Toy Tuesday - McFarlane Toys' Super Powers Revival
Retro has been making its presence well known in toy aisles lately. Hasbro has their 3 ¾” Star Wars and Marvel lines with the stray store exclusive G.I. Joe from time to time, Mattel’s Masters of the Universe Origins line oscillates between hot seller and the clearance bin, depending on the wave, and then there’s the wide breadth and scope of Super7’s ReAction offerings with more licenses than my poor memory could ever hope to recount. I’ll admit, I was tempted to dabble in Mattel’s Origins line, but the near impossibility of getting the second wave of figures quickly threw a wet towel on any burning need I might have had. Otherwise, I can’t say I had a whole lot of interest…the 3 ¾” scale feels like it’s too small for my interests. I mean, sure, there’s a better likelihood for cool vehicles, especially from Star Wars but the toy budget…and most importantly the storage and display space…aren’t what they used to be, so fortunately I’ve been able to dodge most of this nostalgia driven craze.
And then the word leaked out.
McFarlane Toys was bringing back the Super Powers Collection.
Any semblance of resistance had flown out the window, launched into space and was heading to at the very least the Kuyper Belt.
Of course, as long-time readers of the site will know, now’s the point where I say there’s a story behind this, everyone groans and I proceed to tell a long-winded, often pointless story…and my connection to the old Kenner Super Powers Collection is no exception.
Launching in 1984 while I was still into He-Man…and most importantly Transformers hadn’t hit the US yet…Kenner’s Super Powers Collection lived up to the name. Sure, they weren’t as beefy as MOTU, but at 4.5 inches, they towered over Kenner’s earlier Star Wars offerings. The line got its name from its unique feature: each figure displayed its own ‘super power’ by either squeezing the legs together or the arms together. For example, squeezing Superman’s legs would make him punch while squeezing the Flash’s arms would make his legs run. The funny thing is, I know I had the entire first wave, which leads me to believe that I had to get the bulk of the figures and vehicles for Christmas…which makes me think that these figures might have snuck out early in my neck of the woods (after all, Kenner was based in Cincinnati and I was in Northeast Ohio) in late ’83. The main reason I say that is that Christmas ’84 was the Christmas of Transformers…so naturally I got nothing but He-Man stuff…thanks for the childhood trauma Mom! Still, the first wave consisted of all the heavy hitters: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern (my first figure in the line!), Hawkman, Aquaman and Robin for the good guys and Lex Luthor, Brainiac, The Joker and Penguin for the villains. The two vehicles I had were the Supermobile and the Lex-Soar 7 (my best friend got the feature-loaded Batmobile). One thing I remember clearly was absolutely adoring this line. But…something happened. I remember trying to get into good graces with my mom one day and opted to clean the absolute pig-sty of a bedroom I shared with my older brother and younger sister. Immediately realizing the enormity of the task, I quickly opted for the easiest route possible: shove everything under the beds and call it a day. However, from that day on…I never saw my Super Powers figures again. While I can certainly appreciate it now, younger me didn’t find the second or third waves of the line too terribly appealing as it went deeper into DC Comics lore, introducing the New Gods as well as more diverse inclusions into the JLA such as Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow and Doctor Fate. My best friend kept his though and we played with those toys in one way or another at least into 1989 when fervor around the first Batman film hit…with new figures that blended right in (mostly) with those earlier Kenner offerings…even though some of them came from Toy Biz who, if you ask many collectors, simply created less complicated knock-offs of Kenner’s originals with a heavier, more brittle plastic.
So…after all that, I think you can see I’ve got a bit of an affinity for the line. As I’d get older, new DC lines would try to capture the same magic, most notably Mattel’s DC Universe Classics 6-inch line which would even have a subline devoted to these larger figures in replica Super Powers packaging with figures in their more traditional 80’s costumes and colors. But nothing ever recaptured that initial flame lit by those original figures.
Fast-forward to late July. Word on the internet spread that McFarlane was making new Super Powers figures for Wal-Mart…but Todd had made no announcements. Then the sightings came…and the YouTube reviews. Thus, as you’d expect…I heeded the call of the hunt. The first wave of these new figures would be much more limited than the old Kenner series, consisting only of Superman, Batman and Darkseid figures and the Batwing and Supermobile for vehicles. A wave 1.5 figure, Green Lantern John Stewart was released shortly thereafter, often included in floor displays. In surprisingly short order, wave 2 has already hit shelves bringing a new villain to the mix, The Batman Who Laughs, as well as updating another of the classic 84 line up, The Flash. At the time of this writing, the initial vehicles remain the only ones currently on the market.
Facts in hand, since this is a review, let’s get to it. Like their predecessors, McFarlane’s Super Powers figures sport the same 7 points of articulation: neck, shoulders (swivels only), hips (also swivels) and knees. Pretty basic here. The figures stand closer to 5 inches tall, putting them half an inch taller than the originals…so they’ll kinda fit in…but not really. The capes are soft goods held on via c-clips much like the originals although the material used feels like a cheap fabric/vinyl hybrid, not nearly the quality of the original capes.
Are they any good? If you’re a Super Powers fan, should you grab these new figures? Honestly, I’d say yes! The sculpts and articulation definitely harkens back to the original Kenner figures and while this may be the nostalgia talking, there’s a lot of fun that feels like it’s baked into these designs. No, you’re not getting any dynamic poses out of them, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ll just randomly pick one up, mess around with it for a little bit, then put it right back. Also, it's worth pointing out that like their 7" figures, McFarlane doesn't cheap out an use a buck system here (meaning a single body mold with all costume details just painted on). Each figure is individually sculpted. However, I will say that should there be a pending Hal Jordan Green Lantern, John Stewart's body will likely serve as a buck...although I wouldn't be surprised if McFarlane didn't go that route. Another item that really has to be emphasized, especially in the current limited budgets everyone (including me!) finds themselves in, are the prices for the figures, only costing $10 each! To better illustrate the value, Hasbro’s current retro Marvel Legends 3 ¾” figures are significantly shorter, only sport 5 points of articulation (no knees) yet are selling for around $12, paying more for less.
Adding to this fun factor are the vehicles. Being able to pop Batman and Superman into their respective Wings and Mobiles takes recapturing that nostalgic play a whole other step forward. While not as large as the 1989 ToyBiz Batwing, it does copy the general shape and even the trigger activated front grabbers. McFarlane made an excellent decision in making the Batwing nearly the exact shade of blue that all of Batman’s vehicles in the original line had, carrying that uniform look forward into this new line. With this in mind, I’m very excited to see what design they go with for an updated Batmobile…and mind you, this coming from someone with a chronic case of Bat-Fatigue! While not identical to the vehicle that shares its name from the original Kenner line, McFarlane’s Supermobile actually draws inspiration from the very original vehicle that was introduced simultaneously in the comics and in toy form from Corgi. [With spring-loaded fists that would hurt if you ever hit anyone, or yourself, with them. I decline to comment on how many times this may or may not have happened in my youth. – Ed.] Opting to avoid that potentially painful spring-loaded direction, this current Supermobile has a knob on its underside that you can rotate back and forth, resulting in a one-two, one-two punching action from the fists. I’m not going to say it can keep you mesmerized for hours but you’re definitely going to find yourself going “Pow! Pow! Pow!” anywhere from 6 to 10 times…at least.
Of course, as with anything, it’s not all positive. The gimmicks that gave the line its name are no longer present. Squeezing the legs activates nothing, nor does squeezing the arms. I’ll also admit that, yeah, I kinda miss the mini-comics too. As I’ve already mentioned, the capes do have a cheap feeling to them. Not helping matters is that in the first wave caped figures, Batman and Superman, a plastic tie to keep the capes in place in packaging was driven through the material, leaving a clearly visible hole. While we’re on this topic, I want to take a moment to address something that pretty much every single YouTube review I’ve seen on these figures has gotten wrong. These reviewers are leaving the capes completely fanned out. This makes for an ugly looking ‘collar’ around the c-clip and furthers the cheap feeling of the capes. However, in the old line, the fabric capes were actually folded on each side, allowing the fabric to tuck back behind the figure and creating a cleaner, more defined look to the figure. This can also be done on the capes of the current figures and boy does it help improve the presentation, again providing a crisp, clean outline to the figure. Lastly, while I get that McFarlane had to up the size slightly to avoid infringing on SpinMasters’ license for smaller DC figures aimed at kids, it is kind of a shame that the current figures won’t really blend that well with the original figures. A minor quibble though, but still present nonetheless.
Given my attachment to the original figures, it’s nearly impossible for me to be objective. I love these figures. I love that the packaging remains consistent. I love that it captures almost everything I loved about the Kenner figures: they’re easy to pick up, play with, bring with you and if the initial offerings are any indication, there will be fun vehicles that expand not only the scope of play, but also the scope of the DC Universe itself. I’m VERY excited for this line and its possibilities. I have only two reservations. First, the line is exclusive to WalMart…and Wally can be very sketchy on the distribution of their exclusives [Transformers Velocitron Speedia 500 Cosmos, I’m looking at you. – Ed.]. Fortunately, that hasn’t been the case so far. To piggy back onto that, the fact that it’s limited to a store exclusive does make me worry about the longevity of the line. This leads to me second concern. While I love the inclusion of new characters, John Stewart and The Batman Who Laughs, I do hope that McFarlane does end up updating most, if not all, of the original line. I’d love to have another chance at Doctor Fate or Shazam or the wallet-breakingly rare Cyborg.
As much as I’d love to give what McFarlane has put forth our highest Hypno-Cat rating, even I recognize that it’d be more borne from my nostalgic love of the line. But given the start this line has gotten off to, as well as the sheer value of it, I’m thrilled to slap it with a well-deserved Happy Cat.