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Holy Batmania! A Look at Batman Toys and Collectibles

by James Burrell (09/10/12).

A Batman promo cardboard mask, given away by General Electric in 1966. A Robin mask is printed on the reverse side. Value: $5-$10.

The Dark Knight. The Caped Crusader. The Darknight Detective. Numerous monikers have been bestowed upon that famous protector of Gotham City—Batman. As one of the world’s most beloved comic book heroes, Batman is also among the most fascinating and complex. And although the iconic crime fighter has undergone a number of changes since his debut 73 years ago, his immense popularity—matched only by that of Superman and Spider-Man—has endured to this day.

Created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger, the Caped Crusader first appeared in Detective Comics #27 (May 1939), released by National Publications (later to become DC Comics). Deviating from the previously introduced Superman (who made his first appearance in 1938 with Action Comics #1), the character was not endowed with any superhuman abilities. Rather, the man under the bat-like cape and cowl, Bruce Wayne, is presented as a fantastically wealthy individual who trains his body and acquires various criminology skills before adopting his crime fighting persona in order to avenge the murder of his parents, which he witnessed as a child. The early version of the character—referred to as “The Bat-Man”—was a fearsome vigilante who worked outside the confines of the law and harbored little regret when dispatching the syndicate figures and street thugs who menaced the citizens of Gotham City.

A year after his hit debut, Batman was presented with his young sidekick, Robin, in Detective Comics #38 (April 1940). Intended to be a character with which younger audiences could better identify with, “The Boy Wonder” was really Dick Grayson, a circus acrobat whose parents had been murdered when mobsters sabotaged their high-wire act. As he was himself orphaned at a young age, Bruce empathizes with the boy and becomes his guardian. Later, Dick asks Bruce to help assist in his crime-fighting work, and the pair would become known as “The Dynamic Duo.” That spring, Batman also received an eponymously titled comic book and the character’s tough, brooding persona began to give way to a more gentler, kinder one. The criminals were different as well: instead of gangsters and hoodlums, they were comprised of colorfully costumed arch villains like the Joker, Penguin, Catwoman and the Riddler.

Several 1960s-era Batman trading cards, manufactured by Topps Chewing Gum Corp. The image of Adam West is taken from the 1966 Batman feature film.

A set of “Batman” TV series View-Master Reels, released by GAFF in 1976. Value: $10-$15 approx. Originally released in 1966, first issue sets can sell for double this amount.

Throughout the decades, Batman’s appeal has been well-reflected by the production of numerous comic book lines, movie serials, television series, feature films, video games and an incredibly wide assortment of merchandise. Everything from coloring books to puzzles, posters to die-cast vehicles, plush dolls to bath towels, candy dispensers to cookie jars, action figures to model kits, and alarm clocks to sleepwear have been manufactured to capitalize on the popularity of the character over the years.

However, despite the success of the comic books, the Caped Crusader and Boy Wonder spawned very few products during the 1940s and ’50s. Apart from the actual comics, the extent of early Bat-collectibles are more or less relegated to decals, trading cards, a belt buckle and the various posters and lobby cards used to promote two movie serials from Columbia Pictures: 1943’s “Batman,” featuring Lewis Wilson and Douglas Wilson as the Dynamic Duo; and 1949’s “Batman and Robin” with Robert Lowery and Johnny Duncan as the crime-fighting pair. It wouldn’t be until the mid-1960s that the dearth in Batman-themed merchandise would finally come to an end.

A 12-inch Batman figure (in Canadian-release packaging) released by Mego Corporation in 1976. Value: $150-$175 approx.

Adam West- and Julie Newmar-autographed photos. The value of signed celebrity photos like these varies widely, but at present, an average amount is $35-$40 each.

In 1965, hobby company Aurora Plastics Corporation released what was perhaps the first Batman collectible of the decade: a plastic figural model kit of the Caped Crusader, complete with a tree base, bats and one the character’s trademark accessories: the Batarang. A best-seller, the success of the kit prompted Aurora to later release other Bat-themed models including figural kits of Robin and the Penguin. Toy giant Hasbro also put out various Batman items that year, including a nicely-illustrated board game and an oil painting by numbers kit, featuring drawings, a brush and several containers of paint.

When the “Batman” television series first hit screens in January 1966, no one could have foreseen just how incredibly popular it would be, or that it would launch a phenomenon known as “Batmania.” Starring Adam West as Batman, Burt Ward as Robin, and later, Yvonne Craig as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, the highly energetic, brightly colored program—which featured such stars as Burgess Meredith as the Penguin, Cesar Romero as the Joker, Frank Gorshin as the Riddler and Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt as Catwoman—was an exercise in high camp and drew in millions of viewers for each episode. A film version, also titled “Batman,” was even rushed into production to take advantage of the TV program’s success and was released to cinemas in the summer of 1966.

Batman TV series-styled Batcycle and Batboat model kits, released by Polar Lights-Playing Mantis in 2003. Reproductions of ones issued in the 1960s, the value for these is $20 each.

An unusual Korean-issed Batmobile, manufactured by DaiJi Co. in 1986. Value $175-$200 approx.

Caught off guard by the show’s high ratings, dozens of manufactures scrambled to get Batman-themed product onto store shelves and it is estimated that as many as 500 different items were manufactured during this period, including such items as “Disguise Kit” Halloween costumes (from Ben Cooper); a View-Master reel set (from GAFF); a lithographed tin lunchbox (from Aladdin Industries); “Soaky” figural bubble bath containers (which featured heads that could be unscrewed to pour out the liquid soap; from Colgate-Palmolive); trading card sets (from Topps); and frame-tray puzzles, coloring and activity books (from Whitman).

Some of the most memorable toys from the era were those based upon the series’ numerous Bat-vehicles, the most popular of these being the George Barris-designed Batmobile (adapted from a 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car). Mettoy Co. Ltd, a British-based company that released die-cast vehicles under its “Corgi” brand name put out several items including the Batcopter, Batboat and its most popular offering: a 5-inch-long Batmobile that could emit a red plastic “flame” from its exhaust and eject miniature “rockets” from its rear tubes. Aurora released plastic model kits of the Batmobile, Batcycle (complete with Robin sidecar), Batboat, and in place of the TV-styled Batcopter—a comic book-styled Batplane instead. Original Corgi Bat-vehicles and Aurora kits are now valuable collector’s items and can command hundreds of dollars apiece when found in mint shape in their original packaging.

These Corgi Junior Batmobile and Batcopter die cast vehicles were released by Mettoy Co. Ltd. In 1976. Value: Batmobile $35-$40; Batcopter $25 approx.

These 1940s and ‘50s-styled die-cast model Batmobiles were released by Corgi Classics Ltd. in 2004-05. Value $15 each approx.

Among the other highly revered collectibles from this time were the various “Official” Batman items released by Ideal Toys, which included a Utility Belt set (featuring bat-cuffs, bat-rope, Batarang, flashlight and pistol); a Helmet and Cape set; a boxed playset that came complete with Batman, Robin, Joker, Superman and Wonder Woman figurines, a robot, Batmobile (referred to here as a “Bat Car”) and Batplane. The company also put out Batman and Robin costume and accessory sets for its Captain Action line, which let kids transform their 12-inch Captain Action figure into various TV and comic characters by switching separately sold costumes, as well as a set of female superhero dolls called “Super Queens,” which was comprised of Batgirl and other heroines like Wonder Woman and Supergirl. All of Ideal’s Batman-themed toys are highly sought-after and can fetch hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars if found in complete, mint condition.

The production of Batman toys in the 1970s was primarily the domain of four companies: the iconic Mego Corporation; Azrak-Hamway International (AHI); Remco; and Mettoy. Mego released the first of many Batman and Robin figures in 1972, when it rolled out its “World’s Greatest Super Heroes!” line. Featuring colorful, highly detailed fabric costumes (with the Dynamic Duo even originally sporting removable masks), the 8-inch-tall figures were a hit, and dozens of additional figures—including the Joker, Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman and Batgirl—would be shipped to stores in the following few years. Smaller 3 ¾-inch “Pocket Super Heroes,” 5-inch bendable rubber figures, 12-inch dolls and 22-inch plush toys would also be produced, as would numerous vehicles like the Batmobile, Batcopter, Batcycle, Joker Van and a playset, Batman’s Wayne Foundation—all of which were designed for use with the 8-inch figures. Highly prized amongst collectors, Mego Batman toys can command hundreds of dollars apiece when found in their original packaging.

A “Batman” movie figure, released by Charon Toy (Toy Biz) in 1989. Value: $10 – $15 approx.

A Batman First Appearance action figure, released by DC Direct in 2004. Included is a base and a mini comic book. Value $30 – $35 approx.

A set of Dark Knight Rises Batman and Bane Wacky Wobbler bobblehead figures, recently released by Funko. The figures sell for $12-$14 each approx.

Azrak-Hamway specialized in lower-priced “rack toys” and released a Batman friction-powered “Stunt” cycle, a Batcopter that could be whisked into the air by means of a hand-held launcher, various parachuting figures (of which the Joker and Penguin are the most difficult to find) and a water gun. The company also released a plastic Batmobile and Batboat and trailer set, which was a lower cost alternative to the die-cast Corgi vehicles, and a battery operated “Mystery Action” Batmobile. Remco (which was actually a subsidiary of AHI) released several Batman items in the late 1970s, including a utility belt set and a battery operated climbing figure of the Caped Crusader. And Mettoy continued with its line of die-cast Bat-vehicles, only this time in inexpensive, smaller-scaled versions under the Corgi Jr. moniker.

Come the mid-1980s, a number of Batman-themed items would be produced by iconic toy company Kenner for its “Super Powers” line. Action figures of Batman, Robin, the Joker, Penguin and Mr. Freeze (a character who had never been depicted in toy form before) were offered, as was as a model of the redesigned Batmobile. The high-quality of the figures and the inclusion of special “power action” features (i.e.; a punching effect when the legs of the Batman figure are pressed together) have made them favorites of many collectors. Other “Super Powers” items were also released by different companies, including various puzzles and painting sets by Craft Master and a re-issuing of the 1965 Aurora model kit (with revised box artwork) by hobby company MPC.

Batman From the ’30s to the ’70s reprints many early Batman comic book stories; while Batman and Me is an autobiography of creator Bob Kane.

Joker and Penguin eight inch figures release by Mego Corporation in 1973. Loose condition figures like these fetch $40-$60 apiece, while packaged specimens sell for much more.

Two plush Batman dolls. The one on the left is from an unknown manufacturer; the one on the right (from “Batman The Animated Series”) was released by Play-By-Play Toys in 1998.

Though Batman’s costume had undergone various gradual changes since his original appearance, the character was receive his biggest transformation in 1989 when he was the subject of a big-budget film adaptation from director Tim Burton (“Beetlejuice,” “Edward Scissorhands”). With “Batman”—starring Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader, Jack Nicholson as the maniacal Joker and Kim Basinger as photojournalist Vicky Vale—the character was presented as a true “dark knight,” outfitted with black body armor and the latest of technological crime-fighting implements. A newer company called Toy Biz released figures of Batman (featuring a retractable Batrope), the Joker and his henchman, Bob the Goon. The sleek, new Batmobile, Batwing vehicle and Batcave were also reproduced in scaled down versions for use with the figures, as was a Joker Van. Toy Biz would also release a DC Comics-themed line of superhero figures, which included figures of Robin and villains Two-Face, the Riddler and Mr. Freeze.

Since then, numerous actors have stepped into the character’s black armor, including Val Kilmer, George Clooney and Christian Bale, and variations of the costume have been maintained for all of the subsequent films, including the recently released “The Dark Knight Rises,” which, in addition to Bale also stars Anne Hathaway as Selena Kyle/Catwoman, Tom Hardy as Bane and Michael Caine as Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler and confident, Alfred. Each of the films spawned its own line of merchandise (including t-shirts, posters, action figures, playsets, bobble-head dolls, plush toys and high-end statues), and numerous collectibles were created for the several animated television series that have been produced over the years. Additionally, companies like DC Direct and Funko have been issuing retro-inspired collectibles utilizing the character’s early costumes and designs. With a more than $1 billion dollar box office tally for “The Dark Knight Rises” so far, it’s safe to say that the Caped Crusader is as popular as ever. And that’s sure to translate into many more Batman collectibles in the future.

Large scale Batman and Robin vinyl figures (with stands), released by Presents-Hamilton Gifts in 1982.

A Batman Batcopter, released by LHT (an Australian distributor of Azrak-Hamway Int. toys) in 1982. Value: $25-$35 approx.

James Burrell writes about film, pop culture and collectibles for a variety of publications and online sites, including Rue Morgue and Canuxploitation! A life-long collector of vintage science-fiction, fantasy and monster-themed toys and movie memorabilia, he resides in Toronto, Canada.

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8 Responses to “Holy Batmania! A Look at Batman Toys and Collectibles”

  1. In the picture you have on the bottom of this page of “Large scale Batman and Robin vinyl figures (with stands), released by Presents-Hamilton Gifts in 1982.”

    What is the value of the Robyn vinyl figure?

    • James Burrell James Burrell says:

      Hi Minnie,

      That particular 12-inch tall Robin vinyl figure from Presents/Hamilton Gifts usually sells in the $20-$25.00 range.

      Hope that helps.

      -James

  2. Diana Wood says:

    what is the value of The History of Batman Collection? Its 3 dolls still in the box dated 1996

    • James Burrell James Burrell says:

      Hi Diana,

      The value on this boxed set of three figures varies, but at present the average value for a set in unopened condition is between $30-$50.

      -James

  3. russell register says:

    1966 Batman Character Parachute Toy
    can some one give me info on buying this I was adopted and it was my only toy and friend for all of my childhood and my adopted mom threw it away
    I cried
    I just want to see if anyone has one for sale not after high end one I just want one opened and needs a good home
    russ

    • James Burrell James Burrell says:

      Hi Russ,

      If the Batman parachute toy you are referring to was non poseable and dark blue in colour with either a red or yellow plastic parachute, it was most likely the “Official Batman Bat Chute,” released in 1966 by a company named Consolidated Development Corporation.

      They are quite difficult and expensive to find in mint, carded (still inside the plastic bubble packaging), but loose, non packaged ones with/or without the parachute can frequently be found on eBay for between $15 to $25.

      Azrak Hamway Int. (AHI) also released a blue/grey/yellow painted Batman parachutist figure during the 1970s as well, which can often be found loose for around $10 to $15 or so.

      Hope that helps, and I hope you find one. Take care.

      -James

  4. Rami says:

    Hi James,

    I have 2 Batman figures that I received as a gift several years ago. I’m thinking of selling them and I was wondering may I ask for your help in its valuation? I could email you pix if that would be alright with you. If so, please email me and I’ll send the photos to get your opinion.

    Thank you for your time!

  5. Keith Nelson says:

    I have a 1966 Ideal toy co Batman cowl #4 what’s the price on something like this?

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