-line instead. This line borrowed a ton of design elements from the Super Powers figures, most notably Superman, Robin, and Penguin who look exactly like the versions released for Kenner, except not having some of the “super power” action. To that I often mention that I had many of a Batman from that line, and to shut their dirty cake hole as to those being the same as the Kenner lest they besmirch the good name of this legendary toy line further.
So in the end, I find myself very wistful about a toy line that I universally pronounce one of the best in existence, yet like a orphan looking in Marshall Fields window on a snowy Christmas Eve, I’m doomed to only ever look at these toys from a far, with tears welling up in my eyes. I used to scour Comic cons for dumb people that might sell some of these figures on the cheap, but I soon realized, most people know the value of the junk they are selling at these things, and that hope that I could piecemeal a collection for 20 or 30 bucks soon died a quick painful death in my mind.
Instead I was forced to turn my attention to the Imaginext line of DC figures, and those charming but fantastic representations of those same beloved characters, only in miniature kid friendly versions. And thanks to those blind bag sets, the breath of characters you can get is growing exponentially. I mean, just last week I found a Dr. Fate and the Wonder Twins! Can’t beat that with a spork!
But alas, I know in my heart of hearts, it’s never quite the same. If only there were toy time machines capable of fulfilling your childhood heart’s fantasies. If and only then would I have not thrown out my MOTU Eternia Playset and Tyranisaurus Rex ride (dumb…stupid…stupid…literally hundreds of dollars now), but also would have begged and pleaded to get as many of these delightful action figures as I could. Even some of the dumb ass vehicles which served absolutely no purpose like Superman’s Supermobile, which is pretty much a rocket ship.
Yes, you can fly through the vacuum of space at nearly the speed of light, but you need a spaceship. Oh, it’s to protect you from Kryptonite? Uh huh…you couldn’t do that with a suit or something? Nope, you needed to spend our hard earned tax dollars on a this? And extra for the Krypton Action Ram, right?
Lois said Batman’s wang was bigger, right? Because of the Batmobile?
I get it…chicks dig cars. Nobody is blaming you, sir. We all do it from time to time…